Sunday, July 25, 2010

Anticipating my stay at Lavra Mambre

I woke up this morning less red and less tired, two good signs. When I entered church for Typica (no priest), I was bombarded with hugs and "do you feel better", and "so you're not gonna die." Even the nannies and cooks were worried about me. It really made me feel like part of the hogar family. After I reassured some of the boys the worst that may happen is I lose a limb, we enter the church and begin prayers. Typica is short. We had some time before lunch, so we took advantage of the beautiful weather and went swimming. I unfortunately could not participate, because one must expose themselves to sunlight when swimming. I sat on the bleachers (in my raincoat with my hood up for shelter from the sun) with some of the nannies and older girls and we sang some spanish kids songs together. Between songs, I counted to 3 probably close to a million times for kids to jump in the pool, or have races. Lunch for me was vegetables and beans. I have been playing it safe by avoiding all types of meat (very against my character, except on Wednesdays and Fridays and other fasts). We did have manjar for dessert though, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

After lunch, los chiquitos watched Lady and the Tramp while the older ones watched Soccer Buddy and High School Musical 3. I helped Seno' with the popcorn and learned that consume de pollo makes popcorn almost edible for me. After a dinner of more vegetables and less meat, the older girls were given permission to watch the ultimate gift. What a touching story!

So, it was a fairly uneventful day, yet wonderful with the children as always. Tomorrow afternoon, Anya and I will be going to the monastery. I am not quite sure when we will be getting back, but I think the earliest will be Sunday morning. With that being said, it is obvious I will have no computer access for the next week up at Lavra Mambre. I will take my little journal with me to keep notes so I can record my experience here when I return to the hogar and my computer. I am anticipating the peace and tranquility at the monastery, as well as the scorpions, daily prayer, and apparently delicious duck eggs. I have never stayed in a monastery before, so I look forward to observing the monastic life and participating in this community for a week or so.

Check back in a week! Nos vemos pronto y Dios les bendiga!

No podemos perder esperanza

Saturday July 24, 2010

Yesterday, I had a really bad headache, which is rare for me. I thought that would be the worst of it. This morning, however, during a 6:30am bathroom run, I notice my skin looks very irritated on my legs. At first I just thought a mosquito got the best of me, but then as I examined other parts of my body, I realized it was more severe than just a pesky insect. I took a shower, thinking perhaps it would help soothes the irritated skin. A few hours with no change and no idea what this was, I seek help. As I was looking for Jesse the nurse, I run into the kids doing their chores. They were so concerned for me, it was so sweet. They thought I had an allergic reaction to the pig we ate Thursday for lunch. Apparently, even some of the children have this suprise reaction sometimes. We find Erica (because Jesse went home) who immediately calls the doctor. He gives me some allergy medication that I need to take 3xs a day for the next 3 days, some calamine lotion, and orders to not expose myself to sunlight. So here I am trapped in my humble quarters (at least I have internet!) until further notice with oatmeal, pills, and plenty of water.

There is talk of the possibility of spending a few days at the monastery at the end of this week (the kids start school next week). It has been something I am looking forward to since I was invited. Of course, I cannot go without being fully healed, so I am not taking any chances.

I was allowed to leave my room for vigil this evening. It was lovely to be back in the church together. Madre's mini sermon today was very touching. She talked about how there have been more ambulances and sirens in the streets, and bad news in the papers. How 16,000 people die a year here in the city. How the death penalty doesn't solve anything. How there are so many criminals, most being bad men. How women and children are abused. How we cannot lose hope...we need to pray for Guatemala and its people. We must be attentive in church and prayer, not only for our sake, but for our neighbors'.

After dinner, I caught up with a few girls who went to the parks the other day. They were telling me about la montana rusa (roller coaster translates to russian mountain in spanish, cool huh?) and how they would stay in the pool at the hotel past their bedtime. It sounds like they had a lot of fun (and a lot of junk food), but I am glad they are all back safe and sound.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Precious Moments

I haven't written about the past a few days, because they have been quite uneventful. Don't get me wrong, every moment with the children is a gift from God, but nothing huge has happened. Madre Ivonne took some of the staff and the older girls to the water park, so it has been a lot more peaceful around here as well as a lot less dishes to clean. I have been helping out in the kitchen, preparing and cleaning up with the girls who stayed behind. They gain so much discipline from washing the dishes by hand, in front of a fully funcional industrial-sized dishwasher. I have had many a great conversation over the soap and water.

I have taken advantage of this time with the little ones. Juaquin and I have been having "english lessons." Today we did animals. This is a video of him sharing his knowledge of colors in english (with preteen comentary, one being his sister).

