Author Archives: willtravel4hugs

Pues no.

Well, I have to say, this month started out pretty interesting. Over the last month with my way-too-much free time, I’ve had lots of time to think about things. Think about how my attitude changed back to negative after my last two years out of Guatemala. Think about how the whole reason I had started traveling was to change myself from that person that I used to be and how I had started by just couch surfing and having an open mind.

With lots of things negative happening this trip such as wasting a ton of food by not understanding how things work in Guatemala. (Apparently in the tiny kitchen that we have, if you cook and don’t open a window, any other food that has been previously cooked and cooled down will go bad quite quickly. But then if you open the windows, you let in all the flies! Can’t do it right even if you try.) Being frustrated about having to climb 20 minutes from the bus to get home, especially if carrying 20 pounds of groceries. Being frustrated because the road is blocked and having to take a bus all the way to Ciudad Vieja, get off, and then get on one back to Antigua to be able to get to my bus stop. Lots of things that I found to be adventures before. I finally decided that this is never going to change if I don’t. Again.

It just so happens that one day as I was thinking about this, an opportunity passed by. Generally speaking if someone slows down their car for me in Guatemala, my defenses go up ready to tell them to move along and stop hitting on me. But this day, two guys passed me but it felt more like they were stopping for directions. I stopped and they asked “Hey are you heading to Antigua?” and I said “Yes, why?” and they said “Do you want a ride?”

I stopped and thought for a second. “These guys don’t seem threatening.” “I am so tired of walking all the way to the bus.” “What if they’re dangerous? Ahhh.. You can’t drive that fast here, I can jump out of the car.” “I know enough Spanish to get home if they take me anywhere.” “OK LET’S GO!” I shrugged and said okay and hopped in.

They took me to as Antigua, as planned, but were all excited because I was the first gringa they’d ever gotten to meet. I planned to get out, but checked my phone and realized my hoped-for skype date wouldn’t be until much later that day. So, I had absolutely nothing to do. When they invited me to coffee, I said cool. Coffee became do you want to see a really cool place near Cerra de la Cruz (which is where I actually had planned to hike to that day, but it looked a little rainy) so we went up-up-up to a really amazing view.

The view from way up high

The view from way up high

Then that became “you don’t know how to drive manual??? I’ll teach you!” and me driving manual for all of 10 minutes. That could definitely still use some lessons and practice! Pretty sure I killed the engine about 4 times.

Then that became dropping his friend off to go to work, showing me his really big house with solar power (he works for a solar power company), switching to a motorcycle (woohoo! my favorite), and going to see some ruins in Antigua that I have yet to see. Monasterio y Convento de la Recolección. And he pretended that I was his cousin so I only had to pay local price instead of foreigner price. The guy didn’t really believe us, but Carlos (my new friend that picked me up that day and took me around all day) told him his dad is from England and that’s why I don’t look Guatemalan. Hahahaha.

me at the ruins

me at the ruins

climbing

climbing

After that, we grabbed some pizza and went back to the cafe where we had coffee earlier and ate that and he waited on me to have my skype date then gave me a lift back to the house. I would say that jumping into a stranger’s car was a good decision that day. He also gave me a solar powered cell phone charger.

Granted, I’m pretty sure he was trying to impress me and win me over like almost any Antigua guy with their flowers and buying things even though you offer to pay for your part and tell them 100 times that you have a boyfriend, but hey. If they want to spend it and I’ve been clear that nothings happening, not my problem. I’ll take the fun day and free food! :)

He also gave me a few lifts later that week when I got sick and needed to get some stuff from Antigua to combat my cold. Eventually we finally cleared up that we are friends and we will only be friends. God bless those guys from Antigua. They just don’t stop. As I shared to my facebook friends a photo that I found highly appropriate to wear as a t-shirt in Guatemala: “Today is not the day and I am not the one.”

I think I was sick for about a week. Spent a lot of time in the house because again it’s too much effort just to get down to Antigua without a car in the new place where Isolina and Maynor live, so doing that while I am sick would just make me worse even though I probably could go out for an hour or so every once and a while and be fine. But since we don’t live in Antigua, there’s nothing really to go do for an hour and come back.

Still keeping track of the fabulously low prices of the market, I bought 10 avocados, 2 onions, 4 tomatoes, 1 broccoli, 2 limes, 5 apples and some cilantro for $5.

My birthday weekend my friends from the city invited me to go to the beach on the pacific coast. A place called Sipacate. Some people they work with have a place out there and invited them out for a cookout. That was a great way to get over being sick and to enjoy my birthday. We played music, swam in a weird little pool, walked on the beach, took a boat ride to get out to the house, and ate great food. They all brought a girl a long so I got to make even more friends as well. It was a really solid group of people and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I also got to see how they get coconuts down from the trees!!

on the boat to sipacate

on the boat to sipacate

with my new friends

with my new friends

the volcanic beaches of the  pacific coast

the volcanic beaches of the pacific coast

having fun on the beach

having fun on the beach

chowin down

chowin down

climbing bare foot and with a piece of rope to get the coconuts down

climbing bare foot and with a piece of rope to get the coconuts down

The rest of the weekend, I stayed with them in the city. They took me around to meet one of their friends in the art district, zone 4. Her apartment was SO cool. I wish I had taken more pictures because the ones that I have don’t even begin to display it’s coolness. I didn’t really take many pictures inside. All I have is the view from the tippy top of the building.

one part of the view

one part of the view

part of the terrace

part of the terrace

another shot of the view

another shot of the view

Then we all went to a place called Cayalá which doesn’t even look like you’re in Guatemala anymore. I unfortunately didn’t get a picture because it was raining. But it is the really rich area of the city and I really felt like I stepped into a whole ‘nother country. I got a few pictures of the farmer’s market there, but the actual area I did not.

some fruit art at the farmer's market! pretty amazing

some fruit art at the farmer’s market! pretty amazing

The rest of the time, we just hung out at their house. They had work to do and I had jobs to search for. Monday night, my actual birthday, we went to the supermarket and I cooked for them all. Salmon, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and mexican street corn. We ate so late that we never even got to dessert. But it was fun to have a home-cooked meal with everybody.

dinner group

dinner group

The next day, these lovely people gave me a lift to go pick up the package that I sent to the Asociasión in January 2014 that never got picked up. That was a fun experience. Not. It took us forever to find the place we were supposed to go to, which was kind of nice to be able to see other parts of the city, but then when we got there, the agent said “That package just left this morning to go back to the States.” THAT MORNING!!!!! Do you believe it? He showed us the paper and everything to prove it. It was there for all that time and the day I finally was able to come get it since for SOME reason, the Asociasión never went, it gets sent back to the States. I could not believe my luck.

That was when I began to think I am finally over this place. This trip had been bad luck after bad luck after bad circumstance and I wanted to blame it all on my attitude, but I think part of my attitude had changed because of so many things I learned in my year and a half out of the country. I was fed-up. I am pretty sure I entertained my friend Checho that day with all my Guatemalan expletives that I was probably using incorrectly. HAHA!

Just a few days after coming back from the city, I continued in my job search (mostly only finding jobs that required a visa) and walked home from the market one day with like 30 pounds of food. It hurt. I came home exhausted, took a shower, and couldn’t even get up to cook. So I took a nap, but I woke up worse. Fever, exhaustion, not sure if I was hungry or nauseous.

The next day that turned into a bat of diarrhea and fever and exhaustion that lasted too many days. I had to enlist Isolina’s help to bring me food because there was no way I was able to leave the house for very much of that time. At this point I just became fed up. I was not getting any where with jobs. I had no desire to go back to work for the Asociasión any time soon after the way the package situation was handled. I was frustrated with living far from Antigua. I was missing Vidal. It just did not seem to be the right time to go back. A necessary trip to have, but not the right time to move. I was not able to care for myself properly with the distance from Antigua and the tiny kitchen where everything goes bad quickly. So I quickly decided I would leave in two weeks instead of November, which I had originally thought of about a month ago if I could not find a job.

Being helpless for 5 days with no one at home can do that to a person.

So at that point, the rest of my trip became a quick fit everything I came to do before I go few weeks.

I went back to the eye doctor finally and got my glasses for $150. I went to the dentist for a cleaning and check-up for $30. I got a stool sample done as my doctor ordered to test for parasites as the cause of my long-lasting diarrhea for $5. No parasites. Just an infection of sorts. I FINALLY got to see Willy. He made more time for me knowing I was leaving soon since he originally thought I would be there a long time.

The family invited me to Amatitlan my last Saturday to spend some time with me and see another part of Guatemala. We passed by the school where Vidal went to school on the way. I don’t know how I felt about Amatitlan. You can’t swim there. That is the lake that is contaminated. And it was very touristy. Like. People say Antigua is touristy, but I feel like it’s just a city with lots of places to go and lots of tourists visiting. Amatitlan was like go-kart rides, a fair, buy these souvenirs, come eat at our restaurant that’s just like the restaurant next door, etc. I wasn’t too impressed. The lake was pretty though. Even though it’s contaminated.

view of the lake

view of the lake

tourist candies

tourist candies

more tourist candies

more tourist candies

the kids having a blast on a trampoline

the kids having a blast on a trampoline

We also went to Naciones Unidas which is like a little park that has a view of the lake as well as all these little mini-reconstructions of famous places in Guatemala. Random.

mini Antigua

mini Antigua

mini tikal - can you see me and Geovanny in the door at the top?

mini tikal – can you see me and Geovanny in the door at the top?

my guatepapas being children hahaha

my guatepapas being children hahaha

Then I worked my last nights in Las Vibras. Did not enjoy staying up that late, but thoroughly enjoyed the drunk people stories that I went home with every night there. I think the one to top it all was that I got dragged into taking a photo with a group of people and I am pretty sure someone licked my face. Fantastic (sarcasm).

My last Sunday I finally got to learn how to make tortillas from scratch. Going to have to attempt that at home now if I can find a place to grind the corn. Instant flour just isn’t going to cut it for this girl any more. Fresh corn tortillas cooked over a fire will never let you go back to store-bought!

corn after its been boiled in water mixed with calcium hydroxide

corn after its been boiled in water mixed with calcium hydroxide

taking it to the mill to turn it into dough

taking it to the mill to turn it into dough

heating up the comal - when the salt pops, it's hot enough

heating up the comal – when the salt pops, it’s hot enough

smoothing out the dough a little more

smoothing out the dough a little more

about the size you should use for your ball

about the size you should use for your ball

my best tortillas... the rest were not worthy of showing. My biggest problem was making them too thick or they ended up ripping!

my best tortillas… the rest were not worthy of showing. My biggest problem was making them too thick or they ended up ripping!

I was supposed to see my friend Xavier that night, but he ended up running into some family problems and could never make it to Antigua. I was bummed we wouldn’t get to see each other. I missed Kenny and Edgar too because they have been touring with their music in Europe.

The last few days I spent running around buying last minute things and visiting friends. I finally stopped by the Asociasión because they were beginning to be upset I had come for 2 months without visiting. Just made me a little sad to go. The recycle program has completely stopped since I left then Galleta left then people were stealing their tools. But I just am not really sure I want to go back there anymore. At least not any time soon. Sad life moments.

I also saw my friend Jose Cachupe and Willy and Virgilio one more time. Virgilio had come back to Antigua because his girlfriend was in town.

Then Wednesday arrived. I was supposed to leave, but after a long chain of events that I am too lazy to write about, I missed my flight for the very first time in my life. By 5 minutes. No sympathy from Spirit Airlines whatsoever. I feel like Delta may have handled the situation differently, but at least I got my money back.

I went around to every ticket counter in the airport looking for a way back home, but nobody had anything until the next day. So I had to call Isolina and Maynor and they came back to get me then we went to their friends house in the city while I figured out what to do. Going back to Antigua didn’t seem to be an option. Too much work.
And the cheapest flight I could find was at 6 am. Eventually I figured out the flight and I happened to talk to my friend Xavier who I never got to see the other day (He lives in the city) and said hey guess what I missed my flight and am in the capital so if you still want to hang out, let’s do it!

That turned into him asking if I had a place to stay and I did not yet so he offered me his place. So missing my flight ended up being a blessing in disguise. I got to see my friend. I got to eat dinner one more time with him and the family. And I got to shower in one of those huge shower-heads that I have always wanted to shower in and have HOT WATER before coming back to the States. A great way to end a stressful day and prepare me for my flight the next day.

So now I’m home. Not ready to move back there yet. Not exactly ready to be here, but 10 times more thankful for a lot of things that I always forget that I have in Georgia because of my desire to get out. At least this trip I’m finally glad to be home. I had some goals there that I didn’t quite achieve, but I guess learning to drive manual transmission and a motorcycle will have to wait until next time. :)

Pues si

Well. I’m back. I honestly don’t believe it. I had grown to believe that that just wasn’t going to happen for me. I’m not really sure why, as my dad has passed on some fabulous but perhaps slightly obsessive money-saving habits and technically all you need in order to leave the country is money.

Oh. And the courage to do it. I supposed that’s what I lacked. For two years I beat myself up and swallowed my desire to be here thinking that it just wouldn’t work out for me or that for some odd reason, I was not allowed to. And then so many things changed in my time away that I was afraid I no longer was going to like it here. That somehow turned into a fear that if I don’t like it, I’d be stuck here and couldn’t come back. Or that I’d waste money or time. Or. God only knows. Fear only builds and builds if you give it one little foothold. And then it takes control and devours you, convincing you that you will not enjoy anything that you probably would enjoy if you went into it with the right attitude.

Regardless. Here I am. Whether it be due to the influence of spending so much time with my loving dance partner who shines positivity and encouragement or whether it be the deep disappointment in the faces of my family when they got rejected for the visa to come to the states, I finally booked the ticket.

The irony was on my first trip to Guatemala, I was beaming with excitement until I arrived at the airport and then got extremely nervous. This time, I was extremely nervous and wishy-washy about cancelling my ticket. Until I arrived at the airport. Then I was overjoyed to be on my way back to visit this beautiful country and all my friends I left behind.

