August 31, 2011

It's Raining, It's Pouring

It is officially Rainy Season. Every afternoon, between 2pm and 4pm, it begins to rain. Sometimes the rain will stop after a little while. Sometimes it rains for hours and hours and hours. Many days, water literally flows through the streets. There are times we play hopscotch all the way home to stay out of the puddles. And you know those hilarious scenes in movies, where people have a rough day at work, and then they have to walk home in the rain, and then a car comes by and hits a puddle that splashes up and drenches them? Yes, that is us on some days too. Not so funny anymore.

We have been in Guatemala one whole month now. And as Collin said in the last post, our daily lives here are becoming the new “normal” for us. In some ways it’s nice, because we feel used to being here. In other ways it’s a little sad. There are days where I forget to look up and notice the mountains that surround the city, or the really pretty flowers on our neighbor’s house, or other details that used to be really new and exciting. And there are some ways where our new “normal” makes us miss our old “normal” too.

Some things are harder than we realized they would be. There are the shallow things we miss, some of the conveniences of American life: being able to drive ourselves places, microwaves, dishwashers, windows and doors without bars, being able to flush our toilet paper, and of course, free refills at restaurants. But other things are a little more difficult. The language barrier is truly a barrier. We can’t just talk to whoever we want, or always express what we are trying to say. We can’t just strike up a random conversation with people we ride the bus with or stand in line with at the grocery store. Things just take time. Relationships and language acquisition take time. And it makes us miss our family and friends at home a lot too.  

Thankfully, God is faithful. Thankfully, we have each other. Thankfully, we have new friends at school. Thankfully, we just attended our first Spanish lesson together last night. We are now able to say important phrases like “Good morning” and “What did you eat for breakfast?” and “Have a good day!”

I also think I may have jinxed us about getting sick. Both of us are struggling with an icky cold/cough thing. Honestly, I am just thankful that it is not a toilet thing. That kind of sickness makes you feel like you are down for the count. We just feel stuffed up. And thankfully, first graders are especially sympathetic when you tell them you are sick. As one child prayed: “Dear God, thank you for this beautiful day. Thank you for our food. And please help Mrs. Ba-rook-ouse to feel better. Amen.”

Speaking of my students, they still say the darndest things. Sometimes it is the English grammar that makes me chuckle. And sometimes they are just being funny kids:

1. “Class, think about how you have changed as you have grown up! Do you look different than you did six years ago?” One student raised her hand and said: “Mrs. Broekhuis, six years ago I was in the tummy of my mother.”

2. A student’s prayer: “Dear God, thank you for this beautiful day. Thank you that we come to school. Thank you for this food. And please help my bird that is dead come back. Amen.”

3. I told my class to write one sentence about what they like to do. One student wrote: “I love Mrs. Broekhuis.” Not quite following instructions, but I may or may not have given them full credit anyways.

4. In class we read the book, The Dress I Will Wear to the Party, so I asked my class, “Do you ever dress up to go anywhere?” One boy raised his hand and with great enthusiasm exclaimed, “Yes! When I went to my friend’s birthday party, I wore my Super-Mario Brothers shirt, my black pants, and my Jordan shoes!”

5. Sometimes when the students work I will play soft music in the background. Their music of choice is a cassette of all different Bible stories and songs. After one of the songs was done playing, one of my students looked at me and said, “Mrs. Broekhuis, every time I hear that song, it makes me cry a little bit.”

So, that is our update. It will continue to rain every afternoon for the next three months. But thankfully, many early afternoons are warm and sunny. Thankfully, our students will still bring a little sunshine and laughter. And thankfully, God is faithful. Always.

Grace and Peace,

And here are a few more pictures of life as we know it…

Meet Rufio and Rufus. Our neighborhood stray dogs that I truly do hate. They are nasty.

The pretty flowers on our neighbor's roof.

Transportation option #1: Taxi, about $5 to ride all the way across town.

Transportation Option #2: Microbus, about 20 cents to ride anywhere. It is suprisingly empty, which is probably the only reason I dared take a picture of it. Just try to picture 25 people crammed into it.

Transportation option #3: Chicken Bus. I am not sure how much it costs to ride. We have not attempted this party on wheels yet. It is lovingly named "Chicken Bus," because you will probably ride it crammed full of people, their luggage, and some chickens.

The clouds rolling in for our afternoon storm.

Out of curiousity, we visited the local cemetery, which is more like a small city of graves. People here have a lot of respect for their loved ones who have passed on. Death and spirits of the dead are tied into different religious beliefs.

