Saturday, May 31, 2008

Parent's Weekend

So for any of you out there who went to college and had your parents visit you for the infamous "Parent's Weekend", you'll know what I'm talking about. Or for any of you out there who have ever been a parent at a Parent's Weekend, I'm sure you will also understand this entry. Last weekend, my parents came to Antigua for 4 days and even though Primera Aveinida is a long was from State Street in Madison, so much of it felt familiar!

At first when my parents arrived, it was literally like, "What are you DOING here?!?" Seeing my parents walking under the arch towards me was so strange. But it didn't take long for me to remember the rules and regulations of Parent's Weekend.

First, be a good tour guide. Second, take advantage of their hotel room and get a break from the "dorm." And lastly, do every possible touristy thing on the list that somehow you would never do on your own! I defintely abided by all of the rules and the three of us had an amazing time in Antigua...and our share of hilarious moments too!

So my parents arrived on Thursday and I met them after school. Again, seeing them here in Antigua was completely bizarre and I probably spent the first 2 hours they were here just repeating the phrase "I seriously cannot believe you guys are here right now!" But I got over the shock and went to their hotel. Now it was not in my plan to stay with them but once I saw the hotel, there was no way I was staying in my one room, stark white "dorm room" while they were in this adorable, Guatemalan "posada." We were given the keys to our rooms which resembled a dungeon door key from the 1600s and was easily as long as a magic marker (Mom and dad--how did we not take a picture of our keys??)

Anyway, we went to a traditional Guatemalan restaurant. I forgot to mention the fourth and perhaps most important rule of Parent's Weekend which is to have your parents take you to as many fun dinners as possible. Then we were off to bed...we had a big day ahead of us!

Friday morning, bright and early, it was off to the project. As soon as we arrived, my parents and I were swarmed with hugs and surrounded by smiles. It was so fun to see my parents experience the project for the first time. Within seconds, my dad took over the role of resident photographer and videographer and my mom and I started playing with the kids.
Fridays are sports day at the school so all the kids get in a line and we walk down to a field where the kids play football (I can't believe I just naturally called soccer, football...clearly been hanging around these brits too long) and some of the girls play Cats Cradle and other "girly" games. Again, it was so fun to see the kids just embrace my parents with no questions asked and it was so great to have them see just how easy it is to fall in love with all of them in a matter of moments!

After a fun and tiring morning of sports, we visited another project in Antigua called Common Hope. Now I just reread what I have written so far and as interesting as it is, I realized that I seriously need to speed these explanations along or I am never going to get through the weekend under my allotted 8MB/entry. So the rest of the day went something like this: Common Hope, weirdest Chow Mein ever for lunch at the project, freaking amazing frozen yogurt, much needed nap, and an incredible dinner with some friends from Mpls (I'd go into it but again...we have 3 more days to get through here people...but long story short, they are wonderful!)

So Saturday is when we officially strapped our cameras around our necks, slathered on the sunscreen, opened our over sized maps and became the tourists the Fitermans are famous for being. We kicked off the day with perhaps the world's best yogurt, granola and fruit of all time (you will just have to trust me there...) and we went to church like good Jews do. Roamed around a few more ruins and then came to a big ruin with a name I can never remember (Las Carchenetas? Las Calcitines? Las Cucarachas?? I don't know...)

Anyway, we were greeted with a guide but quickly rejected him because we pretty much weren't in it for the ruins but rather for the innapropriate ruins pictures...see below:
After the ruins, it was off to my mother's version of heaven: The Flea Market. Now this market is no joke. It is pretty much where the inspiration for Super Target was invented. At this market, you can buy fruit, DVDs, clothing, super glue, french fries, art, scarves...and of course, rubber duckies (there was one guy who sold nothing but rubber duckies).

We managed to do our part helping out the Guatemalan economy and bought a few things we will never use or want and after several hours of touring and shopping, we all needed a rest. This is when we stumbled upon the most unbelievable, incredible and relaxing haven in all of Antigua: McDonald's.

Ok folks...this is not your average Mickie D's. I know this doesn't seem like a part of the day that would require an entire paragraph but let me tell you, this place is absolutely incredible and these pictures do not begin to show what it was like! Every step you take, a person is following you with a mop. There is an internet cafe, a McDonald's playland, a McCafe (gormet pastries and coffee), a courtyard with a fountain...the list goes on. They even bring dessert to your table...on a dessert tray to show you your options! It's ridiculous...

