Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe"

Saturday, January 30, 2010


I made it to a hiper today and STOCKED UP. Got some essentials (aka chocolate) but mainly supplies and tools for English class.

It actually RAINED today! I am shocked. It’s been gorgeous and sunny all the time and I felt rain and didn’t know what to do! It is amazing how easy and willing I am to adjust to no change in weather, especially when the weather is always in my favor.

But the reason I am writing this blog is to share an adorable baby story (or two). One of our toddlers is really picking up language quickly. In the two short weeks I have been here, he literally went from barely talking to no stop blabbering. This is huge, not just for any baby, but especially in an orphanage, where language develops a lot slower. This is because the toddlers mostly communicate with each other and listen to each other rather than adults. Anyway, his command of language is really becoming impressive, and its inspiring our difficult “potty-training girl” to use her words more as well. The cute part is he talks to all the other babies as they are in their cribs at night. When each one comes in he says hello and goodnight and we can hear him telling them things during nap time. The other night when I was leaving the baby house the window to the boy’s room was open and he was talking and talking, so I sat down on the steps to listen. No one was crying (very unusual) they were all just sitting and listening and I was too. Finally, he says really loud “Jesus, Amen!” and stops talking. It was quite and I can only assume he prayed them all to sleep. It was absolutely adorable! I ran up the 100 step mountain side to tell my roommate, breathless and in poor Spanish.

Ok one more. So my first week in the baby house they would spank the kids with a flattened wooden spoon when they really misbehaved. It was the most extreme punishment, and would be used sparingly but still it bothered me so much! It’s one of those cultural things that absolutely shocked me! Last weekend they got two chairs that buckle a child in very tightly. Now they are the time out chairs, no more spoons! Actually, the first step is being taken from the play room and having to keep your hands on the wall for a couple of minutes, a highchair is the second strike, then the chairs, the worst is being put under cold water.

The cute part of the story was one of the girls was in a highchair punishment and she convinced one of the other kids to keep giving her toys. If you have ever watched toddlers play, you know they don’t give up their toys easily. It is not even so much that they play, as carry around a toy that is “theirs.” They are very possessive over this and are guaranteed to cry when it is stolen. Regardless, this cute chica had a flood of toys coming to her.

The point I am trying to make is that I, and I’m sure others will agree, had severely underestimated a babies ability to communicate, even if they are not speaking a concrete language. Being in a country where I am struggling to learn the language as well, I have really appreciated how children pick it up, how fast and how susceptible they are to learning. I also see how crucial communicating with children is and how far they are set behind when the stimulus of language with adults is not there. It is interesting to be in the school and baby house, because I really see a correlation between the older kids struggling with reading and numbers, and how they developed early on.

As always thoughts and suggestions are so welcome!

Oh and the rain reminded me of my favorite quote:

“The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears.”

Friday, January 29, 2010

Perpetuating the Cycle

So yesterday was a very interesting day, and I’ve been sarcastic for too many days so I’m going to share some real details. I hope you enjoy the pictures though.

I am having so much trouble being in the special ed class and the reasons are numerous. The kids are so far behind and it’s because THEY DON’T DO ANYTHING! I guess I should explain that they do more than last week, but everyone is at such a different level it is impossible to “teach” the class. They are doing worksheets made by the teacher (which she does during class, so they start out drawing until she finishes their assignments) and it is stuff like: “color the bigger circle red and the smaller one blue.” While this is pretty good for the youngest kids, it’s way too easy for some of the older ones. I’ve learned that her Wednesday absences are going to be a weekly thing, so this past Wednesday, when two of the most advanced kids blew through the left work I had them copying numbers 1-10. This to was easy, they know how to write their numbers. Good sign. So I made the next exercise. I wrote a number in the center box, and they had to fill in what came before and after. This they found extremely difficult. I realized they can count, they can write numbers, but if I point to one, they cannot tell me what it is! Big problem, that shouldn’t be so by 7-9. I made some number cards for English, hopefully they will double in this classroom too. But 2 thinks I noted: 1) they didn’t mind being challenged a little and 2) “work together,” a very foreign concept.

