Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rancho Esperanza Wish List

Hello to all of you on this blessed Sunday! This isn't my post on the school system in Guatemala- I'll get to that a little later (probably tomorrow morning when I'll have a few hours of peace and quiet to write). This post is to inform you all of a "Rancho Esperanza" Wish List that is up on Some of you have shown an interest in donating items needed by the orphanage, and making a wish list was the easiest way for us to make aware some of the needs down here. It's not that these items need to be purchased from Target- using Target's "Wish List" application was just the easiest way for Karen and I to "go shopping" and list items publically (we can both be a bit electronically challenged at times).

If God has placed it on your heart to donate something to the Rancho Esperanza ministry, we will consider it a HUGE blessing. Even if we receive one thing from the list, it will have been a success. However, other than these material items, we are ALWAYS in need of prayer, and thankfully that is something that every one of us is able to do. I would like to say thank you to each one of you who have been faithfully praying for me and for this ministry. Your prayers are felt and appreciated every single day.

Our reason for posting the list at this time is because I am coming back to Knoxville for two weeks at the end of the month for my brother's wedding, and because I do not plan on bringing many things with me for my visit, I will have room in my suitcases to bring back any items with me when I return to Rio Dulce.

If you feel led to donate, you can access the Wish List website by going to and you can e-mail me at so we can arrange a way to get the things in my suitcase before I head back to Guatemala on March 10th.

Like I said, every little bit helps (I've been amazed at how even the simplest things that we use on a daily basis in the US can be impossible to find in Guatemala). Thanks to you all and I hope you have a fantastic week!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Remote Medical Clinic...

Today was INCREDIBLE! I had the pleasure of accompanying Karen, Mike, Oscar, and a small medical team (6 people, most of whom are young doctors doing their residency in Michigan) to Cuatro Cayos, a beautiful little village about an hour down the Rio Cienega (a river right off the Rio Dulce) by launch.

First of all, the boat ride to was stunning. The Rio Cienega is relatively narrow and shallow (at one point we had to get out of the boat to push it out of a rough spot), full of tropical trees lining the shore, and it is INCREDIBLY peaceful and tranquil. Everyone we passed, whether it be women cleaning dishes or clothes in the river, children going for a swim, men working along the banks, or people paddling in their beautiful wooden hand-carved canoes, they all waved and flashed a (sometimes toothless) grin our way. I could tell it was going to be a good trip.

Once we arrived on the beach in Cuatro Cayos, some of the village members came out to great us and help carry things to the church (where the clinic was held). We had about a 5 minute walk down a gravel road before we reached the village. Cuatro Cayos used to only be accessible by water, but recently they built a road and for a short time during the dry season (when the river is low), 4-wheel drive vehicles are able to access the village.

ANYway, as the doctors set up “stations” for their patients (who began lining up soon after we arrived), Oscar and I ventured into the jungle. We hiked a little ways up a dirt path to visit his family. Lettie, Oscar’s mother, grew up in Cuatro Cayos, and many of her late husband’s family members (Oscar’s grandparents and some aunts, uncles, and cousins) still live there. Also, all of Lettie’s children were born there and her late husband is buried there, so it’s a very special place for Oscar. It was an honor to get to meet some of his and Lettie’s family, and I also got to hike up to the local graveyard to show my respects to Lettie’s late husband. It was a very sacred place, and I could tell that it meant a lot to Oscar that he was able to visit his father’s grave.

After that, we headed back to the clinic to see how things were coming along. The doctors had already seen many patients (which is fantastic, because this is a place that would never receive medical care unless people like those from today volunteered to host a FREE clinic). They saw cases such as simple head colds, head lice, gastrointestinal problems (from unclean water and food), infected wounds, ear infections, tonsillitis, scabies, and a very unusual, large boil type thing on a man’s foot that was believed to be water (or some kind of liquid) that had escaped from his tendons. Very strange. Oh, and we also had many pregnant women who were able to be examined and get some prenatal care. Very exciting. None of the doctors spoke Spanish, so they had hired 3 men from Belize to translate for them. Their system worked out beautifully, and many were able to receive medical care (and those who were well received vitamins and dental supplies).

I feel so blessed to have been witness to such an amazing act of kindness and selfless generosity. Unfortunately the group was solely humanitarian in nature and not affiliated with any religion, but I can easily see how God could use those type of experiences to open someone’s eyes and bring them to His kingdom. What a great day…

The children were all INCREDIBLY shy and many wouldn't verbally respond to my poor attempts at communication, but you could tell that they liked the attention.

My favorite picture of the day. What a better thing to do on a sunny day than find a cool spot in the dirt and take a little siesta neck to neck with a loved one...

Or if you don't have a friend close by, the trash/slop heap is the next best thing... Or so this coche thought...
(FYI: In school, I was taught that "coche" meant car, and it does in Mexico, but in Guatemala it means pig. The Guatemaltecos joke that all cars in Mexico are ugly like pigs anyway, so the word fits... Anyway, "carro" is car in Guatemala, just in case you ever needed to know.) :)

The animals in Cuatro Cayos live the life!

