Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Terrible news...

My precious Ofelia has been M.I.A. for the past few days... Every time I enter the bathroom and realize that she's nowhere to be found, my heart breaks... I'm afraid that one of the girls may have washed her down the drain. Quite the tragic ending for my first Guatemalan pet...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Church in Guatemala…


Yesterday I had the privilege of experiencing my first Guatemalan church service. I woke up around 5am (the birds started up a little early yesterday), and I went ahead and got up to take my shower. Because I got such an early start and since it was Sunday, it was the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve actually dried my hair, fixed it, and put on a little make-up. It felt nice to not look like a total slob (with the extreme humidity here, when I let my hair dry naturally every morning, it frizzes, curls, and makes me look a little loco). ☺ Anyway, by the time I was finished getting ready for church, it was only 6am and the kids were still asleep, so I decided to go exploring for “a special spot” to do my devotions (the weather was beautiful yesterday- unlike the torrential downpours we’re having right now).

I found a white plastic chair and a stool and started up the driveway (the stool was to keep my feet off the ground- in Guatemala, we have these tiny black ants everywhere that will bite you, leaving an unpleasant stinging sensation). I went just far enough up the driveway to where I couldn’t be seen by either Mike and Karen’s house or Lettie and Don Oscar’s house. All up and down the sides of the driveway, the Rheas have planted beautiful flowers and shrubbery. I hopped over the plants and set up camp in a nice grassy area at the top of a hill. Let me tell you, the view is SPECTACULAR. I’ll take pictures of it soon. Anyway, it was the perfect spot to sit, be still, and meditate on God’s Word. All in all, I spent about three hours up there (I came back around 8 to let Mike and Karen know where I was). It was great! When I went back the second time, I brought my IPOD with me and worshiped with the help of my favorite music artist, Ronnie Freeman (If you’ve never heard of him, you should check him out. Even though some of his music is kind of “poppy” for my taste, his lyrics are simply incredible)… Anyway, it’s exciting to have found a spot where I can go and enjoy some peace and quiet…

People from Rio Dulce (mostly all close neighbors) started walking up our driveway around 9:45, and church started around 10:00. Five people from a church in Guatemala City had come into town to lead the service (for the mean time, Mike and Karen’s church in St. Petersburg are paying different assistant pastors to come from Guatemala City every week). The worship service was very interesting in that I had never heard any of the music before and I didn’t have a clue as to what the leaders were saying. I must admit that because of that, I was more of a spectator than a worshiper… Anyway, after the music finished I went with the children over to Mike and Karen’s porch where the children’s lesson is taught (the majority of the church members are children). The three younger adults from Guatemala City were the ones who gave the bible lesson, and I was able to understand some of what they were saying. The children seemed to really enjoy it, and they got to do a little craft after the lesson was over. I had to stay toward the back because I was both trying to keep Danny calm and trying to make sure that the children were looking at the teacher rather than me- for some reason, the color of my skin and eyes are very distracting. ☺ Anyway, the children were precious. I’m going to try and take some pictures of them next Sunday (I wasn’t going to even try, but the people from Guatemala City took tons of pictures, so I think it’ll be alright).

After church, everyone stayed for about 15 minutes to visit, drink punch and eat Christmas cookies. I was amazed at how many people came up and gave me a hug, saying “Feliz Navidad” or other pleasantries. They are all so friendly, and I really felt welcomed in the church… Once everyone had left, the children, Mike and Karen, and I spent the rest of the day relaxing and taking it easy. All in all, it was a great first Sunday in my new home.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

La Tienda and Rio Dulce

Yesterday was very exciting! I had my first Guatemalan shopping experience! In the morning before lunch, Lettie and Vilma needed some things to prepare the food, so two of the older girls (Francisca and Angelica) and I volunteered to go to la tienda.

The little stores were surprisingly close. All we had to do was walk down our driveway (about the distance from my parent’s house to the entrance of the Franklin Hills neighborhood), enter the “highway,” and just a few steps later we came to the shops. They are pretty small, and you simply go up to the window and tell them what you want (thank goodness I had the girls with me, because I would not have had the slightest clue as to what to say).