The older kids however, the five on the other side of the classroom, list numbers. Each day is another set of 100. They literally have pages and pages of numbers written out in order. Feels very old nun and catholic school to me. They also write different sounds, beginning with a letter of the day, (example: ma, mo, me, met…) but then have a lot of trouble actually pouncing what they are writing.

To me it’s all the same problem. The kids learn to copy what they see, but can’t express what they copy. There is no creativity in the classroom either. They live their lives creatively, making up games all the time and using they toys they have for different things, but if you say they can draw anything they want (I did this on Wednesday) they have NO CLUE what to do with that. They are so used to coloring within the lines.

I think seeing what they come up with in free time would allow so much insight into their thoughts and feelings.

The classroom is most frustrating to me though because it’s hard for me to teach well. I can see the problems and I want to explain it, but that is a challenge when you don’t speak the language. My ability to help is seriously hindered by this.

Ok, here’s another example of how ridged this classroom is. Yesterday, I threw out a folder. I mean a floppy, weak, faded, torn, dirty, empty, on its last day of life folder (that was on the floor and being stepped on). About an hour later teacher asks if I put this in the trash.

“Sure,” I say.

“We don’t do that here,” she replies. And continues to shove it into a cabinet that is so jammed packed with old papers, it looked disguised at having to receive just one more folder.

I appreciate that everything for the school is a donated gift. I also love to reduce, reuse and recycle. But this classroom is so jam packed with years of material, they don’t even know what they have available to them (aka an abacus). Everything is stuffed into cabinets filled to the brim, dusty and usually in pieces. There are so many random photocopies that if you open the wrong door they fall out. There are kids school books and folders who are no longer in the class, let alone the orphanage. And in the corner is a huge pile of toys that are dirty and haven’t been put to use in years. There’s good stuff in there too, like legos. They also have the mats that I want for the baby house, but have, even though they are not being put to use, and that is totally another story! And with the abacus I saw puzzles and all sorts of stuff that just needs to be reassembled, cleaned and organized. They get tons of new school supplies every year, so why not throw out some of the old, freshen up the classroom and take stock? There are probably so fabulous teaching materials and methods hidden away. If it wasn’t locked at night, I would sneak down there and do it myself.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finally, for your viewing pleasure

There's my boy!

Our newest arrival

Our Helper!

Meeting in the corner

Its MY hammer

I'm totally into this drum

Do you like my new hat?

Oh Hi There!

Dear Kitchen Staff,

Let me begin by thanking you for preparing all of our meals, three times a day. Let me continue my appreciation by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed your pork bbq this afternoon. So did the babies. However pork bbq and babies are not really synonymous. I have now witnessed this 18 times over.

Yours truly,


E-mail from Dad:

12:30am so i will be quick.

1. remove sd memory card frm camera.
2. place sd memory card in sd card slot on left side of computer
3. copy pictures onto computer
4. post on blog for all to enjoy
5. thank your dad

me - your IT guy!


Oh this computer has that! I see it now, so cool!

Thank you,

Your technically savvy daughter


Pictures will be up tonight. I should get 50% of the credit for knowing what he is talking about. Technology is wonderful, especially when it comes with an IT person.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Yo Siento!

I took about 50 pictures today, but telling you that was a tease.

About the only thing I forgot to pack was the cord that connects my camera to my computer. Therefore no picture viewing will occur until:

A) My loving parents visit, bringing the requisite wire
B) I get home
C) I make it to a hiper (aka Super Walmart) and they happen to sell the correct cord at a decent price

I'm sorry, but I'll try to keep you entertained with stories in the meantime!

P.S. Please excuse any spelling errors, I tried to spell check and EVERYTHING came up red. This is because my laptop is fluent in Spanish even if I am not. I'm also too lazy to copy and paste into Word. This disclaimer should suffice.


