Guatemala 9/14: the fun

When we planned our trip six months ago, I chose the dates based on Sam’s schedule, my work schedule.  I didn’t actually look at a Guatemalan calendar, which I should have done, because September 15th was Guatemalan Independence Day, and we weren’t able to do any work that day.  While it was too late to change our flights, we did have time to change our in-country itinerary to include a day in Antigua.

Sunday morning, as we left our hotel in Guatemala City, I saw several groups of high schoolers in uniforms running along the main road.  I asked the bus driver why they were running.  “Because of the holiday,” he told me.  It sounded unfair to me, to make them do PE on Sunday just because Monday was a holiday.  These schools were hard core!

Over the day, as we rode the bus to Antigua, we saw group after group of young people, running with torches (the torch of liberty) and whistles.



All day, as we wandered the streets of Antigua, we heard whistles and cleared the road as group after group of running students passed us with their torches.


Last November, Antigua had been a somewhat sleepy touristy town with almost more tourists than locals.  This time it was densely packed with patriotic Guatemalans.

As the day wore on, marching bands and drum corps joined the informal groups of runners.



All day, despite rain, and into the night, despite darkness, bands and whistles and torch-running continued. We did a little shopping, but mostly we just watched. We had stumbled on a national party, and it was great fun.

We had to leave Antigua at five next morning to make it out of town before the streets were blocked off for the parade, and we took the early bus out of Guatemala City for the same reason.  When we finally arrived in the towns where we’d be working, more parades stopped our progress, and we sat in the car, watching the parade through the rain.

During the week, there was little for entertainment. After teaching each day, we walked half a mile to the corner store and had an icy soda as we watched people heading home for work.


I think they liked watching us as much as we liked watching them. A few folks were curious enough to come and talk to us, and we had some great conversations about life in the village, and what we were doing there. Pam introduced Maria, who worked in the little store, to her first taste of diet coke. “Is it sweet?” Maria asked. One tiny eighty-two year old grandma watched us every day from next door, peering over the low concrete wall like Kilroy, but we weren’t able to convince her to come sit with us.

Those moments of conversation were one of the best parts of the trip, when the wall of us-them broke down, and we were just neighbors having a conversation after work.

If you missed my other posts about my trip to Guatemala, you can find them here: Guatemala: the work, and Grateful: home safe.

Guatemala 9/2014: the work

Apparently my pre-trip communication was a major fail, and many of you didn’t know I was leaving until I was packing.  This trip was six months in the making and was a follow-up to the trip we made last fall as a family.

The University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado have partnered with the Banasa banana plantation to improve the health of twelve small communities (a few would be big enough to call towns) in the south-west corner of Guatemala, near the border with Mexico. Banasa’s interest is mainly in the health of their workers, but the clinic is open to everyone in the community.  There are other national “health posts” in the area, but the nearest hospital is an hour or more away by car, depending on the rain, and most folks’ main mode of transportation is their feet.  Motorcycles are also popular, but it’s hard to ride on a motorcycle when you’re in labor…


So anyway, they built a clinic (staffed by a family physician and residents from Colorado; open since April) and a two-bed birth center (not yet open). They also have a community maternal-child health program that focuses on nutrition, child development, and prevention of maternal complications.  Currently, the community health workers drive out into the communities to find pregnant women by word of mouth. Then they provide free (individual) prenatal care, education, post-partum and newborn visits, and then group visits for moms and babies until age three.  Pam and I went to teach group care.

are we there yet?

A team of midwives and physicians has been working on the content for four visits, and then we worked with the community health workers to show how those visits could be interactive, instead of lecture-based.  The health workers jumped right in, quickly appreciating how group visits could streamline the huge amount of time they spend traveling back and forth between their communities.  Likewise, group care can ameliorate some of the isolation experienced by the women. But it will be a huge shift for this community, where women mostly stay at home– like really at home–  and few of them have phones to ease communication.

getting to know one another

The second day of our teaching,  Pam and I got to go out into some of the communities to make home visits.  We saw first-hand how much time the community health workers spend driving.  We had to make several stops to locate one woman who had moved.



