Thursday, September 2, 2010

June, July, August, and September

It's been over four months since I've posted. May was a hard month and some things happened that took me time to process and I wasn't ready to put it all into words. I needed privacy, time to think, time to process and know what to say.

The first thing that stopped my writing happened while I was still visiting Hogar. I had a conversation that changed the course of my involvement with Hogar as an organization. I had to take a step back, reevaluate, and plot a new course. It in no way affected my relationships with the children or my commitment to them - it was just a personal hurdle I had to work through and some hurt feelings. I'm wiser for it. It opened my eyes and taught me a lot and now I'm busy planning my new course of action.

The second thing is that my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I also found this out while I was at Hogar and didn't really know how to process it. Being thousands of miles away...worlds away even, yet I had all these emotions and fears coursing through me. And at the same time, I was emotionally and physically very involved with the activities at Hogar and dealing with a discontent husband who was lonely at home. It was just a lot to deal with and I didn't know how to write about it.

My mom's okay. She will be having her 4th chemo session on September 20th. She's stage one ovarian cancer, which is the lowest stage and they rarely ever catch it that quickly. She had a full hysterectomy in June and now is completing 6 sessions of chemo just to make sure they got it all. She's amazingly positive and strong and just overall grateful to God that the doctors caught it so soon. I on the other hand have been working through the knowledge of the mortality of my own mother and also the knowledge that this is a battle that I too may have to fight some day. See, my aunt had ovarian cancer too (survived) and my great aunt had breast cancer (also survived). So the chances of me getting it are pretty high and that scares me. I've never seen my mom sick, at least not that I remember. And now she's so vulnerable and little and bald. And it makes me weep. However, I know she will be okay - which is not a certainty that most chemo patients have. Stage one is really beatable. It's the best news one could get in the cancer world.

Caleb and I came back to the States in mid July. We came back so I could be with my mom and so that we could go up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and spend time with his family as well. His dad is a master woodworker and Caleb's been excited to work with him on some projects. So we said our good-byes to Tulum, the bright blue sea, our dear friends, hot tropical weather, and our wonderful little apartment. We left Mexico.

And the transition wasn't easy. We were both sad to be leaving. The first day back to Michigan, my mom started to loose her hair and I went with her to buy a wig. Honestly, I was hoping to be in denial about the whole cancer thing for at least the first few days back, but that wasn't how it happened. It wasn't until I was in the infusion room five days after being back, and my mom had an allergic reaction to the chemo, that it really hit me and I couldn't stop crying. I just felt so helpless and it's horrible to see your parent suffer like that. Parents raise us and take care of us when we are sick and when the role gets reversed it really shakes you up. They're not invincible, they can get hurt, and they need us to lean on sometimes. Later that week I shaved my mom's head and we both shed a few tears. You know what though? It was really good. I wouldn't have wanted anyone else to have done it. It was painful but sweet to love my mom in that way. We laugh and find humor in it when we can, but we're not afraid to shed a few tears when all you can say is "this is pretty lousy, this sucks." One of my mom's nurses has a button that says, 'Cancer Sucks'. So true.

So now, I'm in the U.P. at Caleb's folk's house. I'm picking plums, painting dog houses, power washing the shop, cooking a lot, and going for mind clearing runs. It's very rural up here and so beautiful. I haven't been up here in the summer since our wedding seven years ago. I remember why we chose to got married here. The loose plan for the next few months is that we will be up in the U.P. until October when Caleb's sister gets married in West Virginia and then head to Chiapas, Mexico in November so that I can be closer to Hogar Infantil and the kids. Meanwhile I'm working on some ideas for projects with the kids for when I go back. I think about the children at Hogar daily, and I miss them so much.

That's the short version of the past few months and the ones to come. I do apologize for dropping off the face of the earth. Now that I'm in a better place, I'm looking forward to once again posting regularly.

Monday, May 31, 2010


I have moments here where I wonder what I'm doing, whether I'm needed, and if I'm contributing enough. This weekend reminded me of how I do contribute and what the children need from me.

I am the oldest volunteer here by nearly 10 years. This, I think is a good thing. I believe I have a perspective on life and children (having nannied, etc.) that the other volunteers are still developing. The bit of training I have in abuse counseling and domestic abuse prevention definitely help as well. There are moments that I have with the children that are so sincere and vulnerable that I play the parenting role more than the playmate role. For example, I saw one of the 10 year old boys hit the little six year old boy, Octavio the other day when they were playing soccer. Octavio gets beat on a lot by the older ones, as he's the youngest, but he also gives it back. Having some idea of the abusive backgrounds that a lot of these kids come from, I know that frequently when one of these little guys hits another one out of anger or frustration, there is a lot more going on under the surface than is seen. When I saw the other boy, (lets call him Carlos), hit Octavio, I pulled them both aside and got down on my knees and talked to them.

"Carlos why did you hit Octavio?"
"Because I wanted to."
"It's not okay to hit him when you feel angry."
"I don't care."
"It hurts Octavio. When other kids hit you, it hurts you too doesn't it?"
"I don't care."
"Why did you hit Octavio?"
"He was bothering me."
"When someone is bothering you it's not okay to hit them. Use words. Tell him to stop bothering you."
"I liked hitting him."
"I want you to apologize."
"You can't play anymore football for now. I want you to come and sit with me for a while."
To Octavio, "I'm sorry he hit you, that's not ok. We're going to talk for a while now and you can go back and keep playing."
Sitting on the bench,
"Carlos, why do you feel so angry?"
"It's not ok to hit when you feel angry. "Some day when you have a wife and a family you don't want to hit them when you get angry do you?"
Very quietly, "No."
"Has an adult ever hit you?"
"I'm so sorry. That was wrong and was not your fault. It's never ok for an adult to hit a child. "
For the rest of the conversation, Carlos is quiet, occasionally sniffling.
"Carlos, the reason I'm telling you this is because I love you. I'm sure these feelings are very confusing to you. I hope you know that you can trust me and if you ever want to talk I would really like that. "
We sat together for about 15 minutes. Him watching the game, me with my arm around him. After a while, I thanked him for listening and told him he could go back and play, but he chose to sit on the bench with me for a while longer. His face was turned away from me and I wasn't sure how upset he was with me. I knew he was doing a lot of thinking and that he was really sad. After a while he joined the others. I was unsure if he would want me as far away as possible after that or if we had bonded. The next day he came and sat with me and we watched cartoons on my laptop.