Due to inclement weather here in Guatemala City, we have been watching movies for the past 3 days straight. Balto, Sleeping Beauty, Chavo (my nephews in Ecuador loved Chavito!!), Barbie's the princess and the pauper (the songs are hilarious in spanish), and Narnia. I observe the kids more than watch the movie myself. It is a great way to see the children's personalities. For example, when we watched Narnia, some of the boys were lions, and others were really into the war scenes--maybe a little too much. It was thundering and lightening out, and little Edgar curled up in my arms to be sheltered from the storm; he is so precious. It was fantastic discussing the religious symbolism in Narnia with Azlan and the 2 women, etc. with a few of the older girls. When we watched Barbie, I asked a lot of the girls who they liked better Erika or Anneliese. Most said they liked Erika better because she worked hard. These are 6 yr olds telling me they would rather be a hard-working regular girl than a princess! Of course if you sit on the floor, you have set yourself up to be a bean bag chair. The little ones have very little attention span, and a lot of energy, so they were climbing and jumping all over me. This is the way they love...can't complain. It was cute though, once they calmed down, I had three of them on top of me, one in each arm and the third in the middle, all three holding on to each other. I wish I had a picture of that.

I played lots of games this morning. Monica, another volunteer, some of the girls, and I played some intense fooseball. After what seemed like 100 rounds, I played Monopoly-tourist edition, memory, and their version of connect 4 (all of which I was humbly defeated). It is amazing how creative these children are. We played with foam letters that are intended to be used for arts and crafts. We played this sort of bananagrams with it. Then because we couldn't find an "L" one of the girls gave me an "R" because I have an r in my name haha.

I have been spending a lot of time with a little boy who is diagnosed with a disease (perhaps cerebral palsy--thanks to Emily Eisenberg to scratching her brain 'til she helped me remember. TE QUIERO MUCHO) that affects his brain as well as his mobility. God bless him, the doctors didn't expect him to ever walk, but lo and behold, the kid gets around! So many miracles take place at the hogar! It has been interesting learning his language so to speak. If you put your hand out to him, he will take it, and sometimes squeeze, giving his fingers a break from always being twisted together. He has such a heart-warming smile that just makes me melt (of course never on cue with a camera), when you play with him. He may not play and speak like the other children, but he is a child of God who loves and deserves to be just as loved as all the rest. Here is a picture of him and missionary Gina from the day we went to the hot pools. He had a great time!

Anya and John, relatives of my parish priest and matushka back home in Stroudsburg, arrived last night. They will be here with me until the end of the summer. Anya has been here several times before, and has a good repoire with the nuns and the children. It was great to see the kids smother their old friend in hugs and kisses.

I look forward to Madre and the girls returning. I like it better when its loud inside and the walls are filled with laughter and chattter rather than focusing on the outside where you can hear every gun shot and honking horn. We haven't had any communal prayer either--just personal prayer in our individual rooms. I miss it. I miss getting up at 8am (I usually eat oatmeal in my room instead of a big breakfast of beans and rice) to the sound of the hammer against the semantron hailing us to the church. I miss the echoes of the children's communal thanks to God. I miss everything about it...and to think they have only been gone 3 days; what is it going to be like when I go back to Huntingdon where there is a service once a week! May God give me the strength when that time comes.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A different type of Tren then back to the grind

July 20, 2010
5am before the sun or the roosters even stir, AmandaEve gets picked up by Charlie, a friend taxi driver. Father John, Stephan, and I bid her farewell at the gate, and return to our rooms for a few more winks of sleep. Before morning prayers, we said our goodbyes early to another team member. It was very eerie during morning service. The kids, even los chiquitos, knew that we would be 10 less in just a few hours.

After the final "Father Bless," the team lined up along the outside of the church. The children, age and height order facing the team did the same. This is where the different type of tren comes in: it was a train of tears, hugs and kisses. A few missionaries at the end handed out crosses (which they are still proudly wearing) and stickers. After the children dispersed, Madre Ivonne had the final meeting with the team, and gave them a tour of the mushroom clinic, and the older girls' living quarters. The team then acted like Saint Nicholas handing out little chocolate goodies to the staff as a gesture of thanks. I even shed a few tears when giving the despidas to some of the team members. I have heard some touching and inspiring stories and have shared in great conversation with the missionaries this past week. I was talking with one of the girls as we were sitting under the bells, watching the bus pull out of the hogar. She was in tears as well and told me that it is hard to hear them say that they will write, or return, because most never do. She said to me that at least I live in the US and could visit if I wanted. She doesn't have that option here in Guatemala. My heart broke a little more.

The little ones got a hold of the giant balloon Stephan brought for them. This game lasted about 5 minutes before they were too rough with the rubber, and it popped. Another reason for tears this morning.

After catching up on some well-needed rest, it was time for lunch. It was really weird how quiet the comedor was. Ivan, a volunteer and son of a good friend from Switzerland of Madre's, and myself were alone at the missionary table. We didn't talk much because we were both still in shock that we were 10 less. I did some office work, and then watched Sinbad the pirate with the little ones. When that ended, I took the children I have been tutoring for a little study time.

