Posts Tagged ‘heritage trips to Guatemala’

San Juan La Laguna

Sunday, 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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The Vendor Jesus

Monday, June 15th, 2015

If you happen to be in Panajachel, Guatemala, please buy a card from my 14-year-old friend, Jesus. Three years ago, Jesus spotted my son Mateo and me through a school window in Santa Catarina, a nearby village–we do stand out–and the next day, ran after us on the street in Panajachel.”I saw you in Santa Catarina,” he said, in perfect English. “You want to buy a card?”

Every year since then, Jesus has found us, and every year, we buy more and more cards. This trip, Olivia and I were waiting for a ride to our next destination when out of nowhere bounds Jesus, clutching a bundle of cards encased in plastic, calling “Senora, senora!” I was happy and relieved to see him. When we’d been in Pana a few days, and he hadn’t yet materialized, I worried.

Ask Jesus for a discount, but be warned that he bargains hard. At some point during the negotiation, in a serious voice, he probably will utter his favorite phrase, “Business is business.”

Here are two photos of Jesus’s wares–details of the embroidered blouses known as huipiles–and, above, a picture of him with Olivia and an Abuela, who, by the way, gifted me with a lovely textile to wrap tortillas.

 

 

 

 

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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! ~

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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!

xo

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The next visit

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

I feel guilty even writing this but I’m gearing up for another trip to Guatemala. For close to a decade, I’ve promised myself that one of these years I’d be in Antigua for Semana Santa, the holy week that leads up to Easter. That year finally has come. Only Olivia and I are going; my husband and Mateo will hold down the fort here. For the past weeks, I’ve been accumulating small gifts for Olivia’s family there, which is always fun. By now I know their favorite colors and tastes, the things they like and what they need. Our gigantic suitcase is filled.

The best part is putting together the photo album from the previous year’s visit. I love watching Olivia and her family page through it together, laughing at some remembered event—Dulce getting a ribbon woven into her hair, or Santiago eating an ice cream cone at Pollo Campero. Everyone will remark on how tall Olivia is compared with last year, and how her hair is still beautiful, but different. I’ll be amazed at how much her brother and sister have grown up, and delighted to see the family look happy and healthy.

A big part of loving someone, I think, is sharing a history with them. How grateful I am that we’re able to help Olivia create a history with her birth family. How lucky I am to watch it develop.

 

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Mateo’s new suit

Friday, March 1st, 2013

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably figured out that I’m Catholic, and my husband and I are raising our kids Catholic. What does that mean, exactly? A lot of things, which I won’t go into here because I believe every religion is valid and to be respected, as is the choice of no religion at all, by the way, and I’m not telling this story as a platform to discuss my faith.

No, my reason for bringing up Catholicism is to share the experience of buying for my son Mateo his very own First Holy Communion suit, from the charming purveyor of First Holy Communion suits in the photo above, who practices his fashion genius somewhere in the depths of the municipal mercado in Antigua, Guatemala.

In February 2012, Mateo and I had bought a suit from the same distinguished gent, intending to save it for the Sacrament this April. What we hadn’t counted on was Mateo’s growth spurt, which  steered the original suit pants and jacket dangerously toward clown costume territory.

But try finding the same tailor in the maze of the mercado! My remembered directions sounded like this: “Walk down the right side aisle, through the section with the pirated DVDs, past the candles and flowers and soccer balls, turn left at the section with the raw meat hanging, through the wrapping paper and baskets and candy, past the shoes and wallets and leather belts, beyond the place with the sacks of rice and beans and the guy who sells machetes. Somewhere around that.”

Fortunately, the lady in the First Communion dress section knew exactly where the tailor who sold First Communion suits was headquartered, and she kindly escorted us to the proper stall. Success!

Not shown here are the suit’s handsome complementary items: the white ruffled shirt, the black bow tie. For that, we’ll have to wait for Mateo’s First Holy Communion “big reveal.”