I barely stepped foot out of the airport when I was met by two screaming voices running towards me. “LIZZIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Isolina and Maynor hadn’t told the kids who they were picking up at the airport. I was so excited to see them. They’ve grown a little bit, but not much has changed at all. The chiki is still as cute as ever, just a little bit chubbier and hair a lot shorter.

my welcome present

my welcome present

My flight had been delayed a good while due to mechanical issues, but they waited for me all day. We didn’t have any time to do much but go back to the house, but we talked the whole way back. Isolina and Maynor had to move from Antigua about a week before I arrived. I was sad to not be able to go to the other house, being so convenient to everything and with a beautiful terrace view, but the new house is cute too and it’s a lot quieter so no getting used to all the noise trying to sleep this time. And no roosters! Yay!

the neighborhood (all townhouses, gated community)

the neighborhood (all townhouses, gated community)

But now the schedule is, either wake up and be ready by 7 am to possibly go to Antigua with Isolina and Maynor (weekends sometimes they don’t go straight to work so I can’t always snag a ride on weekends) OR take the bus. That is.. walk 20 minutes to get to the bus and wait on it to come and then take the bus into Antigua and walk to wherever I need to go. This is all fine and dandy on a good day and much easier going into Antigua, but coming home… It’s all uphill! Suffice to say, I have been getting my exercise. Due to their irregular schedule, I rarely can get a ride home with them in the evening.

One of the first few days I was here, a gringo called Maynor about needing keys, but didn’t speak enough Spanish so I became the translator and accompanied him to the job. Holy crap. Must have been one of the places that costs millions of dollars. It was located in a gated community, no trash in the streets, beautiful house, and here it is… the million dollar view. It was gorgeous. We got to talking and I thought it was going to lead me to a job because I exchanged numbers with his wife who is an artist and they were looking for a housekeeper (HA), but it never worked out.

view from his terrace

view from his terrace

For the first week that I was here, I mainly hung out with the family because I wasn’t used to walking around alone again in Antigua, but also was getting used to the new house and going to cafes to use the internet and look for jobs. I also went out looking for Willy several times to surprise him at his office. He now is working in a law office and working towards being a lawyer. It took me about 5 attempts before I actually saw him. He was so shocked to see me, I love surprises. He stood there and said “What the hell” probably about 50 times before we talked about anything else. I was so excited to see my best buddy from 2 years ago!

I also went to visit my friends from Las Vibras where I threw the fundraiser at the end of my last trip. They’ve changed to a new location and grown immensely. The new bar looks great and is increasingly more popular. I really respect the job they’ve done and the story they have. Basically the three owners were traveling together and just had a random idea “Hey how about we open our own bar?” one day and decided to go for it, joined all their money together and got started here in Antigua about 5 years ago. As much as I’m not a partier, I can respect a well-put-together night club and they have done a fantastic job. In my desire to always give helpful input, I suggested that they do event photos like popular clubs in Atlanta do and they said they happened to be looking for one. Hey, guess what, me. It actually didn’t pay much at all, so I said I’d have to think about it as I’d just arrived.

inside Las Vibra's new location

inside Las Vibra’s new location

inside Las Vibra's new location

inside Las Vibra’s new location

inside of Las Vibras new locations

inside of Las Vibras new locations

I also went to a bartender class that they happened to be having that night because he said I could learn to do that, but although I enjoyed the class, I decided against it due to my distaste for being in a club all the time and my lack of knowledge about alcohol haha.

In my first trip to the market, I was quickly reminded one of the reasons why I love it here. CHEAP AS HELL. I’ll leave you a nice list of what you can buy and for how much at the end of this post.

After the first week, I decided to go ahead and take a trip to Semuc Champey to surprise my friend, Virgilio. I thought, if I find a job I won’t be able to go over there very long so better I go while I don’t have a job. His reaction was a little different than that of Willy’s. He just froze silent for a second and then came and gave me the typical Guatemalan hug/kiss-on-the-cheek greeting as if I’d just seen him yesterday. Then he said how much he didn’t believe it, as two other friends had come to surprise him within the last few days, but with very little emotion in his voice haha. Crazy.

So this trip has been more down-to-business than OH WEE LETS GO SPEND EVERYTHING I’VE EVER EARNED AND HAVE FUN!!! So my time in Semuc, Virgilio so kindly gave me his room so I didn’t have to pay for a place to stay in the hostel. (Not to mention, Isolina and Maynor refuse to charge me to stay at their house for everything I’ve done for them. How lovely are they??) And I spent my time there hanging out with him and/or helping him out with his photography since he doesn’t have a computer to edit on. As usual, he still jumps off of crazy things, and of course in the traditions of Guatemala, I had to participate in somewhat crazy, but not so crazy that no one else would do it jumps. One from a tree that I needed help climbing (What happened to my limber, unafraid, 12 year old, tree-climbing self???) and another from a rock over a small waterfall into a quite strong-looking current. Both enjoyable experiences, rather than the rope swing from 2 years ago where I knocked the wind out of me. Perhaps I’m getting better at this jumping thing.

up up in the tree

up up in the tree

weeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

weeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

We also took a trip up to Lanquin to explore and take some photos and eat something cheaper than Utopia’s food. First authentic place I ate at in Guatemala, as I spent most of my last trip in touristy places too afraid of getting sick. This trip my mentality has changed since I’ve spent so much time with Vidal at latin-american places near Buford highway. It’s just people cooking. It’s not like someone has poisoned the food. Get over yourself, Lizzie. And I have. And eating at this places has made my wallet and taste buds so much happier. Instead of $5 for breakfast, how about $2? :)

One of the days we also woke up to do a fashion shoot. I had fun getting to be the model for once and Virgilio got to practice a new genre of photography. Unfortunately, they let the river out that morning so it was too high to take pictures where we originally wanted, but I’d say we still did a pretty damn good job.

model shoot!

model shoot!

savage jungle woman hahaha

savage jungle woman hahaha

When I left Semuc, I had many regrets. I had other things that I had wanted to do while I was there, but I was under the impression that Isolina and I were going to learn how to make tortillas from scratch and by hand that Friday, as well as I was supposed to meet up with Willy on Saturday, but it wasn’t until after I boarded the shuttle on that Thursday that I found out that neither of those things were going to happen. Additionally I found out our shuttle ride was going to take a lot longer than usual due to some manifestations in the streets for people protesting against the president. September 5 (I think) was voting day and people really came together down here to get the current guy kicked out of office.

When we finally arrived, it was too late for me to go to the Cerrajeria to drop my stuff in the car of Isolina and Maynor. It was dark. I wasn’t sure where to wait on them until they got out of church, but fortunately I made friends with my shuttle driver and he let me chill in the travel office until I could get picked up. He even treated me to….

drumroll………

My first street food! And it was delicious. And I’m not really sure why I was so afraid to try it last trip. Gotta stop taking things so literally. You COULD get sick does not mean you WILL get sick. And in reality, it’s just a bunch of people cooking. You could get sick in any place. And you can’t beat $2 for a dinner that will fill you up good. Since that night, I’ve eaten in the streets several times and I have yet to get sick on this trip aside from the supposedly normal “traveler’s diarrhea” or so it’s called that will just pass on it’s own if you don’t freak out and you get yourself some pedialite to keep your electrolytes up. So no counting that. That means one whole month of Guatemala + street food = no sick Lizzie! (And yes, mom, I took my probiotics on my last trip too. So.. That’s not the difference, sorry!) I’ve actually become a little bit of a snob now and don’t really care for the places I used to hang out in because I find them too expensive! And get peeved if someone tries to rip me off because I’m a gringa.

I went to a farmer’s market hosted by my friends that run Garage Funk and Caoba farms. Got to watch tortillas being made, but they’re green because they are made with Moringa! It’s kind of a farmer’s market geared towards gringo’s and their necessity for everything organic and in a shiny container, despite the extra cost. I, of course, did not buy anything but enjoyed looking around. And I did eat lunch there. The tortillas were still cheap. (Normally they are 64 for $1. So paying extra for the highly nutricious moringa didn’t hurt my wallet.)

green tortillas!

green tortillas!

green tortilla making!

green tortilla making!

Virgilio came to Antigua just about a week later because we didn’t get to finish setting up his photography page and getting his logo on all his photos. So when he came we hung out and finished our work. I tried profusely to convince him to take the job in Las Vibras because it would be a good opportunity, but it would not support him so he would have to find another job first.

I finally decided to at least give it a try, even though the pay was awful. Turned out even worse. The only way to get home that late at night is a taxi and to where I live cost me nearly what I earned that night. So I quickly mentioned it was not going to work out for me, but later on Dustin and Derek offered me double what they paid me that night and offered to always give me a free ride home (Derek has a car). So I have been continuing with that for the last week and a half. It’s only twice a week, but hey it gives me something to do and a little extra cash while I look for other jobs.

Unfortunately, I have been called for several jobs that I applied to but they cannot give them to me without a work visa and applying for the work visa, as I have researched, appears to be a lot more complicated than I originally thought. One call-center job in the city was dying for me, but I would also need a car to get to that one because it ends after the last bus. I’ve also gone and spoken to the magazines in Antigua and at least got once freelance job through Revue Magazine.

I’ve ran into several friends, whether by accident or by choice. I caught up with Mihail on his birthday, had lunch with Dr. Mario, and even ran into the boys from the Asociasion. I haven’t gone back to visit them yet; I’ve been waiting to go to the city to pick up that gosh darn package before I head over there, but they happened to be driving in Antigua one day and saw me. It was a joyous reunion that nearly brought me to tears because I honestly had felt like they forgot about me or were mad. But they were happy as ever to see me and I them and I realized how much I missed them all this time. Jose P, and Galleta were the only ones that weren’t there, but I saw Oliver, Daniel, Julio, and Marcus.

I ran into Kevin on Independence day. I saw Martin at rainbow cafe. I haven’t seen Jose C (#3) because he’s in canada with his girlfriend, Kenny and Edgar are traveling Europe I think, and Xavier I just haven’t seen yet because he’s in the city.

I’ve seen Jose (God. There’s 3 Joses. This must be confusing for you all. I’m referring to Jose that I dated) several times working in Las Vibras. He’s still the same. Literally hasn’t changed a bit. I have no comments other than thank God I didn’t fall for that bum.

I’ve also made a few new friends from the city that work in Las Vibras as bartenders, but I don’t have a good picture with them yet. Checho, Hubert, and Marlen. I am glad they are there because I go talk to them whenever it’s slow and I have nothing to take pictures of.

Hubert and Checho

Hubert and Checho

They’ve also given me rides home at night and let me join them for 2-am street food at Quetzalito! I actually saw this guy on my last trip back when I hung out with Orlando, Kevin, Byron and his wife, but I never let them convince me to eat it because, again, street food and Lizzie paranoia. This time, I dug right in and it is really good. Quetzalito is a guy that basically cooks out of the back of his van for all the drunk people who have no where to eat after leaving the bars. Works for me because I’m almost always starving at the end of my shift and never want to cook back at the house for fear of waking up the family.

El Quetzalito!

El Quetzalito!

I also made a new friend named Victor and we decided to hang out for El Dia de Independencia a few days ago. I got confused and thought there was a fair in Antigua, but apparently that is in July. The fair during Independence Day is in Quetzaltenango, which is a four hour drive. I thought about it, but didn’t want to go alone and couldn’t afford to pay the whole family’s trip and they were broke at the moment. So I didn’t go. Victor and I just watched the traditional parades in the streets and ate some street food.

parade

parade

parade

parade

I suppose that’s pretty much all there is to say. I wasn’t sure I was going to update my blog this trip since I’m mainly here to re-visit old friends and potentially look for jobs instead of spending my money on adventures, but so many people asked I figured I could at least update once a month.

But I’d say jumping off trees, eating street food, and walking 20 minutes uphill in the rain and almost dark to get home sometimes is about the extent of my adventures on this trip for now. Perhaps some of the things I do are adventurous to other people that I have not listed, but after getting used to Guatemalan culture, most of it to me is just normal every day life now.

So cheers to my first month in being here. And as promised, the reasons why I love Guatemala:

Eye doctor appointment: $7.
Eating out: Filet of fish, mashed potatoes, green beans, tortillas, and fresh homemade juice: $3; black beans, scrambled eggs, plantains, cheese, and tortillas: $2.
Street food: $1-$2.
Market food: 15 carrots, 1 huge zuchini, 2 oniones, 1 lb strawberries, 1.5 lbs of potatoes, 1 small celery, 1 bunch of cilantro, 2 corn, 1 26 oz bag of refried beans, 32 eggs, 4 lb chicken, 5 apples, 5 limes, 1 bag of tortilla chips, 5 avocadoes, 1.5 lbs spinach, and 1/2 lb of popcorn kernels……. $20.
Or… 1 bag of walnuts, 1 bag of cashews, rosemary, a reuseable grocery bag, 1 lb cheddar cheese, 15 eggs, 1/2 lb spinach, 3 lbs potatoes, 2 big brocolis, 3 garlic, 5 apples, 3 lb chicken and probably more that I forget about…. $28
Or… 2 lb chicken, 32 eggs, 2 onions, 1 small celery, 1 lb potatoes, 6 apples, 1/4 lb cheddar, 2 corn, cilantro, and a loofa…. $14
DVDS… $1.25 each
A waterfront one bed/bath property near Semuc Champey: $15,000-20,000
Getting stuck in traffic because of people running in the middle of the road obnoxiously blowing whistles: priceless.

And lastly, here are some photos around Antigua since I never got around to taking any last time.

Don't remember the name..

Don’t remember the name..

