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Saturday, January 31, 2009

my new jeans

By the end of the week before last, my stomach had officially rebelled and I took a 'sick day' on Thursday. While I was down for the count, Troy was performing air band tributes to the Stones. Luckily it was caught on video so I didn't miss out. I've included it on todays blog for your listening and viewing pleasure, hope you like it.


As I was still not feeling great on the Friday before last, we decided to lay low that weekend and stay in Antigua. I had been dying for a pair of jeans (had all i could take of my nerdy 'travel pants') and we had heard about the 'used clothes market' so thought we should investigate. Success! Troy was in heaven getting to bargain with all the local merchants and here I am, extremely happy, in my new/used jeans!!

With a new/used pair of jeans in hand and a new bill of health, Troy and I were ready to tackle the upcoming week of school, this was supposed to be our last week of teaching in Itzapa...(more on that later). The Zunil class continued to learn their alphabet and numbers, and I continued to learn that keeping short attention spans occupied is exhausting! I have been consulting my teacher sister on new and interesting ideas for games and activities and have greatly appreciated all of her help. Here are some of the masterpieces that have been created in our class so far :).

Troy had another good week of wrestling, singing, dog piling, and oh yeah, teaching the kids in his class. This week there was a break from the normal curriculum as Troy and Jason (a firefighter from Australia) taught the kids fire safety. Below, they are learning to stop, drop, and roll, with a little encouragement, ofcourse!

On Friday, us gals were invited (by Elena, a community leader) to dress in traditional clothes. Wearing such attire truly gave me a greater appreciation for my new/used extremely comfortable jeans, have I mentioned how much I love my new jeans. ;)

As for our supposed last week of teaching at Itazpa, we have changed plans again and have decided to stay on with GVI here in Guatemala for another week. We will however take some time for ourselves and enduldge in almost a whole week 'holiday' before beginning our Ecuador internship. Right now we are planning to spend the week in the bay islands in Honduras to do some beaching and potentially get our scuba certification. This is the plan today, we'll see if it changes by next Friday...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

And then there is what really happens.....

As Nicole mentioned in a past blog post there is plan A ( which we had figured out down to the last second ) and then there is what really happens, also known as Plan B. As of now, Plan B is in full effect. Nicole and I have truly enjoyed our experience working with the program we are currently working with, Global Vision International. They are very well organized, we know exactly where our money is going, we have met so many good people also involved with the program, they have great relationships with the communities that they work in and most importantly they truly do make it all about the children. So when GVI offered Nicole and I an internship in Ecuador, we decided to change our plans and we jumped at the opportunity.

Dom ( the project director of GVI in central and south America ) spoke with Nic and I last Monday and explained to us what an intership would involve. This basically entails going to their similar project in ecuador and taking on more of an organizational role. Overseeing the volunteers, helping the volunteers with lesson planning, buying the food for the school food program, and being a contact person in the field. This sounds super interesting, especially since we would be based together ( in Otavalo ) but each responsible for a separate community project (they have four communities in ecuador which are fairly remote. you actually have to take a bus and then hike 30 minutes into the andes to get to one of them!). There is an intern house where we will stay, the internship program offers 20 more hours of spanish lessons and we will still be able to take a two week break in March, allowing us to go on our planned coast to coast biking trip across Costa Rica. We still have a week left here in Guatemala and we will make our way down to Ecuador for a Februrary 13th start date, How Exciting! We will plan to intern with GVI in Ecuador until the end of April and will then move on to Peru and Africa as planned. This will significanlty reduce our time originally planned in Nicaragua and Peru but with one door closed a new one has opened.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Mark Twain

