Monday, December 29, 2008

ALLIE UPDATE: Christmas Season Without the Snow

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!

The following post is from Allie's blog - Adventures in Guatemala.


So the holiday season has been pretty rough and lonely here, but I am trying to take one day at a time and appreciate the new experiences. Thanksgiving Day went by, and it really did not feel like Thanksgiving. I spent the day at a conference at a Presbyterian seminary in San Felipe. The conference, which was called "Caminando Juntas" ("Walking Together") was run by CEDEPCA (the organization that my director Marcia works for) and was designed to educate Guatemalan women about domestic violence and child abuse. It was a really awesome experience, because there were women there from so many different parts of the country and so from many different walks of life - some who had been victims of domestic abuse, and others who wanted to learn more about the issues so that they could help women in their churches and communities. It was a really powerful workshop, and it was inspiring to see so many women speaking out and stepping forward as leaders in their communities, since women here are so often marginalized and left without the same opportunities or access to education. It was also fun to see some of the dynamics of the group. Celeste and Callie (two of the other volunteers) and I had shared a room the night before with an eclectic mix of women, all packed into bunk-beds. As we were trying to fall asleep, there was one rather big lady who started laughing for no reason and couldn´t stop. An older lady in the room told her to quiet down and then tried to sing some lullabies to calm her down, but that only made her laugh even harder. Meanwhile, two ladies on the bunk beds below me chatted in Mam (a Mayan language), as the laughing and lullaby-singing continued for quite some time. The next morning, we were awoken at about 5am by more commotion, and the whole situation was really pretty absurd and funny, although I didn´t get much sleep that night. In the morning, Celeste, Callie, and I got to take a dip in the seminary swimming pool (in our pajamas, since we didn´t have our bathing suits). It was our defiant celebration of Thanksgiving, as we tried not to think of our families at home gathering together over meals of turkey and pumpkin pies.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, however, I got the chance to cook a "traditional American" Thanksgiving dinner for my host family. It was pretty interesting, since I had to cook over a fire (we don´t have a stove or oven) and was limited to the ingredients that I could find at the market in San Antonio. I only made stuffing and a few vegetables, since I didn´t want to see one of our turkeys be slaughtered. I´m not sure how it all turned out; it definitely wasn´t as good as my mom´s cooking, but at least I got everyone in my host family gathered around the table to eat together. Since there are so many people in the family, we usually don´t all eat at the same time or in the same place; everyone kind of eats when they are hungry, and wherever there is room (there is a table in the comedor and another small wooden table outside by the fire stove, and sometimes my host siblings just sit and eat while watching tv...). But for Thanksgiving, I was able to get everyone squeezed around the table, and we went around and each said what we were thankful for. I told my host family that I was so thankful for the way they have taken me into their lives and welcomed me into their house. I told them that I felt at home with them. And then after dinner I went in my room and cried. I really did mean what I said to my host family, but I was still sad and homesick, and the reality is that there are still many ways in which I will never completely fit in here. But I´m glad I got to share Thanksgiving with my host family, and they were all very grateful that I cooked for them and that we could share a meal together.

That week we also decorated for Christmas...with strands and strands of cheesy blinking lights that my host parents´ daughter Dominga had mailed from the United States. There is a strand of lights that plays one line each of Jingle Bells, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, over and over again, in a piercing high pitch and slightly off-key. It´s pretty annoying, and conveniently right outside my room, but everyone else seems to love it, so I can´t say anything...I´m learning to tune it out. :) As we were putting up the Christmas lights, my host brother Armando started to get sad. He is the grandchild of Juana and Miguel, and his mother Dominga is currently in the US and has been since he was very young. That week, I finally learned from Juana the story. After Armando was born, his mother decided to go to the US to find a job and send back money to support her son. The plan was that Armando´s father was going to stay with him and the rest of the family, and work to help support the family. But Armando´s father ended up running away with another woman, and left Armando with his grandparents, while his mother was still in the US. Armando´s mom still sends money and things from the US, and the whole family I think is hopeful that she will come back some day to live in Guatemala. She was supposed to come visit this Christmas, but now she´s not, and I think that she wants to stay in the US. The whole situation is very mixed up and sad, although Armando is pretty well-adjusted, all things considered. There are so many broken families here, with fathers, mothers, siblings, and husbands who have gone to the US to find work, leaving their families behind in order to be able to provide for them financially. I could tell that Armando was getting sad as we were putting up Christmas lights, and that night we had a moment of crying together. He told me that he missed his mom, and I told him that I missed my mom too, and we cried a little bit, sitting on his bed. It was very sweet, and I´m glad we got to share that special moment and cry together because we missed our mothers.

