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, September 1, 2014

Mission Moment: September

A reminder that these are the articles I write for my sending church's newsletter.  Some of them have been edited for privacy.

 A few days ago, I went out to the village to meet with my families. It was a meeting that was supposed to take place about 2 months ago, but due to schedule conflicts, it didn't. At any rate, it gave me the opportunity to dive further into the lives of the families which I serve. Some of the things I learn, I learn by way of stories in which the people actually share something with me and know they are sharing it. Some of the things I learn are learned by deduction...and accounts from other missionaries.
One of the first things I heard upon arriving Wednesday, after everyone was all settled, was “You kept your word. You did what you said you would do, and here is the evidence.” The government here is apparently notorious for helping once or twice and abandoning the people. The people who I am serving didn't expect me to come back. I guess when the bar is set that incredibly low, two months late doesn't seem like such a big deal, but that doesn't mean it should be acceptable.
Later, as I was dealing with my two 8th grade girls and their mothers, I had a chance to ask them what they want to do with their lives. (I actually had to give them real money to pay their school fees which is why I waited until everyone else had left.) The girls are Wendy and Mercedes, and they each have a different story and a different dream.
I know I have mentioned Wendy before on my blog, and perhaps I mentioned her in a newsletter as well. She and her little sister make baskets out of pine needles, and the family offers all sorts of handmade goods in their store along the side of the highway. They are renting the house they live in. Although poor, most of my families at least own their land. She admits that her parents don't have the money to pay for her education; so she's grateful for the help she receives through the program. Her little sister is also in school. Wendy told me that she'd like to graduate from college, possibly as a lawyer. While I would applaud any moral career choice, Guatemala needs more female professionals, especially in the legal field, especially sympathetic to the needs and culturally-placed limitations of the Mayans. I would love for her to accomplish her dreams; I think it would be a wonderful step forward for that entire region.
It's possible that I haven't mentioned Mercedes before, but if I had to pick just one person who I am doing this for, it would probably be her. Mercedes is the oldest of three children. Her little sister has some sort of undiagnosed condition (despite medical exams by American and Guatemalan doctors and blood tests which were reviewed in Switzerland) which appears to be some sort of muscular dystrophy. The young girl, Clara, is unable to talk or walk and usually struggles with holding her head up straight. I already knew all of that, but what I didn't know is that their father is an alcoholic. (Perhaps it is because he feels powerless to help his youngest child, but I'm not going to make his excuses for him.) This I learned because Mercedes showed up on Wednesday with a failing grade in one of her classes.
Passing is a 60, but I ask 70s from all of the kids because I don't want to get to the last semester and have anyone fail the entire year. So, I asked her why her grade was so low, and she told me it was because she didn't turn in a project. Why didn't she turn it in? Because she didn't do it. Why didn't she do it? Because dad had drank all the money in the house; so there wasn't any money to buy the supplies for the project. Okay...that probably also means that there wasn't food for meals or any number of other important things that people spend money on.
If I ever needed a reason to keep going, it would be for Mercedes. Her mother is exhausted. She actually looked a bit younger/less exhausted the other day, but she still looks like her years are numbered. With the father unable to make objective choices concerning if people eat or not in his household, I can't believe that he'll be the one caring for the family when his wife finally gives out. Luis, Mercedes and Clara's brother, is 13. He has finished the 6th grade and decided that he does not want to keep studying; so he is now working as a day laborer. When there is work, he works. When he works, he can buy food for the family. When there is not work, people go hungry without another income. Basically, Mercedes is going to be her sister's caretaker the rest of their lives. Unless Mercedes can get a good job or marry well, she will have a very difficult life (even without her sister to care for). I can't guarantee that she marries well, but I do know this: if Mercedes can finish her education, she has a better chance at a good job. (She wants to be a secretary.) By staying in school, she also has a better chance at meeting and marrying an educated man who would also have a better chance at getting a good job.
I fear for the kids in my program. I read all too often in the newspaper—and hear stories from other missionaries—about what often happens in many Guatemalan households. I fear for Clara. I fear for Mercedes. I fear for Wendy. But mostly I take solace in the fact that there is a merciful God who is watching out for them and all the other kids.

Language Learning
As I mentioned in July, one member suggested that it might be interesting to learn some of the Mayan language--Kaqchikel--which my families speak. I apologize that I forgot your lesson in the August newsletter. In July, we learned “Matiox” (Ma-TEE-oush) which means “Thank you.” This month we're going to learn the logical follow-up: “You're welcome.” I am not sure how this looks written; so I will only be able to give you the pronunciation.

In English, we say “You're welcome.” In Spanish, we say “De nada” (which literally translates to “of nothing”). In Kaqchikel, we say “Ma-hoon ri ba-noon.” They laugh every time I say it, but they insist that it's the correct response.

The Care and Keeping of a Missionary
I received a lovely e-mail from Hope this month letting me know about a musical mission group that was in Guatemala. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend any of their concerts, but I was really thrilled to get her e-mail. Thanks, Hope! Anyone else who would like to write to me for whatever reason can reach me at
As far as my prayer requests go, I'm okay as far as health care goes. I'll be able to have my appointment when I have my visit to the States. However, my friend did not get his visa; so he will not be visiting with me. He believes that God must have other plans; so we'll see what those are!

Thank you for all your support. Your prayers help keep me going, and your donations help children like Mercedes and Wendy get educations to better their own futures and those of the people around them. You can stay up-to-date (more or less) with my blog at It's just like reading the news on-line, and you don't need to make an account or sign up for anything.