This event and others similar even more personal, have been the true reason I want to keep coming back to Hogar. When the boys are disciplined they're told not to hit, but I'm not sure, at least in Carlos's case that they really understand why. I think it would be very confusing to see the adults around you (parents, caretakers) being abusive when angry, and perhaps being the victim of that abuse and then being told to respond differently when you get angry. I don't think Carlos had made the connection before with the abuse in his past and the way he was treating the boys around him. Also, I think it was important for me to let him know that I didn't just think he was bad and that I understood how confusing all these feelings must be for him. Many of these kids, if not all, could use counseling. I know that the kids having the most outward problems get counseling. If they are functioning decently then they don't. All the kids here have crazy stories. And the adults here do what they can with the few resources available to them.

When I'm here I do my best to love these kids, listen to them, play with them, teach them and at times to comfort them. As I've mentioned before, the kids here are amazingly resilient and wonderful. Hogar is a safe place for these kids, and I'm glad that this is a place where I can take them aside, sit on the bench with them and talk.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fresh Jasmine and One on One Time

Sunday came bright and early. Kids were catching up on their Saturday chores and I literally felt hungover from exhaustion. However, Kyla and I pulled ourselves together and spent the day shopping in Coita and then preparing dinner for the boys. Dinner was a success, I think. I base that mainly on the fact that most of it was eaten and several guys came back for seconds. The other day I had one of the kids ask me when I'm going to cook again. That's a good sign. I really want to try and make something in the outdoor wood ovens, but having no experience with them and trying to cook pizza for about 60 kids could be more than I'm capable of. I've heard stories of others who've succeeded, but at this time I'm still contemplating.

I've had a lot of individual time with the kids this week. Paola and I climbed our tree again. We probably spent a couple hours in it just talking. The girls and I have painted nails, colored with oil pastels, chatted into the night, and have just hung out. I've been doing some homework help, and last night helped a little guy named Alexis with his multiplications tables. Alexis was nearly asleep on the floor the other night trying to finish his homework. And Felix (one of the German volunteers) spent a total of 6 hours over the course of two days with one of the 8 year old boys doing homework. Turns out the teacher thought he wasn't doing his homework, so she gave him extra. Unfortunately he just kept forgetting to turn it in.....I'm assuming he won't forget again after the mountain of work he's had to do this week!

I've been into town several times in the past few days. I wish I could show you how amazing the market is. Thing is, when I'm there, crowded under the tarps in the stalls, people pushing past me, women nursing their children, the smell of ripe fruit, flowers, and the earth in the air - I'm just not comfortable pulling out my camera and taking a picture. It feels voyeuristic and intrusive. I already get stared at when I'm there... the only gringa in Coita, when Kyla's not with me. But I have to tell you this market is fascinating. Every corner, every table is full of clothes, and pots, and raw chickens, and tomatoes, and plantains, and shops full of half cows hanging from hooks, and odorous shrimp being sold in baskets next to carts full of sweets and women with their babies wrapped in cloth around their backs. There are children everywhere, many working, several crying or playing. The market is full of sounds. People yelling out specials and cars honking and radios blasting reggeaton music. And there are thin, hungry dogs wandering around, frequently with teats hanging - scavenging among the decaying fruit and bits of tortillas in and around the street. There are bicitaxis (bicycle carts) ferrying women from the market back home, arms full of fresh flowers and produce. I bought my first bouquet of fresh jasmine the other day. It's aroma is intoxicating. I want to live in a bouquet of jasmine. I've been buying lychee fruit by the half kilo lately from a man who has them all arraigned on his cart like a prickly anime sculpture. They are sweet and delicious and bizarre looking.

Today is Friday. The secondary school kids looked great this morning in their nice clothes, rather then their usual uniforms (which are adorable by the way) because it was another celebration of the day of the students or something. I love seeing all the girls all dolled up and the guys looking snazzy with a whole lot of hair gel going on. This is such a culture of hair gel. I've seen various amazing styles of hair since I've been here...sculptures of sorts. Hogar goes through hair gel practically by the gallon. In the mornings everyone looks shiny and ready for school. The boys like to spike their hair up and the girls use it for a smooth, pulled back, pony tail.

The days are passing quickly and I never feel like I have enough hours in the day with the kids. Between their school, chores, various classes here and homework, it's hard to find time to really spend with them. I love weekends, especially Sundays, because there's just a lot more free time. My days still manage to be full though. I float around a lot, playing tag with the younger girls, reading to the little boys, hanging out in my room with the University girls, practicing English with the middle school boys....and providing movies on weekends. I wondered when I got back if they were more excited about the movies I had than that I was back! Ha. I understand though. I love movies too and I like being able to provide them with a treat.

I thing my best times so far have been times spent in one on one conversations with a couple of the kids here. One of the evenings I spent talking to a middle school boy about his very traumatic, violent past and was able to bring him a bit of comfort. I don't think I have ever seen someone cry as intensely - as though in physical pain from the emotional wounds. My heart breaks for these children and what they have endured. I listen, hug them, acknowledge their pain and do my best build them up and assure them that they are loved and that the past is not their fault. I am frustrated by my inadequate Spanish, but perhaps sometimes what they need most is someone who they can trust, that will listen. It has been rewarding deepening relationships my second visit here, building on the foundations from before. There are many differences in this world, but when it comes down to it - we all want to be loved.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Disco Dancing and Lagunas de Colon

Oh, I have so much to tell!