I had a little bit of an off day in the baby house yesterday. I lost track of time during nap and when I saw it was 4:02 (nap ends at 4), I sprinted down the steps to the house. When I got there it was nearly quarter after so all the babies had been woken and changed, making me really late. The thing is, it only takes a minute to walk casually between my house and the babies. Their clock must be about 10 minutes fast, so now I know.

Then at dinner I accidentally gave the lactose-intolerant baby a sippy cup with real milk. To my credit, he was crying and waving his bowl (the sign that they are done and ready for their milk cup) and everyone else was just eating and not paying attention. I just had no idea that the contents of one cup were different and it was for him, at lunch they drink juice, so no problems there. And the mistake was caught after 30 seconds, and he only drank a little bit. It’s not even that he’s deathly allergic, but he breaks out in a rash if he drinks “too much” milk. I also though his pox marks were chicken pox scars. The point is he is going to live and be fine and it wasn’t that damaging, but everyone kept talking about it for the next twenty minutes in front of me. I don’t know if they thought I couldn’t understand or if they would just do that for everybody, but it is really hard to defend yourself in another language, and I just felt discourage.

On top of that, potty training is really not going well. We literally go to the bathroom every fifteen to twenty minutes, and she always manages to wet her pants sometime in between. Seriously I have no clue what to do. Positive reinforcement, negative, neither works, both are just attention.

It’s well past time to get ready for school….

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


My first Dove of the day: "Indulge in life's little luxuries."

and because I decided to take that advice

My second Dove of the day: "Inspire others to be their best by being your best."

Oh and I promise to get some pictures up soon!

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Case of the Monday's

I think everyone today had a case of the Monday’s. At school the kids were wild, at the baby house they couldn’t be consoled. Long day.

School was another day of non-accomplishment. Except the school supplies are almost done so hopefully that means learning will start soon. The younger kids weaved string in and out of punched holes in the edge of paper, I think they were making folders for their school supplies, but I am not really sure. After sewing, the teacher drew a fish or snail on the folder and they colored it in, then (you guessed it) crumpled up tissue paper in the same colors and glued.

I did more math today with Pablo, however rather than give him numbers in the hundreds and thousands we did each number + 0, each number + 1, and then each number doubled, all before he could have his abacus back. I am trying to get him to see the patterns, which he does when he work a set in a row, but then when he approaches a more complicated problem, he forgets. After doing some two digit numbers with the abacus he closed his book, and I let him be done. I would rather he enjoy it than push for more.

The baby house welcomed another baby today, her name is Fey or Phee (I’m not sure how they are spelling it). Regardless, if you are keeping count that is 18! She’s a tiny infant, no more than 3-4 months (exact age…unknown). Here the babies are a lot smaller than they are in the super-sized states. The babies actually fit in the correct month sized clothes.

I am starting to put a list together of needs for the baby house. I know I want to buy some of those puzzle piece mats with the letter and number cut outs for the tile portion of the baby play room floor. My other priority would be something for each crib and the two swings. Mirrors, little mobiles, a fabric book, etc. Anything that can provide a little stimulus. The last two things would be some new toys that require fitting shapes or matching colors, again stuff with a little more challenge. Important criteria: no batteries, cleanable, and a way to keep all the pieces together. Finally, some books. An ultimate way to end the night is reading a book in each room. Right now the babies are put into their crib and the light is out. I think adding nightly reading would both help them settle and sleep faster and increase their understanding of language beyond the rules of the baby house.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Clase de Ingles Suggestions

Today I feel a million times better, but I am quarantined. I thought I got sick from the food or water, but apparently there is a 24-48 hour virus going around, so they want me to limit my contact with the kids. I am so bored! So far I have done my laundry, cleaned my room and finished a crossword. I have also observed that the door to my bathroom was put up upside down and now it is bothering me!