After McDonald's, we had some spring back in our step and believe it or not, we were dragged back to the market by my mom to make sure we didn't miss a single yarn doll with a basket on her head.

That night, we went to dinner with all of the volunteers in Guatemala and it was so fun to have everyone meet my parents and for them to meet all of these people who have had to put up with me for the past 6 weeks! Dinner was great complete with many weird table visitors including a kid selling apples and two blue mimes selling cigarettes.

Sunday started with an amazing trip up to the top of a hill to get some incredible views of Antigua...
And then of course as the good Jews we are, Sunday mass. After that, a Jade Factory and a few more stops and then lunch with my parents and my host family. It was so weird to be the official translator. I had a strange sense of power knowing that I could tell the other anything I wanted and they would totally believe me...

It was so fun to have my "two families" meet! After lunch, it was off to a little last minute shopping, a little napping, and then to a movie. I don't think I've mentioned this before but the movie theaters here are completely free. Yep. That's right...free. And free popcorn too...you just need to buy at least one thing to drink. This was something my parents had to see.

Monday morning, it was back to the project. It was nice to show my parents that I actually do teach these kids and don't just make friendship bracelets with them! We made mammal puppets to round out my animal unit and it was so wonderful to see the kids' imaginations in full gear.

Monday night involved fighting with the airlines for about 2 hours on the phone and then off to the most amazing dinner yet in Antigua. We went to Casa Santa Domingo which is considered the nicest hotel in Central America and is built into a ruin. None of this stopped my mom from asking if they served White Zinfendel or stopped us from sneaking past the security guard to get into the museum for free.

That's why it was so great...even in Guatemala, my parents are still my parents. From McDonald's and bargain shopping to ruin photos and cheap wine, it was so great to show them Antigua for the first time...and in so many ways, for me to see it for the first time all over again.

xoxo, Debra

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mi casa...

Well, since I didn’t get too many requests for blog topics, I’ve decided to write about the one topic that I did get asked about...my house! I can’t believe I’ve been writing this blog for almost 6 weeks and living at 45 Candalaria for more than a month and I haven’t really written very much about it. Well, here goes...

Ok, so before I go any further, I should tell all of you that I officially live in the best house in Antigua. No, it’s not a mansion and yes, it’s possible that I have had bed bugs. But I still, hands down have won the house lottery.

I live in a neighborhood on the same street as all the other volunteers in the program and I have another volunteer in my house (which seriously helps with the awkward silences at the dinner table!) I pretty much sleep and eat breakfast and dinner at my house...and that’s about it!

First of all, the house itself. It is so charming. I think I mentioned this in one of my first blogs but for some reason, my house mom has some sort of strange fixation on sunflowers. Now again, I know I’ve been known to exaggerate from time to time but I am telling you, this woman is seriously into her fake sunflowers. No way words can do this justice...and I obviously couldn’t fit all of the flowers into one picture so here are just a few pictures of The Sunflower House...

I know it is hard to believe this but apparently, this is NOTHING! I’ve been told by some staff members that up until not that long ago, people actually had to move bouquets of these silk blooms off the couch before sitting down. I have three sunflower plants in my room alone and four more in the bathroom.

Ok, so now that you have somewhat of a picture of the house, it’s time to meet the family. First off is my house mom Christina. She is fabulous...seriously one of the nicest people I have ever met and the lady can cook! Again, it’s no Manny’s but after hearing horror stories of black bean puree meal after meal in some other households, I am thrilled to be in a house where french toast and mashed potatoes are regulars on the menu.

Christina is awesome at speaking Spanish in a way that I can always understand and when that fails, her acting skills kick in. Every breakfast, our table transforms from kitchen table to theater stage when both of us try desperately to do charades to understand each other. It is unbelievable where these conversations lead sometimes! I mean, we haven’t gotten into barbaric Jewish rituals yet, but we’ve gotten close!

Christina’s daughter lives in the house too...Arellise (no idea how to spell that...) So after hanging out with this girl for about 1.5 months, I finally know her name. It was one of those really awkward situations. You know the type...like when you ask a person their name, completely forget it, and them proceed to have a long, deep conversation and at that point, you can’t exactly say, “Thanks for sharing your views on religion and politics...now what was your name again?”