One of the tombs at the cemetery. May or may not be a little over the top where we come from.

The cemetery is also lined with walls of graves like these.

And then the back of the cemetery is where the poor bury their dead. Hence the mounds of dirt. But all of the colorful squares in the background are tombs in this cemetery.

August 26, 2011

Daily Life

I (Collin) just wanted to give a quick update about our daily lives around Xela. Although we have only been here two weeks, it seems like we are already starting to fall into a routine.

Every week we take at least 2 or 3 shopping stops for our food. There is no one-stop-shop for us, especially when we are always trying to find the cheapest (imagine that) and best food yet. We are still Dutch. So we have to make a run to one store, and then another the next day, and then take a trip to a bigger store to get things like meat, chicken, peanut butter and goodies that we can't find at our local store.

I (Collin) have found some baketball to play on Tue and Thur nights. Our director plays for the Xela city team, and they always need more people to practice, so I join him. Its fun, although I don't know what anybody is saying. And one hoop is stuck at around 9'10" and the other hoop they seem to raise up to 10'2". (For those non-basketball people, the recommended height is 10' even).

Friday and Saturday nights are usually spent hanging out with teachers: going out to eat, playing games or ending up at someones house just to talk.

Soon we are about to start Spanish lessons, which is good for me because my only learning method right now is watching TV with the Spanish subtitles on...and possibly school extra-curricular activities, which may start up soon.

All the other days are filled with school work or other random adventures we are able to find. All in all, life is very good here in Xela.

August 23, 2011

The Right Place at the Right Time

This past Sunday we returned to the church, Palabra en Acción (Word in Action.) The singing, the praying, and the preaching was once again very passionate. The sermon was based on the book of Esther. The pastor brought up the point that God had created Esther exactly the person He wanted her to be, and had placed her in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, to save her people from certain destruction. Out of fear, Esther did not go to her husband, the king, right away on behalf of her people. Yet her uncle Mordecai warned her: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

I love the story of Esther, and I loved this particular sermon. It’s true, that God made us exactly who He wanted us to be. It’s true that He placed us and guides us on this earth to exactly where He wants us to go. It’s true that he puts us in our predestined places at exactly the right time. There are times where I have wondered how in the world we ended up in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. But I have to believe that God made us exactly who He wanted us to be, He sent us exactly where He wanted us to go, and He did it all at just the right time. And just like Uncle Mordecai told Esther, if we decide to not follow God’s will, He will use find others to do the job. If we had decided not to follow God’s lead to Guatemala, He would have found some other crazy people to hire as teachers at this school. I mean, we all know how scarce teaching jobs are. But how crazy and exciting is it to be a part of God’s work, and to go where He sends you? Even though we aren’t even sure how yet, God made us the right people, He put us in the right place, at just the right time.

And the past week was wonderful, without many dull moments, making us feel like we were in the right place at the right time…

1. Birthdays are a big deal here. A huge deal, actually. Almost every morning we hear fireworks at 5am celebrating some citizen's birthday. But on Saturday we went to a birthday party for one of my students. This “Hanna Montana” themed party took place at “Magic Land,” and consisted of loud music, extremely good nachos, yummy chocolate cake, two colossal piñatas full of candy, and a lot of cute kids hyped up on sugar. I even got to swing at the piñata a few times. Awesome.

2. Transportation is crazy here. We often ride around in a large, very old and rickety 15-passenger van, called a microbus (pronounced, meecro-buse). These 15-passenger vans turn into 25-passenger vans in a hurry. People are sitting on laps, crouching on the floor, or literally hanging outside of the bus, as Collin got to experience this weekend. Yes, the van door was open, we were traveling down the road at normal speeds, and Collin was hanging out the side of the bus. But seriously, these things get packed with people. Between the bumps of the road and my long knees pounding into the passengers in front of me, I practically give out a free Chinese shih-tzu massage every time I climb into one of these things. All of the safety rules we grew up with – seatbelts, car seats, “door ajar” alarms, and car maximum-capacity rules – have literally been thrown out the window. They simply do not apply here.

3. Speaking of safety on the road…apparently one of the high schools was having a pageant this weekend. As we were traveling in one of the local microbuses to the grocery store, we ran into one of the daily local parades. This time it was a line of cars and trucks, all decorated with balloons and streamers, and all hosting the throne of one of the pageant queens on top of the car! Remember the “Beverly Hillbillies,” with Granny’s rocking chair strapped to the top of their vehicle? Yes. But more glitter.

