Monday, December 21, 2009

Adios Santa!

By now we're all pack up and settling into a short holiday vacation in BELIZE!

Hopefully this guy will still know where to find us!

Merry Christmas to all of you!
We hope your holiday is merry & bright!

We'll be back next week to tell you all about ours.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Long Live Convivios!

This week we both had holiday celebration with our co-workers. They call it a convivio, literal meaning to co-exist or live together, and I think it's perfectly stated. A coming together of lives. It's a wonderful opportunity to share in the joy of the season with the people that we spend most of our days with!

Common Hope we all retreated to Parque La Florencia, an eco-park outside of Antigua. We were all (13o of us) treated to a beautiful hand knit scarf upon our arrival and the rest of the day was spent playing, dancing and eating to our hearts content! We even had a rifa (raffle) where everyone went home with a gift. I was a big winner and will be having dinner at the new Westin Camio Real in Antigua. Thank you! And as a super special surprise at the end of the day, all of the employees were given a generous yearly bonus. It was truly a blessing.

For the
Aguas de Unidad convivio, they gather together (encargados included) and had similar type celebration with delicious food and fun! Here's a cute video they put together to mark the ADU Convivio 2009.

Whether you called your work celebration a convivio or not,
we certainly hope too thoroughly enjoyed yourselves!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Making our Lust List

It might sound trite to those of you battling the storm,
but this December we're only lusting for 1 thing.......

Our current Must Have Lust
The Christmas Spirit
and for us it begins with SNOW!

Now we're not exactly living in the tropics like a lot of you think. Antigua has nearly the same altitude as Denver, but since we are a lot closer to the equator we can only dream of one day having snow. In Guatemala there are 2 seasons. Summer when it rains and Winter when it doesn't. Right now we are in "winter" and will be until about next April/May. Fortunately when the rain stops, it means it and we won't see another drop for several months. They say "winter" here is cold, but this crazy talk about cold is relative when you grew up with temps below zero! A while back I posted about the feeling of "fall" in the air, and for me that is what this weather is remniscent of. Basically in the mornings and evenings we need to wear a sweater or jacket, but mid-day it is roasty toasty. I love it. Since we know next year we'll be dreaming of escaping the cold and traveling to somewhere warmer, we're ok with accepting things as they are, but it sure does give make it difficult to "feel" the season.

In honor of our lust for a taste feel of winter and the Christmas Spirit, we rewrote some lyrics to a familiar holiday tune that's been on our minds!

Let it Snow (Remix)
(best when sung to the tune of the old classic!)

Oh the weather outside is far from frightful,
sunshiney cool breezes are delightful.

Central park is lit with lots of cheer,

But we still don't have any signs of the year!

The locals all dawn scarves and stockings,

in flip-flops we we Gringos keep on walking.

Temps are in the 60's & the 70's,

Oh how we wish it would snow!

When we finally do feel cold,
we bundle up tight in our fleeces.

Within minutes we start to sweat,

but at least we can pretend were at home!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Friday, December 18, 2009

This Christmas

This Christmas we've really tried hard to get in the mood, but it's been just that - trying. It probably has a lot to do with 3 things. The weather. The fact that we are surrounded by poverty everyday. And that we really just don't need much. But that being said, we really want to feel like it's Christmas time, so we've done our part in searching out and providing holiday cheer.

1st we decorated the house. Of course this was fun for me. Not so fun was the purchasing of the decorations. Since we obviously are on a budget and won't be able to take much back with us, it felt a little frivalous, but we did our best. A couple of things were from Cemaco and the rest from the market, but finding non-tacky decor was exhausting.

Christmas is about the only time our awesome green & red plaid furniture works with the decor scheme.

Didn't the framed molas turn out fabulous?

It really does look pretty, especially a night all lit up.

What you also can't see in the photos is that we adorned both the patio and terrace with pretty white twinkle lights, which incidently also caused us huge headaches since we bought the cheapest lights we could find for Q10 each, and had to keep splicing (is that a real word?) them together each time they broke.

Next we threw a party. Of course once we put all the efforts into decorating, we had to share it with our friends! Plus it's something we like to do every year anyway. It usually does the trick.

Sorry I don't have the best photos.
It's hard to be hostess with the mostess and photographer extroidenaire too!

And if all those efforts weren't enough, we went out in search of holiday cheer and found it in an awesome concert in central park amidst the forest of white lit trees.

And even after all of our efforts,
we still don't truly feel like Christmas is a week away.
Next year we'll have to make up for it!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's completely expected Must Have Lust.

Gifts that Give

If you are feeling like we are this year and you & your loved ones don't really want or need anything for Christmas, you may want to consider giving a gift that keeps on giving. Supporting your favorite local charity is something you'll surely be able to feel good about and even see the results right in front of you in your own community.