We had some free time before dinner. I played a very organized version of "house and school" where I was the mean maestra who gave too much homework. My students wanted to "soften my heart" so they prepared a suprise dinner of Pollo Campero and homemade tres leches cake (all invisible, pretend, etc.) for me. It was so incredible to see structure even in their playtime. When it was "time for school," the kids would automatically line up in height order. When I sent them in the corner for not doing the HW or misbehaving, through soft giggles, they obeyed. Imagine that!

After dinner, two of the preteens read to me. They were reading their favorite fairy tales, capurcita roja, and la princesa y la molina, etc. This was very valuable time, not only to obviously spend with the girls, but to see their levels of reading and comprehension. I cannot go into details about any specific child, but some are years behind where they should be. Thank God they came to the hogar when they did or it could be worse!
Wednesday, the older girls will be going to a water park (aprox 5 hrs away) until Friday. Talk about a full house to a ghost town!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Antigua with the Team

As part of the routine, the team gets to visit Antigua, the nation’s first capital. It is a beautiful city about 45 minutes from Guatemala City. After morning prayers and a delicious breakfast of bacon (special treat), we met Jorge and a few of the girls at the Hogar van. I sat next to Maria Cielo and her, missionary AmandaEve and I talked about musical instruments and future aspirations. (Maria Cielo wants to be a doctor! Good for her.) It was a nice time. I have to say that I am so blessed not have that language barrier anymore. I have had so many intellectual conversations with the girls, and other people at the hogar.

Per usual, the first destination was the Jade factory. Before we even entered the factory, the group was exposed to Jorge’s professional Guatemalan parallel parking (both my dad last year and Father John call Jorge Andretti). The spot was certainly not meant for a 15 passenger van, but with a little local help (a man picked up a stranger’s motorcycle), and a few taps on the curve, we’re in! The picture does not do the experience any justice.

The team learned that Jade is not only from China but also on the fault line here in Guatemala as well. They learned that according to the Mayan calendar, the world will not come to an end in 2012. After purchases of bracelets and Orthodox crosses (especially made after so many teams have visited the factory), we headed to the park.

There was a book fair going on. I had been looking for El Principito for a while now, and I finally found it at a little stand. I did not have any change, and was reluctant to break a 20 for a $3 book. Gina, one of the missionaries gave me $2 and told be to try to bargain the book down. The vender was not breaking, so this nice boy, I think about 17, gave the man 8 quetzales out of nowhere! Glory to God, there are good people everywhere. He and an Australian companion (I never caught either of their names) were in Antigua for an intensive Spanish course. They had been here for four days and had told me that they were mentally exhausted. We talked for a little bit, and I told them the best way to improve is to come to places like this park and talk with locals. When you immerse yourself in the culture, you are forced to speak the language. After I thanked the boy profusely, we parted and Gina and I reunited with the group. We stopped at a church called San Francisco which famous because Saint Pedro is buried there. San Pedro is the only saint from Guatemala. He cared for the poor of Guatemala City. There is an icon of him in the church vestibule here at the Hogar but it is not IN the church, because he was not Orthodox. When we visited the tomb, several people were speaking native languages to the holy brother, and offering him candles and prayer.

We then headed to lunch at a rustic Italian restaurant, where we were reunited with Madre and a few of the girls. The missionaries were very content with “real food” as they called it of pasta and garlic bread. I had pesto myself, but brought some of the Latino culture into it with horchata, a sweet rice milk beverage. Madre led a question answer session where the missionaries were free to ask anything about the structure or what have you at the hogar or monastery. After lunch, Father was delighted to treat everyone to ice cream. Including specialty sundaes, banana splits, and 3 layer cones dipped in chocolate, the bill came to be less than $22 for 14! Tell me when that would happen in the states.

We then departed for the private market. We spent about an hour bargaining and getting ripped off. Everyone left with bags, candy, and other little knickknacks. We then went to this swiss chocolate factory for the team to buy gifts for the staff. I had a few dark chocolate truffles and forgot I was in a third world country. Sometimes, different businesses here make you disregard the poverty outside.

The team leaves tomorrow. It will be weird after not being in the office for over a week, eating alone, and the children going back to their routine chores. May God bless their journey home.

American Feast!

Sunday morning began with Divine Litugry again. It was a beautiful service, and Stephen, the OCMC birthday boy got to serve in the alter with a few other varones from the hogar. Father John's homily as always was insightful and in spanish.

After church and lunch of the typical beans rice and tortillas, OCMC team had a photo scavenger hunt. The night before, I had helped them translate the clues. We tried to be witty and make them rhyme, but you can imagine how difficult that is in another language. The object of the hunt was to find things/places that highlight the hogar--the church bells, the pool, icons, etc. and after, the OCMC team will print the pictures. They will then give them to the hogar to put in the store for others to purchase. Deacon Mark even brought his photo printer to work on this project. The kids were broken up into the same teams from tren de chocolate. After they all got their jerseys on, and Father sounded his whistle, the hunt began. It was great fun! The kids, even the older ones, all told me they really enjoyed it.