Anyway, Arellise is awesome...and she was even before I knew her name!

The last (human) member of the family is Christina’s father. Now my first few weeks in the house, I kind of felt like this guy was some sort of ghost of the house. I always heard about him and every now and then, I’d see a grey-haired man roaming the hallways. But I never actually met him! All that has changed now...Adrian and are are “tight”. Actually tonight, I ran into him in the hallway with only my towel on so I’d say we’ve crossed over to a new level.

Almost every night I see Adrian sitting on the front step of our hose smoking a “cigarette”...that somehow smells much more like Madison, Wisconsin after Weed-fest than a good-old Malboro if you know what I mean...

Add to Christina, Arellise and Adrian an Australian Shepard dog named Lucky, Lolita the parrot, Chicky the turtle and two pigeons, and that just about rounds out the Juarez-Rivera family.

So...that’s my house and my family. When I arrived in Antigua 6 insanely short weeks ago, I left behind a family in Minnesota. But I could never have imagined that I would have found an amazing family right here in Antigua...and I can only hope there will be another one waiting for me in Honduras in only 10 short days!



xoxo,
Debra

P.S. I posted pictures and video of "my kids" on the last blog so scroll down to check 'em out!

Friday, May 23, 2008

More Kids...

Ok y'all...how has it been almost a week since I last blogged?? I hope I haven't lost too many "fans"...but it has been a crazy week and yesterday, my parents got here to Antigua for the weekend to visit!

But I think I wore them out enough today and put them in the hotel so I could sneak away to blog for a few minutes...

As promised, I am going to write more about some of my kids in this one. Since the last time I wrote about them, I have fallen even more in love with each and every one of them and I literally cannot even think about the fact that I only have two more weeks here with them. It is really hard to describe how wonderful they all are and each of them deserves so much more than a short paragraph but since all of you have lives outside of this blog, I guess I'll have to stick to one paragraph or so each. Because my parents are here, I haven't had a chance to upload my pictures so for now, you will just have to imagine what these ones look like. But I will go back and post a picture of each of them soon so check back!

Ok, introducing five more of the most incredible kids I have ever met...

Meet Mariana (in the blue):
Mariana is just plain wonderful. She smiles almost constantly and has two of the cutest dimples just on the corners of her mouth. She is a little quiet in terms of talking in class but she is never, ever, ever shy with her hugging. This girl gives the most heartfelt hugs I have ever gotten from any one of the kids. She buries her head in the side of my neck and I just wrap myself around her...she is tiny.

But Mariana has a sad tale and I know you ladies out there reading will understand. So at one point or another in all 10-year-old girls lives, we are part of the very volitile "threesome." You all know what I'm talking about...three girls that hang out all the time but one is just always, always, always on the outs. Well, that is Mariana. Two other girls in my class and her are the trio but Mariana is just on the outskirts. It is so sad to see her trail after those two and imitate their every move. Maybe that is why she is one of my favorites...I was absolutely her at that age.

Effie (Gloria Estenfanie)
This girl is every teacher's nightmare and dream all rolled up into one. Some of you loyal bloggers may remember Sandra from my last entry--the kid who I said put the A in Attitude. Well, I'm sorry Sandra but Effie has stolen your crown. This chick has got spunk...serious, serious spunk.

For the first week of class, instead of calling me Seno Debra, she called me Seno Culebra...it wasn't until this week when we were learning about reptiles that I learned that it meant Miss Snake. Nice Effie...

But despite the fact that she really never listens and she takes about 45 minutes to copy down 3 sentences from the board because she is so busy distracting others, she is absolutely hands down one of my very favortites. And I honestly have no idea why! But there is something about a little girl wearing a hot pink blouse, a messy ponytail and a sneaky smile that I just cannot resist.

Lidia:

Lidia is Effie's polar opposite. She is the sweetest, most perfect, angelic 9-year-old in my class. She comes to class ready to learn and wanting to do anything and everything just perfect. She will do anything I asked and would never ever cause a single problem. She does all her work and genuinely loves doing it. After class is over, she diligintely sweeps up under the tables and stacks the other kids chairs. She offers to carry my backpack up the alley and gives me hugs whenever I am just sitting there.