La Merced

La Merced

have a seat

have a seat

marimba players in the street on the weekends

marimba players in the street on the weekends

La República Dominicana

Making art out of trash in Guatemala? Building houses for the poor in the Dominican Republic? I don’t think I ever would have guessed my life would look like this a year ago. But here I am, arriving back in the States from my second adventure in 7 months; this one much shorter than the 6 months I spent in Guatemala-

6 days in the Dominican Republic. 1 day of traveling and organizing. 1.5 days of children. 2.5 days of building houses. And 1 day of fun! It’s amazing how quickly such a trip goes by, especially after spending such a long time in Guatemala (That went quick too!), but short time does not equal low impact.

This trip was an amazing experience. As usual, I only wished it could have lasted longer, but I was grateful for a little pick-up to get me out of the long-lasting, what-do-I-do-now post-Guatemala depression. This little trip gave me the encouragement that I can go back to Guatemala one day and it could be one day sooner than I thought! In fact, now I might have to go back to Guatemala AND the Dominican!

There’s just something about putting all your little worries aside and completely devoting all your time and energy to something BIGGER. My phone was left in my hotel safe for probably all of about 2 hours the whole trip (I checked things at breakfast every other day to make sure I didn’t come home to 900 emails and facebook notifications, but compared to checking every few hours or more often like I do in the States? I think that’s a big success). And no minute ever felt wasted.

We arrived at our hotel on Tuesday the 28th with enough time to organize all the bags and bags of donated toys, clothes, books, etc. that we lugged along as checked baggage. We separated donations for the Mendoza School, the family for whom we were building the house, and the Haitian refugee village that we would visit later that week.

stacking and organizing our bags of donations

stacking and organizing our bags of donations

That night, we had dinner on the YWAM (Youth with a Mission, the organization through which we worked with to do the home build) base and got to meet all of the other team members that would be helping our group throughout the week. We had fried plantains (done differently than Guatemala and I liked them way better!), some kind of pulled chicken with peppers, and potato salad for dinner and I rather felt that I would quickly come to like this food better than the often taste-less and carb-filled Guatemalan food (Sorry guys, I still love you, I swear!).

nom.

nom.

Dinner was followed by orientation where we were introduced to the head missionary of the YWAM base and got to learn more about the organization. This guy, Malcom, has given up his life to work with things like this and has not earned a salary in 22 years. He literally relies on donations and fundraising to provide for himself and his family, as they do all they can to give back and work with people who can’t pay them for their help. YWAM has a variety of different mission services, but Homes of Hope was the branch that we would be focused on.

David took the stage after Malcom and shared his past experiences in the DR and teared up telling us how excited he was to have all his friends down here with him. I kind of lived vicariously through him, watching him hug all his old friends on the mission base and encouraging myself that I would get to be this person reuniting with all my friends in Guatemala excited to see me one day.

After David, Malcom’s Dominican wife prayed for us in Spanish and I teared up because I understood everything she said and am still shocked to this day that I speak a second language. It puts so much more into the experience when you can speak the language and I definitely learned that this trip.

That night, we had bonding time in the hotel to get to know the rest of our group. I didn’t learn all the names right away, but I could quickly tell that we were going to have a fantastic team. David purposely assigned us to roommates that we didn’t already know so that we would have to make new friends. The hotel somehow got confused and I ended up with a roommate that was not supposed to be mine, but I was so glad that she was because she ended up being an awesome roommate! Half the time, we ended up not getting to bed early enough because we couldn’t stop talking to each other.

Tuesday at 10 am, it was off to the Mendoza school. If you are wondering who the Mendoza’s are, they are a family who was once in this same position and did not have a home. They had a shack of a school because it was important to them that the children of the community get educated. David’s first home build was to build them a home and it’s amazing to see how much the school has come along since 2012. If you want to read more about them, you can check out the foundation that David started at www.brianpinkfoundation.org and perhaps after this post, you’ll even want to get involved!

We made a pit stop at the grocery store where we split into teams to pick up some last minute donations that were easier to buy in the DR instead of drag on the airplane. I got to assist David in translating, although I quickly came to find that the DR accent was nothing like that of Guatemala. I actually almost felt like I had forgotten my Spanish, but I quickly assured myself that it was only because their accent is so different. Enough was understood to get things done and at least they could understand me well enough. Thankfully, we had Mitch who was our other main translator and has been working in Spanish-speaking countries for 8 years (for more info on how to support him and his family, contact mitch.carlson@ywamsdb.com), including the DR for some of them. Despite my accent-interpreting inabilities, my translating duties were called upon many times throughout the trip. Proud moments for Lizzie.

Upon arrival to the school, David was warmly welcomed by all the children bringing him drawings they had done to surprise him. Precious moment #3? Oh, who’s counting. I’ll lose count by the end of the post anyways. The warm welcome was followed by snacks we brought for all the children and then it was play day! The rest of the day we spent playing with the kids. A mess of balls and frisbees flying everywhere intermingled with very happy faces.

c'mon, where are my sappy people at? So precious.

c’mon, where are my sappy people at? So precious.

snack time!

snack time!

budding photographers

budding photographers

let's play ball!

let’s play ball!

wearing their uniforms

wearing their uniforms

group shot with all the kids

group shot with all the kids

pretty ladies (the daughter of the family for the home build is in orange!)

pretty ladies (the daughter of the family for the home build is in orange!)

proving her reading skills

proving her reading skills

someone is sleepy

someone is sleepy

smiling faces!

smiling faces!

This day was more of a relaxed day and we had some time to walk out to the beach before dinner on the base that night. Gorgeous, as always.

walk on the beach

walk on the beach

After dinner, we had music and sharing time again. Again, I was impressed with my Spanish, as I was one of the few that could understand the worship music (But music speaks all languages, so I don’t think that anyone felt left out here). Then David announced that some people would get to accompany Sandro, one of the mission base volunteers, to his urban project called Malecon. For some reason, I was not selected which bummed me out because I was very interested in going seeing as Asociasión Vida in Guatemala also has an urban program, but I was told that it was a really great experience and all the kids really respect Sandro and look up to him and listen to his instruction, which means he’s doing a good job over there. I have no doubts that this is true after meeting the guy.

Sandro is from the Dominican and has an interesting story. His parents were both alcoholics and he kind of grew up in the streets, but never got into things like drugs or alcohol like a lot of people (probably because of his parents). He said his grandmother always dragged him to church and he resented going and would sit with his arms crossed the entire service, until one day he felt the need to go up and dedicate his life to Christ. Funny thing is, he had this friend that helped encourage him in this direction and he was afraid to go up and do it without his friend, so his friend came up with him and ever since that day, he’s never seen the guy again. And no one had ever heard of or seen this “friend” that he had. Now, Sandro is the head of the evangelism sector of YWAM where he works with several local ministries that deal with street kids and the Haitian refugee community. If you want to learn more about Sandro or how to support him, you can email him at sandromorillo@gmail.com

Day 2. Let the games begin. We had to be awake, carbed up, and ready to leave the hotel by 8:30 am. David had another of his motivational talks on the bus and handed out matching bandanas that we could use however we pleased, but made sure to remind us that these united us as a team and were to be used for all our blood, sweat, and tears so that we could take it home and have a keepsake of the experience and never forget what we did. I’m sure his inspirational speech sounded much better than my explanation of it.

We arrived on the build site around 9 am to a concrete slab and piles of lumber, paint, and power tools. After a quick prayer, the building began. We split into teams and I was left to be the first shift photographer. Kent and I switched out throughout the day taking pictures, as David wanted a camera going all day.

the blank slate

the blank slate

having a meeting to explain how things work

having a meeting to explain how things work

getting started

getting started

It was amazing to see how quickly things came together. There were people painting walls. There were people cutting lumber. There were people measuring, nailing, drilling. It was such a small area, but there was enough room somehow for 30 people to work. What was really nice about this experience was that they make the family get involved. So the family helps out in the building process and gets to watch as the concrete slab goes from nothing to a home in such a short amount of time. Even some of the neighbors came by to help. The community involvement there was endearing.

sawing away

sawing away

the grandma came to help

the grandma came to help

painting help from the boys

painting help from the boys

sawdust everywhere!

sawdust everywhere!

Clara pitching in to help

Clara pitching in to help

Drilling those walls in

Drilling those walls in

The first wall went up quicker than expected and that was the moment when it all hit us that this was really happening. Followed by a round of applause, the rest of the building process started going even faster.

up goes wall number one!

up goes wall number one!

teamwork!

teamwork!

success!!

success!!

If I was not on photography duty, I was usually on the painting team. I will learn about power tools one day, but it was not the time this trip.

All four walls were up before our well-deserved and needed lunch break. It was amazing. After lunch, we were informed that we were all going to write something on the walls of the house before the dry wall went up. I thought this was a beautiful idea, as we each got to leave a quote of inspiration, a bible verse, or a personal message to help surround the family and the home with blessings.

me writing my blessing

me writing my blessing

a long and highly appropriate bible verse

a long, but highly appropriate bible verse

Once I finished taking photos of this, I had the pleasure of being taken around the community by the Mendoza’s (and Clara, the daughter of the family whose home was being built who loved to follow me around and use my camera) to see the living conditions and the beach. The conditions were not quite like what I saw in the outskirts of Dueñas in Guatemala. Yes, the houses were beat up and built out of scrap wood or tin, but everyone had a lot more property and it was definitely a lot less populated.

one of the nicer houses

one of the nicer houses

at least the flowers are pretty?

at least the flowers are pretty?

more like one of the houses I saw in Guatemala

more like one of the houses I saw in Guatemala

wood scraps and no roof?

wood scraps and no roof?

more of the living conditions..

more of the living conditions..

SO. MUCH. TRASH. (And right by the ocean view for that matter!)

SO. MUCH. TRASH. (And right by the ocean view for that matter!)

David sent us out together because he refused to let me go without a guy. The funny thing was that they called Roberto Mendoza to come back so I was left with his wife and Clara. David was not too happy when he saw Roberto return without us. Sorry for scaring you, David. Everything seemed pretty safe and peaceful to me. Mrs. Mendoza took me up to the ocean and we stood there for a while when a teenage boy approached us and from what I understood had seen some animals farther up.

waves crashing.. the waves were huge in this area

waves crashing.. the waves were huge in this area

bootiful ocean

bootiful ocean

So we followed him. But then he took us out to the road and away from the beach and I started getting confused. I thought perhaps it was a short cut to another beach. Then we turned a corner of a house to see a group of guys and motorcycles right where he was leading us. Mrs. Mendoza just looked at me and said “Lots of men…..” and I agreed. In trusting her though, I simply followed and she actually continued to follow the guy! I slipped my memory card into my pocket on the off chance someone decided that they wanted my camera, but he actually did end up leading us to animals.. Just not beach animals. He had some chickens and rabbits and little farm animals to which I looked at Mrs. Mendoza and said “David has these animals and I can see them any day, why are we here?” And she agreed and we quickly got out of there and walked back to the beach. I suppose no foreign trip is complete without one strange experience!

Inside walls were being put in upon arrival back at the build site. A second coat of paint on the exterior was happening and the beamers for the roof were being built. I got to join in on painting some of the exterior walls when another pivotal moment in the day happened- the obnoxiously beautiful sound of a tin roof being put over our heads. The day was complete when the roof was up.

busy at work

busy at work

some roof beams are up!

some roof beams are up!

and we have a roof!

and we have a roof!

5:00 pm and we nearly have a completed house.

the end of build day #1

the end of build day #1

David stayed behind after the build while we headed off to the YWAM base for dinner. He had some other business to attend to with some laywers and some landowners in order to get some more land bought for the Mendoza school. Oh yes, we did so much more than build a house this week.

After dinner we got back to the hotel and finally saw David again who decided to have a little pow-ow with us to see what we’d learned so far. We were already having teary-eyed speeches this early on in the trip! When we got to David’s turn, we were informed that they had successfully purchased the new piece of property for the Mendoza school so that they could get started on building their dream of having a playground for the kids. He also had a big speech about how entirely necessary it is to have a group of friends like this that is a support system that will be there to call you on your bullshit and hold you accountable for the things you do in life, someone with whom you can share your deepest woes with and that if he can be that for anyone in the group, he will be. How do I pick such good friends? Truly blessed here. He speaks the truth!

That night, I was going through the pictures on my camera, expecting to delete the ones that little Clara had took in her adventures with my camera. To my surprise, I came to find that this little 9 year old might actually have an eye for photography. I quickly approached David with my discovery and said it would be so great if we could get her a camera and it would only be like $10 a person. I was answered with a “We raised more than we expected so I think we have enough to cover that in our budget. Yeah. We can cover it.” Sweet.

an example of Clara's photography

an example of Clara’s photography

and another example

and another example

and another

and another

and one more

and one more

The second day of building was much slower. We mostly just had to do trim, repaint, and add in a kitchen island. I was thankful because I did not feel very well-rested that day. I painted quite a bit in the morning, but I mostly just sat around or did photos the rest of the day until they needed me for something.

some of the kids making planes out of scrap wood

some of the kids making planes out of scrap wood

electrical, more painting, and trim work

electrical, more painting, and trim work

momma raquel trying her hand at painting

momma raquel trying her hand at painting

mr. sun poison taking a break in the shade to play with Clara

mr. sun poison taking a break in the shade to play with Clara

getting that trim up! don't fall, Juan!

getting that trim up! don’t fall, Juan!

every little detail counts!

every little detail counts!

get back to work!

get back to work!

a little extra time for playing with the kids

a little extra time for playing with the kids

but also time to get down and dirty!

but also time to get down and dirty!

During lunch, Pedro (I think his name was) shared with us how doing this mission has changed his life. Pedro is one of the guys in charge of pouring the concrete to prepare the foundation for the house. I loved that this mission really involves locals and teaches them a skill instead of having all foreigners come in and do it for them and then leave them with nothing. It’s really nice to see all the community involvement.

