Saturday, July 28, 2007

la ultima semana

So I have finished my time at Camino Seguro, and I am getting ready to head back to Texas on Monday. My time here has been wonderful, and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to be here and work with these kids and this staff.
And of course, I gave you guys one more smattering of pics from the journey. I finally took a picture of the chicken bus I ride to and from the project each day, so you guys could have a sense of the sort of hot-rod school bus I call my own. Then I included a picture of my teacher Miriam and me because she has been the highlight of most of my days. Then there is the picture of some of my girls and me in the comedor (cafeteria) during lunch, and finally a picture of me and a boy I like to call Scooby (because of a Scooby Doo shirt he wears), who I happen to love very much.
This week was pretty much a breakthrough week for me in terms of relationships with my kids and my teacher. I now understand why Camino Seguro requires volunteers to stay at least 4 weeks. All week the kids were very happy to see me each day, shouting my name, and waving me over to their desks to help with homework, almost fighting over my attention. It was nice to feel so much a part of the classroom this week.
Then there were kids like my friend Scooby who kept asking when I was leaving. My last day he sat with me, curled up by my side, thanking me for my time there and for the pencil and candy I gave him. He promised that he would remember me when I leave and asked me if I would be traveling alone, which he seemed a little worried about (very sweet of him). He also asked me to send him a picture of us, which don´t worry, we took about 10 pictures together. I even got to meet his mom on Friday, which was a day for the families to come to the project.
The family day was pretty amazing, and it happens every month. It is mostly a celebration of what the kids have done. They gave awards for best athlete, best English student, etc. in each class. They gave presents to all the students who had birthdays in July, and they showcased the work of the older kids in the various vocational areas. Then the kids had options like playing games, doing art, getting manicures, getting haircuts, getting shampooed for lice (oh what fun), reading books, etc., and the moms had an opportunity to meet with the social workers. They also gave away food baskets to everyone who came and clothes to anyone who needed them. I divided my time between doing lice shampoos and giving manicures. It was actually really fun to do that with lots of little girls, and most of my little clients were very happy. It´s like playing beauty shop, but sometimes there are bugs involved. My teacher Miriam said my word of the day was "piojos" (which is Spanish for lice); it´s always good to pick up some new vocabulary!
And the highlight of my week, and perhaps my trip, was getting to go home with Miriam on Thursday after school and stay at her house and meet her family. It was so great to get a sense of what life is really like in the city. We did really normal things like ride a city bus in lots of traffic, go to the grocery store and the bakery and her neighborhood tienda (think convenience store Guatemalan-style). We made black bean tostadas for dinner and had pan dulce for dessert and talked until our brains hurt from practicing Spanish and English for hours. She showed me pictures, and I got to meet her father and niece and nephew. It was wonderful.
Well, I´m late for one last Spanish I´ve got to end this. I´m heading back to the states on Monday and will probably try to blog one last time about this journey. Thanks for being involved in this part of my life. I love you all.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Saturday Afternoon Hike Up an Active Volcano

OK, so yesterday Melissa and I hiked the volcano Pacaya. Guatemala has 21 volcanoes, so I couldn´t leave without climbing to the top of one of them. We opted for the evening climb because the sunset is supposed to be great, and I hope you can tell from the pictures that it was amazing!
Picture one is Melissa and I reacting to this funny (but necessary) warning sign. And although I was aware of the risks I still was involved in a little spill with some sliding rocks, and now I think I have some volcanic rocks in my leg that I´ll be taking as a souvenir from my trip. Hopefully they´ll work themselves out, but if not it will make a cool story. Also in this picture you´ll notice Melissa´s walking stick. You rent these at the bottom from some very cute local children for 5 quetzales, which is about 65 cents...well worth it. You can also rent a horse for 50 quetzales to take you most of the way up, but I figure that kind of takes the hiking out of hiking an active volcano so we said no to that.
Next we have the amazing view of another volcano Agua, named because its crater is filled (or used to be filled) with water. It´s actually the same volcano in the street picture from my first post from here, but from a slightly different perspective. I envision this being the wallpaper on my computer when I return home.
Then we have the picture of me standing about 10 yards from some flowing lava. I´m smiling as much as I can, but my feet are burning. I was actually yelling for Melissa to hurry. Then after the picture as I started to walk off I realized that I had melted parts of the soles of my shoes from standing on such hot rocks. Then a couple of minutes after this pictures the rocks under me started sliding, and I fell and put shards of rock in my hand and leg...ouch! But all the damage to shoes and body was totally worth it, the trip was amazing!
Then the last picture is of Melissa and I hiking down at sunset. This was our last Guatemalan adventure because she is flying out today. It was a great last day together. Today I am sore and cut up a bit, but as I revisit these pictures I love that we had the opportunity to do this. It was absolutely beautiful, more so than these pictures can capture.