The guys manning the windows were very friendly to the girls, but they stared at me like I was an alien! I thought that the one guy who was measuring our flour (or something like flour) was going to miss the bag with his scoop because rather than looking at what he was doing, he was just staring at me with this puzzled look on his face. I KNOW I’m not the first Gringo they’ve seen (I have no doubt that Karen and Mike have frequented their stores), but for some reason I threw them off… It was pretty funny.

Later on in the day, Karen took Francisca, Zuleidey, Lucia, and me into the Rio Dulce marketplace to do some Christmas shopping. The kids all need new clothes, and so rather than purchasing something on her own without knowing if the clothes fit or if the girls like the style, Karen decided it would be special if the older girls got to pick out their own outfit… And it was. We had a blast!

Adventures at the Market:
First of all, simply GETTING to the market is quite an adventure. When coming into the marketplace, the traffic is crazy. People are walking in the road, taxis are pulled over causing traffic jams, motorcyclists and scooters are weaving in and out of traffic, and it’s just a mess! I have a new appreciation for Karen, who did a great job navigating us through it all. Anyway, once we finally parked, we were able to start shopping. It was really fun seeing what styles of clothes the girls liked. They all like the jeans with lots of embellishments on the pockets (like rhinestones and glitter). Those jeans are very popular here (but it seems like in the US they’re only popular for little girls under the age of ten or so). Anyway, I could TOTALLY relate to the girls in that they all have very oddly shaped bodies (but don’t get me wrong- they’re all so beautiful), and it was hard to find pants that fit them well. Eventually we found a pair of jeans and a top for each one of the girls, and they seemed very pleased with their purchases… And I was very pleased to have my first marketplace experience.

The Market’s Layout:
There is only one street that runs through Rio Dulce, and the Marketplace is made up of a row of little individual shops on both sides of the street. Many of the shops are just one building with walls dividing them, and they paint their store’s name over the entranceway. It’s really neat, but VERY crowded…

There are SO MANY different smells in the marketplace. We would be walking by a stand selling fried chicken that smelled delicious, then we would enter a store that smelled like body odor, then we would be in a bakery that smelled of fresh cakes and bread, then we would be down by the Rio Dulce river that smelled kind of mucky, and at one point we were stuck in an alleyway that smelled like pee. It was quite the aromatic experience. ☺
Anyway, I was shocked at how many Gringos I saw! When I had asked Karen and Mike how many Americans live in Rio Dulce, they both said, “Too many.” Apparently there are a lot of white people who come to live cheaply and “to spend half of their day looking for the cheapest beer and the other half of their day drinking it.” How sad…

Well, the children are getting up, so I better put my computer away before they start begging to listen to music and watch old Selena music videos on Youtube (the older girls are a little obsessed with her)… I hope you are all doing well, and I’ll try to write some more later on in the day. Adios!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Farewell pictures and my new best friend! :)

I just figured out how to add photos to my blog- how exciting! These pictures are of my farewell in the Atlanta airport. They're so special to me, Momma and Poppa. :)

I also had too include photos of my new best friend. I've named her Ofelia (my new favorite name). She lives in my bathroom, is about an inch long, and eats all the nasty bugs for me. What a great little girl! (Karen told me that some Guatemalans are afraid of lizards and iguanas because they think that they can sting you with their tails. Thanks to having sweet big brothers who would throw the lizards with blue tails on me when I was little, I know it's not true and can appreciate Ofelia's presence in the bathroom.) :)

My first full day at the ranch...


Even though I was so tired the night before, my body woke up at the usual time, around 7am (which is 6 am in Guatemala). The girls were still sound asleep, but the birds were up and adam (by the way Momma, I loved your little napkin note about chirping happily). ☺ It was actually really nice to be the first one up. As those of you who know me well know, I definitely need some alone time throughout the day, so it was great to have that 2 or so hours before people woke up to take a shower, have my personal devotions, and journal some.