On Friday night the girls got all gussied up for a high school dance (disco) that they had permission to attend. I was invited by Suleyma, on of the senior girls and was actually made a chaperon for the night. The girls looked great. The guys were invited too, but for some reason only a couple of older university age guys went, and I think it was mainly as chaperons too.

We drove the short way in the combi van and got dropped off about two buildings down from the slaughterhouse. Music was blaring, lights were flashing, there was a cover charge…it was pretty great. The aroma of fresh manure and strong cologne was in the air. They had a nice covered area and tables and decorations set up. The first few hours were a lot of standing around waiting for people to dance, then there was an announcement of awards won by the students. Suleyma won 'best personality" which was cute, she was really shy on stage when she thanked everyone for their support. Next to the stage was a big screen showing music videos from popular reggeaton artists. Really racy, raunchy stuff. For a part of Mexico that is so conservative, it was such a strange thing to see at a school function. I swear the videos were screaming sex. Anyway, the music was snappy and the dancing began, and I got to have a pile of fun with girls I hadn't really hung out with much before. Nothing scandalous happened on my watch as chaperon, unless you count the ridiculous ways the High School boys were dancing with us. It's funny going to events like these because I remember being in High School and being so self-conscious. Now it's just fun to support the kids and have a good time and be completely myself and not be intimidated in the least. Granted I shouldn't be because I could practically be their mother!

We didn't get back until our curfew at little after 1:00am. The girls were in great moods, all giggling and talking about boys and other girls outfits….the usual stuff. I didn't fall asleep until after 2am. I was up again at 3:15 because some of the girls decided to forgo sleep altogether and had hit some kind of giggle high. I dragged my body out of bed at 4:15am, because we were all piling on to the school bus at 5am for a day trip to Lagunas de Colon. It was a tired pile of kids on the bus that morning. I don't think we could have fit one more bag on the bus, let alone children. Most of the seats had 3 people in 2, and many kids sat in the aisle. Felix and Robin (the German volunteers) tried sleeping on the floor. There was a baby in the aisle in a little seat, and a couple of older kids at the front of the bus leaning on the dashboard or sitting on the steps. It took us about 6 1/2 hours to get to the lagunas (lakes). Much of the trip was through winding mountains and several of the kids got sick. It was quite the adventure. I've since checked the map to see where we went, and we were practically on the boarder of Guatemala.

The Lagunas were crystal clear pools of water - a series of connected lakes surrounded by tropical trees. The water was a beautiful blue, sweet and so refreshing. Most of the boys could swim, but many of the girls didn't know how, so us volunteers spent some time giving basic lessons. I am a water baby. I love swimming and it was the perfect day for it. So hot but with a slight breeze in the shade. The littlest kids played in a special shallow spot and were so cute in their underwear. The little girls had bathing suits, but the boys rocked their tighty whiteys and had a blast splashing around. All the other girls swam in clothes. Shorts and tank tops or tee shirts. In an effort to fit in I wore shorts and a tank top with my bikini underneath. It is not the easiest thing swimming in clothes, and it just feels so weird.

I thought I was already having as much fun as possible, when some of the kids asked me if I wanted to see the cascade or waterfall. That was not a hard decision, and soon we were winding our way barefoot, along paths past more little clear lakes, crossed a few streams and heard the sound of the falling water. It wasn't just one waterfall. It was a whole pile of waterfalls cascading down a rocky hill surrounded by lush trees. The water pored over little hidden caves and into deep, crystal clear pools and then into a larger river with an amazing rock for diving. It was a scene from a fantasy novel. Slipping and sliding over the smooth rocks I climbed my way up into the first of the little caves that had a waterfall at it's entrance. I've always wanted to be in a secret cave behind a waterfall. It was small, but there were stalagtites and another little waterfall on the inside. It was the prettiest thing looking out, seeing the green moss growing from the ceiling and the water poring over the opening. There was another cave to explore too, and I spent the next little while quite happily swimming in this fairy tale wonderland. The boys were jumping from the big rock at the bottom of the waterfall into the deep, cool water below. I'm not much of a diver, and I always have to plug my nose, but it just looked like too much fun to resist. Sure enough, I probably jumped from that rock 15 times over the course of the next few hours. I smacked my feet on rocks a few times, which really hurt, but not enough to make me not want to try again.

It was such an nice change to be on an excursion with the kids, having fun all day and seeing them laughing and playing. We have fun on the ranch too, but this was a whole day just for them. We packed up and headed out around 5:30pm for our bus ride back to Ocozocoautla. I shared two seats with two secondary school kids, Luis and Ruby. We were pretty snug, but I was just glad to not be sitting on the floor. Every one was so wiped out. Especially the girls who had barely slept the night before, me included. The trip home took nearly 8! hours this time. Apparently, Tio Audi who was driving was trying to take less curvy mountain roads for the kids and at the same time trying to avoid the unsafe highways where robberies frequently occur at night. I think we may have gotten lost a few times. By the time we pulled back into our ranch it was 1:15am and it was a pile of child-like little zombies that exited the bus. And I don't know how Tio Audi drove a huge bus for over 14 hours that day on narrow mountain roads, but he did. There were limbs that I couldn't feel. I fell into bed, hoping that Sunday would be a day of rest for everyone.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Dinner Date with the Muchachas

It has been crayon melting weather the past two days. I slept on the roof again on Wednesday night, though I woke up stiff and covered in dew. Last night I choose to sleep in my bed because there is indeed such a thing as being too old to sleep on the ground two nights in a row. My body just isn't as resilient any more.

