Saturday, June 27, 2009

Road Trip!

Between my 2.5 days off (after a vision team leaves) and a Guatemalan holiday (Army Day) on Tuesday, I've got a 5 day weekend! Whoo Hoo! Ben's been working really hard lately too, often coming home around 7 pm or later. So we're taking ourselves on a long awaited road trip this weekend to............

Only a few hours from Guatemala, we'll be hitting the beach at La Libertad and meeting up with our friends Dan & Dani (a native of El Slavador) in San Salvador for a taste of city life. We'll catch you up on the details later!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Plastic No More!

Way back in another life we vowed to use plastic bags as little as possible, so we stocked on some awesome canvas grocery bags and off we went to the Queen Soopers. At first we got some strange looks, but little by little reusable bags became more popular and little by little more baggers knew what to do with them! Fast forward to Guatemala. Plastic is everywhere here - especially in the bag form. We brought along a few reusable bags, but now we're finding that we don't have nearly enough. So for a while now we've been looking around for more and sadly can't seem to find any. Yesterday I came across a blog that was offering a discount at Envirosax, placed an order, and now we wait. My conscious already feels better knowing that we've taken action!

If you haven't already invested in some sort of reusable bag, we highly encourage you to do so. We've seen a huge difference in the amount of plastic bag trash we have laying around and it's a daily reminder that we're doing our part. There are lots of options. For groceries we recommend a mix of canvas shoulder and produce bags as well as a few larger "paper bag" types (they seem to work best for items in boxes and jugs). And to make sure you're never without, store them in your car! On the other hand, Envirosax and Reisenthal bags are cute and compact - great for trips to the mall and carrying things to and from work, and quick trips to the grocery store. Either way, you can't go wrong - get a few of each, try them out and soon you'll find the ones that fit your needs best. We promise you won't regret it!


Thursday, June 25, 2009

El Rey Del Pop

Today is a sad day for me. The King of Pop has died. Honestly, I can't think of a time in my life when I didn't know the music of Michael Jackson. From rolling along to the tunes of Thriller and Bad in the skating rink at a young age to singing at the top of my lungs with the Jackson 5 in my dorm room, I have never been shy about proclaiming my love for the Legend that he was, is and always will be. He's been a part of every great party, dance contest and car sing-along that I ever taken part in and although he grew stranger and stranger over the years, his star only grew brighter in my eyes. Even though now I won't be able achieve one of my life goals - seeing Michael live in concert - for certain the music of Michael Jackson will live on in my life forever!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


You’ll never guess what happened to me today. Never.

I started my day out as usual - shower, breakfast, checked my email and even left for work a few minutes early. My commute is only about a 5-minute drive, but since it’s not the safest to walk & since we have this crazy long driveway parking situation & we shuffle cars around several times a day, I usually drive (or sometimes take the bus). As I pulled up in front of Common Hope and signaled to make a right-hand turn into the parking lot out front, all of a sudden I heard (and felt) a THUMP! Oh great. A quick look out my passenger side window and there it was – the motorcycle who ran into me!

(Begin Rant)
As I have mentioned before, a lot of Guatemalans are the most impatient drivers ever. They think nothing of passing cars on cobblestone, single lane roads sheerly for the mere fact that they are IMPATIENT. We’re all headed in the same direction and I’m no granny driver, but I never seem to be moving fast enough for them. Instead they’d rather fly by me and then slam on their brakes in front of me 10 meters down the road! (End Rant)

So, apparently this bonehead was in a hurry to get somewhere this morning with his girlfriend on back and decided to disregard my signal (it’s not very often that drivers here even use a signal, so he must not have been familiar with it) and pass me on the right-hand side (since there was on-coming traffic to his left). Duh. Right turn signal on - Hello? - I must be turning right since there is no left-hand turn and there is an obviously large parking lot to my right.

Thank goodness one of my co-workers was standing in the parking lot and witnessed the whole fiasco. She watched him try to get his front wheel out from under my car (yes, she said it was under the car) while his girlfriend who had jumped off, stood and watched as well. By this point I had my window down and was telling him to wait for me (while he scolded me to use my signal – he must be blind also). Somehow he got himself unstuck, pulled over to the other side of me and while I pulled into the spot (to get out of traffic) he drove away – with girlfriend in tow (stupid girl).

In fact, just in the past week or so a new law has been implemented for motorcyclists in Guatemala. They are required to wear a helmet and standard issue black vest, both with their license plate number visible on the back. Do you think this guy had his on? Heck no! No wonder he sped away. Little did he know I had already memorized his plate number from his moto – 39826L. (Thanks dad for instilling in me that I should always get the plate # and insurance info if I’m ever in an accident!)