I LOVE how the Guatemalans greet one another in the morning. The children would come out of their rooms and everyone would say “buenos dias” and hug with a kiss on the cheek. It’s so different from back home, but it really makes you feel loved. It’s things like that that I hope to continue when I return home, to let my family know how much I love them and appreciate them…

Quick Synopsis of Meal Times:
For breakfast, we had an oatmeal equivalent, except it was much thinner and A LOT sweeter. It was good, but I’m just not used to eating something so sweet for breakfast. The children loved eating it with these cookie/cracker type things.
For lunch, we had a soupy rice, vegetables, and beef dish. It was really good, but very salty. For lunch and dinner, two of the most precious ladies I’ve ever met, Lettie and Vilma, prepare the meals (with the help of the older girls). They come over to the house around 8 and stay until maybe 5 or so (to help with the kids, cook, clean, etc). They are both Guatemalan women and although I can’t understand a lick of what they say, there smiles could light up the darkest room.
For dinner, we had eggs, refried beans, and tortillas. The eggs were delicious! Sooo much better than the eggs at home, probably because they’re much fresher.
At every meal I’ve been forcing myself to drink water (I need to watch out about getting dehydrated) but the children drink juice of some sort. Oh, and we have ice (a luxury that I didn’t think I would have here in Guatemala)!
All in all, the food has been fantastic, but the only problem is that the portions are HUGE! I feel so rude not finishing what is placed in front of me, because I don’t want the women who prepared the food to think that I don’t like and appreciate it. However, I just can’t find a place in my stomach to put it all! I told Karen that yesterday, and she kindly told Lettie and Vilma that I think they’re cooking is delicious, but I need smaller portions because I can’t eat as much as they give me. They laughed and gave me a hug. I felt a lot better about the situation… Too bad Poppa isn’t here to finish all my leftovers. Here’s the best human disposal, and he would love the food here.

Enough about food. I want to tell you guys some of the highlights throughout yesterday and today. In the morning, everyone has their chores to attend to (such as sweeping, mopping, tidying the bathrooms, etc), and I was AMAZED at how the children do them with such happy hearts. No questions asked, no complaining, they just get them done with a smile on their faces. What a stark difference from the US (for those of you who always happily did your chores, I appaulogize for my generalization). After that, the children spend the majority of the day playing and just hanging out. They ride scooters around the wrap-around porch, they play Uno and other card games, they play with Legos and other small toys, they play some Domino game (that even after watching for about 30 minutes, I still didn’t understand), they do little crafts (today they made beautiful Christmas tree ornaments out of beads and that rubbery craft string), and for an hour in the afternoon they watch a Guatemalan comedy (it seems pretty dumb if you ask me, but the kids really enjoy it and it gives us a nice break, so who am I to complain). ☺

Fantastic Quality in Guatemalans:
Unlike many Americans, they seem to truly put others before themselves (what a fantastic way to show Christ through your actions!). Yesterday, I filled a little bowl full of some of the Starburst Jellybeans that Poppa bought and put it on the table where the children were playing. They were all very appreciative and seemed to really enjoy them (thank you for sending that candy Poppa), but let me tell you, they went fast. ☺ Anyway, about 2 hours later when Karen got home (she and Mike had been out to the bank), Francisca, the oldest of the girls at 14, pulled out a crumpled up napkin from her pocket. As she carefully unwrapped it to show a tiny jellybean, I realized what she had done. It was all I could do to hold back the tears. She had thought of Karen and how she wasn’t there to enjoy the treat, so she had saved one of her jellybeans to give to her. What a minuscule thing it must have been to Francisca (as I’m sure it was just second nature to put others before herself), but what a precious and beautiful lesson for me- the smallest things can mean SO much to a person when they come out of complete selfless love.

Anyway, as expected, I’ve fallen in love with the children. They are all very unique (oops, sorry Poppa, I know how you hate “very unique”)… Correction: They are all unique in their own specials ways, and although I can’t understand much of what they say, I feel like I’m getting a pretty good idea of their personalities.

Michael Jose:
He is the youngest of the children, and is Mike and Karen’s adopted son. He is absolutely adorable, with a huge smile and extremely loving personality. All throughout the day, he’ll randomly come up to you and give you a hug and a kiss. It’s so funny- when he doesn’t know the word for something, he calls it “Holly.” We have no idea why, but “Holly” can be anything from a person to a kind of food to a bug outside. It definitely makes me laugh. For a three year old (almost four, I think) he is very well behaved, and everyone loves him to death.