We have a new little girl at Hogar. Her name is Josefina and she is 8 years old. Her first night here she was so shy. She clung to the director, Tia Arde, while she was introduced to the rest of the girls. Josefina has the same hair as me. Short and wavy. She's a scrawny, little, freckled thing, with the personality of a little sprite. The rest of the night she clung to me leading me around, shy to be alone with the other girls, but full of restless energy. I would imagine that the first night here is probably very hard. The girls were great though...they made her feel welcome and asked her questions, and Kristel, who is also 8, slept in the bed next to Josefina's so she wouldn't feel lonely her first night. One of the girls gave her a stuffed animal for her bed.
It took her ages to settle down for the night and I heared from the other girls that they didn't sleep very well. Josefina and I spent the morning together exploring the grounds, coloring, painting with Kyla, and running around. She is incredibly bright and very high energy. I'm not sure she has ever been to school, but she can read, understands math, and is eager to get into everything. 'No' seems to be a optional word for her. I don't know her full story, but I do know that she doesn't know where her mom or dad are. I think her mother abandoned her and some people took her in and helped her get accepted into Hogar. I'm so glad she is adjusting well and seem happy. The tias (aunts) who cook for us thought she was my daughter this morning because we have the same hair and she has a lighter skin tone. I thought that was pretty cute.

Other news...I climbed that fantastic tree again with Paola. This time we carried cement blocks over to it and made a ramshackle staircase filled in with branches. Paola made it up successfully her first attempt, but I fell - though I was laughing so hard it took me a while to notice my scrapes. We were in the tree again for about an hour. It really is a great place to escape to.

The past few days have been busy. I keep lending out my computer, mostly to the middle school boys for homework and email. I've been herding the sheep in the evenings with Luis, and I'm getting better at that. I actually got them into the shed last night with very little difficulty. There is a new baby sheep, so tiny and wobbly. Kyla and I named her Myrrh. I want to have a baby sheep as a pet. I've also spent quality time with a University girl named, America, doing Zumba, which has just been hilarious, and I've had a chance to have one on one time with Martha, a very sweet 10 year old girl who really misses her mom. There is always something to do here....especially with the little ones who have fewer chores and more free time.

Kyla and I have been gardening. The girls dorm has a nice space out front and just needs a few more plants and some major weeding to be lovely. Kyla manned the pick axe to break up the ground and pull up the crab grass and I navigated the spiders and biting ants and weeded around the plants. It felt good to see our progress. Yesterday we went to the market and successfully bought produce for 25 people. We thought it would be fun if we made dinner one night, so we planned the menu and ran around town yesterday and found everything we needed. We spent the afternoon cooking and made a really tasty pasta sauce with chorizo, basil, onions, garlic, olives, capers, thyme and tons of fresh tomatoes. We made a big green salad with avocados as well. I think the girls were a bit wary and confused by the food at first, especially since they didn't see any tortillas or beans, but it turned out to be a great success. We didn't have enough utensils, so many of the girls ate with their hands a la "Lady and the Tramp". It was very cute.

They don't eat many fresh fruist or vegetables here and it was really great to see them asking us for second helpings. Kyla and I played music and put flowers on the tables, and everyone lingered over dinner longer than usual and the conversation was cheerful and happy. Kyla and I did clean up duty too, and it was fulfilling to be able to feed the kids and give them night off from their chores. We are going to cook for the boys Sunday night, hopefully it will be just as well received.

Tonight I'm going to the high school dance with some of the girls. Kyla thinks it's funny I want to go. I bought a Latina disco worthy shirt the other day so I'm ready. I'm always up for fun and dancing, and it gives me the opportunity to spend some time outside of Hogar with the high school girls. I think it will be great. However, tomorrow morning at 5am, we are all piling into the big, blue school bus for a 5 hour trip to a waterfall. It sounds like a fantastic day and a lot of time in the bus. I think I'm going to be really, really exhausted because our curfew for the dance is at 1am. But, I'm really looking forward to a whole day away with the kids and seeing some more of Chiapas.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chasing Sheep, Climbing Trees

On Sunday I went to the older boys' soccer game and laughed as a heard of cows meandered down the path the team was taking their half time break on. Kyla picked cactus fruit and we spent the second half of the game picking tiny thorns from her fingers.

The past two days have been great. I've been trying to focus on spending a day with the girls, then a day with the boys. It's hard to get quality time with everyone, but that doesn't keep me from trying. On Monday I climbed trees with Paola and Luis, my dear friends (12 and 15, brother and sister), and we had such a great time. We climbed this enormous fairy tale tree at the far side of the corn field and sat high in it's branches feeling the wind in our hair and talking for over an hour. I can't believe we've never climbed that tree before. It's like an oasis or sanctuary, a safe place to go and just think and have time alone.

Monday night I put all the girls names in a bowl and randomly chose names for selecting clothes from the donations I brought. Much thanks to my friend Mercedes who gave me a ton of cute clothes before I left Tulum to donate to the girls. Each girl got to go through the clothes twice taking an item they wanted. It was an hour of giggling and fun and various stages of dress and undress and trying on clothes that weren't even close to the right size and needing teamwork to untangle each other. Afterward the girls were in good moods, still swapping clothes and lounging around in their dorms. I played tag with some of the littler girls and we raced around the cabana until we all were out of breath and exhausted from so much fun.

Yesterday I went into town with Kyla and had a much needed cup of coffee. I've gone through caffeine withdrawal again and my headaches are gone, but I just feel half awake for about the first 5 hours of the day! While in town I got workbooks and coloring books for the little boys to help make learning fun and be able to do some projects with them. That afternoon we all sat around a table outside and colored, and worked on numbers and some word games. I tried to teach them the song, "Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" and I think their favorite part was watching me do it alone, making a fool of myself! Ha, I didn't mind, and I'm going to continue teaching them a little bit of English and I just know they will be singing along with me before long! After my time with the little ones, I helped some middle school boys with email and computer stuff. It's been fun to show them some basic computer things and I'm hoping to help them learn how to type. Kyla downloaded a typing program a few weeks ago, I just need to ask her which one and do a little research myself.

