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.

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.)

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

Pray, Don’t Prey (A #Reverb11 Prompt Response)

The #Reverb11 prompt for May asks: If you participated in Reverb 10 during December of last year, are any of the things you wanted to manifest in 2011 revealing themselves?

When I wrote my #Reverb10 posts, such as “Let Go Already!”, they were more reflective – looking backwards instead of ahead. For that reason, I am putting a bit of a different spin on this month’s prompt — how can I look at things differently as 2011 forges ahead in order to manifest the things that sit closest to my heart and spirit?

The phrase that forms the nucleus of this post is “the unscripted question.” I took this phrase from a commencement address given by Atul Gawande, author of “The Checklist Manifesto” and “Better.” At the end the audio version of Better, the narrator reads the commencement address Dr. Gawande gave at Harvard Medical School, in which he provided graduating physicians five suggestions for being “doctors who continue to matter.” The first was, “Ask an unscripted question.” For example, if you are a physician meeting a patient for the first time and that patient is complaining of chest pain and fatigue, as a physician you will ask when the pain started, its severity, how debilitating the fatigue is, etc. But as that individual’s physician, you should also ask something like, “I see you are wearing a shirt from Ireland – is that a country you have visited?” Point being that by opening up the discussion with the patient to the things that energize them in addition to the things that bring them down, you will get a more comprehensive picture of who that person is and establish a better rapport.

I was also intrigued by my friend Mark Hohmeister’s recent column in the Tallahassee Democrat, entitled “Visitors help you view things in a new way.” Mark discussed how hosting visitors from another country “is a great way to see new things, or at least see old things in a new way.” He talked about a weekend in which he and his Turkish visitor, a journalist named Mehmet, first visited Mark’s Presbyterian Church and then visited the Islamic Center of Tallahassee. In Mark’s words describing his visit to the Islamic Center, “…the talk was of Mideast politics and of religion. We talked about the Christian Trinity and they laughed at how “Allah akbar” to many Americans is a phrase associated only with terrorists.” Mark goes on to write, “But there was no terror here, no fear. I came away refreshed, the same way I feel after short morning or midday services or evensong that we attend occasionally. I’d been yanked out of my rut, and I saw my city, its people, and my god in a new way. That’s an hour well spent.”

Mark’s experience prompted me to spend an hour “well,” in a way that is not part of my usual “script.” I did a bit of research trying to find something that would be off of my beaten path, lend itself to reflection, and be somewhere on the outer fringes of my comfort zone. I found the perfect place in the Tallahassee Shambhala Meditation Center. While the Center does an orientation the first Wednesday of every month, in which they provide thorough instructions and participants do a “starter” 10 minute meditation session, I jumped in (bare) feet first with a one-hour session in order to meet this blogging deadline. I emailed the leader first to discuss my intentions, and make sure it was “okay.” She assured me I would be welcome and off I went.

The group meets for an hour every Tuesday at noon to meditate. When I walked in (admittedly, with some trepidation), the leader was very welcoming. Everyone introduced themselves and, being Tallahassee, I knew one of the participants (this was a good thing for my comfort level). Karen, the leader, explained the basics – we would spend time sitting, with some minimal instruction from her; spend a portion midway through the session engaged in “walking meditation,” and finish by more sitting. The “mindfulness meditation” practiced there “is rooted in the simple, but revolutionary premise that every human being has the ability to cultivate the mind’s inherent stability, clarity and strength in order to be more awake and compassionate in everyday life.”

I didn’t know what I sought in the hour, just that I wanted to intentionally give my mind an opportunity to turn things over in a new and different way. 2011 has been characterized, for our family, by my husband’s continued job search and the impact of a reduced income, as well as my deeper questions about how to best use my talents professionally and personally.

It all boiled down to this, for starters:

Sometimes you have to stop running away from the unscripted questions begging to be asked in your own life. You may think you are chasing down a definite answer but it’s not there. You shouldn’t approach it like a predator running down a weaker prey, capturing it, and consuming it. Try stilling yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually — you may be surprised to find that an insight alights on your shoulder gently, alive to the possibilities that exist for both of you.

Photo Credit: Rich Leighton,
(Thank you, Rich, for allowing me to use this beautiful image.)