Danny is five years old, and he is the most difficult of the lot (in my opinion). He is very sweet, but he worries me quite a bit. Karen said that when he was younger, his mother used to use him for begging purposes, and he would act out to get attention. Danny has been known to have seizures, but other than the obvious health problems that can come from this, he realized that he gets a lot of attention when he has a seizure, so all throughout the day he’ll kind of fake one when he’s not getting attention. It scares me to death, because he really does spazz out and make very strange facial expressions (Karen calls it his “monkey face”), and it’s hard for me to tell if he’s faking it or not… Danny is precious, but he definitely has a checkered past and some health problems, so please pray that God will either place His healing hands on him, provide some kind of medical care to help him, or simply teach me how to care for him in a manner that would help calm his anxiousness and show him that I’ll give him attention without him having to act out to receive it.

Pedro is seven, and the first child that I bonded with. As Karen told me from the get-go, he is absolutely STARVED of affection and physical touch. He often comes and curls up in my lap, and he is very patient with me as far as my poor Spanish is concerned. He is a sweet little boy, and although he’s not perfect (he threw the biggest hissy-fit about taking a shower last night), he has stolen my heart. ☺

I think she is nine, but I could be wrong (I’ll have to get back with you on that one). She is the youngest of the girls, and EXTREMELY reserved. Mike and Karen say that for now she is just “flying under the radar,” and I can definitely see that. She’s so low key that she could probably get away with a lot and no one would know it because she’s so quiet. It took a lot to break through with her yesterday. She was pouting about something and I had to keep at it for about 30 minutes to get her to take her hands away from her crying eyes and smile. BUT once I did, it was like a huge breakthrough, and she will now play with me and let me come close to her. She doesn’t seek out physical affection like the others do, but when I give it to her (like rubbing her back and playing with her hair during tv time), she seems to like it.

Well, that’s got the younger kids covered, but it’s almost time for devotions so I’ll have to give a 4-1-1 on the older girls later. Love to you all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My first night at the ranch... (12-17-2008)

It is now almost 9:00pm on Wednesday, and I have almost experienced my first full day at the ranch… But let me pick up where I left off about last night.

We FINALLY reached Rio Dulce at 10pm or so. I had been fighting back yawns and a strong urge to curl up in a ball and fall asleep for about 2 hours, so I was definitely relieved to know that my bed was in sight. Driving into the property, I became aware of the great security measures taken to protect everyone at the ranch (not that they’re necessarily needed). The entire property is gated, and the fence along the road has barbed wire on type of it. Also, there are two night watchmen (armed)- one mans the gate and the other is up the driveway a bit. With the prospects of living in a house by myself, it’s a relief to know they’re out there…

Anyway, some of the children were still awake and Lettie (Mike and Karen’s “adopted” daughter) was there. It was interesting to see how they greeted me. Some gave hugs, some just smiled and said “mucho gusto,” and some didn’t even acknowledge my existence. It was late and we were all very tired (especially me), so I didn’t take offence. I was just ready to crash. We brushed our teeth and climbed into bed. I am currently residing in the girls’ room (there are three sets of bunk beds, all of which are occupied now). It’s a pretty nice set-up, with a bathroom attached. Once we were all in bed, one of the girls read a bible story out loud, then they chit-chatted for about 10 minutes, then we all said “Buenos noches” and crashed. I had NO IDEA what they were saying (when they’re by themselves in their room, they talk extremely fast to one another), but it was neat just to listen (oh to be 14 at a “sleepover” again)… ☺

I slept pretty well. Even though I was extremely tired, it was really hard to turn my brain off. I was trying to process everything that had happened over the past few hours, and it was all still pretty surreal… That feeling passed the next morning.

WOW… Where to begin…

Well, as expected, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with Guatemala… And I’ve only been here about 20 hours! ☺

All I can say about the flight is “God is good.” Everything went so smoothly, although we did get a little bit of a late start do to fog in Atlanta. Once on board, it was obvious that we were headed to Guatemala (I was probably one of five Gringos on the entire plane- including the flight attendants!). It was a great feeling- or one I knew I’d have to get used to anyway. The man who sat beside me (probably in his late twenties) was awesome! He had just spent a few months living in Louisiana and was coming home for the holidays (he is from one of those crazily named cities in Guatemala –Chiqualtenango or something like that). His English was on the same level as my Spanish, but he helped me out a lot. We had a great conversation and he made me practice things like my numbers, days of the week, everyday greetings, clothing items, etc. It was a huge blessing, because after befriending one another on the plane, he helped me get through customs, find my bags, and make my way to the lobby. Without him, I would have been completely lost. Yet another blessing from the Father.

