Saturday, September 25, 2010

For better or for worse


Well, here I am out of Casa Guatemala. I have mixed feelings about choosing to go but in the end decided that I was too tired of being mad and frustrated to stay. I wont rule out the chance of heading back if some things seem better but that just might be to ease my conscious about walking away and leaving the rest of the volunteers with more work and my whole group of girls with no one to take care of them. They are capable of taking care of themselves, but we all want to feel like somebody cares about where we are and where we´ve been and how our days were.

For better or worse, the decision has been made and I´m at a hostel in Rio Dulce.

There is a huge tropical storm off the coast of Honduras and we are getting rain from that and it is indeed impressive. The worst of it is supposed to come tonight so I´m hoping that the roads don´t wash out and I´ll be able to get out of Rio Dulce. I´m sure I´ll be able to get somewhere as this is a crossroads, I just don´t know where yet. And there wont likely be reports  on the roads by tomorrow morning when I plan to leave so I may end up stuck in a river somewhere. Part of the adventure!

I haven´t decided where to go next even. North toward Tikal? Over to the highlands - Antigua and Lake Atitlan? To the Pacific Coast? Don´t know yet.

Anyway, just thought I´d write and tell what I´d decided. I know that place and those kids will likely haunt me always. I will always wonder if I should have stayed. If I could have found a way to fight through the corruption and the absolute lack of interest in change. If I could have miraculously started to get through to the girls that no one else has been able to. To wonder if I ran away from somewhere I should have stayed. I have to trust that when I was in the middle of it I knew the only solution was to get out of it.

I´ll write again when I find myself somewhere new-

Monday, September 20, 2010


Felix racing around on his motorcycle - he does stunts that are awesome

looking at monkeys with Chana. Sometimes the howler monkeys that usually live out behind the houses come to the trees in the patio. I love those days.

favorite favorite favorite activity

Marisol, Jossi and Clara Luz - some of "my" girls

Erick playing in my room - somehow the upload squished the photo all weird - he's cute, not an alien

Sunday, September 19, 2010

should i stay or should i go?

warning - long one! trying to work out my head. this is a letter I sent to geoff since i haven't been able to figure out what to say here.

I think I'm going to leave here. I just had a moment of realization. I've got a permanent scowl on my face that try as I might I can't get rid of. I'm ready with a yell for any child that may happen to cross my path. I even have a necklace of key hanging around me jingle-jangling every time I walk. I'm HER! The cross matron. It's not really true, I'm more patient than anyone else here, but sometimes I feel like I'm being her.

Then, a child is crying because she got hit in the mouth swimming but all she really needed was to lay in my arms and be held for ten minutes. It's also what I needed. I think that is where my heartache lies more than anything. What these kids really need is some love but what they get are volunteers stretched too thin to have the patience to love them. Every last one of us at our last straw. I believe the kids to be at risk. 6 people are in charge of the health and safety and well-being of 250 kids. No one in charge of us. No one else looking out. We have a coordinator but she is worthless at best. Actually harmful most of the time. Absent a great deal of time.

So I struggle with whether to stay or go. I am being a person I dislike more than I can express. I complain, I yell, I'm not fair. I'm the only volunteer that speaks both english and spanish. 4 others that speak only english. one that speaks only spanish but she's in charge
of 22 girls ages 4-8 so I end up being the one paying attention to everything, talking to every kid when they're misbehaving. The authority figure for all of them. Always telling them when they're doing wrong. The one in the middle of disagreements between the volunteer who speaks only spanish and the rest. Then accused of managing by the coordinator. Told that this is not my job and to not do it. But then she is worthless so no one does it. She's at me every
time I turn around. Hates that I think of things she's not thinking of, that the rest of the volunteers come to me with problems or things they need solved then yells at me when I try to do it. I feel like every time I turn around I'm in trouble with someone for something
they should be thanking me for. But then it will be even worse if I go.

Today I lost it. Told my girls I was leaving. Told them mean things, went to my room and cried. Then had to go put on a good face to be the ringmaster of a day of field games that I organized that the kids only complained about. Don't want to be here anymore with these ungrateful
wretched children who are mean and tell me to go home anyway. They are so rude. And I get it. I get it. Everyone who has ever been in charge of them their whole entire lives has left them. Starting with their parents then to this compound in the jungle you can never leave - some
haven't left this piece of land in literally years- then every volunteer that has ever come to be in charge of them, to love them, to teach them to open their hearts. Every single one has left them. Of course they are awful. I get it. I get it. I get it. There is nothing I can do to change it. I will also leave them. Whether it's this week or in December, I will leave them. They will have yet another personality to get to know. Someone else who doesn't know their names, who wants to know their stories, who doesn't even know where to get more shampoo.

