Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Closing Thoughts

Expectations & Actualizations:
I expected...
-to meet many Orthodox Christians and other contacts from around the US and Canada. I did meet many new people and am returning to PA a wiser, and happier person because of these encounters. I have heard many interesting life stories, listened to great sermons by various clergy, and simply witnessed God's love through the missionaries with the children.
-to get sick (you know, the kind that you are too embarrassed to admit) at least once. I honestly didn't. Aside from my deathly allergic reaction to the pork (I am still skeptical as to whether or not that was the actual cause), thank God, the most that happened was a few normal stomache aches.
-that mosquito repellant would you know...repel the pests. Quite the contrary, I think the Guatemalan mosquitoes are attracted to this stuff!
-to learn the nonprofit business from an Orthodox perspective. Not only did I get to work on a lot of the projects first hand, I got to witness the financial miracles all summer. Because HRA is a private organization, they receive no financial aid from the government. Most of the donations are from small Orthodox parishes throughout the world. Most teams come down with several extra suitcases filled with various donations for the hogar.
-to go to church...a lot. We had morning Matins and evening Vespers daily. I was also fortunate enough to spend the Feast of the Transfiguration and the Dormition of the Theotokos amongst other saints' days in Guatemala. I even had the opportunity to spend an entire week at the monastery!
-to have a lot of solitary time. After learning the art of the kombosquini, I filled lots of my time making the knots. I really got to know myself in these times.
-to love and be loved by the children. Mission accomplished.
-to eat beans at every meal. There were actually several meals where we didn't have black beans. You could really notice the lack of protein.
-to continue improving my spanish. I don't think it improved very much, but I definitely added some Guatemalan slang to my vocabulary. The kids would constantly tease me about how my spanish was too ecua. Sometimes, things are phrased differently, or different words are used. Sometimes I had to remind myself, "Dorothy you are not in Quito anymore ."
-to learn more about the Orthodox faith. Because I am "cradle Orthodox," I tend to take a lot of our traditions for granted. I would do things and not question them because that is what I have been doing all my life so it is all I have known. Recently I have been questioning and researching a lot more about the faith and saints. There is still un monton (a pile) that I don't know. There is always more to learn and better understand.

A note about mission work:
I have been trying to do God's work for several years now. It is obvious that my experiences abroad are more of a financial feat, but I hope that others see the value in these endeavors. Before I left for Guatemala, Father Nicholas Solak, my parish priest, spoke about the parallels between charity and mission work. Some of the next few lines are his paraphrased ideas mixed with my personal thoughts; I hope he forgives me for not directly quoting him. Sometimes, people question or criticize that I am helping outside the states when there is so much need here as well. I am very aware of the need in the US. Living in central PA in Huntingdon for the past 3 years, I am exposed to rural poverty. Being involved in Habitat for Humanity and other organizations, I have worked with a lot of people with different hardships in their lives. But here's the thing: You don't have to go to Guatemala or Tanzania to be a missionary. No matter where you are, there is always an opportunity to help others. It can be as simple as helping your elderly neighbor with her garden, or not ignoring the beggar on the street corner. At the same time, I am not saying that missionary work abroad is not beneficial for everyone. If you have the motivation and the means, go. Matthew 28:19 states "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Every act of kindness helps, and every act of kindness in God's name is missionary work. If every one of us helped out at the local soup kitchen for a few hours on Saturday morning instead of watching cartoons, or found some other charity to contribute your time to regularly, just think about the difference we could be making! In Matthew 25:32-46, we find God warning us to reach out to those he need it. I am sure anyone who has done any type of charitible deed will agree with me when I say that you truly receive so much more than you could ever give. From the life lessons, to the infinite love, I promise you, you will be changed. And the lives in which you have touched, they will forever remember you as well. You may never be able to talk to them again, but you honestly will feel that they are praying for you or just thinking about you in your darkest hours. Believe me, I know from experience.

