Asociación Vida Has Taken Over My Vida

It’s already December. I remember thinking when I got here that December would never come, but it has come and oh too quickly. I’m finally really getting into what I wanted to do on this trip and I don’t have enough time to finish it. I’m getting to experience the real Guatemala.

Wednesday, when I arrived at the project in Dueñas, Galleta didn’t meet me like he said he would. I wondered what the heck happened and when I finally was able to get in touch by telephone, he said he probably wouldn’t be coming that day because Julio’s uncle died and he would have to go to the funeral (or wake). But then he changed his mind and came and not only did he come, but I got invited to go to the funeral along with Emilee and Sari.

I felt uncomfortable because I was not wearing nice clothes, nor were they particularly dark, but after Galleta convinced me that it was okay and Daniel informed me that we were all going, including the kids, I felt better. So off we went, marching down the streets with a line of special needs kids, singing “Alguien robó pan de la casa de San Juan” and walked to the outskirts of Dueñas where the houses changed from the concrete walls with the barred up windows that look similar to Antigua to sticks with tin roofs. Yep. I went to a funeral in a house that was just a roof.

And just after Willy had described the funeral and wake process to me the other day! How ironic. But this collection of tin-roofed houses was full of people who all welcomed us in and we just sat there for about 30 minutes or so, were served bread and coffee, and then left. So I guess it was more the wake instead of the actual funeral. But the houses. The houses were the biggest shocker of all. I wish I could have taken a photo, but I felt that it would have been rude under the circumstances.

So I got to experience a double whammy. The poor poor parts of Guatemala and the way the handle someone’s death. I have to say it’s definitely different because the people that were serving the food were the people who lost someone and all I could think the whole time was “Ya’ll need to be sitting down and we need to be serving YOU food!” Cultural differences, I suppose.

Thursday, I heard that Galleta wouldn’t be coming to work that day because he rode his bike to Jocotenango and someone stole his bike. So he was going to walk all the way back to Dueñas (Jocotenango is about 20 minutes by bus to Antigua and Antigua is another 20 or so to Dueñas) and thought he may not arrive in time. I thought he was crazy so I rescued his butt and told him to just walk to Antigua and then ride the bus to Dueñas with us so that’s what he did and we went and got some lunch together and had a fun day before work. That was nice to be able to eat out with someone on Thanksgiving. Sure, we had chicken and fries instead of turkey and mashed potatoes, but hey whatever.

Then, like a nutjob, I thought of a really nice idea when we were working, as if I don’t already have enough to do before I leave Antigua. I thought how cool it would be to decorate the association for Christmas using recycles and surprise them and I told my idea to Galleta and he agreed that it would be cool and decided to help me over the weekend.

Thursday night, Emilee, Eidree (our other housemate), and I went out to get pie to celebrate Thanksgiving. Willy has never experienced Thanksgiving before so, since it was around the time of our tandem meeting, I invited him to join us and practice his English. So we all went out to Cafe Condessa and had some pumpkin (or another kind) pie and hot chocolate and passed around the table what we were thankful for. I think Willy really enjoyed it and loved the concept of the holiday. It made me really want to bring all my friends here to the States to introduce them to how we do things there. It’s amazing how much one culture can be completely different from another.

pie buddies!

pie buddies!

That’s when my miracle happened. So, the reason I am super busy is because my crazy head decided that since I wanted to have a party to see my friends before I leave, I might as well make it a fundraiser for the association. Because the other fundraiser that they had recently didn’t raise much of anything once they paid off the location and the DJ and the drinks. I knew that in order to have a successful thing, no money should be spent on the fundraiser. So I thought, I bet I could plan a fundraiser, but I only have a few weeks. I wasn’t sure if it would be possible to find a location and get it all thought out, but Thursday night was my sign to go forward with my idea.

Thursday, after pie, we were all talking (Mihail joined us) and I was explaining my ideas about having the fundraiser and that I was thinking about starting with Rainbow Café. Mihail said that I needed somewhere way more fun than Rainbow and I said my only other thought was Las Vibras because I had met one of the owners at some point. I did not really think Las Vibras would work because I never really went to the Open Mic Nights when he invited me. But when Emilee agreed that Las Vibras is really fun, I said “Well they’re not open during the day. Let’s just go right now!”

So off we went to Vibras. And when we arrived, we were asked if we were looking for seating and we said no but that we were looking for the owner. And guess what? The guy asking us if we were looking for seating was one of the owners! I told him kindly I was interested in having a fundraiser hosted there and I’d like a minute of his time and I asked what day would be good to meet with him and have a chat….

And he said “Right now! Let’s go to the back!” So I explained the project and explained I’d like to have a fundraiser before I leave and bam. They were interested! Just like that! So I knew at that point that I was making a good choice and this thing is meant to happen and I am so excited. Best Thanksgiving ever.

