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.

City-wide blackout

The team left for the usual monastery visit and an afternoon in Antigua after morning Matins and breakfast. Thank God, they had beautiful weather all day long! Things were peaceful around the hogar, as the children were in the colegio and Anya and I were organizing thousands of icons. The girls spent some time in the carpenteria, catching up on projects.

Oftentimes, the city of Guatemala will loose power for no reason. This occurs without warning and usually at the most inconvenient times. Yesterday around noontime, I was in the middle of compiling the Epistle Readings for a book Madre will then bind and will be used regularly when this occurred. Oh the luck! We got power back after lunch, but no internet. The entire town was without internet until about 9am this morning. I think many businesses rely on this form of communication, so cutting the lines at noon on a Monday was not the most beneficial situation for anyone. Thankfully, I have caught up on everything and am now working on translating Daily Matins into English for books for the missionaries.

The team left this morning. As always, it was an emotional time. After we sung many years and the children said their goodbyes, we had a quick breakfast of beans, rice, and apples (are you tired of hearing my meals when it never changes? Surpisingly, I am not tired of any of the Hogar's menu!) where I got to talk with the missionaries about their day yesterday. Since the majority of them are hogar-alums, they were very impressed with the progress of the monastery and the new orphanage. It sounds like they all had a lovely time.

We received a blessing from Mother Ivonne to take the little ones to the zoo tomorrow! Including some nannies, there will be 23 of us going. We can even take them to Pollo Campero for some papas fritas and coca-cola! I am so excited for our little excursion, and God willing, we will have nice weather!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Just another Wacky Cake

We had a very nice Divine Liturgy this morning. A lovely couple on the team is celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this month. May God grant them many healthy and happy years together! Proceeding the delicious lunch of potato patties (I don't know if they refer to them as llapingachos like they do in Ecuador), we had another wacky cake in celebration of Mike and Helen's 50 years together. They also bought sorbet for all the kids and missionaries. I had mango! Sunday afternoons, especially rainy Sunday afternoons, all the kids get to watch movies and eat poporopos (popcorn). The little ones watched Sleeping Beauty (again) and Kung Fu Panda, while the main lobby viewed Fantastic 4 and Jump. I sat in the back while one of the girls was teaching a missionary a pretty spanish song about friendship. I love little moments like those. After dinner, the team decided to have a Paraklesis service. The humble few congregated in front of the Panagia while Anya's beautiful voice led us in prayer. Tomorrow, the team will go to the monastery and Antigua to visit. They leave Tuesday morning. It seems as if they just got here. They have been doing a lot of yard work and plumbing this week. It is hard to believe that this summer is coming to a close and that I will be heading back to PA in just a few short days. There is still a good week left, so I want to live in the moment, and take advantage of every minute with the children. I do know that even though I will be leaving Monday, I will be leaving a part of my heart behind with these loving little souls.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blessed Transfiguration

When I haven’t written in a while it’s a good thing. It means I haven’t been on my computer as much, and it means I’m keeping busy. It could also mean I just didn’t blog because I didn’t feel like it. I promise in this instance, it is not the latter. Upon return to the hogar, I found my inbox full. I kind of liked not having internet access, and having not to worry about anything. Of course, the longer I stay away from it, the more I have to deal with when I come back. There was lots of news and emails from Juniata, which only makes the fact that I am a senior in college that much more realistic. Yikes!

A team from a Greek parish in Indianapolis arrived Wednesday afternoon. Most have been here before. They are a very sweet, cultured group. 2 were born in Greece! Because they are a returning group, I don't work with them as much. I was able to watch a presentation on a couple's trip to Greece though. They visited many holy places on their mini pilgrimage. They told this miraculous story of healing from an icon of the Panagia, that gave me goosebumps (in a good way..ask me if you are interested in hearing it). It made me even more excited for the (God willing) Pascha in Greece adventure with little Hatch.