We also made an unscheduled bathroom stop at the home of our colleague’s sister, where Pam got a tamale-making lesson.


On day three, the community health workers hosted a sample group for nine traditional birth attendants (TBAs). The health workers did an amazing job of making the group model their own. I was so impressed by their confidence, their professionalism, and their enthusiasm. That group had several goals: transparency (the patients for whom we care are attended during labor by these TBAs, and we want them to know we are not trying to supplant them); education (the only formal training the TBAs receive are periodic lectures from the Ministry of Health) and community building (the goal is for the birthing center to be an alternative and safer location for the TBAs to attend their patients)While the group went really well, we discovered that every time our center has hosted them in the past, the TBAs have received gifts, which was their expectation and something for which we were not prepared. Despite that I think it went well, but we’ll see how many show up to the next teaching.

after our pilot group

driving the TBAs back to their communities

We spent time on day four discussing the cases we had visited on Wednesday.
a Pictionary-esque review of what we’ve learned together

Each of the women we visited were at major risk for some obstetrical complication, and our unpacking of that gave us hours of fruitful teaching.  In a tiny country where two women die every day from obstetrical complications, preventing maternal hemorrhage becomes invaluable.

simulating Leopold’s maneuvers on my make-shift pregnant abdomen

So, to sum up, I learned so much this trip. I have deep admiration for those who are there day-in and day-out, making this program work. It was a privilege to teach and learn and get to know these women.

Grateful: Home Safe

Hello, friends.  I’m home today and grateful for a really good trip.  I’ve so much to be grateful for:

:: for the five community health workers we had an opportunity to get to know


:: for their commitment to education and the health of their community


:: for laughter


:: for the gift of Spanish, which was indispensable this trip


:: for the tour bus of Salvadoran physicians who spontaneously gave us a ride to Antigua

:: for the kind couple who drove us from the bus station to our hotel

:: for Pam, whose company and partnership were such blessings

:: for Kim and Kelly, our house-mates, who are working there another week (and who humored my desire for game nights)


:: for the refrigerator that held the milk that Kelly made that made my morning tea work


:: for all the prayers that traveled with us (including those of a lovely prayer warrior sitting next to us on our plane down to Houston who had a pre-existing love for the people of Guatemala)

:: for all the love lavished on my family while I was away
More details to come, I promise!

7 Quick Takes as I pack for Guatemala

1. So I’m leaving tomorrow and still haven’t packed anything.  I am a packing procrastinator, and this time I’m glad I waited because LAST NIGHT I found out that we will be staying at the banana plantation where the clinic is (think 90 degrees F and 95% humidity with no breeze) instead of at the coffee farm (50 degrees with misty rain at night).  I need a totally different set of accoutrements.

Where I thought we’d be staying:

2. Like a mosquito net soaked in DEET.  I don’t want malaria. Or dengue.

3. When we lived in Cairo, the mosquitoes loved me.  Once I slept outside my net and half my face was so covered in mosquito bites that I looked like I’d had an accident.  I hate mosquitoes.

4. It’s 32 degrees and threatening snow in Denver right now.  It’s a good thing I believe that germs are what make us sick and not going through a shocking temperature change or going out with my hair wet.  (And my hair will be dripping wet with sweat in Guatemala.)

5. Normally when I’m leaving imminently, I spend the day sewing a piece of clothing I don’t really need.  Or something for our house.  When I was going to Haiti with no idea what treating cholera was going to look like, I made a skirt.  When I was heading to Thailand, I made this cute quilt.  (The quilt was a winner, if I say so myself.)  But my sewing machine is totally, completely dead.  I thought it was just mostly dead and took it to the shop, but the repairman called me to say that I’d have to replace the foot pedal and plug ($60) first so that he could replace the motherboard ($130 without labor).  I’m pretty sure I can get a new sewing machine for that.  But anyway, no new skirt.

6.  I am completely addicted to black tea.  With sugar and milk (or preferably, half and half).  Now I’m not even sure I’ll have access to a refrigerator.  How am I going to keep my milk cold?  And really, if this is my biggest problem, it’s going to be a good trip.

