Wordless Wednesday (Goodbye Summer/Adios Verano Edition)

It is time for Wordless Wednesday and Amanda at Parenting by Dummies is partnering with Snapfish to give us one last chance to say goodbye to summer (and win great prizes at the same time!).
I had the opportunity this past July (with the help of countless friends and relatives) to achieve my dream of taking my first international trip, accompanied by my fifteen-year-old daughter. I have used this collage in a previous Wordless Wednesday but I can’t pick just one image of our Guatemala trip; each one speaks to me.
Working clockwise from the top left corner:  Lake Atitlan; Tenley meets Estela, the child she is now sponsoring through Hope for a Family; the Mayan Prayer ceremony we participated in; a statue and roses at an orphanage in Guatemala City; I meet Silvia, the child our extended family has sponsored for 9 years; a sign on a Guatemalan family’s home welcoming us. In the center, two adorable Guatemalan children who danced for us at the orphanage, and Tutti Frutti the unforgettable clown.
It is not too late to enter! Entries are accepted through September 25. Link up here: http://parentingbydummies.com/snapfish-contest
If you enter, please add this legalese:

This photo is being entered in the Goodbye Summer, Hello Snapfish photo contest sponsored by Snapfish at parenting BY dummies. If voted the best summer picture I will win a photo canvas and other prizes from Snapfish & pBd. http://bit.ly/pRciVU

Gifts from Guatemala

(This is an article I am submitting to our local newspaper in addition to a few other publications, partially to talk more about my and Tenley’s July trip to Guatemala, and partially to support my continued outreach to potential sponsors for Carla from Guatemala.)

Gifts from Guatemala 

A blogger friend of mine does a blog exercise every Tuesday called “Ten on Tuesday.” The blogger has to respond to ten questions. One of her questions in a recent Ten on Tuesday post was “Would you rather live without running water or without electricity?” When my daughter and I visited Guatemala in July 2011, we met many families for whom neither running water nor electricity is available.

Our family has sponsored a Guatemalan child, Silvia, since she was seven years old (she is now seventeen). The “main” purpose of the trip was meeting Silvia. It was important to me that my teenager see the “real” Silvia, not just the face we have seen smiling at us from a picture frame on an end table. The meeting with Silvia was everything I hoped it would be and more, not to mention a true workout for my rusty Spanish skills!

In each of the communities we visited, the 39 of us in the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging delegation were greeted like royalty. Flower petals covered the walkway in front of us; at one location confetti rained down while a marching band heralded us. All of this hoopla felt terribly undeserved, but one key lesson of visiting Guatemala in this capacity was that the people wanted to graciously welcome us; they were as energized as we were by the opportunity to be together.

I came away from my first international trip with many “lessons learned,” but the top three are:

Every mother wants the same thing for her child. Our extended family has given money each month to support Silvia for years. On the pamphlets it sounds so cut and dried – education, food, shelter – you know it is helping and that is a good thing. But when Silvia’s mother (and every single mother we encountered) looked into my eyes and thanked me, it was clear that she felt a partnership with us and that she believed our sponsorship of Silvia had helped her provide a safer future, with more options, than she would have been able to provide alone.

Silvia (the mom), Tenley, Me, Silvia (our sponsored child)

No dictionary definition of “poverty” really explains the term. Merriam Webster’s “lacking a usual amount of money” may define it in an academic sense, but it can’t capture the flip side – the strong desire on the part of many people living in poverty to do dignified work for a decent wage. The people we met, who were undoubtedly in poverty, had a steely strength of character and determination that no dictionary definition seems to capture.

A lovely Guatemalan woman who welcomed us into her home.

 Getting out of your comfort zone really shouldn’t be optional in life! I literally could not sleep the night before we left for Guatemala. My head was swirling with thoughts of trying to get by with my limited Spanish, how to deal with exchanging money, customs, and the news stories and blogs I had read (good and bad) about personal safety in Guatemala, especially in the city. The lost sleep was well worth it; I am glad I wandered far away from my emotional and physical boundaries.

 Dancing in Guatemala!

My daughter and I also came away from Guatemala with the gift of Estela. Estela is a child who Tenley decided to sponsor after she spent time with the children of Guatemala. Estela is the youngest of ten children, and it will be transformative for her to have access to education, health care, and better nutrition.

Tenley and Estela meet for the first time.

(I have agreed to help other children find sponsors. I am currently helping Carla, a Guatemalan six-year-old. If you are interested in finding out how you can be part of changing a Carla’s (and her family’s) life for just $30 a month, please contact me at (850) 556-3517 or opuswsk@aol.com.)





