Monday, October 6, 2008

The Allie Update!

Hello! Allie Naskret has become a dear friend to many in the ORB community, and a good friend to me personally. As many of you know, her heart is in serving the poor and needy and addressing issues of global poverty.

She decided that God was calling her to a year in Guatemala. And she is blogging about it regularly. So I would like to post all her posts on the ORB CARE blog so we as a community could all follow her adventures!

This will be some catch up. Here are her last three posts:

Monday, September 15, 2008

So I have been in Guatemala for almost two weeks now, and it has already been a whirlwind of emotions and new experiences, of hopes, excitement, fears, and being very much out of my comfort zone. After a week-long orientation in Louisville, our crew of six set off for the airport bright and early at 4:30 in the morning. After a few layovers and much anticipation, we arrived in the airport in Guatemala City that afternoon, overwhelmed by the barrage of new smells, sounds, and sights. Our director Marcia picked us up at the airport, and took us to our first destination, an old Catholic monastery which is now a retreat center, located in Antigua. For the first few days, we took some time to settle in, and to get to know Antigua and each other. Antigua is a very strange place - an old colonial city, with red, yellow, blue, and white buildings and cobblestone streets, surrounded by breathtaking volcanoes and mountains. Although the city itself is fairly small, it is much more international than I expected, and there is a strange blending of cultures that is sometimes confusing. There is a large expatriot community here, which makes Antigua feel sort of like a bubble, disconnected from the realities which are very much a part of life in other parts of the country.

After a few days of getting acquainted with Antigua, we packed our things once again to go to San Juan del Obispo, which is where we have been staying for the past week and a half for Spanish school. San Juan is a small town, with cobblestone and dirt roads, and lots of stray dogs in the streets. Across from the school, there is a little shop where you can hear a lady making tortillas all morning. We will be in San Juan until October 13, when our group will split up and we will all go out to our individual placement sites. It has been strange to be in this sort of transitory period, but I am trying to just live each day and soak in as much as I can. I still don't quite feel like the experience is real, and it hasn't completely hit me yet that I am going to be here for a whole year. But I am trying to take things as they come and focus on being here now.

In San Juan, I am living with a host family, and it has been a very humbling and challenging experience. My host mother and father are named Maria and Mario. They have two children living with them, Mario Jr. and Patricia, and Patricia has two small children, Melanie and Diego, who are the cutest kids. I have been welcomed into the lives of these people with love and grace - they have opened their home to me and they take care of me. It is very awkward a lot of the time, because my Spanish skills are not very good; I feel like most of my conversations with my host family have been about food and the weather. It is hard to not be able to communicate much beyond the surface-level, to not be able to express my heart and what I'm feeling and thinking. But I think that feeling awkward and uncomfortable is an important part of this experience - I need to be broken and humbled a bit before I can be remolded into the person I am meant to be.

Here is what a typical day in San Juan is like: I wake up at about 6:45 (or actually, much earlier than that, because I am scratching at my bug-bitten feet or have woken up suddenly, wondering where I am). I proceed to get ready for a shower; I collect my soap and shampoo and try to balance my change of clothes delicately on the toilet. My shower usually doesn't last very long at all - the water is ice cold, and I just stick my head under long enough so that I can soap up my hair. After a nice icy shower, I eat breakfast, usually with my host mother and/or Diego and Melanie. After breakfast, I get my books and head to language school, where I sit with my teacher Mirian and talk for about an hour or two in Spanish (with a lot of effort and concentration on my part), before proceeding to some grammar, reading, and writing notes in my cuaderno. It is a very slow, frustrating process learning Spanish, but I guess we have only been here for two weeks, and I shouldn't expect it to come so quickly. My brain usually hurts by the time I have to head home from school - four hours of Spanish school and intense concentrating really takes it out of you. At the house, I have lunch with my family (which usually consists of some kind of veggies, rice, and tortillas - mmm, there is always a basket of warm tortillas in the middle of the table). After lunch and a bit of awkward conversation with my host mother, I head off to meet the other girls for our afternoon activity in Anigua. The school plans activities for us in the afternoons, to help us learn more about the history and culture of Guatemala. Some of the activities have included watching a movie about the recent civil war, taking a salsa class, going to visit the ruins of the San Franciscan church in Antigua, and walking the Cerro de la Cruz, a path which goes up to a huge cross on a hill, overlooking beautiful scenery below. From the hill, you can see all of Antigua and San Juan in the distance. After the afternoon activity, I return to San Juan on a crowded caminoneta (in English, a "chicken bus"). I have a delicious meal with my family and attempt a bit more conversation, but at this point in the day, I am usually so exhausted and overwhelmed that I soon retire to my room to do some homework and fall asleep, sometimes with a book in my hand and the light still on.