After that, half of the team went into the comedor to begin preparing the American feast...more to come later. While that was going on, myself and a few other missionaries ran watermelon relay races in the pool! They thought we were crazy when we gave them watermelons instead of balls. It was funny seeing the older ones dominate the relays. But, it was all in good fun.
After the children showered and got ready for dinner, they all neatly lined up anticipating yet another suprise meal from the team. The missionaries had prepared grilled cheese, Cincinnati chili, potato chips, and apple crisp all in bulk. The idea was to try to show the children a little culture from the US and Canada. It was a huge success. Father John describes the preparing process as something from Madden--people jumping over others, yet exactly coordinated so there was not a single accident. Thank God! The meal was a total success, as the other half consisted of us serving and cleaning up. Madre Ines and Madre Ivonne joined in the meal as well. The kids were coming up for fourths of apple crisp! As dinner was ending, a third dance party (once again with the 4 approved songs) commenced. Several of us washed dishes, swept, etc. with the help of some of the children from the hogar. Even though we told them this was part of the treat, some couldn't help but still fulfill their duties. As if we hadn't eaten enough sweets and grease, the team celebrated Stephen's birthday with a giant chocolate cake during the team meeting. Before that cake was distributed, a little nutella and chocolate was placed in a bowl with a lit candle in the middle. We sang "feliz cumpleanos" and had highs and lows over enormous pieces of guatemalan style cake. What another full yet fabulous day!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Monestario Lavra Mambre...6 months later

May God grant my baby sister Jacqueline many many years! Happy Birthday Bean!!!! I love you and all the kids say feliz cumple to the pretty sister too!

When Father Nick, my dad and I came to the hogar in December, we were blessed with the opportunity to visit the Lavra Mambre monestary. I feel doubly blessed to have had the chance to return to the beautiful grounds yesterday.

The OCMC team of 10 piled into the Hogar van, Jorge at wheel. It was interesting to see the reactions of the missionaries in regards to the Guatemalan traffic, and Jorge's swift thinking at every turn. The driving in Latin America has taught be a lot about the people of this part of the world. You would notice fairly quickly that it isn't uncommon to disobey stop signs, semaforos (traffic lights), sometimes even a cop controlling traffic. This is because to the people of Latin America (I experienced this in Ecuador just as much and in Mexico when I had to drive...yikes!) find laws to be more like guidelines. They are more people-oriented than we are in the north. They make eye contact with someone before they cut them off. There is a communication there that is foreign to Estadounidenses. Plus authority is not very well respected (it is also corrupted as you may have guessed) so no one receives tickets or fines or anything of the sort. The other major thing I have noticed is the type of cars people are driving. You don't see many hummers or mercedes, or any make newer than 2000 if even that. People here seem to value the fact that even if their car is 20 years old, doesn't have a rear window, and perhaps stalls sometimes, at least it gets them from point A to point B most of the time. In the states, people get rid of their cars because they can afford to, or they want to have a nicer car than their neighbor..astetic reasons. Mechanically the car can be running perfectly, but it doesn't have automatic windows, or the air conditioning is faulty. Time to go to the Chrystler dealer! It is a lesson that I keep relearning from the people of Latin America that goes farther than just cars. Its all possessions. My computer is older now, and it doesn't run as well as it used to, but thank God I even have one. It goes back to patience, and prayer, and when the time is right to get something new, it'll happen when it is supposed to.

After passing through the narrow streets of Guatemala City, we finally reach our destination of the Lavra Mambre Monestary. The gunman greets us at the door, along with their big dog, Rex (he is still around!). We meet up with Father John and Madre Ines and begin our tour.

Not much has changed in the past 6 months. Only the volcano Pacaya errupted and threw stones and pebbles and ash onto the once white path leading up to the new orphanage (or as the govt knows it "boarding school"). The new site of the orphanage is on the edge of Lake Atitlan. It is about a half hour from the city, and it is so peaceful. The view is beautiful. There is no noise pollution or any type of pollution for that matter. The construction is a slow process. The only difference I saw in progress was the installation of screen windows for the individual dorm rooms and doors for each suite. Money is a huge issue. They do what they can with what they have and then there are long periods of stagnant time where nothing gets done.

The big change was in the church. When Father Nick, my dad, and I were there in December, the iconographers were in the process of sketching the icons on the wall with a projector. 6 months later, all the iconography is complete and the newly wed couple (they met here in Guatemala while working on this church) has moved to New York. The iconography is indescribable. Larger than life saints cover the interior in all directions on the first floor. On the second floor, there are icons written of the story of creation, and the last judgement, amongst other stories from the new and old testament. All the arches have images of the prophets and apostles. Lead by Father John, we sang a few hymns with unrehearsed harmonies. It is really beyond words. Just another little slice of heaven.

