The Lester File

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Day 8 - Huehuetenango

Pronounced "Way Way - tenango"

The orphanage here is very different from Manchen. It is larger with a huge area for play and recreation. There are two separate jungle gyms and a bunch of swings plus a basketball court. The kids range anywhere from 5 years to 18 years old, girls and boys. Today, Maria was the first little girl I met. She is 5 years old and I don´t think there is a cuter girl on this planet. Soon, when I have internet again on my computer. Erin and I spent about 45 minutes today taking video of Maria and her friends singing various songs that they found hilarious. It is a real treat and I´ll post it straight away.

The group we are helping out this week is a little smaller, but way more organized. This orphanage, also unlike Manchen, is fully privately funded and the man leading this group has spent most of his vast fortune building this wonderful place. >Huehuetenango is nestled in a beautiful valley with a population of about 100,000. Some of the girls from Manchen that I knew in March have moved to Huehuetenango and I was surprised and thrilled to see their faces today. Across the street from the orphanage is a fairground and the rides were up and running at around 10am. The owner allowed us and all of the children to ride for free this morning before regular fairgoers swarmed the rides and every child got to have a turn. I was pulled by my Manchen Rojito, Sandy, to the big ferris wheel that went way to fast for its size and age. I saw my life flash before my eyes, but the view wasn´t too bad.

Tomorrow, we go back and to some groundskeeping as well as an afternoon of playtime. I´ll post pictures as soon as I can.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day 7 - Continued...

Yesterday, we were not scheduled to go to Manchen because everybody was still being sequestered after the massive escape/vengeance attempt 4 days ago. But, we went there anyway to stand outside and pray for them and their safety. As I went to the door, I could see the faces of the girls I'd come to love pleading back at me from behind the bars of the inner gate. Some were crying, some seemed stoically resigned to the disappointement of being deprived. I knew I shouldn't let them see me, but they knew I was there and they were calling my name. Luz wanted to tell me goodbye. Greisy wanted to give me a note she'd written for my brother, Mike. Maria Jose had written a folder full of letters to give to the friends she had made from our group of gringos, especially the boys she'd met. They were allowed to come into the antechamber one at a time to hand me letters, kiss my face, and tell me they loved me. I was able to touch their faces as well, tell them that I was always thinking of them and loved them more than they could imagine and that I would return in the weeks to come. At that, the huge wooden door was closed and I joined my companions as we held hands and silently prayed for the girls left inside to deal with (and be subject to) the aftermath of a failed prison break.
The truth is that Luz, Greisy, Maria Jose, and all their sisters inside Manchen have better chances at a better life if they stay inside the high walls of the orphanage, take English classes, and become educated. Many of them have families that they want to return to, but either their families cannot care for them or they simply do not want them. But, how do you tell that to a 15 year old girl, whose only thoughts are of a home where they can be free and loved by the people they love, that such a place does not exist? That they have to make it for themselves? And that I will help them if only they'd let me? Too many times I have witnessed the reality of those longings for the outside world when visiting day comes and the girls have been promised a visit from family. They wait and they pray and they wait for people that will never come and when the clock chimes for the last time, they crumble into themselves, inconsolable, to a place where I cannot go until they permit me inside. So, I am here. We are here. Because each of us has a relationship with one or more of the 110 girls living at Manchen, and now it is up to us to continue that relationship and be there.
As I was meditating on my girls and silently willing the walls to disappear, I could hear the locks on the heavy door being undone and suddenly the door opened again. We were being allowed inside. All of us. I almost burst into tears right then and there. It had been 4 days since we were last permitted to go inside. I did not know how much damage had been done or if any of the girls had been hurt or involved. I was a desperate woman. I flung the letters I was clutching in my hands at the people they were destined for, tucked the one for my brother into my pocket, looked to my leader for the final go-ahead, and then launched myself through the door and into the antechamber. The barred gate had not been opened yet, but that did not stop me from shoving my arms through the openings and holding Luz's face in my hands as she was always waiting there for us. As the gate was opened, we finally embraced as a few other girls gathered around for a big group hug. I turned and saw Greisy, with eyes red and swollen from her sobs. A few minutes before, I'd taken a letter from her to my brother and barely had a chance to promise he'd receive it before the door had been slammed between us. The cruelty of that moment was in its brevity and now she looked at me with eyes that told me she barely believed I was there, that I wanted to be there. I held her close as she heaved into my chest with tears still running rivers down her perfect face and we rocked together for another moment. Finally, she cracked a smile we began laughing together at the insanity of the situation. She said, "Te amo," and I answered "Te amo tambien, mi vida." I promised her that my brother Mike would get her letter and we unlocked ourselves with the knowledge that we had been one in our torment of separation. We had connected and now live in each other's hearts and minds forever. We parted and I turned again to see Maria Jose. She had made me a gift. Something she'd begun, but did not finish due to the lock down. It was a little piece of construction paper with a tiny hand-made fuzzball in the corner. She'd used some of the colored sand we'd brought the previous time we'd been able to visit to create a decorative border. I believe, had she had the time, a note would have been written inside the border, but as it was it was perfect. I hugged her and told her I loved her, too.

