Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Professional Development: Day 1,540

Today and Monday were busy and filled with exciting things (with more still to come this afternoon).  Yesterday, I just rested.  I was exhausted from Monday, from the weekend, from a lot of stuff.  So, you'll be getting two updates today, the first (this one) about the exciting stuff of today which isn't even over yet, and the second about Monday (which I'll probably backdate to have Monday's date on it).

Today, thanks to a college friend, Bethany, I was able to attend the morning session of a When Helping Hurts (or Helping Without Hurting) seminar at Northland Church via the internet.  Online participation was free and available to me here in Guatemala.  That was a big blessing for me.  It addressed a lot of interesting issues concerning helping the "impoverished."  The church is hoping to be able to make it available later.  If that comes to pass, I'll post the link here.  I know there are lots of short-term trip leaders who could benefit from the information presented at the seminar.  (Yes, I'm looking at you, Shawn, Lisa, and Robin!)  There will also be an afternoon session available at 3:30 EDT (an hour and a half from now) concerning microfinancing if anyone wants to attend.

In addition to having a conversation with my sending church, I'm also preparing to have a conversation with the people in my program.  I need to know what they think their gifts are, and I need to know if the program in its current state is helping the people (without creating dependency).  I need to know if they feel empowered.  I also need to find out why they are buying so much sugar with their points; they're going to need dentists soon...

In addition to the seminar, I'm going to figure out how to post pictures on my blog.  While usually there's some picture I could share, today I have one I'm excited to share.  So, give me some time and I'll be back with the other post for Monday's activities.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Into the Final Stretch: Day 1,538

Today (Monday), I went out to Solola for the third marking period review (and also to visit new families for the program which explains why I'm dressed like an American below; not that you know the difference since this is the first time I've posted a picture from a meeting).

There was very little that was normal about this meeting.  First of all, my fiance was able to attend with me, and during the course of the meeting, he explained the importance of education and shared his story about growing up in a family with resources (or a lack thereof) very similar to those of these families.  He also had a very serious talk with one young man who should be in 1st Basico (7th grade) this year about returning to school instead of working in the fields.  It was a conversation that needed to be had man-to-man.

Myself with Mercedes and Wendy
Most grades had improved.  One young man went from earning four points in the second marking period to earning FOURTEEN points in the third!  I was shocked and amazed.  His mother simply told me "It was the shoes."  Little by little the people show me that they are starting to believe in this program and seeing that their own "work" in the form of study can earn them things they want.  One person's grades had gone down drastically, and I was a little worried about it.  So, I asked the father if everything was okay.  He said that his wife had been pregnant but had then had an operation.  The boy was concerned about his mother and didn't want to let her be home alone; so he had missed a few days of school.  And then Mercedes and Wendy--the two girls in 2nd Basico (8th grade)--started pulling out sashes.  Every year for Independence Day (September 15th), all (most?) of the schools have a competition.  This competition, in most cases, is for the young ladies of the school.  It involves a number of contests which often include giving a speech about some topic, displaying cultural knowledge, participating in a traditional dance, designing an outfit based on some theme, and so on.  The judges then award prizes/places to each of the top three contestants.  To anyone who doesn't know the school, you really don't know who was 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, because the places have names, not numbers.  However, I do know that my girls took 2 of the 3 places!   (By the way, mom, do you recognize those shoes?  Donated and earned last month. Thanks.)

So, since we were already in picture-taking mode, we took a group photo as well.  We're making it through this year, and next year we'll be even better.  If you've read the other entry I posted today (which is actually Wednesday), you'll have a peek into what lies ahead for us.  We hope you'll be sticking with us as we continue this journey!
Ten parents from each of the ten families we serve here with our community contact, Manuel, and some of the children from the various families.  (Most children are in school at this time of day.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Distance & Cultural Connection: Day 1,535

I know, two posts in two days (less than 12 hours, really).  This never happens.  So, I'm a "member" at Velvet Ashes, and by "member," I mean the person who quietly sits in the background reading but not posting much.  It's a community for women [primarily] serving [primarily] abroad, and each week they give a topic to blog about.  Maybe you'll start seeing more of these topic response blogs.  (Not all of the topics apply to me.)  This week, their topic is Distance.  So, here is my response to the prompt:

The prompt mentions two extremes and gives examples.  One missionary so detached from her home culture that she never wanted to go Stateside, and one missionary so detached from her mission culture that she spent all her time on her computer (presumably online chatting with family and friends back home?).  It asks toward which do we lean.