In the end I suppose I’m lucky (and him too) that he wasn’t hurt, since I wouldn’t want to deal with that – even though it was his fault. But more than that, he should consider himself fortunate that Dewey is completely unharmed – physically that is (emotionally is another story). That’s right folks – not a scratch on him. But just in case, I won’t forget 39826L.

photo courtesy of Flickr
Hope you had a better start to your day than me!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Girl ♥’s D.R.

Meet my cousin Erin.

For a few years now she has been going on mission trips to the Dominican Republic and has fallen in love with the culture and people. Through her experiences in the DR, she as become inspired to help the local children overcome poverty through improving the quality of their education. (I know I haven’t given you much info. on my new job, but the mission of Common Hope sounds awfully familiar to this. We might just be carving a new path in our long family line of educators!)

Having just graduated from Grove City College (in Pennsylvania) with a dual degree in Early Childhood & Elementary Education and an emphasis in Spanish, Erin is already setting off to make her mark on the world – today in fact! Sometime today, June 15th 2009, she boarded a plane to Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic where she will be soon begin work as an English teacher in The Compassion International School of Hato Mayor. She’ll be working with the school’s director to help them with the process of becoming a bilingual school. Commonly in developing nations such as the DR and Guatemala, the demand for English education is high – especially from a native English speaker. By learning English, graduates have a greater chance of securing jobs in both tourism and business, two areas that developing countries rely on heavily.

A few years back, Ben and I took a trip to the D.R. to visit a friend and embrace the culture. We loved it there, despite the fact that we could hardly understand a word of the Spanish dialect they spoke! During our trip we visited a few of the water purification systems that Healing Waters Intl. (Aguas de Unidad) has in the country. It was here that Ben really began to envision his “dream job” of helping people who live in poverty have access to safe drinking water.

While Erin will certainly have many things that she has to adjust to – like spotty electricity, early morning roosters and noisy motorcycles – she’ll never have a lack of good, clean drinking water – just ask Compassion where the nearest ADU system is Erin! Oh and if you want to know where the best cliff jumping spot is, we’ll get you that info too!

If you are interested in supporting Erin through prayer and receiving prayer update emails, or if you'd just like to know more about what she will be doing, please email me and I will happily pass your info along.

Buenas suerte Erin! We’re so proud of this step that you’re taking. Hope we can visit you one day soon!

Friday, June 12, 2009


Just a quick note to let you know that we recently updated our contact information. Now you can find our email, phone, skype, and mailing addresses by clicking on the "Contact Us" button on the sidebar. Hope to hear from you soon!

Clutch & Shift

photo courtesy of Flickr

So somehow I fell through the cracks and here I am a 29-year-old girl (I don’t know if I’ll ever be a woman) who doesn’t know how to drive a standard, 5-speed, or whatever you call that kind of vehicle with the thingy-ma-bob in the middle. Unless you count various lessons from various friends during my teenage years in some parking lot or dirt road, I’ve never learned the art of clutching (is that even a word) and shifting. The closest I ever got was with our Subaru – it had sport shifting – which I gather is mostly just for the fun of the driver on steep mountain roads. For 29 years I slid by – until now.

Imagine my surprise when upon my arrival at Common Hope I was told that one of my job responsibilities would be giving the community tour in a big 15-passenger van – a 5-speed van. Gasp! Immediately my mind was flooded with images of people snickering while I sit sweating behind the wheel, stalling at every corner, with impatient drivers honking and gawking at me. I secretly agonized over the mere thought of it for days. Luckily since it’s a requirement of the job, part of my orientation also includes driving lessons. Once a week I head out into the streets of Antigua (secret streets that hardly anyone travels) with my coach Alan where we drive in circles, practicing my clutching & shifting. After the first lesson where I drove a half mile loop about 50 times, I was feeling quite comfortable (I suppose my lessons back in the day gave me a smidge of head start), so Alan proposed that we head to the hill by the cross. Uh-oh. Even with my limited experience, I know that the hills are where it gets tricky. I’m sure you can picture what happened next. That horrifying thought that had consumed my mind just weeks before was about to come true. As if it hasn’t been hot enough lately, of course the old Mercedes Diesel van that is now my guinea pig, doesn’t have AC. So with my t-shirt glued to my back, sweaty palms on the wheel, and no sunglasses to hide behind, I gave it my best shot. Just how many times can a car stall out before it just shuts down? I’ll tell you what – at least 30. Even though we weren’t in the heart of the city, there were still plenty of gawkers watching the gringa learn how to drive. As it is, when Guatemalans see a gringo driving, they tend to look scared (or impatient). I’m not really sure what this is all about? After all, we gringos are the ones who actually know and follow the rules of the road. Anyway, on this particular day they had reason to be scared as they climbed up the hill on bicycle or foot, keeping one eye on oncoming traffic and the other on the gringa rolling down the hill backwards. Not my finest moment.