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The big 3-0

This past weekend we went out on a trip to Lake Atitlan with a group of ten volunteers. A little well-deserved R 'n R if I do say so myself. We drove for about two hours, stopped the van, unloaded the bikes and rode the last 30km stretch down to the lake. Mostly downhill and windy roads so super fun!
The odd, randomly placed speed bump almost got the better of us a couple times but we managed to stay on two wheels. At least I think Troy did, he was too far ahead of me for me to know for sure. Whle I had one hand on the brake the whole time, I'm sure he was pedaling to gain speed for most of it!
We were surrounded by beautiful views and vistas the whole way and stopped for lunch at a great lookout spot. The lake is basically surrounded by volcanoes and a smattering of small towns and villages. Once we arrived at Lake Atitlan, we boarded a boat 'taxi' that took us to La Casa del Mundo, near the town of Panajachel. The hotel was the cutest I have ever seen and it reminded me of the one in Mama Mia.
We relaxed in the sun, jumped in the lake and enjoyed the wood stove heated hot-tub until the wee hours of, oh about 9 o'clock! We all turned in early as all that fresh air took it out of us! In the morning we set out in kayaks and set out across the lake (well not literally across, but to a different spot.). I shared a kayak with Lindsay while Troy shared a kayak with Mark. Predictibly they were the only two that capsized as they were too busy blaming each other for going in the wrong direction to notice the approaching wave!
The gals and I however were quite impressed by our rowing skill :).
That is Lindsay in the middle, and Nancy on the right. Since Troy was already wet, he didn't hesitate to add a cliff jump to the itinerary. Notice his jump technique - arms straight up in the air. In retrospect, this is not recommended unless you want lobster-red tingly arms with no feelings in your hands....

We capped off Sunday with a hike back to the hotel. It was beautiful and sunny and I probably won't soon forget where/how I welcomed in the big 3-0.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Seno Nic

Friday wrapped up our first week of teaching. Wow. While our week of spanish school as students seemed to pass by slowly, our week of school as teachers seemed to fly by! I, Seno Nic or Seno Nico (pronounced Neek or Neeko) can’t believe how quickly the week went by.

While this is familiar territory for some of you teachers out there, this was my first foray into the wonderful world of molding young minds…Those of you in the biz have already figured this out but I am learning that, well, kids are pretty neat. There are the stoic kids who don’t say much but you can’t help but wonder what they are thinking, the kids who are constantly calling your name needing affirmation after every pencil stroke in their notebooks, the kids who wiggle in their seats and can‘t wait to play, the kids who jump out of their seats to come to the front to write on the board and the kids who look around so as not to make eye contact for fear of having to come to the front to write on the board... Whatever it is, they each have their own trademark personality trait to challenge us or, more often than not, make us laugh out loud.

I tried to think back to when I was in school for some inspiration in planning lessons and while I’m sure I learned many valuable skills at the tender age of 5, the only thing I really remember crystal clearly about my early school years are the songs. There seemed to be a song for everything! A Good Morning song, an Alphabet song, a Number song, a Cleanup song, a Day of the Week song, and on and on, and I still remember them all. And so, after an evening of using the trusty internet, I am now equipped with “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” and “Where is thumbkin” in Spanish (“Si estas contento y los sabes, aplaudiras” and “Pulgarcito”) and can’t wait to teach the kids this coming week! I know, I know, clapping your hands and finding your thumbs are not exactly life-skills but who doesn’t love a good actions song?!

What has been very apparent in getting to know the students this first week is the importance placed on family and the order of things within the families. The older kids always walk their younger siblings to their class and at fruit break, if there is extra, the older kids always make sure that their younger brothers/sisters get seconds before taking an extra for themselves. On at least two occasions this week, students have come to school only to say that they cannot attend that day because their mom is sick and they have to stay home and take care of the little ones. And today a child was misbehaving waiting to be dismissed from my class and her sister came over and gave her a good pull on her ear! One of the first questions they always ask me is how many brothers and/or sisters I have. I am always delighted to tell them about my sisters and though I don’t remember them ever tending to me when my mom was ill, I can relate to the protective nature of siblings as I do remember my sister once spitting on a bully on my behalf…

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Profe Troy

Nic and I have only been teaching at the school for four days now and we already have developed a bond with the kids. It is amazing how easy it is to care about these kids. They line up outside of the school about a half hour before the day begins and then they run into the classroom just to give you a hug or a high five. I am very pleased with my efforts as I have the kids in my class "pounding it" and singing with me every morning to start the day.