Yesterday was the Feast of the Transfiguration. Happy Feast day to all! We had Divine Liturgy led by Father John Schmidt. Communion hymns were sung by the team, as well as this woman who chanted Arabic (so neat!). Afterwards, he blessed the fruit which Madre Iness handed out after services. This feast day is special for the hogar because it is the name's day for the church, Holy Transfiguration. Mother Ivonne gave a little talk to the children about how important it is to be grateful for everything God has given us. She said she hopes the children's souls "transfigure" from the darkness of their pasts to His eternal light. Father John's sermon on Confession was a good complimentary piece to Madre's words. He explained how at Baptism, a little flame is ignited in our hearts, and every time we sin, the light grows dimmer. Confession is our chance to strengthen that light. Every time we receive confession, it is like we are being re-baptized or "transfigured." He closed with warning the children not to let Satan blow out that eternal flame.

We have Great Vespers in about a half hour, so I should go prepare for that. I apologize for the lack of detail in this post. I am also trying to catch up on uploading my pictures to facebook, so check them out too!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 5 & 6

Sunday, August 1
After a beautiful morning service, we had a lunch of pasta with a pica de gallo salsa. In the afternoon, I witnessed God's imminent grace once again as one of the most miraculous things I have ever seen appeared in the sky. Over the lake, a rainbow was visable. Rainbows are always a beautiful miracle from God, but in this one, all the colors were present, AND you could see both ends. Stretching across the waters of Amatitlan, hawks in flight, this breath-taking sight hung over the lake like a halo. After a photo session of attempting to capture this astounding scene (my pictures do not do this landscape any justice), another rainbow, less vibrant, yet just as spectacular, appeared above the first. It was the perfect parting gesture from the Lord, as we are planning to return to Zone 1 tomorrow morning. Now we really do know where the end of the rainbow is, but the treasures that lie there are far more valuable than any pot of gold.

Saturday, July 31
Not much worthy of mentioning happened today. We did not have matins, and were allowed to sleep in a little. Unfortunately, my internal clock had other plans. I was up at the usual time, but persisted in reading until an appropiate hour for a light breakfast of yogurt. All the flan that we made must be eaten by tomorrow, as the Forefeast of the Life-Giving Cross begins. The faithful fast from August 1st until the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15th. We had a nice dinner, and lots of flan, with the nuns and the boys. They are great. They are free-spirited, faithful little souls around the age of 17. Two of them are twins, very well known by the missionaries, who love to serve in the alter with the missionary priests. They live at "Rio Dulce" another orphanage in Guatemala. It is primarily children from the jungle of indigenous backgrounds, who speak a variety of languages. It is so wonderful to see the boys continuing their life with Christ on their own in such a not as encouraging environment.

Day 4

Friday, July 30
So, I have had caviar before, but never prepared like this. Commonly referred to as Taramosalata in Greece, these baby fish eggs have the taste of mayonnaise, and with a few drops of fresh lime juice, make a great spread on toast. Along with oatmeal, I really enjoyed this new food for breakfast. Madre Ivonne is bringing the older girls to the monastery for lunch today, so all morning we were preparing for their arrival. Before they came, we helped feed the fish. We learn a little more about the way they raise the tilipia at the monastery. The ponds are purposefully designed fairly small and are only 4ft deep. These tiny quarters prevent the fish from swimming long distances, which would enhance their muscle mass. They remain a decent size to eat, and once a week, they fish and throw back the little ones that are not done growing. I can't recall the number, but I think it is close to 1000 fish in each pool, 4 pools total. The ducks were bathing in the pools as well. They are not a bother to the yielding of the tilipia, because they do not eat the fish, but rather the small insects. Ducks are really fascinating creatures, because unlike most, they mate for life. We were told that we could look for the duck eggs tomorrow, because they do not have a specific nesting area on the grounds. When the girls arrived with Madre, we were greeted with I miss yous and big hugs. Once again, the kids have only been absent in my life for less than a week and we are feeling these emotions; I am not looking forward to saying goodbye in less than 2 weeks. A few of them joked that we had become nuns, because by the 4th consecutive day at a monastery, we should know everything there is to know about monasticism, according to the girls. We had a lovely meal of lentals and papaya salad with great company, as the girls were sharing their latest adventures at the movie theater. Some saw Shrek 4 (can you believe they keep coming up with sequels for this!?), but the majority went to Karate Kid. It is interesting to see the girls' reactions to the movie. Some could only recall the kissing scenes with the young Jayden Smith, while others loved the action scenes. I really have no desire to see this movie, especially after the critique from the girls. Some said they were sad I couldn't go with them, and they felt sorry for me that I was at the boring monastery while they were at Oakland Mall. I think some are just a little too young to appreciate the full beauty and simplicity of this environment. Eventually, and through the grace of God, they will understand and come to appreciate their faith even more than they already do.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 3