While we most likely aren't local to you,
Common Hope the Guatemala based NGO that I volunteer with, would certainly appreciate your support. We understand that it takes all kind of donors to make the non-profit world go round, so we offer you several choices.

Here are three ways to make the season bright:

A gift to Common Hope through will be free of credit card fees through December 31st so 100% of your gift will benefit our work. Last-minute shoppers can honor a loved one by giving an alternative gift through our gift catalog. Or for the gift that keeps on giving, ask a family member or friend to sponsor a child and begin a life-changing journey with someone who lives half a world away.

If it's a personal connection that you are looking to have, then I highly suggest sponsoring a child. We offer 2 types of sponsorship: leading ($60/mo.) and guiding ($30/mo.). With your donation, your sponsored child and her or her entire family gain access to education, health care, housing and social work services at little to no cost. Since we look to partner with families who have already placed an importance on education by sending at least 1 of their children to school, our sponsored kids are very likely to continue their studies through high school, and will remain affiliated and supported by Common Hope as long as they remain in school.

In Guatemala, education is said to be mandatory & free, neither of which is necessarily true. Between inscription fees, school supplies, and uniforms, we estimate that the cost of 1 year of education per child is about $100. Now considering the fact that the families that we work with earn around $150/month and have an average of 5-7 children, you can quickly realize how education isn't an option for everyone. Nationally, of the children that enter the 1st grade in Guatemala, about 50% of them graduate from primary school and only about 24% from high school. Studies have been done that show in developing countries like Guatemala, secondary school education will afford students an economic equivalency twice that of their peers who do not have a high school degree.

Think about the effect you can have. How rewarding would it be to see your donation make that kind of difference in a child's life?

With Common Hope's affiliation process we double the national statistics and we can proudly say that over 50% of our affiliated students will graduate from high school. Because once a child becomes affiliated with us, the whole family is eligible for our services, we estimate that we are working with about 8,000 Guatemalans, from 2,400 families.

Check out some highlights from 2009:
  • 2,576 students attended elementary, high school, and university because of your support
  • 113 high school students graduated, ready to embark on professional careers.
  • Our medical clinic averaged 692 visits per month and 2,147 prescriptions filled.
  • Affiliated families worked 4,553 sweat-equity hours to earn running water, stoves, and homes.
  • Social workers made an average of 300 visits each month to our 1,302 families.
Now who wouldn't want to be a part of all of this?

Since beginning my work with the organization back in May 2009, we've been waiting for the right opportunity to become sponsors ourselves. Due to the economic crisis this past year in the US, many NGOs have been negatively affected, including Common Hope. Currently we have around 400 students who are affiliated, but do not have sponsors to cover the cost of their services.

As a Christmas gift to each other, this January we have decided that we will become sponsors of a child in need and would like to invite you, our friends and family, to take this journey with us. It's actually quite a neat experience, picking your "godchild". Since there are literally hundreds to chose from you can take your pick of sex, age, location, birth date, etc. Wouldn't it be awesome for us to sponsor siblings together? We totally understand it is a huge commitment, so we wouldn't want you to jump into things too quickly, but think it over and let us know by January 2010 if it's something that feels right for you. We promise that you will never look at poverty the same way ever again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

When it Rains....

Or maybe more appropriately we should say, when the toilet sprays.........

Ugh! We arrived home late around 9 pm from our Tejutla/Xela trip to find a nightmare in our 1st floor. The pipe (more like a flexible tube between the water pipe & the toilet) had sprung a leak and the ENTIRE 1st floor of our cute little colonial home was flooded with a good 1-2 inches of water. GROSS! Thank goodness we arrived home when we did. I was the first in the door and therefore the first to nearly have heart failure. I screamed for Ben to come quick (if you know him well, you know how his "hurry" is painfully slow) and about 2 minutes (or at least it seemed like that to me) he too saw what all the fuss was about and immediately turned off the water which was still straying everywhere like it was coming straight out of a fireman's hose.

Of course we were totally in the mood for clean up at that late hour, so we got out our brooms and began to sweep the giant kiddie swimming pool into the various drains on the patio and laundry room area. Several hours later we retreated to bed (doors wide open downstairs so mother nature could do her part to dry the place out), but not before we investigated the source of the issue. Apparently someone thought it was smart to repair a previous small leak with silicone......which just so happened to burst off on our watch. Ironically the next day when Ben went out to purchase the replacement part, it only cost about Q20 (less than $3). Typical Guatemalan ingenuity (aka. cheapness). So needless to say our early return from Xela that we had hoped would afford us a relaxing Sunday instead brought us a day of cleaning. Boo.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'Twas 1 year ago....