Luis and I hung out again. He helped me with my Spanish language workbook and I helped him chase sheep into their pen. Now that's a hilarious event. First of all chasing sheep is just fun. They 'baaaaah, and gallop and most of them head in the right direction. Getting them into the shed was a whole other thing. Sheep really are stupid creatures. I don't feel bad saying that, because I think they are wonderful, cute, and funny, but boy, getting them to go into their shed really was impossible. It's like crowd control with a crowd that just doesn't get it. They would move as one, but it was like a giant wiggly amoeba that we had to direct through a small door. I was standing in a pile of sheep poop, laughing so hard I was almost crying as sheep were bleating and confused and looking worried..... oh, my, I can't wait to help again today. By the way, we never did get them into their shed. Only into the pen.

Hugo, the dancing machine, borrowed my laptop to watch Micheal Jackson's "Live in Bucharest" DVD and learn new moves. On Saturday I saw him teaching a group of 7 girls a whole choreographed dance. I don't know if they will be performing it, but I sure hope so! It was great to see him teach too, he was so good with them and so confident. In the past couple of months he's grown even more confident in his performance, so that now he's dancing any chance he gets. So last night he danced for about 2 1/2 hours. I have him on video.

After finishing Avatar last night with the older kids, I headed back to my room where the first thing I did was trap a huge cockroach and return it to the great outdoors. Honestly, they are too big to kill. It would be like stepping on a mouse or something. I fell asleep reading my new book, " Helping Abused and Traumatized Children". So far my biggest help to them is just letting them know that they are important to me and that I love them and think they are special. I have a little girl date today with a nine year old who really misses her mom. She's been pretty sad these past few days and I promised her some one on one time today.

That about sums it up for now. I'm really glad to be back.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Back at Hogar Infantil

It's been a while since I've updated everyone on the constant change that is my life. The past few weeks have seen me back in Michigan for my grandfather's surprise 80th birthday party and then a brief week with Caleb before another 21 hour trip to Hogar Infantil.

Now that I'm back in Chiapas, and life is bound to be full of crazy stories, I will be writing more frequently again. I apologize for the inconsistencies, however, sometimes it's just hard to find words to write.

I arrived Wednesday night, back at Hogar, very exhausted but excited to see the kids. I was swarmed by hugs and welcomed back very happily into the fold. This however feels like a very different trip. I am more aware of the workings of Hogar as an organization, and let's just say I'm not so naive anymore. This trip back is punctuated by the fact that I need to decide for sure if Caleb and I will move here in a few months. So I feel a bit of pressure. In some ways it feels like I never left Hogar. It's only been two months since I was here last, but it feels different now because I have changed. However, my favorite thing, which is spending quality time with the kids is still just as wonderful as before. As usual it's the difficulty of trying to balance my time with every one. I had a great time talking to the University age girls lounging in my room yesterday afternoon. It's been really good catching up with them. I read children's books donated by Caleb's sister, Michaela to the little boys who gathered around me like a little flock. I was pleased to see them reading to each other too, as Kyla and I have been trying to emphasize reading for fun, not just school and out of obligation. The day was wrapped up by watching a terribly pirated version of Iron Man 2 that one of the boy's had. Though it was pretty unwatchable and half the time we were guessing what what going on, the guys were thrilled to see Iron Man anyway.

The little boys' cabana renovation is going well. One of the older guys, Williams, has been putting a lot of time into working on it. Most of the boys have been working hard on making bricks for the walls and digging the trenches. In my naivety I thought that when I started this project, perhaps they would hire workers to do the renovations for the cabana. I didn't realize that the kids would be doing it, but that's how things work here. There is a Tio that is overseeing the project and frequently works with Williams. The expanded walls are up and the roof still needs to be installed, but for the most part the skeleton of the bigger, better bathrooms is up. I'm sure it will be finished this summer. Now if I can only raise the rest of the money for this project, all will be well!

Kyla and I have been sleeping on the roof of the girls cabana because it has been so hot. We look pretty ridiculous on our rolled blankets with our mosquito netting camping underneath the drying laundry. Also, my mosquito net is really just a piece of green, sheer fabric so I look like a genie or that I'm on safari or something. I don't know what the girls think. Probably that we are just ridiculous Americans. :)

Capi David, the president of the U.S. Board is here along with some visitors for a few days. I've made a point to spend some time with him, and pick his brain for more information about Hogar and pestered him with my fundraising ideas. He's been pretty good humored about it, which is good because I know I will continue having questions and ideas. Tomorrow there is a big board meeting with the Mexican board (patronato) and I'm going to ask permission to attend. Not to have a voice, just to observe. My Spanish is so sketchy that I don't really know how much I will understand, but I think it would be good to meet the members of the Mexican board.

By the way, since I've been writing this, I've been watching two boys chase a sheep around the pen, trying to catch it and it's been the funniest thing. The whole heard goes racing around the shed, two skinny boys running, sliding, flailing arms at the closest sheep, who has managed to evade them pretty well until now. However, she just got caught and I'm not sure what their plans are for her. I love the sound of the sheep bleating in the morning and the rooster crowing and the strange sound the birds make at night. The birds sound like an muted traffic jam with honking and screeching….

More tomorrow, for now I'm off to have some more fun.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Howdy Texas

Big 'Ol Texas

I've never really been to Texas before. Years ago Caleb and I took a month long trip around the U.S. and Canada and it took about 2 days just to get across Texas. We did spend a night in El Paso, but that's more Mexico than Texas in my opinion.