Stay tuned. ~

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Guatemala, Guatemala. February 2013

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Last Saturday, Mateo, my sister Patrice, and I arrived in my favorite place on earth, Antigua, Guatemala. It’s insane how much I love Antigua—the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, the ring of volcanoes, the churches, the Square. We’ve been visiting Antigua since I fostered Olivia there in 2003, and every trip we discover something different. This time, we climbed Volcano Pacaya, an extraordinary adventure that deserves its own post, and will get one soon. We also spent two days at Lake Atitlan, my other favorite destination. Olivia’s Girl Scout troop collected some 75 pairs of gently used kids’ sneakers, soccer cleats, and shoes, which Mateo, Patrice, and I lugged down on the airplane, and hand-delivered to Mayan Families, an organization we support that serves indigenous families in the region. Pictures on that adventure to come, too.

This trip, we connected with three other adoptive families visiting Antigua, two with eight-year-old boys, and one with a younger girl. The girl’s family I had met virtually, through our mutual membership on an adoption listserve; I know the boys’ families through our local adoption group. I mention this as another benefit of forming adoption networks—when you visit Guatemala, you can meet up with friends. Mateo loved sharing meals and fun with all three kids. And let me tell you, for an active, eight-year-old boy, scaling Pacaya with two other active, eight-year-old boys qualifies as downright awesome.

The fabulous Nancy Hoffman, who has lived in Guatemala for more than a decade and is known to most of you reading this as the founder of guatemalareservations.com, helped us with arrangements. If you’re planning to visit, contact her at Nancy@GuatemalaReservations.com and she’ll set you up.

The Saturday before we left, we visited friends who live in one of the small villages surrounding Antigua. After a lovely afternoon, on the way back to town, we passed local residents creating alfombras (carpets made of sawdust and various materials) outside their homes and businesses for the village’s Lenten procession later that night. The artists kindly indulged us by letting me take pictures while Mateo inspected their handiwork, delighted to take part in the local tradition.

Our trip consisted of dozens of such small, unexpected moments, which already have entered the realm of treasured memories. To me, those treasured memories are what give life meaning. I feel lucky to share them with my son Mateo, in his beautiful birth country of Guatemala.

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Pictures from a service trip to Guatemala, part 2

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Before leaving the subject of my service trip to Guatemala, I’m posting a few more photos of places we went and people we met. The orphanages we visited are privately (not government) run and funded, mainly by donations from individuals and families. Our trip was led by adoptive mom Leceta Chisholm Guibault, founder of  “Service Trips to Guatemala with Leceta,” aka “Team Ceta” (top row, far left), and Sandra Hurst (top row, third from left), long-time staffer from sponsor Orphan Resources International (ORI).  Several folks have emailed me with questions about my experience. Here’s a sampling, with my answers:

What is a service trip and why did you choose to go on one?

A service trip can be specifically project-based, such as building a house or community center, setting up or working in a medical clinic, installing water filters or stoves, or teaching skills or languages. Over the years, I’ve seen countless teams of volunteers on my flights to Guatemala and I was curious about the phenemenon. I chose to join “Team Ceta” because I have long admired Leceta Guibault’s leadership in the international adoption community.

What did you do on your trip?

Each service trip is different, according to current need. On this sojourn, most of Team Ceta and ORI’s efforts centered on an orphanage, Misioneros del Camino, founded and run by the inspirational Leonor Portelo, a Cuban-born widow who has dedicated her life to helping the children of Guatemala since 1986. Team Ceta volunteers who possess skills in working with children with disabilities and/or speech therapy assisted in the neurological clinic. Others built and installed two bookshelves, and painted the exterior of the dining hall. One volunteer organized and led a Fun Run in which we all participated; others supervised crafts and photography projects. In addition, we hosted activities for the children at Rosa de Amor and My Special Treasure orphanages. There was no shortage of things to do.

Wasn’t it hard on the children for you to interact with them for only a brief time?

I speak a little bit of Spanish, which allowed me to chat with the kids at each of the orphanages we visited and ask their opinions. Perhaps they were only being polite, but every one of them said they liked having us there, that it was something different to do, someone else to talk to; that our conversations were interesting, about a world beyond the orphanage fence. I should emphasize that most volunteers, in general, do not interact with children to the same degree that Team Ceta did on this trip, but focus their efforts on building, painting, or delivering food or health services.

Guatemala can be a dangerous country. Did you feel safe?

Team Ceta and ORI assign volunteers to serve only in areas that are known to be safe for tourists, around Lake Atitlan and Antigua. We traveled by private shuttle or bus, with a bilingual guide.

How were the accommodations? What about the food?