I think they used to call these girls sucks-ups when I was in school but let me tell you that as a teacher, you have a completely different perspective on these ones. She has never once said something "wasn't fair" even when it really was. I guess Lidia is just one of those good ones...

Marvin:
Marvin is seriously all business. First off, he is gorgous. I don't mean like cute like a 10-year-old. I mean like actually hot (insert inappropriate teacher-student joke here) So Handsome Marvin sits right up in the front row and whatever the project, the math problem, the art craft or the reading, he gets in, gets out, does it perfectly and is focussed on that finish line.

Now you'd think that most kids would want to get done early so they could screw around or doodle in their notebooks. Nope. Not Marvin. He finishes and all he wants is a book. Just a book. None of these kids have any books in their homes so to have time to read what they want is treasured. But to think how hard he works just to have 7 extra minutes to read is enough to make me want to send him an entire library of books when I get home.

Carlito (check out the video of him doing math like his life depends on it)
video
Carlito's actual name is Carlos but he is so, so, so tiny that everyone calls him Carlito or even just Lito (Little Carlos). Carlito has actually stolen my heart. He is hands down my most eager student. I have never seen a kid copy sentences about reptiles with more excitement and enthusiasm. And after he finishes every single math problem, he runs at full speed to my side to show me his work.

But even with all his enthusiasm, adorable name and tiny body, my favorite part of him are his huge brown eyes. I have tried to take so many pictures of them but I'm telling you that they look completely different in person. I don't know what it is and I've never seen anything like it but it is like you actually have to meet Carlito to have a chance to look into those chocolate brown eyes and fall madly in love like I have.


Again, after re-reading what I just wrote, I just feel like I haven't done any of these kids any justice but at the very least, you can start to understand why I have absolutely no idea how I went 27 years
without these kids....or how I will ever leave them...

xoxo,
Debra


P.S...ok..so to encourage the comments, let me know if there is anything that you guys want to hear more about! I'm happy to take blog topic requests!!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another weekend...another adventure!

Ok everybody...I want you to rewind about 6 months ago to November. I was looking for a program to participate in and I stumbled across this GVI program from Google. Now you would think that when I looked at the program, there would be a few things that might scare me away. The fact that it is 6 months away from my entire family, the fact that I really hadn´t spoken Spanish in 8 years, the fact that I would be living with complete strangers and the fact that I had never taught before...let alone taught kids that don´t speak my language.

But nope...none of those things scared me. What was the one thing that almost scared me out of this program? The trip to Lake Atitlan that I took this past weekend...

Why was I so scared you ask? Ok folks, there are many things I am good at...but biking down a mountain just ain´t one of them. Dad--I´m sorry if you are reading this because I know I´m completely embarrassing you right now...but I just am not good on two wheels.

But off I went on Saturday morning to Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan is a huge freshwater lake smackdab in the middle of Guatemala. So me and 5 other volunteers on my program piled into yet another silver van and put our lives in the hands of our trusty guide, Juan.
So after what should have been a 2 hour ride turned 3.5 hours, we arrived at the so-called top. Juan unloaded the bikes and I got on just to try it out. Well, within 1.5 minutes, my pant leg had gotten caught in the spokes and a massive semi-truck zoomed by.

A note to my mom--I know you have been wondering if I was really your daughter after all this adventure. Well, I assure you that my Fiterman-Stillman genes came out in full force at that moment and those two minutes were the only two minutes I spent on that bike. I walked my bike back to Juan, hoisted it back on the truck and loaded my tush back in the car with one other "wise" volunteer and rode my way down in the safety of the shuttle. (perhaps a new version of the term "Chicken Bus"??)

After witnessing the rest of the group zoom down the steep hills and U-turned road, I realized quickly that I had definitely made a wise decision. Not to mention the fact that about half way down, they were literally biking in a cloud...so take a girl who doesn´t bike, a steep hill, u-turns, fog and one blind eye and I really do think it was a wise choice to opt out of that one.

Anyway, after the 2.5 hour bike ride (ok...car ride) it was onto a boat. This boat was pretty much a tin can that doubled as a boat but I climbed in. We crossed Lake Atitlan and went onto pretty much our very own little island! Our hotel was on it´s own little piece of cliff on the side of Lake Atitlan and was really amazing!

