Archive for April, 2013

Semana Santa 2013. Carpets, Rugs, Alfombras

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Finally, I’m posting photos of just a few of the amazing alfombras Olivia and I saw during our trip to Antigua over Semana Santa. In Guatemala, unlike in the US, Good Friday is the day considered most significant, which is why a friend of mine, a Catholic nun who lives in-country, describes Guatemalans as “Good Friday Catholics” versus Catholics in the US, whom she labels “Easter Catholics.” Having now participated in my first Semana Santa, I understand what she means.

Driving to Antigua from the airport, our cab driver had told us that the most spectacular carpets of all of Semana Santa could be seen on a street on Antigua’s north end called Calle Ancha. Teams of artists would have started construction around midnight on Holy Thursday; the earlier we arrived on Good Friday morning, he said, the better. Five AM was the hour he recommended, because that day’s procession started from the church known as La Merced around then, and would arrive at Calle Ancha by 7. As I explained in an earlier blog post, an essential element of constructing the carpets—for the artist and viewer—is watching them destroyed by the feet of the hundreds of pilgrims walking over them as they carry the procession platforms. To see the work intact, we needed to get there early.

Another adoptive mom, Rebecca, and I, slipped out of our hotel and were headed north by 5:30. After a few false turns and a run back to my room for my camera, which in my pre-coffee haze I had forgotten, Rebecca and I found Calle Ancha. Spectacular. Unforgettable. Worth every effort.

What I hadn’t expected, although I should have, was the tone of the day, and every day during Semana Santa, really. “Reverent, solemn, prayerful” are the most accurate descriptors. ”Artistic, creative, witty” are a close second. The processions themselves will require a separate post—in their own way, they were as gorgeous and impressive as the carpets.

Semana Santa stands out as one of the best experiences we’ve ever had in Guatemala. We’d love to return to see it again.

I hope you get there, too. Just be sure to make your reservations early! ~


Mateo’s First Holy Communion

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

This past weekend, following a year of preparation and study at religious education classes taught by a dedicated cohort of volunteer catechists after the regular Sunday Mass at our parish, Mateo received his First Holy Communion. My husband Tim and I, Mateo’s godparents Deanna and David, and the rest of our extended family are so proud of Mateo! We’re proud of Olivia, too, for assisting the priest during the ceremony as one of the Mass’s three altar servers. In my day, girls weren’t permitted to serve at the altar (hence the phrase “altar boy”), so as a Catholic female I’m especially thrilled to witness Olivia’s participation.

(I’m just hoping I live long enough to see the day when women can be ordained as Catholic priests, but that’s another subject.)

Last month, I wrote a blog post about our search for Mateo’s Communion suit, which we purchased in Antigua, Guatemala. Of course I’m biased, but I think my son cuts a dashing and handsome figure in his new threads.

We’re very grateful to our parish priests, to the head of our church’s religious education program, and to all the volunteers who helped shepherd Mateo in his journey to receive this beautiful and ancient sacrament.

Congratulations, Mateo!



Connecticut couple charged with baby smuggling from Guatemala

Friday, April 19th, 2013

A Connecticut couple, Maria Gonzalez (an Argentinian citizen and legal permanent resident of the US) and Frederick Gonzalez Lopez (a native Guatemalan and naturalized US citizen), have been charged with smuggling a Guatemalan baby into the United States in 2009, using an illegal passport, according to an article by Stephen Kalin published by the Associated Press. As you know, international adoptions between the US and Guatemala closed in December 2007, and thus no adoption took place.

This case reminds me very much of a similar episode that happened to a friend of mine in California. Some years ago, ”Sally” and her husband wished to adopt a baby, and an acquaintance of theirs, a Guatemalan national living in California, who possessed a passport that allowed him to cross international borders, said he knew of a baby “available” in Guatemala. For a large fee, the man offered to falsify a Guatemalan birth certificate, bring the baby into the US, and arrange a private adoption here. Sally declined the offer, and ultimately formed her family in another way. Until Sally told me her story, I never considered this possibility, but upon reflection, and acknowledging the ease with which some documents in Guatemala may be falsified, I realize this may be easier than it may first appear.

This week, another friend living in Guatemala said that the Connecticut case is being reported widely there—and rightfully so. Nobody wants to see the law of their land circumvented, particularly when the law involves a baby illegally being taken across international borders. One of the many tragedies here is that the fall-out from this case may affect the approximately 100 families of the Guatemala 900 who have been trying to finish their cases legally since the adoption shutdown. I hope not.

Please read the entire AP article to get all the facts. Here’s an excerpt:

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut couple has been charged with smuggling an infant from Guatemala into the United States.

A federal complaint released Thursday says 42-year old Maria Gonzalez of Stamford and her husband, 36-year-old Henry Fernandez Lopez of Fairfield, brought the infant into the country after making an agreement with the child’s mother who was 14 years old at the time.

The couple is charged with illegally bringing an immigrant into the U.S. and harboring the child, as well as conspiracy to commit those acts.

