Monday, May 31, 2010

Feels Like Home

Two years here. I feel more at home than I ever thought I would. I've been packing my things to got back to the states for the summer. It feels weird to leave, yet I should already be home. A volcanic eruption closed the airport last Thursday, which canceled my flight. And then on Saturday the 29th a tropical storm rolled through the country. As of right now over 100 people have died because of tropical storm Agatha.

Here in my city the streets have dried out now, but on Friday night and Saturday the streets had turned to rivers. I stayed indoors as the rain fell on Saturday, but Friday night I got to see some of the early flooding first hand. I have lived here for two years and have experienced harder rain, but nothing that consistent. As I walked home from the graduation party, I started remembering the first time I walked around the city by myself. I had gotten lost trying to find the soccer stadium. Everything seemed so foreign. But now I felt comfortable. Even though it was nearly 2 am and the streets were flooded, I felt at home. I knew which streets would be on higher ground and so I zig zagged my way home keeping as dry as a tropical storm will let you. I felt relatively safe, if anyone wanted to rob me in that rain, man they could have my stuff. I made it home safely, but drenched to the bone. Two years ago I wouldn't have ever done that.

Now Xela feels like home, and so when I read about all the people who have really suffered because of these storms, I hurt. A mudslide killed four somewhere in my city. The road that leads to my school was nearly underwater. The street I lived on last year flooded. These are places I know. These are people I know. Yet, my weekend was spent packing to go home. To Colorado. I was supposed to fly out on the 31st, but Pacaya erupted and changed everything. Having a few extra days in country has been difficult. Yet, I have realized I have made some real connections here; my students and a few friends outside of school. And that makes me excited for my return trip in August.

Please keep Guatemala in your prayers.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Doctor's Orders

I've spent my entire life in the doctor's waiting room. My mom used to think I should be a doctor, because I was constantly in and out of the doctor's office. But then again every mom wants her son to be a doctor. Thing is, I hated being in the doctors office. The magazines are always out of date.

Unfortunately, life here in Guatemala is hard on the body. Over the last two years I've had parasites, fungi (they aren't fun), amoebas, intestinal infections (dropped 10 pounds in a week), bronchitis, strep (this may have been a misdiagnosis), and a bladder infection which may've been caused by kidney stones. The latter was the hardest to diagnose. Or maybe it should have been the easiest, but the problem with going to doctors down here is that my Spanish isn't that good yet and most don't speak English. Do to all of my random illnesses, I have been forced to read out of date Spanish magazines. And with all of these visits to the doctor I have learned a lot, maybe even earned my medical license in professional patientry. My mom's dream of me becoming a doctor might've died on the emergency table, but I've gained a wealth of information I'm willing to share. So drop your copies of Better Homes and Gardens dated from June of 2001 and enter my office of knowledge and read my top ten things I have learned while going to the doctor.

10. If you didn't understand what the doctor just said in English you probably wont understand what he is about to say in Spanish, so don't respond with a yes to any of his questions. If you do, you might end up with a shot in the butt that you didn't need.

9. When you have an appointment scheduled for 8am on a Saturday morning, don't show up until 9am. Because, just like any social function in Guatemala, where no one is expected to show up until an hour after they tell you to, the doctors wont even show up on time. (For exceptions to this rule see #3)

8. Now, you've wised up and decided to bring a translator to your next appointment. No more shots in the rear, right? So, If your doctor tells your translator that you have a strep infection in your bladder (can that even happen?) and ignores the questions about kidney stones, you've been warned. But then after your appointment if he is talking to your boss and changes his apparent diagnosis to over working out, it's time to change doctors.

7. Always bring a translator, always. Or when making your payment to the doctor, always request the proper receipt. This also applies when you buy your medicine at the pharmacy. Guatemalan Insurance companies can be difficult.

6. I've always thought doctors are supposed to be experts on physical health, but Guatemalan doctors don't seem to be much into physical fitness. They believe that working out and staying in shape will harm your immune system and result in random illnesses. I wonder what med school they learned that in.