I have been humbled by my experiences this summer and that God has chosen me amongst his many vessels to convey a very important message to all of my dear readers. People sometimes ask me how do I or the nuns or anyone just do it. How do we keep loving and working and never burn out? I have learned throughout my missions and talks with people of all paths of life, that the answer is very simple. It is not my/our love, but God's. When you trust in the Lord, and you and your works are of pure intention, God provides this infinite amount of love for us which we in turn can share with those in need. Referring to Father John Schmit's sermon about the eternal light, when you do anything that will draw you nearer to Him, your light shines brighter. The book of Matthew helps us again in 5:19: "You are a light in the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." We each need to be another one of those lights in such a dark world.

A Final Thank You:
If you followed me all summer, thank you. If you are just looking at the pictures (don't forget to check out all of them on facebook) or reading the posts that seem more interesting, I thank you as well. I hope you enjoyed it. I cannot describe how grateful I am for all the support. But, I have a confession to make. I am not a journalist by any means. I don't particularly like writing down my feelings or experiences, especially for others (nothing personal, I just do not always feel comfortable sharing my thoughts). Nor am I a photographer. I kept this blog and took hundreds of pictures for you. If it were not for my donors, family, and friends, I could not continue my mission work. After all of the support, both financially and spiritually, the least I could do is give you a glimpse of Hogar Rafael Ayau.

I share my experiences to try to illustrate other lifestlyes, other peoples' struggles, other cultures. If you are interested, please contact me and I can tell you more about the hogar. If you saw a picture of one of the children and just fell in love with him/her, let me know; I can tell you more about them. Maybe this blog inspired you to reach out to the hogar or another organization. Please tell me, I would love to hear about your mission work. So, to my donors, my family, my friends, or even strangers who have just stumbled upon this blog, may God bless you and grace you with His love forever. Glory be to God always! Gloria a Ti Senor! Gracias!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's always an adventure on travel day.

I will break this last day up by events of the day in one post, and then some closing thoughts in the next. I promise it's almost over!

August 16, 2010

I didn't sleep well last night. It didn't take me very long to pack, but I was just restless. I always am the night before traveling anywhere. I also finally encountered the cockroach that has been rooming with me all summer; now he has the place to himself.

I woke up around quarter after 5. After my triple check that I didn't forget anything, I head over to the church to light a candle for our safe travels. One of the girls beat me there and had three candles lit--one for each returning missionary. We saw a few of the kids this morning, and some teary goodbyes.

When the van was all packed, Madre Ivonne took us to the airport at 6:30am. Father Mathias accompanied us as well. It was nice to receive a final blessing before leaving the country.

We had no trouble getting through security. When I was in line to check my bags, I was talked to this woman who is visiting her granddaughter who was just born yesterday! May God's grace touch the life of baby Alec and her family! She asked me my purpose in Guatemala, and I explained that I lived at the hogar for the summer months. She questioned me about what drives me to do such things and what I was studying in school. I explained to her, as I always try to get across, that I think this is God's will for me and that I am blessed to have the opportunity to help others. I was blessed with suck a full and loving childhood, the least I can do is share some of the love my parents and family bestowed upon me. She thanked me profusely for doing God's work and said that she hopes my example inspires others to do the same. This is of course never why I do things, but it is nice sometimes to see that others appreciate our help.

We had a nice final breakfast of Guatemala sandwiches at a cute cafe called Cafe Gitane (Gypsy Cafe). Tropical drinks and coffees included, we spent less than Q100 total (that is less than $13 for 3 full meals)! We got to the gate around 7:45 and had some time to talk before Anya and John boarded their flight to Dallas. My flight didn't leave until 11:40, but Madre could only make one trip to the airport. We were comparing visas and stamps in our passports. Anya has been to the Middle East so she has some interesting stuff in her passport. I was explaining how "offical" the Ecuadorian Consulate in Newark was and how they used an Elmers glue stick to paste the visa in my passport. I really enjoyed this past month with the Thetford siblings. John goes to Duquesne, like Jacqui, so I am sure I will see him again. I hope I can visit the monastery when Anya is there in the future.