Keeping in mind the 101 things we need to get done (and blog about) this week, here's a quick run down of our weekend in our old stomping grounds. 'Twas 1 year ago today that we boarded a plane and said goodbye to our faithful friend (and enemy at times), least until we paid a brief visit soon after crossing the border with Dewey in May.

Quetzaltenango (or more commonly referred to as Xela) is the second largest city in Guatemala and is located 200 kilometers west of the capital in a wonderful green valley surrounded by majestic volcanos. The ancient capital of the Quiche Empire which its inhabitants called 'Xelaju' in honor of the 10 gods they adored was located there. It's actual name, Quetzaltenango, was devrived from the Aztecs and was given by the companions of the conqueror of Guatemala, Pedro de Alvarado.

For a couple of months we had been looking forward to paying Xela a weekend visit on our way home from thrilling Tejutla, so that we did. It didn't take us long to hit all of our old hot spots and then wonder "What do we do with ourselves now?". Oh Xela, how you never cease to thrill (and bore) us!

This sign outside of San Marcos pretty much sums up our journeys.....
Where do we go next?

The one & only Bake Shop!
(really there are 2 locations)

Quite possibly the nicest place in Xela, Cafe Baviera II.
Many a cup of hot chocolate were sipped here while studying and "borrowing" the free internet!

Mercado La Democracia.
Probably my favorite way to blow a Saturday.
It's everything Antigua is not.

Unfortunately when we passed by ICA, our beloved Spanish School, the doors were closed. We assume the decline in tourists has affected poor ICA too, especially late on a Friday afternoon. How rare though. Last year at this time they had at least 30 students. Fortunately we did run into 1 old friend on the street, Mario, my very first teacher. Next time ICA, we'll be back for a visit.

And before loading up to come home.....a few hundred boxes of Té Chirrepeco heavier, we took a relaxing dip in the hot (but less hot this visit) waters of Fuentes Georginas. (Sorry no photos this time, thanks to the 50+ French tourists that pulled up in Coach buses about 5 mintues afterus. Note to self: Next time visit Fuentes on a weekday!)

Thanks Xela for the memories......and for reminding us to be thankful for the clean(ish) streets and wide(ish) sidewalks of La Antigua!

Sharing Traditions

In my adult life I have adopted the annual event of exchanging cookies with my co-workers and friends to help share the spirit of the holiday. Normally I invite a group of girlfriends to come bake desserts with me in my kitchen. We listen to holiday tunes, we watch our favorite seasonal movies, we drink wine, laugh and bake! And then we all get to leave with an assortment of yummy treats that can then later be gifted, shared a parties, or indulged on at home. In addition, since beginning to work at the Holly's I've also joined in on their annual cookie exchange, where we again all go home with a plate full of deliciousness.

This year though, it's been a little hard to get into the mood of the holiday for me (it's not even cold here, let alone snowing!), so my co-worker Abby and I decided to organize an old favorite American Cultural activity for our Guatemalan co-workers this season......the 1st Annual Common Hope Holiday Cookie Exchange.

Baking isn't a very common part of the cuture, but we had a plethora of interested ladies who found joy in partaking in an American tradition. Granted about half of the cookies were store bought, but the majority were carefully decorated, adorned and presented beautifully. The whole idea of the event was a success. For an hour or so during our lunch break, a group of us gathered together in merriment while sipping hot cocoa and nibbling on our sweet morsels! One friend even shared with us that she'll remember this day forever....and that made it all worthwhile!

The sisters Garcia enjoy a taste of their take home treats!

Ready, Set, Let the exchanging begin!

Our only male participant is still too young for cookie eating!

A girl after my own heart, Lisa made sure the arragement was perfect.

Lucia & Xiomara pulled out all the stops with their cookie gun!

Rosi and her daughter didn't waste any time sampling the goods!

Here's to sharing tradions!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

To Tejutla & Beyond!

Sorry about our absence from blog world for the past week or so friends. We just got back from yet another road trip and have much to tell.

In the wee hours of the morning on Thursday we packed up the Dewester (and the Chata) and headed high into the Guatemalan Highlands to the land of Tejutla, San Marcos, 5 hours away, where ADU inaugurated their 21st purified water system in Guatemala!

For a couple of months now, Ben has been making occasional trips to go check on the progress of the construction and the big day had finally come. Yipee! The date fortunately coincided with my break after my last team of the year and I too was able to road trip!

With Dani as my co-pilot (and Ben & Otto in the Chata) we slipped out of Antigua before the sun had come up. A couple of hours later, we arrived in Xela where we breakfasted at Mac (or McDonald's as you may call it), per Juan & Alejandro's request. After that we hopped back in the cars for 2 more hours of road tripping fun, through small towns on winding roads.