5. Always say a prayer when you have a bladder infection and are having an ultrasound on your bladder and have been asked to drink a lot of water right before the test and you feel something warm leaking down your leg.

4. If asked to do a 24 hour urine sample, don't drink a ton of water the day before or you might need another gallon jug.

3. The exception to rule number 9. If the doctor's lab says they close at 5 pm, then they close at 5 pm. In Guatemala if they show up late it's okay but if you show up late you just need to come back the next day.

2. If you know a doctor speaks English, go to her for a check up. She probably wont misdiagnose you like the doctor who only pretended to understand English. And if you're lucky She might also try to set you up with a doctor friend of theirs that wants to practice English!

1. Don't pull your pants down until the doctor tells you to. Spare yourself from the awkward situation of having your pants around your legs and the doctor not needing to check anything down there for another five minutes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Don't Worry Be Happy It's Spring Break!!

"A day at a time is long enough to sustain one's faith; the next day will have its own cares." Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I love traveling to new places, seeing new countries, which is part of the reason why I am teaching here in Guatemala. A long trip can cause a little stress. Over Semana Santa (Easter) this year I made it all the way to Honduras. It took over 16 hours to make it there and I was a little nervous about how the week would shape up. I had doubts about going because I didn't want to be the only one not scuba diving.

Due to a random canon ball dive accident, which ruptured both of my eardrums, I can't scuba dive. The ear, nose, and throat Dr. was shocked when I told him how I'd jumped off of a four foot ledge, straight into a pool, and ruptured both of my eardrums. After a year long healing process, which involved transplants of cigarette paper and the fat from my ear lobes, I was able to dip my head under water, but the Dr. ordered that I never scuba dive. So, with all of my friends scuba diving, I was worried I would be bored with nothing to do.

Yet, when I arrived on the island of Utila, all of my worries melted away. It was so hot any desire to move around evaporated on sight. I knew that all I could do was relax. I'm positive that it's impossible to feel stress on an island. Island life seems to be the the embodiment of life the way Bonhoeffer believes we should life. One day at a time and no reason to stress. And yet I had reason to stress.

First, the place we'd contacted for housing had double booked and the rooms were slightly better than an outhouse. The girls raced off to find another place to stay. For some reason I knew we would be ok. Jon, my roommate, said he would watch the luggage if I wanted to go help find a room.

During my search, I met an incredible woman named Minnie. She owned one of the hotels I checked out. From the onset I could tell her faith was strong. I asked her about her rooms and she said, "I don't make any money here. I just give everything away." She explained that she lived day to day, trusting God would take care of her. As I sat and talked with her for about fifteen minutes, I realized I needed to try and live my life day by day. Unfortunately, her hotel was full and my search came up empty, but I knew that everything would be alright.

As I walked back to where Jon had been watching my luggage, I didn't expect him to be gone, but he was. Apparently, while I was gone the girls had returned. Having found a room they left with Jon and the luggage. Unfortunately, they left no note to tell me where they'd gone. Now I was lost on an island without any way to contact my friends. I knew I should feel at least a little stressed out, but I found that an impossible feeling on the island of Utila. So, I wandered down the main street, knowing everything would be alright. Ten minutes later I was with the rest of my group. Lorin, one of the girls, stepped out of a tienda with a Dr. Pepper in her hand, which she gave to me, and told me they'd found a great room for us to stay in for the week. The fact that everything worked out so well made me wonder why people worry so much. Stress shouldn't just vacate on vacations. Minnie didn't just live day to day trusting in God because she was on vacation, no her life was on that island.

The rest of the week was amazing. I went snorkeling, which I'll talk about in another blog, and God showed me time and time again that I didn't have any reason to worry. I took my vacation day by day and I hope that I can make that happen back here on the main land. I am glad I decided to travel all the way to Utila. I just wish I hadn't worried so much about the trip, but hey, let worry, worry for itself.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bank Error In Your Favor Collect $200!