We bunked two to a room in a lovely mission home used by Orphan Resources International called “My Father’s House.”  The food was fabulous. In fact, I think this was the first trip I’ve ever taken to Guatemala where I didn’t lose weight.

Would you go on another service trip?

Absolutely yes. The sooner the better! ~

 

Photo above, top from left: Leceta Chisholm Guibault, Alison Caissie, Sandra Hurst, Dianne Sharpe, Meghan Talbot, Stephanie Finney, Adele Griffith, Jessica O’Dwyer. Bottom row, from left: Robyn Caissie, Kahleah Guibault, Hilary Umbach, Marcia Harvey Talbot, Mary Bain Sebastian. Photograph courtesy Marcia Talbot Photography.

Photos below: Painting the dining hall, young friends, food delivery truck, two children, the new bookshelves, Fun Run, neurological clinic, more young friends, blue door. Dining hall photo courtesy of Adele Griffith. Photos of young friends, Fun Run, and blue door courtesy Mary Bain Sebastian Photography.

 

 

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Dillon International’s Guatemala Heritage Weekend, and Antigua.

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

This weekend, Mateo and I will travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I’m speaking at Dillon International’s Guatemala Heritage Weekend. I’m honored because Dillon is one of the nation’s oldest, most established adoption agencies, whose stated mission is “providing the best lifetime of care for each homeless child we are privileged to serve.” Mateo is thrilled, too, because he will get to play with friends he met last summer at MOGUATE, a confab of families with children born in Guatemala which was founded by the amazing Cindy Swatek (below left), and held annually in  Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.

In fact, it was another mother from Moguate, Susan Carter (below, far right), who recommended me to the folks at Dillon. (Susan managed the mercardo at Moguate, where, I confess, I undoubtedly numbered among her best customers.) So, as you can see, the world of adoption from Guatemala is small, and every day, gets smaller.

Which I view as a great thing!

Example: In February, my sister, Patrice; Olivia, and I made our annual trek to Guatemala to visit with Olivia’s birth family and experience her beautiful birth country. We’ve done this for the past several years–read a few accounts here and here and here– and each year the trip has been special in its own unique way.

Unique about this trip is that for the first time ever, we met up with two other adoptive families, whom I had met in Boston during my Mamalita book tour. Sharing the experience with the other families–Carly, Christina, and their husbands and kids–made our usual wonderful experience even more so. The kids bonded instantly, and we grown-ups did, too.

I cherish my connections formed through adoption, not only to my children’s birth country and their birth mothers and siblings, but to other adoptive families, too. E.M. Forster once famously said, “Only connect.” If you’ve connected with me in any way through adoption, please know how grateful I am for your friendship. Wherever you live, I hope you’ve also found a community.

See you in Tulsa!~

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Back from Guatemala

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

On the plane ride home from Guatemala, Mateo and I sat next to an American business school professor who has consulted on growing businesses in Guatemala for the past 30 years. It didn’t take long for “Professor M” to figure out that I was what he called a “do-gooder”—that is, someone who believes that my small efforts to help a country I love might actually yield a result. Then when Professor M learned I lived in San Francisco! Well, that sealed the deal. M could categorize me as a person with my head in the clouds, you know the type.

Nevertheless, over 30 years, Professor M has, like me, developed a great love for Guatemala. His affection was clear as he spoke about the good work by many in the Guatemalan business community—their efforts to create jobs and income streams, their support of young people in the middle class to become educated and move up the career ladder. At the same time, the professor voiced deep frustration. According to him, the political system is so corrupt that it discourages talented, honest people from getting involved. Violence runs rampant. Drug traffickers have destroyed communities. “They’re recruiting kids as young as your boy,” M said, pointing to six-year-old Mateo. We both shook our heads.

By the time we touched down in Houston, the professor and I realized we held opinions more alike than different. Guatemala had captivated each of us. In our own ways, we do what we can.

That’s why I’ve posted the photo above, taken during my most recent trip. The picture shows a woman named “Dona G,” standing in front of a house built by Common Hope, an organization headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, and based in Antigua, Guatemala. Contributions to Common Hope funded the house. Dona G earned it by putting in the required hours of sweat equity. Finally, Dona G and her family are living between walls that won’t collapse. During the torrential downpours of the rainy season, her new cement floor won’t turn to mud.

No one person can change the world. But in ways large and small, we can try to make our particular corner of it better.

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