In the United States, the culture pushes towards independence and freedom.  This results in a loss of familial connection.  Adults see their family (outside of spouse and minor children) a few times per year.  For the past FOUR YEARS (next month), I have visited my family once or twice per year.  (My first year, 3 times.)  I feel like I've somehow completed the requirements for "good family member."  That doesn't mean I agree with that aspect of culture, but it is what it is.

I'm not going to pretend that there aren't times when I spend the entire day on the computer.  There are.  Sometimes it's just trying to keep a hold of some idea of what the US culture looks like these days.  So many things change.  For most people who know me, that isn't a problem, but I remember going to hang out with my friend Elaine one one trip back, and we went to hang out with some friends of hers and play games all evening.  At one point I had no clue what who or something was, and someone asked me if I lived in a cave (not knowing at all what I do).  Admittedly, it was a wonderful conversation opener about what I do, but it was a little embarrassing. So, I try to stay up-to-date with at least a few current events, and I do my best to know something about politics so that when someone says "Benghazi," I don't ask "Is that a new car brand?"  (No, didn't happen.)

My fiance (a man from my host country) is attached to his cell phones.  He needs them for work, and work is 24/7.  His phones, because of his job, are not nice phones; they're simply small and meet his needs.  My phone, because of my job, is slightly nicer.  It's not an iPhone or a Blackberry (although both are available here); it's not even a "smartphone" (okay, a part of culture I haven't figured out yet...are those a separate kind of phone or is that a category that iPhones and Blackberries fall into?) or have wi-fi.  I will admit that I can get internet on it, but I don't.  My fiance is connected to his work 24/7, and when I have internet, I am connected to US culture.  That's not something I want 24/7; that's why I don't have internet on my phone (and why I'm glad it doesn't have wi-fi).

It's draining.  US culture is draining, especially for someone who has grown so used to a simpler life.  Which stars are dating?  Which stars are divorced?  What's the newest product in electronics? What did President Obama do this week?  Who got shot?  What rallies/movements are big?  Who won the basketball game?  Who won the football (American football, of course) game?  Who won the hockey game?  Who won the baseball game?  What's the weather like?  What's the top song on the charts?  What happened on "Days of our Lives?" (Is that show still on?)  And probably lots of questions I'm forgetting to ask!  I can't keep up with all that.  It would consume my entire day and all of my days.  (Obviously, the rest of you have some amazing ability that I don't have.  I am in awe...but not...because keep reading.)

Guatemalan culture is so much easier.  I need to know if Real Madrid or Barcelona won their futbol ("soccer," to all you US folks) game.  I may need to know if President Otto Perez Molina (or his VP) has done something interesting, and (unfortunately) I probably need to know if President Obama has done something interesting concerning Latin American relations.  Beyond that, I don't need to know anything, and really, I can avoid the first one by just saying that I'm not into sports; that is a halfway acceptable answer.

Getting back to the question at hand, when I'm in my house, connected to the internet, I am "connected" to my childhood culture.  My visits to the US fulfill my obligations as a single, adult daughter/sister.  When I am not on my computer, I am part of the culture here.  I go to the market.  I weave.  I talk to people.  I have a "goodbye" competition with the little boy at the bakery.  I ride the bus.  I visit my neighbors.  However, because I am an introvert, I think I still interact more with my childhood culture than I do with my host culture.  It is easier for me to be in front of the computer, behind the screen.  But, guess what?  When I'm in the US, it's easier for me to be in front of the computer, behind the screen, communicating with my friends here!

The prompt also asks "What helps you in prioritizing your time and relationships?" and I think I already touched on that when I was talking about my phone/the internet.  When I am on-line, I am 99% immersed in my childhood culture.  There are some nights when I forget for a moment what country I'm in until I look up from the screen.  When I am not on-line, I am 99% in this culture.