How do I reconcile it?

Do I leave, not wanting to support this organization - I haven't even gone into how corrupt the person who runs this place is. Every day I learn more about how much she steals from these children. Not give my support and energy and attention to something that I disagree with so
strongly. Do I leave because I am miserable and feel like no matter what I do, someone is going to let me know how f-ed up it is and there is no support?

Or is this one of those things that will make me stronger if I just stick with it? Am I just being extra emotional because we don't have proper nutrition and there isn't any way to drink enough water and we don't get enough sleep and there is no such thing as a day off? Does it matter if these are the reasons if the end result is the same?

No matter how many times I turn it around in my head I just don't know. I want to leave more than anything. Is it a cop out? I don't know.

I'm curious to find out what I do.

Thanks for emails, it really helps to know that you're out there.


today is tomorrow and I feel a little better. I talked with my girls last night though and asked them what to do? How do I manage them better? What would they do if they were me? To a girl they said that the only way is with yelling and punishments. I talked with the useless volunteer coordinator this morning and she said the only way is to detach. To not care what they think of me, to be tough and keep them in line. Well, that is a shitty way to live. She says, you can't help them, your expectations are too high. Well if I don't think I can help any of them, why on earth would I come here? To a compound in the middle of the jungle, completely isolated where the kids are wild beasts?

Now the boat captain is yelling at me that someone is going to tell Snra Angie how everything is going here, that it's completely out of control, as a threat. I just said "please, someone tell someone. How on earth can we possibly keep everything going? He says, keep the computer room door open! I say I've closed it because the boys come in and bother us and wont let us be. Well, kick them out! But they don't listen to me, what can I actually do if eight boys are in here and wont leave when I tell them to? Just kick them out!" Well, thanks for all your help, Don Tocho.

Last night two of the big boys got a hold of one of the little girls and threatened her with a knife, held to her stomach, told her they would kill her, she managed to get away but they said they would come looking for her in the night and get her while she slept. So she slept in my room and they closed the entrance to our house with a lock which is never done and a guard was put outside of our house with a gun. Then today, there has been no punishment for them. The workers are yelling at the volunteers that we aren't doing a good job of keeping things under control, but we aren't workers. This isn't our job. We are here to help, not be in charge. Everything is completely messed up.

But how do you leave knowing that it will just be even worse than it is for everyone left?

Jeez. It's all really stupid right now.

Guess I'll come out of it with some lessons.

thanks for listening/reading. i'll try to have something nicer to say soon. at least post some photos. cause they kids are really cute, i'll have to give them that.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

mirros and monkeys

I seem to be falling into a nice rhythm with the girls. After some soul searching about really how to do this I have remembered and realized and really understood that people are always mirrors. If you want to change someone's reactions, change your actions. So I treat the girls like they know what they are doing and I am here to help, not dictate. This seems to be working really well. Telling them that I trust them to do what needs to be done and that I wont be checking up on them unless it becomes a problem. Suddenly, no more fights with them. Giving them more freedom rather than less. “It seems like you all have extra time in the morning after doing all of your chores, shall we try sleeping in 15 more minutes a day and see how that goes?” “YES!” so now we get up at 5:00 instead of 4:45 (because, really?!?!) and they still get everything done. So then I tell them that if they will just go to bed properly that they can have lights out at 8:15 instead of 8:00 and suddenly no more fights about bedtime. They actually end up in bed sooner than they did when we were fighting about it.

I went to town yesterday so another volunteer was watching them and I told them that I would bring back a movie for them but if I heard that they were being jerks that I wouldn't give it to them for another week. I got back and they had gotten themselves into their lines for dinner and eaten and done everything properly without needing any authority figure to tell them. So I gave them their movie and also some pastries I brought them. I told them that I was so sure they would be good that I bought cookies that I would have had to throw away otherwise. They just behave better and better the more I show them that I trust them.

Everyone was warning me about how tough I was going to have to be with them and what jerks they are which I am sure is some of the problem I was having. I came into this expecting a fight, and I got one. Some of the teachers complain about them and tell me how awful they are, and they probably are at school but interestingly, the ones they say are the worst are the ones that are the best for me. They show the most leadership and offer to help and always do what I ask. It's amazing. I think it is a true testament to the idea that people behave the way they are expected to.