I landed in Miami around 4pm EST. My next flight didn't start boarded until 8, so I had plenty of time to make it through customs and get dinner. When I got in line for aduanas, Illuminations was playing! This is the music from Michael's favorite live show in Disney World. Anticipating bad attitudes and nasty TSA officers, I was pleasantly mistaken. Everyone was very friendly and my officer even spoke Spanish with me while he was processing my paperwork! I faced no problems, had my bags rechecked, and was on my way in less than 20 minutes total. Craving pizza all summer, I sought out to fill my hunger. I joked with the kids all summer, though it was not entirely inaccurate, that I "tengo ganas para pizza siempre." I earned the nickname Laritza Pizza, which is quite suitable. Of course, the pizza is on the opposite side of the concourse, but I had more than enough time to kill. 2 slices of horrible airport pizza, a small caesar salad, and one very satisfied Larissa later, I return to gate D38 to await departure for Newark.

So of course, the Hatch luck is always on the flip side. The flight attendants for flight 1382 just landed from Aruba and were acting as if they were still on vacation. They didn't show up at the gate until about 30 minutes past expected departure time. That gave me the opportunity to read "El Principito." As I was finishing it up, a lady next to me saw what I was reading and we began talking. And thus begins my last legit conversation of the summer in Spanish. Lillian and her 13 year old daughter Sarita (like the Guatemalan icecream) from Nicaragua were heading to visit her husband in Philly for a few weeks before school started.

Once we finally boarded, we hit more problems. There was a lightning storm hovering above Newark, so we had to wait that out. Thanks to one of the Founding Fathers and his kite experiment, we know not to mess with electricity. If that's what happens with a key, imagine how powerful it is with an airplane! In the meantime, I watched Shrek 4 in spanish. We did fly over the Jets stadium, which was pretty cool (especiall since they played today). When we finally landed, everyone clapped for Captain (I kid you not) Wally Walter's excellent job.

I was finally reunited with my mom, dad and sister at baggage claim around midnight. Jac and I had DnD breakfast sandwiches and caught up with some GloZell impressions (check her out on youtube). On the drive home, we played with the talking features in the car to make it speak spanish. Dad had a fight with the mechanism when she wouldn't play the song he was telling her to. It feels so good to be laughing and talking with the ones I love most again.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A day full of "Lasts"

This morning, I attended my last Divine Liturgy (and last service here because we leave tomorrow before Matins). It was very special for many reasons, the most important being that we are celebrating the Dormition of the Theotokos. We even got to hear how Guatemala celebrates it. It is considered their patron saint day. During the Gospel reading (of course), we could hear a parade marching outside the hogar walls. Besides the ridiculousness of the streets of Guatemala, I will really miss the innocent prayers from the voices of the children a few missionaries here, aside from the team from NY, who are filming the happenings of the hogar for promotional purposes. Robert is an independant videographer who shoots short promo videos for various nonprofits. They have been shooting in church as well as just around the hogar. They interviewed Father Mathias, as well as some of the missionaries, including myself. Robert said he will get me a copy of this promo for my fundraising efforts with the Huntingdon Area High School! I think I will also try to use this in my presentations at church.
Our last lunch consisted of Chicharon--super, overly crunchy pork, which if you recall I am prohibited to eat. (Madre Ivonne even ferverently reminded me.) I had rice, rice and more rice. We were able to get the children ice cream (thanks to Madre Ivonne) for the end of the Dormition fast. I had vanilla and mango. It is incredible how much better things taste after you have restricted yourself from eating them for a while. Of course, this is not by any means the reason we fast.

In the afternoon, like all Sundays, it was time for a movie. The little ones watched the Little Mermaid II, and the older ones watched Milo and Otis. One of the girls taught me how to close the kombosquini. I also got to know a few of the ladies from the team a little better. One is a physical therapist and another is a pediatrician, two people that can help out a lot here at the hogar.
The kids were cleaning out the carpenteria today for Mr. Russell's arrival tomorrow. It was more of a game for them to play with the dust masks and goggles. I have some pretty fantastic images of future exterminators, haha!

Before dinner, we had some time to play with los chiquitos. We had wheel barrow races, piggy back rides galore, and even an almost organized game of cat and mouse. It was just a really nice way to spend our last few hours with the kids.

The NY team treated everyone to Pollo Campero (fried chicken, french fries and pop) also for the end of the fast. It was good transition food since we will be returning to the greasy US food in a few hours. I think the lady who served me gave me the biggest piece she could find because she felt bad that I didn't eat much at lunch. Our last dessert--papaya.