On a random, mostly unrelated note:  I was once translating for a team and one young person had never seen a manual window (on a car).  He/She said "Wow, I never understood why they said 'roll up/down the window' before!  I just thought it was some sort of expression."  I was looking at the word "on-line" in that last paragraph and thinking "Kids these days probably don't know where that one comes from either."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Me, not the "Gringa on the Ground": Day 1,534

Just because a person doesn't talk about something doesn't mean it doesn't exist, that it isn't real.  Tonight I'm going to talk about me, Annalisa, 29-years old, holder of a bachelor degree and two associates, massage therapist, cat lover, Christian missionary, woman.  I believe that behind every person, there is a story; there is something that makes us who we are.  There is something that drives us.

I believe that I'm not good enough.  Don't mistake that as a low self-esteem.  I simply believe that on a long-term basis, people deserve someone better than myself in their lives.  Quite frankly, I don't know if any such person exists.  I recognize that I am a human being, a really flawed human being.

I have had a lot of opportunities in my life, many of which I have taken advantage of.  I had some pretty good parents as far as parents go.  At the very least, they were supportive of my brother and I and kept us fed and clothed, clean and dry.  (They're better than that, but we'll just leave that topic there.)  And besides that, I was privileged.  Maybe they didn't buy me those horses I wanted (and probably wouldn't have cared for properly), but they made sure that I had a good education, went to some camps, and was able to participate in extra-curricular activities.  We had enough money for those things.

Not everyone has opportunities like I had.  I know I'm not a real go-getter like some people.  I won't retire by the age of 30.  I don't have kids.  I don't own my own house.  I've never been in a newspaper or magazine let alone featured on the cover.  (Hey, "Kids Say" in the local paper when I was 7 years old--or however old it was--probably doesn't count.  Nor does the alumni update section of my high school alumni magazine.)  And I recognize that there are people who deserve all of that but might never achieve it, and I feel guilty.  I feel guilty for using resources to become this person with this amazingly incredible life that I don't feel I deserve.

And that's a large part of why I'm here.  I'm looking for kids who push and push to become everything they want to be, everything they are capable of being.  Kids who aren't afraid of taking the bull by the horns but aren't able to because they can't afford the bull.  I'm looking for kids who will take the opportunities I was given and the privilege I was born with and will make their future better and brighter.

And it's pathetic.  I look at the things I can do, the things I'm good at (or, rather, "the things at which I'm good," with grammar theoretically being one of them?), and I am shocked and disgusted with myself.  I could be anything I put my mind to ("to which I put my mind"...yep, not going to care about dangling prepositions anymore tonight nor starting sentences with "And" and "But"), and I wonder why I'm not more.  I wonder why I didn't become something I'm capable of becoming.  No, I'm not calling myself a failure either.

I'm engaged.  I almost called my fiance tonight and told him that everything is off.  Instead I sent him a text that simply said "I miss you" (in English, which he isn't that good with).  He is one of those people who isn't afraid to take the bull by the horns, and he's not afraid of working hard to buy the bull.  And the idea of him being stuck with me for the rest of his life is something that scares me.  But it's okay to be scared.  We complement each other, not only him and I, but also the kids I work with and myself.  He and the kids are incredible.  I might have "all the answers," but they're the ones with the drive.

I'm not good enough.  That's why God brought me to them and them to me.  We have what each other needs.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Racism, the US, and a reaction: Day 1,503

Some of you know that one of my main methods of communicating with friends both in the US and all over the world is via Facebook.  As I was catching up on what everyone has been up to tonight, I saw that a college friend of mine had posted an article.  (Please take a moment to click on that link as the rest of this will all make a lot more sense if you at least know what the article is about.)  My first response to her link was "I'm not average," but I was.

When I lived in the US--4 years ago--all of my friends were white.  I had one black friend from college.  I had one half-Latino friendly acquaintance. My only Asian "friends" were my adopted cousins.  And, via marriage, my family is a little more diverse than some.

