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.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Boy's Cabana Project Update

I recently got the estimate for not only redoing the boy's bathroom but their entire cabana. This project, which would be all internal renovation, would make their dorm feel new, and fresh, and allow for a much more intelligent use of their space. They would have 6 new flushing toilets, a completely new shower and sinks and bigger dorm rooms with built in closets. All of this only comes to $4,500 USD. The directors gave me a very detailed price list down to the exact amount of rebar and cement blocks they thought they would need and also the estimated cost of labor.

There are two ways in which you can donate. One is through my blog with a program called Chipin (similar to Paypal), and the other is directly to Hogar via their website ( The money needs to be specifically labeled for this project if you give directly to Hogar. They are a U.S. non-profit and will be able to provide you with a reciept for your tax records.

I want to raise this money quickly so that construction can start and be finished before new boys arrive in the summer. Thank you for your donation. I can't even begin to tell you how wonderful these kids are and how much it will mean to them. Thank you!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

El Fuego

I've Lost Count of the Days

The day before yesterday was a hard day for me. I realized that I only have 2 1/2 more weeks here and it made me so deeply sad and emotional all day that I teared up if someone even looked at me funny. I broke down on video chat talking with Caleb. I just feel so deeply fulfilled here and I don't feel like my work is finished. It's all about relationships and how can that ever feel finished? When I leave, art classes end too (unless the next volunteer continues them, which she might) and mostly I'll just miss seeing these kids everyday. I fully plan on continuing to fundraise for Hogar and be involved in any way I can and I'm already hoping to come back in August for QuinceaƱera (Ʊera). A huge pile of girls are coming of age (15) in August so they will have the traditional ceremony and party for all of them on one day. They get fancy dresses and it's a big deal. I really hope I can come back for it!
Yesterday. It was a cold, cold morning, so all of the youngest primary school kids stayed home and didn't go to school. I brought the children's books that we had bought in Tuxtla down to the dining hall and Kyla and I took turns reading to the kids for a couple of hours. They loved it. We had a big pile of little ones around us, on our laps, leaning against us, resting their chins on our shoulders to see the pictures while we read. We read until we could read no more. Even the University girls were coming and sitting down and reading the children's books aloud to themselves. I don't think they had many children's books growing up either. After that I had my conversational English class with Rafa and we talked about directions. Words like, neighborhood, block, street, avenue, on the corner of…, on the left…, after, before… Anyway, that was fun because we pretended he had a little green house in Brooklyn and I was trying to visit him but needed directions.
I washed some clothes after that because when the sun comes out that's what you do, and then I helped Sofia, the Swedish volunteer who's here a few times a week to set up a PayPal account. She wants to have a Chipin feature like I have on this blog to start collecting for the Hogar boy's dorm too. I'm glad she wants to help.
I played frizbe with three kids after lunch and we were having a great time until we saw everyone running in the direction of the director's house on the edge of the hill. We started running too, and I looked up at the mountain, at the water tank we climb frequently, and realized there was a fire. The littlest kids stayed in their cabanas, but everyone else grabbed buckets and headed up the hill. At this point let me interject and say that this is rural Mexico. The firefighters don't just show up within a few minutes of a fire. The people living in the vicinity of the fire, do what they can to put it out. There are no firefighters in this town. The police have some sort of water backpack that they can show up with for reinforcement. That said, we all ran up the mountain with our buckets and an assembly line started. Empty buckets were handed down into the water tank and refilled and passed person to person up the mountain where mostly the oldest boys were battling the fire. It was a lot of work, and the mountain is steep and covered in thorny plants. But can I say, how impressed I was at how well these kids worked together? It was a lot of work. We didn't want it to spread down the hill to Hogar, or take out the whole mountain. The boys were beating the fire with branches and wet tee-shirts and we were running up and down the hill sloshing buckets of water on ourselves trying to get them more water to douse the fire. We would put it out in one part and it would start in another. I think we were working for about an hour before it looked like it was all over. Everyone was filthy, but there was a sense of accomplishment and relief. I guess in the past six months there was a fire that burned the whole mountain, but because of hard work and hustle it didn't touch Hogar.
Now, when we descended the mountain, I saw that visitors had arrived at Hogar. Some people with the Anglican church, some possible donors, and woman that is going to be volunteering here. These were special guests that we'd been preparing for all day and had a special dinner planned for them after Mass. I found it kind of humorous that their first impression of Hogar was the kids fighting a wild fire on the mountain. That was probably pretty surprising. The work ethic here is amazing. The kids went right back to their chores where they had left off - even the boys making bricks, just continued their manual labor after expending a huge amount of energy putting out the fire.
We hurried and got cleaned up for Mass, and crowded into the chapel pews all wet and clean. Our special dinner afterward was a real treat. We ate in the courtyard area of the main building and all the tables had white table cloths. We were actually served dinner and our styrofoam plates had about eight different fun foods on it. We had little chirozo sausages, refried beans, pulled pork, a shrimp salad, oaxaca cheese, a hotdog salad, a breaded and fried stuffed jalapeno, and peanuts. Oh and tortilla chips to eat it all with. I missed tortillas with my meal - it just felt weird not eating tortillas and so did one of the boys, so he went to the kitchen and got us a pile to share.
We hung out with the kids after dinner, just chatting. Kyla and I were privileged to hear one of the kid's stories of how he came to be at Hogar. My heart aches just remembering it. Many of the children here have similar stories of abuse and abandonment. I'm realizing that they don't share they're pasts with each other for fear that it will be used against them. So many kids here just deals with it on their own. Kyla and I are safe for kids to share their stories with. It's an honor to listen to them, cry with them and let them know how special they are and that the past is not their fault. I want to magically make the pain in their hearts go away, but I know that I don't have that power. I can listen and I hold their stories close to my heart and hold them and love them.
What a day.