But to the point, I am writing this entry because I need ideas for my English class. Every week I have a topic and an activity. For example, the day we learn parts of the body, clothes (and review colors with the clothes) I am going to bring in stuff to dress the kids as we learn all the names of the items. For food, I am going to buy fake food or use pictures and have everyone pack a lunch into a bag and then tell the class what they are going to eat, and if they like it or not. To practice numbers and telling the time we’re going to play “What time is it Mr. Fox!” However, the first week I want to teach introductions, (hello, my name is, what’s yours, how are you, etc.) and I can’t think of a fun activity. Any suggestions?! Rather than post to this blog please e-mail me:

P.S. In my next life I am going to know Spanish fluently and be a teacher!

Friday, January 22, 2010


I’ve started talking in Spanish in my head. I think this is a good step, but I know that it is my own made up version of what I think I know. My comprehension has definitely improved, I don’t know about my speaking, which is making me really nervous to teach English. I guess I got this assignment partly because I will be here for a while and partly because it was figured if I know something I can automatically teach it. I kind of compromised and agreed to teach the younger kids so that my Spanish doesn’t have to be as strong. I will also be in each classroom for 45 minutes a day, but only one day a week, so hopefully my lesson will get better as the week goes on. I have chosen topics for each week and have also tried to come up with a fun activity. At the end I’m hoping to put on some sort of concert with songs like Old McDonald, Head, Shoulders, and songs I found to teach days of the week and months. But before I get too far ahead I need to see if I can actually teach this first.

I have also already chosen which baby I want to adopt. His name is Ludwin, and he is approximately a year old, (his exact birthday is unknown). He has the biggest brown eyes, and is so happy, except when you put him down. He literally wants to be hugged all the time. I think I relate with him because he has a corner. He likes to stand in this corner with a toy, but he mainly likes to just observe all the other babies playing. Then when I walk in he runs to me to pick him up and loves to just sit and cuddle.

The baby house is complete madness. There are 17 babies ranging from a month to nearly four. The oldest girl there, is past the point of moving up but she is having a difficult time potty training, which is necessary for the next house. I know she knows exactly what to do, but wants to hold on to being a baby. She loves the attention they get during diaper changing time, and literally giggles when she is getting diapered at night. I think that it would be better if they just put her in the next house, and she would have the example of the other kids. Plus she would look like the baby if she was the only one still using diapers. Unfortunately too, she is really behind developmentally. Because she only communicates with babies, she doesn’t talk, and doesn’t know colors or shapes. She outgrown toys available and while she looks older in size, expressively, she is the same as an 18 month old.

There are five girls who work and live at the baby house full- time, I including the house mother. They are truly amazing and love all of the children but there is just not enough to go around, especially since one person is constantly with Miguel, the newborn. It is literally like each girl having quadruplets. The house is so much more than “plop a bottle in their mouth” like some orphanages, but at the same time the babies are under-stimulated, with no books and very limited toys, and always in competition for attention. If you provide a lap about four will come up and fight for it. The other infants and a couple of the crawlers spend a lot of time in swings with nothing to look at or feel, and as a result, the backs of all the babies heads are flattened around the soft spot. When they are teething they have nothing but the toys of the other kids and their fingers to relive the pressure.

They are also so quiet, disciplined and accustomed to their routine. When food is in front of them they all use a spoon to eat it very quickly and can hold a bottle at a young age. It fascinates me what a one year old can learn when they have to or they don’t eat. Before meals, they pray and every single one will sit with hands clasped together, it is so cute! They can call each other by name and refer to the house mother as Mama. It’s nice to know that even in an orphanage “mama” is one of the first words learned. Their learning however is based on survival and repetition, not on stimulus.

Being in the baby house is difficult. It is one of those places that given the circumstance, the number of babies vs. the amount of help and the amount they have to work with, it is extremely well run and organized. Every child’s basic needs are met, however, there is simply so much that a baby needs.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Almost a Week

Well, to begin, I will answer everyone’s pressing question: It took 6 days for me to get sick from some combination of water and food! I felt great until about 6:30pm and then like a flood I got really sick, my stomach has since settled and I enjoyed saltines for dinner (thanks mom!) but lesson number 134: even through a coffee pot, the water can make you sick. I was being really carful too about not drinking it, but I was using tap water for coffee. Not good! And no mom I don’t have a parasite, just a little upset.