Now before we left for the trip, some other volunteers who had been to this place just kept saying how amazing it was. Don´t get me wrong, the hotel was very cool...I mean I don´t often stay nestled into the side of a cliff. But somehow when someone says the hotel is amazing, visions of hot showers, plush duvets and cable television come to mind...let´s just say, not exactly.

So the hotel was a little short on space so two of us girls had to share the "Matromonial Suite." Sweet deal I thought! Ok...so Alison and I walk into our matromonial suite...let´s just say it was no Hilton. The two of us shared a single+ bed (by the way, Alison is taller than I am) with about 8 inches of space on two sides of the bed and that was it in the room. No TV, no duvet...no BATHROOM! Nope...we had to trek up the cliff about 2 flights of stone stairs to get to the "loo" as Alison called it. For you visualists out there...here are a couple pictures:

After the two of us collapsed on the bed an laughed for about 20 minutes, it was off to dinner. Dinner was really good and as soon as that had settled, the 6 of us went off to a night in the hot tub. Now this hot tub was heated the very old fashioned way with a pot of burning coal smack in the middle of it and no bubbles. So basically, I was taking a bath with 5 virtual strangers and a guy named Juan...

Needless to say, one of the weirder moments of the trip but definitely a blast. After about 3 hours in the hot tub filled with my made up ice-breaker games, it was off to my matromonial suite for the night.

So I didn´t mention this before, but the first day was great but to say it was foggy was perhaps the understatement of the blog. So we all had high hopes that we would actually at least see the lake on day two...well, let´s just say that the only time I still have ever seen Lake Atitlan is from Google images. Alison and I woke up, pulled our curtains and saw a mass of white.
Well, we weren´t going to let some fog stop us. We were going to enjoy this lake! So after breakfast, we descended to the water and wnet kayaking...it was awesome! All my Herzl Camp canoe trip training paid off and we kayaked all around Lake Atitlan.

After the kayaking, it was time for a good swim...jumping off the dock into the cold water had never felt more amazing. It may have been foggy but that didn´t stop me from experiencing the lake as much as I could. I don´t know what it is about swimming in a lake that is so great but it really is just the best.

Anyway, after the swim came a shower (about 3 stories further up the cliff, freezing cold and complete with it´s very own wasp) and then off to hike our way back into town. Now the hike was no picnic but it was fabulous. Up and up and up we went and saw what probably would have been stunning views of the lake! But we did get some idea from up there in the clouds...and I´m not sure I would have had it any other way.

Well, before I lose all of you...the rest went something like this...

Back in the tin-can boat, lunch, 3 hour shuttle and back "home" to Antigua. And what better way to end an amazing weekend exploring Guatemala´s most incredible scenary than with some good old-fashioned American cuisine...

Gotta love Dominos...

Love and miss you all!

xoxo, Debra

P.S...after many requests, my next entry will be more about my incredible, amazing, unbelievable kids...check back in a couple days...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reasons to celebrate...

Well, apparently all you guys needed was a little threatening and the comments just start rolling in! I love, love, love it. You would think that my main motivation behind writing these would be so I would have a record of what is probably going to be the most exciting, life-changing, whirlwind of a six-months of my life...but nope. I am seriously more motivated by getting fun comments from all of you!

Ok, so today’s blog is actually a little “out-of-date” but there has just been so many things to write about that I haven’t had a chance to write about a few things that have happened over the last two weeks!

So I wanted to tell you about two “celebration days” at the school I teach: April Birthdays and Mother’s Day.

First, April Birthdays. So for all of you out there reading this who have known me longer than 6 months and 16 days, you know that I am completely obsessed with birthdays. Mine. Yours. Pretty much any reason to light candles, put them in a cake and sing gets me pretty excited. (For those of you wondering why 6 months and 16 days, that is how long it has been since my last birthday...which means you have less than 6 months to prepare for my next one)

So given that I am the self-proclaimed birthday queen, I was more than excited when I found out that once a month, we do not have regular classes at Santa Maria but instead, celebrate all the kids’ birthdays who had one in that month.

Don’t get me wrong...at first, I couldn’t believe that we didn’t celebrate each birthday individually. But for these kids, the communal birthday celebrating is most likely the only one they have. In fact, most of them do not even know the date of their birthdays. So needless to day, this is a very special day for those kids.