After we said our thanksgiving prayers, everyone present in the comedor sang "many years" for Anya, John and I. They then gave us cards, and a few little presents. We then had the train of tears before we left the comedor.
It has been a very fufilling summer, in more ways than one. I will elaborate on this in my expectations and closing thoughts tomorrow when I have countless hours in the airports. Please pray for our safe returns!
(so how many "lasts" were there today?)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Blessed Feast of the Dormition!

Yesterday, I moved out of my “office.” It was a little surreal moving the scanner and printer and cleaning out my desk. I moved everything to my room (because the office will be locked over the weekend) just in case I have to do any more work before I go.

We didn’t really do much. It was really just a day of fun and games. I played Frisbee in the courtyard with some of the boys for what seemed like hours. Before vespers, we get a message that we will be starting later than usual. Thrilled, the children continue their playtime. I played more Frisbee, ran a few laps with my “trainer,” and played Uno. I enjoyed learning their version of Uno. Many of the rules differ from standard play, but my favorite is if you don’t say uno, you have to pick up as many cards as the number of people who caught you. Sometimes, this count was up to 8 cards, because after one person says uno, they all chime in.

No one from the team was in church, because they took one of the girls to buy her quicenera dress. When they returned, we saw some pictures. She looks like a princess! Erika is telling everyone that it is blue, but really it is orange. She even has faux pictures of her in a different dress that she is showing everyone at the hogar. It will be a surprise when she walks in and everyone is expecting a blue gown! I wish I could be here in October for her special day.

It was an uneventful evening for the missionaries, including myself, because the older girls went to watch this horrible chick flick called “The Prince and Me.” Personally, I was glad to be exempt from this activity.

Today was fairly uneventful, sans the Dormition Vigil, as well. I organized everything I have to give Madre, including the printer. We are trying to get ice cream for the kids in celebration of the feast day and our departure, but other, more important things came up when I was supposed to go with Jorge to Pops. These things can be expected, especially in Latin America—plans can change on a dime.

I had a nice little talk with Father Mathias after lunch today. He is from the Carpatho-Russian diocese (it was so exciting to hear the Carpatho-Russian chants in church—made me feel like I was home), so he knows Father Tomas Klein, our parish priest at Epiphany of Our Lord in Huntingdon. Besides his piety, he is very personable and genuine. I wish him all the best in the upcoming October elections.

We had Vigil for the Dormition of the Theotokos this evening. It was about 2 1/2 hours long. We did a mix of English and Spanish. Everyone had little candles, that unfortunately caused several accidents--no casualties included. We even had a procession around the entire hogar. It was beautiful.

After vigil, we had a quick supper of leftovers from lunch, which was my favorite meal here: Berenjena (eggplant) with a tomato and cilantro salsa. Delicious. I asked the cooks how you make it and its so simple. Looks like we'll be eating a lot of Ecuadorian (my host mom was a cook too) and Guatemalan cuisine during Lent this year in our apartment!

I think it’s starting to sink in that I am leaving Monday morning. This morning, I was up early so I was walking some of the girls and they asked me when I am coming back—something I really have no honest answer for. When we were working in the carpenteria this afternoon, one of them said to me, “Larissa, I have bad news.” My first thoughts are, uh oh, what did I forget to do or what didn’t I do right. It turns out that her bad news was that we only have 2 more days together. The little boys cope a little differently. Some tell me their birthdays and that I need to write it down right that second and can never forget. Others tell me they are glad I am going because then they can eat my portion of food (but then succumb to the truth with big hugs). Because tomorrow we will only have one day left, the girls started singing the song "one day" to us. Oh man, am I going to miss these little chapinos.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just another day in Paradise

We had beautiful weather this morning, and the birds were singing along in church. After breakfast and matins, with the help of the Thetfords, I finished the vespers and matins binders. We needed to recieve a blessing before putting icons in each one, but we think Madre will like this idea.

I had a nice relaxing afternoon reading in the courtyard. I finished the second volume in a series written by Elder Paisios. I can't even begin to describe how valuable I find his words and teachings. Since I still have the weekend, and I am about done with all of my projects here, I hope I can read at least one more book by the Spiritual Fathers.