Pictures of My Cute Kids

So here are some pictures of me and my classes. The first one is one of my girls and I showing off our science project, which I think was something about the plants and animals that live in different biomes (we should be worried when I don´t even understand the science homework). I´m playing some form of Go Fish in the next one, and I won!! I know I´m supposed to let the kids win, but it wasn´t a game of skill so I couldn´t help it. Then the third one is me being attacked by two boys(in the background you can see all my kids´Sponge Bob toothbrushes that we use each day). Then on the bottom we have the morning class photo. The big gringo in the front is a high school kid named Rob who was on a service team that was there my first week. His family sponsors one of the kids in my class so he spent the week with us. Behind me in the blue is the amazing and talented Miriam who makes all the magic happen in the fourth grade class.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tobi´s First Week at Camino Seguro

So I have finished my first week at Camino Seguro, and it has been really difficult and wonderful all at the same time. I´ll share with you guys what a typical day looks like for me. I wake up at the crack of dawn each morning with many roosters singing and the sun shining in at about 4:00AM; I do my best to sleep through it, but I´m not very good at that yet. I get on a chicken bus (named because we are packed in like chickens, think sardines) a little after 7:00AM that takes me from Antigua to Guatemala City, which in the world of buses is simply known as Guate. There´s a guy that works on the bus called the ayudante that hangs outside the bus yelling, "Guate, Guate, Guate!" all the way there to let people know where the bus is heading. The advertising works so well that by the time we get there the bus is crazy full. Basically these are converted school buses, and we sit three to a seat and have people standing in the aisles (welcome to the Latin American concept of personal space). The ride takes about an hour usually; although in my first week we have had both a broken down bus which required us to get on another bus and standstill traffic due to an accident that meant that the trip took three hours instead of one! You never know what a ride on a chicken bus will bring.

On the way to school we drive by the Guatemala City dump, which is the largest in Central America. By the time we get there at 8ish, the dump is bustling with the activity of people trying to find enough food and recyclables to make it through another day. There are also hundreds of vultures flying over it all the time. And long before I see the dump, I can smell it. The odor is horrible and overwhelming, although I am growing quite used to it. It is a good reminder of where my kids come from; most of their parents work in the dump, and their "houses" are right across the street. I usually cry a bit when I see the dump each day, but I am also so happy to be there.

When I get to school I report to my fourth grade class. Guatemalan children only go to school for half a day. Therefore we have a morning class and an afternoon class, each with about 20 students. We spend the bulk of our time at school helping children with their homework for that day. I mostly help with math because I don´t have to understand Spanish very well to be able to do that. The language barrier makes it very difficult for me to do a whole lot more in terms of the homework, but I did get to help a student with a project where we made animals out of clay on Friday. That was a lot of fun. Much of the homework that the students have in Guatemala is very basic and repetitive; it also often requires many resources, like a dictionary or the internet or art supplies, that my students would never have access to. The project provides all sorts of resources and support for the students, including food and additional support for the families. We also do a special activity each day, like computers, sports, woodworking, English, etc. They really do amazing things with these kids.

The teacher in my class is a Guatemalan woman named Miriam, and she interacts beautifully and gracefully with the students. She loves them well and runs a really tight ship, which is great for the kids. She is also very generous with my poor Spanish and helps me understand what´s happening and how I can help the kids. She actually goes to a Math training on Wednesday afternoons, and I got to see the class without her. It was a disaster; all the magic in fourth grade happens because of her. (I think I´ll stay home next Wednesday, just kidding)

The kids seem like any other kids, with a few exceptions. In my fourth grade class I have children ranging in age from 10 to 13. Some of them smell a bit like the dump. Many of them come to school in clothes with holes or stains. And it´s not the sort of place where you make jokes about zippers being down because many of them are obviously wearing pants that were thrown out by someone else because of the faulty zipper. Some of them wear the same clothes each day. I think that this week we will check them all for lice. But really they are beautiful, happy children. They laugh and play and lie about having homework. They like to read books and work puzzles and play Uno. They pretend to have to go to the bathroom so they can get out of class. And there is a joy about them that is contagious.

At the end of the day I get back on the chicken bus to head from the stench of the garbage dump to the beautiful city of Antigua. The bus provides a lot of time to think (and study Spanish), and everyday on at least one of my bus rides I thank God for these kids and for this month and for the change that it will surely bring in me.

I´ll try to add some pictures to this post soon. I´ve got some great ones of the kids, but they are at home and I am not.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Too Much to Say, Too Little Time

OK, so keeping up with the blog is a bit more difficult than expected. The internet cafe doesn´t have the best hours, and I´m rarely at home so this post will be many adventures combined into one post.
We finished language school last week; it was good, but not nearly enough. We also learned quite a bit about Guatemalan culture and geography in language school. We visited a pueblo/village called San Antonio to learn firsthand about the culture. The first picture is of my two classmates Melissa and Ted getting married in a traditional Mayan-Guatemalan ceremony in traditional dress. The woman is using incense to get rid of the evil spirits for the marriage. Then there is the picture of another woman teaching me how to make a tortilla in a typical kitchen.

