Saturday, August 31, 2013

Western Highlands and Hiking a Volcano

Western Guatemalan highlands, as seen from our car.
Last night we returned from a trip to San Marcos, a department (state) of Guatemala in the western highlands bordering Mexico. The purpose of the trip was to accompany a new staff member to the community where he will serve and live with his host family, as well as to visit some projects. We stayed in a small community called Sibinal, nestled in between two active volcanoes, Tajamulco and Tacana.
A common site along the road.
MCC partners with agricultural cooperatives in two communities in this very rural corner of Guatemala. The community we visited is called La Linea, which means "The Line". (Not to be confused with the other La Linea, in El Salvador. See this post.) It is called La Linea because this community finds itself on the border of Guatemala and Mexico.

To get to this community we drove on a very rocky, steep road for more than an hour around the volcano from Sibinal, often having to use 4-wheel drive. It was a bumpy ride. We arrived and these students welcomed us. The community has one road that leads to the school, and then to get to the homes there is a trail straight up the side of Tacana to the community members' homes. This trail is one of two approaches to summit the volcano.
The welcoming committee.
A rousing game of futbol.
(The blue building is the local school).
Watching the students play soccer. 
Fast buddies. These girls helped Ellie pick flowers.
This little girl was washing her cup in the outdoor kitchen sink.
In this community, MCC helps support a number of families to create greenhouses and home gardens. The greenhouses mostly have roses and chrysanthemums that are sold at local markets in Guatemala and just across the border in Mexico, and the home gardens are to help provide a way of sustainable living.

A greenhouse full of flowers.
A special flower with healing properties that is dried to make tea.
More flowers in the greenhouse ready to be cut and sold.
(And a daughter of one family with a greenhouse.)
A major motivation behind these projects is to help families afford to live without needing to migrate to Mexico or the US to work for several months of the year. Instead, these families raise enough food to eat and make enough money selling their flowers to not need to find other work. We met many people who once had to migrate for months at a time who now can stay and provide a livelihood for their families at home.
First sign of strawberries.
Almost every house had several plants growing like this one.
After visiting each house we hiked up more to visit more homes and greenhouses. 
Three levels of greenhouses, each owned and operated by a different family.
We hiked up this volcano to about 8500 feet for over 30 minutes. The volcano's peak reaches over 13,000 feet.
 About half way up the side of the volcano we stopped for lunch.
The kitchen where chicken soup was cooking on the stove.
The girls seem to make friends wherever we go.
("The dining room")
The border between Guatemala and Mexico, divided by occasional cement markers.
After a knee-jarring trip back down the mountain, we got back in the truck and drove about one minute down the road, where it abruptly ended and led to the abyss of a pine forrest. We had reached the porous border with Mexico.

We headed back to Sibinal to take a hot shower and eat some comida tipica, reflecting on the harsh reality of living on the side of an active volcano. We are excited to work with these communities in the coming years. More pictures to come.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"This is Life"

My friend has said this to me a few times recently. Each time, I notice she's been studying my two active, energetic, joyful little girls. They are running around, laughing and playing and squealing.

I'm thinking more about how they might be bothering everyone in the room trying to enjoy adult conversation, but this woman is watching them and I know she's putting herself back in her own history, some 17 or 18 years ago. She has two daughters, and the youngest left the nest this week. Their nest is now empty, as we say.

That feels like an unimaginable time in the future for me, but at times I fear I will wake up and my girls will suddenly be adults and I will have slept through it. Or have been too frustrated with the messes and the tasks at hand to have noticed.

The job we began this week is a hard one. Within the first few days we had a staff member go to the hospital. We've had some unexpected curveballs thrown at us. We've literally broken open dusty filing cabinets that haven't been touched in years. We're up to our necks in information and discovering a little more every day how much about this job we don't yet know. Fortunately, between all the chaos of learning a new job there are threads of hope and purpose. Our team, our partners, the projects, the people impacted by the work here. These are good things.

Countless people have told us from day one: your family comes first. We nod our heads and agree. Of course. We will always put our girls first. And I'd like to think this is true, but I know the reality. 

The reality is we are fallible. There will be days when deadlines hit and our girls might get the short end of the stick. We will be tired and annoyed and lacking energy. My hope is that I can make up for those moments by being present in others, and that the intentional moments outnumber the chaotic ones.