In more recent lessons I’ve made improvements to the “hill scenario,” but I’ve still got quite a way to go before I’ll be comfortably navigating the streets of Antigua and it's surrounding villages, dodging street dogs, chicken buses and speedbumps! If you’re interested in tagging along on a Common Hope community tour, never fear – the other drivers are fully capable and hopefully with time, I too will clutch & shift with ease!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Where Hola meets Ciao

This weekend we finally hit the road again and went to the Guatemalan Pacific coast of Monterrico. It was a short trip compared to our past excursions – only about 2 hours – but I suppose our idea of what constitutes a “long drive” has drastically changed since earlier this year. Having visited Monterrico before during our time in Xela, we knew what we were in for – black sand, strong waves, mosquitoes & lots of heat. This time we packed Dewey with a few basic camping supplies, sleeping pads, sheets and pillows, with hopes that we may luck into a camping spot, even though “camping” is pretty much unheard of in the Guatemalan culture. Well, being that the air in Monterrico is so hot it takes your breath away, added to the colds that we are both nursing, it didn’t take us long to realize that camping wasn’t the best idea… least for this trip. So we turned to our handy Rough Guide and took a stab at an “extremely clean” B&B on the main drag. Turns out we made the right choice at La Palma, where Italian owners Felipe & Patricia, were happy to have us as their weekend guests. With Guatemalan bones and Italian charm, we couldn’t have been happier staying at their lovely B&B The breezy terrace lined with comfy hammocks wasn’t bad either!

La Palma B & B - an Italian paradise in Guatemala

Upon our arrival we were introduced to their friendly pet raccoon – Yes, I did say raccoon. Clynn is his name and he is apparently named after an old Japanese cartoon character that was around in the late 1970’s - Candy Candy. Patricia insisted that I have seen the show, but after a bit of research on Wikipedia, it really doesn’t look familiar to me. A bit of a mischievous little fellow, Clynn quickly grew on us and didn’t get into too much trouble during our stay. Felipe & Patricia were more than helpful with suggestions and friendly conversation; we definitely recommend staying with them if you find yourself in Monterrico, especially if you love all things Italian the way that we do. Over breakfast we reminisced with Patricia about all the wonderful places we visited during our luna de miel (honeymoon) in Italy – oh how we wish we could go back! For now, weekend getaways to Monterrico’s “Little Italy” will have to do.

a bit out of character, Ben spent most of his time passed out under our umbrella

Clynn needs to wash all of his food before he eats it!

I can't wait to hang a hammock at our new house!

even though we didn't camp, Dewey did have a bit of adventure

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Does someone special in your life murse? You know, Man + Purse = Murse. My husband does - and I like it!

I suppose he sort of semi-mursed before, with a Chrome bag practically glued to his back pretty much anytime we went out. Now however, it’s for real. During our Mexican travels Ben picked up a vintage leather messenger-style bag and it has become his quintessential man-cessory. A nice bourbon-colored, gently-aged leather, this murse will ensure that my man can get any job done – with style!

Friday, June 5, 2009

A day in the life

Guest Blogger: Ben

So what exactly am I doing for work in Guatemala, some of you may be asking? Actually, some=all since I hardly knew before I left Colorado two months ago, and am not known for keeping in touch. For starters, I work for a Denver-based non-profit called Healing Waters International (HWI), or Aguas de Unidad here in Guatemala. The just of HWI is simple – people need clean, safe drinking water here and in Mexico and the Dominican Republic where other HWI projects are. To provide safe drinking water, HWI partners with a local church and with funds donated by sponsors in the US, installs a water purification system. The system purifies either tap water, water from a well, or from a “pipa” (water delivery truck), and then sells the water in 5 gallon jugs for 5 quetzales here in Guatemala (equivalent to $0.63). This allows people in communities where HWI systems are installed to buy water at a third the price than what they pay in a local store. Granted, this may not seem to be a big deal to those of us who pay $1-2 for a 1 liter bottle of Aquafina or pay $30 per month for 10,000 gallons of tap water, but economics are different here: the tap water is not necessarily safe to drink, if reliable, and I remember reading somewhere that the average household annual salary is $3,500 (or roughly one tenth of ours). There are many other factors that make this a “win-win” in the words of a guy I met this week from the US – the church employs an encargado to fill the 5 gallon jugs and the church is able to use the money from the project for community outreach. For example, they may donate 5 gallon jugs to a local school that does not have purified water. For more info, check out the HWI website:

Okay, so that doesn’t explain what I do. My job is coordinating maintenance on the water purification equipment, scheduling water quality analysis, and organizing the delivery of what we call consumables, which are the jugs, seals, and chemicals used in the system. This is a tall task for a guy who speaks only 4th grade Spanish, so most of my time thus far has been learning from Juan Colmenares who has been working at HWI here in Guatemala since it's inception in 2004. Juan also doubles as my Spanish tutor and has the patience of a saint since I have mis-pronounced the word “cotización” five times this week alone (cotización = a quotation from a distributor to provide cartridge filters, for example).