4. And my students are still pretty cute. The other day we were practicing words that help us compare and contrast each other. I wanted to show an example, so I asked one of my students to stand next to me. I asked him, “How are we different?” He looked up at me, not noticing that he barely reaches my waist, that he has feet one third the size of mine, or that he is a boy and I’m a girl, and says: “You are smarter than me.” Thank you. “A” for the day. And then today in Bible class, we were talking about how God gave Adam a wife. One of my students raised her hand and said, “What is a wife?” I decided to check my students’ understanding and asked, “Class, what is a wife?” One of my students raised his hand and said, “You know…like when you have a son and a dad…so then you need a wife!” Apparently they are still not sure what came first, the chicken or the egg?

5. Today was an Open House for school, where parents come in and can see their students’ classroom, talk to their teacher, and attend the first PTA meeting. I had the pleasure of meeting most of the parents of my students. It was really great to meet them and connect the kids to the families they belong to. It was also a test of my Spanish skills. I think I did okay, but while talking to one of the dad’s, I attempted to tell him in Spanish that my husband and I are learning Spanish, but that I had a little more experience with Spanish than Collin did. Without missing a beat he told me, “It’s okay, girls talk way more anyways.”

As we get deeper into the school year, we are feeling blessed with the opportunity to work and the wonderful people God has surrounded us with.

The right person, in the right place, at the right time.

Grace and Peace,

Prayer Requests:
1. Upcoming election in September
2. A huge thanks that we have not gotten sick yet. I am convinced our horrible fast food and greasy diets in the States has prepared our stomachs for life here. So, before you come to visit, eat an extra cheeseburger. You won’t regret it.

August 19, 2011

Nothing Out of the Ordinary

Since Kendra has written all our blogs so far, and she keeps telling me to do one and I just got done with school, and I have next weeks plans all in, I figured I have a little down time before our teacher bus comes and picks us up.

First off, it seems weird to say that I don't have much out of the ordinary to talk about and that things are kind of getting on a normal pace...when we are still very much not in the ordinary, so-to-speak.

I was reading Tony and Danielle's blogs from their first week, and I am pretty sure we have about the exact same experiences, besides walking to school everyday, there and back...that really must have stunk. So here are a couple things that Kendra didn't post before:

**We have 2 dogs that pretty much camp out by our apartment every night. I call them Rufus and Rufio... Kendra doens't like them.

**We have experienced 2 earthquakes! They were very small, they should just be called tremors, but you definately feel a little swaying. Kendra hasn't felt either of them.

**We walk alot...but it is kind of refreshing.

**I am always hungry, as Kendra said to get meat we have to catch a microbus to go to a knockoff of Wal-Mart and then walk back since our grocery bags don't do well in a 10 passenger van packed with 15 people.

**Weather is beautiful from 11-4... every day. Nearest golf course is 3 hours away.

Thats all for now. Have a great weekend.

August 17, 2011

Minority Report

A couple of weeks have passed. A lot of things have happened. Here is our report with a plethora of items...

We are officially in our second week of school. Our days are filled with lots of children and teenagers, teaching and grading, children’s books and PE games. Our nights are filled with striving to get creative with eggs, rice, beans, tortillas, peppers, and onions. They also consist of lesson planning and Spanish television.

Speaking for myself (Kendra), the first days of school have been going great. I have a very kind and eager-to-learn class, both attributes that make a teacher feel spoiled. My class has 14 students, two of them being native English speakers. The first days of school, which are sometimes a “honeymoon stage” for teacher and students, have nevertheless confirmed my love and excitement for teaching. Each day from 8am until 3pm seems to fly.

Kids really are precious. Here are a few memorable moments from school so far…

1. A student went up to a teacher and said about me… “The first grade teacher…she is very high!”
2. I asked the class if they had any prayer requests. One of my students raised his hand, so I called on him, thinking he had a something he wanted me to pray about. He instantly folded his hands, bowed his head, and prayed for the whole class, thanking God for the beautiful day and for the chance to go to school.
3. I was going to read Curious George to the class, so I explained what “curious means.” I asked the class, “What kinds of things are you curious about?” One student raised his hand and with a serious face said, “I am curious to be an architect.”
4. In Bible class we are learning about creation. We were talking about day 5, so I asked the kids what they thought God decorated the sky with on day 5? One girl raised her hand and said “airplanes.”
5. Every day before lunch I give each kid a squirt of hand soap. I say, “Open your hand and I will give you a squirt!” I found out later that my students really thought the soap I was giving them was called “a squirt.”