Like so many things in Santa Maria, things often seem a bit upside down. Stray dogs wandering the classrooms, volunteers teaching kids in neither their, nor the kids first language, the kids actually looking forward to going to school...the list goes on. But also like so many things up here, I’ve realized that as different as things are, they are exactly the same.
The birthday celebrating was complete with presents, donuts and florescent yellow punch. There were piƱatas and singing. We danced the Macarena (yes...that song actually still exists...) and other ridiculous line dances that go on way too long. The kids even lined up so that all of the birthday kids get a hug from all of the other kids. And of course, when a boy-girl pair turned up, the entire crowd starts chanting, “Beso, beso, beso!” (Kiss him, kiss him!)...here's a video:

video

Overall, these kids may not have been woken up with breakfast in bed. They may not have had a cake with their names on it. But for the 14 April birthday girls and 5 April birthday boys, it is just another reason why they are so happy to have a place like Santa Maria to go...and why I am so happy to help them celebrate.


Ok...so onto Mother’s Day. As many of you know, after I returned from my first trip to Africa, I was completely inspired by the women in the community. This celebration of the women in Santa Maria only inspired me further. Each woman is so amazing...many with several children and endless work...but always ready with curious eyes and heartfelt hug.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we dedicated an entire day of school to them where the kids stayed home and we had programming directed solely at the moms. At first, when we started planning this program, I wasn’t so sure. We had all your typical kids games planned and I just wasn’t sure how it would go over with the moms. Somehow I couldn’t imagine the Tanglen Elementary School PTA moms playing “Who can drink a coke the fastest?” Or “who can pop a balloon between their stomachs and a male teacher’s stomach?”

But I’m a pretty long way from Hopkins, Minnesota and here, the moms seemed to love it! We played tons of games...including a mango eating contest, volunteer trivia, a dance off and even the pass the orange between your necks game. Here is a video of the mango eating contest...these women can seriously throw down...it was AMAZING!

video

While these games at home would usually be rewarded with an iPod Shuffle or a Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card, these moms were given a bag of rice or pasta for their families. It really was incredible.

Even since I arrived at Santa Maria on the first day, I felt an overwhelming sense of being so welcome. And being invited to share in the celebrations of the community has only made me feel more a part of it all.

Even with all the struggles of the area, I have never seen one person look ashamed, refrain from a reason to celebrate or even hold back a broad smile...and the best ones are smiles covered in chocolate donuts.

xoxo,
Debra

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ruins...shmuins...

Well, to all you loyal blog readers out there, sorry it's been a few days since I've updated...but I'm starting to feel like my fan base is dwindling (or at least the comments are...hint, hint!). Anyway, I had quite the weekend and hope this entry does at least a bit of justice to the experience.

So this weekend I took a trip to Tikal. Tikal is in the northeast part of Guatemala and would take somewhere between 10 and 16 hours to drive there. Well, considering I only have Saturday and Sunday off, I opted for the plane ride. I couldn't convince any other volunteers to join me so I was on this mission solo (I swear, I really have made friends...and they at least do a good job of pretending to like me...)

The adventure started at 4:00 am Saturday. I was picked up in a shuttle from my house and carted to the teeny-tiny airport for domestic flights. Now I know you all realize what a shy person I am so you might be surprised to find out that I found a friend right away. Her name was Karen and she was my travel partner in crime the rest of the weekend (and it's possible she is reading this blog right now...if you are, Hi Karen!) Here is a picture of her:


Ok, so we boarded a tiny plane (a la Kenya style) and off we went to Tikal. After a 45 minute flight when I thought I my eardrums might actually explode all over my new friends, we landed. Let's just say, when I walked out of that airplane, I discovered a new definition of the term humidity. Again, somehow managed to fail to read the fine print of "JUNGLE" and was immediately drenched from head to toe (you know it's hot when your forearms are sweating profusely...)

We got our stuff and headed to our hotel...a "modest" 2-star joint called the "Jungle Lodge"...whatever youa re picturing is probably actually pretty darn close to what it was...except that we had no electricity for 22 of 24 hours a day. But I was in Tikal and I was going to enjoy these ruins...even if I melted.

