Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2 years in Guatemala

Yesterday marked two years in Guatemala.
At the airport in Portland, April 20, 2013, ready for a grand adventure.
Our flight to Guatemala.

It's so cliche, but the truth is it has flown by. I look at pictures of my girls when we arrived two years ago, and I'm almost floored. Where have two years of their lives gone? Or the last year?

A sampling of our first few months:

Hazel was sick a lot in those first few months.

We talk about going "home" to the Pacific Northwest after our 5-year term is finished, but I can't wrap my head around the fact that in three years we will have a 7 1/2 year-old, a 5 1/2 year-old, and a 3 year-old. 

Some days I grit my teeth and get to the tedious tasks that fill up the majority of our days of work and administrative tasks in the office. I see myself pushing through, forging past this task or that, looking to the next team meeting or travel planned, those things that give me more life and energy. But I realize I have to be careful. If I push through too blindly, I'll push past these formative years of my girls. 

5 years is nothing to sneeze at. If and when we head back to the States after this experience, the girls' sense of "home" will be Guatemala. They will be uprooted from their friends and their school and their lives here. 

In two years we've learned a lot. There's a steep learning curve in this role in the first year or two, so to be finally feeling like we have a handle on some of the expectations feels good. The job is extremely cyclical, with reports and plans and meetings on a yearly calendar. It's easy to live month to month or between activities.

There have been surprises along the way. We're living in our 4th (and hopefully last) home since arriving in Guatemala. I'd say my Spanish has improved immensely (from very basic), but I think I would have expected it to be even better by now. I hope I'm not saying that in three years. 

I didn't know how hard it would be to balance working part-time, being at home with my girls, the stress of a new language and not really having any close friends.

Our lives have changed. We've changed. We came as a family of 4, now we're 5. We came with one language, our house is now filled with "Spanglish." Our girls are getting older every day.  
We came as vegetarians. We no longer abstain from meat, mostly when we're outside of the home. 

One of the best parts of living here: fresh squeezed juice. I will never want juice from concentrate again.  

There's a lot more I could say about our first two years here, or the fact that three still remain in our contract. I will continue to write and reflect and record our experience here. We have a lot of life to live in the next 3 years.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Relativity of Simplicity

Ruby recently moved into her own room. Well, she had some help. But she's now in her own space.

Our experience with the other two girls was the sooner they were in their own room, the better we all slept.

As we moved her few things, namely, her small bassinet pack 'n play and her small bookshelf full of clothes, I was struck by how little there was to move. It took me no more than a few minutes. Granted, she's probably going to suffer from "third child syndrome," where she gets a lot less than her sisters did, just the bare minimum, but it's more intentional than that.

Ellie's first nursery had pictures on the walls, her name in big block letters, a painted changing table/dresser with matching cloth boxes for all her clothes. She had toys and a rocking chair. She had decorations and so many clothes that she grew out of many before she had a chance to wear them.
Ellie's room when she was born.
Hazel shared this room with Ellie while we lived in Fresno, so she also had a well thought-out nursery. Until we got to Guatemala. (I wrote about living with less as we prepared to move).

I don't know if I've gone into detail before, but one of the commitments that we make while serving with MCC is one of "Living Simply." (To see MCC's faith commitments and lifestyle expectations, go here.) Of course, it's a vague term that can be interpreted by many people in different ways. But the idea is there. We've committed to living simply. Reusing, recycling, not buying new things when the used version is just fine. Needs vs. wants. And of course, it's all relative.

When we first arrived to Guatemala, Hazel had no crib. She actually slept in closets and on the floor in a makeshift bed. This had more to do with lack of time to find one. We eventually got her a crib and it worked. But the girls' room was simple. No decorations. The quilt on Ellie's bed was inherited from past workers and pretty threadbare. And it definitely wasn't pink or matching anything in the room.
Our first night in Guatemala Hazel slept in this closet.
Did she care? NOPE. Did she notice? NOPE.

The girls now have bright colored blankets on their bed (but mismatched), and that was a big deal. Their room is decorated with their own artwork. It's simple and cozy.

There is an entire industry in the US that markets to families and babies. Bedrooms have to be painted and color coordinated. Babies need changing tables and swings and bouncers and curtains and their own special towels. There is so much "stuff" we can fill our rooms with that isn't necessary. It's the opposite of simple.

And so, as we were moving Ruby's stuff, I thought about how little it looks like she has. Her corner of the room holds her crib with a mosquito net and her bookshelf full of clothes. She has one shelf in the closet and a box of clothes for when she grows. That's it. The rest of the room serves as a second guest room, and holds our keyboard. And is our linen closet. And storage. I sit on the twin bed to nurse in the night, and it also functions as a changing area. This isn't a nursery worthy of Pinterest. Or even Facebook.

