Choco Museo

July 17th, 2015

This week, we went to the Choco Museo on Antigua’s Fourth Calle to watch a demonstration on chocolate, from cocao bean to market shelf. Our English-speaking guide, Pablo, captivated our group of six Guatemalan-born kids with hands-on activities and tales of the bean. After two hours, we each took home the fruits of our labor–a personal cache of artisan chocolate. Beyond. Beyond! ~

 

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The Bunk Bed Project

July 14th, 2015

A few years ago, American adoptive mom Tamara Hillstrom, founder of the Guatemalan orphanage El Amor de Patricia, visited a farm close to the El Amor orphanage, where she noticed that the farm’s caretakers slept on straw mats in barn stalls designed for animals. This wasn’t the first time Hillstrom had observed families in such dire circumstances: In her work for El Amor, she had visited homes where many poor parents and children slept on twigs or pallets or cinder blocks, or on nothing at all. “How can anyone function after a night like that?” Hillstrom wondered. “Doesn’t everyone deserve a comfortable sleep?”

Thus, the Bunk Bed Project was born. The concept is simple: raise funds from the American adoption community and other interested donors, use the funds to build bunk beds in Guatemala, and deliver the beds to families in need. Since the project’s inception, more than 1,200 bunk beds have been installed throughout Guatemala.

Yesterday, Mateo and I helped deliver and build bunk beds for two families.  The beds we installed, like every bunk built through the Project, are given in memory of Gabby Lewis, a child adopted from Guatemala who died too young.

I rarely ever promote nonprofit organizations, but if you’re looking for a service opportunity especially meaningful for children, consider the Bunk Bed Project. Sweet dreams. ~

 

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The road to Comalapa

July 5th, 2015

The road into Comalapa is lined with murals on both sides. If you can, get out of whatever vehicle you are driving in, and walk the length of the pictures to view them from start to finish. The images depict the history of the Mayan people of Guatemala: from the bucolic pre-Conquest days, to the arrival of the Spanish and the subjugation of the native peoples, to the 36-year armed conflict that ended with the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996. The final paintings show the future of the new Guatemala: dreaming of education and opportunity and envisioning clean, running water straight from the spigot.

The murals bring Guatemala’s complicated and fascinating history alive. I was overwhelmed by the pictures’ impact and power.

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Birth family reunion stories on the radio

July 2nd, 2015

A friend sent me this link to a PRI radio show by adoptive mom Laurie Stern about the growing practice of searching for birth mothers in Guatemala:  “For adopted Guatemalans, a searcher will look for birth moms. But sometimes the reunions are fraught.”

I listened with my two kids, ages 13 and 10, and they sat still throughout. The story that affected them most was that of “Marta,” who was relinquished at 6 and adopted at 8, and who reunited with her birth mother at 15. During the reunion lunch, Marta didn’t want to sit next to her birth mother, and her birth mother didn’t reach out to speak to Marta. My children felt the birth mother should have reached out to Marta, simply because she is the adult, but they understood both sides. “Nobody knows what to do,” said one. It’s hard to imagine a more emotional scene.

I admire the maturity shown by Laurie Stern’s son, who seems at peace with himself and his identity, because he understands where he comes from, and has made sense of his history.

I recommend listening to this PRI piece because it does not make reunion seem simple. And trust me, it isn’t.

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Santiago Atitlan

July 1st, 2015

We took a boat to Santiago Atitlan with adoptive family friends who had never been there. Friday is market day, and the town was filled with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, meats, and dried fish. The design of Santiago’s huipil features embroidered birds, and my friend, an ardent bird-watcher, bought one. Some men in the town continue to wear traje, which you can see in one of the pictures.

We also visited the church, where Oklahoma missionary Father Stan Rother was pastor for many years before he was shot in the head and killed in July 1981 during Guatemala’s armed conflict. Plaques explaining the history of the conflict and its impact on Santiago and other villages line the church’s back walls.

Father Rother’s heart and blood are buried in a crypt and a large photo shows his image. Notice the word “Aplas” on the monument. That’s the name for “Francis” in the local dialect, Tzutujil. The people of Santiago had no word for Stanley so they called Father Rother  “Padre Aplas.”

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Father Stan Rother

June 26th, 2015

I’m writing this as a person who loves Guatemala, and as a practicing Catholic who has been praying for the canonization of Father Stan Rother, an Oklahoma missionary priest who was shot in the head and killed at his parish home in Santiago Atitlan in July 1981, during Guatemala’s armed conflict. Yesterday, the Associated Press announced that a commission in Rome has declared Rother a martyr, and efforts to canonize him a saint will go before a panel of 15 bishops and archbishops, in six months.