Today, my "first language" is Spanish.  It's the language I draft my speeches in.  It's the language I assume everything is in when there is little context.  (I was playing a game with animals in it the other day and the mouse-over tag for one animal was "llama."  My brain processed the word as though it was Spanish.)  It's often the language I speak to my pets in.  It's pretty much the only language my fiance and his family speak.  It's the language my neighbors speak.  And it's pretty much the only language I'll respond to on the matter how many times the men yell at me "Good morning, my love!" as I walk past.

Today, the majority of the friends I interact with on a daily basis are Hispanic.  Most of my neighbors are Hispanic.  The only white people I typically interact with are an interesting group of "I'm here until I'm not" kind of people.  The short-termers--people here for a couple months--and the retirees are folks who I don't hang out with because I have essentially nothing in common with them (see article).

The conversation on my friend's Facebook page then turned to people of mixed race and how they feel/see the world.  I'm not mixed race, but I do consider myself to be bicultural at this point and I recognize that my children will be mixed race.  Which is when I started typing the following response and realized all of it would make a better blog post:

I also think that it is very different for people such as myself--which is why I stated that I'm not average, but I was before I came here--who have spent substantial time in a foreign (and non-white) country.  If I were to return to the US, I might make a decision to live in a Latino neighborhood.  But, then again, I might not.  The fact is that my neighbors here understand that there is no "white neighborhood."  (Okay, there is a white city.  I lived there for 6 months.  I hated it.  I worked too hard to pay the rent and too little on the reasons I'm down here.  In the town I now live in, there's no white neighborhood.)  My neighbors accept that I do things their way because that's the way things are done here.  I feel that if I moved to a "Latino neighborhood" in Michigan (somewhere in Pontiac or Detroit?) that my neighbors wouldn't be as accepting of me...even with my (future) Latino spouse because, let's face it, la gringuita tiene muchas opciones; no tiene que estar aqui mostrando sus 'riquezas' ("The little white girl has lots of options; she doesn't have to be here showing off her 'wealth.'") or so they'd probably think.

To be quite honest, if I were in the US, I'd rather be a poor, white girl in a white neighborhood than I would a poor white girl in a non-white neighborhood.  It's a race thing that I've encountered a lot down here, especially when I was living in the "white city" or even when I go there now.  Non-white people assume that white people have money.  White people don't assume that about white people; although they do assume that most non-white people don't (except for Asians and Jews).  So, if I were to live in the US, I would prefer to live among people who don't assume anything about my wealth or lack thereof...which would lead to increased potential for white friendships and decrease potential for non-white friendships.

Which actually leads me briefly to the topic of "reverse racism."  First of all, the definition of racism is as follows: "The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races" (Oxford Dictionary).  So, really, in my mind, "reverse racism" should take that definition and put a "not" in it.  "White people are rich" is a racist statement.  Guess what?  I don't have extra income.  I eat meat maybe once per month because I don't have money to buy it otherwise.  And, sure, I have a "Mommy/Daddy/Brother, get me out of here" button--something my neighbors don't have--that I can press whenever I want, but it's a one-way trip to a life I don't want to have, a life I wasn't called to, a life I would probably detest.

I recently read something that said that women's brains are like wires: everything is connected to everything else.  I guess that's sort of how this post reads as well...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Positives and Negatives: Day 1,491

The big negative is short and not-so-sweet: it appears that I've lost an entire community.  It's possible that it will be revived in the future--we do have all the names--but I doubt it will be the same as it could have been.