So, I got picked up at the Dallas airport by Capi (Captain David as the kids call him at Hogar) the president of the U.S. Board for Hogar Infantil. His bright and precocious 9 year old granddaughter, Cameron was in the back seat. I am happy to say that the first thing we did was drive to Fort Worth and go to Fred's, a popular burger joint. There's nothing like a cold local micro brew on draft with a big messy burger to make a girl feel welcome and break the ice. I watched Cameron hula-hoop to her soon to be step-dad's fantastic guitar playing and decided this was a part of Texas I could easily like. It was good people watching at Fred's too, though Capi made me get a picture taken with two Texans in their cowboy gear. I asked Capi if they were authentic or wearing costumes and though we agreed they were probably off work lawyers, he said they were pretty authentic. I guess boots and a hat are considered post work casual attire for white collar workers. Ha.

Capi's house is situated in this huge gated community that's also a pecan orchard. It's not unusual to see people driving their private planes up the driveway and into the hangers next to their house. Capi's a pilot too and said he can fly from his home to Hogar Infantil in Chiapas in about 7 hours. Impressive. He has two very cool little planes.

I was made to feel right at home, staying with Capi and Leslie and their two dogs Buddy and Maggie. The following morning, I took a nice long bath in their guest room's claw foot bathtub. I can't remember the last time I had a real bath. It may have been almost a year ago. I drank my coffee and read Harry Potter and fully relished the luxury of soaking in a tub. After that I had breakfast. Really my ideal breakfast. Fage greek yogurt, dark honey, Leslie's homemade granola, blueberries and raspberries. It's been over a year since I've had blueberries too, so they tasted like candy. I ate the same breakfast each day I was there and it was such a treat! I almost took a picture to post, but I didn't want to stop eating to go find my camera.

Most of the board members arrived on Friday. It was so nice to put faces to some of the people I had been in email correspondence with for the past several months. Katie and Johanna in particular were great to see. They are the volunteer coordinators and have been such an encouragement to me and Kyla. Johanna was one of the first female truck drivers years ago, when trucking was strictly a male dominated field. She loved the road. She loved traveling and being able to smoothly maneuver an 18 wheeler through rush hour traffic in Chicago. She loved how exciting and sometimes terrifying the job was. Johanna had to put up with a lot of harassment from her fellow truckers for years. She earned their respect by her wit and skill on the road. She is not someone to mess with. And she has a heart of gold. She's the Board's secretary and a firecracker.

Katie is married to a former graduate of Hogar Infantil. She fell in love with Neto while they both has staff positions at the ranch. It's a beautiful love story. Katie has such a passion for the kids at Hogar. She is a brave and sensitive woman who brings a lot of beauty to this world. Unbelievably, she actually brought 3 knitting projects to work on for the 2 1/2 days she was in Texas. She has mad skills and it was Katie who taught most of the kids to knit at Hogar. Her little daughter is currently undergoing treatment for leukemia. Even through this, Katie has found time to be actively involved with Hogar. She's on the Board and in charge of the newsletter, volunteer coordinating, and many other tasks as well. Her translation skills are indispensable. I only hope to be able to speak Spanish on her level some day!

The rest of the board (in total 7 people attending) were also quite the mix of interesting people. Some had been active with Hogar Infantil for the past 30 years. It was really good for me to get a better idea of Hogar's history and how the U.S. Board functions. Like many non-profits today it's struggling to make end meet, but it was very educational for me to see how problems were dealt with, new ideas were discussed and to learn about Hogar's general policies. I'm honored that they gave me a voice in their board meeting. I know that I was able to bring up topics that otherwise may not have been discussed and that I was able to give a fresh perspective on some things. I also tried to be a voice for the kids at Hogar. There had been several concerns on my mind, and I am pleased to say they were heard and taken seriously. I now have a much more complete sense of this organization and my possible role within it.

I had some great, insightful conversations outside of the meeting as well (one night until 3am!). I feel like a sponge, there is so much to catch up on and so much to learn. I do feel like I have a much more well-rounded picture of Hogar, not only from the kids' perspective, but also from the organization's standpoint. It's all rather complex and it has given me a lot to think about.

Thanks again to all who made this trip possible. It was an all around good experience. Texas was even kind of pretty with the wild flowers and cows every where. And I do like a good steak and cowboy boots with summer dresses...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hogar Infantil Update

As many of you have seen, I have a new Chipin widget on my blog. We raised $2,000 dollars in the last round thanks to many generous donations. That means we are nearly at the half-way mark of our goal of $4,500 dollars for the renovations of the boys dorm. I am excited to report that renovations are underway and now we just have to make sure to cover all of the cost!

I get frequent updates about life at Hogar from my friend and former roommate there, Kyla. She's holding down the fort, so to speak. I love hearing from her as it allows me to still feel connected to the daily goings on of the kids and the many adventures that seem to always take place there. Since I've been gone, (one month) there has been another wildfire, this time bigger and closer to the dorms, but at usual, it was contained with tremendous effort and motivation by the amazing kids with their buckets and teamwork. The timing of the fire was lucky in a way, because they had been without water for several weeks previous due to a broken water pump. It has since been replaced and things are back to normal.

One of the secondary kids that I hung out with a lot ran away the week after I left. The cause is a bit unclear and a guess at best. Something to do with a girlfriend and getting into trouble at school. One day he just went to school and never got back on the bus in the afternoon. It was taken very seriously by Hogar and a thorough search was conducted of all the possible places he could be. He's lived on the streets before in the city of Tuxtla, so I guess he has survival skills, but to me this is not that comforting. He still hasn't turned up yet, and I know sometimes things like this happen especially with kids with an automatic fight-or-flight response due to past hardships and life experiences. Please pray that he shows up soon. He could be selling fruit on the street in Tuxtla or hiding out with a friend somewhere....these are my best case scenario thoughts. I just keep hearing his voice saying , "No te vayas, Marci..." and thinking of him so sad at my going that he had tears in his eyes. He is such a sweetheart.