I read the news this morning on my Google alert, sitting in a chair in a village only a few miles away from Santiago Atitlan, where Father Rother was assassinated. I have visited his Santiago church, where his heart and blood are buried, and witnessed the deep and active faith of the parishioners there.

Father Stan Rother: American Martyr in Guatemala, written by John Rosengren, is a 2006 account of the events surrounding Rother’s death, the best I have found. Read it if you are interested in learning more about this good man.

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Oscar Peren in Comalapa

June 24th, 2015

I first learned of painter Oscar Peren when I lived in Antigua with Olivia in 2003. Another waiting adoptive mom who was fostering her daughter knew a lot about art, and lent me a book about Guatemalan artists, past and present. There, I read about painters from the town of Comalapa, including Oscar Peren. I was familiar with Peren’s name because a poster of his painting, “The Guatemalan Bus,” hangs in a bookstore in Antigua’s Square. I loved the picture’s humor and color, and wanted to see Peren’s work in person.

We hired a driver and Olivia and I made the pilgrimage to Peren’s Comalapa studio to meet him. The place was everything I hoped for: walls covered floor to ceiling with paintings, each one confident and beautiful and witty. I bought 3 pictures that day, which hang in our house in California. Each time I look at them, I see something more in the canvases.

This trip, we visited Oscar Peren’s Comalapa studio again, and I told him about our 3 pictures. I also told him how much my now 13-year-old daughter loves to paint and draw and sew–to make anything with her hands–and Oscar Peren nodded. He told Olivia he himself began to paint at the age of 3, and urged her to continue. He called Olivia, “La Futura.”

In the photo I’ve posted, you can see Olivia with Oscar Peren. Notice the canvas to Olivia’s left. It’s a self-portrait of Oscar Peren at age 3, barefoot and in a doorway, peeking in to observe the master painter who became Peren’s teacher. We bought the picture, and when we return to California, that self-portrait will hang in Olivia’s room. ~

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San Juan La Laguna

June 21st, 2015

Dear Mateo,

We took the boat to San Juan, a village on Lake Atitlan known for its women’s weaving cooperative. The weavers use only natural dyes, made from herbs and spices and bark and berries. To give you an example: the red shawl I bought was dyed with carrots and paprika. I will show you when we get home.  Here are some photos that show the process. You can see the balls of threads and the elements they use to dye them.

Also: Notice the church, San Juan Bautista (that means “John the Baptist” in Spanish): the new structure was constructed behind the original facade, still standing a few hundred years after being built. You see the old wall, and the entrance hall from the old building. Then you see a whole new church.

Next time you come with me to Guatemala, we can visit San Juan if you want. It’s a very cool little town. We’ll take the boat from Panajachel. Remember when we did that with Olivia’s birth family? They loved seeing the volcanoes.

Dad said you are doing a page of math problems every night. I hope that is true!!!

We miss you!

xoxoxoxo,

Mommy

 

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Antigua, Guatemala

June 19th, 2015

Dear Mateo:

Yesterday in Antigua, we met up with Deborah Feore and her two lovely and amazing daughters from our Bay Area adoption group. You’ve met them at our annual adoption party, remember? It was so much fun to re-experience Antigua through the eyes of the enthusiastic girls. They liked everything about this town!

We ate lunch at Cafe Sky, took a stroll through the Square looking for the famous vendor “Ruth”–(her son’s name is Mateo!)–bought woven tablecloths at Colibri, ate orange chocolate bread from Dona Luisa’s, and wandered through the municipal mercado, where Deb revealed herself to be as mad for plastic “canastas” as I am. Canastas are the word Guatemalans use for the plastic tote bags that I buy a lot of, many of which are stashed in the closet downstairs.

As we walked along the cobblestone streets, one of her daughters said “This feels like my second home.” Ahhhh. — That was nice to hear.

We miss you!

Love,

Mommy (and Olivia, too) xoxo

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Chichicastenango

June 17th, 2015

Dear Mateo,

Thursday is Market Day in Chichicastenango, the largest artisan market in Guatemala, and last week, Olivia and I were there. Next time you are in Guatemala, we can go, too. In these photos, you can see vendors on the steps of the big church and in the market selling beautiful textiles and fruits.

We miss you and can’t wait to see you soon!

Love,

Mommy

PS: Olivia loves her Spanish school and says she is learning a lot.

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