Saturday, January 30, 2016

Spontaneous hugs

I wish there was a way to put on how awesome the kids in my section are!  I had a run of spontaneous hugs today from these special needs kids.  I spent the morning with them...first we painted our nails (there are 8 girls and 4 boys), well the girl's nails.  Elsa painted mine.  She lit up like a Christmas tree when I asked her!  Afterwards we put together a poster with their names in the center of flowers.  This was the epitome of my creativeness but Elsa has already given me an idea for next time: Valentine's hearts.  I also made them a cake and even though the bottom was a little dark, I only received rave reviews...can you see why I love these kids?

For the rest of the morning we practiced our skit.  There was a mime competition this evening with all the sections and for our skit we pretended we were in a car.  It was so cute!  We covered our faces with baby oil and talcum powder, pulled on black shirts and black gloves, and pretended we were driving fast, had a breakdown, and got locked out of the car.  The kids loved it!  And so did I!

My clinic time is still difficult with the language barrier but there is no barrier when you are speaking to kids in love.  Smiles, hugs and time together...these kids understand that.  I wish you could know them.  Maria with her crooked smile, always trying to pull your eyebrow or join pinkies in a pinky promise.  Jose who constantly holds his bowl up in the air to show me the bottom markings.  And Adelphia with her shy smiles, tight hugs and quiet conversation...she is a beauty.  And of course, my favorite, Amelia, always smiling and happy.  Working hard and verbal enough to ask me how my day is, what my favorite color is, and if I like to dance.  Love her.

I'm so blessed to be here.  Definitely feeling the benefit of loving these kids.  And it far outweighs the difficulty of learning Spanish while working in a professional environment!  God is good. All the time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Just finished playing soccer...

I'd love to describe a typical weekday here but quite frankly, I haven't figured out what that is!  My mornings usually start with a run followed by lots of coffee on my front porch.  (Guatemalan coffee is the best.  Period.)  The past week has been noisy as we had a leadership conference going on for all of NPH and they were staying in the dormitory just below my house.  They left at three o'clock this morning though, so now it is quiet again.  

After coffee and breakfast I head to the clinic for 8am.  I usually start with my computer work and then after an hour help prepare all the meds for the kids for the next 24 hours.  This is usually interrupted by kids arriving for their scheduled health exams and others for sick complaints.  I take a break around 10:30 for coffee with one of my friends and we usually chat at the outdoor cafe for a little bit.  I return around 11 and then work til one doing everything from stocking meds to making power point health presentations for the staff and kids.  

I found out today that starting in March, language ability permitting, I am going to perform the health exams on the well children.  Actually, I'm glad to be doing something that is more like my normal job...this would be the first thing.  :o)  At one I sometimes go with the nurse to distribute meds and learn the kids faces but nothing is every really the same and so I might also be helping change a wound vac or learning the computer process for the health exam.  

Lunch is served at 1:30 and I get a 45 minute break.  Then back to work around 2:30.  It cracks me up how I have absolutely no clue half the time what is going on.  Yesterday the entire special needs house showed up for their monthly weigh in and we spent over an hour trying to get that done.  Comical and pretty cute. I wish you could see their smiles and hear their giggles!

After five I head back to my house, change, and then go to my section of kids, which happens to be the special needs house.  They eat at 5:20ish so I usually get there in time to help serve food and then I help feed the ones who have difficulty.  Afterwards I wash dishes and then kiss everyone goodnight because by 6 they are in bed.  If I am lucky I can hit Mass on my way back home, depending on which day it is and how late Mass started.  

Then in the blink of an eye everything can change and we are all sent to a team building exercise like this afternoon where all the staff came together to play soccer for half an hour and watch a heart-wrenching short movie about helping those in need.  I really can't keep up but at least I can't get too lost here.  The language is above all my biggest challenge, but it's going to be okay. One day at a time!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Small Tour

This is a small tour of the campus of Nuestros Hermanos Pequeños where I am currently working for the year.  It's only an overview but will give you an idea of how it looks here in Guatemala!

I'm still overwhelmed with how beautiful the area is!  Blue skies and sun during the day, crystal clear nights full of's pretty special.  God is such an artist!

Above is the soccer field.  It is where I run every morning...err...some mornings...before work.

This is the school and basketball court. Volcano in the background. Kids between third and eighth grade (I think) attend here from NPH and the surrounding towns.

This is one of the workshops.  They have a carpenter, seamstress, baker, metalworker and I don't know what else working here, teaching the kids.

This is a picture from the bodega, the storage and distribution building.  All our soap, toilet paper, school supplies, etcetera come from here.

The tortilla maker.  Yep, it's cool.

The gardens...growing our own food!

One of the bedrooms for the kids.

Clothes closet, more or less. 