This strange angle is because the dogs in Guatemala are very timid (many from abuse, neglect, or from being, well, basically wild animals). It's very difficult to get close enough to a dog to take it's picture. ALSO, this picture is to show one of the healthiest dogs I've seen so far. Most dogs here are in pretty rough shape (extremely skinny, with mange, wounds from fighting or being hit by cars, etc). It's really sad, but it's hard to worry about the dogs when the people have serious needs as well.

You DO NOT want to mess with this guy. He's mean. Trust me, I know from personal experience... And I'll leave it at that.

Welcome to our make-shift clinic outside the church!

This precious little girl is 2 and 1/2 months old, and her mother is 16 years old- which is completely normal here. After all, when Lettie lived in Cuatro Cayos, she got married at age 13 and had Chivette, her first child, at 14. I can't even imagine...

My second favorite picture of the day: This man, named LoLo, was a complete saint. When one of the translators wanted to buy water and found out that the village had no pure water for sale, LoLo disappeared into the woods and returned with a huge branch full of fresh coconuts. He proceeded to hack the tops off with his machete and began handing them out to the volunteers. Also, as we were about to leave in the launch, he came running down the dirt road with a big bag of fresh corn to give to us.
It was incredibly humbling. In the world's eyes, these people hardly have anything, but what they do have, they selflessly give to others.

I've decided that Steve McCurry (the famous photographer of "Afghan Girl" and one of my heroes) needs to come down to Guatemala to do a photo shoot with LoLo. He's so photogenic!

This was our doctors' office's lobby. :)

I'm going to go ahead and apologize if you're reading this Karen, but I just have to share...
Anyway, when we first arrived and were assessing who needed what kind of care, Karen asked this lady, "Cuantos meses tiene?" ("How many months do you have?" and in other words, "How far along are you in your pregnancy?") For those of you who have made the same mistake, I'm sure you can imagine where I'm heading with this... The lady nonchalantly replied that she wasn't pregnant. It took all I had in me not to laugh, but thankfully, I held my composure... But in the evening while we were reflecting on the day, we had a good laugh about it. I'll give it to Karen, she DID look pregnant.

Patients in the doctor's office...

There's that watermelon belly again. Hehe.

The woman here is Blanca, Oscar's aunt. She is the one who worked with Mike and Karen to get this event set up. The Rheas and the village of Cuatro Cayos have a very special relationship, and they will help each other out whenever possible.

I love the facial expression of the girl directly behind the baby.
Apparently she wasn't a happy camper, but she's still adorable...

Simply precious...

After a lot of, well, acting really goofy, I FINALLY got a smile out of this little girl.
Central America's Next Top Model

You can see our deliciously sweet coconuts on the table in this picture.
It was the first time I've ever had fresh coconut milk, and yum, it was delicious!

People waiting to get their prescriptions filled at the "pharmacy."

The local school teacher waiting with his students to get vitamins...
And to explain to them that they're medicine, NOT CANDY.

A HORRIBLE picture, but none the less, the most beautiful spider I've ever seen. It was peacefully waiting for it's next meal right next to me in the bathroom (i.e. a nice grassy spot of ground right outside the village).

Corn fields seen on our hike up to the graveyard.
In fact, you have to walk through the corn fields to get to the graveyard.

The entrance to the graveyard

Ofelia's fourth cousin, once removed...

View from the graveyard

The school sign
May I introduce you to school in Guatemala...

Oscar standing outside of his old school...
What you see is what you get...

Makes me appreciate Cedar Bluff, West Valley, and Bearden (my schools growing up) a WHOLE lot more than I ever have in the past... No air conditioning, no bathrooms, no books, bars on the windows, and one teacher (who only comes three times a week) who's expected to teach every grade (and it only goes to 6th grade)... How sad...

Well, I didn't mean to end on a depressing note (because it really was a spectacular experience), but it is a good way to tie this blog into my next entry about the school system in Guatemala. More to come soon...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

So it’s been awhile since I’ve written. Sorry to those of you who faithfully check my website… Things have been pretty normal and calm around here, but I’ll catch you up on a few exciting things.

Welcome Our New Arrivals!
A few days ago, Rancho Esperanza had the pleasure of purchasing two cows! They really are a huge blessing, because they will end up providing milk and other dairy products to the children. Right now we are only able to give them powdered milk (you can’t buy fresh milk in Rio Dulce), so we are all very excited about the cows. Also, both cows are “in a family way,” so we will be expecting precious calves in the near future. A HUGE thank you goes out to those of you who helped fund the purchase. Below I have included some pictures of the majestic creatures… well, maybe not majestic, but I’m sure their mothers think they’re beautiful. The video is of Joaquin, our curious little colt, trying to befriend one of the new cows. To say the least, she wasn’t interested in playing.

Oscar was REALLY excited about the cows. He's thoroughly enjoying working with them. They are incredibly tame and gentle... Most of the time...