All of the children made cards and gifts for Madre Ivonne. It is the anniversary of her tonsuring/becoming a nun in the Orthodox Church. May God bless her work and grant her many more years! After lunch, Anya, John, and I helped with the little ones. When we entered the classroom, they were watching National Geographic clips of different animals. I guess it was the perfect time to take them to the zoo, because it looks like they are learning about different habitats and what animals eat. Anya and John brought finger paints, so it was quite the messy afternoon. Prior to actually using the finger paints, it was a very organized activity. First, Seno' Mercedes would draw animals on the board--elephant, pig, tigers, etc. We used animals that we saw yesterday at the zoo! Then of course they wanted more elaborate animals, and they wanted our help. If you know me at all, you know my artistic skills do not include drawing, painting, or anything of that matter. The little ones were asking me to draw them eagles (which turned out to look more like angels with beaks), tigers, leopards, swans and all sorts of crazy animals! After there was paint on everything besides the paper, we played some interactive games with Winnie the Pooh on the computer!

Before reso (vespers), we had some time in the park. The little ones were so cute, taking turns playing jump rope. Once again, my limited artistic abilites were tested when one of the kids asked me to make a pig and bear out of clay. Eventually the clay turned into bigotes (mustaches) and finger nails. The team arrived while we were in class with los chiquitos. We didn't meet the team then, but during snack break, we greeted Father Mathias. This is the first time that I have met him. He just excudes this humility that makes you automatically trust him. If I was voting in the upcoming Bishop elections, even after just minutes with him, he would surely have my vote. There are only 6 people on this team. All are middle-aged women who visited last year. They seem very nice, but I don't think I will have much interaction with them, because I leave in 3 days.

After dinner, we watched the final third of the socialism documentary. The girls were relieved. We did the best we could with translating and relaying the overall themes and important points to the ones that showed interest. I hope they got something out of it.
Tomorrow is the end of the Feast of Transfiguration. This means many things, one being that we will return to the usual meal prayers. We have been singing the Transfiguration hymn for so long now, I hope I remember all the different prayers for the comedor!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Crocodiles! Oh my!

My favorite picture of the day: they are "scared" of the crocodile in the background After an early breakfast and a condensed Matins, we piled 17 chiquitos, 5 staff and ourselves into the hogar van and headed to the zoo! We had decent weather for the majority of the day, but it did rain on and off. We left just in time for the torrential downpour! The entrance fee was about 1.50 per child and 2.90 for adults. We rented strollers for the little ones. So it was a little less than 65 USd total. I was very impressed with the cleanliness and variety of animals. Besides the birds in captivity (I will never think this is acceptable), the animals looked like they were well taken care of. Some of the cages were empty with a sign that said they were at the veteranarian. None looked malnourished or abused. All good signs. The kids had a ball! Most said their favorite was the lion. There was a gate open, so I was joking that a lion escaped! My favorite is the elephant. We went into a cave-like observatory to view the snakes and lizards. After about 2 hours of walking around, we bought everyone french fries and various flavors of pop from Pollo Campero. Afterwards, everyone was sticking out their different colored toungues from grape, orange soda, etc. I was boring because I had a coke and my tounge was regular.

On the way back to the hogar, everyone fell asleep. It was precious! This was the opportune time to run to Office Depot and buy the binders for my project. This was quite the adventure with Jorge. 600Q, and a little added stress later, we leave Office Depot and safely return to the hogar. We returned at a little past 2--way past naptime, so everyone was exhausted.

We had a nice afternoon talking with the kids about our day. After vespers during announcements, Erika noted that all the little ones were very well-behaved and only went to the bathroom once. She said she would go with these kids any day because they don't need to constantly be running to the bathroom. I too was very impressed with the children's behavior at the zoo.

After dinner, we watched the second third of the documentary. This part was much more interesting, personally, because it was about Communism and Socialism in China, Russia, and Israel. I don't think the girls' opinions would concur. One fell asleep on my shoulder.