Kyla has been able to spend a lot of quality time with the kids. Last week was Spring break so most of the kids went home to relatives and friends. About 9 kids remained at Hogar, so Kyla was able to do all kinds of fun things with them and in general the time was much more laid back and relaxed then normal. The directors took the kids to a movie, swimming, to the beach and one day to a waterfall. I'm so glad to hear of all the fun that happens at Hogar too! I also correspond with several of the kids on a regular basis, so it's been good to hear from them that they are doing well.

I have news of my own. I have been invited to attend the annual U.S. board of directors meeting for Hogar in Texas this April 17th. I'm excited to be going as I feel like this is the next step in taking my commitment to Hogar to the next level and developing a even deeper understanding of the organization. I'm also glad to be fresh off the boat so to speak, having just returned from Hogar and my time with the kids. I hope to be a voice from the ground and represent the kids. So, I'm expecting to learn a lot at this meeting, develop relationships with the board members and hopefully contribute a bit. I'm really looking forward to meeting two of the board members, Katie and Johanna who have been incredibly helpful and supportive in the past several months. They are some amazing think I have stories of Hogar....well these two have put their hearts into the organization for years and have even been housemothers for the kids in the past. I'm sure I can learn a lot from them! Not to mention they are hilarious so I'm sure we'll have lots of fun. :)

I also want to thank all of you that have made it possible for me to make this trip to the board meeting next week. Without your support and donations it wouldn't have happened and I take your faith in my contribution to Hogar seriously and humbly. Thanks for your encouraging emails and I promise to do my best and continue regular updates regarding Hogar Infantil and the kids.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Michaela and I on our sunset dinner.

Abigail and I - children of the sun.

Michaela, Abigail, Dan and Caleb at Salsa.
Caleb and Dan

Work as usual... geeks!

Felix and me after snorkeling.

Felix and Ben make dinner...yes that
is smoke, but it all turned out well.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Long Overdue Update

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of coming back from Hogar, getting a stomach amoeba, having five guests all at different times and just tonight, getting roped into a part time job.

Let me backtrack... After my time at Hogar, I ended up getting really sick my first week back in Tulum. I think some of it was due to the fact that I apparently food poisoned Caleb and I both the first night I cooked at home. However, the doctor said I had also contacted an amoeba while in Chiapas, so then I was on drugs for a week. This is becoming pretty normal for me by now!

Caleb's sisters Abigail and Michaela came to visit the following week and we had so much fun. We had breakfast atop the Coba ruins, went dancing until the wee hours of the night, soaked up lots of sun, snorkeled, feasted, and had lots of quality time. I am blessed to have sisters-in-law like these two.

Half-way through the week with the girls, Dan, Caleb's best bud, came and visited us from San Francisco. It was great to see Caleb and Dan relaxing together and laughing and having fun. Often they talk crazy schemes and work stuff over Skype. This week they could both sit at their Mac's and do the same thing, but in person. It was pretty cute. I think it was the first vacation Dan's ever had and the first one of Caleb's friends to visit us here. Next time Dan's bringing his wife Emily and little baby boy, Jack.

As soon as Dan left, Felix, a friend and fellow volunteer at Hogar Infantil and his buddy Ben, came and visited for four days. It was great to see them, such good natured, kind and considerate 19 year old German boys. They even made us dinner one night and were really excited to surprise us with it. I went snorkeling with them on a chilly, grey day, but we had a blast following a sea turtle and swimming among schools of fish.

Sunday was the first day Caleb and I have had just to ourselves in ages. We loved having guests, but it is so nice to have some quality time just the two of us again. It was Easter, and usually that means we go to church, have people over, I make a huge ham and a ton of side dishes.... but we stayed in our pj's half the day then wandered into town and had some tacos. We ended up at Elemental as usual and I had the best cucumber mint margarita in the world. We played cards and hung out with friends. It was a great laid back day.

Today, I helped Sabrina at Elemental watch her little boy, Nico and help a bit around the restaurant. They want me to help them out as much as I can and for now that means I will be there 3 days a week. Back into the restaurant biz....not something I've anticipated, but I'm always up for helping a friend out. Also, I'm working in trade for food credit, and they have great food, so Caleb and I will be well fed the next few weeks.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My Sweet

Caleb made chocolate chip cookies tonight. I love him.

We're still figuring our lives out. I'm feeling a little better now though because we at least have some options to mull over. Options that might work for both of us. They involve a lot of flying around and craziness, but now I feel more hopeful. The cool thing about being married for nearly 7 years and being best friends is that we really do want the best for each other. So we'll figure this thing out....

On another note, Caleb's sisters will be visiting this week and so will his best friend, Dan. I'm looking forward to the fun and the distraction they bring. I've talked to Kyla and the kids at Hogar twice on Skype since I've left a week ago. Kyla and I write every day and several of the kids write me too. There's a lot of personal stuff going on with a some of the kids right now and it's hard to be away. I'm so glad Kyla is there, holding down the fort, keeping me updated, and doling out love. So, to keep myself positively occupied and focused on the good things, I am happy to have family visiting and a husband who makes me cookies.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Discontent in Paradise

Yes, it is possible to live near one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and be homesick for dusty dirt roads, beans and tortillas and most of all piles of wonderful kids. I miss Hogar Infantil so much that my life here in Tulum feel so self-gratifying and unfulfilling. I want to go back tomorrow, hop on a bus and travel those 18 hours just so I can see their faces again.