Thursday, July 29
Scrambled eggs with peppers and onions along with white tea was today's breakfast. In the afternoon, we learned how to make flan, with a very basic recipe. Its a long process of just stirring sugar on the stovetop until it caramelizes. Before lunch, Anya was teaching me a little Greek. I have been practicing the alphabet and attempting to read small bits of Greek, like the Saints' names written on icons. Before vespers, Madre Maria was teaching us how to correctly tap the semantron the Greek style and the Romanian style. The semantron is a piece of wood used to summon everyone to church. In Palestine, those that used church bells were prosectuted--thus the birth of this percussion-like instrument. It is really interesting that something as simple as a way call a congregation to order can have such rythmic diversity based on culture. We also visited the bunnies. They are so cute and cuddly while at the same time a delicious main course!

Day 2

Wednesday, July 28
After morning prayers, a breakfast of oatmeal with the monastery's harvested honey was served. When the dishes were done, I went outside on the patio overlooking the lake and read. I had nice background noise of the Guatemalan nature along with Anya and Sarah's beautiful singing of church hymns. The sun was out and there was a slight breeze, perfect for just basking in God's glory. I took a nice, long nap before vespers, and felt completely refreshed for the evening. We had an appetizing supper with lisichki which are pureed chanterelle mushrooms, very popular in Russia. I have learned that delicious cusine doesn't always have to be these extravagant dishes but rather can be simple things. We had some dark chocolate covered pomegranates for a little snack afterwards. We spent a nice evening just talking with the nuns. Sometimes it is hard for me to go to bed when it is still light out, so I take advantage of this time reading. Our days are very simple at the monastery, and although they seem boring on a blog, they were indescribably fufilling and rejuvenating.

Monastery Day 1

Things have been pretty busy around the hogar upon returning from the monastery. I journaled a little when I was there so I will try to hit the highlights of my stay at Lavre Mambre.

Tuesday, July 27

We arrived at the monastery Monday afternoon with Madre Ines. We were given our rooms, each having a separate little bedroom and bathroom. The rooms are attatched to the back of the church. We met up with Madre Maria for vespers and then had a humble dinner of beans and rice. We went straight to our quarters, because morning matins begin at 6:30am sharp.

I woke up my first morning to the sun peeking through my window over the mountains. There were no horns or screaming, just the birds chirping. Matines lasted until about 8am. We then head over to the trapeza (word for monastic dining hall) to have eggs, tea and toast for breakfast. Madre Maria tells us that today we are queens, tomorrow, princesses, and the third day you are a slave to the monastery, so we must take advantage of our freetime now. One of the girls from the hogar came with Anya and I for the week, so after a tour of the construction of the new orphanage, the 3 of us hike to the bottom of the lake. It was a pleasant walk, but we had to bring sticks just in case we needed to fend off any dogs (scary thought). Thank God, we did not have any animal encounters besides seeing sweet little chicks. At the bottom of the lake, there is a house where the caretaker used to live, but it is vacant now. There is a nice patio area where the girls sometimes have picnics. The full hike, both up and down, took about 2 1/2 hours. We were greeted with a lunch of the monastery's fresh tipilia. After lunch we went to the market place with Seno' Ella, the cook. It was an indoor market filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, along with clothes and dvds and other knick knacks. I heard the theme song to Mar de Amor, the soap opera I watched with my host mom in Ecuador (I watched it moreso to spend time with her than to actually be involved in the telenovela itself), and it was on! It reminded me of my lovely Mama Maritza, and that I should write to her. We got back from the market and spent the afternoon just enjoying the tranquility of the monastery until vespers at 4:30. There are currently three boys at the monastery for their summer vacation, all of whom participate in reading in church, and tend to the chores of the grounds. Dinner was leftovers from lunch along with real Russian tea from China. Madre Maria jokes that the Russians love tea, but don't have any of their own, so they get it from China. It was a chilly evening as it rained all night long. And of course, we went to bed early, because 6:30 comes fast.