I also got a chance to talk to Saul more that day. Saul was one of the YWAM volunteers who was probably in charge of most of what was going on on the build site. He is from Mexico and has also been doing this a while like Mitch, David’s friend. I got to practice some Spanish (and could understand him much easier than the Domincans) and get some more compliments on my Spanish. I don’t know why, but speaking Spanish could be one of my greatest accomplishments I think I’ve ever done and it feels so amazing to be called upon to translate or to be complimented on my speaking ability. Go do it!

saul

saul

the end of build day #2

the end of build day #2

interior, build day #2

interior, build day #2

We went out for ice cream that night. I wasn’t entirely impressed, but the presentation of putting it in the skin of whatever flavor it is was pretty awesome.

mango ice cream in mango skin

mango ice cream in mango skin

The last day of the home build was spent assembling furniture and shopping for groceries. I got to participate in the grocery shopping trip with the family and bond with them some more while watching the kids face light up at every single thing in the grocery store. Even corn flakes! They certainly helped us filling our carts to fill up the $300 budget. Then we had another $200 to be spent on clothes. Then we got to sneak off while Saul and the family checked out to buy the surprise toys and camera.

group shot of all the builders and the family

group shot of all the builders and the family

going shopping at Jumbo, the Walmart of the DR

going shopping at Jumbo, the Walmart of the DR

excitement!

excitement!

happy for a box of flavorless cereal!

happy for a box of flavorless cereal!

Arriving back at the project, the family was required to stay on the bus while we filled the house with the goodies and had one last meeting. David explained how the home dedication process works and proceeded to hand out a few items that would be presented to the family during the dedication. Teri was given the Bible, Katie got to hand them a frame photo of the build team, Kevin was given the honor of handing over the keys, and David asked me to present them with the camera! It was an honor to participate in being one of the people that handed them a final gift.

When the family was invited up, we stood in a circle and each gave a speech about our experience and how this has affected us. Many were unable to proceed without tears and it was great to see how many lives building a house could change, aside from just the family for whom it was built. I presented the camera, IN SPANISH, and as we got to the end, the family was given the keys and allowed to enter and have a few moments to themselves. Teri heard the little girl scream when she saw the Barbie she wanted laying on her bed.

family walking up

family walking up

having a group share before presenting the house

having a group share before presenting the house

me giving them the camera

me giving them the camera

handing over the keys

handing over the keys

a touching moment

a touching moment

entering the house

entering the house

Once we got to join them in the house, the mom was in tears which was the first time we’d really seen her express any emotion throughout the whole process. She then got her turn to talk and explained that this was a dream come true and she was so truly thankful for each and every one of us that she hoped we all came to visit in her new house again one day.

our team in waiting

our team in waiting

knocking on the door

knocking on the door

letting us inside

letting us inside

so happy!

so happy!

hugging everyone that enters

hugging everyone that enters

sweet joy

sweet joy

Clara turned back into her shy self that we met at the beginning of the trip and didn’t know what to say. She was so shy the day we met her and opened up so much running to give us all hugs and stealing the camera and posing for the camera and then went back into burying her face in her moms chest when it was her turn to speak to us. Hahaha.

We got to have some home-cooked Dominican food for lunch that day- rice, potato salad, chicken, and beef. Not bad!

The day was basically done by 1 pm and then we had the opportunity to go off to a Haitian refugee village and play with some needy children for a while. David told Sandro to take me around the village with my camera as well so I could have more photos of the living conditions. The trash there was just awful. The “soccer field” where the kids play was surrounded by mountains of it and I definitely saw a little section of it burning. But the kids were more than joyed to see us come out to play.

a trashy soccer field

a trashy soccer field

yes, that is trash burning in the background

yes, that is trash burning in the background

bringing out more kids to play

bringing out more kids to play

rain or shine, Sandro takes care of the Haitian village!

rain or shine, Sandro takes care of the Haitian village!

next soccer champion

next soccer champion

yay for playtime!

yay for playtime!

a "house"!

a “house”!

look at how cute this kid is! like a baby doll!

look at how cute this kid is! like a baby doll!

poor puppahs

poor puppahs

more "houses"

more “houses”

and more

and more

hey look, MORE trash.

hey look, MORE trash.

and another "house"

and another “house”

peek-a-boo!

peek-a-boo!

A lot of us quickly fell for this little girl that must have had some sort of problem. She seemed to copy us if she did anything at all and she never said a word, but definitely appeared old enough to talk. She couldn’t really catch any balls we threw her and didn’t even seem to understand that she was supposed to, but she was too precious to resist. At one point she caught a ball (from about 1 foot away) and her mouth just dropped as she stood there in shock. Too precious.

our little favorite gasping at the ball

our little favorite gasping at the ball

this is how she plays catch

this is how she plays catch

too cute!

too cute!

attacking Tara!

attacking Tara!

Back at the YWAM base, we had our closing meeting and some more worship music from Ricardo, followed by icecream and nachos to have a snack before heading out to dinner. During the meeting, David handed out some more money that was raised and more people ended in tears, including myself with the realization that I can actually make this happen for my life and that all of these people encouraged me that I have nothing to worry about and money should never be the issue.

We ended up building a house, donating over 6 suitcases stuffed full of toys, balls, books, clothes, shoes, etc., buying the family $300 worth of food, $200 worth of clothes, plus some toys and a new camera, donating $500 to support Mitch and his family at their YWAM base in Mexico, $800 to Sandro to send a couple of kids from his Malecon project to school for a year, a new piece of property for the Mendoza school and $400 to have it cleared and help them get started on building a playground, a fridge and blender for the Mendoza’s, $1000 in school supplies, and $50 a piece to support Saul, who is in charge of a lot of the construction for Homes of Hope, Ricardo, Sandro, Eduardo, and Juan (some other mission workers on the base) and paid for 4 of them to join us on the beach trip the following day to give them a break. Success?? I’d say so.

The next day was beach day which I won’t go into too much detail about because it’s not important. It is a blast going to the Caribbean and riding on a giant catamaran and sipping coconut juice in a hammock on the white sand teal waters. But everybody knows that. Oh, and I also got up and danced with some of the Dominicans.

hello down there!

hello down there!

the good ol' caribbean

the good ol’ caribbean

i'm on a boat and it's going fast and..

i’m on a boat and it’s going fast and..

chilling at the sand bar

chilling at the sand bar

welcome to the island

welcome to the island

drinkin that coconut juice

drinkin that coconut juice

the dancers- do you see me in the background?

the dancers- do you see me in the background?

on the catamaran

on the catamaran

weeeee

weeeee

some of us pretty ladies

some of us pretty ladies

dancing again, this time on the boat and for no reason other than music

dancing again, this time on the boat and for no reason other than music

this guy must know what he's doing leading 3 girls at once hahaha

this guy must know what he’s doing leading 3 girls at once hahaha

To add to all the learning experiences on this trip and the pride building that came from being one of the few that spoke the language and being the youngest in the build group (Yep, I think minus one or 2, everyone was at least over 30!) I received a message today from a friend I met in Guatemala. One of the girls who had been my housemates for a few weeks let me know that I had inspired her with my travels and that she is now looking into taking a year off from school to go teach English and learn Spanish. Me! I inspired someone. Little me. If any of you knew me before I started making a difference in my life, you would never guess. Or I never would have anyways. If you told me any of this a few years ago, I’d laugh in your face. I am touched to have inspired someone, as this was my goal in starting this blog, and I am excited to see what changes it will make in my own life so that I can continue on inspiring others!

So in closing, I will leave you with the parable of the starfish, a story shared with us by one of our team members, Tara, to keep the positive energy flowing throughout the course of the trip.

One morning, an elderly man was walking on a nearly deserted beach. He came upon a boy surrounded by thousands and thousands of starfish. As eagerly as he could, the youngster was picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. Puzzled, the older man looked at the young boy and asked, “Little boy, what are you doing?” The little boy responded without looking up, “I’m trying to save these starfish, sir.” The old man laughed and asked “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?” Holding a starfish in his hand, the boy turned to the man and, gently tossing the starfish back into the ocean, replied “Well, I just made a difference for that one!”

So get out there and make a difference. Because you can and because you will love it.

Until my next travels!

muah!

muah!

Back Home. How Does it Feel?

What’s it like returning to the States after being in a third world country for the last 6 months of my life? Do you really want to know? I’m not even sure if I know. I bet none of you expected another post. I didn’t expect to write one, but my mind has been a blur of too many thoughts since returning and I figured I should right them down and maybe continue on with this blog at least until the end of my Dominican Trip in January. Who knows. Maybe I’ll change my mind.

Where to begin? To be honest, I’m making myself sick in the head. I can give you one piece of advice, if you’re a die hard romantic like me.. it’s best that you don’t go out with anyone when you travel. As if it isn’t already hard to readjust to a life completely different than the life that I had there and leave all my friends and quit speaking Spanish, leaving behind someone you love and wanted to spend more time with makes it at least 100 times worse. Great. Now my family is going to bug me and lecture me about dating again. Yeah, I went out with someone else after the first idiot that broke my heart down there. And fell harder for him. Then had to leave. And now I’m sad. Don’t lecture me. Get over it.

So that’s my advice for any romantics out there. But what the hell, you can’t help your heart can you? If you’re like me, it’s impossible not to open your heart to people. Friends or more. And I opened my heart to Guatemala and the entire country now feels like a giant ex-boyfriend that you want to hate and push out of your life and forget about and pretend that nothing ever happened, but you can’t because you still love him.

Guatemala was one of the saddest places I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t just the poverty. The trash on the streets. The starving dogs and children. None of that. What kills me the most is the lack of self respect and self esteem. To watch so many people with so much potential make bad decision after bad decision after bad decision because they don’t think they are worth anything or will ever be worth anything in life kills me to my very core. To see people who don’t follow their dreams because they have none. To see people say things like they don’t have a chance at a life like mine or that they don’t deserve me. Having to hear about this boy I loved revert back and forth in and out of drugs because he’s confused as hell over my leaving, no matter how much I encourage him or tell him it’s not worth it is eating me up inside. I know it’s not my fault because it’s not my fault that I had to leave nor is it my fault that he’s choosing to deal with his pain in the wrong way, but part of me feels guilty for causing the pain. It’s not my fault. I hurt too. And I don’t know what to do or how to help him and I hurt not being able to be there with him or for him. But how many times do I have to hear someone say they love me one minute to they don’t want anything to do with me the next because the drugs/confusing thoughts are affecting them and they don’t know what to do with themselves? I hurt because I hate to see people hurt themselves. And almost everybody hurts themselves in Guatemala.

It’s so easy to get a hold of alcohol. Of drugs. Of sex. At any age. So easy to take the “easy way out” and forget about all your problems for a night just to wake up and start over again. And so many people are so closed off about their personal lives that they must be eaten alive inside. There’s a lack of encouragement to quit things like this because everyone’s so closed off that they just “don’t judge” everyone else’s decisions (The reality is that they judge like crazy behind their back, but just don’t but into their lives and say HEY DUDE WHAT THE *$#@(#( ARE YOU DOING TO YOURSELF?). I can’t emphasize how important it is to talk about your life to someone, to get out your thoughts and feelings, to talk about things so you can overcome them. But everyone there just doesn’t. (There are exceptions to everything I’m saying of course, I don’t want anyone to be offended. There are exceptions to what I will say about the people in America as well, don’t you worry.) There are lies constantly. There’s judging constantly (Not that we don’t do these things in other parts of the world, but I swear it’s worse there than I’ve ever seen in America). There’s so much insecurity and pride that it seems like you can’t even get to any of them because they’ve built up a wall so fierce that no matter how nice you talk and how much you really do care, they’ll never believe it so they’ll never let you truly help them.

After being in such a place for so long, you begin to love it no matter what the circumstances. There’s nothing there compared to the States. We have things of all shapes and sizes and flavors and you name it. And it changes depending on what state you visit. The people are all different. The food is all different. The culture is all different. We’re a glorious melting pot of a country with choices and opportunities in abundance. And it makes me sick and happy at the same time.

I walked through a grocery store yesterday with my aunt. A grocery store. Just a small grocery store and I was overwhelmed. How do we have so many options for food? How on earth do we decide what to eat each week? It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time. It’s a blessing because we really have access to pretty much anything we want here and depending on where you live, you don’t usually have to drive far to get it. But it’s a curse because it sends the mind into a whirl of confusion and indecision when we can’t make up our mind what we want. It also is a curse because we have so many unhealthy food options available that taste absolutely heavenly that it is a constant battle to try to resist them and stay healthy.

When she took me shopping to buy me some new clothes, I was quickly turned back on to my consumerist materialistic side. CLOTHES GLORIOUS CLOTHES. It disgusted me. I wanted to buy everything in the store or run far far away all at the same time. How blessed am I to be able to have such a generous aunt that spoils me and takes me shopping each Christmas to get some new clothes? I hope to one day be able to spoil people like she spoils me. It’s been hard to stay positive this Christmas, despite the beautiful blessing that is my family. I’m grateful for everything my family has given me, but in receiving a lot of the gifts I have received, a part of me also feels sad and guilty because it’s not fair that I get these things and some people have nothing.

If you don’t realize how blessed we are in this country, you better do a self-check up. I mean, we have so many blessings that we actually have time to worry about our outer appearance. We have time to work out so we get the perfect bod to the point where we get so insanely concerned about our looks that we just HAVE to have cute clothes to work out in too so we look cute while we’re sweating up a storm.

At some point this week, we visited a millionaire’s house to see how pretty they decorated their house with the ungodly amount of Christmas lights. This is a house that owns 42 dogs because they don’t know what else to do with their ungodly amounts of money. And I’m pretty sure not one of them is even a rescued dog.

Then, it just got worse. I sat around the game table at New Years Eve last night with my cousin and her boyfriend and family as they shared stories of the first college that they went to and the majority of spoiled rich kids that went there. I was told a story of a person who was given an ALLOWANCE of $2000 a week and was actually asking her parents for more because it WASN’T ENOUGH!