I still have to talk to them sometimes about stuff but I make sure to do it in private and usually hugging them (they always want to be hugging) and just explain to them how their lack of respect (usually for someone else) isn't cool and how would they feel and to please not to that anymore and they are so receptive to it.

The biggest fights we were having and that other people told me I would have with them was about being ready on time. So I just tell them what time it is regularly. “30 more minutes” “15 more minutes” “5 more minutes” “Be in line in one minute” and they are there without any problems. It is when I forget to give them time warnings that we have problems and that is my fault. I tell that that when I get grumpy that they aren't on time and I haven't given them proper warnings just to remind me and I will stop being grumpy. And they do and I do and it works.

The one thing that is happening that has always happened that doesn't seem to be stopping in spite of talks about how much stealing sucks is that they steal each other's clothes. This seems to be something that has been happening always so I'm going to ask the directors if I can buy them locks for their closets. The boys have locks and I think the girls should get them also. It will only cost me about $30 and seems well worth it to have the stealing stop. Everyone should have some privacy. I will have copies of the keys and we can get into them anytime we want to, but at least they will be safe from each other.

So with less than a week here I starting to feel really good about how things are going. I am starting to really enjoy these girls and glad to have this challenge after all.

I hear that there are terrible mudslides around the rest of the country but so far here we haven't been affected. We are just at the beginning of hurricane season though so I expect we'll get some storms but hopefully nothing too big.

The howler monkeys were in the trees in our courtyard today for the first time since I've been here. It was fun to see them finally after hearing them further away.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

cycle and recycle

Sometimes these girls take me back to being fourteen and I react not to them as me but to who they were as who I was. Terrified sometimes that they will figure out that I don't actually have any authority. To have to remind myself that I am not her and they are not them and to calm the frack down, they didn't even do anything. Yet. Not really, nothing worth actually getting angry about.

It's probably a gift to go back to that girl who learned to be frightened to draw attention to herself. To have another chance to have different relationships with those girls who were so tough and scary when I was that age. I vacillate between wanting to let them do whatever they want and buying them candy so they like me and wanting to punish them out of spite for things they haven't even done. To me. I'm sure they do them to each other.

Sometimes I kind of hate them. Sometimes I even really love them and can't believe how good they are. Mostly I try to remember to have so much sympathy and empathy for them. I have to keep reminding myself that some of them have been here 10 years or more, just dropped off by families and they don't even know why and they no longer have any contact but they know there is a family out there somewhere that just doesn't want them, doesn't care about them. And here is yet another person here in a role of authority but she doesn't even know where the damn soap is. How can you respect that? Like a friend of mine talks about, sometimes you have to respect the role, if not the person. How do I teach them that?

I am so curious about how this will all play out. I'm sure they'll test me and I'll react badly a bunch of times before this is through.

What a gift these lessons are. Not all abandoned kids are cute four year olds who want to crawl into your lap because they need physical attention. Sometimes they are old enough to be pissed about the hand they've been dealt and to deny that is a grave injustice.

Doesn't mean that it doesn't piss me off when they are shit heads.

Monday, September 6, 2010

the news from Casa Guatemala

Even after just a couple of days I feel like I'm settling in nicely here at Casa Guatemala. I guess that normally there are about 30 volunteers but right now I see only six. I guess that two are on their break, but still, not too many. I am interested to see where my head is in a few weeks. The rest of the volunteers want out for sure. They are sick and they are tired and they are frustrated and they are angry and they are negative. I'm going to do all that I can to make sure to keep in perspective what we are doing and why we are here and that it just isn't all that bad. Of course I've been here three days, so what do I know? I know that it's much harder to keep your spirits up when you've been sick for weeks and weeks. And when you've been eating the same simple food meal after meal, day after day, week after week. There are always beans. Sometimes there are eggs and vegetables, sometimes there is pasta, sometimes there is rice. There are always tortillas. Luckily there are also plenty of spices and the beans and vegetables are delicious. I would love to have beans and vegetables and tortillas every meal but so far we only had vegetables one day and the other days have been beans with rice or pasta. Seems to be the same-ish meals all day – certainly not going to throw anything away. So far I don't mind and actually feel pretty good. I'm not hungry between meals and I'm not having the carb sugar crashes that I'm so used to so that's great.

I drink about a gallon and a half of water a day and only pee twice or three times which amazes me. Never not sweating. We had a little rain last night preceded by a nice wind. It was after bedtime for the girls but I let them sit out on the patio to take advantage of the breeze. I couldn't lay in bed and didn't think it was probably fair to make them do either. We'll see if I get in trouble for it.