There are currently seven classrooms in the school. Some of the walls and columns were recently painted and the cheery blues, greens, polka dots, and alphabets offer a likeness to any school back home. It is however the open air nature of the classrooms, the dirt floor of the play area, the smoke billowing in from the adjacent tortilla baking, and the in-house chicken coop that set it apart.
All the kids are given a snack first thing in the morning and again before break time so they have energy to be in class. Once class starts they are like any kids, anywhere, school sucks. But once they are given there "assignments" for the day they get to work. Every child in the school loves to get praise (again, any child, anywhere) and if they solve their problem, what ever that may be, they either call out your name (and apparently in Guatemala I am Roy) or run up to show you their work. A small pat on the head and a "beuno" and it is all smiles and very rewarding for them and us. Every once in a while you have to remind the kids to not stab each other with their pencils but other than that they are fairly well behaved...so far.

As it was for me way back when I was in elementary, recess is still the best part of the day. One of the teachers rings the triangle bell and the kids go rushing out of the classroom into the playground area and start the most chaotic and exciting recess I have ever been a part of. There are dog piles, kids flying through the air, royal rumbles and chicken fights. Everything I wasn't allowed to do when I had recess back when I was in elementary, I am allowed to do here and the kids love it. And most of the kids are super small so I can really launch them into the air. They line up and yell "Profe Troy, Profe Troy, Ariba, Ariba" (by the way, Ariba Ariba in spanish means: above! above! which begs the question why in the hell was speedy gonzales yelling above! above! but that is what it means.)

All the kids are in love with the fact that Nic and I are married and they always want us to hug in front of them. Obviously the girls love Nicole and won't let go of her hand the entire recess break. Some of the girls will even draw pictures on the blackboard of Nic and I holding hands with a big heart around us, like I said they adore her. A couple of the girls in the class I teach, wrote out a song they always sing and gave it to Nic so she can sing along with them.

Hanging out with these kids you would never know that they all live in poverty and many of them have to work in order to help provide for their family's well being. According to our "standard of living", these kids have nothing but seeing their smiles and feeling their affection, you'd never know it.

Nic and I are here to "teach" these kids yet in the few short days we've been around them we are already finding that it is the kids who are teaching us. Adios.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

First day jitters

Today we taught our first day of school at Itzapa. There is an afternoon and a morning class and I taught the little tikes during both sessions. Their level is somewhere between kindergarten and grade one and the ages of the kids vary, as do their abilities. Some can write their names while for others success was in holding their pencil. This makes for challenging lessons and short attention spans. I was lucky enough to shadow two current volunteers who are quite fluent in Spanish however today we learned vowels, colored, and practiced writing letters and names, so I was able to keep up (almost)….

Troy taught a class at about the grade 4 level in the morning and grade 3 in the afternoon. He also shadowed some current volunteers to get his feet wet. In the morning he got to teach about hormones and was delighted to draw the reproductive organs on the chalkboard…. what are the chances?! In the afternoon, the students were convinced that he was John Cena (a WWF wrestler for those not in the know). An all around successful day if you ask Troy!

Break time was our favorite as, when we were not peeling oranges for the kids, we were being climbed on, being pulled around, throwing kids in the air, being hugged, and listening to the giggles that followed the revelation that Troy and I were married (which naturally lead to pictures of hearts with our names in it on the chalk boards...). Adorable.

Some of the kids were learning about time and clocks and we learned that some of them had been up since 4am working in the fields before school. Tomorrow I will embrace the morning and be grateful for ‘sleeping in’ until 6:30.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ola! Bikes, hikes, and red hot lava...

This past week, we had spanish lessons for six hours every day. As you can see from the picture, Troy was a very eager student... The spanish school consisted of small desks pulled out into a courtyard and a student and teacher at each desk. Yes, one on one spanish lessons for six hours. There was a lot of smiling and nodding but we actually surprised ourselves by how much we had learned. Enough to buy our pineapple!

The last two afternoons Troy convinced our teachers to take us to the market on one day and on a hike up a hill that overlooks Antigua on the second afternoon, on the premise of learning spanish ofcourse. We pointed at stuff, they told us what it was, and we repeated.

This weekend was action packed. On Saturday morning, we took out some mountain bikes and explored the nearby mountains and villages. It was great to get out of the City and to get a taste of what Guatemala is truly like. We chatted with some local bean farmers and kids no older than 6 working in fields and hauling loads of corn and beans on their backs. It was beautiful and sobering all at the same time.