All of this happened in the space of 20 minutes. I did not get to speak to everyone and many faces were missing from the sea that engulfed us in front of the antechamber. I was shocked when Luz told me that 23 girls were involved in the escape attempt. Only 4 or 5 were friends with the girl who was sent away. All 23 had been placed on highest level restriction and place behind the bars of high security. We could see them leaning from inside their cell against the bars that were punishing them as they watched us gather with the other girls who were not involved in the incident. They had broken windows, light fixtures, and tore up the tiny chapel area inside the antechamber, which indicates that they came very close achieving their foolish goal of escape. They must have been planning this for some time and they definitely made their point, but at the expense of everyone else. All 110 girls have been stripped of computer and television privileges for one month and no one can attend extra-curricular activities such as painting class in that time as well. I remember being glad to see that the girls could enjoy some television in their downtime so that the walls around them might seem less persistent, but now that is over. I understand the necessity for strict enforcement and I do not pretend to know what it must be like to run a state orphanage in Guatemala. But, I am glad that we were allowed a few seconds to share their discomfort and wipe away their tears before leaving for Huehuetenango. After our 20 minutes were over, we said our final goodbyes and pried away the small hands that clutched as us to stay. We walked away solemly, exhausted and sick with sadness. We were told that another visit may be possible in a few weeks, but as I have already written... things change.

Pray for these girls and the continuance of hope that rests deep in their hearts, that it remain a source of strength for them and pray that they never forget how much I love them and that the Lord loves them so much more.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Day 7 - Climb Volcano, Check.

Wow, there is a lot to relate since I wrote last. We have made plans, had them changed, made them again. Those plans included hanging out at the Manchen orphanage with the girls, climbing a volcano in the hopes of seeing some real live lava flow, and playing with the local villagers of Alotenango. Some of these plans were successfully completed, while others encountered major setbacks.

The girls of Manchen are the main purpose of our week long stint here in Antigua. But circumstances have arisen that have made our travel to the tiny, overpopulated, prison-of-sorts, impossible. The first day we arrived to play, hang out, and talk with these special girls, a very dramatic scene began to play out. (Though many of us gringos didn't seem to notice) That day, one girl was suddenly transferred to a different orphanage 4 hours away. She was a gangbanger before being brought to Manchen (probably scooped up by the police) and a rival gang became aware of her permanent whereabouts and made it known that there was a hit out on her. This particular girl was also a lesbian and had a girlfriend at the orphanage and ran with a few other girls who idolized her and her way of life. Unfortuantely, that life includes violence and revenge as well as empowerement. Her leaving brought tears and cries for justice from those she left behind. Those tears turned to rage and two days later, those same girls vandalized the courtyard, breaking glass and attempting to escape. Perhaps they were trying to be sent away as well, so they could all be together again. At any rate, while the orphanage is being put back together and the girls are placed on serious lock-down, we are not permited to visit. Hopefully, we will visit tomorrow, but there's no guarantee.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Day 2 - Wow... whole lot a nuthin'

Today, we were at the mercy of car and van availability, which was nill. Buckner is pretty on edge about security, so we are generally discouraged (mandated) to remain in groups and to travel only when corporate sponsered transportation is available... lame. SO, what happens when 20 kids are coming into town to do missionary work and they all need transportation for themselves and their bags? We get left in the lurch, unfortunately.
We were supposed to hang out with the new kids and help them get aquainted with what they are coming here to do. They are only here for a week whereas we are here for a month. Instead, every car and van was dispatched to the airport in numerous caravans to take care of the demand and we cooled our heels and prepared for the following day. We're on our way to Antigua!

So, while I'm waiting I might as well take you on a tour of our little bungalow here in Guatemala City. We aren't staying at the orphanage, but at the Guatemalan branch office of Buckner. The network here is really a series of small houses, owned by Buckner, that serve the needs of children in their various stages of life. Homes for the youngest and Transition homes for the teenagers. The Buckner home office is the hub for all of these smaller orphanage-like places in Guatemala City and the rest of Guatemala. Other areas like Antigua, Huehuetenango, and Zacapa have larger, state-run orphanages that Buckner gives aid to in various ways on a regular basis: including helping the children find permanent homes. Since the U.S. banned Guatemala from sending orphans across the border in 2007 because of Guatemala's inability to quell the thriving baby black market, the job is infinitely more daunting. Hence, the transition homes.

So, we've come to live in this place and help with the endeavor. The first picture is the living room/reception area and its virtually ours at this point, so we decided to begin sorting all the baby clothes, toiletries, ga
mes, and other materials that we brought for various people and places. We each brought an extra bag filled to the brim with as much donated stuff as we could possibly fit into them without going over the weight limit for the airline... we almost did it, but there were a couple of bags that didn't quite make it. Makes a couple $50 pairs of underwear.