One thing I hadn't thought about is that because there are teenage boys and girls here that there are boyfriends/girlfriends/fights/breakups and none of it is condoned by the powers that be. They like to think that there will be no contact and so there is a constant struggle to keep things on the up and up. Last night as I was trying to get all the girls inside to watch a movie on the computer there was a breakup that happening so I just stood there to act as witness. One of the boys said I could go in, that she would be along soon. I told him that I had to make sure that nothing bad happened and he said that was why he was there and I didn't have to worry. So I put out my hand and told him that then everyone would be extra safe with us both there and I was glad to have an ally. He wasn't sure that was what he wanted but he didn't have much choice so we shook on it and waited it out. I'm not sure what to do with that stuff yet. I guess you just do the best you can. The girls were watching a movie last night and a girl who is really surly – the toughest customer – came in and sat in my room and talked with me the whole time. At first I thought that was pretty nice but I eventually realized she was there to keep me from checking and that someone had snuck out to meet a boy. I mean, maybe not, but that is the simplest explanation and the one I know is true. Until I learn all their names and faces and personalities though, there just isn't much I can do about it. Interesting.

The doctor left a few weeks ago mad about something and there is no medic here now. The littlest kids have some crazy kind of rash that looks aweful and it's hard to know what it might be and so you want to comfort them but kind of you don't want to touch them. I just figure that whatever it is must be curable and if I get it I will get cured also. It might just be heat blisters but it sure seems severe. Right now all the little ones are being given antibiotics every day with their morning teeth brushing and I have to wonder if that is mean to be the case or if they were on a cycle of them when the doctor left and this is the result of a miscommunication. Or are they actually fed antibiotics everyday? That can't be good. And one of the middle aged girls just went to town with heb B and there isn't money to inoculate the other kids so they just take their chances.

I am here to learn and it is really interesting to see what happens when your resources start to dry up and your volunteers quit coming and your kids are sick and you can't afford to help them. Even if the ranch starts with two kids and never gets bigger than ten I realize how incredibly unfair it is to promise to take care of someone and then not be able to. I'm sure they are still probably better off than they would be without this place here at all but it's a little heart breaking. It is also inspiring to do your very best and be gentle with yourself when all that you can do isn't enough. To not own the guilt of knowing better.

So good and bad, just like expected. I think I chose well to come here. It definitely feels more like the type of experience I was hoping for than living in Peru did. Not that I would trade it – I wouldn't, I'm just grateful to be here now and I'm grateful that in December I will be headed to the mountains where I will need a blanket and maybe a sweater.

I hope you are all well,

oh yeah, I haven't investigated yet but a couple of people have written asking if I am in the mudslide areas and I am not. I don't know where they are and when I'm done here I will get on the internet and take a look at the news but I am safe.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

tomorrow it begins

I'm excited to get to casa guatemala tomorrow and see how everything is. I have been given the assigment of my group - 7-12 year old girls. That should be fun. I think I would have probably chosen younger kids if I had been given a list but I think this will be fun. Old enough to teach cards to. And read longer books to. I'm hoping that Rio Dulce town has a book store so that I can get some. I would like to introduce reading a chapter before bed each night. I think it will help with my Spanish reading skills which are actually pretty poor and hopefully will be fun for them. Maybe we can take turns. I am just so curious about what it will be like.

It sounds like I will overlap with the volunteer on her way out for a day or two so can get some tips and tricks I hope.

The bugs are pretty bad but I'm not minding them as much as I was afraid I would. The only ones that really get me are bottle flies. I am really allergic to them. Anytime I get bitten an area of about 5 square inches swells up and gets really really itchy. I know it's them because they leave an orange-ish spot where the bite is and then I know that a few aweful days are coming. I'm hoping that I will start to develop some immunity to them.

So a couple of hours up the river tomorrow and the new chapter begins.

Traveling has been good. I definitely haven't liked Punta Gorda or Livingston as much as the other places I've been. They have an unfortunate combination for sure. Port towns are always a little dodgy. Border towns are always a little dodgy. Add tourists to that mix and everything comes out a little extra dodgy. Everyone knows they will never see you again so they better get what they can while you're here so you just have to keep a little extra watch. It isn't bad by any stretch, but I'm just as glad to head out in the morning.

I don't know what the internet situation will be at casa guatemala but hopefully I'll be able to check in again soon.