What would you do if your bank gave you $200 by mistake? What an extraordinary gift to receive. I've been listening to a sermon series from on blessings. The pastor is talking about all that God has bestowed to us and how we need to offer something back in return.
I went to the bank one recent Monday to cash a check for 170 Q, which is about 20 dollars. I was thinking about the bank giving me my money. I mean Jesus said it's better give than to receive. But I've always wondered about the person on the receiving end. I mean by receiving the gift he is in turn blessing the gift giver. This makes me think receiving is equally as good, or something like that.

Guatemalan banks give and receive money every day, but I doubt they are blessed because they're rather corrupt. A little corruption took place earlier that same Monday when I walked into the bank to cash the check. There was a huge line at the door, similar to the lines that trailed outside of movie theaters when the original Star Wars movies were rereleased. This line was galactic and growing. I slid into line like a bum waiting for free food. I was hungry and wanted to be out quickly. The guard at the door must have known this because he came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I explained to him (in Spanish) that I needed to cash a check. He told me to move over to a much shorter line. I had a feeling he was wrong, but what do I know. I'm only a gringo. Hesitantly I moved over to the other much shorter line. As soon as I reached the bank employee, she made it clear that I was in the wrong place and needed to hop back in the other line, which'd doubled in size. Ok, maybe that's not really too corrupt, but I stormed out anyway.

I walked up to another bank, which is pleasantly never busy, and close to my gym. It was almost five p.m. when I arrived inside the bank and all of the cashiers were starting to close up. There were a few people in front of me, but no galactic line, so I waited patiently. Shortly a cashier called me over and I handed her my check and my passport and we shared a few moments of awkward silence. I never really know what to say when I'm cashing a check. Yep, that's my signature. Oh, yeah my passport picture is horrible. Yes, I would like to take you out for coffee (only if they're cute and a girl). But typically I let the silence consume the room like a heavy fog.
"1 mil y setenta cientos?" she asked.
Confused I nodded and said, "si." She proceeded to count out the money. Why was she counting out so many 100's? How much was my check really for? Well, she probably knows what she's doing anyway. So I just said, "Gracisas," and headed out for the gym.

But the money felt heavy in my pocket. Had I done something wrong? The cashier was the one that counted the money and she knew her job better than I do, but maybe she'd read the check wrong. I kept walking. Had she really said Q 17,000 (about $200 more than I'd expected)? In the game monopoly you get 200 dollars if you draw the card that says bank error in your favor, maybe I'd drawn that card in real life. I tried to walk as casually as possible, but I felt like there was a huge sign on me that read "Money!!! Take my Money!!" My pace quickened and I could have sworn a police truck was following me. Finally I dashed into the gym, rushed up to the locker room, and counted the money. Yep, she'd given me way too much. I knew there wasn't anyway the check I'd cashed had been for that much.

So, what do you do when the bank gives you too much money? By the time I had counted the money in the locker room the bank had already closed. I could give some of the money away, pay off some small loans, buy my self some cool new toys.
But, what would that say about me? I'm reading a book that talks about how writers create true characters and he says that characters are defined by the choices they make and true character is revealed by the choices a character makes under pressure. I felt a lot of pressure to keep the money.
Or I could give the money back in the morning. I mean the bank would probably take the money out of the cashier's paycheck and she probably only makes 1,700 Q in a month. I can't take someone's salary. I don't want that to be a chapter in my story.

It's funny all of the excuses you can come up with when you don't want to do the right thing. Some of them even sound right. Like giving some of the money to a beggar on the street. Yet, in the end I knew I had to give it all back. God wants us to give him 10% of what he has given to us not out of what we have taken from others. The sermon I listened to challenged me to give what I have. I gave the money back the next day and it made the cashier very happy. I guess by returning that money, I was making her life a little better. I'm glad I did the right thing. I want that to be my story.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Spanish Slip Ups!