So I slathered on the suntan lotion SPF 70 and 35% deet bug spray and we were off for a 4-hour hike of the ruins. Tikal is considered one of the world's biggest ruins sites and when they discovered it, they found more than 3,000 buildings and assume that 90,000 Mayans lived there making it one of the world's biggest cities at the time.

It's hard to describe what the ruins were like...first of all, they were huge. Essentially huge steps of stone leading to pretty much no where and having no space inside. The huge majority of the ruins were temples to honor dead guys...

So imagine this...several thousand Mayans, who are all about 4 foot 8 inches, lugging rocks for 30+ years to build a temple-y thing to remember some guy that probably most of the people never even met...oh and by the way, they couldn't use wheels (religious thing...) Pretty amazing.


So after 4 hours of dragging my very sweaty tush around these ruins, I started to understand why the Mayans may have left the place behind...but it was off to lunch.

We got into the no-electricity dining area at my 2-star resort and what do they serve? Soup. Yep, steaming soup. It was hilarious. So Karen and I had been paired up with another American couple from Colorado for our tour. Very nice couple but there was one pretty major problem...

Ok, so it's 95+ degrees, 100%+ humidity and I just walked for 4 hours and am eating soup. Not much was sounding better at that point than a dip in the pool at the hotel. This is where the problem comes in. So the guy in the other couple just happened to be a pool and restaurant inspector in the states. And when I mentioned that I could hardly wait to get myself into that pool, he gave me a look of disgust.

"Yeah, we are NOT swimming in that pool...it had a subtle smell of sewage and I just don't think the levels are 'up to par'?"

Are you freaking kidding me??? I'm covered in sweat and now I shouldn't swim in the pool? So for the next 4 hours, I tried to find a shady place near the pool and dipped my feet in now and then...not really what I had in mind but it was a good afternoon.

We all went to dinner that night (after I gave the guy explicit instructions NOT to tell me anything about the restaurant) and then hit the hay early...because we had another early start in the morning.

We woke up at 4:00 am to trek back into the ruins, climb the tallest temple and watch the sunrise over the Mayan ruins.

So I've been sitting here for about 5 minutes stuck at this point in the story because I simply cannot figure out a way to describe it. I took about 30 pictures and not one of them show what it was like. Will you all just get down here so you can see these things for yourself already???

After the sunrise, we did another 3 or so hours through the ruins. Now, don't get me wrong, they were amazing. But lets just say I won't be going back to archeology school anytime soon. I guess I'm just one of those people who needs about 15 minutes to see the Smithsonian and 5 to get through the Louvre. So after 7 hours of looking at piles of rocks, I guess you could say I had my fill of ruins for a while.

On a whim, I decided, what better time to do some ziplining? So Karen and I were off to zip our way over the canopy of the trees with the monkeys. Again, very tough to describe but I have a video!! Yes ladies and gentleman of the blog, I am posting my first video...

video

So after the ziplining, i twas back to the hotel where I took my life in my own hands and went swimming...even if I contract some fatal illness, it was completely worth it.

After a very short and busy 36 hours, it was back to the airport and heading back to Antigua.

When we got back, I again realized just how much I have fallen in love with this city. And I can hardly believe I have less than one month left here. I'm not sure if it was just the drop in humidity or the rise in the altitude but on that tarmac I realized that in less than 2 days I had left Antigua, seen thousands of ruins, watched two sunrises, swam in an infested pool, flown in a jungle with monkeys and returned back to Antigua...and I my only wish was that you were all there with me!

xoxo,
Debra

Friday, May 9, 2008

My kids...

So considering the reason I came here was to volunteer in a school and teach, it’s pretty unbelievable that I’ve been here for 3 weeks and have only written one blog entry about the school I teach at. Somehow hippie lodges, volcanoes and laundry adventures have all taken precident over these kids...but that is all about to end right now.

I can’t promise this blog entry will be hilarious and I definitely CAN promise that the words: amazing, incredible and inspiring will probably be pretty prevalent throughout this one but I can’t go any further without telling you all about “my kids.”

So this is a pretty overwhelming task because I could literally write forever about each and every one of them but I’ve decided that the best way to write about them is the “feature” a few at a time and maybe next week, I’ll feature a couple more...

So just to back up a little bit, I have two classes: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I have about 15 kids in each class and they are between 8 and 11.