Wordless Wednesday (Sweet Summer Finale Edition)

As the second week of school gets underway here in Tallahassee, we say goodbye to summer with the Sweet Summer Finale of the Crazy Days of Summer Photo Challenge.
I suppose I could look at the summer as something that started full of anticipation:
and ended up empty:
but I think it is just the opposite.
As a family, we started the summer with room for growth:
and were given so many flavorful moments, such as:
Turning 15 (Tenley) and 12 (Wayne):
Discovering a whole new country and its incredible people in Guatemala:

And remembering that the people (and animals!) who are right down the road are full of discoveries too:
It hasn’t been the easiest of summers as we struggled with Wayne’s continued job hunt after a downsizing; we definitely felt exposed as some of our protective shell was bitten away:
But as we say good-bye to summer, I know that we come out of it with memories for which to be grateful and the knowledge that so many people, in real life and in the blogosphere, are in our corner.
To all of you who made the summer fun, bearable, amazing, una gran aventura, and full of the knowledge that we have overflowing blessings, thank you — you put the delicious finale on the summer of 2011:
 I am linking this Wordless Wednesday post up to the final Crazy Days of Summer Photo Challenge sponsored by Kristi of Live and Love Out Loud and Alicia of Project Alicia. Thank you, Kristi and Alicia, for the time, heart, and passion you have put into this project. I have loved every minute (except for when I sliced my hand doing the “Refreshing” theme!) and cherished the opportunity to do something so “cool” when it was so blasted “hot” outside!
Crazy Days of Summer

Mother’s Milk/La Leche de Madre (A Let’s Reverb Prompt)

The August 2011 “Let’s Reverb” prompt is: Describe an unexpected moment, activity, sighting or conversation that touched you during July. I have responded via a vlog:

Featured in the vlog:

The wooden nursing symbol teether is from Little Sapling Toys.

The picture of the Guatemalan woman is from:  Nurturing Across Cultures and the RebozoWay Project (the Nurturing Across Cultures link should be used if you want information).

Thank you to Little Sapling Toys and Nurturing Across Cultures for permission to use these images.

Hope For A Family – Carla’s Family

(This was the view from CFCA’s Shalem Center as Tenley and I waited for our sponsored child, Silvia, to arrive for our July visit.)

As Tenley’s and my week in Guatemala was winding down, the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA) staff talked with those of us who had been on the trip about ways we could continue to partner with CFCA once we returned home. One of the ways is to share the stories of children who still need sponsors, in hopes that someone who is seeking an opportunity to provide hope to a family and expand their own experience of another culture will choose to sponsor this child.

For this reason, I am featuring Carla tonight.

Carla just turned six yesterday (August 13).  She speaks a Mayan language called Q’eqchi’. Her father is a day laborer (as a wheat grinder) and her mother is a housewife. She has a 10-year-old sister and a 12-year-old sister.
Carla’s family home has board walls, a tin roof, and a dirt floor. The family does not have electricity, and they get their water from an outdoor pump. Their sleeping facilities are described as “brick with rug.” The family prepares food over an open fire.The family’s approximate monthly income, in US dollars, is $50.
Her profile from CFCA tells us that she likes to play chase and dance. Her jobs at home include cleaning the table and feeding the chickens. Additional biographical information says she “likes to smile, likes that everything is in order at home, and likes to run errands.” Her family is described as “very humble” and they are consistently involved in activities held in their village.
These chickens belong to a family whose home Tenley and I visited.
If you are not familiar with CFCA’s sponsorship program, the $30 per month commitment helps families meet basic needs such as education,  nutrition and medical care. Sponsorship also provides the support and opportunities these families need to improve their life situations and provide a better future for their children. CFCA has staff who work directly with the sponsored children and their families to make sure the sponsorship money is spent wisely. In addition to improving the family’s nutrition options and the child’s education situation, CFCA also works with families to teach them skills they can use to generate additional income; these individuals often go on to teach others. 
As I have thought this week about what I would write about Carla and, in the future, other children who need sponsorship, I kept getting a bit stumped about how to “pitch” this. I decided that my role in this process is to help tell the story, not sell the story. All I ask is that if you are seeking an opportunity to make a difference and this seems like a good fit, let me know. If you could share Carla’s story among your social networks and friends, great. If you live within driving distance of me, I will be glad to brew up some Guatemalan coffee and come speak to your group. 
For another sponsor’s perspective, check out Lynn Woolf’s post, $1 a Day, about her family’s  experience sponsoring Flora from Tanzania and Christian from Honduras. Lynn does a great job of describing one of the other benefits of sponsorship – the thrill of corresponding with your sponsored child.
In closing, I read this quote recently and it resonated with me as I continued to process all of the images and experiences from my trip to Guatemala:
Complete possession is proved only by giving. All you are unable to give possesses you. -Andre Gide
I am seeking your help in giving Carla the best 6th birthday present possible — the gift of knowing someone “completely possesses” the desire to sponsor her.
For more information:
My phone number: (850) 556-3517
My email:  opuswsk@aol.com
CFCA email: mail@cfcausa.org
CFCA phone: 800.875.6564
Note from Paula: It is possible that more than one person may contact CFCA about sponsoring Carla or that a potential sponsor may really have their heart set on sponsoring a boy instead of a girl, a child from one of the 21 other countries served by CFCA, or an elderly person. Please know that CFCA has many sponsorship opportunities available and will be happy to work with you to select who you want to sponsor. You can get more details on that here.