7. I am traveling with my friend Pam who worked with me in Chicago for five years, was with us as a doula during my labor with Owen, and traveled to Haiti with me the first time.  Let’s just say she’s seen me at my worst.  Last night she reminded me of the our first night in Haiti.  We had taken the red-eye from Denver and got to the compound around noon, where they greeted us and told us to take a nap because we’d be working the night shift that night.  I got up at five and found there was no milk, no way to heat the water for my tea, and no Pepsi as the truck couldn’t get through because of the riots.  Night shift minus caffeine equals no good.

The next morning, after a harrowing night of trying to keep children from dying of cholera, the chaplains asked us what we wanted to pray for.  I said I needed a NICU nurse who could put an IV in a rock, and I needed the Pepsi truck to come.  The chaplain blinked at me for a minute and then prayed that God would hear our requests, no matter how frivolous they seemed.  I went to bed.  When I got up at six, they introduced me to Theresa, the NICU nurse who had just landed and would be working the night shift with us, and Pam told me that the Pepsi truck had gotten through.

So anyway, if you need me today, I’ll be busy praying for a refrigerator.

7 Quick Takes is Jen’s idea and her blog is so fun– go check her out!

Daybook: Sept 8


Out my window: it smells like fall.  I LOVE that.

In the garden: last week Sam and I bought some new plants for our garden as an anniversary gift. (How lucky am I that my husband wants to GARDEN for our anniversary!)  We also put in two trellises so that the clematis and sweet peas that have been languishing in the mulch all summer can stand up.  It made a huge difference.


That’s the front garden.  The back has been decimated by the chickens.  Actually, my unpruned tomatoes are so dense that the chickens can’t really get in to destroy them, but the cucumbers and chives are completely gone.


In the kitchen: I need to do a little planning ahead so that while I’m gone next week, my parents aren’t scrambling for meals.  I think I’ll marinate some beef and chicken to grill (or throw in the crockpot) that they can serve with the vegetables from the farm.  But tonight, a friend is cooking for us.  Grateful!

In the schoolroom: I don’t have anything extraordinary planned this week.  We did read a lovely book on women’s suffrage in Wyoming for history: I Could Do That! by Linda Arms White. Like all the best history books, it managed to display the history in the greater context and in the microcosm of one individual’s life.  Loved it.


And as a part of our college prep curriculum, we are trying to have Frisbee class at least twice a week, because we all know that playing Frisbee is a very important part of college.

On the Needles: no photos since it’s a gift, but I managed to finish knitting the dreadful second sleeve on a baby sweater gift that’s a year late.  Now I can work on the dreadful second sleeve of my own sweater that’s been on the needles for a year and a half. Maybe longer.  If I didn’t love the yarn so much I’d just chuck it.  I’ve got my fingers crossed it will be worth it in the end (which of course may be part of why it’s been so hard to knit…)

On my mind: I leave Saturday (yeah,5 days from now) for another trip to Guatemala.  This time I’m traveling with friends and colleagues while Sam holds down the fort.  Continuing with the project I worked on last fall, I’ll be teaching group prenatal care, and I’m really excited about it. But there are a bunch of gaps in my planning (like what to pack and school planning for while I’m gone) that have to happen this week.  Really important stuff, like what I’m going to read on the plane.  (Two planes! A layover!  Imagine how much I could read.)  God worked out the harder part of this project when that looked impossible, so I’m trusting he’ll handle the rest of it, too.

Grateful: for the opportunity to travel with friends.  For the privilege of teaching my children at home. For Sam’s brother & family’s visit last week and brunch Saturday with friends (our kids all played, and we actually got to have a conversation! Imagine!!)  For my friend Mary’s success.  For God’s ability to make all things new.


Praying: for the Neals and Simons as they minister across cultures (and that I will be able to do the same next week). Mandy. Judy. Kathie. Clare. For all those risking their lives to treat ebola victims, and to minister to those who can’t be saved.

In case you wanted to catch my other posts about last fall’s trip to Guatemala with the kids, you can find them here: Sam’s work in Guatemala, the children’s perspective, my thoughts on traveling internationally with kids.

Guatemala Part 4, or Traveling with Kids

You can catch up with Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3 if you missed them.