Just the other day Isa, one of the 8th graders, exploded with laughter. It was my fault. I seem to be very good at making my students laugh. Not because I'm a great stand up comedian. No, that would probably mean my classes were entertaining.
Most of the time my students laugh at me for things I don't understand. Like one time I was at a birthday party. A group of 8th grade boys, they're in 9th now and much more mature now, were asking me questions in Spanish. They couldn't control their laughter. Apparently I was saying yes to a bunch of ridiculously inappropriate questions. They still haven't told me what they were talking about and now I know not to say yes to things I don't understand.

My Spanish has improved greatly from that night when I may or may not have said yes to liking certain really gross things like cats or butterflies (I am just guessing here). Yet, I still have slip ups.
I was in my Spanish class a couple of weeks ago and Letty, my teacher, asked me, "Do you have a girlfriend here in Guatemala?"
I chuckled and answered with a sad, "No."
"Are you looking for one?" She responded quickly.
"I have friends who were helping me," I said stifling a laugh.
"The secretary at my school said she would look for me." Or at least that is what I meant to say, remember all of this is in spanish, the only part I was sure of was when I'd responded with a sad no. What I actually said was, "Yasi is good looking for me." Letty started to chortle and at first I didn't really know why. Then I realized what I had said and a hard long laugh erupted from deep in my gut. After I regained my breath I explained to Letty that my secretary was just my friend and that I wasn't interested in her because she's married and has a child. Now every time I go to my Spanish classes, Letty gives me a hard time. At least Letty didn't hear my next slip up.

So, why did Isa laugh? Well, it was lunch time and I was on duty down in the middle school building. I was making my rounds through the building. Checking on the students, just the usual. Isa was sitting by the microwaves with her friend Danitza. These girls love it when I make a mistake with my Spanish and so sometimes they try to bait me. But I was being careful. It didn't matter. I set the trap for myself.
Isa had a Pizza Hutt box and so I asked, "Are you having Pizza?" Earlier this question worked to get me a slice of Pizza from one of the 6th graders, but this time I received a "I'm too cool for this," response, which I guess is the difference between a 6th grade boy and an 8th grade girl. But then I looked at the box and realized my error. She wasn't eating Pizza, she was eating a Calzone!
I love those. So I said, "Nice Calzone. How is it?" Isa and Danitza looked at me and then their laughter started to build like a giant title wave.
"What did you say, mister?" Isa replied.
"Calzone," I stated cautiously, what had I done wrong? They started to laugh harder and wouldn't tell me what I had just done. All I could do was stand there confused, but then Isa tossed me the second half of her calzone. She must have been feeling sorry for me, but not sorry enough to let me in on what I'd just said.

Fortunately Yasi, my secretary who I am not interested in, was able to help me out. After stifling a laugh she explained to me the error of my ways. In Spanish Calzone pronounced Kal-zown means women's underwear. I'd just asked my 8th grader if she was eating girl's panties.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Twenty-Sixth Birthday!

On the day I turned twenty-six, just hours before my small celebration, I nearly died. This marks the second time I nearly died on my birthday. The other being the day I was born. I was premature and almost didn't make it past the delivery room. I am very fortunate that the doctors knew what they were doing and were able to save my life. But on my twenty-sixth birthday, if not for one of the millions of speed bumps here in Guatemala my fortune might have changed. Speed bumps, or as they are called here tumilos, are actually illegal in Guatemala. But that doesn't stop people from erecting them in front of their houses. Most small towns along the Pan American Highway have at least one tumilo for ever person living in the town (not kidding). Typically I curse these stupid speed bumps. But now I owe one my life.

It so happens that the tiny one way street I walk down every day on my way home from the gym only has two speed bumps, well one full one and one that's been chiseled away by annoyed motorists. I've walked this street manny times, it's almost second nature. So, on my birthday I was thinking more about being twenty-six and what that meant for my life than my walk home. It's funny what a birthday can make you think about. Thoughts of future relationships and the desire to start a family drifted through my brain. A glimpse of my life as a writer floated in front of my eyes. Right now I am teaching in Guatemala, but at twenty-six is that where I want to be for another year? Can I find what I am looking for down here? Do I want to go back to school and could I do that while I'm living here? Just teaching was okay for twenty-five, but the passing of another year sure makes me wonder. So, I was deep in thought and rocking out to Snow Patrol when I decided to cross the street.

