July 23 - August 6, 2013

El dia ocho

We got to sleep in an extra half hour today. Anything helps, I suppose.

Our breakfast was questionable by our standards. We were given a plate of beans accompanied by a hot dog. Sally's vegetarian option was the same, minus the hot dog, plus two slices of cheese...

We bused to our new school, Niños de Guatemala. It was a short, bumpy ride, and the front of the bus had us covered with a TV playing awful music videos. If your two favorite artists are Chris Brown and Pitbull, I take that back.

At the school, there was already an assembled computer lab by an organization called "Edulibre." Apparently, it had only been set up a week prior. They also painted the wall with their logo, and installed a plaque outside the door boasting their deeds. The computers they installed weren't only archaic, but they didn't work.

We switched out the fossils for our shiny new ones. Only one had to be fixed this time. Everyone should be happy I chose this summer to learn how to build computers. Especially you, o parents of mine.

We headed back as we came: on the stuffy, rickety "Chicken bus." Instead of Grade D music videos, they decided to play mariachi music- almost completely drowned out by hilariously unnecessary, chest thumping bass.

Back at home base, it was scorching. Mike suggested we visit a nearby hotel for a dip. We all have senses, sweat glands, and brains. We agreed.

We all hopped in the water. It was one of the more satisfying swims I've ever had. We raced, splashed around, and bathed in the Vitamin D. The girls tested how many pictures of themselves in the pool one SD card would hold.

For dinner Mari whipped up some delicious taquitos.

Afterwards the dudes watched Zero Dark Thirty. The girls, going for more of a complex, thought provoker, watched modern classic/running contender for 2013's "Best Picture"/scorer of 13% approval on RottenTomatoes.com, Safe Haven.

And then, we went to bed. Solid day.

- P


El dia siete

None of us can believe the trip is half-way over.

Today Group B (Aaron, Dylan, Henry, Emily, Sally, Kate and Jackie) did what Group A did yesterday. Group A went to Safe Passage (Pre-K) with activities for the kiddies and positive attitudes.

We were divided. One member of the A-Team to each classroom, armed with markers, stickers, construction paper, etc. In my class, I started doling out small strips of paper to the kids. I drew a few animals on my own piece to spark inspiration, but that only made them want my exact drawings reproduced on their paper for coloring. It was a lot of work, but their flawlessly executed Bambi eyes made it impossible to say no.

We did another round of "run, horsey, run!" Everyone (except our backs and nearly strangled necks) had fun.

We rendezvoused with Group B at K-12, and surprisingly, an assembly was in session at the cafeteria. "What's this about?" came from just about everyone. We sat around patiently. The entire team was then invited up to the front and our question was immediately answered. We were receiving thanks for our work. The computer lab teacher said a few words, and then each classroom presented a poster that they had made for us. I wish I could say this made our early mornings, long days and painful language barrier worth it, but that would be understating it. The chaperones did a bad job of concealing their watery eyes. Eli delivered a few words of gratitude en español and even managed to garnish a few laughs from the crowd.

We waved thanks and goodbye. They did the same.

Back in Antigua, rain hit hard. Even as I'm writing this it's hammering the roof, and the occasional bouts of thunder add a little flavor.

Mari prepared another delicious meal, with a dessert treat of homemade hot chocolate and cookies.

We may watch a movie tonight, but I'm about ready to crash.

But most importantly, parents, we are all intact and in good health. You're halfway through the two perilous weeks of not seeing our beautiful faces.



P.S. New photos in the gallery!

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El dia seis

Now the real work begins.

Starting bright and early, our newly divided groups were sent to the schools. Group A (Nigel, Mary Anne, Frances, Eli, Olivia, Andrew, and myself) was sent to Safe Passage (K-12) to conduct half-hour, one-on-one tutoring sessions on Google, PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. The kids and teachers we tutored, for the most part, did not know a lick of english. Google Translate seriously saved us. The women were extremely grateful, as well as Richard, the executive director of the program, who visited us with a very well-spoken, powerful speech of gratitude. He also offered a position to anyone qualified to come and work at the school as an I.T. specialist, with room and board. He extended the offer to anyone we knew, so if you, reader, know anyone that would fancy a once in a lifetime opportunity, shoot an email here.

Group B did exactly what group A will do tomorrow, so I’ll cover it in tomorrow’s entry.

The whole group then went and taught a 5th grade english class. Some groups were more fortunate in their pairing than others- the little boys got really rowdy.

Both groups then taught a series of computer classes, and we headed back.

Exhausted, the dudes watched Argo, and the girls watched The First Time (the apex of cinematic achievement).



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El dia tres

On this glorious morning, we were treated to massive servings of oatmeal served with strawberries, bananas, and juice.

We scooted on over to Safe Passage (K-12) and began installing the fixed computers and our LAN connection. We attempted to save computer 21 –our one extra– but due to a thoroughly busted internal power supply and lack of replacements, it didn’t make it...

R.I.P. Computer 21
You will be missed dearly

The team finished early. We had a sack lunch, some chocolate-dipped frozen bananas, and headed back.

‘Round three o'clock, we made our way to the Antiguan markets. It’s huge complex of vendors selling trinkets, textiles, jewelry, chocolate, coffee, bags, knives, belts, paintings, and just about every craft that can be associated with Guatemala. We got a few pointers for bartering and were let loose. Jackie managed to knock a bag from 120 quetzales down to 70 and Aaron continuously impresses us with his ridiculous/hilarious tactics. Many stores had the same things to offer, so the “that vendor offered this same necklace for 40,” tactic became common. The boys didn’t buy anything. We headed back through a market of hilariously produced bootlegged DVD’s and prepared for our fiesta.