Meanwhile, at the church, I have started getting involved in some new activities. A few weeks ago, I started teaching keyboard lessons. I have about 11 or 12 students right now, and that number keeps growing - more and more people keep approaching me to ask if I can teach them. I´ve really enjoyed teaching lessons so far. I like seeing people nervous and squirming in their seats, with red faces and sweaty palms, trying hard to play a piece correctly...and then all of a sudden, their faces light up when they finally get a piece right, and they start to relax and smile. It´s like a little moment of revelation, of overcoming an obstacle. It´s also been interesting for me to learn all the different musical terms in Spanish, so that I can teach different concepts.

In the past weeks, I´ve also formed a humble choir of about 15 young people to sing at the church service on Christmas Eve. We´ve been having practices two times a week, and it´s been interesting to say the least. None of the young people in the choir have ever had any musical training before, and a few are a bit tone-deaf. It has been funny trying to teach them to harmonize and sing without belting at the top of their lungs. But we laugh a lot, and it has been a learning experience for everyone, myself included. I´m not sure if it will all come together before Christmas Eve, but it should definitely be a memorable experience. :)

I´ve also started getting involved with the Presbyterial (the women´s governing body of the churches in our Presbytery), and my time with those women has been one of my favorite things that I´ve been doing lately. I attended a session meeting about two weeks ago, and it was nice to see some familiar faces there. I recognized some of the women there from the Caminando Juntas conference, as well as from another presbytery meeting that I had attended several weeks before. I feel like I am starting to build relationships with these women, however slowly, and I´m excited to see what develops from these relationships. At the session meeting, the women asked me to preach a sermon at their convention in January, and I was completely terrified. But I said yes, because I didn´t want to regret not accepting such a challenge and an opportunity for growth. So, the second sermon I will have ever given will be in Spanish. I figure I have several weeks to prepare, and to look up the necessary vocabulary, and practice my pronunciation...I´m still pretty terrified, but hopefully I will be able to say something that will resonate with the women at the convention, that touches at least someone there. It is going to be interesting...I´m sure there will be stories in my next blog entry. :)

After the Presbyterial session, I went with the women on a visita (a visit to the house of someone who is sick). We went to the house of a pastor named Manuel, who is very old (I think in his nineties) and has been suffering from joint and leg problems. He is the sweetest old man, so friendly and warm and funny. He was very happy that I was there, although he couldn´t get my name right and kept calling me Alejandrina. It was very endearing. We sat and talked with him for a while, and prayed for him, and sang a few choruses of some hymns. We also brought a basket of food staples, such as sugar, rice, and beans for him and his family. When we arrived, Manuel had his daughter bring out vases of soda for us, to receive us into his home. I´m really glad I went to visit with him, and it was nice walking back with the other women in the group and futilely trying to find a bus back to Chocola, only to be smushed into the back of a tuc-tuc (a three-wheeled, death-trap vehicle that serves as a taxi).

The women from the Presbyterial invited me on another visita with them about a week later, to a nearby town called San Miguelito. The ride there was quite long, since we had to take a bus, and then another bus, and then a pickup truck, and then walk some more to get there. San Miguelito is further up in the mountains, and the view from the back of the pickup truck was breathtaking, as we passed green mountaintops, with crystal streams flowing beneath in the valleys. On the ride back to Chocola, I sat smushed in the back of a pickup with about 15 other women, with one of the women holding onto my knee for support and another gripping around my legs for dear life, as the pickup manuevered over the rock-covered roads. We joked and laughed most of the ride back, tossled around in the back of the pickup. One of the woman told me at one point, ¨This is the life of a Guatemalan, and you´re living it.¨ And I smiled and thought to myself, ¨This is why I´m here: to be smushed in the back of a pickup truck, swerving over bumpy roads, and laughing with a group of women, as we hold onto each other desperately.¨

I´m looking forward to working more with the Presbyterial and the women´s group at the church in Chocola. I´ve already found lots of joy and laughter in the time that I´ve spent with many of them. I still feel like I am in a period of waiting, but I think God is teaching me things slowly, and I have to be patient and wait for some things to grow inside. I feel like there is so much more to say, but this blog is already very long. I will try to update soon! In the meantime, Feliz Navidad and Feliz Año Nuevo!

ALLIE UPDATE: 500 Tortillas Later

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!

The following post is from Allie's blog - Adventures in Guatemala.