The traffic for the one-way street is supposed to come up the street towards the gym, the opposite direction I was walking, so I could watch the on coming traffic. As I was about to cross the street, a car turned up the street so I adjusted my pace accordingly and stepped off the sidewalk to cross before the car sped past me. Unfortunately here in Guatemala one way streets are really just a suggestion. Like flossing or changing your oil, no one really does it. I should have known that a car would be coming the wrong way on the one-way street. But I was to busy enjoying my birthday. So, I stepped out on the street and, Wham! Whack! However you describe being rammed into by a car and flung into the air. I landed on my feet a couple of yards away from the car. Instantly I started pointing with my index finger at the car, trying to help him realize that he was going the wrong way. Then like a spike being hammered into the train tracks I realized I'd just been blindsided by a car, on my birthday. Is this what I want out of my life? As I stood shaken next to the curb the car zoomed off and I was left to walk home with a sore knee, hip, and elbow.

Why didn't the accident do more damage to me? Was my health my birthday present from God? The car had just crossed over the speed bump and started to speed back up when it nailed me. These speed bumps might not be legal, but I am sure thankful for the one that helped save my life. The rest of my birthday was great. And I am very thankful for all of the Birthday wishes I received. Here's to turning twenty-six and having a shot at turning twenty-seven!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Almost a Pre-K Teacher

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to teach preschool age kids? How about four-year-olds who's first language is Spanish? Oh, these kids understand a little English now, but sometimes I feel like they just don't want to pay attention.

Two weeks ago I was asked to fill in for the regular pre-k teacher and teach for a full morning. My first reaction was to throw a temper tantrum. With my semester's experience of teaching these kids, I know how to throw a good one. But I decided to handle it like a man and see what I could learn.

Big surprise, all of the kids, not just the ones that who excel (a word used loosely here) in English, knew their classes' daily routine. Routines are saviors for little kids. Early in my PE class I installed a routine. The pre-kers follow me out to the court. We walk on the wooden sandbox to work on balance, then hop around a set of stones that lead to the court, and finally we race to the center of the basketball court. At least that is the plan. If you can imagine the next part of the routine is even more chaotic. I try to lead them in stretches but they run around. Typically one of the little guys asks me if he can take off his jacket. This causes a chain reaction that ends in all the kids running-amuck, jacketless. On good days we follow our stretches with a bunch of different fun movements, like crawling like a bear, walking like a crab, and skipping. Then we try to play a game. My routine doesn't always work that well, but I had hope their class routine would lead to an easy morning for me.

But, back to my adventure subbing their class. According to the child in charge of moving the Weather Clip it was a sunny day. As soon as he picked up the card with a radiantly smiling sun on it, the entire class shouted "SUNNY!" I think they were supposed to wait for me to ask what type of weather we were having. We didn't make it that far, but we almost did. The rest of the day was filled with more almosts. We made it to chapel but I almost lost a kid. He decided to go to the bathroom for ten minutes. We made it to art and I almost didn't pick them back up. Just kidding. They ate all their food during snack time and almost listened to me while I read them a story. Recess was fun, they almost emptied the sandbox. And finally during free time the boys almost destroyed the classroom. All of these almosts caused us to be late for their parents to pick them up. Yet, without their routines I think I would've almost died.

Teaching similingual kids can be fun because they kind of say really cute things. They have huge imaginations and they smile a lot. But I was exhausted by the end of the day. My friends kept asking if I was sick. It's hard when you teach a class of kids who are all off in their own worlds most of the time. But, hey, they're just little kids and I don't think they should have to grow up too fast. I just hope I don't have to sub for them again. That was a lot of work.