They wash clothes, dishes, and basically everything in these huge sinks at the back of every house.

Montessori School for youngest kids. 

Music room!  Keyboards and violins!

In front of the office...and your basic mode of transportation when not taking the chicken bus.

And if you are wondering about the clinic itself, just follow the link!

Monday, January 18, 2016

One of THOSE days

I knew up here (I'm pointing to my head) that it would be a difficult transition: moving to Guatemala, working in an orphanage and medical clinic, not being fluent in Spanish... But even knowing did not prepare me for the emotional difficulty this move has brought me. If God hadn't walked every step of the way with me before I arrived, I think I would be having major doubts right now about this decision! But because He is good, and, more importantly at this exact moment, merciful... I'm 100% sure this is the right road. I just need to stroll a little further down it.

Today was my first full day in clinic by myself. Not gonna lie, was fighting tears by the end of the morning out of frustration with my inability to understand the language. I took my computer work home with me an hour and a half early in order to keep my composure and not break down. That was after one of my fellow nurses brought me tissues and the assistant stood over me telling me in Spanish not to worry, it's going to be okay.

Why the emotions? I'm not really sure. I remember when I started my first job as a nurse I felt this way and again with each role I've assumed: into the ICU as a nurse and then into the ED as a Nurse Practitioner. The fear and anxiety usually lasted a month and stemmed from some emotional center that in no way reflected what I was thinking in my cabeza...then or now.  My thoughts are quite rational.  Too bad my heart isn't listening.  :o)

So I told my heart today I'm going to give it a year and if it doesn't work out, then I'll leave.  And actually even if it does work out, I'll be leaving in a year.  Bottom line, it's for a year.  I'm giving it to God to do whatever He wants.  (For the sake of my co-workers I hope it's not crying, can you imagine putting up with that every day?)

Off to my dinner and then my section.  I'm going to Guatemala City tomorrow with one of the niños for a specialist appointment. Thankfully not by myself! And I should get to move into my house on Wednesday! Things are good on the island...really!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Children

What can I say?  The children are why we are all here.  In total there are over 200 kids where I live and then another seventy or so older kids that live in nearby towns and are attending high school, vocational schools or universities.  NPH started 60 years ago in Mexico but the home in Guatemala has only been here for twenty.  They come to NPH from many different backgrounds.  Some are orphaned, some abused, and some are sent because their parent can't afford to care for them.  Since there are pretty strict laws in Guatemala, all the kids are sent here by court order.  Sometimes this means that kids won't stay.  No matter what though, they are loved and welcomed.

Yesterday was the first day of school.  The day began with Mass in the morning followed by a school presentation with all the kids in attendance.   In addition to the NPH kids, the school also teaches kids from the surrounding towns.  That's a lot of kids.

Part of my job here as a volunteer is to get to know the kids.  In order to encourage this, NPH assigns each volunteer a section for the year.  My section is the special needs house.  I spent my first morning there today.  After breakfast, we cleaned the house from top to bottom.  Then we went into the grassy courtyard and played ball, walked around and talked.  Well, those of us who could talk.  Some of the kids are wheelchair bound, non-verbal etcetera...but they all radiate happiness.  I still can't get over how they are ALWAYS smiling!

I'm heading into Antigua for another day of language school.  Today is supposed to be medical lingo. I think I will have a house to move into in another week or so.  Until then, this guest house is pretty nice.  I'm a bit tired today...we went out for dinner and dancing last night: the old and new volunteers.  Kind of a social welcome...and very fun.

I know this year will bring many, many stories about the kids.  I'll finish with this one:  this morning when I was making my early jog I saw bunches of kids coming out to catch the bus for a Saturday outing.  Three little kids, no more than 11, came running out with big smiles, backpacks and jackets on.  They were so cute!  I asked where they were going and they proudly said, "To hike the volcano!"  Not even five minutes later I came around the corner and saw all three being walked back to their house by a Tia (aunt/caregiver).  I heard her saying, "You can't wear flipflops to hike a volcano!  Get you shoes on!"  I smiled and thought of all of my home folks telling their kids to put on mittens and a hat this winter!  Same difference.  :o)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Clinic

And of course: there is the clinic...where I am working for the next year!!!  Orientation started Monday and I have to admit: I was COMPLETELY overwhelmed.  I expected this but honestly, expecting something DOES NOT make it easier when you deal with it.  Yesterday was my second day and once again I felt: OVERWHELMED.  Today was my third day and now I can will be an adjustment, but I think I can do this.

The language is my biggest pitfall.  I just don't speak well enough and most especially I don't comprehend well enough to really function at the level I would prefer.  But the nurses and doctors and other staff at the clinic are SO NICE and patient that I think it will be okay.  They tell me, "poco a poco" or "little by little" I will get it.  They are so patient and thankfully have trained a new nurse in their clinic every year for the past however many years, so they know more than I how it will go.