Wordless Wednesday (Universal Bubble Fun Edition)

 Thank you, dear Guatemalan people in the Parque Central of Antigua, for relaxing by blowing bubbles! I was out of memory card space by this point, so grabbed this picture with my disposable camera:
and played around with it a bit on Picnik to come up with this:
Bubbles are fun, language barrier or no!
I am linking this Wordless Wednesday post up to the Crazy Days of Summer Photo Challenge sponsored by Kristi of Live and Love Out Loud and Alicia of Project Alicia. This week’s theme is “bubbles”! Next week’s theme is “summer treats.”
Crazy Days of Summer

Algo Nuevo (Something New – a #Reverb11 Prompt)

What new thing will you try this month?
When I first read July’s Let’s Reverb prompt (“What new thing will you try this month?), I knew I would wait and write to this prompt after my Guatemala trip. What better than your first international trip to discover many new things to try?
Most of my writing about Guatemala has been pretty “serious” in nature – how I wanted to do it (and why it was so important), how I needed to accumulate financial and moral support to do it, what I hoped to gain. Having completed the trip, I realize there was definitely a place for all of that gravity but come on – you can bet there were humorous moments along the way, especially since I took my fifteen year old!
With that in mind, I have fashioned my “Top 10 List” of things I did differently in Guatemala:
1. Using Different Money
I am not sure Tenley is ever going to let me live down my failure to exchange dollars for quetzales at the airport. I was looking for a specific bank I had read about and, failing to find it, found myself outside the airport with no quetzales. The hotel staff changed a bit of American money for me, and on Monday the CFCA  staff took me to the bank to change my dollars. Even then, Tenley had to force me to ask to have a hundred-quetzal note changed into smaller denominations.
2.  The Toilet Paper Goes Where?
Except for the hotel we were in on our first and last nights in Guatemala, we were not supposed to flush toilet paper because the plumbing systems throughout Guatemala are not very robust. We grew accustomed to seeing receptacles with thick black plastic bags situated near all of the toilets. Friends and family in the US are requested to use white trash bags in their bathroom receptacles in order not to confuse us.
3.  ¿Cómo se dice?
We were fortunate to have translators with us all the time, and somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my brain I have retained more than I thought I had of the Spanish I began learning back at Roosevelt Roads Elementary School in Puerto Rico as a kindergartner. After a week in a Spanish-speaking country, I am more convinced than ever that immersion is the way to go. We were even exposed to some Mayan dialects, including Kiche, which is the language spoken by Estela, Tenley’s new sponsored child.
4.  Where the *bleep* is the @ sign on this keyboard?
I was happy that we had four shared computers at the place where we stayed for the week. That way we could communicate with our families. But the keyboards were unusual. You could see the “@” sign (which you needed in order to log into Facebook if you were trying to cheat on your social media hiatus and sign in). The “@” sign was on the “q” key but no one could figure out how to type it (we ended up cutting and pasting). It was weird. There are bigger problems in the world, right?
5.  Huggy, huggy.
Some of the information that CFCA sends prior to the trip discusses how to appropriately interact with children in Guatemala. It warns against excessive touching. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that one of the first things we would do was an activity where these adorable little Guatemalan children walked us into the room. So I blew off a cute little guy. It didn’t take long to figure out that hugs are what interacting with cute little Guatemalan children (in a structured setting such as a CFCA event) is all about. Duh. I think he forgave me (hope so!).
6.  Don’t Drink the Water
It has been 8 days since I arrived back and I still feel like an outlaw brushing my teeth with tap water. We had been warned so much not to drink the tap water, not to brush our teeth with it, not to open our mouths in the shower, that we learned our lessons well (and did not get sick – YAY!!). But now it just feels so … wrong …to brush with tap water. The bottled water industry must love tourists in Guatemala.
7.  ¡Baile por favor! (Please Dance)
It’s not that I don’t like to dance in the US, but Guatemala is one dancing country. I couldn’t stop grinning when we were at one of the first subprojects and one of the Guatemalan women grabbed me to dance.
8.  Stop sign, what stop sign?
I can’t think of a single stop sign that was taken all that seriously in Guatemala. Any directional sign for that matter. It all made us Americans seem hypercautious and very regimented.
9.  Bye, bye nighttime snacks
How do you go on vacation and lose four pounds? We never went hungry but the food is so simple and so much less processed than our US food. We ate dinner so much earlier than the Kiger family norm and we did not snack before bed (snacking before bed has always been a habit for me). Thank you, Guatemala, for kicking the snacks-before-bed habit. Pass the tortillas.
10. “Solid” can mean so many things
On a trip where many US-bred digestive systems are adjusting to foreign foods, conversations naturally turn to, um, matters that would seem indelicate back home. “Solid” was good and “did you take your diarrhea medicine?” caused nary a batted eyelash. The ties (and substances) that bind.
Am I glad I tried something (ten things) new? You bet. Are there things to chuckle at along with the deeper lessons? Absolutely.
El cambio es bueno. (Change is good.)