Lucy the kitten

Sam and I headed into this trip with a great sense of its being an answer to prayer for us.  But my children’s response to the proposal was very different.  “Why would we want to go there?”  “Do they have wi-fi?” were two of the first questions (from the boys.)  The girls were more concerned about the food and if there would be wind there.  I reassured them all, “We don’t need wi-fi,” and “Yes, there will be lots of fruit,” and packed our bags.


We brought a babysitter with us, since I wasn’t sure what Sam’s “schedule” would look like.  I asked her to plan some nature study assignments and gave her a packing list.  We arranged for a Spanish school to send a teacher to the finca to teach the children Spanish while we were working. I bought a bunch of snacks, a Frisbee, and some small games and packed them in our bags.  We had medicine to prevent carsickness.  I thought we were ready to show the children another part of the world.


But then reality set in.  The flights were great; we arrived at the airport hotel for the first night, and they were already hungry.  A third of my snacks disappeared before dinner.  All the transportation was more expensive than we had been quoted.  The guidebook said to haggle, but it’s hard not to look desperate when you’re at a seedy bus station with five wide-eyed children.  And really, what they were asking was still peanuts compared to US prices.  So we just paid it and got off the street corner and into the cab.


We stayed at a beautiful coffee farm (“finca”) with a housekeeper/cook who did all our meals and laundry.  Good, yes.  But frankly, having five children with you and no kitchen access was a challenge.   My kids are used to being able to eat fruit or carrots whenever they are hungry.  Normally we eat at 7:30ish, 11:30ish, and 5:30ish.  Meals at the finca were at 6:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 7 pm to accommodate those going down to do medical work (which is an hour away).  There was no option to wander into the kitchen for an apple.


All our snacks (the ones they liked, at least) were gone by day 3.  I didn’t have a way to get to the supermarket.  So honestly, my kids were hungry most of the week.  The food we ate was delicious and plentiful, but not geared toward a kid’s metabolism.  And having been able to adjust our home schedule to their needs, I had forgotten how important regular calories are for kids.  We’re not yet at the point of being able to say to them, “Remember how hungry you felt?  Some kids feel like that all the time.”  Right not I’m still in the stage of saying, “I’m so sorry you were hungry all the time.”


Spanish class was fantastic.  The school sent two teachers (we had engaged for one, so the price different was almost double) for 5 hours/day Monday-Thursday.  The teachers were creative and patient and positive and excellent.  None of the five children were accustomed to sitting at a desk putting 5 hours of sustained attention toward anything (especially 3 hours past when they were hungry), but they learned a ton of Spanish.  All four of mine are practicing, throwing Spanish into every day speech whenever they can, and enthusiastically showing off to their grandparents.  Score there.  We hope to continue with the tutors via Skype in the spring.

But all my plans for nature study in the afternoon?  Well, the rain started at noon. Every day.  So by the time Spanish was over and the children had eaten, the deluge had already been going on for two hours, so even if they had wanted to go play in the rain [the girls did], it was so slippery and muddy that the housekeepers wouldn’t let them.  [I probably would have felt the same if I were the one hand washing all their muddy clothes.]  If I get a do-over, I will plan nature study in the morning and Spanish school in the afternoon.  But it meant I had tired, cranky children who didn’t get any exercise hanging out in the house every rainy afternoon with not a single magic wardrobe in sight.


Our weekends were wonderful.  The first weekend we went to a water park and then saw a national heritage sight with standing stones and an amazing Mayan observatory (Takalik Abaj).  Our guide here was so good.  We spent the second weekend in Antigua, where the children practiced their Spanish bargaining for things in the markets.  Moriah was especially adept at this– next time I will put her in charge of finding us a taxi.  Everyone walked around and ate whenever they wanted

We took a tour of the Catedral de Santiago, which collapsed in the earthquake of 1773.  Part of it has been rebuilt, and we saw two weddings there over the course of the weekend.  Our tour guide was animated and funny and full of great history, and the children liked the tour almost as much as the cheesecake.  The weekends gave us an opportunity to process together much of what we had seen and experienced during the week but couldn’t talk about as frankly as we would have liked.  I loved sharing this history and experience with my kids.