Caleb is understanding and patient. He knows I want to move to Ocozocoautla de Espinosa, but I think he's afraid if we do that, we'll never leave or have kids. He's concerned we'll loose our wanderlust and desire for adventure. The ability to up and move anywhere we want at a moment's notice. That he may have to sacrifice opportunities in his career for a life in rural Chiapas. He already feels isolated here. Ironically, this has been his most successful year yet in terms of recognition and galleries being interested in his work. We are torn between two worlds. One is full of things, and places, and opportunities. The other one is simple, smaller, and yet of deep value and impact. I guess it's a good problem to have so many options. So many places we could live, dear friends who would love us to be close again…career opportunities for Caleb….but my heart is in a little dusty town in Chiapas. I will go where my husband goes, but I would like to at least live in Coita for a year. What does that mean in terms of me being 31 and having children? I don't know. I still want kids. I want both. Am I willing to have a baby in Mexico? I don't know. Lot's of questions.

As of now my plan is to go back to Hogar in mid May. I do thank God that I have such a supportive husband. We have a lot of things to figure out, but we are trying to make it work for both of us. I probably shouldn't be so bummed out since I will be going back in two months, but my time there was so intense. I am still raising money for the boys' dorm at Hogar and will be putting together a presentation to use as a fundraising tool. I know that I will be involved in any way I can with Hogar for many years to come.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Last Day

It's my last day here. Last night I didn't want to go to bed because I knew today would be a really hard day. I sat outside looking at the brilliant stars.

How amazing is it that I've even been able to come here? My heart is full of so many things.

I'm deeply sad to leave. I love these kids.

I've learned a lot since January. Not just Spanish, but about life and pain, and trust, and generosity, and reggaeton, and farm animals, and wild fires, and security and fear, and abuse and poverty and resilience and shame. I've also learned a lot about hope.

Last night I sat atop the water tower with five girls and Kyla, watching the sunset, eating candy and dancing. I looked down into the valley, at Hogar where I could just make out Caleb trying to fly homemade kites with the middle school boys. I felt deep contentment.

I am coming back in two or three months. I am promising to come back. Caleb and I are planing to be in Mexico for a while longer and he will do all he can to make it possible for me to visit often. I will continue the fundraising for the boys' cabana and hopefully help with future projects as well. It is truly amazing that I can have my childhood in Hungary, much of my adulthood in the U.S., and find my passion in Mexico. Life is so unpredictable and surprising. Hence the fact that the Bible verse for my life (and this blog) is Psalm 139:9-10, "If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide, Your right hand will hold me fast."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Birthday

My 31st birthday was on Saturday. The kids at Hogar made my day special from the moment I woke up. I snuggled with some of the younger girls who were playing with their stuffed animals in their beds. Then I said, 'good morning' to my 11 year old friend Paola. She wished me a Happy Birthday and gave me a little stuffed sheep off of her bed. I teared right up. It's not like these kids have piles of toys. Each toy is very meaningful to them and they treasure each one. I know what a sacrifice it is to give one up, and what generous hearts these kids have.

A little while later another girl came over and gave me her teddy bear. I was really touched, especially since she was the girl that didn't used to like me very much! She's warmed up and she even smiles at me and talks to me now. Yay.

When I got back to my room two older girls were waiting for me - one hiding in my bed (ha!). They sang "Happy Birthday" to me and gave me lots of hugs and kisses. My roommate Kyla wrote me the sweetest card it made me cry. After that two more little girls came in and gave me gifts of their own things…I seriously spent the first two hours of my Birthday surrounded by so much love, tearing up at the generosity of the girls, and getting piles of hugs. I learn from these kids. I am completely humbled by them.

At breakfast, once again hugs from many people. I know for a fact that they made a bigger deal out of my birthday than each other's. Sometimes I find out it was someone's birthday the day before and I feel so bad I didn't even know. For the most part here birthdays come and go and closer friends may acknowledge it, but the kids don't get special treatment on that day. There is one celebration a month (though sometimes it's forgotten, like February) for kids who have birthdays that month. Usually, it involves soda and cake or sweets of some kind and perhaps a bonfire or music blaring from the stereo.

Five of us have birthdays in March, so I helped organize a party for all of us for Saturday night. I ordered a huge (3kg - 6.6lbs) cake, chocolate tres leches with coffee cream frosting. It was insanely enormous.

Oh, before I get into telling you about the party, I have to mention that my favorite, Caleb, my husband, the most supportive husband in the world, traveled 18 hours by bus to be with me on my birthday. He's here for a week and will go back with me on Saturday to Tulum. It was so great to see him after 6 weeks apart. He looks like a giant here. It's hilarious - he get's stared at by every one, and the girls here have a crush on him. I have to say, he's pretty good looking. My heart went pitter-pat after being apart from him for so long.

It's also been really great for Caleb to see what I do here. My days are filled with loving and caring for these kids, trying to understand and be respectful toward the culture, the rules, and how things are done here, learning Spanish and sounding ridiculous, having art classes that are usually great fun and occasionally a flop, and just experiencing life here. I think I bring more fun to Hogar. I think that's been one of my greatest contributions. That and physical affection and words of affirmation. That's what I aim for.

That being said, Caleb and I bought soda and goody bags for the kids as well and we had more cake and treats, and sugar than we knew what to do with. The Tios had even provided ice cream and little sandwiches. Caleb had a playlist on his ipod of about 800 popular reggaeton, hip hop,and electronica songs, mostly artists that I told him the kids liked. It was a great party. Before we ate dinner, the five of us March babies, lined up in the front of the casa and every one sang the Mexican Birthday song to us. Then we got swarmed with hugs and I probably got 50 hugs. It was so amazing. Later that night I danced with the girls and Kyla gave us a lesson in the Macarena. The whole day was so special and I couldn't help but think about the fact that a year ago, living in Rhode Island, uncertain about our future, waiting for Caleb to finish grad school….I never could have imagined myself here. Yet here I am in Chiapas, Mexico, at a children's home, and my heart is so full. God is good.