Ladies and gentleman: Introducing a few of the most wonderful kids I’ve ever met:

Meet Leona (in purple):


Leona is brilliant. Short and simple...brilliant. Not just good at math and reading and everything but it’s like she is wise for her years. She is really quiet and it took me a while to get her to warm up to me but we have moved right on past that and I somehow feel a really unique connection with her. Her eyes remind me of Jasmine from Aladdin and it’s like when she looks at you, she has a secret.

This past week, suddenly I looked at Leona and tears were rolling down her face. I asked her several times what was wrong and she never told anyone. I think there is a lot going on in that girl...she is a hidden gem and it’s like those Jasmine eyes have seen more than anyone knows.

Sandra (the little one on the left):

Like Leona, Sandra is also very smart...but she also knows how to smart off. It’s great. I will tell her that it is time to clean up and she will look me straight in the eyes and just say “nope.” It’s like she’s outsmarted the system and knows that there is really nothing anyone can do if she doesn’t help so she just doesn’t! She is about half the height of all the other girls and is quickly becoming one of my favorites. She puts the A in attitude and I love it. It’s so wonderful to see a girl who comes from so very little still feel so very big.

Wilmer:
So I’ve never been a teacher before but from what I’ve heard there are different types of intellengence. Wilmer is living proof of this theory...what he lacks in IQ, he more than makes up for in EQ. I think I could explain the concept of “borrowing” in subtraction to him for the next 4 weeks and I’m still not sure he’ll ever be able to successfully complete a problem.But Wilmer is so in tune with other people and their emotions. It’s incredible to see a little boy who has only one t-shirt to his name come straight up to me every day and truly ask me how I am. Last week we watched a movie (Buscando Nemo!) and he came up to me afterwards and asked me how I liked the movie. I know that doesn’t seem like much but for a 9-year-old, it’s amazing to see how much he cares about others.

Brenda:

Oh Brenda...Brenda is actually not one of my students but she is one of the really little ones that I have fallen in love with quickly...and it’s a very unlikely love story. The first day I was in class, Brenda peed her pants. Actually, she peed her indigenous skirt. Slowly a puddle started growing under her chair. The next week, while Brenda was eating a big piece of watermelon, she threw up and quickly put her foot over it to cover it up. We asked her if she was ok and she seemed completely unphased by the entire ordeal and went on eating her watermelon.

Everyone calls Brenda “Gordita” which essentially means little fat girl...but believe it or not, that is not considered offensive. Brenda is round, wears high heels and is the most generous with her hugs. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten a better squeeze.

Edwin:
Like Brenda, Edwin and I had a strange beginning. I walked into class on the first day and Edwin was covered in blood. Yep..blood spewing from his nose. It was quite a site...but a little kleenex and a new shirt and Edwin never looked back.So I’m assuming all you reader out there went to elementary school and there was just that one “weird kid” in class. The one who ate glue and made weird faces...for me it was Joe Gracia. For this class, it is Edwin. Edwin is literally in a world of his own. Every now and then I catch him having full on conversations with himself. Every day at break, Edwin climbs these posts that are in our room. He doesn’t get too far up but once he finds a spot on the post, he just clings to it for dear life...for no reason. Up on the post, sweat dripping down his face with his short sleeve polo short and belt that is way too tight...him and Joe Gracia would have gotten along just fine.

Henrri:

It’s possible that I have an actual crush on this 8 year old. He has big ears and the deepest dimples I have ever seen. He is VERY bright and quiet. I’m telling you, this guy is a lady-killer. One thing that most of the students are lacking is imagination. It is so difficult for them to do the simplest things just because they’ve never really been asked to use their imaginations before. Henrri doesn’t have this problem. He is very good at coming up with ideas and he definitely has a spark in him just waiting to be let out.

Just writing about them makes me realize just how incredibly lucky I am to be with them every day. I seriously have the best job in the world. It starts out with kids waiting in a line to give you a good morning hug and race you to the school and ends with one kid holding each finger on the slow walk back up to the bus.

I already miss them all but know there are more incredible kids in Honduras to meet. It’s just amazing that kids are kids anywhere and everywhere...and I’m so glad I still feel like one of them.

xoxo,
Debra

P.S...Here are a few more pictures I just had to post...oh...and keep the comments coming!!