The positives were the comments made in my other community today:
1. "You did what you said you'd do."
This should not have to be listed as a positive.  So many times these people are promised help and they do not receive it, not from the government and not from the outside world.  These people took a chance on me, and they are slowly learning that I'm not here to let them down.  God willing, I never will.  Granted, the program isn't running as smoothly as I'd like it to yet, but we're all stumbling through it together.
2. "My son is whole thanks to you."
I can't really take the credit for this one, but they give it to me anyway.  As I've told others, I often serve merely as a bridge.  Some rivers are harder to cross than others without a bridge; some rivers are so wide that they seem more like oceans than rivers.  Such was the case of one of my families.  They have a daughter who was basically constantly seizing, and they have a son who was born without a hand.  (Now, I think the son was still in school thanks to not having the hand, but that's hopefully not going to be an issue with the educational program.)  When we last met, in May, the boy was still waiting for his prosthesis.  It isn't anything fancy, but he has it now and it works for him.  His mother is happy, and I'm getting the credit because I got on-line and found someone who could help him.  (Anyone know and ophthalmologist?  I need one of those for a girl and haven't had any luck yet.)  Besides all that, her son already was whole; they all just feel like he is more whole now.
3. Not a comment, but the majority of grades are improving!
This is good.  This is what we want to see.  Unfortunately, that also means that the people have more points to spend which means more funds are needed.  I had some people who said in May that they were going to help me out with this up in Michigan, but I have no update from them.  (As one of them is a teacher, I figured I'd give him time for classes to be over for the summer before I expected anything.)
4. A lot more things I'm sure, but...

One negative is that I have made almost no progress on improving my Kaqchikel.  I say "almost" because I did meet someone who said he would teach me.  It would be a Q40 round-trip bus ride to meet with him.  Maybe we can split the cost and travel time and meet in the middle, trading languages.  It's a thought.  While some of the people here in San Antonio speak Kaqchikel, it's certainly a different dialect than they speak in Solola.  I often get weird looks when I use my San Antonian Kaqchikel in Solola.  (When I use my Solola Kaqchikel, they laugh at me just because they think it's funny to hear those words coming out of my mouth, but they do understand and appreciate it.)  I would love to understand them more and in their own language.

Another negative from today was little Griselda.  She's about 7 years old, and she doesn't want to go to school.  Her mother is a widow.  She says she sends the girl to school, but she doesn't go; she goes and hides.  So, the girl failed this marking period.  So, I had a talk with mom about being in charge of the family, that if she says something has to be done, it has to be done or there are consequences.  I guess I'm as close to a truancy officer as there is around here; anyway, I hope and pray that Griselda goes back to school.

So as to not end on negatives,
5. I talked to both Mercedes and Wendy today.  They are my two girls in 8th grade. (The most advanced in the program.)  I asked them what they wanted to do with their lives.  Mercedes wants to be a secretary, and Wendy wants to be a lawyer.  The first is a high school degree, and the second is a university degree.  I'm behind these girls 100%; I hope you are too.  Mercedes's little sister is another one of our special needs girls, and she admitted today that her father is somewhat of an alcoholic.  (She had a really low grade in one of her classes, and when I asked about it, she said that because her father had drank all the money in the house, she didn't have the money to buy the supplies to do her project.  So, she didn't do it and didn't turn it in.)  That means that when her mother dies, taking care of her little sister falls on her (and her brother who only completed 6th grade and doesn't want to study any further).  It's a tough situation, and probably the only way that the family will make it through together is if Mercedes finishes school.  Wendy is the one we need the eye doctor for.  She was ill about two years ago, and since then her eyesight has been diminishing steadily.  Her mother figures the girl only has about a year to go before she would be considered blind.  Please pray for my girls.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Affordable Care Act and Foreign Living: Day 1,465

The Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare") is something that has sparked a lot of controversy in the US.  "Every American will have health care!"  I get it.  I do.  Everyone has the right to life.  But what about us Americans who live outside of the country?  What about those of us who live in countries with health care so inexpensive that we just don't bother with medical insurance?  Don't worry...they thought about that.  Americans who spend over 330 days per year outside of the US do not need medical insurance.  (I'm still not sure how they figure that out.)  But what does this mean for me as my parents get older?  What does this mean for me if there is some emergency in my family and I need to go to the US to help take care of things?  So, from over 2,000 miles away--and with the help of my mother--I registered for Government Health Care and was accepted.  I am not proud of the fact that I now take your tax dollars just so I can be in the country for more than 35 days of the year.  I'm actually quite ashamed...that the United States is denying their own citizens the right to be in their own country.  As my own mother recently said (in reference to something else): "They can't really keep you out."  Maybe not, mom, but they sure can make it difficult to be there.