Ruby's corner.

Then, I thought about how little people have here in Guatemala. We visit families of our partners where the entire family sleeps in one bed. Maybe two. There are indigenous customs where having an extra room or a guest room makes zero sense. You use what you have. People we interact with on a daily basis are crammed into a couple small rooms at home.

The day we moved Ruby I posted on Facebook that we were moving her. I felt content with the simplicity of her room, but couldn't help to think about the reaction others might have:

A baby with her own room? What does a 2 month old need with an entire room to herself? 

It's a privilege and a luxury to have enough space in our home to give Ruby her own space. Though it's simple in North American standards, to others, it would be space better used in more practical ways. I'm conscious of how much "stuff" the girls have, even here, how quickly we accumulate.

We make decisions about our home, our kitchen, where we eat, and what we buy through this lens of trying to live simply. But it's all relative. To many people in the States, we are living more simply than we would there, but to those around us every day, we live with more than they will ever have in their lifetimes. It's a fine balance, and I'm still learning how to live within the tension of different definitions of simplicity.

Note: If you are interested in understanding how food and consumption can be done more simply (and why, as Christians we should be good stewards of our resources), check out a few resources that MCC has, including 3 cookbooks. More-with-Less has the subtitle: Recipes and suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world's limited food resources. There's also a book by the same author, called "Living More with Less," that expands on many of the ideas that inspired the cookbook in 1976. I recommend them both, as well as my favorite cookbook: Simply in Season: Recipes that celebrate fresh, local foods.

Monday, April 13, 2015

As of Late

I thought it was time to post a random collection of happenings and "normal" life in Guatemala.

A sample of homework Ellie sometimes has. This time she was supposed to find 5 pictures that start with E (in Spanish). We had a hard time: Elmo, estrella (star), elefante, Elsa, and Ellie (she drew a picture of herself). 
An abundant number of diaper changes happen in this house.  
Tummy time for Ruby sometimes means her older sisters "read" to her. 
Hazel is constantly kissing and talking to Ruby and trying to hold her hand. I have to watch Hazel because it borders on smothering. She really can't get enough of her baby sister.
I think they will be buddies because Hazel won't have it any other way.  
We have a new couple that recently joined our team. They've been staying with us for the last week before they head to El Salvador, so we took a quick trip to Antigua. Group selfie!
While eating lunch in Antigua, Ruby started crying. The owner of the restaurant offered to hold Ruby while I finished my meal. What service!
Actually, people here offer to hold Ruby all the time, and I usually say no.
We continue to enjoy our new house. The girls get a lot of good outside playing time, and we love how close we are to the school and other things. Just this morning I needed cilantro, and I walked 4 minutes to a little tienda to buy fresh cilantro.
Easter morning. The timer on our camera got a surprisingly decent picture of us.
Recently Ellie had a 4-year check up. She was so calm and patient with the doctor (Thanks, Doc McStuffins!), and wanted to make sure that the doctor was going to check her heart with the stethoscope. 
Speaking of doctors, this little one had a check-up on Saturday.
She weighed in at 12 pounds 4 ounces.

We had an interesting cultural interaction with our doctor, which I'm going to blame on the fact that solely nursing without supplementing with formula is very rare here, from what I've seen. The doctor had two concerns. One, after poking and prodding her for several minutes and then flipping her onto her tummy, she spit up. He was worried about this, which surprised me. Then I remembered hearing that formula babies spit up more than breastfed ones. Is this true? Well, babies spit up. It's normal. Especially when put on their tummies. It doesn't mean they aren't getting enough to eat. Which brings me to his second concern, which was that she was maybe not gaining enough on just my milk. I had to come home and check what the other girls weighed at this age, and both were around the same, maybe just a few ounces more. So, I'm not worried. She eats great. Sleeps a lot. My guess is he's not used to seeing babies without rolls, which also tends to be the case with formula-fed babies, which is so common here. My girls have all been on the thin side, fairly roll-less, but great eaters. They are healthy. And happy.

To prove it, here are Ellie and Hazel at 3 months. They are so definitely siblings.