Then, there was the story of the girl who ran out of gas. My cousin’s boyfriend filled her in on this fact to which she responded by calling her father and yelling at him “I THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING TO COME UP HERE EVERY WEEKEND AND FILL UP MY GAS TANK!” What? You’re in college and you don’t know how to pump your own gas? How… How are you able to pass your classes? Not only that, it was true.. Her father drove 1.5 hours every weekend to fill her gas tank and because he couldn’t make it that weekend, he paid $100 (not including the cost of the gas) to my cousin’s boyfriend to go help this poor poor child fill up her tank.

How sick my own country makes me. And how easy it is to fall back into the dreadful curse of all of it. Why did I fall in love with Guatemala? Because when you had something, you appreciated it. You didn’t have good enough cell phone service to be able to facebook stalk people to the point where you depressed yourself. Nor was there any temptation to be on your phone all day, nor pull out the phone when you went out with friends. Grocery shopping wasn’t so difficult because there weren’t too many options. Your shower was just to get clean and if you missed a few, at least you didn’t smell as bad as the passed out drunk on the street. You didn’t really even own a mirror so if you didn’t wear make-up one day, you didn’t remember how gross you looked because you still got whistled at by all the sleazy misogynistic men on the street (hey, at least sometimes they were cute!).

But just like clockwork, all those bad habits came rushing right back as soon as I set foot on American soil.

So I guess what my point is… Is being home is confusing as hell. I’m depressed, but I no longer know that going back to Guatemala would be the solution (perhaps because I’m so depressed that I think nothing would make me happy at this point). I am blessed beyond belief here, but I feel like 90% of some of these things we call blessings are equally curses. I want to throw up at how much we waste in our country and how I could probably turn around the entire country of Guatemala with the money from just one or two wasteful millionaires in the States. I’m sitting here complaining about the money I have because if I had a million bucks, I could do wonders with it, even though I should be thanking God that I have way more money than a lot of people in the world. Part of me wants to leave money all together (I should get back into supporting my friend Xaviers efforts in trying to take all the money out of the world), but part of me doesn’t know how I’d survive.

I don’t want to be here, but going back to Guatemala scares me just as much as it did when I went there in the beginning. Being in the States makes me insecure again. Was I really happy there or was I just happy at the end of my trip because I got to spend so much time with that boy? Would I have really loved working with those recycles and that team if I had had to do everything alone? Do I really have legitimate friends there like my friends here? The one thing I’ve always loved about my home here is my friends. I’ve been blessed with the most amazing, encouraging, beautiful friends that ever were. It seems that my latin boy has already forgotten me and moved on to other girls (to kill the pain of solitude… but when was that ever a solution? I feel so disrespected. But that’s just how it is there. No self-respect and an undying need to always have someone by your side. Another thing that makes me sad for that country. You’ve got to love yourself first or no one’s ever going to make you truly happy!).

The truth that I’ve come to find is… Both countries have their problems. Both countries have their blessings. Every single person on the planet struggles through something so why can’t we all just appreciate what we have, love other people, and help those who need help and stop wasting our money and time on petty things? My strength has depleted in this transition, but I pray to God to restore it so that I can continue to love people who don’t know love and be positive in a world that doesn’t believe in itself and know where I’m supposed to be and go in this mess of spiraling confusion.

And the one thing we need to be thankful for the most is the unfailing love of our God and Savior. I’ve been put in situations where I’ve felt that I need to continue to love a person no matter how many times they’ve turned their back on me and said mean things because they want to push me away because they don’t feel worthy of my love and you know what the only thing that hurts is? What hurts is that I just want to love them and their hate for themselves is so strong that they won’t let me. I feel like I’ve had a huge taste about how God feels about us and I sure gotta give Him some respect for continuing to love and love and love and open His arms every time we come running back no matter how many times we run away FOR EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD because it’s hard as *INSERT APPROPRIATE CUSS WORD* to do that just for one person! After a few times of hateful words and running away, it depletes my strength and hurts me to the point where I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing or not. But I do know that every time they come running back for love, it fills me with joy. But I certainly couldn’t bear the cross for everybody. Props to the Guy upstairs and sorry for hating my life when it really isn’t bad at all.

Things to learn from this experience (that I still gotta work on too):
Count your blessings. Someone’s life is worse than yours.
Stop being selfish. If someone wants to love you, let them love you and be grateful for their love. Don’t let your stupid selfish insecurities push away a perfectly good person. Enjoy them!
Stop wasting your time and money on stuff that doesn’t matter.
Stop judging. For God sakes, stop judging.
Don’t ever hate another person.
Stop worry about things that are out of your control.
As the song goes… Don’t you worry about a thing, every little thing’s gonna be alright.

Mi Final Despedida

Well. Here I am again in the airport. Arrived at my gate hours before my flight because everyone suggested leaving early due to possible Christmas traffic. It almost feels like dejavú. I was way too early for my flight here as well.

But here I am. Only 2 days before Christmas. Nearly a week after when I was supposed to be here. And 5.5 months after arriving in this beloved country. It almost doesn’t feel real. I can’t begin to describe the feeling I feel right now. Perhaps the week of being sick damaged some brain cells, but it’s almost like I was able to shut my brain off. I feel numb.

The last few days that I was here were surreal, like it wasn’t supposed to happen (well, it wasn’t. I got sick. But I’m almost sort of glad I did because I think I needed that last bit of time to pull myself together to leave. I don’t think that I was ready last Wednesday). The majority were spent in a bed in a hotel room watching TV or movies, being so well-taken care of by Galleta, who I can’t thank enough for everything that he’s done that last few days. Last night, we spent our last night in Rainbow Café, listening to Kenny and Edgar for the last time. I hadn’t been in a long time to listen to them, nor to eat in Rainbow, so it made for a very nice closing to my trip. Ended where I started, but as a completely new person.

last time listening to "Kenny & Friends" (one day they'll come up with a better name)

last time listening to “Kenny & Friends” (one day they’ll come up with a better name)

i'll miss these goobers

i’ll miss these goobers

And that I am. As I sat here in the airport finishing out my journal before starting my blog, a guy approached me to see if I would be willing to participate in a survey. I assumed it was more a survey about the airport, but after we got past the typical “what’s your age?” “what country are you from?” questions, I was hit with ones that I wasn’t prepared to answer.

What was the best thing you liked about Guatemala? (where do I start?)
What was the worst thing you saw? (cheaters, racism, judgement, and trash)
Why did you come here? (Learn Spanish)
What do you see in the future for Guatemala? (Change)
Will you come back? (Of course)

It’s by the grace of God or my lack of sleep that the flood gates didn’t open in front of this poor guy. I have already let the tears out once today saying bye to Galleta in the entrance of the airport. You wouldn’t think such a vulgar phrase as “SOS LA MERA VERGA” could make you tear up so much, but it pretty much means you’re the best person ever and well, he’s the mera verga for taking care of me through his birthday and dropping me off at the airport and helping me with everything. That was definitely my hardest of goodbyes. I tried to see Willy today, but he was stuck in orientation, and I decided it was for the better because neither of us are good at goodbyes and that would have sent me in a fit of tears as well. Can’t ruin my make-up now, right? (Whatever, mascara is going to be all over my face by the time I get off the plane in the States).

the hardest of all goodbyes...

the hardest of all goodbyes…

So what do I do with this post now? I never thought this day would come. I really. I can’t believe how quickly six months passed by. I can’t believe I was here in Guatemala. I can’t believe any of what just happened. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

I remember my first post sitting in the airport in Atlanta, trying to distract myself from the fear of leaving my country. I remember waiting in line at security, nearly calling my mom to come back and get me because I didn’t want to do it anymore. A trip that I decided on “de repente” as they say here, I had found, booked, and bought my trip within less than two weeks of deciding to do it. What possessed me? I’ll never know. But whatever it was, I owe it a big thank you.

Nah, I’m joking. I know what it was, it just sounds way better in writing if you act dramatic and don’t get all religious on people. But, I have no other person that I can thank more than God, the only one who knows how to make sense of my life. The only one that knew that I was actually capable of doing this. The little spark that kept me going forward, even though I was scared out of my mind.

And here I am at the end of my show, viewing the results. I think I still have a lot to think about, as I still don’t even know where to begin in writing this. I’m just shocked that the trip is already over. Shocked that I did it. Shocked that I met so many good people and so many bad people in the same place. Shocked that I learned Spanish enough to communicate pretty damn well. Shocked that I got sick so often in the beginning of my trip, but never came home. Shocked that I rode in the door of a chicken bus whipping around curvy roads. Shocked that 6 months has already passed by. Shocked that I’ve ridden in countless pick-up trucks, sitting on the edge. Shocked that I’ve ridden motorcycles without a helmet. Shocked that I road-tripped solo through a land unknown. Shocked that I learned how to dance a little Salsa. Shocked that I climbed the second highest volcano in Guatemala. Shocked that I was even IN Guatemala. Shocked that I worked for free and made art of recycles and loved it. Shocked that I organized a fundraising party. In a foreign country. Shocked that I made friendships that feel like second family. Shocked that I have another place in the world that I can call home.

A bittersweet emptiness fills me as I sit here, watching my plane pull up. Shocked that I am here in the airport. Excited to see my friends in the States and my family, but torn apart to leave my other family behind. But, it has to be done.

Just. I don’t know who I am anymore. What happened to the girl that got made fun of in middle school, who had no self-esteem, who, as much as she dreamed and dreamed, always felt defeated at some point and never felt like she could be anything in the world?

Shocked. There’s just no other word. I’m shocked. People think I’m beautiful here. And I have put on more weight and gotten more acne than I had before I left! People still judge me, but I have so many people that look up to me. So many. I guess what needs to be learned is you have to learn who to pay attention to. People are always going to judge you and talk bad about you, but you gotta keep a go. Who am I? I’m happy. I’ve changed for the better. It’s amazing.

I’m flattered by all the love I’ve received here. All the respect I’ve been given. I’m just a person just like anyone else. I was made fun of. I’ve been hurt. I never thought I’d be something special for anybody, but here I am leaving a trail of broken hearts over my departure (don’t worry, mine is broken too). Someone who had little self-esteem for the majority of her life who always listened too much to the negative has changed her life. But I’m not special. I’m just like anyone else. The past does not define who you are and the future holds a precious gift as long as you are willing to let go of your fears and fight for it. I did it. I did this crazy trip to Guatemala. I learned Spanish. I did what I came to do and more. So I guess what I learned the most out of anything in this trip is….

¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡TU PUEDES, MI AMORRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Guess I’m not leaving

We raised 2000Q!!!!!!!!!

That’s like raising $2000 in the States. But not only that, we had a ton of people that were interested in the Asociación afterwards. Las Vibras wants to have another fundraiser and says that we will raise double next time. A lot of guys wanted more of the recycled chairs that we brought and I would say a handful of people wanted to come visit the project and see what else they could get involved in.

Success? I’d say so.

I was so glad that party was over with though and was so ready to take a break, but the work was not over unfortunately. Because we had so many prizes, we were unable to announce all of them in the raffle, so Friday I spent my day in Vibras texting people to let them know that they won and waiting on them to come pick up their prizes and any artwork we sold.

Later that day, I went off to Dueñas to be there for the money counting. I thought this was the end of work and that I could enjoy my last few days here with Galleta, but we were informed there would be a break dancing party in the Asociación that night. So we had to get up Saturday morning and make a few trophies and take aways for them and then had to head to Antigua to fix one of the lamps that sold (someone knocked it over).

By the time we finished everything in Antigua, we had to go to a Christmas party in Kafka to meet a few people that were interested in the project and give out thank you cards. Daniel joined us since he is one of the founders of the project. Fortunately, it did not take too long because Galleta and I were exhausted, so afterwards we headed back to Dueñas and slept.

Sunday we finally got to rest a little and hang around and watch some movies all day. I feel like we did some kind of work that day, but I can’t remember, so maybe we did actually have a day of rest. I think I slept good that night, finally.

Monday, we had more work to do. Daniel brought the thank you letters and while Galleta cleaned up the workshop, I made sure they were properly enveloped before we both headed to Antigua. Actually, I didn’t end up working that day. I sent Galleta to do the thank-you notes while I got a little packing done. I thought I would be helping him out, but by the time I got finished, he had pretty much finished all but 6 or so places and it started to drizzle and I only had an hour before I had to go see Willy for the last time.

So we decided to save the remaining letters for another day and I went to buy a Christmas present for Geovanny and Geovanna and then headed to meet Willy. I quickly came to find out that Willy has already begun his job as a field-manager and is no longer a teacher so now he works until 7 pm instead of 6. So Galleta and I waited around an hour for him to get off, only for him to remind me that he has English classes at 7 so we wouldn’t be able to meet after all. I took a picture with him and gave him a hug and tried to think positive, but I felt that this was goodbye and left with tears in my eyes.

ay willy! :(

ay willy! :(

I distracted myself from crying over dinner by showing Galleta a bunch of photos on my phone. Then, it was back to Dueñas again for the night. I thought we would get a good night’s sleep that night because the kids were supposed to be gone, but apparently monday was not their last day there like we had been told. Tuesday was just wierd. I think I was in zombie mode about leaving the next day. The kids didn’t want me to leave, even though I’ve barely done anything with them aside from greet them when they get there (as I am usually working in the recycles) and I just wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone. I just wanted to sit in the back and be sad.

Then, to my great surprise, Galleta yelled for me and said someone was looking for me and I walked out and THERE WAS WILLY!! I freaked out with excitement so glad I would get to see him again before I left and found out that he is the new field manager for THIS PROJECT! He was taking over Colin’s position and tuesday was his first day to check out the project. How perfect is that? Willy was wanting to be involved in helping at the fiesta, but had too much to do in order to help, but he wanted to come visit the project at some point to see what it was all about. And now he’s the field manager there, which means he’ll be checking in on them and helping them out!! My favorite people have been united here! How exciting of news this was for me.

