Posts Tagged ‘Antigua’

Museo Casa del Tejido

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Behind the municipal Mercado in Antigua is the small, family-run Museo Casa del Tejido, a sumptuous collection of hand-made textiles from every department of Guatemala. Technically, the address is First Calle Poniente no. 51, but you’re better off finding it by going to the top of Santa Lucia near the ruins of La Recoleccion and walking straight back. The admission is not too much, and for a small fee, they’ll let you take pictures. Our guide spoke English fluently and taught us a lot.

Don’t go in expecting sealed cases and precious pieces protected from light and dust. This isn’t that kind of museum. Here, the traje of embroidered blouses and woven skirts are hung on rods or simply nailed to the wall, often approximating the figure of a person who might wear it. A stroll through the galleries impresses anyway, especially for anyone who loves textiles. Each weaving and embroidery is a unique balance of composition and color and story, beautiful in its own way.

If you visit Antigua, particularly with your children, schedule time for the Casa del Tejido. Afterwards, meander through the market for a perfect half-day.

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After the visit

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

What I want to talk about is what it feels like for me after I visit birth family in Guatemala.  Not what it feels like for anyone else, because I’m not qualified to speak to that, but what it feels like for me.

And I don’t mean to imply that making contact with Olivia’s birth family is not the greatest thing I have done in my life. Because, really, it is. If I do nothing else in my life, I’ve done that. For my daughter, for her birth mother, for the rest of her biological family. And it feels huge.

But there is a sadness attached to it. The sadness of life’s realities. That circumstances are hard, that life is not fair. That situations are unstable. That some have so much while others have so little. Relationships end. People get sick. Wars happen, and people are killed. Illnesses wipe out entire families. Nine children are born, but only three survive.

When we go to Guatemala, when we insert ourselves into families’ lives, we change their perception of the world. We represent “elsewhere.” Another possibility. Someplace they’ve heard about, maybe from the man in another family who left and never came back. Who sent money for a while, then stopped sending it. Or the mother who sends it, but is still gone.

This is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing. Either way, it’s not simple. There is love, there is loss. There is longing. We each have something the other doesn’t.

We have changed the lives of Olivia’s birth family, as they have changed ours. I’m grateful and humbled.

Every visit brings back the emotions I felt the first time I held Olivia. Simply being in Guatemala triggers many memories of her adoption–good and bad. It takes a while to process the experience. Today, I give myself permission to be quiet and just feel.

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Learning Spanish

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Everyone assumes that because my children were born in Guatemala they speak Spanish. They do not. Am I proud of this? Of course not. To the contrary: I worry about it a lot.

Neither my husband nor I speaks Spanish fluently; when I lived in Antigua, I studied for a few months, enough to make myself understood and get by (as long as I was speaking in the present tense). Home now for almost six years, the little I learned is rusty. I don’t get enough practice. A good role model I am not, not that I haven’t tried.

For one year, we had a live-in au pair from Ecuador; Olivia attended an after-school program for two. But none of that is the same as speaking day-in, day-out, hearing it, living it, being immersed. Even more of a challenge is that neither Olivia nor Mateo shows any interest in the language.  Olivia, especially resists. A second grader, she studies violin after school and attends religious instruction. Spanish feels to her like one more burden, something else (groan!), she is forced to do. (more…)

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A Mother’s Rights

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

I wrote the following piece a few years ago, when I first started researching my daughter Olivia’s adoption, begun in 2002. Here it is 2010, and I’m still wrestling with Homeland Security, now for two updated Certificates of Citizenships, one for each child. For anyone who has or is navigating the Byzantine process of adoption or naturalization, this one’s for you. The photo was taken in front of the casita where I lived while fostering Olivia in 2003.

For three years I’ve been petitioning the Department of Homeland Security for the return of my daughter Olivia’s sealed adoption file. First, with forms to Immigration in Los Angeles, then with letters to Immigration in San Francisco, and finally, with appeals to the behemoth keeper-of-all-records in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

Access to that file is my right as a United States citizen, guaranteed under the Freedom of Information Act. Which doesn’t mean they make it easy.