Also it is overwhelming to be told in two hours all the things that are expected of you in the course of a year.  In addition to working in the clinic and dealing with the daily flow, I'm also responsible for all the kids' vaccinations, health inspections of all the houses, monthly health presentations (in Spanish!) to staff and kids, and I will fill in for the clinic nurses during their vacations. Right now I am working 8-5 but come spring I will be working 24 hour shifts, staying overnight in the clinic to care for any night problems.  This also includes preparing and administering medication four times a day to over 200 kids.  I'll also be accompanying kids to their specialist appointments in Guatemala City, Antigua and Chimeltenango. So yeah, I better learn Spanish PRONTO!

The clinic itself is lovely.  There are two doctors, three nurses, and three students who work there (not all at the same time).  There is an electronic medical record and small pharmacy.  There are also dentists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists who work out of the same building.  The psychologists are all on the other side, with their own entrance.  The kids are seen yearly for a wellness check unless they have a chronic illness or special needs.  They are also checked whenever they go somewhere for an extended visit.  There are observation rooms and isolation rooms.  If a child comes back from a low-lying area with malaria or dengue, we quarantine them so that they won't be bitten by mosquitoes and pass the disease on.

All in all, I'm excited!   I think, even if I'm not perfect, it's going to be an awesome year.  And I'm learning Spanish...poco a poco! 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Street food

So the first thing I heard when I arrived in Guatemala from the other volunteers was, "DON'T EAT THE STREET FOOD."  And when I went into town with one of them, she told me, "DON'T EAT THE STREET FOOD."  And I remember being told by the infectious disease doctor before I left, "DON'T EAT THE STREET FOOD."

So what did I do the night before last?  I ate the street food!  All the new volunteers have arrived and as a group we walked down to Parramos and had dinner.  Off the street.  From a vendor.  Surrounded by dogs.  Sitting in the dark.  With picante sauce or mustard on the side.

We started orientation today!  I start my first day in the clinic this afternoon!  I am excited and also worried because I have a lot more learning to do before I hablar espanol!

The other volunteers are awesome.  They are from all over the world, and I mean all over the world.  Cuba, Columbia, Germany, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, France and Italy to name a few.  Going to be a crazy, awesome year.  I think.  :o)

Last night we played a game called Werewolf.  I was killed off in the first round.  Does not bode well.  Oh well, off to clinica!  Hasta luego!

Saturday, January 9, 2016


Did I mention they have a Dunkin Donuts in Antigua?  I saw a little boy carrying a donut box with the DD logo on it yesterday on the way to my last Spanish class.  I chased him down the street, wrestled him to the ground, grabbed the box and refused to give it back until he told me where the Dunkin Donuts was.  Just kidding!  But I did see a little boy with a DD box so I googled the locale and sure enough, it was right down the street!  After class I headed to the main square and after passing a Wendy's, a McDonalds and a Burger King, there it was!  Ta da!  I can live here...

Actually the coffee from Guatemala is amazing just because it is from Guatemala.  I bought a bag for myself the first day but because I have been going every morning to the volunteers house and drinking a cup of their coffee, I hadn't opened it.  Today I learned what "Cafe en Grano" means.  It means you have beans.  It means you need a grinder.  And no, I have no clue where to find a grinder.  That will be my task for this weekend.

Antigua! Such a pretty city.  I walked to the main square after class yesterday and sat, drinking my DD coffee, while I people watched.  Afterwards I checked out the Cathedral de Santiago, which was closed, and then strolled around back where I found a museum where you can visit the ruins for 8 quetzals (1 USD).  

Do you know anything about Antigua?  I was told a little so I looked this up: Founded in 1543, it was originally the capital of Guatemala (which was a kingdom at the time that included a bunch of other surrounding countries).  After multiple earthquakes over the next two hundred years, the antiguans grew tired of rebuilding and moved the capital to present day Guatemala city.  Everywhere you go, you see the influence of the Spanish colonial era.  It's like stepping into Cuzco in Peru or St. Augustines in Florida....short little houses along stone laid streets and big churches popping up every once in a while.  The central plaza, or park, is similar to those you see all over Spain and every other country Spain has occupied: a large square for people to gather.  In short, it is beautiful.

Antigua is also popular for ex-pats and students.  There are artesian markets, clothing markets, food markets, furniture markets and junk markets.  Here you see people from all over the world.  There are chain stores, such as office depot, and restaurants that serve international cuisine.  Despite all this, the city maintains a very quaint, small town feeling.

Okay enough on that.  Off to study Spanish.  Other volunteers are arriving today!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

El agua y las flores...and not sick yet!