Tomorrow, another team will be coming. Father Matthias Moriak, one of the three Episcopal candidates of OCA for Chicago and the Midwest, and spiritual father to the nuns here, will be leading this group. May God bless their safe travels.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

...and Outside These Walls

Today was an interesting day. Seno' Irene and I had to go to the paperlerias around town to compare prices. This was my first time outside the walls and not in the comforts of the Hogar van. I know I compare a lot of my experiences to Ecuador, but what can you expect? I lived there for half a year. While roaming the streets of Quito, even when I was alone, I felt relatively safe. I was even mistaken several times for a Quitenan! I obviously never did anything ridiculous, and I can finally say without jinxing anything, I never got robbed during my semester abroad! Before we left for our little outing, Madre advised me to remove my cross (even though it has no value) and class ring. I don't wear any other jewelry here (I know can you believe it, Larissa without earrings!) This rainy afternoon, I felt everyone's eyes upon me. I must have been the wierd gringa that is prepared for the weather with my rain jacket (although my jacket is now permeable to water). Most people just put a newpaper over their heads, and run. In Ecuador, I basically played Frogger (and still have my 3 lives!) to cross the street. Here, I wonder if the bus drivers have ever used their brakes. There is a lot of peddling of pirited DVDs and knock-off watches and things of that nature, like in any big city. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures for the same reason that I could not wear my cross. Our errand was a success. We discovered that each folder/binder that I need cost about 26 quetzales (aprox 3 US dollars). Apparently, that is expensive for such a product. We may be able to go to Office Depot tomorrow on the way home from the zoo.

Tuesdays are carpenteria days. The professor that usually comes to teach computer classes didn't show up today, so the girls had free time to catch up on projects. Most were working on Christmas ornaments, one of the 26 things that's supposed to be complete by Mr. Russell's return in about a week. A few of the girls were working on the scroll saws doing individual projects they will most likely sell in the hogar store. It was an enjoyable time, listening to the girls practice their songs for Russia, and just chat with them. I lige (remember the vocabulary from woodshop? Ligar means to sand.) my project a little more. One of the girls is considered in charge of the woodshop, so I jokingly asked for her approval to pass my project. She didn't, because the semantron hailed us to Vespers before I could finish.

After a mother-less Vespers, we had some time before supper. I was talking with some of the girls about their anticipated trip to Russia in November. While we were conversing in the courtyard, and the boys were playing frisbee, another beautiful rainbow--all colors present--appeared in the east! See the rainbow in the top left of the photo?

I now have a running partner/coach. One of the little boys took it upon himself to "train me." Sometimes, we are just running--usually when I am ahead. When he is in front, it automatically becomes a race. Funny how that works. Now, everytime he sees me it's "c'mon Larissa, let's go train" even is we are still inside the church.

This afternoon, Madre gave me a documentary on socialism by PBS called "Heaven on Earth. The rise and fall of socialism." She instructed me to arrange the viewing of this after dinner. To get things moving faster, the Thetfords and I helped with the dishes. Afterwards, we hung out with Erika and some of the boys and girls on kitchen duty making tortilla tostadas. I demonstrated the skills I learned in Mexico a little, because I had to flip dozens of tortillas (by hand) at every meal. The boys think I have fingers of steel now. I told them that years in a restaurant and a few months at the stove will make you lose sensation in your hands. You can't really wait for the dishes to cool off when you are working with an industrial-sized dishwasher. Speed is everything in that type of atmosphere--no time for worrying if it hurts or not!

I didn't have popcorn, but I realized I did have multi-grain cheerios that I probably would not have finished in the next few days before I left. I brought this over to the lobby and the box was gone in an instant. The documentary was hard from them because A) it was in English and there were no subtitles, and B) socialism and Marxism is tough stuff in any language. They showed a little more enthusiam during the scenes depicting the Bolshevik Revolution and Tsar Nicholas. Anya and I did the best we could (more so Anya because the girls around me were more interested in the ugly dead guys' portraits) with translating the important points to the ones that wanted to understand. However, I can totally relate to how they were feeling. In my politics class at USFQ, the Spanish documentaries we watched were very dry and difficult to interpret. No wonder they had very short attention spans for this activity. While escorting the senoritas to their room, we met some of Erika's family. We greeted with the usual kissing, and then headed to our separate quaters. I love days like this. I feel as if I accomplished a lot, and spent invaluable time with the children. No moment felt wasted today.