Random side-note: I wasn’t in Guatemala 10 minutes before making a cultural error. I, Kathryn Ann Holt, accidentally walked into the men’s bathroom at the airport. The sign on the outside had both a man AND a woman on it, so naturally I thought it was a one stall unisex restroom. Oh, how wrong I was. To say the least, I was mortified (and so were the men using the urinals). I ran out and a custodial kindly pointed me in the direction of the WOMEN’S restroom… A mistake I hope to never make again…

Anyway, when I arrived in the lobby, it was practically empty. I couldn’t understand why people had made such a fuss about how crazy the airport was… And then I walked outside. There was a barricade type thing holding hundreds of people back, all yelling, holding signs, and trying to get my attention. By the grace of God, I saw Mike and Karen waving me down amongst the crowd (thanks to that awesome cowboy hat Mike wears). I proceeded to make my way through the crowd while Mike and Karen motioned me to the van. Once in the van, greetings were spoken and I learned yet another valuable lesson about Guatemala.

Valuable Lesson: In Guatemala, pedestrians DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT have the right of way! If you don’t watch where you’re going and move out of the way, YOU WILL GET HIT!

Leaving the airport was atrocious. The traffic was nothing like I’d ever seen, and drivers are INSANE! They fly by, weaving in and out of traffic (barely missing your car by what seems like only centimeters), they are constantly honking at something, and the idea of being kind and letting someone cut in front of you is a concept that has yet to reach Guatemala City. And I thought Miami traffic was bad… Oh well.

We had to make a couple of stops before heading to the ranch. First we went to the social worker’s office. Karen went in and dealt with some things while Mike and Michael (their almost-four-year-old son) and I visited in the car. Then I had the pleasure of experiencing Guatemala’s Wal-Mart equivalent. It was huge and full of shoppers, and while I’m normally not a huge fan of crowds, I rather enjoyed scoping out the people and the items in the store. SO many of their things are the same brands as back home (like the Lays Barbeque Potato Chips that Mike apparently loves). It was neat.

From there, it was time to eat. Knowing me and my stomach, I was a little nervous about how my first Guatemalan meal would go, but guess what we had. Pizza Hut! Yep, that’s right, sausage and pepperoni pizza and a 7Up to drink. Although I didn’t eat much (I was still a bit too nervous to eat), it was a good meal. From there, we were on the road again.

Another Helpful Hint: Guatemalans DO NOT care about speed limits.

Guatemala is soooooo beautiful. From what I’ve seen so far, it is all mountains (which I love)! While the roads are in much better shape than I expected, they are all curvy swervey. I knew I needed to sit up and face the front the entire time as to not get a little sick to my stomach, but that was fine with me. It gave me an opportunity to look out the windows at this beautiful country.

Honestly, I had no idea what to expect in regard to housing, businesses, etc. I don’t exactly know how to describe the buildings here, other than that they are like buildings in the US that you wouldn’t give a second glance at because you know that they’ve been abandoned for many years… Except in Guatemala, they are not abandoned at all. They have many people living in them, and you could often see a television playing through the open windows. Also something that I found neat (and reminded me of something that Momma and Poppa probably saw a lot of in Africa) was all the people walking along the “highway” with baskets and things on their heads. It’s strange to think of having to walk to and from the store rather than drive… But not to say that I wouldn’t be all about it. I’m looking forward to my first walk to la tienda. ☺ Anyway, it was interesting to see these people out and about so late in the evening, after the sun had gone down. Different cultures fascinate me…

Don’t worry Momma, while Mike did drive extremely fast, not once did I question his ability. For the most part, I felt comfortable in the van- which is saying a lot for someone who, since my wreck in last January, has become extremely paranoid about riding with anyone new. Despite many crazy drivers accompanying us on our journey and a few traffic jams, God placed His angels around us and gave us a safe journey to the ranch.

I’ll pick up where I left off and tell you all about the Ranch and my first night here later. It’s time for lunch! I love you all, miss you all (but in no way am I home-sick), and appreciate all your prayers. God has definitely made His presence known to me on this journey to the unknown…