Gonzalez also is charged with misuse of a U.S. passport and forgery or false use of a passport.

The case may represent the desperate measures that prospective parents are willing to take to adopt children from Guatemala since that country shut down its international adoption program more than five years ago. The country’s quick-stop adoptions had made the nation of 14 million people the world’s second-largest source of babies to the U.S. after China.

But the vibrant business came to a halt after an August 2007 raid on what was considered the country’s most reputable adoption agency, used by many Americans. Guatemala remains closed to inter-country adoption, according to the National Council for Adoption.

Gonzalez revealed to Homeland Security officials in 2012 that she was connected to a pregnant teenager in Guatemala through a former coworker’s mother living there. She said she traveled to Guatemala in March 2009 and met the teenager, accompanied her to a doctor’s visit and arranged to take custody of the child at birth in exchange for paying for the delivery and additional unspecified costs.

The teenager was interviewed by US officials in Guatemala who described her neighborhood as ‘‘poverty-stricken and a high crime area.’’ She revealed that the infant she had given to Gonzalez and Lopez was the result of a rape by a family member. She also confirmed that she had agreed to give her child to Gonzalez but said she had never signed any adoption papers.

Gonzalez said that the doctor in Guatemala had informed her that an adoption could not take place because the birth mother was an orphan and did not have a birth certificate.

[Note from me: Of course no adoption could take place because adoptions were shut down. How could the Connecticut couple not know this?]

After the infant was born, Gonzalez attempted to acquire travel documents for the child from the US embassy in Guatemala City but was refused when she could not prove she was the birth mother. The complaint claims that she then paid a Guatemalan man $6,000 for a fraudulent US passport for the child.

Travel records show that Gonzalez crossed into California with the infant in July 2009 by using the forged passport.



Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Today is one of those days when I woke up happy, possibly because for the first time in ages I slept through the night. This happens so rarely I can’t remember the last time it actually did. Even as I write this, I’m thinking, “Oh, this is what it feels like to be rested!” A novel concept.

You would think that I’d be getting all kinds of delayed-maintenance projects completed, given that I’m feeling maximally energized. Not exactly. But this morning I did volunteer for a few hours at Olivia’s school, in the art classroom, and, once again, observing Olivia up close confirmed for me “Yep. No doubt about it. My daughter’s an artist.”

A while back a friend who paints defined the word this way: “An artist is someone who works until it’s finished.”

What a perfect summary, don’t you think? And of course “artist” can apply to many fields, not only painting and drawing. Writing, too.

Fourth grade—Olivia’s level—stands out vividly for me because that was the year my family moved from Long Island, New York, to the Jersey shore. I began keeping a journal in fourth grade, which I still have, and wrote my first short story, about two girls the exact same ages as my then-best friend and me. Fourth grade was when I began to feel like the person I finally became.

Watching Olivia focus intently on her work—today, aboriginal dot paintings—multiplied my already existing happiness.

Often when my kids are whining about whatever thing is bugging them at that moment I say to them, “Happiness is a choice.”

Which is a philosophy I believe. And that I need to remember on days when I’m not feeling so rested.  ~






Back to reality

Monday, April 15th, 2013

This week, both kids finally are back in school, and life, I hope, will return to some semblance of normal. First Mateo had what is called in these parts “February ski week,” and because we don’t ski, he and I flew down to Guatemala together, and among other things, climbed a volcano, about which I wrote here. Two weeks later, Olivia and I shared 14 wonderful days in Antigua and Panajachel during her Spring break, which happily coincided with Guatemala’s famous Semana Santa and the holiday schedules of several other adoptive families, with whom we shared many laughs, meals, and unforgettable experiences such as making chocolate, visiting the Zoo and Children’s Museum, crashing the pool and playground at Hotel Antigua, and engaging in philosophical discussions about adoption, parenting, the politics of Guatemala, and other subjects about which we all obsess. In addition, we visited with Olivia’s birth family, the true purpose of our trip, as you no doubt already know if you’re reading this. I believe I speak for everyone involved when I say how deeply grateful I am to feel our relationship develop.

Olivia and I flew home late last Sunday night—exhausted but happy, and only one of us sick (my usual bug that I cannot seem to avoid, and to which Olivia thankfully seems genetically impervious). And while Olivia returned to school early Monday morning, Mateo did not. For, oh yes, Monday heralded the start of yet another vacation for my dear boy, his official April Spring break. How do parents manage who work regular hours in offices?

Anyway, this week, we’re back on track and I plan to begin writing again, especially about Semana Santa before the details fade, and now that I’m almost finished whittling down the stacks of bills, papers, taxes, and laundry that seem never, completely, to disappear.

But I cherish the weeks I had alone with each of my children, who fascinate, challenge, and energize me, and whom I madly love. I wouldn’t trade a minute.

The photo above was taken on my birthday last year while we visited my sister Deanna and her family in Boston, and is the only recent one I can find that shows the three of us together. The talented De made the cake from scratch, gluten-free. Kind of wish I had a slice right now. Mmm-mmm!