At some point, I did get the chance to sit down in the back with Galleta and cry about leaving. But it lasted all of two minutes when all of the sudden, I looked up and saw a snake crawling around on the ceiling. Faustina had escaped!!! (She is their pet snake) So that turned into an adventure of getting her down and back in the box that she was in.

someone isn't happy!

someone isn’t happy!

right before pooping on me

right before pooping on me

I ended up with a nice streak of snake poop on my clothes. That’s one way to end my final day in the Asociación, I thought. Oliver couldn’t stop laughing and telling me how lucky I am because how many volunteers can go home and say they got pooped on by a snake? I didn’t find it too funny, but I was at least glad I had a change of clothes!

Then, we all enjoyed our last coffee together, took a picture, and said our goodbyes and Galleta and I headed off to the bus for Antigua. I dropped him off at my friend’s house where we would be staying that night because he wanted to come with me to the airport to say goodbye, but I had to go home to Isolina’s first to enjoy my goodbye dinner and give the kids their Christmas presents and finish packing.

love these kids! but julio and danny were missing for the group photo!

love these kids! but julio and danny were missing for the group photo!

never thought i'd see the day that it would be my goodbye party...

never thought i’d see the day that it would be my goodbye party…

family picture!

family picture!

After dinner and packing, my friend Xavier called me and came in town to wish me goodbye! He even brought me a really cute purse/backpack to take home!

Then, it was off to Mihail’s house for the night.

Wednesday, I thought I’d be updating my blog from the airport, reflecting on everything that I’d learned in Guatemala and finishing out this blog series with my final goodbye Guatemala post.

Well, that changed rather quickly when I woke up to explosive-nearly-made-me-pass-out diarrhea (sorry for the too much information) at 4:00 in the morning. Followed later by nearly throwing up, but I was able to stop it by laying on the cold bathroom floor, where Galleta found me (how uncomfortable it is to be sick in a room with a bathroom that doesn’t have a freaking door!) and freaked out wondering if I was okay. By the time I woke up around 8 am, I didn’t find myself making it to the airport that day with the way I was feeling so I made some frantic phone calls and got everything settled as Galleta ran off to the store and the pharmacy for me.

I still have no idea what happened, but at noon, I was most certainly glad I cancelled my flight. I would have been in the airport at this point (as my flight was scheduled for 1:30), but instead I was in a frenzy of things coming out at both ends?? WHAT THE HELL? I wanted to stay in Guatemala, but not for this reason! So that’s basically where I’m at at this point. Instead of being a reflecting beautiful goodbye post, I am still in Guatemala, 2 days after I was supposed to be home. Not much has happened since Wednesday since I’ve been stuck in bed, but I do have to shout out to Galleta again, although he can’t read English, that I am so thankful that he came with me to Antigua because I don’t know what I would have done if I had been at Isolina’s because the bathroom is so far from my room and there’s no space to lay on the floor in the bathroom there. So I was in a good place when it happened.

On top of that, he’s stayed with me since Wednesday, running errands all day long whenever I need something and washed my clothes Wednesday and cleaned up the bathroom (well, I cleaned up the mess because obviously I couldn’t deal with myself if he had to see any of that, but he spring cleaned it), and helped me move to a hotel (we couldn’t stay at Mihail’s any longer because someone was moving in to that room) where I could have a private bathroom. He has only left my side to go get things that I’ve needed. And not only that, but yesterday was his birthday and he spent the whole day taking care of me still. I can’t express my gratitude for him. I’m too sick to think properly to make this an interesting blog post, but I am thankful thankful thankful that I have someone to take care of me! What a mess I’d be without him.

my lovely little caretaker, from a photoshoot I did of him the other day

my lovely little caretaker, from a photoshoot I did of him the other day

Even though there’s darkness, there is always light! What a blessing to have this guy in my life! Marcos from the Asociación ran into him the other day running errands and came by to check on me too. I love those guys too much. The best friends that I’ve made here yet. Thank God for them all!

So here I am, unexpectedly continuing the blog and stuck in Guatemala. I guess we’ll see what happens next! Everything always changes rapidly here, even up to my flight home (and I hadn’t been sick since the beginning of October either! QUE RARO!)

All You Need is Love

Well, sorry for the delay guys. I have been insanely busy. We’re talking barely-a-minute-to-breath busy, but it has all been worth it. It has all been worth it.

Things just kept falling together for the fundraising party that I threw. On Tuesday of last week, I showed up in Dueñas and Galleta had surprised me with all the artwork he’d been working on. He’d been there from 6 am that day working (I arrive around 3 pm) and I could tell that this fundraiser was getting him motivated into working again, which was beautiful to see.

Then, that night, I went back to Las Vibras to confirm that we were definitely on for the party and they said yes! We even confirmed the date that I wanted the most (the 12th of December, because the 17th is the day before I leave!) so I was more than excited, but that meant that I had exactly 9 days to pull this thing together. 9 days to plan a fundraising party and have it be successful. 9 stinking days.

I went home in a stress ball, overly excited that this was going to actually happen, but freaking out on how I was going to design a poster and get it printed and posted up around town in time to advertise something that was happening in 9 days. Sure, I’ve designed a thing or two before, but mainly for photography, not actually for a poster. But bam, for the most part it completely fell together as soon as I got started. WHAT?

Okay. Then Wednesday was still a pretty normal day. I was mostly waiting on confirmations about certain activities before I could finish the poster. But it wasn’t a normal day coming back from Dueñas cuz I got to ride on a four wheeler, helmetless, on the main road, with 2 other people. All of which, I am quite sure, are illegal in the States. God bless Guatemala.

yeah buddy!!

yeah buddy!!

Daniel was also talking to me that day and mentioning how thankful they are to have me there and that I am already a part of their family and they really appreciate all the help I have been doing and I had to tell him to stop telling me nice things because I was going to cry. I have more and more days here now where the littlest thing makes me cry because I don’t want to leave and all I wanted earlier in this trip was to make some lasting friendships and to be a part of something and really help somebody and being with this group from Dueñas has been exactly what I needed and apparently I have been exactly what they’ve needed and it all makes me so full of joy, I could just explode! And yeah, call the grammar police because that was definitely a run-on sentence.

My tandem with Willy was really special that day as well. I’m not really sure what got us on the subject, but I was talking about how important it is to forgive people (something I learned going to my counselor back in 2012 and something I’m continuing to learn) and he seemed so amazed at how quickly I was able to forgive the guys that hurt me so much in the beginning of my trip and still remain their friends and he was begging me to teach him how I do it. I don’t know how I do it. One day, I hope to be able to share whatever I do because I still don’t quite understand it, but I’m so thankful that I started seeing Ruth in 2012 because so much of my life has changed and continued to change since that year.

Thursday began my donation begging. I got to see Orlando and Miguel again and they ended up inviting me out for lunch. We went to Cafe Sky, which was the first time I had been there, and Miguel happened to know the owner so he found out for me that I could come the next day at 8 am sharp to talk to him and ask if he’d be willing to donate something for the fundraiser raffle. Yes, a raffle. It was fun eating with those guys and I am going to miss them a lot. Orlando moved to the city on short notice afterwards so I don’t think I will get to see him again, nor will he be able to make it to the party. Nor will I be able to get a video of me dancing salsa. :(

probably the last time I'll see those 2 guys this trip! :(

probably the last time I’ll see those 2 guys this trip! :(

I went to Dueñas like normal after lunch and finished another lamp shade. Galleta did not come that day, but I could not wait for him to see it. We make such a good team working back there because he doesn’t have the patience for some of the things I do (since when do I have patience? I suppose we just enjoy making different things) and I have no interest whatsoever in putting together the electrical parts of the lamp, so I always need him in order to finish my lamps. And I love when he likes something I’ve completed! Never would I have pictured myself working on artwork down here. I cursed art after graduating from college because I was so sick of the crazy, but this kind of art has me inspired.

Friday morning, bright and early, Emilee and I rose up and went to Cafe Sky at 8 am to ask for our very first raffle donation. And just like that, we walked home with 2 bottles of wine. I was so happy about this, but something bugged at me all day Friday until I got to Dueñas. I suppose I just needed a hug.

Some of my last days here, I haven’t been able to forget about the fact that I am leaving and I get really down. I had talked to David over skype the night before and he warned me how depressed I was going to be when I got back to the States because he did the same when he only went to the Dominican Republic for a month. I told him I was well aware of this, but I guess the thought stayed in my mind over night. I didn’t get much work done that day and just sat there crying and hugging on Galleta til the sad went away. But once that was all over, my butt kicked into high gear and I started prepping up for the fiesta.

After I quit crying, Oliver took me around to visit some of the families that attend their school that day. Perhaps a day that I had been crying was not a day to do that, but it was one of our only opportunities because they still had the borrowed four-wheeler to ride around on. We went to three families. All of which are extremely poor and I got to experience the real Guatemala.

The first family we went to lived in a hut made of tin panels that was just big enough for 2 full size beds and a table. 5 kids sleep in one bed and 3 people (2 adults and one kid) sleep in the other. There’s no electricity and I’m not sure I spotted a toilet, but surely there’s at least a shared one in the little community of “houses” they are in.

5 people sleep in that bed

5 people sleep in that bed

3 people sleep in that bed

3 people sleep in that bed

see the end of the bed from the last picture? this is the rest of the house.

see the end of the bed from the last picture? this is the rest of the house.

2 adults and 6 children live in this tiny little hut

2 adults and 6 children live in this tiny little hut

The second family we visited had a slightly nicer part tin part concrete room-of-a-house, but there daughter has down syndrome. Not only that, she has some kind of intestinal issue that causes her to throw up nearly 70% of what she eats. She needs a special kind of milk that the family can’t afford, but Asociación Vida tries to get her milk and vitamins when they have the money to do so. I had not seen this girl before, but they told me that a lot of the kids that are in their program don’t get to come often because they are too sickly. Yet, the Asociación still tries to keep them included in everything and help them out in whatever way they can. The beauty of this place continues to grow on me.

this is maria. she doesn't make it to the association much because of her so many health problems, but they still try to help her in every way that they can

this is maria. she doesn’t make it to the association much because of her so many health problems, but they still try to help her in every way that they can

The last house we visited had a t.v. and a stereo and was a little bigger, but it was still tiny and still made out of not-so-sturdy materials and still had a dirt floor. And still has kids that have issues. It seems almost rampant in this community. They have 50 kids that come to that school and they all have some kind of issue.

inside house number 3

inside house number 3

the kids in the middle of eating lunch

the kids in the middle of eating lunch

It made me so thankful for what I have in the States. And I felt like I had a great experience getting to see some other situations. It was good that I got all my crying out that morning though. And it was good I got my dose of hugs because my day only got better and I would have hated to ruin it with a bad mood!

Vibras called me after we returned back to the association and confirmed that they would like to donate 10% OF ALL FOOD AND DRINK SALES at the night of the party. WHAT? I just suggested it on a limb because they were looking to have some sort of drink offer for the night to get more people to come out, so I just mentioned it one night and awaited their answer so that I knew what to write on the poster about drink offers and they called and said not only would they donate 10% of drinks, but of food sales as well! I twirled in a happy dance of delight. Another thing coming together just like that.

We did find out that Ale Mendoza would be too busy to come to sing, but I knew it was still going to be a great event. Break dancing by the kids in the break dance program at the association, beer pong, open mic night, a raffle, and a museum of art? And nothing had to be paid so nothing could be lost. The event just got better and better.

I missed tandem time with Willy that night because my friend was supposed to come visit the project but never came, but I at least got the poster finished that night. Then I just had to wait on it to get approved before I could send it to the printer.

the final poster!

the final poster!

Saturday, it hit me that it had already been a month since Acatenango! Do you remember that crazy post? Can you believe it’s already been a month since I’ve met these guys and this awesome project? This last month literally flew by. I feel like I’ve blinked and it’s gone. And here I am, still walking around with my little buddy from the volcano. Who knew my pillow from Acatenango would end up being one of my favorite people on this entire trip and that we’d spend my entire last month here making art together. Life is so random.

Saturday we officially started the donation begging process. I was unable to get the posters sent off to the printer in time for us to hang them up that weekend, which stressed me out, but it all ended up being okay. We, instead, started walking around all of Antigua begging for donations to have in the raffle.

Galleta came to Antigua at around 1:00 that day and we walked and talked until about 7 pm that night. We went to about 35 places, I’d say and for the most part, I did all the talking (did I mention in Spanish?) and he would butt in when I got tongue tied or wasn’t sure how to answer a question. The majority of the places seemed interested to donate but we just had to come back again Monday to talk again. We had a break at some point in Luna de Miel (OH THE CREPES!!!) because I told him that he hadn’t lived until he tried a Luna Moka (crepe filled with chocolately mocha-y goodness piled with vanilla and mocha ice cream. now wonder I got fat here.).

you could get fat just looking at it

you could get fat just looking at it

After we finished, we headed off to Dueñas for another weekend and had fun hanging out and listening to music. Sunday we got up and got some more Reciclarte made. I finished a purse made out of chip bags and we finished up a couple more lamps as well. Then we took it easy and watched a few movies the rest of the evening because we knew we had another big day of walking ahead of us the next day.

Monday we got up at 7 am, left Dueñas to come back to Antigua and started again. The thing about Monday was that all the places that told us to came back told us to come back at different times…. So instead of working our way down one street and up another, we walked from one side of Antigua to the other back and forth back and forth all day long. It was rough. We had a break for breakfast in Rainbow Cafe, but never had lunch that day and we never finished until 6 pm that night. Pretty much 12 hours of walking. PHEW! You’re wondering why I didn’t have time for my blog?

But, we ended up with about 11 prizes in hand, with more promised to come, that day so it was well worth all of our work. We were beginning to realize that this party was really going to happen! The pieces just kept falling together!

Tuesday was another hard day of work for me. This time, I had to do it alone because Galleta was back in Dueñas and he needed to get some more recycled art ready anyways. I got started (walking around Antigua anyways, I am sure I started other things earlier) at around 11:00 that day and ended at about 9:00 that night. Emilee gave me a hand for a few hours and then split up with me later to go to a few places with Sari. I also met with the guys at Vibras again to get more things planned out for the party and FINALLY got to pick up the posters. I wondered what on earth I was going to do with the posters arriving only 2 days before the party, but we managed to get them all hung up that day as well.