So here is a run down of my week:

Monday: went to breakfast with the national director, Mario, to meet some people from Willow Creek church in Chicago who want to help sponsor new systems in Guatemala, Que Onda! (= how cool, new vocab for me); then drove to Chimaltenango with Cristóbal to visit system with pump problem, checked pump, plan to return tomorrow with parts; tried salad for lunch at Pollo Campero (=KFC but much fresher); return to office for bit, then home to Antigua where we ate pizza with Kim (Mario’s wife) and two daughters Megan and Lilian;

Tuesday: left for Guate (Guetemala City) at 5:30am so I could arrive at 8am for our car’s inspection at Insurance office, traffic was so slow I bought the Pensa Libre (newspaper) and skimmed front section and sports before traffic moved; Nuggets are in playoffs against LA Lakers, game 1 tonight at 7pm, Lakers favored go figure; arrived at insurance office 30 minutes early after only one major wrong turn; chatted with local guard for office who had standard-issue shotgun (every building has a guard here); went to meeting with insurance agent, who told me they need two hours to install LoJack detector, part of requirement to insure Dewey; called Juan who met me to go to pump parts place (PPP) meanwhile, waited for Juan and ate a tamale and rice milk from woman on street corner; went to PPP but found out they didn’t carry parts for pump in Chimaltenango (Chimalt); went to correct PPP where Mariano told me they don’t sell a replacement part ‘kit’, only individual parts but they can diagnose problem and fix in office; Juan and I went to Landivar where the HWI system has problems with taste in purified water, we tasted several samples in process and agreed we need to replace cartridge filters and change carbon filter media; Juan dropped me off at Insurance place, picked up Dewey after another hour of paperwork and photos for record; back to office without getting lost (first for me); back to Antigua for dinner with Mario+family and Krista;

Wednesday: drove different way to Chimalt and enjoying mountain scenery (reminds me of Colorado), where Cristobal and I removed the pump and talked with the church encargado and director about shutting down the system for the day – no spare pump available; then went solo to Petapa where there is an HWI system with leaks in some piping, replaced some PVC piping and talked with Pedro the encargado (water system employee), found out that Pedro’s dad lives in Philadelphia but he has yet to visit because he lacks passport, papers, etc.; returned to office and then back to Antigua to hang with Krista and watch Nuggets victory!

Thursday: returned to Chimalt to replace the pump we had repaired at the PPP, turns out I need to re-wire pump to controller which I don´t have diagram for; went to another system with the encargado, Felipe, to review the existing wiring there for the same pump; talked with the encargado there, Henry, who had a broken arm – he was in a motorcycle accident that Felipe chided him was because he was talking on the phone with his girlfriend; armed with diagram for pump wiring, return to Chimalt and wire pump with controller with help of Felipe while I find out that he plays guitar in local church band and loves American rock (Nirvana, Metallica, you name it); Felipe and I decide to trade music the next time I’m there since he has a collection of Guatemalan rock music; went back to office for afternoon and talked with Juan about scheduling water analyses at all the systems.

Friday: Wow, it has been a pretty busy week already but Juan, Cristobal and I return to Petapa to make sure we have all repairs made to system since the Ministry of Health may re-visit the system; check out pipe repairs and operation of the system – I still need to diagnose chlorine pump problem but not today; drive new way back to Antigua on way home and stop with Cristobal and Juan to eat churros (fried sweet bread, not to be confused with chorros = valves in water system); back to Antigua to eat dinner with Krista at Sabe Rico (=best food I’ve had in Antigua) and watch Nuggets lose to Lakers, go figure.

we're currently taste testing the systems to see which water we like best for home

Monday, June 1, 2009

Man Toy Alert!

Some friends of ours purchased a parilla (grill) a few weeks back at the market. It’s small & cute and sits on the ground with just enough space to cook up a few burgers. Since we’re going to be here a while, Ben decided that he too must grill, so off to the market we went. With a bit of direction we did find the cute, little grill we had planned on, but we also found this guy.

He convinced me that it will be more comfortable to use and for only about $12, now it is ours. Guess who couldn’t be happier? And I’m looking forward to our first carne (meat) dinner at home too!