So what do I take away from this?  The trip pointed out to me how much control I have over my children’s day-to-day experience.  I have worked hard to have the flexibility to be with them and I cherish the opportunities to do so, but in Guatemala I didn’t really have any ability to micromanage their experience.  The children’s week was dominated by their minute, every day experiences: hunger, sticky bug spray, rain, throwing the toilet paper in the trash instead of the toilet.  I hope as time goes on, they will be able to see the forest instead of the these inconvenient trees.  If I had it to do over (and I hope I will in a year or two) I would bring a lot more snacks and schedule nature study in the morning and Spanish class in the afternoon.  And while our babysitter did what I asked, she was a little young for what I was asking her to do.  I don’t think we will need one on our next trip, but I would choose someone older if I could, and someone who already spoke Spanish.  I don’t know that anyone would have been up to the task, actually.  Even when I spoke with the house staff in the morning about an issue, once I left at 7 am, it was out of my hands.  When I came back twelve hours later, nothing I asked had happened.  Culturally, the housekeeper told me “yes” because that’s what she was supposed to do, but in reality, she held the reins. It is a very macho culture, and I wonder if a request from Sam would have had a different effect. (Certainly, the two male doctors who came later in the week got what they asked for right away.)  That grates at me, but what can I do about it? Nada.


As the project develops, there will be a community center built with the clinic, and then there will opportunities for the children to minister.  On this trip, their work was to learn Spanish and to be gracious guests.  Being gracious is not their natural gift (though this year has afforded many chances to practice!) and it was hard.  In the future, they should have a chance to run children’s programs during parents’ classes and to bless the kids we are there to serve.  I think they are well suited to that task, and I hope this trip doesn’t spoil that vision for them.

Guatemala, Part 3: the childrens’ perspective


You can read Part 1 or Part 2 if you missed them.

This time I asked the kids to share their own experiences of Guatemala.  So what follows is theirs. (I did help with spelling and punctuation, and SweetP dictated hers to me.)  So without further ado:

Guatemala was awesome. It was so green- I miss its greenness. When we were in Antigua we could see the volcanos.  While we were driving to Antigua, the view was beautiful. I had the best cheesecake EVER. The Finca was beautiful, It rained ALOT EVERY DAY. I thought that Lucy the cat is adorable. One night Lucy was in my bed room and she woke me up by scratching my feet. Dona Rosa and Rosita made all are [sic] food. The food was so good I loved all the food.  One day we had orange jello.  I loved the crepe place in Antigua called Luna De Miel.  (Moriah)


Guatemala was the craziest place I’ve ever been. There were people jumping into cars off the streets. It was very hot there and the bugs were really annoying.  I couldn’t have lasted for another week there—it was really hard for me.  There was lots of food I liked: black beans and homemade tortillas, rice, all the juices they had there (mango, watermelon, and jimica), and doblados.  It was very strange overall but it was still a little nice there with all the nice scenery and trees.

I liked the markets (besides the mobbing shop vendors).  I really enjoyed that the people liked owls there. Everywhere we went there were owls in the shops.  (Owen)

Guatemala was an interesting experience. The weather was very crazy. It rained every day we were at the finca. At the finca it was very interesting. In Guatemala the plumbing is really bad. You have to throw your toilet paper in the trash. Guatemala was not my very favorite place to go to. It was nice, but it wasn’t my favorite. We saw ruins while we were there. The ruins were very cool. They were very interesting. Some of the ruins were of a cathedral. At the cathedral, the angels had open skirts. Because the people who were in charge of the church didn’t like that, anything built from a later date had closed skirts. The mermaids had skirts. We were able to cuddle with an adorable kitten at the finca. Her name was Lucy. She was one of the cutest kittens ever.   (Jonah)


We went to see Takalik Abaj and found some obsidian.  I liked the standing stones and the ugly fruit.  I like the food at the finca and Lucy the cat.  The fountain in the hotel was scary because it had scars in it from a lion.  (Phoebe)

For the record, I missed the lion-scarred fountain.

Next time, I’ll try to summarize my thoughts on traveling with the whole family.