We had a 5 star lunch at this authentic restaurant called Kacao. A lot of us had jamaica juice to drink. We had some tapas (appetizers) which consisted of Guatemalan tacos, tomales and doblados. My main course was this fantastic steak smothered in these special delicacy mushrooms and cheese sauce. Others had 3 cheese lasagna, tacos, one even tried rooster stew! Only a few had desserts of flan, tres leches, and apples covered in a rum sauce. While the meal was delicious, the company was the best part. Less than a week ago, 10 strangers met at the OCMC headquarters in Florida. A few days later, people are sharing life stories, laughter and their faith over the table. They have treated me like one of their own. I have met people that I think will be in my life for a long time.When we got back to the hogar, it was time for vespers. During vespers, the men cut a 14 ft pvc pipe in half to prepare for the 27 foot (we lost a foot when we overlapped the halves) banana split party. As the kids were guessing what the special treat was, the team was cutting bananas, scooping neopolitan icecream, pouring syrup on top, spreading sprinkles, and topping it all off with 100 maraschino cherries. We filed the children into the comedor with the lights off. When we put the lights on, spoons in hand, the children didn't just dig in. They waited until after we sang "Happy Banana Split to you" and received permission. The ice cream was gone in minutes. It was great to see the team so happy that they were able to do this for the children.
Of course, after the ice cream party, there was another dance party (again with the 4 approved songs). It was Madre's idea to wear them out after all that sugar. She has a reason for everything.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Christmas in July

He didn't care that they were 10 sizes too big. He was just so grateful for new shoes!

After morning prayers, we had Christmas in July. The church in Chicago sent down more or less a pair of shoes for every child. It was great to see the shoe fit the personality of the child. Some were a little too big (2 year old Anna got a size 7 shoe..whoops). This is not the offical name, but it just felt like Christmas morning when all the children we receiving their shoes and trying them on and walking around. After trying them on, all the new squeaky shoes made their way from the church, to the morning activites.
Yesterday was the last day (we thank God) of Tren de Chocolate. It was Father John's birthday so Filipe the baker made two giant wacky cakes. A wacky cake is a lenten recipe with no milk, eggs, etc. because it was Friday. It was delicious. May God grant him many more years!
After morning activites, we had the futbol finals. They were pretty intense, and there were no major injuries. Everyone was a good sport, and shook hands after the games. After prizes were handed out, a final group shot was taken and then it was time to have the art exhibition of all the crafts the children made throughout the week. This was a rushed process because we also had vespers we could not be late for.

Brother and sister from the winning team
One of the missionarie's cousins visited the hogar as well. He was here for 2 years with Peace Corps. It was really interesting hearing his story, pros and cons of peace corps, etc. I have been thinking about applying, but that is as far as it gets. I haven't actually started the action of applying. I don't know if it is because I am not supposed to or what. I don't know what I want, only He does for me.

It was a long day and it was hot out, and because of the prior day's activities, we just wanted to catch up on some sleep.

Hot Pools, Hot Chicken, Hot Day

Two days ago, the other half of the team, including myself, had an excursion outside the walls of the hogar. We went to the natural hot pools and Pollo Campero. The Hot Pools were about an hour (including traffic) from zona 1 where the hogar is located. We took a normal school bus, packed a few extra nannies and were on our way.

It was the first time that I was outside of the hogar with the younger kids. It was quite an incredible experience, getting to see the adventure through their eyes. I was sitting with one of the 8yr old boys and we were counting how many motorcycles passed. He was also telling me to look at all the colors of the buildings, pink and green and yellow...Some of the other kids were trying to get the passing trucks to honk for us. We passed through a lot of marginalized towns to get to our destination of a country club style resort.

Once we got there, the kids immediately got their suits on, and didn't waste a minute outside the waters. I was a human jungle gym, with a minumum of 3 little ones hanging on me in various positions. It was a blast! There were 4 pools all varying in temperature, one being boiling hot water falling from a waterfall. Two had diving platforms. I spent a lot of time being a tiburon (shark), chasing the children around. A few of the missionaries were throwing them into the pool. Father John even had the little ones "walking on water." The kids were just so excited to show us what they could do, "Larisa, look at me, Larisa, watch this!" It was wonderful to see the kids embracing the experience. They were full of such life and joy.

Then we made our way to the infamous Pollo Campero (Country Chicken), which is the Guatemalan version of McDonalds. We filed into this back room, obviously prepared for our party of 40. There was also a giant play place. None of the kids stepped into it, until given permission, and neatly placing their shoes in the cubbies. It was incredible to see the discipline being practiced in public.

When lunch was served (500 legs of fried chicken, papas fritas, 10+ liters of soda), everyone didn't just dig in. They all patiently waited for prayer and permission. These are 4 yr olds I am talking about! I had a little one on either side of me, helping them with ketchup or what have you. I didn't eat my chicken down to the bone, but there really wasn't much meat left. One of the boys asked me if I was finished and he got every crumb and drop of ketchup off my plate. They have been taught not to waste anything, and they truly respect this. Dessert for the children were donuts, and the missionaries the choice of prepackaged flan, ice cream with chocolate sauce, or tres leches cake (guess which one I picked). Even though it was an unhealthy meal, this deep fried feast really satisfied the kids' need to get out and indulge a little. And not one failed to thank the missionaries for the pools and lunch.