This next picture is my room as well as Laura, Sarah, Julianne, and Erin's. Now
, this is hardly roughing it. We are very cozy. Laura sleeps on the floor. Bad luck, Laura! Perhaps soon I will include picture of actual people rather than just inanimate objects...

This is a picture of the actual office area. This area is about 3 steps down from the living room, bedroom portion of the compound. So, it feels sort of like a cave with a tranquil lagoon-like workspace. There are offices on each side and it all very neat and orderly. I really like it. We only saw the
office workers once and they're all gone now because its the weekend. Only Don Pedro remains and he likes to chat with us about his family, football, and baseball. He thinks we're nuts.

That leaves the portion of our little cottage that I have the most love for... the kitchen. Have you ever seen David the Gnome because that is immediately what I thought of when I saw this adorable place. I love it. I love the countertops that seat people on both sides. I love the arched doorway and
serving window. I love that I have to light matches to light the stove. I spend a lot of time in this special place preparing dinner for my companions, which I also (not-so-secretly) love.

Basically, I'm having a super fun time and we've just now gotten word that we will be DOING something. It's 5pm. We're just now starting our day and we're going to hang out with the BABIES!!! UYAY!

Tomorrow, Antigua and a lot less down time.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 1 - Travel and Dinner

As part of our internship experience, we are expected to cook for ourselves (with food purchased by Buckner) at breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the first week while we're in Guatemala city. So, tonight Laura and I cooked dinner. I made guacamole (from scratch!) and cooked some chicken on the wok for 9 people. We made them into little tacos and Laura made the fruit salad. It was super fun!

I got to see BERTA! She said that there might be some opportunities for me immediately to stay in Guatemala. The spread here isn't bad and the people are amazing. I'm stoked.

Right now, we're going to sort our luggage that we brought for humanitarian aid and then get some sleep b/c I did not sleep at all last night at the Radisson airport.

OH and I have a Guatemala cell phone. Once I find out what the number is, I'll post it.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Visuals are Key

Once again, I'm taking my chances on a wayward adventure cycle; however, this time I'm journeying to a place I just recently returned from. Guatemala.

Today was orientation here in Dallas and all the teams going to various corners of the world (China, Kenya, Romania, Latvia, Russia, and Peru) came together to pack bags with humanitarian aid and learn about the rules: no drinking, no skimpy clothes, no fraternizing with each other... I'm screwed.

About 3 hours after my mom dropped me off, we'd finished orientation and the next step was to go to the Buckner International warehouse and sort some shoes that had been donated from various charities and food drives across the country. They all get brought to this massive compound where then then have to be sorted by volunteers like myself and 24 others (1 guy). The dude that was charged with giving us the run down of the operation was into making annoying, almost chauvinist observations. Like he was telling us what we had to do and he looks around for the one guy in the room and says "Where's my men? There you are! No, you cannot drive the fork lift." I looked at him trying to see if he was joking, but he really did assume that a boy would be the only one capable/interested in the machine. Then he continued giving him tasks meant for "men" like operating the hand held fork lift and assigned us to the (I guess more feminine) task of sorting at 8 refrigerator sized boxes of children's shoes. All shapes, sizes, colors, and fabrics. That was a bit irksome since 24 of us were getting in each other's way crammed in between these boxes while the lone ranger waited for us to fill up boxes so that he could cart them away in between doings of nothing. To be fair, his singularization which wasn't his fault, but it was dude's fault for not delegating outside gendered notions of ability. I asked if I could help out the guy on the little fork lift, but he stammered and stuttered until I just went on with my life.


The shoes were sorted in record time and my deoderant was put to the test in the 100 degree Texas heat and humidity. For some reason we were sorting innumerable shoes in a tiny space in the ONLY room with absolutely no A/C and a fan blowing towards us desperately from 200 feet away... so odd. Hundreds of Crocs, a few Ug boots, and a million flip flops later we were ready to go back to the main office and get some dinner.

The other people in my 10 person crew are pretty cool. Again, there's only 1 dude, but he seems to be able to handle himself. Quiet. Respectful. Probably around 21. No risk. Some have been on many mission trips before and almost all have some education in childhood education or speech pathology. Speech pathology is a pretty rampant degree amongst the people here, including my leader Erin. Erin is cool. She gets me and thinks I'm funny, which are essential qualities I search for in a friend. Perhaps its because she is a teacher to special needs kids, but she knows well how to control a room. Not with any stern-ness or an aggressive attitude; on the contrary, she's just a nice gal who knows what she wants and how to get it simply.

So, tomorrow I will be embarking upon the long series of connecting flights to Guatemala City and from there I will visit a few of the cities listed on the map above, including: Heuheutenango, Zacapa, Guatemala City, and Antigua which is not shown but is only 30 minutes SW of Guatemala City. So follow me and I'll try to write as much as possible with many pictures!