Cinco Minutos en el Blog, Siempre en mi Corazón (5 Minutes in the Blog, Always in my Heart)

The welcome given to us by one of the communities we visited.

Dear readers,

It is so nice to be back with you, after missing a Sunday blog post last week for the first week since June 28, 2009. Since Tenley and I were in Guatemala last Sunday, I skipped blogging, partially because I needed a bit of a break and partially because Internet access was limited.

I have been writing about my goal of going to Guatemala to visit our family’s sponsored child, Silvia, for a long time. The Guatemala visit was on my 2010 “top three goals list” and although the 2010 part didn’t happen, the trip came together for July 2011, thanks to the moral and financial support of many friends.

There is no way I could put everything about the trip into one blog, and I believe part of the beauty of the trip I just took is the fact that parts of the learning from it will not reveal themselves right away. That’s why I decided last week that my first blog upon my return would be a “get out what you can in five minutes” exercise, similar to my Got Five Minutes for 2010? post from December 2010. My five minutes are represented below, in italics.

The one moment that stands out most vividly for me is when we were visiting a family home in a Guatemalan village. The home was extremely basic. Dirt floors, tin roof, I think the walls were cinder block. It housed a large family in two small rooms. As I walked in, the dad said to me, “I am sorry this home is so small.” I eventually took a picture of the dad as he spoke to us about his hopes for his family, and the phrase that occurred to me is “this is what it really means to “man up.” We had learned of so many families where the father had left and the mom had to carry the weight of supporting the family all by herself.

It also meant so much to look our sponsored child, Silvia, in the eye. So much more than a picture on an end table. And for Tenley to choose to sponsor a child (Estela). Being able to talk with these children and their families, even though it took the help of translators and there were plenty of language barriers (Estela speaks Kiche, a Mayan dialect), was an experience that transcended something … their mothers were so very grateful to be our partners in providing more for their children, especially an education. I said it in Guatemala and I believe it’s true — all mothers the world over want the same thing for their children – health, happiness, education, safety.

We were greeted in such a grand manner in these communities — very elaborate welcoming ceremonies — it was humbling to be greeted by marching bands, applause, and carpets of elaborate flower petal designs.

A sample of the elaborate floral greetings underfoot.

In closing, I want to expand upon what I wrote about the flower petal designs just a bit. When our group was visiting one of the family homes, Bob Hentzen, President and Co-Founder of the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, the lay Catholic organization working with persons of all faith traditions to create a worldwide community of compassion and service that organized the trip, told the group to look under our feet, where the family had spread fresh pine needles. This was a sign of welcome and an indication that our visit was a very special occasion. When I think of the elaborate floral welcomes, juxtaposed with that in my mind is the profound simplicity of the pine needles. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a pine needle again without memories of the people of Guatemala, who I now consider teachers.

Pine Needles Spread Over the Floor in Welcome

Letting Myself Off The Hook (A “Let’s Reverb” Prompt)

The June 2011  “Let’s Reverb” prompt is: What can you let yourself off the hook for? I have responded via a vlog:

Special thanks to Julia Chambers for the use of her crochet images! Find Julia’s work at http://pixieworx.net/.