Parents like us who adopt children from Guatemala are handed a sealed envelope at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City and instructed to surrender it sealed and intact at the first point of entry, which for us was L.A. The temptation is to steam the envelope open and make copies of everything in it: original photographs, birth certificates, foster care facts, birth mother information. But who would dare take that risk? It took almost two years to get our daughter home, and that only happened after I moved there for six months and learned enough Spanish to plead our case myself.

 January 5, 2004, the day we touched ground with Olivia in our arms, was the day I started the paperwork to retrieve the file. My next-to-last communication with Homeland Security was dated January 9, 2007. The case had gone on for so long they wanted to know if we were still interested. Yes, I responded via fax, certified-mail, and telephone message left in the director’s office. Still emphatically interested.

Tuesday night I didn’t get out to the mailbox until 10 p.m. The children were finally asleep, and my husband was dozing over the newspaper at the kitchen table. I thought the file when it came would be another envelope. But with technology, everything’s on CD.

I ran downstairs and turned on my computer without even pausing to wake up my husband. They say knowledge is power, but right now it feels like a gift.

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Swimming Back to Myself

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Whenever my husband, Tim, and I reminisce about activities we used to do B.C. (before children), one of the first to come up is swimming. I don’t mean splashing around in the shallow end playing “motorboat, motorboat,” or sitting on the pool deck and clapping during our kids’ swimming lessons (as much as I relish both of those activities). I mean getting in the water and swimming laps, hard enough that you elevate your heart rate and get that longed-for endorphin hit, the one that leaves you a much calmer and happier person than when you started.

I grew up around water, in an old stucco house in New Jersey, a block from the Atlantic Ocean. Summers, I spent every day fully immersed, riding waves for so many hours that when I finally emerged in late afternoon, the tips of my fingers were shriveled with waterlog, my throat raw from swallowing so much salt. As an adult in California, I signed up for swimming lessons to improve my stroke. For years, my practice was to swim on Tuesdays and Thursdays before work, a mile each morning to alternate with my other exercise. I’d show up to my office with my hair still wet, smelling of chlorine, alert and happy.

All that went by the wayside soon after Olivia arrived. By the time we adopted Mateo, I doubted whether I could make it from one end of the pool to another, much less finish 72 laps.  Like so many things, the ability to swim seemed part of someone I used to be in my former life, that person I no longer knew.

But during our recent trip to Guatemala, Olivia and I stayed in a hotel with a pool. And the deal we made was that if she cooperated with me and followed my agenda without too much complaint (lots of shopping for Guatemalan handicrafts, for example), then at the end of the day, we could spend an hour or two in the pool. Which we did. And somewhere during those sessions, I realized how much I longed to be in water, how much I craved to feel myself moving through it.

So this morning, after I dropped the kids off to school and before I started the rest of my day, I drove to the pool where I used to swim. I’m a lot slower than I used to be, and my stroke, never perfect, is far from smooth. But after a few shaky laps, I found my rhythm. My heart rate was elevated and steady, I felt those old endorphins kick in. Now, as I sit at my desk to write this, my fingertips are slightly shriveled, my hair smells like chlorine. This is the person I recognize. This is me, myself.

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Trip to Guatemala

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

No matter how many times I return to Guatemala, I´m never prepared for how strong my reaction is. Excitement mixed with anxiety, as if I´m about to relive our adoption experience from seven years ago. For my daughter, Olivia, the reaction is much more straightforward. When we landed at Aurora International Airport, she looked out the window and said, “This is my country.” Olivia is American now, but Guatemala will always be home.

I´m so grateful we have the opportunity to visit.  It´s ¨Ski week¨ in California, so schools are closed. We´ll be in Guatemala City, Panajachel and the Lake Atitlan region, then a few days in Antigua, where I lived with Olivia for six months during 2003 when she was a baby and our adoption was taking what felt like forever. I wrote a book about the experience, MAMALITA: AN ADOPTION MEMOIR, which will be published by Seal Press this November.

Guatemala´s weather is nearly always perfect in February, just as it is today.  A glorious beginning to a week in my favorite country.

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