On top of that, I got to see my friend Xavier the next day who I hadn’t seen in forever and who would be a great connection for this project to have. He is going to go talk to Ale Mendoza to see if he will be willing to sing at the benefit and he is also planning to maybe come visit the project this week and see if he could do something for it with one of his foundations! Puzzle pieces seem to be falling together so smoothly right now. It’s amazing me.

we kinda look similar here... maybe it's the italian in us

we kinda look similar here… maybe it’s the italian in us

Isolina and Maynor also visited the project on Friday because they were curious to see what it was all about. I had told them that I think they should start their own host family service aside from Maximo Nivel (because they charge way less than going through Maximo) and charge a little more and donate the extra towards the project so that more people are interested in coming to stay at the house because some of their money is going towards a good cause. And I think they are interested as well, but just don’t know quite yet how to go about doing it.

On top of all of that, I spoke with Willy that night about everything that was going on and how excited I was that things seem to be just falling together and he mentioned “I forgot! I have a friend who is a journalist, so if Ale Mendoza ends up being the singer, I can call up my journalist friend and have him cover the event.” Publicity for Ale Mendoza. Publicity for Las Vibras. Publicity for Asociación Vida. Bam.

I suppose I shouldn’t be talking about all of this yet since it hasn’t all exactly fallen into place, but just the brainstorming and the people interested in helping has been so exhilarating. Vibras was not only in on the idea, but also was giving me more ideas on how to earn money at the event. I guess I’m excited at this point because I at least know it’s happening and that there’s no money to be lost in doing it. Even if only 10 people came up and entered the raffle, they’d still be earning a little money. So I’m excited and I really believe everything is going to pull together.

Saturday, Galleta came to Antigua to walk around with me and shop for my presents for everyone in the States. We also had to go shopping for a Christmas tree and a few things we needed for the recycles workshop. It ended up taking all day so I never got a chance to take photos of Antigua (I am now kicking myself for not doing this earlier in my trip when I had way too much time on my hands) and off we went to Dueñas to work for the weekend.

assembling the tree

assembling the tree

We pretty much worked on the tree all weekend, with a break or two to watch a movie or play some guitar and sing (so much fun! I swear I sing better in Spanish than I do in English haha) and we got it finished Sunday night and put it up to surprise all the kids and workers the next day.

a string of golden bottle caps

a string of golden bottle caps

an upclose of some of the recycled ornaments

an upclose of some of the recycled ornaments

It turned out being pretty awesome! I was proud of us. Another accomplished moment. Another thing to make people smile.

best recycling team ever

best recycling team ever

Yesterday, we rested a lot, but also got started on some other art. We have a lot of recycle art to build if we are going to show it at the fundraiser. I am hoping we can get done. After Dueñas, I was on my way home to go meet Willy and I ran into KEVIN! What? I had not heard or seen from him in months and thought I was not going to get to see him again before the end of my trip. So that was a treat!

Oh and I forgot- sunday night, Oliver showed up in the association and was telling me a few stories about the association and what he used to do before working there and how rigged different donation programs are that say “Oh, if you buy this, this child gets a pair of shoes” and it’s true- they get a pair of shoes but they are used and old and dirty and they will send you a picture of a child with shoes, but it won’t necessarily be the child that received the shoes that you supposedly paid for. They have buildings of stocked up donated old shoes and clothes and they just pass out things like that instead. After the scamming that I’ve seen with Maximo, that made me even sicker. If you’re an organization like this, you should be giving away WAY more, not rigging the system so you can earn even more money, you greedy bastards.

Anyways, Oliver also informed me on more of Galleta’s story, which was really interesting to hear. Galleta used to be awful. Oliver was his teacher a few years before he came to the association and he said Galleta was a horrible student. Galleta, like he’d told me before, had also had a few years where he was into heavy drugs and stealing things and fighting people in the streets for money (you know, like chicken or dog fights, but with people. paid fights) and the association is who pulled him out of all of that and gave him a future.

When Daniel found him and told Oliver that he was coming to work at the association, Oliver almost didn’t want him because he’d been his teacher before and knew how bad this kid was. But they decided to take him in and see what he could do and he ended up changing his life around. They said they don’t know where he would be if they hadn’t taken him out of Antigua and given him a job at the association. Maybe in jail. Maybe dead. People in Dueñas used to fear him, but now they respect him on the streets and always shout his name when he walks by. Oliver said he is their inspiration because of how much he’s changed and how he’s ALWAYS there at the association working (without being paid, may I remind you) and he is one of the few people that shows up for every event that the association needs to run. And he is smart. It’s amazing to see him working and figuring things out in the recycle plant.

The story for me was beautiful, because not only are they trying to help the future of these kids who are rejected by society, but have given a future to some of their workers as well. On top of trying to change the environment with their recycling. It’s amazing.

To top it all off, Daniel, one of the owners, spends all his time there. I’ve been to his house and it is tiny. And he doesn’t have another job. The association is his life and he has a huge dream for it and he lost his wife and kids because he couldn’t support them because he doesn’t have a job outside of the association because he is so devoted to this dream. His mom still provides him with food because he doesn’t have time to earn his own money, but can you imagine working on something that doesn’t earn a dime? The devotion to this project amazes me. I really want to stick around and be a part of it and watch it grow. In just a few weeks, they have made me feel like part of their family and it hurts even more to leave than it was hurting before.

Something is going to happen with this place. I feel like it could be one of the biggest changes for Guatemala. And I want to be a part of it.

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