500 Tortillas Later

Things have been pretty slow here lately...My teaching position at the school hasn´t started yet, since the school is on break until January, and my work at the church is very informal and unstructured. I am still looking for places where I fit in and can offer some of my gifts to the people here. Sometimes it is frustrating, because I´m not sure what I´m supposed to be doing or what my purpose is. I am able to understand a lot more Spanish than I did when I arrived, but it is still difficult for me to speak, and I often feel insecure and unsure about what to say or how to say it. I have had to trust a lot in God to bring me up out of my insecurities and fears, but it is a slow process. I have been able to do lots of Bible reading lately (I´m hoping to get through the entire Bible this year) and I have been very encouraged by story after story of God´s steadfast love; time after time, God chooses the most unlikely people to be great leaders and messengers of His love to His people. I just recently read the passage in Exodus where Moses tells God that he is not an eloquent speaker. He begs God to choose someone else to be a messenger to His people. Yet God uses Moses anyway, and he becomes a great leader of the Israelites. God tells Moses not to worry about the words that he will say, because the right words will be given to him at the right time. This passage has been very encouraging to me; I am learning to trust more and more in God´s power to use me, whether I think I can do it or not, or whether I think that it´s happening or not.
Although things have been slow, some of my favorite moments have been when I´m just ¨being¨ with people, whether it is talking to my host mother after dinner, with the glow of the fire lighting up our faces, or laughing with my younger host siblings as we run around the house trying to spray each other with water on a hot day. I have had a lot of time to practice my tortilla-making (and tortilla-eating!) skills, and a lot of laughter and wonderful conversations have taken place over the dinner table or while making tortillas. I think that an important part of my ¨work¨ now is to observe and listen, to learn what life is like for people here, what joys and struggles they face, how they understand God and express their faith in this different context.
I did get to visit the school where I will be starting to teach in January. A man named Eligio came and took me on the back of his motorcycle up the hill to the neighboring town of X´ojola (which is pronounced almost exactly like Chocola - it is very confusing). At one point, he made me get off the motorcycle and walk up a steep and rocky hill. He said that the road was very treacherous, and I guess he didn´t want me to fall off the back of the bike, so he rode up the hill on the motorcycle, while I huffed and puffed my way up the hill to meet him at the top. We finally got the school in X´ojola, and although we didn´t get to go inside (Eligio didn´t have the key), it was good just to see the place where I will be teaching and to talk with Eligio for a bit. Eligio is a teacher at the school, and he is also the secretary of the plenary (the governing body of the Presbytery, which consists of 8 Presbyterian churches in the area). We also went inside the communal health clinic which is next door to the school, and got to chat with a man named Manuel who works in the clinic. While we were inside, it started pouring, and we could barely hear each other over the din of the rain on the metal roof. Since Eligio and I had come by motorcycle, we decided to wait out the rain before heading back. So we waited...and waited. For about an hour and a half. And the rain didn´t look like it was about to stop anytime soon. So Eligio finally ran outside and hailed down a pickup truck (he knew the driver, who was one of his former students). He stuck me in the front seat of the pickup, next to the driver, and told me he would ride ahead of the car in the motorcycle, to accompany us back to Chocola. So off we went. In the back of the pickup, a group of people huddled under a plastic tarp (pickups are used as a form of public transportation here), while I sat in the front seat perfectly comfortable and dry. By the time we got back to the house, Eligio´s clothes were soaked through from the rain. He got off the motorcycle and ran up to the house to bring an umbrella for me, so I could walk from the pickup to the house without getting wet. And he told my host parents that he had returned me, safe and healthy, back to the house, just as I had left. I felt terrible. I didn´t want to be treated special. I just wanted to fit in, to ride on the back of Eligio´s motorcycle in the rain and have it be horrible. There have been many moments like this, where I have been so humbled by people´s acts of kindness toward me. I am realizing now that what Eligio did was not to make me feel like I was different, but to make me feel cared for and loved, like a sister in Christ. I came to Guatemala hoping to learn how to be a better servant, and I have found myself over and over again being served by other people. I am learning to be more gracious and to accept help and kindness from people. I certainly do need lots of help at times, in a new place, where everything is different and unfamiliar and often lonely. God is certainly showing me how to be servant - and it is through the way that the people here have received me and loved me and welcomed me into their lives.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

AWARENESS POST: Gov Rules May force NY Religious Shelters to Shut down

Interesting article from NY Times .. Full article

As temperatures outside were dropping from icy to arctic early Monday evening, volunteers inside the Friends Meeting House off East 15th Street prepared their gym for homeless guests, following a routine that has taken place nightly for more than 25 years.

They arranged green cots in neat lines on the polished wood floor, placed cold cuts and leftover lasagna on pink cloth-covered tables, and set out 14 chairs — 12 for the homeless, 2 for volunteers who share the communal meal, then sleep in the next room.

But these lovingly preserved rituals may soon come to an end because of a pending change in city policy in which shelters that contract with the Department of Homeless Services to provide beds would be required to provide hot dinners and transportation, things that the Friends shelter and many of the others do not have the staff to handle.