Just as our students adapt to speaking English from 8 until 3 every day, we are also learning to adapt to life in Xela and speaking Spanish:

1. I was utterly confused with my Spanish voccabulary, and I tried to buy two ice cream cones for 34 cents instead of 34 quetzals (dollars) Needless to say, the ice cream lady was not very impressed.
2. We were invited to a friend’s house for dinner, where we were fed delicious tortillas with meat wrapped up inside. Collin, trying to learn a little Spanish, asked our host, “Como se dice?” (What do you call this?) The host smiled and said “tacos.”
3. We went a week with lukewarm showers, only to be told by the other teachers how to turn them into nice hot showers. Apparently the trick is to turn the shower so it is almost off. The water pressure isn’t great, but our options are either a “lukewarm flow or a steaming hot pee stream.” I choose the steaming hot pee stream.
4. One afternoon I spent five minutes on the phone with a native Spanish speaker. The entire five minutes consisted of me trying to communicate our home address in Spanish.

Those are only a few of many silly things we have done and will do. It’s definitely interesting living as a minority in a foreign country. It’s humbling and challenging and uncomfortable, but it’s also eye opening and faith-growing and rewarding. We have so much to learn, but we are thankful for the other staff and teachers who have taken us in and answer our countless questions.  

The concept of church has also been an interesting issue when living in a foreign country. Do we go to a service where we struggle to understand everything going on? Will that really fill us up, or leave us feeling tired and empty? Do we stay home and listen to a podcast sermon, but miss out on fellowship with other believers? It has made us think about the purpose of church and why we go to church. But this past Sunday we ended up going to our first Spanish-speaking church. I understood many of the songs and prayers, but the sermon was a little fast to keep up with. I could hear that the underlying tone was about politics and the upcoming election. Even though we did not understand everything, the whole service was very lively and energetic and passionate, and we really enjoyed it. We are probably going back next week. 

I know we have only been gone a couple weeks, but are we allowed to mention a few things we miss about home?

1. Close and accessible and yummy meat of all kinds. It takes effort to not be a vegetarian.
2. Carpet. Warm, fuzzy carpet.
3. Golden oreos. Chips. And any other junk food that we should not be eating anyways.
4. And of course, family. Our kind and generous and hilarious and loving families. But we are so thankful for skype, and those wonderful faces on the opposite side of the screen. We are also thankful that we got to spend a couple days with Kristin and James, Collin's sister and brother-in-law. They were gracious enough to visit us on their honeymoon.

If you think to pray for us, here are a few items:

1. In September, Guatemala will be electing a new president. Please pray for a peaceful transition. We see a lot of political party rallies around where we live, but thankfully none have turned violent.
2. For us to continue to get to know our students, and learn how to love them. With the culture and language barrier, it is hard to know how to love people around us. However, our classrooms are a place where we can really have an influence. Please pray we will teach our students with wisdom and with love.

Grace and Peace,

August 9, 2011

Psalm 121

This past Saturday we went on a hike with some of our new teacher friends. The place we went to was called "La Muela," which means "the molar" in Spanish. This is simply because the mountain we hiked looks like a molar tooth from far away. Both Collin and I would admit that the hike was more intense than we expected. The elevation was killer at times. However, it was great to stop along the way and take in the gorgeous view.

Now, those who know me, know that I am a big chicken. I like to play it safe and not do things that have a high likelihood of injury...either to my body or my ego. This hike stretched that a bit. At one point in the hike, we literally had to climb up onto rocks and up a small rope included. During this time I was wondering where the colorful hand and footholds were, like the ones you see on the rock wall at Dick's Sporting Goods. Unfortunately, those were not conveniently sticking out from the side of the mountain we were climbing.

But with patient friends and an encouraging husband, I was able to both climb up and crawl down the side of La Muela, and see some pretty majestic sights. During the hike, Psalm 121 kept running through my head, which is what I want to share now. It's amazing how God's Word brings comfort and peace that surpasses all just the right times.

Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip - He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you - The Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.

A few pictures from our hike...

"La Muela."
 We stopped at the local sauna on our way up. Water vapor comes out of the rock...and it is really warm.
 Xela is in the background.
 We stopped to take a look at the view...and suck in some air.
 Patchwork farms.
 The small cliff we had the pleasure of climbing.
 Happily at the top of mountain.
  Xela. Home sweet home.
It is hard to see, but on this mountain there were people worshiping. They were wailing and shouting and singing. It was rather eerie, as one can never be too sure who or what is being worshiped.