I walked home with 23 prizes in hand, with more promised to come, by the end of the night. And I was EXHAUSTED. And it still wasn’t over yet. But it was amazing. Some places I walked into wondering why the hell I was even trying a place like that and the ended up surprising me and just handing me a prize right away. There is no doubt that I had an extra hand upstairs rooting for me on this adventure.

Wednesday I was up at 7 am working on different things on the computer and running a few more errands in Antigua before I headed off to Dueñas to get some more art done around the usual time that I go. I did not actually get much done, but I did finish one piece of art that I had started. They had been working hard there so the guys already had a good bit of art done, so I felt a little more relaxed. I ended up laying down half of the time I was there, but I felt it was a well deserved hour or so break. I mean, every minute of my time for the past week has been devoted to this. Even when I came home at the end of 12 hours of walking around Antigua, I had more to do on my computer. I translated a description of their project to put on the tables at the party; I made the posters; I made up a list of prizes, a list of thank-you notes that need to be written; I made silent auction slips to put with the recycled art; the list goes on. No sleep til Brooklyn? (Er.. I mean, the fundraiser)

my flower made from a fan, glue, and chip bags... it sold in the party! :)

my flower made from a fan, glue, and chip bags

32 prizes in hand. Let’s do this.

Willy and I had one of our last tandem meetings that day, but I didn’t realize it until I got there. Because I obviously would not have been able to meet the day of the fundraiser and the rest of my days I’ll be helping with the after-party things that need to get done in Dueñas so I mentioned I wasn’t sure when I’d meet with him again and he got defensive because he hates goodbyes (me too) and it hit me that I’d been so busy that I hadn’t had a chance to stop and think about me being so close to goodbye and I walked home in tears.

Isolina also made banana bread in her new oven that day, without a recipe! It was so good! That’s the second thing she’s baked for us now and I am so happy to see her using her oven. It was such a blessing to be able to get that for her and be able to enjoy seeing her enjoy it! Thank you so much again to everyone who helped me buy it for her!

Emilee went to pick up a few more prizes that day for me as well and at the end of the night, we reached our goal of 40 prizes. I couldn’t believe it. The first day, Galleta and I were happy to receive 11 prizes, but we both thought that 40 was a little crazy, but it happened. It totally happened.

Thursday was game day. I was on a kick of delusion from lack of sleep at this point. I went to the last few places that talked to me before heading to Dueñas at around 9:30 to make sure we made all the donation boxes and everything ready to get brought over to Antigua. When I arrived, I headed straight for the pile of donated clothes and fell on my stomach. Galleta had left to go bring food and I needed him for the artwork, so I just slept and waited his arrival. When he arrived, I went into a fit of laughter and everyone was quite positive that I smoked something strong. Hahaha. Everyone thinks that when I am on my lack-of-sleep delusions and I almost wonder myself sometimes. But, it passed shortly after and we all got to work. Fortunately, everyone kicked in and helped that day so I got to relax a little more.

3:00, Galleta and I were headed off to Antigua to set up the art gallery in Las Vibras. Everything was set up and ready to go by 6:00 pm and it looked awesome. I felt so proud after getting all the art up and couldn’t believe it was happening. It felt like my own art gallery and I was proud of every single thing that was there. It has been so much fun working with Galleta on all this art and I honestly thought I would never make art again after graduating. Maybe because this art has so much more meaning to it than stupid concepts (I say stupid concepts, but if you think about it, this art kind of has a concept too hahaha), but I’ve loved it.

tire chairs, a door table, a coffee mug/trophy lamp, and my flower fan

tire chairs, a door table, a coffee mug/trophy lamp, and my flower fan

the exposition of our many lamps

the exposition of our many lamps

my lamp made out of cut out plastic tarp and a kaleidescope tube

my lamp made out of cut out plastic tarp and a kaleidescope tube

Galleta's hanging lamp from plastic bottles, Daniel's ukelele lamp, and my lamp from a trash can, some kind of fabric, and bottles/caps

Galleta’s hanging lamp from plastic bottles, Daniel’s ukelele lamp, and my lamp from a trash can, some kind of fabric, and bottles/caps

Galleta and I with our exposition (LOOK! I even got to wear an asociación vida polo shirt!)

Galleta and I with our exposition (LOOK! I even got to wear an asociación vida polo shirt!)

We ended up with 43 prizes for the raffle. 43! Not only did we reach our goal, but we passed it. God is too good.

The party was a huge success. In fact, we had too many prizes and had to end up announcing a lot of the winners on facebook because no one wants to sit and listen to names get called for an hour. I will be counting up the money with the guys later today to see how much money we raised, but I know based on the number of raffle tickets sold and the fact that we sold about 10 pieces of our art and the fact that 10% of all food and drink purchases was donated that it’s going to be a lot!

We had break dance with the kids from the program at Asociación Vida. This is part of the urban program to try to get kids out of trouble and put their energy into extracurricular activities. They performed so well. It was insane. My camera couldn’t keep up with all the moves unfortunately.

back flip

back flip

kick!

kick!

it's all much more exciting when you can see a video

it’s all much more exciting when you can see a video

We had open mic night and danced goofily and I sang my Tabaco Y Chanel one last time for my dearest of friends. Typing this last sentence just made me start crying. I had so many people cheering me on this time, I felt like a rockstar. Not a single one of my other friends outside this Dueñas group, aside from Mihail, Isolina and Maynor and (surprisingly) José came to this party, despite the fact that I said it may be the last chance to see me. So that’s that. And for that I am so glad I met these guys. I’m going to miss this group so much and I’m so glad I got to be a part of this before I left. I finally feel like I really did something awesome with my time here in Guatemala and they have made me feel like family. They ARE my family. Daniel was letting me know how much the appreciated everything at the party and went on a long rant in my ear that would have sent me to a flood of tears if I wasn’t stressed out working on the raffle. He is so grateful for everything I’ve done and says on all their behalf how much they are going to miss me and how incredibly sad they are that I have to leave.

my lovely friends taking their shot at open mic night

my lovely friends taking their shot at open mic night

dancing the night away

dancing the night away

my last chance to sing (and Isolina and Mynor finally got to hear)

my last chance to sing (and Isolina and Mynor finally got to hear)

I am the same. I want to thank them for everything they’ve done for me and how sad I am to leave. I wish I had the money to stay and hadn’t bought my plane tickets in advance. I feel like a big part of something extremely special here and the funny thing is that it doesn’t earn a dime. I’ve slept countless times on a hard floor with nothing more than a slender dirty ripped up foam mattress with some clothes on top. I’ve worked long hours, longer than any hours I’ve ever worked in my life in the states and not for a single penny. The only thing I’ve earned is love and the more I help them, the more I remember how important love is and how it is greater than any other gift you can receive in the world. Leaving behind a history and earning the love of a group of amazing guys that treats me like family is far greater than any amount of money that I could ever receive.

I am exhausted beyond belief. It was so much work putting this thing together, but I have never had so much fun in my whole life. I’m crazy for loving this, but every minute of work was so worth all the smiling faces in the party and worth seeing how excited the Vida workers were. I can’t count the number of compliments I received for the party. So many people loved it. Vibras wants to host another one. I will be helping in any way I can over the internet. A couple other people are interested in coming to visit the project to see what else they can do to help out and it’s all because this party came together. I was overwhelmed with love.

But I can’t take the credit. God’s hand was in this, there is no doubt. I never in my life would have thought a party such as that could have been put together in under 3 weeks when I first thought up the idea. But everything flowed so smoothly (imagine how much work it would have been if we kept running into problems! it wouldn’t have happened, that’s what!) that I have to say that it wasn’t my work that brought this party together, but something that God wanted to happen. Because if He wants it to happen, all the doors will open. And all the doors did open. And we walked through them and made this party happen!

There is still quite a bit of work left to be done. Now we have to make sure everyone picks up their prizes and that I post the photos on facebook (Yeah, I was running the photography at the event too! I’m SO pooped!) and we have to walk around and give out the thank you notes and go back to the places that seemed extra-interested so Daniel can talk to them and exchange more information.

I am getting sadder by the minute because I know Wednesday is going to be here before I know it. I’m so attached to Guatemala now that I’ve been willingly getting up early and giving myself headaches with lack of sleep just to get more time in my day. But I feel it in my heart that my work is not yet done here, but has only just begun. Don’t you worry, Guatemala, I’ll be back again one day.

I will announce in my next blog post what we ended up earning at the party, but even if we didn’t earn much, the point is that there name is out there now and more people want to participate, so the seed has been planted and the growth has just begun! Best of luck to my Dueñas crew. May God bless all the hard work you do with abundant harvest of progress! PLANTING HOPE… HARVESTING PROGRESS!!!!

long live Asociación Vida!

long live Asociación Vida!

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.

Isolina gets an oven and I get touched where I shouldn’t be

So much to do, so little time. It’s funny how life is sometimes. I feel like I had a few months of doing pretty much nothing productive here and now that I’m down to the last 3 weeks (which I still can’t believe), I feel like I have way too much to do and it’s never all going to get done.

I really have taken quite a liking to this project in Dueñas. I love that they are dreamers and they really have a vision for their place, whereas a lot of people I have met here don’t really have motivation for anything and don’t even dream anymore. It inspires me to actually help them. I am a bit discouraged by the resources they have. To be quite honest, a lot of the “recycles” is just garbage. Even me, with my supposed creativity, thinks a lot of it is unusable. But they continue to tell me that they use everything. Their dream is already under way. They are teaching kids with special needs for free because the families can’t afford to pay for them. But they are providing a facility where these kids can come learn and grow instead of be cast out by society.

Because of their lack of money, they are also extremely resourceful and want to start their own environmental program. I am no tree hugger, but Guatemala definitely needs to work on the way they treat the environment. The pollution is ridiculous. There are hardly any trash receptacles to be found. There’s trash in the streets an they don’t really have dumps. The “dumps” I have seen seem to just be huge collections of trash thrown over a beautiful mountainside, ruining a perfectly good view. There’s trash all over the streets, people pee in the streets all the time, dogs poop all over the streets, and there’s obviously no emissions tests for vehicles.

Their ultimate dream is to have a separate facility for the recycles and have a huge factory type thing where they can turn recycles into useful things like furniture. As of now, they rely on donations, but since they don’t live in a touristy area like Antigua, it is much more difficult to receive donations because there aren’t a lot of people around with money. To get their dreams going, they basically just lack money. The dream for their school program is basically under way, the problem is they just don’t have any money to pay their workers, and in hanging out with these guys a lot I have seen how much time they spend at the association and I have seen the house of one of the owners and it appears to be 2 rooms- a pretty empty bedroom and a door that’s always shut (I assume a kitchen of sorts), with a tin roof. Danny informed me that he is a millionaire in comparison to the homes of the kids that come to his school. That was a shocker.

It is an unfortunate situation, but I am drawn to their dreams because I like to see people that still dream in situations that seem impossible to fix. I, myself, had nearly given up on a dream to help turn Guatemala around until I met this group because when it seems like everything is “normal” and “just the way it is,” it’s hard to think how you could change people’s minds without showing them another world. There is so much potential here, it just needs to be dug up and demonstrated.

Anyways, I had a new girl in my Spanish class this past week. I was bummed at first because it was my last week of classes, but me and her ended up getting a long well and she seemed to be in the right class, so it wasn’t a drag to have her there. I think I may have actually been motivated again to start learning more, but I did not want to pay for more classes the rest of my trip (And I started volunteering in Dueñas yesterday, something I would not have time for if I had continued classes).

One of our friends from Dueñas, José, took Emilee Sari and I to the jade museum Tuesday to find out our Mayan animal. I think I have mentioned that I was a Tz’i before when I went to Atitlán, but I did not remember what animal that was. I am a coyote (or dog) and you can find the meaning of my animal below. Emilee got the same one! How crazy.

i had no idea there were this many shades of jade!

i had no idea there were this many shades of jade!

Here is my personality description based on Mayan astrology

Here is my personality description based on Mayan astrology

After the museum, we went out for tacos that were pretty awful and dropped Sari and Emilee off at the bus station. Then I just talked and walked with José the rest of the time before my class. When I headed to class, I had to stop at Máximo to pick up a paper for class (Yeah, I had to write a full-page, not double-spaced paper on terrorism in SPANISH. Kill me now!), and there was Danny and Oliver in the office! Galleta was out waiting in the car, so I got to see three of my friends from Dueñas that day and that was a great surprise!

Thursday was a pretty standard day, but I had a really interesting tandem hour with Willy that day. He told me how their culture handles deaths in the family. It is intense! I don’t think I could do it. Like pretty much everything else in Latin America, it is overly dramatic and emotional. When someone dies, they have a viewing that lasts all night and everyone stays up all night sitting around the body and sharing stories, having food and cigarettes. (Yes, cigarettes and beer are WAY too common in this culture. Beer makes sense to me now though, as it costs literally the same OR SOMETIMES LESS than drinkable water).

Then, they have 9 days of prayer where everyone (big family and close friends) comes and prays for hours on end at the house for the next 9 days. After that, there is a 40 day rest, and then they come back and share stories again and visit the grave and embellish it with flowers. When it gets close to the year anniversary of the death, they repeat the 9 days of prayer and the stay up all night tradition AGAIN.

The close family members wear black for an entire YEAR after the person dies and do not attend any parties or go dancing out of “respect” for the person that died. Is that not the craziest thing you’ve ever heard? I don’t think I could do it. I feel like that’s when you need to go out more so you can try to get your mind off of it and not be sad all the time! But this is the way it works in their culture!