So if any of you are wondering if I am sick yet: nope, not yet.  The houses that NPH provides are on some kind of filter system and we can supposedly drink right from the tap.  So far...this is true.  I've been warned not to eat ANY street food.  Two of the previous volunteers have told me horror stories of having parasites and being sick for four months.  I think I will try to stick to the "if you don't boil, bake, or peel it, don't eat it" rule.  It's going to get harder as it gets warmer though!  The ice cream they sell on the street looks just like ours!

I feel like the years of attempting to learn Spanish have been a good foundation for coming here.  After four days of classes, I finally get (or I think I get!) the difference between imperfecto and preterito (the two past tenses that they use in Spanish). Now to use them properly.  And I seriously wish God had created a hard drive in my head that I could down load vocabulary into.  It would be great to just remember these words without having to forget them five thousand times first!  Oh the end of the year I should have some of them down.

These first couple of days have flown by so quickly.  After tomorrow I'll be done with my class and daily trip into Antigua.  Orientation starts Monday.  I am not sure what I'll be doing this weekend.  That's okay.  

I do plan to blog in more detail about Antigua, Parramos and NPH once I, um, have more details.  Until then...adios!  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Since yesterday...

Well I don't start work until next Monday and class is only in the I'm afraid you are getting a play-by-play introduction to my life in Guatemala!

Since yesterday I have been into Antigua and back, by myself, on the camineta (local bus) for the second time and I didn't die!!! I also walked through the market. Did I mention yet that I visited Antigua over ten years ago for a retreat while on a medical mission? It's funny but I see things and I think, "Oh, I remember that!" There are a ton of expats and students in Antigua which means they are used to extranjeros.  It's a nice city to have a bus ride away.

I've also been to Mass!  There is a chapel a stone's throw from my house! Last night I saw the light on and went inside.  It was just me, two other adults and about twenty boys. It was beautiful. 

This morning I braved the altitude and went for my first run... Around the soccer field. I only ran 1.5 miles before calling it quits... But I ran! And mentally I am so much better. Prayer and running de-stress!

So update on the rat situation: they moved me to the guest house while they fumigate or poison the rats (yay!!).  I'll be here for three days and then it's back to the dormitory to live for another week (when the rest of the new volunteers arrive).

Okay, time to get out my Spanish homework!  Hasta luego!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Today's first reading... And rats

Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only-begotten Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.

1 John 4:7-10

Survived my first bus ride into and out of town!! If you rode on one you would understand this is quite a feat. We sit six adults across old American school buses, squished one against another, and go around  turns like nobody's business. To get off you climb over people and speak to the guy who collects the fares. You never speak to the bus driver as far as I can see. The fare collector crawls over everyone once they have boarded and collects your three quetzales. How he knows who just got on is beyond me! This guy is also the one who jumps off at each stop and yells the destination over and over. Pretty sure I would never make it in his job.

School is great! I have a one on one teacher for the week. I'm so glad I came a week early...I learned so much in just one day! And the secretary used to work for NPH. And the courtyard where we study is just lovely!

On a reality check note  (just in case people think I'm having too much fun) I found a dead rat in the toilet this morning.  Lol the adventure continues!

Monday, January 4, 2016

What you make of it

Arrived! Exhausted and rather a zombie... But here I am!!

So what is it like? First impressions are rather inaccurate but here goes:

First of all, it is peaceful and seemingly empty. We are in the mountains and there are birds and flowers and buildings spread out on grassy hills. I haven't seen or heard much but I am told this will change somewhat (well not the flowers... But the emptiness) once winter vacation is over and the half of the campus that are teachers and student boarders return. Right now only the niños (orphans) are here and since I only saw them as I walked by the commodore (eating hall) I believe I only saw forty or so kids. Oh plus the kids we passed in town enjoying their Sunday afternoon in the main town square.

Second it is friendly.  All the volunteers who have been here for the past year are smiling and welcoming. They all say how sad they are to go. I met the nurse that I am replacing last night and we drank coffee together this morning. She tells me that the clinic experience is what you make of it. I am not surprised by this as anything worthy I have ever done before required an investment of time, heart, and mind. I'm sure God will make clear the things he wants of me, hopefully with as little anxiety as possible!  I'm sure there will be boring days and days where I feel completely unnecessary... But since God brought me here he must want those days and I know there will be awesome days to offset them!

And thirdly, it's Spanish! From being picked up at the airport to coffee this morning, everyone speaks Spanish. This is good for me as I don't think I can learn any other way... And many of the volunteers told me they didn't speak Spanish when they arrived... So not to worry! Going to limit my internet time once I start working next week... Because I think it will help me if I am living mentally here as well as physically (if that makes sense) plus the internet is slow... Going to try to blog every weekend though. We'll see how that goes!