At long last, around noon we arrived at our destination, the quaint town of Tejutla.
The ADU crew got to work quickly putting the final touches on the system while Alejandro and I took a stroll around town.

While we were out they piped a bunch of water into the cistern.

And Alejandro and I did a little of our own poking around and made a couple of fun discoveries.
Auto Pan, a bakery on wheels. It's awesome to me that we live in a country where having bread (or tortillas) everyday is so important that there is actually a van that travels from town to town, selling the goods. I should have told the guy he can park outside my door any day!

And Chyna-Pizza, a combination that could never be good - no matter how you slice it up.

When we got back, Dani needed help filling the
botellitas (little bottles) for the inauguration. It doesn't seem like hard work, but it certainly wasn't easy.....I've got a thumb blister to prove it.

The system will be operated by a church partner that also runs a Christian school. It's a pretty neat place. Tejutla is a rather small town, and growing up in a small town I know best that often times there isn't much to do, but this church has solved that problem. Every afternoon they charge Q1 to anyone who wants to come in and use their basket/
futbal facilities. They pump up the musica and the people swarms. Check it out.

So naturally they have the perfect captive audience for the water system too. I just know this one is going to be a great success.
Before we were able to head to our lodging (such a cool place, just you wait and see) there was still more work to be done. I took charge of unwrapping the tricycles that will be used to deliver bottles of water all over town. I got quite a bit of help from some curious locals too.

Ben would give his right arm to own one of these things. We'd have so much fun, cruising to the market together (me perched on a pillow in the big front basket!).

After all the work was completed late in the afternoon, we packed back into the cars to go "check-in" at our "hotel," 2 adorable little cabins set high on the hillside outside of town in a huge conference/sports complex. Unfortunately it was dark so I didn't get any photos of the cabins, but they were cute and the surroundings were great.

We barely had time to put our feet up before heading back into town for the inauguration.
The church was great. It was such a special day for them and they decorated the facility accordingly. The greeter ladies even wore matching outfits. I wonder if they had them special made in that ADU-blue shaded fabric?

These 2 make up the ADU technical team. Dumb & Dumber!

It was a long night, but everything went off without a hitch. Check out some of the worshipping the church presented before the actual inauguration began.

Tejutla Inauguration from Krista on Vimeo.

The following day was Free Water Day at the system. Each family from the church received 1 shiny new garafon for free. Everyone else could purchase them for Q30.

Adelí, the encargada, got her workout that day for sure!

Judging from the crowd outside the window, this system is going to be quite popular.

Look at all those happy faces!

3 cheers to clean water! Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Picture Perfect

Last weekend our friend Pancho (manfriend of Abby, my office mate) invited us to celebrate Abby's turning a quarter century old at the Esquintla home of his long time best friend, Alvaro. Of course we jumped on the offer and packed up the car for the 45 minute drive, leaving before the turkey from our Thanksgiving Potluck barely had time to settle into our stomachs.

For months now Abby has spoken of the great Alvaro, who (by circumstance) we have unfortunately not yet met. Well, it turns out that his family owns several beautiful homes throughout Guatemala, with the closest being just down the road toward the coast in Esquintla. So, around 8.30 p.m. we pull off the highway basically into a huge field of sugarcane, wind down a dirt road and end up here - paradise in the middle of nowhere!

For the next 24 hours we partook in a whole lot of nothing.....and it was great.

Doesn't it seem like the beach should be just back behind those trees? Well it's not. It's just another 30 minutes or so away, but who needs that hot black sand when you've got your own private giant pool.....and staff.

It was just the break we all needed from this busy month of work, not to mention the perfect way to ring in 25 years of life!

The house was pretty awesome too. Hugely expansive with at least 8 rooms. The story is that family members take turns bringing their families for weekend getaways. Why doesn't every family have a place like this? (Chuch loved the cool tile floors.)

There was even a "saferoom" built into the far wing complete with bullet-proof glass that obviously works!

Ancient Mayan ruins were even found during the excavation of the property. So cool.

The whole place was amazing, but that pool.....come on!

Everyone else stayed inside, but the die hard road trippers we are were missing our little nest high above Dewey, so that's where we spent our evening. It's not easy finding a nice, safe place to camp in Guatemala, so when the opportunity arose it was hard to pass up.

No birthday in Latin America is complete without a huge piñata! Not everyone gets to bash their favorite childhood character (with an uncanny resemblance) to bits and pieces, but Abby was a lucky one!

Just like every good manfriend, he wasn't going to let her off easy. Girl had to work for her candy!

And then we all hovered like sugar starved vulchers!

It was the perfect weekend getaway for a perfectly pretty birthday girl! Happy 25th Abby! And much thanks to Pancho & the illusive Alvaro (who wasn't able to make it to the party). Hope we to hang out with you soon!