August 3, 2011

Gringos in a Guatemalan World

It’s Kendra again, one of the new gringos – white people – living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. (Interesting fact: Quetzaltenango is also known as “Xela,” pronounced “Shayla.”) God’s grace has been evident to us these past couple of days, as our trip from Chicago to Xela went very smoothly. On the morning we left, and not so coincidentally, our shuttle driver from the hotel to the airport was from El Salvador, a country that borders southern Guatemala. We began to ask him a few questions about himself. It turns out he has lived in Chicago for the past eight years. He came to Chicago so that he could work and provide for his family back in El Salvador. So, for the past eight years he has worked from 4am to 6pm, seven days a week. For the past eight years his life has consisted of a fifteen minute drive from the hotel to the airport, airport to hotel. He has not seen his wife and children in eight years. This is common among families in Latin America. Many times the men will leave their families to come to the United States so that they can provide for their families back home. We were struck by this man’s commitment to his family, and the sacrifices he made to make sure their needs were met. We had heard that family is the number one priority to most people in Central and South American countries. Seeing it firsthand from our shuttle drive was interesting; interesting in that we saw a glimpse into the values of the culture we were moving to that day.

But like I said, flights, luggage, and travel went smoothly. All were an answer to many faithful prayers from people supporting us along the way. Thank you so much, and to God be the glory.

We are also now settled into our apartment, and have completed the first four days of “new teacher orientation.” We have only been here for five days, and we are already learning so much about the culture, the city, the people, and the school we are going to be teaching in. Our orientation so far has included everything from a tour of Xela, information on what not to eat, where to do laundry, the type of curriculum we will be teaching, proper conduct in the teacher’s lounge, and what to do if we get diarrhea.

It is hard for me to describe where we are living and what the culture is like. It is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Therefore, I decided I will give you a simple list of my observations so far. Obviously we have only been here for five days, so my observations are very surface level. But hopefully it will give people an idea of the beautiful and odd place we are living in. So, from one gringo to many others, here are a few things I have learned and observed about our Guatemala culture so far:

1. It gets cold up here in the mountains. I am typing this in two sweatshirts, sweatpants, and a pair of socks, wishing I brought along my warm, fuzzy slippers.
2. Showers are no longer an enjoyable task. Not because the water is cold, but because the warm water is only a trickle. And our house is cold.
3. The sun rises and sets very early (5:45am and 6:30pm. Guatemalans don’t believe in daylight savings.)
4. Traffic is crazy. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. Sidewalks are narrow.
5. Everything about Xela is loud: the colors, the celebrations, the stray dogs barking, the clothing, the music, the church bells at 6am, the fireworks at 5am…
6. The buildings in Xela are old and beautiful. The people in Xela are warm and friendly.
7. PDA (public display of affection) is prevalent: it is not uncommon to see young couples making out on the street corner.
8. There is no middle-class, only rich and poor. How did we find out? We went to the rich neighborhood and visited their Walmart and shopping mall.
9. We are freakishly tall. What happened to all the white, Dutch folk?
10. It is polite to greet people with a kiss on the cheek.
11. It is rude to slam doors.
12. We are surrounded by mountains. Beautiful, green and lush mountains. And a volcano. It’s awesome.

 We are really enjoying our time so far. Orientation is great. Our administration and fellow staff are great. The school is taking such good care of us with getting settled in. School starts already in seven days, so the next week is going to be filled with the rest of orientation and a lot of planning for the first week of school. However, we may take a break to attend a professional soccer game. No big deal.

We really covet your prayers, so if you are willing to take time to pray for us, here are a few specifics that wouldn’t hurt us at all:
1. That we will be ready and prepared for school and meeting our students next week.
2. That we will continue to learn the ropes of our city. We still have to tackle a few basics…like getting a taxi and learning how to speak Spanish.
3. That we will be a blessing and light of Christ to those around us.

Grace and Peace,

Here are a few pictures from life so far:

 Our apartment building
 Our apartment. And all of our dishes. :)
The walk from our apartment to Central Park
Our first attempt at cooking a Guatemalan meal. Rice and beans.

 The view of Xela from our school. It's so beautiful here.
    My classroom. A work in progress.
 A typical road and group of buildings.
Central Park.