So anyway, I have been working in the special education classroom in the mornings and then at 1 heading over to the baby house, where I am literally another set of hands and extra love. Starting in February I will teach English for 8 weeks, to the pre-kinder through 3rd gradish classrooms. Not what I would have chosen for myself, and in fact I didn’t, but I truly like everything.

However, if you asked me that on Monday, I was livid. What angered me most was that I wasn’t included in the discussion about what I was going to spend 11 weeks doing. I guess this is typical for an orphanage, especially when they don’t know a person, but I was definitely surprised when I thought I was attending a meeting for my assignments and instead was told to go to the baby house.

I have been in the special education classroom since Monday (the first day of school for the year here), and they need so much help. I think it’s wonderful, even progressive, that this orphanage has (1) a school, and (2) a recognition of the need for special education, but this classroom is kind of a mess. Twelve children from ages 5-14 and completely varying degrees of challenge sit at desks in a room with no toys, reading books or anything creative (the regular classes have these things) and depending on age either color or draw red squares for margins in their notebooks. Ages 5-9 have been coloring workbook after workbook and tracing number and letter, but they can’t read them. After the coloring is done, they get to rip colored paper and glue it into the picture they have colored. The teachers, have been preparing the school supplies for the past 4 days. They, and I, have been covering notebooks and folders, first in paper then in plastic and coloring in pictures of hearts and suns to glue onto the notebook covers. The older kids have been drawing red margins and numbering every page, front and back, of about 6 books each. The notebooks, however, look like ours and have a blue and red line on each side of the page. Apparently, they need to trace over these and add top and bottom lines with a ruler completing the square. Sometimes the younger kids get to play with playdough, but again they get one color, no extra toys, like stamps or cookie-cutters, and must sit at their desk. It is sometimes tortures me to be in the room.

I decided however, that I will take time to teach what I can, when I can, even if I’m not supposed to. I’m good at pretending I don’t understand, (and sometimes I still don’t). Yeststerday, for example, when one child, who is 7, finished coloring, I suggest he write his name. I realized he couldn’t, so I took a paper, wrote his name across the top and then did some dotted line names. By the end, he could free-hand the letters looking at my example! I also had three other kids come to me to learn to write their name, because they were excited about it. And today, Maria, was still tracing over what she wrote yesterday, and singing to herself. I know it’s simple, but it was so rewarding seeing how happy the kids were doing it. It was the first thing that captured their attention and a project they wanted to do. Even if they don’t yet know the letters, they are starting to see how their name looks and can replicate it. The workbook today had E in it and Enrique said to me, “I learn this yesterday, it’s in my name.” So I said, “learn it well it’s in your name twice!”

Today, the teacher gave a student addition problems with numbers in the hundreds and thousands. This child is severely mentally disabled, but is very intelligent. She asked me to correct the work and literally every problem was wrong. To begin I discovered he was adding the columns from left to right. Second, he was losing count in his head. For example, 2 + 6 ended up being 3 or 4, because when he went back to add the second number he would start over counting. Third he would carry, but then forget to add all three numbers together. He would only add one onto the top number and stop. Ok maybe too much detail, but the point is, when I told the teacher he got everyone wrong, she shook her head and shrugged. I think, though I might misunderstand, that no one has even identified where his confusion lay. I found a dusty abacus in the back of one of the closets with colorful beads so each column looks different. We went through all of the problems again, counting out the first number on the top of the abacus and the second number on the next line (and if we carried including the 3 number) then counting it all together. He not only understood, but when I gave him a new set of numbers continued the pattern and got nearly everyone right. We’re still working on carrying. He was so into it that he wanted to finish after the bell rang, and take the abacus home! No one ever gave him something to count with!