Friday was a fun day. The majority was just a normal day, but the guys from Dueñas were having a fundraising party that night on the other side of town. I had my first encounter with a nasty street occurrence, but I am thankful that I did not get robbed. I am also very thankful I live on this side of town because on the side where the fundraising event was is where everything bad seems to happen. It was only 7:30 at night and Emilee and I were walking to find the fundraiser. The wrong address had been put on the event card so we walked up and down the same street (but not all of the street) a few times before I caved in and called someone. I hate to use my phone on the street, even during the day, but I figured since I’ve been fine for 5 months, it wouldn’t hurt this one time since we needed to figure out where we’re going. Well, we were walking along and the next thing I knew, Emilee screamed and something touched my lady parts. I thought Emilee tripped or something at first ’til I felt the hand where it shouldn’t have been and turned around and a guy took off running. She thought he was robbing us because she said his hand grabbed her ass but seemed to be coming around towards her purse, but my phone was in my hand in plain sight and he didn’t even grab for it. So I’m pretty sure it was just some idiot trying to cop a feel. It was shocking because, although it was dark, usually nothing bad happens before 10:00 pm. I was just happy my phone was still safe.

My only regrets are that I was too distracted on my telephone to turn around and pratice my malas palabras. ¡¿¡CERROTE QUE PUTAS ESTAS HACIENDO HIJO DE LA GRAN PUTA!?!

So we arrived to the party a bit flustered, but it quickly wore off as we danced and chatted the night away with all of our lovely friends from the unforgettable trip to Acatenango.

Saturday was OVEN DAY! For the most part, it was a big waste of a day waiting on people all day. I was in a bad mood and we went to eat with some people for lunch who we waited on forever and ended up eating at a place that had terrible food.

Then, we were waiting on Galleta to come in town and he didn’t end up coming ’til we needed to be at the house to wait on Maynor to help us go buy the oven for Isolina. So we began waiting on him, who was going to show up at 3:00 and pick Isolina up at 6:00 from the church. Then he changed it to 4:00. Then 5:00 rolled around and he said he was stuck at a job and was on his way. Then Galleta, Noah, and Marcos came over to wait at the house with us because we asked for their help since the oven would have to be lifted over a countertop to fit in the kitchen. Then 6:00 rollls around and I called Maynor saying we should do it another day because Isolina needed to be picked up.

installing the oven como locos!

installing the oven como locos!

But he insisted that Saturday was the day, so we waited some more and he finally showed up at 6:30 and said he told Isolina a friend wanted to see her so he dropped her off at her friend’s house and came to get us. It took us ’til 8:30 to get the oven bought and installed so we were all hungry and I was overly frustrated because all these people had been waiting on me all day and Galleta and Marcos missed the last bus back to Dueñas.

But, as Isolina walked into a house full of strangers, it all became worth it. I calmly explained that we were all about to go out, but I broke something in the kitchen so they were just all waiting on me because I wanted to tell Isolina face to face before she walked into it. So she walks into the kitchen and I pointed to where the oven was and said what I broke was over there. And then she walks around the corner, shocked, and says “AY LIZZIE NOO” and began to cry and laugh. Maynor said she cried a lot more when we all left to go get dinner and she feels so bad because it’s such a big gift but she is so very happy to have it. I told her, I now expect more desserts. 😉

after seeing the oven! i was told that many more tears followed after we left to go eat dinner

after seeing the oven! i was told that many more tears followed after we left to go eat dinner. I love you Isolina!!

Thank you to everyone who was a part of donating to the oven fund. It makes me happy to be able to provide someone with something they need to follow their dreams and I know Isolina could be a cook as long as she has the right facilities. For me, this is just the beginning of something I think I’d like to do the rest of my life. Nothing gives me greater joy than traveling and giving and to be able to give someone a gift like that and watch the reaction clears up all of the feelings of anger that the rest of the day had given me.

I treated my friends to Pizza afterwards (It’s so much easier to treat people to dinner here since everything is cheaper!) for all their waiting and helping and we all were in better spirits after seeing Isolina’s reaction and getting some food in our bellies and all decided it was totally worth it after we saw her face. And then, Maynor kindly took Galleta and Marcos home since there were no more buses the rest of the night.

Sunday, Galleta invited me to Dueñas again so I went to spend another night in the association. This time, we didn’t feel like working so we hung out and watched movies (The Notebook being one of them. And he loved it. I love how romantic the guys are here! Hahaha) and listened to music and I introduced him to the amazing combination of oreos and peanut butter. Some of the other guys stopped by for a while and hung out too and we had a great time, but again had another night of unrest because it’s not terribly comfortable to sleep there and the trees whacking the tin roof in the wind make some terrifying noises. But it doesn’t make sense to come back to Antigua sometimes.

mi galletita. tan lindoo

mi galletita. tan lindoo

Monday we got up and started working. We got the recycling area back to a manageable state, but I decided I wouldn’t have the time to organize it in the way that I would like to with the time that I have left with my trip. I have too many other things that are more important to do for the association and it is not SO unmanageable that we can’t find things to make art with. So I will have to save organizing it for my return trip to Guatemala. 😉

look how disorganized this place was! i don't have any after pictures though

look how disorganized this place was! i don’t have any after pictures though

oh, the horror. an ocd person's worst nightmare

oh, the horror. an ocd person’s worst nightmare

We also started another project, but ran out of glue so it’s not quite finished yet. After leaving Dueñas, I came back and had my tandem time with Willy and we mostly just talked because he didn’t have time for two hours yesterday. But while we were in the park, we ran into Miguel and Orlando taking a walk and I haven’t seen them in forever so that was a pleasure to see them. We decided we needed to catch up so we agreed to get coffee today in Cafe Barista.

So that’s what I did this morning. I met with them and caught up and didn’t get caught up enough. They came late so by the time they got there, I only had 45 minutes before lunch and Dueñas. But we got to talking about a lot of things and the project in Dueñas for me and what’s going on in their work lives and ended up coming up with a really great idea to raise money for Dueñas, whilst helping their publicity as well. And it’s a damn good idea. I just hope I can execute it in 3 weeks. I have realized that these last 3 weeks are going to be insanely busy if I can do what we are thinking about. But it’s going to be totally worth it if it happens!

After seeing them, I was pumped to go work in Dueñas, started another lamp and started collecting the information I need to execute my idea. I met some of the kids today and I’ll never remember their names but I’ll remember that half of them came up running to hug me like they already knew me and loved me forever. I can’t understand a lot of them well because it’s spanish + kids + special needs, but I will always understand a hug. It is kind of beautiful. This project deserves to be funded!

I wish I had more time to spend there, but between lunch and my tandem time with Willy, it ends up being 3 hours. I was on a roll with my new lamp today and easily could have stayed and finished it, but I unfortunately had to leave, but will simply continue tomorrow and be sure to post a picture when it is completed!

My tandem time with Willy today went great and we had 2 hours this time so we got to practice quite a bit and discussed a little about our views on religion, which ironically we once again have a very similar viewpoint! I am going to miss him so much!

So that completes my (little over a) week of things accomplished. Time is running out so quickly! Forgive me if I get a little lazy with my blog. I have so many things to do now that, as much as I want to update you on all the things I’m doing and learning, I may have to put it on the back burner! But I will try to keep you all updated!

Regresaré, Te Lo Juro

Oh how fast the time goes. I swear that each week is passing faster and faster, just as I’m coming up with more ideas about things I’d like to see or do. But the good thing is, I’ve learned that I don’t need to stop coming up with these ideas because I can still come back and do them on another trip. How blessed am I to have the opportunity to do such things?

I am almost certain I have found my volunteer project of choice, now that I only have one month left to be here. I spent my entire weekend there, even though there’s not really a project going on during the weekends. This project is called Asociación Vida and is run by the fellows who took us to Acatenango.

“Asociación de Desarrollo “Vida”, known short as Vida, was founded in July of 2012. It functions as both a community center and school for disabled children through their program Syndrome de Amor (Love Syndrome). Since the Guatemalan educational system does not support children that have special needs, friends Oliver and Daniel saw the need to help these children in their community. These children come from families who are not able to or not always willing to care for them because of their disabilities. They suffer from learning disabilities, autism, muscular dystrophy, Downs’ syndrome, hearing and vision deficits and sensory integration difficulties. Yet, the philosophy at Vida is that these children have special capabilities that the volunteer staff at Vida seek out and help to improve.”

You can check out their facebook page here (And no, you do not need a facebook to check it out, but to message them, you probably do):
https://www.facebook.com/pages/ASOCIACIÓN-VIDA/256223494488837 (sorry, you have to copy and paste. wordpress was not allowing me to insert a clickable link!)

What drew me in was not their goal to help children with special needs, as there are other volunteer projects with the same type of idea, but their goal to be as resourceful as possible. There is not really a concept of recycling in Guatemala and there is trash in the streets/creeks and it’s gross. Something that Vida also does is collect recycles and uses it to make art. My friend, Galleta, is the one who is in charge of this department, but they are lacking art at the moment. When they explained their concept to me, I was inspired to make art and take pictures of it to help them market it and sell it to help raise funds for their organization.

It is difficult to earn a lot of money in Guatemala as it is, but this association is run by Guatemalans and, although they are working towards some way to earn money, it is strictly volunteer. How can these Guatemalans have the time to dedicate into this business that doesn’t earn them a dime? So for me, this place has a dream and it’s a good dream that I feel drawn to participate in and help out with. Although it does help that I like all the people that work there too. 😉

So I start next week. Yep, that’s right. I finish my Spanish classes this Friday and don’t feel like paying for more (Plus Willy and I are going to continue doing our tandem thing so I will still be kind of having a class) so with only a month left to go, I will be finally going back to a volunteer project. I will be able to use my balloon animals there, FINALLY, and I will be able to use my photography skills to help someone at last.

I am bummed that I just now met this group of guys. They are all very sweet and respectful, unlike a good load of Guatemalans that I have crossed paths with (The guys that whistle at you in Dueñas, where Vida is located, are ten times worse than Antigua!) and I look forward to spending a lot of my final days in Guatemala with them.

Saturday, José (not the one I dated, but one of the 2 José’s that work in Asociación Vida) invited me to come hang out with them, as they sometimes just hang out at the project just as a place to come together. Of course I accepted. Emilee had been gone since Thursday to El Salvador and I didn’t do anything special or out of the ordinary the rest of the week so I’d been pretty bored and lonely in the house. I decided to make my famous Guacamole and we headed off to Dueñas at around 11 Saturday morning.

Danny gave me a tour of the place when I got there and I quickly saw how unorganized the recycling area was. It is basically piles of trash that are impossible to sort through. I immediately knew that I was going to be of help to them because not only do they need marketing of their recycled art, they need to organize it terribly so that they can actually make good use of the area and make more art. Two things of which I have come to learn that I am very good at. So after the tour, I was even more excited to be a part of their association.

As it’s not too safe to take a Chicken bus after dark, I would have needed to leave at 5 that day, but after making the guacamole and having to step out for a phone conversation with another friend that was desperate to talk to me, I felt like I hadn’t spent much time with them. We watched part of a movie and they played a little guitar and then they were all getting ready to leave, except Galleta, around 3:00. They said I was more than welcome to stay, so I did, but 5:00 came around too quickly as well.

Figuring that I’d already been camping with them, I figured it couldn’t hurt to camp again, so we spontaneously made the decision to stay overnight at the project and sleep on a pile of donated clothes. I didn’t want to wait until next week to get started, because after showing me the pile of recycles, I was too excited. So Galleta and I stayed overnight so we could work on a lamp that I was inspired to make. And it was so much fun.

The beginning. I promise we didn't drink all those beers! ;)

The beginning. I promise we didn’t drink all those beers! ;)

die beer cans!

die beer cans!

halfway done with the lampshade

halfway done with the lampshade

I missed out on sleep again, staying up late working on art, talking to Galleta, and listening to rats crawling around, so after we finished the lamp on Sunday, the rest of the day we pretty much lazed around and dozed off on the floor mats of the play room haha, but we at least finished what we started the night before!

He's in charge of the electrical parts haha

He’s in charge of the electrical parts haha

encendida!

encendida!

Granted, the lamp wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but they didn’t have all the things I needed in order to make it the way I had thought up. But with 24 hours, some beer cans, bottle caps, a plastic bottle, and a few electrical things, I’d say we did a pretty good job!

and the end results! Ta Da! Everything is recycled.

and the end results! Ta Da! Everything is recycled.

So this is going to be what I get to participate in for the rest of my trip and I’m really excited to get started and finally feel like I’m helping someone out. Hopefully these things will raise them some money. But what’s amazed me the most is how excited I am to get started. Pieces of my life are finally falling together. And that’s why I love traveling.

You learn so much more about the world traveling than you ever learn in school. You learn more social skills. You learn more about yourself. I can’t believe how much has changed in less than 6 months time here. I’ve learned so many things.

I learned that coke tabs are called “veintiunos” in Guatemala (something I learned while constructing our lamp out of beer cans) because it makes 2 bars and a dot, which is the mayan symbol for 21. You also trade them in for kisses! (UY QUE RICO!) Which I think is way cooler than our coke cans in the states. Granted, this isn’t something that I’ve learned that is going to help me grow in life, but since we were on the subject of learning things, I thought I’d share that sweet little tidbit with you all.

it only counts if you break off the coke tab to where it has that extra little dot on the bottom!

it only counts if you break off the coke tab to where it has that extra little dot on the bottom!

But today, I had a smoothie with my friend Mihail and was reflecting on all these things that I had learned when it hit me that there is a possibility to follow my dreams and there is a possibility to combine all the little things that I’m good at that don’t really earn money into something BIG that does earn money and I was floored by the thought that traveling is really starting to make me make sense of my life.

I’m still not sure how to start, but pieces are finally forming in my mind and inspiring ideas on how to be able to do what I want with my life, while still earning money to support myself. I don’t know that I want to share them yet, but rather surprise everyone in the future once I have figured out how to get started. All I know is, that feeling of not being finished in Guatemala is truth. I’m not finished. I’m coming back. I can almost guarantee it.

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