Mari had prepared about ten heaping dishes for a full house. Tamales, beans, chips, guacamole, two salsas, taquitos, a cake adorned with “welcome home” and other scrumptious foods, the names of which I do not know. Mari gave us masks and party hats and lined us up for a formal ‘thank you’ for the work we’re doing. We graciously accepted and began to feast. The food was incredible.

After dinner, Mari’s family arrived from dense traffic with big pinatas and big smiles. The pinatas, and the candy, never stood a chance.

From that point, it somehow evolved into a dance party. We may have objected if it wasn’t so damn fun. I could attempt to describe it but I think the pictures (coming later today) will do a much better job.
Our sugar-high bodies fell into a deep sleep.

- - - - -

Sorry for this being late. Our free time is limited. Doing the best we can, keeping it 100% and writing the blog is quite a challenge. I was also sick for two of our adventures this past weekend, so some guest writers will be filling in.
All is still well.



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El dia dos

We awoke bright and early to hot pancakes, hot coffee, and jammin’ juice. We slugged our groggy bodies into the vans and soon found ourselves at the Guatemala City Cemetery. Andrea managed to perfectly summarize the local wealth gap by showing us two adjacent memorials. One was a two story high Egyptian themed tomb, modestly adorned with life-sized guards of stone. It housed the corpses of the Castillos, one of Guatemala’s notoriously wealthy families –owners of Gallo Cerveza™ and other aristocratic ventures ­– who apparently thought themselves equal to King Ramses II. It completely overshadowed the crumbling burial “apartments” at its side. The sight deserved its place in National Geographic.

Then came the dump. A chasm with hundred-meter walls, topped with a blackened ceiling of vultures, suffocating under half a century of Guatemala City’s trash. Andrea went in depth explaining the infrastructure of the dump generational family feuds, selling of recyclables, sludge drainage, and the flow of trash into the dump’s “Mine.” We stayed a while to soak up the horror and disparity. Dylan found a Gallo Cerveza™ hat on the rim of the dump- a rare kind of irony that could’ve jerked tears.

Andrea then brought us to the Safe Passage pre-school on the outskirts of the dump. We joined the kids for recess, where they playfully grabbed our hands and either guided us to a game of futbol, or hopped on for a piggyback. Soon the field was flooded with the hysterical hysterical laughter of toddlers... and us. It was really fun and positive. “¡Corra, caballo, corra!” (Run, horsey, run!) became the universal demand. We didn’t mind. It was a preview of how much fun we’ll have next week.

Later, at the K-12 Safe Passage school we began setting up las computadoras. Everything went smoothly, but five computers wouldn’t display on the monitor. I heroically managed to fix two of them and was thus dubbed “I.T. specialist” of the trip. We had a delicious lunch, very similar to our first at Safe Passage (still just as tasty), and headed back to Antigua with two more busted computers.

At the homestay, Mari had prepared a delightful meal of Estofado de res.

After fixing the computers, we headed to a celebration at la Plaza Central for Antigua’s patron saint, Santiago Caballero. Troupes of shirtless men struggled to climb a greased tree trunk to snag a flag at the top. We stayed for a few failed attempts and ended up seeing enough butt grabbing, pole sliding, and drunken cheers that we had to question whether or not we had wandered into a male strip club.

We came back past our bedtime, and were all pooped- myself included, and therefore you’re getting this blog post late (sorry). There is also a possibility that you won't get tonight’s post tonight because Mari is throwing us a party!

Hasta luego.

P.S. Be sure to check out all the new photos in the gallery!


El dia uno

Yes. We are here and have survived minor turbulence and two whole security checkpoints. Starting with our tub convention in baggage check — a staple of all TSC trips — and leading to our group wide attempt at airborne slumber, today was long.

Our layover in Houston was from roughly 4am to 9am. The group sat in a large, empty terminal cornered by a Jamba Juice for most of the time. We all had our ways of passing time (stories, music, snacking, ukulele, snacking, music, books, snacking, etc.)When my Jamba smoothie and I sat down, I told Henry that all of the girls would get Jamba Juice. A small troupe of our hungry hooligans left for ‘Ruby’s Diner,’ which Dylan noted was “disappointing,” a likely conclusion to seeking out burgers before the crack of dawn. Every girl in our group bought a Jamba Juice.

Flying into Guatemala City our windows and baffled expressions welcomed the green expanse of rolling hills. Our touchdown was swift and tub-ular. Andrea, a volunteer from Safe Passage funneled our sleep-deprived vessels into larger, car-like vessels (along with our tubs), and took us to the first school.

Even from the outside, the school was teaming with people. Policia kept watch, mothers awaited their children and the team shuffled our tubs inside. The facility’s existence is a triumph, and everyone inside appreciates it. After depositing the cargo, we were treated to some fantastic soft chicken tacos along with the young students and hit the road promptly.

Next we found ourselves in Antigua at the Safe Passage offices. We watched a moving, mini-doc on how Hanley Denning started the organization (highly moving, see the video below). With a greater feeling of purpose for the organization, Andrea donned us all with Safe Passage’s signature T-shirts and we made it for the homestay.

Our hostess, Mari (pronounced marr-ee) quickly settled us in and made us feel at home. We then wandered around Antigua, ogling at churches, markets, and a fantasized McDonalds (seating, waiters, checks, fountains). But the elegant presentation failed to trap us in a restaurant we all know well, and we returned home for some real food. Mari treated us to homemade juice, cooked chicken, rice, veggies, beans, and tortillas. As our new friend Paquito the parrot recited all of our hellos back to us, Mari promised us a fiesta in the coming days. We have settled in just dandily.

Check out some photos here!

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