Semana Santa 2013. A visit with Olivia’s birth family

Friday, April 5th, 2013


This week, we met with Olivia’s birth family in Panajachel, a town on Lake Atitlan about three hours northwest of Antigua. The family—Olivia’s birth mother, “Ana”; her grandmother, Abuela, and her older brother and sister, now 18 and 16—traveled to Pana by bus from where they live in Totonicapan. Opinions around the subject of international adoption are mixed in Guatemala, ranging from supportive to very negative, so to protect Ana’s privacy we always meet in Pana, two hours from her town. (In small villages such as the one where they live, outsiders never pass unnoticed.) As you can see from the photo, Olivia is almost as tall as Ana, and about the same height as Abuela. Olivia had just turned seven the first year she met her family; next month she will be 11.

This meeting was a little different from our previous ones for two reasons: first, because my sister Patrice usually accompanies us on birth family visits and couldn’t this time. (We missed you, Tia!) And second, because Abuela’s shoulder was bothering her so much she couldn’t move her arm to do anything, including lift a fork to eat. The lightest touch caused her to wince with pain. Bear in mind, this is a woman who for decades has chopped firewood, hauled water, made tortillas, and washed thousands of loads of laundry by hand.

Olivia wanted to take a boat ride to another village on Lake Atitlan—she doesn’t like to feel conspicuous in “our” town of Panajachel—so we did. As usual, our first stop was to pray together in the town’s Catholic church, and may I just say that the faith and goodness of Olivia’s birth family absolutely humbles me.

Afterwards, we ate a nice lunch, over which we perused the photo albums from last year’s visit that I had assembled and brought. But none of us could ignore Abuela’s obvious suffering. Trying to ascertain the exact nature of the problem, I could make out the Spanish word for “bone,” although nothing about a fall or injury. As far as I could determine, a visit to their local clinic in Toto hadn’t revealed a root cause.

Long story short, I called Nancy Hoffman, my fellow adoptive mom who owns a travel agency in Antigua, and she said the desk clerk at our hotel knows a good doctor. Turned out he does: Dr. Luis de Pena, the physician who runs the clinic at Mayan Families, the NGO many of us adoptive families support, and where, in fact, I had been last month with Mateo, dropping off shoes donated by Olivia’s Girl Scout troop.

Our group clambered onto the next boat to Pana, piled off and into two tuk-tuks, and zipped up to Mayan Families.

After a physical exam, Dr. de Pena made a diagnosis: bursitis. If the injection he administered doesn’t work—he sent me out to buy the syringe from an NGO-subsidized pharmacy around the corner and two blocks down, “Fe, Salud y Vida”—and other causes are ruled out, Abuela may need surgery. This only can be performed in a hospital by an orthopedic surgeon, and in Guatemala, apparently, orthopedic surgeons’ numbers are few. If necessary, Abuela must travel to Guatemala City or Quetzaltenango.

Today’s report is that the pain has subsided somewhat. We’ll see.

What I appreciated most about this visit was how natural it felt. Abuela was in pain, and we did our best to help her feel better. That’s what family does, and we’re family.


Semana Santa 2013. Our trip so far.

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013


This week in Antigua for Olivia and me: visits to Guatemala’s Children’s Museum and the National Zoo (both fabulous), marimba players and traditional dancers at the Don Rodrigo in Antigua (impressive!), a tour of the coffee Finca Filadelfia (fascinating to ponder that process), a lesson in chocolate-making as practiced by the ancient Maya at the Choco Museo (enough said), a stop by the kid-friendly Ninos con Bendicion (always fun), and multiple viewings of Antigua’s spectacular alfombras and Semana Santa processions (gorgeous. gorgeous!). All shared with other adoptive parents visiting Guatemala with their kids. How I treasure our community!

Image credit: Anne Z.



Guest blogger at Crazy California Claire

Monday, April 1st, 2013

My friend and fellow writer Claire Hennessey is participating in  an A to Z Blog Challenge for the month of April and invited me to contribute. Of course I accepted. Happily!

My letter is A. Here’s a link to my post, A is for Antigua Guatemala.

Thanks, Claire!


Semana Santa 2013. Alfombra-making 101

Monday, April 1st, 2013

During Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala, groups of people related by family, work, friendship, association in a brother- or sisterhood, or by other ties I probably don’t know about, band together to construct elaborate “alfombras” or carpets, often referred to as “sawdust rugs.” The rugs are constructed in the street, over the cobblestones, or inside churches.

Although most commonly made from sawdust that is saturated with color and then dried, the alfombras can be made from anything: fruit, vegetables, pine needles—I even saw a Noah’s Ark filled with plastic figurines. The process takes hours, and many, many hands. Ironically, the alfombras are made to be destroyed—-at some point in the day or night a large religious procession will pass by and walk over it; more on this in another blog post—which for me as an “American” was a hard concept to grasp.

But now I get it. The honor is in the tradition, the building, the creative satisfaction, and, in this deeply religious country, the offering of one’s efforts for the glory of God.