After we finished language school on Friday Melissa and I took a little trip with our Guatemalan brother Adam; he is neither Guatemalan, nor my brother, but that´s what I call him. He´s another volunteer we hang out with a lot. We went to Monterrico Beach on Friday, which has black sand from the volcanic rock (the country has lots of volcanoes). The third picture above is us on the porch of our hotel there. You´ll notice the thatched roof on it...more like camp than a hotel. Anyway, Friday night it started pouring rain while we were in the swimming pool, so we got out and ran to our room only to find that it was pouring rain inside there too! Also the power went out which led to showers in the rain on the porch! Then our adventures took us to Lake Atitlan which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. We were only there briefly. Then on Sunday we went to the Chichicastenango market which is supposedly the best in Guatemala. It was a fun day of haggling (thanks for all the training, Dad) and buying all sorts of things. Anyway, we got back Sunday exhausted because of our journeys and vowed to relax a bit more next weekend, but honestly it was a blast!
Yesterday I started volunteering in the Project, and I LOVE it! I had a little trouble my first morning because I was with the oldest kids and my Spanish wasn´t good enough to help with homework or really know what was going on. I quickly got demoted to a fourth grade class where the teacher Miriam was so grateful to have me there, and I can speak 4th grade Spanish much better. I love my classes; I have one group of kids in the morning and one in the afternoon with 44 in all. Please pray for relationships with my little friends and with their teacher. I think it´s going to be an amazing three weeks with them. I will take my camera to school soon and send pics of my class when I get a chance.
OK, I´ve got to run to dinner before my host mom serves it all to the other 8 people in my house. I´ll post again when I to all!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

¡Bienvenidos a Guatemala!

Greetings from Antigua, Guatemala! Melissa and I made it safely despite some crazy weather in Houston and my flight out of Lubbock being delayed for 3 hours. I played the "international traveler" card, and they agreed that they didn´t want to deal with me being stranded and put me on the earlier flight, which was also 3 hours late. So I ended up getting there right on time.

I also made a new friend on the flights (no surprise...Tobi is always up for a new friend), and the good news is that she is a doctor in Guatemala City. Her name is Eliet, and she works with Kendon Wheeler, the missionary to Guatemala that we worked with the last time I was here. She didn´t speak much English so I got to practice my Spanish much earlier than expected and served as a translator for her in the Houston airport. She also invited Melissa and me to come spend time with her family on Sunday and go to church with them. I´ll keep you posted on our friendship with Eliet.

The layout of the pictures above is killing me, but my technology guys Trey and Scott aren´t here to help so we´ll have to deal with it. The one on the left is Melissa and I at our homestay in Guatemala. We were going to take the picture outside, but it started pouring rain at the moment we decided to take it. (This happens in the afternoon on days that end with y. Let´s just say that I´m glad I brought the raincoat.) The house is nice. It´s more like staying in a hostel than with a family, but it´s working out well for us. We have four roommates from England, one from Iowa, one from Pennsylvania, and one from somewhere else in the states. There is never a dull moment in the house.

Melissa and I both started language school yesterday. We go from 8-12 each morning. It´s been really far mostly a review of the Spanish that I already know, but it´s a welcome review. My teacher Leonardo is very engaging, and there are only four of us in my class. Today he decided that I needed a bit more of a challenge than my classmates so I have to do more homework. I think maybe I´m being punished for all the times that I made my G/T kids do something extra. Anyway, I definitely think that the class is helping, and I look forward to learning more the rest of the week.

And I finally know exactly where I´ll be using all this Spanish. I have been assigned to work at the Camino Seguro project in Guatemala City with teenagers. I will be helping with their homework (assuming I can understand it myself...I´m praying for some math), doing brain teaser type activities, something like recess, and taking them to a computer lab. I will have one set of students in the morning and a different set in the afternoon. There is a Guatemalan teacher and other volunteers who will be working with me, so hopefully I can help them and the students in the next three weeks. I start that on Monday morning. Melissa will also be working in the city so we will travel there together; she´s working with pre-school kids.

I took the other picture on the way to language school this morning. This is a typical street in Guatemala, and in the distance you can see a volcano. There are three volcanoes visible from pretty much anywhere in Antigua. They are a big help with figuring out directions. We walk about 10 blocks in the morning to catch a bus to language school. The buses here are called "Chicken Buses" (I don´t know why, but they do seem like the sort of thing that would transport people and chickens). They are school buses that are painted every color under the sun and generally hold a ridiculous number of people; it´s three to a seat and people standing in the aisles. The Latin American sense of personal space is very different than in the US. Anyway, riding the bus is another daily adventure and is an excellent source for learning about the culture.

Currently I´m sitting in an internet cafe down the street from my house which seems to be very accessible, so hopefully I´ll be able to continue to keep you guys updated. Thanks so much for the prayers and messages and comments. I´m loving being here and love feeling supported by you guys. I pray that you are all well, and hopefully I´ll type at you soon!