When we got back, we all examined our sun burned faces and backs. We were all so exhausted. I thought that would be the end of the night, but Madre gave a blessing to watch Invictus, the Mandela-Rugby movie. It was a great time. One of the missionaries brought popcorn, so we pulled the little microwave out of my room and prepared that for the older girls. It was a really moving movie, and the girls' thrist for knowledge was amazing. I know a little about Mandela so it was nice to be able to share that with them. The actual world cup in the movie was intense. We were all holding hands and biting our nails, hoping South Africa would pull through. I won't ruin the ending. It was a day full of highs. We had beautiful weather for the pools, which we weren't expecting according to the weatherman. I felt the love of all the children in so many ways. I got to know some of the older girls better than I did. I even had a nice conversation with Erika, who just does so much for the hogar. It was a blessed day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Miracles on 16 Calle

Everyone has been very busy with the Tren de Chocolate (I think the song is permanently stuck in my head, as I play it twice an hour). I have gotten to know each of the missionaries on the team a little better by now, and it has been a pleasure. Everyone has such interesting backgrounds and stories to share, it has really been a joy to work with them. They have included me throughout their entire trip. Every team member on this trip has their own special gifts and talents, and all are willing to share them with the hogar and the children. Some have beautiful voices, others are creative or athletic. Some have been kind and strong enough to shre their stories with both the children and me personally. It has been a very enriching experience, and I feel blessed to spend this time with them.

So I titled this post Miracles on 16th street because in the past few days, a lot of fantastic things have been happening here. I have been tutoring two of the kids with some of the classes they are struggling with. The first day, both were very reluctant to work. I don't take it personally, because I am not their teacher, and I don't expect them to respect this missionary who has no formal education in teaching. I volunteer at several locations, such as the Huntingdon Community Center by my college, but I am not an ed major, so I haven't taken any classes on it. By the third day, they were asking me when we were going to work! I was so impressed by this self encouragement from both of them. Because I have worked with students with learning disabilities and under-privileged children, I am aware of the challenges I was going to face with these kids. I do not know much of their backgrounds, which makes it harder to determine how to approach the teaching, but prayer and patience are key to a lot of things around here. Even though I am the maestra if you will, it has been a learning experience for me probably just as much as it has been for them.
It was also quite a miracle that the octopus Paul was right all season, down to the finals! BUT the bigger miracle was Madre's blessing to let the kids listen to Shakira (over and over and over...I am not exagerating). Instead of eating in the comedor, we had a futbol party and set up all the food in front of the big screen. We had Dominoes Pizza, the Guate-version of a hot dog with everything on it (ketchup, mayo, mustard, guacamole, cilantro, salt and pepper), salad, soda and ice cream! It was a kid's feast! After Spain won (Horray!!!), we had a huge aprox 4 hr dance party, with only 4 songs (the approved Africa Shakira song, the official FIFA song, One Day, & Viva Africa). It was a lot of fun! To wind the kids down, we watched Free Willy 1 (to go with Free Willy 4 from last week).
This is out of order, but it was wonderful to have Divine Liturgy with Father John and Deacon Mark. Another milagro (miracle) was how well the Liturgy came together, despite the language barrier. It was a beautiful service, and it was especially nice to meet some of the Orthodox community from around the area.

After Dinner, the team groups together and discusses highs and lows for the day, plans for the next day, and evening prayers. It has been great to hear the missionaries special moments with the kids, and watching them interact with the children. Plus, no one in this group will go hungry with all the snacks they have. I have been missing curfew (oops) because I try to help out with the crafts for the next day, or just enjoy intelligent conversation.
Now that the Tren has begun, I know a little more about it. There are 4 main stations: game room, pool/gym, arts and crafts, and bakery. In arts and crafts, the kids have made icons, crosses, bookmarks and ornaments. In the bakery, Father John explained the prosfora bread that is used in Holy Communion , and the signifance in the steps of preparation. Then there was a mini quiz at the end, to make sure the kids were attentive. They passed with flying colors!

Yesterday, half of the group went on an excursion to the hot pools and Pollo Campero (similar to McDonalds). Everyone came back exhausted, and I look forward to that excursion tomorrow. Today, we had the big futbol championship here at the Hogar. All the children were in their team jersey, and it was a fun afternoon. The first game was really intense, with a tie in the first 2 minutes of the game. It went into overtime and one team won by a penalty shot. The little ones could not participate, so they sat in the bleachers with the team, Madre Ivonne, a few nannies, and myself. It was precious bonding time, rooting for teams, and chanting typical cheers.
The OCMC team has some great ideas to treating the children. We are planning a field day (here it is called a rally) concluding with a photo scavenger hunt, an American dinner of grilled cheese, corn on the cob, potato chips, and apple crisp (hungry yet?) where we cook, serve and clean up the entire meal, and a giant banana split party in pvc pipe (I got the idea from Red Barons on the field ice cream party).