Days 26-27

On Monday Kyla and I went to Tuxtla, the big city about 45 minutes from here, to buy books and boardgames for the kids. I had never been to Tuxtla before, other than when I arrived at the bus station. This is a big, bustling city of about half a million people. It is the capital of the state of Chiapas.
We took the bus, which was very easy and cheap. Not entirely sure where to get off, I saw the sign for the Chedraui ( a big Mexican superstore) and knew we might find boardgames there. We got off the bus and found ourselves walking into a little America. Liverpool is a mall with expensive stores in it, coffee shops, and at one end the Chedraui. We bought Yatzee and Trouble at the store, along with a pair of long white dress socks for Hugo (because he wants to be Michael Jackson) and some bread, repeat BREAD for a snack. The bread is a real treat since we eat tortillas three times a day. Don't get me wrong, I love tortillas and am happy to eat them with every meal. It's just that Kyla and I are both bread girls at heart. And this bread was herb bread and olive bread. We literally tore into it as soon as we got out of the store. We found a table and had a picnic. Cheese from Oaxaca and our bread. The two of us ate two whole loaves - they were small loaves, but still!
We found a bookstore and sat on the floor and looked through all the children's books. We only ended up buying about 7, but I figure that's a good start and they are just for the younger kids. Both Kyla and I have really been wanting to read to them, but there just aren't a lot of Spanish language children's story books around Hogar. Hopefully, we can continue to add to their library on progressive trips.
On a whim we hopped a packed colectivo (public transport minivan) headed toward what we hoped was the center of town. The colectivo was full of high school kids who thought we were pretty ridiculous, two confused gringas with their bags and no idea where they're going. We kept getting amused looks. Colecitvos are great ways to see towns because they go everywhere and frequently through neighborhoods. We got a little tour of Tuxtla and eventually were in a part of town that was all little stores and bustling outdoor markets. We got off the bus and started to wander around. It was a really hot day, but beautiful and every one was out and about. Tuxtla is a busy place. There were stores selling every container imaginable, and paper goods and clothes, and bakeries and meat and live birds and electronics. Open meat stalls had huge slabs of beef sitting on the counter, strips of meat hanging from rafters and yellowed chicken ready to be sold. Which reminds me….the other day in Coita I saw an entire cow head, skinned except for its soft nose and eyelids sitting on a butcher's counter. That was fascinating and bizarre. I'm sorry I don't have a picture of that! Anyway, in Tuxtla there are people selling buckets of mangoes and guayas and green mangoes for 10 pesos a pile. That's about .80 cents for 5 big mangoes. Needless to say I stocked up on fruit for the week.
We found a great little restaurant for lunch. It's a popular lunch spot for all types of tacos; tripe, pork, beef, smoked fat, and al pastor (a type of bbq). The cook was cooking up a storm in a cart in the front and we took a little table with a big plate of radishes right behind him. A knife sharpener was out front peddling away on something that looked like a stationary bike and sharpening all the chef knives. Our tacos were great, though we accidentally got one with the smoked fat…that just reminded me of growing up in Hungary. Fat in all forms is a pretty popular thing there. The proprietress of the restaurant was really happy that we ate there and we walked out promising ourselves that next time in Tuxtla we would try to find this place again for a tasty lunch.
We easily found our bus back to Coita and made it back to Hogar by 4pm. I had just enough time to take a shower and prepare for my art class at 6pm. We made puppets out of paper bags I found in Tuxtla. We used the multi-colored pom palms I had bought in the States for eyes and noses and the puppets turned out silly and great.
After dinner I had rented a movie for the older girls, "27 Dresses". It was really fun sitting around on the sofas in the girls dorm watching a chick flick and eating snacks. I'm so glad I brought my laptop because besides the obvious use of writing on this blog and doing email, etc. I've been able to show movies on it if I borrow speakers from one of the boys. So far we've watched "Slumdog Millionare", "A Night at the Museum", and "27 Dresses". I'm thinking about buying "Where the Wild Things Are" from the video store for the kids. Don't ask me how that's available on DVD here already and it only costs 25 pesos and comes in a white unlabeled sleeve… I think the primary school kids would love it.
Yesterday was a weird day that just flew buy and I felt like I had a million things to do and only got about 3 of them done. All's well. The news of the day is that the main director of Hogar, the director of the U.S. non-profit in the States, Captain David, as he is called here, arrived for a visit. There was a lot of hustle and bustle to get ready for him and everything in tip top shape. He and his wife are well loved by the kids and it was great seeing the little ones running up to him for hugs and all the kids really happy to see him. He has been involved with Hogar since the 1970's. It was a very different place back then. He's made a lot of positive changes. I'm excited to talk to him, hear his stories, and learn more about Hogar. I'm really looking forward to discussing with him how I can be of more help to Hogar, not just short term with the fundraising for the boys' cabana, but hopefully long term as well. I've found my passion here and I know that my involvement will be lifelong in some way shape or form.