Today Ruby is 3 months!
Her third month has seen a few changes. At the beginning of the month she was somewhat colicky or irritable every night for an hour or two before bed. Nothing really consoled her. Sometime during our trip to Haiti this slowly went away, gracias a Dios, as they say here.
After adjusting home to the time change, she is sleeping better than ever. With all three girls I've incorporated a "dream feed," where I put them to bed around 7pm, wake them up around 10pm and feed them to help "top them off" for the night. I adjusted this by making it a littler earlier (which is counter-intuitive, but totally works), and in the last few days she has been sleeping until 7:30 or 7am. Happy Mama here!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dominican Republic

After almost two weeks of travel and living out of a suitcase in Haiti, we took a 7-8 hour bus ride to the capital of Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo.
The view as we crossed from Haiti into DR reminded me of the green Pacific Northwest:

We spent a few days at the beach with two other couples from MCC, enjoying time away from the internet and near a beautiful beach.  It's very rare that we take time away as a family, so this was a special treat, and we were ready to relax after a hectic several months. 
The beach looked like a postcard. 
Ruby was not super happy with the intense heat and humidity, but she was all smiles at the beach, with the nice, warm breeze.  
Me and my littlest chica. 
The colors were unreal.
We were mesmerized by the softest, whitest sand we'd ever seen, in contrast to the sparkling turquoise of the water and sky.
My little hams make the beach a lot of fun.
A couple attempts at a family photo.
Goofy Girls.
Attempt #2.
Awesome sand castle. 
For our girls, nothing is more fun than sand and water. 
You know it's fresh when the guy is selling live shrimp. 
We spent our last two days in the DR visiting friends who live in Santo Domingo. These are friends from our time in Pennsylvania and Michael and Tom studied international development together. They are working in DR with another development organization.

We got to visit each other two years ago in Honduras, so it was super fun to see them again, two years later, with 2 more kids in the mix.

Here's a flashback to two years ago, after we had just arrived to Guatemala, and spent a few days in Honduras:
Hanging out on some old Mayan ruins. 
2 couples, 4 girls
The 4 girls, ages (not in order) 3, 2, 1, and10 months in May 2013.

And fast forward two years:
We both have 3 girls, and our girls have a similar spread in ages. Lined up they were ages 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and 2 months. 

It was fun to visit Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the "New World," founded by Christopher Columbus' younger brother, and even more fun to reconnect with old friends.


March was a busy month (really, we have no months that are not busy). We had a team retreat for a few days, and then our family went to Haiti and the Dominican Republic for 18 days. We had our annual meetings with our counterparts in other Latin America countries. It's always a good connecting time with other people in the same role as us, especially those balancing life with little kids. Last year these meetings were in Bolivia, and the year before was our first week in Guatemala. 
First time traveling as a family of 5. Everyone did great. 
Haiti was fascinating. There were still remnants of the earthquake, which was now more than 5 years ago, mixed in with intense poverty.
This was a view of Port-au-Prince as we took a bus and left the heat of the city for the cool mountains, where our meetings were held.
A common sight in Haiti. Overcrowding is an understatement here.
We visited one of MCC's projects, where they support a school. This was one of the students, getting to know Ruby. 
A few scenes from the countryside:
Road side drink service.
A few small tiendas (stores) in front, with houses that look like small sheds scattered throughout the countryside. 
Bananas. Or maybe plantains. 
We traveled to another part of Haiti. Most of the group took off for a few days to visit some more MCC projects, and a few of us moms and our kids stayed behind.
It was a pretty gorgeous place to be "stuck" with all three girls for a few days by myself.
The girls swam for hours every day. Hazel officially learned to swim and can now swim, unassisted. Of course, neither girl is strong enough to be in the deep end by themselves, but I am totally a proud mom that both girls could "dive" down and get toys from the bottom of the pool, and swim and kick all over. 
In this picture Ellie was the center of attention of this group of kids. I finally asked them to back off (as best as I could since they spoke French) as they started splashing her and getting in her face a bit. She's used to, when we travel, being goggled at for being a little gringa (white) girl, but I felt like these kids were too much in her face and not respecting her distance.
Idyllic beach playground. 
Time-out Time.
With Michael gone, the girls had some hefty tantrums and time outs. I had to snap this picture.
Both girls had lost swimming privileges and were told that at the beginning of swim time they'd have to sit out for a while. This may have been a more effective consequence if the pool hadn't been empty. Oh well.

The girls loved kayaking with Daddy.
We did a lot of traveling by bus and plane, and the girls did well.
Michael was able to see more of the MCC projects than I did, so I don't have much to share about the work there. Overall, our impressions of Haiti were a mix: the food was delicious, the difference between Haiti and DR was telling of a long history of colonialism and development. We kept wanting to speak Spanish and forgetting that we were in a French or Creole-speaking country.

After a week and a half in Haiti, we took a bus to Dominican Republic to spend some time resting and relaxing as a family and with a few friends. Pictures to come of DR.