So, we will have a full day tomorrow of swimming, eating lots of chicken and papas fritas, and hopefully not too much traffic. I can't wait! Hasta luego!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Let the Tren de Chocolate begin!

Intense portero (goalie)

A few relatively uneventful days have passed since I have last written. The printer and I have become very acquainted as we were preparing for Tren de Chocolate. Tren de chocolate, is the summer camp for the children at the hogar, sponsored by an OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center) team. Tren de Chocolate or, the chocolate train, is a popular children's song in Latin America about a tren filled with caramels and sweets! In the hogar's version of the tren, stations are set up around the property for different activities, each station represented by a country (Guatemala, Holy Land, US, Mexico, and the Philippines). They will be making crafts, watching biblical tales, learning how to bake, and much more! This will be my first tren adventure as well, and I can't wait to get started!
The OCMC team, lead by Father John Parker of Holy Ascension Church in SC, arrived yesterday in the rainy afternoon. After evening prayers, while still in church, each missionary stood up individually, and said their name and what parish they were from. Every single one tries to present themselves in Spanish, and I was very impressed! It is a team of 10
from all of the US (and one from Canada). I had the opportunity to get to know a few of them last night. They all seem like very genuine Christians with good intentions for the tren and its passengers. I talked a lot to Father John, and Deacon Mark from Dallas during dinner. I have heard really good things about Fr. Juan and the children adrore him, so I am very excited for this week. Deacon Mark and I talk about the difficulties in unifying the Orthodox Church with regards to existing pride and whatnot. I can tell he is very passionate about his faith and speaking The Word, and making sure it reaches his listeners. I always feel a little guilty when I meet a team, because yhey already know each other, so they ask me about myself; I feel as if I am talking too much about myself. I just try to explain that I think this is God's will for me and it has been a blessing every day I have been here. It is kinda cute with the little ones though; even the ones that aren't usually affectionate towards me cling to my side when all these new strangers entered their home. These are our friends, I tell them, and besides, they will give you lots of love and special treats!

As I was informed in December, I have a lot of solitary time. During these hours of chores and schoolwork for the kids, I spend my time doing some spiritual reading Madre has given me. It has been very rejuvenating filling these hours with good, strong text instead of TV (well, besides futbol recently) or facebook (don't worry, I still check it). I hope that when I get back from Guatemala and return to school, I will have enough discipline to continue this routine in the much less encouraging environment.
The girls have also taught me how to make Kombosquinis or prayer ropes. It is a precise 9 step, 3 part process that takes a lot fo patiences and prayer. The Jesus Prayer (English or Spanish) goes along with each step, and concludes with pulling each string through 3 times for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are some girls that know how, but are not permitted to teach yet. It is an honor and you must earn the right to teach. My "teachers" (bad idea to have more than one because that all have slightly different techniques and it is easy to confuse them) said that I picked up the steps very quickly. Now I need to work on the technique to get each know smaller and tighter. When they finally approve of my technique, I can graduate to making a real Kombosquini instead of just practice knots. I am not nearly as fast as these girls, but some have been at it for 10+ years. The girls tell me that whenever they are bored, they just turn to Kombosquini making. They sell them in the hogar store for their personal bank accounts (let me know if you are interested in owning one). Most are wise enough to save their money up for college. Now that I understand the discipline of Kombosquini making, when I am using the prayer rope in prayer I have a lot more appreciation every time I move to the next knot.

Speaking of knots, here is a human knot!

Today is the big day! I think the runner-up game is a bigger deal here than the final game will be--because of the teams that are playing. The two losing teams, Uruguay and Germany, will play at 12:30 Guate time. I think the hogar will be split right down the middle. I am for Uruguay. Like I said earlier, I really watch more for the kids' reactions. I will try to video tape some later. I think the group tour is about over, so I should get back to the team now. Nos vemos pronto!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Preschool Playtime!

These past few days have been filled with office work, watching movies, and spending time with the little ones. It is wierd to see the ones that were in cribs in December are walking and jumping on trampolines now! I guess that is what happens right, they grow up? The little boys sang me their favorite rhyme song, Hola Don Pepito. It is similar to a Miss Susie song. Hopefully that video loads.

As we were singing and playing, I saw Andy, with 2 (gringo) adults I have never seen before. I assumed they were his hopefully adoptive parents from VA. Andy is 3 years old, and this lovely couple has been trying to adopt him since early 2007. Unfortunately, they are no closer than they were 3 years ago. The Guatemalan govt finds excuses to prolong the wait for approval. They are very sweet, patient and kind people, and it breaks my heart that they have to travel such a far distance just to spend a few hours with their son, and countless more in courts. There is a lot more to their story, but I think it is best to respect the confidentiality of the circumstance and just ask you to pray for them.