Yesterday I learned that today is a holiday in which everything was closed, including school. I have an unexpected day at home with my girls. Truthfully, at first, I was annoyed that I had just found this out. We have so much to do in the office. I'm already only working half days and so to lose a day felt frustrating and the to-do list accumulates.

I read this article recently reminding me to slow down and enjoy moments with my daughters. To stop saying "hurry up." I'm trying. 

And so, I realized I received a gift today. An entire day with my girls. Something I haven't had in a while. It's rare. It's reminded me of the last two and a half years staying at home. At times I know I will miss that. I miss my girls when I'm working in the mornings. So today is a gift.

On several occasions this woman, while watching my girls play and giggle and squeal over adult conversation, with tears in her eyes as she contemplated her youngest daughter leaving her childhood behind, she reminds me,"this is life." It's a reminder that these every day moments make up life. My life. This is life. Some days are hard and I'm annoyed by the whining when I'm just trying to get dinner ready and no, I can't hold you right now, but, this is life. 

And I'm in it. 

And it's good.
My embraceable moments today:
Pajama Yoga
Playing together. Getting along. 
Another book lover in the making. And making a mess. 
"Mommy, let's build a train to my room!"
A special project for a special relative.
The battle that is nap time.
Today: Nap: 1- Ellie: 0
This is Life.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I'd like you to meet...

I want to introduce you to couple of our staff here in Guatemala. Both of them write about their experiences living and working here.

First, a random connection.

When we first arrived to Guatemala, a friend sent me a link to a blog and described it as a "Guatemalan food blog." As I scrolled through the lovely posts with recipes, stories of life in Guatemala, and beautiful pictures, I realized that this person had worked with MCC in Nicaragua several years ago. I emailed her, introducing myself, and explaining my new role in MCC Guatemala.

Little did I know I was emailing one of my own staff! And thus, we met over the internet. She and her husband are here with their four kids for a 9-month internship working with a vocational school that we partner with. Unfortunately, they will leave in just a couple short months.

Her blog is filled with interesting anecdotes and she shares so eloquently their adventures as a family of six living here in Guatemala that I just had to share her blog. If you are at all curious as to what we do here in Guatemala and El Salvador, well, this is one of over a dozen projects we work with.

Also, I have made several of her recipes, including her avocado macaroni and cheese, maseca cornbread, and banana bread (which I'm eating at this exact moment. YUM!).

So, whether you're a foodie looking for delicious and creative recipes, or someone looking to learn about one of the MCC partners here in Guatemala, or you just enjoy blogs with funny stories and beautiful pictures, head here. Also, click here to see one of my own little ones make an appearance on her blog.

One more introduction and random connection:

Months before we arrived in Guatemala, Michael had been following this person's blog posts on The Huffington Post. Little did he know he would become one of our staff working with another partner here in Guatemala. He and his wife work in one of our more remote locations in the northern Mayan highlands. They work with indigenous Mayan communities and have worked with MCC partners for several years. He's currently our veteran staff member. Check out his blog posts here at The Huffington Post.

I look forward to getting to know our staff and introducing them over the next few years. We have service worker positions which usually last 3 years, and several internships and one-year positions as well. Thus, we will be saying many goodbyes and hellos to staff during the next several years here in Guatemala. Such is the life of international development.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Salvadoran Story

One upon a time in the country of El Salvador,
 there lived a very poor and marginalized community called La Linea
In 2009 Tropical Storm Ida caused damage and created mudslides that left many already poor families in this community homeless or destitute. 
 Meanwhile, about 20 minutes away (driving), stood a large parcel of beautiful, lush land.
A farm sat virtually unattended for 15 years, and was covered with all sorts of precious things:

Orange trees.

Cacao nuts.

Fertile soil for gardening.
Coffee. So much coffee. 
Four years ago, with the help of MCC, this community and its church purchased this land.
There is potential for a coffee farm. Equipment. There is a church in Canada helping this community  begin cultivating coffee. 

Now, the community is waiting. Waiting for the final government papers to parcel out the land to individual families. 
There is much potential here, and so much work to be done. 
Families will have to relocate, hopefully leaving behind the gangs and community problems which have caused so much damage and hardship for these people. 

But there are leaders full of dreams and hopes. 
Young people wanting to make a difference in their community.
Prayers are coveted.