Saturday afternoon, a group of us climbed Pacaya Volcana. That´s right, a volcano. This place is crawling with them. Pacaya happens to be one that is actually active. Notice the ´liquid hot magma´in the top right of the picture below. It was hard and made more difficult because we did it in the dark to take in the sunset. We couldn´t complain though because our quide was 73 and does it twice a day! We were actually close enough to poke at the lava with our hiking sticks, which immediately caught fire. It was both exhilirating and freaky but you haven´t tasted a marshmallow until you´ve tasted one roasted over hot lava! Too bad we forgot the graham wafers and chocolate....

We are looking forward to getting out to Itzapa tomorrow to start teaching. The adventure will really begin tomorrow....


Monday, January 5, 2009

Who, What, and Where

We have had quite a bit of downtime and internet access since arriving in Antigua so we are taking advantage of it with all these blog posts as I’m not sure we will be so lucky everywhere we go.

Yesterday was the first day that I actually carried around my pack on my back, fully loaded, for any length of time. We walked around town in search of the hotel we would be staying at to meet our fellow volunteers. My hip bones have the bruises today to prove it and it turns out walking on cobblestones in sandals for three days straight is a great calf workout. Troy’s pack must be lighter than mine as he saw no urgency in getting to our destination and instead insisted that I take his picture with people with guns.

Today we met the rest of the volunteers that are beginning their volunteer stint this week. They have all committed between 4 weeks and 6 months with Global Vision International (GVI). We met the coordinators here who are super friendly and passionate about the project so it was great to feed off some of their energy and learn more about what we will be doing, who we will be helping. All of the volunteers have varying levels of Spanish so some will be heading directly to the community in which we will be volunteering while others (including ourselves) will be taking Spanish lessons for a week first.

We will be teaching in the indigenous mayan community of San Andres Itzapa. The aim of the project is to initiate and sustain first-time and continuous education for indigenous families living in extreme poverty. The Indigenous Maya in Guatemala make up a huge percentage of the population and appear to be largely ignored by the government. GVI pays for the children to attend national school and gives them further learning in the GVI sponsored schools, providing them with a greater chance of success. Spanish is also not the first language of the Mayan people, however it is vital for the children to learn. As I understand it, we may be at the same level spanish language-wise (after some lessons of course) as the kids we are teaching! There will be several volunteer teachers in each class, which should help. We have been faithfully reviewing our list of Spanish words/phrases which essentially include such useful things as “Stop stabbing your friend with the pencil” and “Please tell me where to get off the bus”….
I will be teaching the ‘Zunil’ class (5-8 year old kids) who are currently learning vowels, colors, numbers, and art. Troy, on the other hand, will be teaching the ‘Tacana’ class (10-14 year olds) who are currently learning math, reading comprehension and geography! Troy is a bit nervous as he has equated his task with teaching rocket science in a foreign language. Should be interesting….

Our language classes begin tomorrow and we have signed up for the ‘Very basic’ class which is a step down from the ‘basic’ class. I think my French will help me out considerably but I couldn’t convince Troy to make the leap up to ‘basic‘. Guess he thinks it will be important to learn colors and numbers and stuff. He is probably right….though our current method of guessing and deductive reasoning allowed us to order lunch today and even buy a strawberry cheesecake (Quessa y fraises) ice cream cone :) .

Friday, January 2, 2009

"Not a Square to Spare"

So, this is my first time writing on this here blog and depending on the response, it may be my last. Antigua is a great place, the people are so friendly, the city is beautiful and the hostel we are staying at is super nice. A couple of things I have noticed that Nicole probably won´t write about. First and foremost, you have to throw your used toilet paper in the garbage beside you in the bathroom. For anyone who knows me at all, this has been a problem. Second thing I have noticed is that when you use the washroom in town you have to pay for your toilet paper and you are only given about 2 squares, so you really don´t have a "square to spare". It is the equivalent to about 30 cents for 2 squares of toilet paper, so I will probably spend about 5 bucks the first time I use a public washroom. Can you see the theme of things I have noticed. So far we have shopped at the local market and I am sure we got ripped off, you can almost here the local merchants laughing out loud when they see the big dumb sucker walking towards them, but whatever, a man´s got to eat. Incredibly enough there is a local bar that will be showing all the playoff games for the NFL and I am convincing myself that if I watch the football games that will make my transition to life abroad a little easier. I am sure Nic doesn´t share the same feelings about said football games. So I think I have covered everything true to my heart to this point, the can, food and sports. And finally to all coffee lovers who may be reading this, today I had my first coffee and to say that my taste buds danced the dance of joy would be an understatment. Totally worth the trip just for that first cup of joe.
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Thursday, January 1, 2009