Words do not express how happy I was leaving school these past two days. I know that I will not be here forever and I don’t know what will be remembered after I am gone, but I can already feel the little successes. I don’t intend to change the faults of the classroom, but while I am in that room, I will literally do whatever small things I can to really teach something and get a response.

That’s a lot for now, so I will save the babies for tomorrow as well as my English class.

By the way:

The fruit is called “zapote”

And I survived an earthquake. Apparently everyone else felt it, I didn’t and had no clue why everyone was evacuating the building. I literally sat at a desk bewildered. I’m kind of disappointed; I would have liked to actually feel my first earthquake!

My room has a shower, the hot water just doesn’t work for more than 30 seconds, you have to turn the shower off and on between the various diciplines.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Well, I am in Guatemala!

I guess the best way to describe me now is overwhelmed but satisfied.

When I got through customs yesterday the Zamora’s were waiting for me with a big sign. I am so grateful to them for the transportation and translation. They assisted me in getting a phone and some basic necessities (ie. a coffee maker)! Settled now in my, possibly temporary room, I am still a little confused but confident I will find my place. It has been a little hectic here, but school starts tomorrow which will allow for a more scheduled pace. Tomorrow I will also begin to understand my role in this community and the plan for my service, plus I get to go to school!

Relaxing day. I spent the morning eating breakfast in one of the girls homes. I guess I should explain that the orphanage is divided into family units. Homes of 12-15 children, arranged by sex and age, with house parents, and all family-like activities are done in the home. This orphanage model is unique and inspirational, especially with the strong emphasis on the construction of family and the understanding of that means.

So anyway, I ate breakfast with the girls of the home next door to my room and they seemed both welcoming and confused. We did the best we could combining Spanish and English, and mostly I was able to observe the home, the interaction of the girls and parents and feel part of the community too! I went to church for the first time in years and also for the first time it was a church experience that I can relate to. I felt part of the worship, not an audience of it. There was no priest acting as a stand-in, no ceremonial offerings, not even a direct reading. Just a sharing of voices in spirited song, impromptu dancing (which happens to be the best kind), a peace offering to one another, and words about choosing a good path and believing in a larger plan. What is meant to happen will, but we have to be an agent of that meaning. If there is one thing I’ve learned in these past months it is that everything happens for a reason (and leave my cliché alone)!

So quick first thoughts:

I wish I knew Spanish more.
I could use a shower.
The community at this orphanage is truly beautiful.
That was the first time I really felt connected to a church service.
Names are going to be tough.
A Guatemalan grandmother will feed you until you literally burst (I guess this makes me feel at home).
The fruit is unique and amazing- It was a kiwi texture on the outside, but looked like a sweet potato, the meat on the inside was the color of watermelon or papaya, and the texture is best described as banana/avocado combo.
I should appreciate Wal-Mart more.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I don’t know where to begin other than I am sitting on my bed and in piles around me are the few familiar things that will accompany me on my latest adventure. It is strange to see how far and how many transitions I have made in the last couple of months, graduating from college in May, moving back home, and finally leaving everything behind once again. Voy a Guatemala!!!

I have always been confident that upon graduating college I would devote myself full time to a position of service and an opportunity of personal growth. Contrary to that belief I began interviewing for some of the WORST jobs ever, including a Dunder-Mifflin-esque company, and I definitely took one too many personality quizzes. Anyway, I was discussing my lack of heart for the job market with my mother when she notices a new message on the machine. Now here I am, 5 months later, about to leave for Guatemala, with the support of my family and the hope of leaving something meaningful behind. I couldn’t be more excited!

This opportunity uniquely combines my overwhelming desire to travel, passion for humanitarianism and formal education in business communication. I always seek to create personal connections to the people of the countries I visit. I believe if I accomplish that, it could be enough. My hope however is to develop a program that attracts local volunteers, people who can become constants in the lives of these children. I learned in Africa, that what is actually done in my presence is much less important than work that can be continued after I leave.

So here I go…I’ll keep you posted!

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” –Annie Dillard