After church yesterday, we went to the park. It was a beautiful sunny day (bad for picture taking though...see I'm learning!) and it was a lot of fun. It was neat to see the park filled with such a variety of people. And I have to admit, being in Latin America for the majority of this year, I have been very aware of my surroundings, so I was looking for homeless people. I really didn't see any! I am not saying there are none, but I was suprised not to see any beggars in such a location. There were families, owners taking their dogs for walks (or sometimes the other way around), novios, skate boarders, and lots of bikes--lots sporting their favorite teams (there were a lot of Argentinas and Espanas out there). We ended with waters and icecream at a place called Pops (can't get away from the english anywhere you go).

After the typical beans, rice, and I believe papaya for lunch, the little ones watched Free Willy 4. Most of you know how I feel about sequels so I skipped out on this one and caught up on some reading. Then later the older girls watched Bend it like Beckham (they are teen girls, of course they appreciated Jonathan Rhys Myers but obviously not for tudors hehe). Then Madre came down and was so pleased with everyone's hard work over the weekend, she let us watch Michael Jackson's "This is it!" I was really glad we got to watch it because I had been meaning to see it. It was so great! It didn't go into his past or anything, just clips from rehearsal of his show "this is it" before he died. Thriller was of course the girls' favorite. I told them that I had to dance it for our dance team at school, and that I would teach it to them! I enjoyed Smooth Criminal myself.

Today after putting in some office hours, I got to visit Madre's special O. biblioteca. I asked for monasticism for women, and she has given me a few books to read, one being about the life of Romanian Princess Ileana. She also gave me a book about the most beautiful Orthodox monastery in Greece. It has made me even more motivated to make Pascua in Greece with Jacqui possible. I would also like to visit the town of Larissa, it is said to have a strong Orthodox presence, because there is a monastery there as well.

After dinner, I was given spanish riddles. Heres one: What country can you put in a tortilla? Chile haha! Then we played twister for an hour or so. It was so funny. The younger ones are a little competitive. But that was fun.

Its almost curfew, so I am going to head over to my room now. Some of the girls helped me write out the prayers for meals, because I feel a little strange being the only one not speaking. I guess I should always feel strange being the only gringa around for the most part, but everyone has been really warm and welcoming. Goal: know the pre and post breakfast prayers by desayuno tomorrow (I'm already pretty good with the lunch ones). Buenas noches!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A week in the woodshop

Claire on the scroll saw
So, I haven't updated in a while because it was a very busy week in the carpenteria. Every several weeks, Mr. Russell comes down and holds woodshop classes for the kids. Now I'm pretty good with the old school stuff like hammer and nails, but there is some pretty high tech equipment in that workshop that professionals use that I have never seen before! I know what a lathe and scroll saw and band saw do, but there is a Shop bot, and a fast joint, and all these other neat tools. I know, it sounds like another language entirely (and I don't mean spanish). But it really was fantastic. Everyone's first project is always their name on the scroll saw. I wasn't allowed to officially be considered part of the carpenteria until I accomplished that. So with a few lil helpers, my name doesn't looks half bad. I am learning a lot of new vocabulary too! You lijar something to make it smooth, and you barnisar a piece when you are all done so it forever keeps its color. Get either of them? (and no cheating!)

We went to Antigua last Saturday for a photoshoot. We left pretty early in the morning so there was less conflict with the sun, affecting the saturation of the photo (like that? thats photo talk haha!) Mr. Russell taught us some techniques and tips to get better shots. I have a few decent ones. Antigua is a very old town with lots of natural beauty. We visisted some old homes, parks and even met some pretty talented Macaws! The girls were all tired out by the end of the day, so Mr. Russell suggested the mall. Of course, this woke the girls right up. I am not a big fan of crowded manmade structures that sell lots of junk inside, but there were a few presentations happening. There were bongo players in the music store and futbol dancers in the sports outlet. We had dinner in this aquarium type restaurant, and all the waiters were dressed in their favorite team's jersey. (At this point, Argentina still had a chance.) It was a great day, and Madre had a full day to herself.

At the end of the week, the girls presented Mr. Russell, and his grandson Grant, with some hommade gifts. They made him an eagle carved from the scroll saw. He was really impressed that the girls made it from techniques he taught them. I really enjoyed seeing the interaction between him and the girls. Even 9yr old Grant had a good time. Now that he is gone, the schedule is kind of back to normal. I'm back in the office doing some work for Madre Ivonne, and the girls do chores in the morning and usually have the rest of the day off.

It was also Madre Iness' birthday this week. We had a pooh bear cake and 3 candles (representing the holy trinity). The older girls made a puzzle of Jesus and the children on the scroll saw, and presented this to her as well.

Oh here is something exciting. See that? Bones, brains, and all! The monestary raises tilapia, it is just prepared a little differently than in the states. The little rib bones are tricky, but I have finally mastered the art of eating this beast.