We arrived in Guatemala City just after 7pm last night. Finding a ride to Antigua after dark and getting into a car with a stranger and trusting them to drive us off into the unknown (I know I sound like my mother) was something I had been nervous about but we managed to recognize the word ‘shuttle’ on a sign being held by a man who was eager to take us to Antigua for ten bucks. This seemed reasonable considering we had been warned that a taxi ride for this same distance could be as much as fifty dollars on new years eve, so we were on our way.
Now, keep in mind that I had booked a hostel in Antigua, online and at the last minute, for one of the busiest nights of the year (new years eve) and didn’t really know what to expect. Quite honestly I haven’t ever even been to a hostel before…anywhere. So when the shuttle pulled off the beaten path, down what appeared to be a dimly lit back alley lined with what appeared to be a concrete wall on either side, pulled over and announced “We‘re here”, I was a tad bit apprehensive.
However, on the other side of the wall (which was really more of a compound) there were actually lights, and music, and a friendly man named Stuardo who had just opened this hostel six months ago (guess that’s why I hadn’t been able to find any reviews on it) who had been expecting us as we would be filling his last room for the evening. Troy and I didn’t really know what to think when we opened the door to our room (affectionately referred to by us as our jail cell) but it had two beds and pillows and after traveling for 24 hours, we were really just ready to sleep. We did manage to stay up long enough to meet some people and go with the group to the central park area where a giant crowd had congregated to celebrate the new year. New years is a huge party here with crowds of people descending on Antigua from Guatemala City and beyond. Troy and I packed it in shortly after midnight but the rest of the town partied like it was 1999 until, well, I think some people are still celebrating! Seriously, it is 5:30pm on new years day and there is still the odd firecracker going off in the streets.

This morning, after a much needed sleep-in, we were excited to check everything out in the daylight. The place we are staying is actually quite cute with a yard and lounge and free internet (Mom, turn on your computer, I have been trying to call you!). We headed out on the town which is old colonial style with cobblestone streets and plenty of character. We are quite proud of ourselves for going ’grocery’ shopping at the local street market (where we had no idea how much money the nice lady was asking for so we just pulled out some money and let her take what she needed out of my hand), for not getting run over by anything from a horse drawn buggy to an FJ cruiser (we had to save each other more than once as we forget that pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way), and I am most proud of Troy for going until 3pm without eating (we had to check out all our options before committing to a location. We ended up spending 6 bucks to eat and though this would be an unreal deal at home, it is funny that here, we felt somehow that we could have done better).

We will be based here in Antigua and will be teaching in a rural village during the week. Antigua is very tourist oriented so will be easy to take weekend adventures from here. We will be staying in this hostel until Saturday when we will meet the other volunteers at a hotel for one night and then meet our homestay family on Sunday and begin Spanish lessons on Monday.

Happy New Year!

Roller Coaster

Wow. In a word, overwhelmed. Over the past couple of weeks we have been riding the highs and lows that have come with the excitement and anticipation of our trip and saying goodbye to our family and friends at the same time. Turns out with all the preparing, and shopping, and stressing, the actual reality of being away from the familiarities of home for a year was the last thing to digest. I guess it was during all the fun of the Christmas holidays that I realized it would be a while before I could share that kind of face to face laughter, fun, hugs, and smiles again with all of our favorite people. And so the emotional roller coaster began….
It is the realization that a year is so long! And the world that is ‘home’ won’t stop because we are not there. However, it is also the realization that a year is so short! Before we know it, I’m sure we will be wondering where the year has gone.

That said, we are currently on a ‘high’ as I am writing this entry from somewhere in the air between Costa Rica and Guatemala in first class! Yep, Troy asked for a seat with lots of leg room, the guy smiled from behind the desk and said something in spanish and much to our surprise when we boarded, we had been upgraded to first class without even knowing it. So we are currently enjoying plenty of leg room, our second glass of strawberry-banana fruit juice and I just cleaned up with a warm wash cloth before enjoying my roast beef dinner followed by cheesecake :).