A few weeks ago, Mike and Karen decided that it would be fun to take the kids on one last “hoorah” before school started back. The plan was to pack up and leave by 6am the next morning. Surprisingly enough, everyone got up early and everything was ready to go by 6- we had packed sandwiches, water, and snacks (and bags for those who were prone to carsickness, as the roads through the mountains of Guatemala are VERY curvy). I was INCREDIBLY excited, because of all the beautiful places that people had told me to see while in Guatemala, Tikal was one that everyone insisted that I visit.

Anyway, all 18 of us (Mike, Karen, the 8 kiddos, all of Lettie’s family, and me) piled into the big white van and took off. Things were going pretty smoothly... that is until it started raining and poor little Judy got car sick. We decided to keep trucking though. We had already reached the halfway point (if I remember correctly, Tikal is about a 4 hour drive from Rio Dulce) and had high hopes that the weather would clear up. We stopped a couple of times to purchase some motion sickness medicine for Judy and for bathroom breaks and finally made it to the ruins around 11am or so.

Unfortunately, the weather DID NOT clear up. In fact, it was raining pretty hard at times, but we decided that since we had come so far, we were going to see Tikal no matter what. Mike and Karen graciously offered to stay back at the car with the two youngest (Michael Jose and Danny) while the rest of us went exploring. The conditions weren’t what I’d call desirable to the typical tourist- the ground was incredibly slippery (and some places were flooded), the rain felt more like pellets than raindrops at times, we were all drenched within the first 5 minutes, and when the wind blew it was quite chilly… But that didn’t stop us from having a GREAT time!

We made the short hike up the mountain to the ruins, and seeing as I had NO CLUE what to expect once at the top, I was blown away! It was simply breathtaking. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Tikal, here is a little overview of it’s history.

“Tikal is the greatest of all Mayan cities. During the time period when the Mayans dominated the Yucatan peninsula, the pyramids of Tikal were the tallest structures in the western hemisphere. The city was founded around 200 B.C. It seemed to be abandoned in 900 A.D. for unknown reasons. The site was discovered again by 1848 and has been going excavations ever since.
Tikal lies outside the city of El Peten, Guatamala. The towers of the city are well restored and surrounded by the rainforest, as the actual towers, some of which reach 212 feet, are located within the Tikal National Park. Wildlife is abundant in the park as a result of this.”

“The ruins lie among lowland rainforest. Conspicuous trees at the Tikal park include gigantic ceiba (Ceiba pentandra) the sacred tree of the Maya; tropical cedar (Cedrela odorata), and mahogany (Swietenia). Regarding the fauna, agouti, coatis, gray foxes, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, harpy eagles, falcons, ocellated turkeys, guans, toucans, green parrots and leaf-cutting ants can be seen there regularly. Jaguars, jaguarundis, and cougars are also said to roam in the park. For centuries this city was completely covered under jungle.”

I was really excited about seeing some of the wildlife in the jungle. Karen had told me that there are often monkeys and parrots hanging out in the large open areas of the park. Unfortunately because of the weather, I was only able to enjoy the beauty of the GIGANTIC trees in the jungle, but that’s ok. I’m determined to go back on a sunny day to do some more exploring and to take photos (I wasn’t able to take my camera out of the car on this visit). Also, there is a zip-line canopy tour that I would love to do.

After about an hour of exploring, drenched and ready for lunch, we headed back to the car. I love the way that Mike described the rest of the trip on his blog, so I’m stealing it for mine.

“Leti and Oscar took the kids to see the ruins. This lasted about an hour then they were back and ready to go. Poor kids looked like a batch of drowned rats and were all a bit cold. We had packed lunch so on our way back we looked for a roof to eat under. Everyone was really hungry so the first place we found was it, it was a bus stop, a really dirty smelly and muddy one at that, so we all wolfed down a sandwich and hit the road for home.
They did not get to see much so we will plan another trip when they get a break from school. We had a great day and everyone slept well soon after we got home.
It was a lot of driving for an hour at the park but worth every minute, The kids just enjoyed getting out, there was no whining or anything. It was just a great day.”

Amen to that! Despite the weather, it was a great day, and I’m so glad that I got to experience Tikal, one of the most mysterious and beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Two VERY exciting things to share...

#1: I went horseback riding for the first time since I've been here. Obviously I didn't ride this little guy, Juaquin, because he is only a few months old... But I did have a chance to ride both Canche and Nico, two of the older horses. It was a blast, and I can't wait to do it again...

Behind me you can see my new house... I feel so blessed to be able to walk out my front door and see this precious little guy and his mom, Princessa, grazing and frolicking around the ranch.

#2: I got to play with a scorpion! That's right, a real live scorpion!!! Oscar found it in the rocks and somehow pinched off his stinger. When he brought it to Karen and me, I thought he was crazy for even touching a live scorpion, but after realizing that it was now relatively harmless, I simply HAD to play with it. The poor thing must have been incredibly traumatized, but nonetheless, he kept me entertained for quite some time, crawling up and down my arms and legs. Quite a cool experience...

My New Favorite Creature from Guatemala...
that is until I get stung by one that still has it's stinger intact... :)