Some highlights of my time so far in Guatemala:
1. Climbing the Volcan de Pacaya!!! - Last weekend, our group climbed Pacaya Volcano, and saw lava up close! It was a terrifying and thrilling experience. The 2 hour hike up was completely in the rain - it was bone-chilling and super windy, weather more like you would picture in Northern Ireland than in Guatemala. The fog was so thick that we couldn't see anything of the supposedly beautiful view. Toward the top, we were climbing almost straight up, over the volcanic rock (one tumbling rock hit my leg, and I still have a big scrape). All of the sudden, it got really warm, because we were near the lava, and my soaking wet clothes dried almost instantly. It was certainly a crazy adventure - I feel like now that we've hiked that volcano, we can do anything. I think it was a good way to start off our Guatemalan experience. :)
2. The delicious food...the homemade corn tortillas are muy delicioso!
3. How friendly the people are - everyone says hello and buenos dias when walking by in the streets.
4. Playing tag with my host brother and sister after school some days

Some lowlights:
1. The scuttling noises I hear on my roof at night, and the family of spiders living in my room
2. Having a man throw up next to me on a very crowded caminoneta one night
3. Being stranded in the bathroom without toilet paper sometimes
4. How the food is sometimes not so friendly on the stomach...:(

Overall, my experience so far has been a mixture of many different emotions, and I am trying to appreciate and live in every moment, whether good or bad, because all these moments are going to shape me. It has been very overwhelming at times, because so much is unfamiliar and unknown. I feel like for the first time, I am not just looking at poverty from the outside, or visiting it for a brief time, but I am actually experiencing and living it, being with the people in their struggles and joys and day-to-day realities. There is so much more to say and I don't know the words to say it. I'm sorry this is so long and rambling, but so much has happened and I haven't even begun to scratch the surface. I will try to be better at writing from now on...
I will have more stories soon!

Friday, September 19, 2008

New Discoveries

So today, I discovered two things:

1. If I jiggle the shower nozzel several times and postion it just right, I get about 30 seconds of (luke)warm water - it is amazing.

2. Yesterday my friend Celeste said that she bought a ball of soap (jabon en bola), and she loves the smell of it and wants to just carry it around like a baby all day long. Since then, I have been trying to take note of different smells, because these are the things I am going to remember. I´ve noticed that the bathroom in my house definitely has a distinct smell ( I know this because I have spent a lot of time in there recently...) - it´s not really a bathroom smell, but it´s a smell nonetheless.

Also, it has been raining for the past three days and probably will never stop. I washed some of my clothes by hand yesterday in the pila (a stone basin divided into three sections) and hung my clothes up to dry, but I think they are just going to grow mold instead. It is very wet; I live on the top of a hill, and there is a river of water running down my street.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Visit to Chocola

So much has happened since my last (very exciting) post...let´s catch up. Last Sunday we visited Chocola, which is where I will be heading off on my own in two weeks (!) to live and work for the rest of the year. The whole day was amazing, and I was so encouraged and excited and overwhelmed all at the same time. Before our visit to Chocola, I was feeling a little discouraged and struggling to understand why I´m here and what my purpose is in these first few weeks. It seems like my main purpose and goal right now is to learn Spanish - I´m in sort of a preparation stage for what is to come. It has been difficult to feel like I haven´t quite started my "work" here - I´m ready to go out on my own and start building relationships with people and truly becoming part of a community. It seems like Chocola is going to be the perfect place for me to do this.

Everyone in the community was so welcoming and gracious and kind, and I was so touched by the open and loving hearts that met me there. When we first arrived in Chocola, we met with some of the elders from the Horeb Presbyterian Church (where I will be working), and they were incredibly warm and welcoming. They kept calling me their hermana (sister), and talking about how we are all one because of the love of Christ - we are all part of the same family and same body. There were so many moments throughout the day when I was just so overwhelmed , overjoyed, and grateful for the outpouring of love I felt - tears welled up in my eyes.

After being welcomed by some of the elders from the church and talking about some of the possibilities and responsibilities I will have during the year, we ate a delicious meal together that was prepared by some ladies from the church. Then, we went to meet my host family!!!! They are wonderful and were so excited to have me there - I feel like I am really going to be accepted into the family as a daughter and a sister. The parents, Juana and Miguel, have 14 children (!!), although I think only 8 or 9 are currently living in the house. I´m so excited to have so many brothers and sisters - I think I will never be without someone to talk to! My first challenge is going to be learning everyone´s name...

I also got to see my room - it is painted a bright, cheery blue and has a big window that opens to the outside. On the bed is a red, shiny beadspread, with a heart in the center, that looks kind of like it should be in a honeymoon sweet...haha. I think I am going to feel very much at home here, am so excited to become part of the family. I can picture myself really coming alive here...I was imaging myself making all these drawings and covering the walls of my room with artwork, and singing each morning in my room, and playing music at the church, and really feeling like part of the community there.

ahhhh, also, my family has a PIG and chickens and two turkeys...i´m super excited! except i don´t want to become too attached, since they will probably become dinner one night...

After meeting my host family, we went back to the church to go to the afternoon service. Just as the service was starting, it started downpouring, and the rain was so loud on the metal roof that we could barely here anything. The woman who was leading the songs was singing at the top of her lungs over a microphone. It was such a genuine way to be praising God - I think that if it weren´t raining so hard, we wouldn´t have had to listen so intently or sing our praises so loudly, straining to lift our voices up to God.

I´m so excited to head off on my own to Chocola in less than two weeks!

(Her blog site is

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