Monthly Archives: March 2010

Home… bittersweet home…..

Its Sunday…. we arrived home late Thursday night/early Friday morning…. Been struggling ever since we arrived back in the Great White North.  The only way to describe how I feel is simply … wrong.   It all feels wrong…  The changes that I feel inside are not subtle… there is no mistaking that my heart, my mind, my very soul has changed profoundly.  There is no way one can have an experience like this and not be changed.  My fear is falling into complacency but I truly do not see that ever happening.  I feel like I’ve had cuts made into my heart… deep ones… and those kind of cuts leave scars.  Deep, deep scars that will last forever.   Each and every person I met… each and every place I visited… each and every student… virtually everything cut a notch in my heart… they have not begun to heal yet… they are still gaping open wounds but I know they will scab, and then leave behind the scars I will carry for the rest of my life.

I attended a conference at my Church on Saturday called GO10.  It is geared at being the ‘hands and feet of Christ’… Issues like poverty, marginalization etc.  I attended last year and I will say that it is an amazing experience.  I highly recommend it to anyone.  This year Geoff and I literally lasted 15 minutes in the first seminar and had to leave.  There were so many reasons why we left… but the greatest of which is simply that the cuts into my heart are still too fresh.  So much so that I can barely make it through an hour now without tears welling up in my eyes.  When people ask me how my trip was I find myself replying “read my blog” because I simply cannot re-live it… not yet.   Geoff and I were home less than 36hrs when we attempted to attend the GO conference… that was not enough time…. so we got in our car, got tea and drove around talking for a few hours.  Really talking…. I can’t help but notice the changes in my relationship with Geoff… beautiful changes.  Even though we have been together for over 20yrs I have always found myself a bit embarrased to cry in front of him.  There is something about being vulnerable even with the one person in your life that you trust the most that goes against our human ‘survival’ instinct.  Its not like that anymore.  He and I cry freely and openly with each other now… shedding tears for Guatemala…. its people… “our” mountain…  and every other place on the planet that shares in the grief of being a ‘developing’ nation.

When we woke up, safe, warm and comfortable in our own bed on Friday morning there was something missing from our lives.  The sense of ‘wrongness’ had begun.  Our kids were kind of whiny and scattered about the house doing their own thing.  He and I got busy unpacking and doing our own thing.  The vibe of our family had changed drastically and it had been only 9hrs since we got off that plane.   Waking up at Campo Esperanza we were all together… students, the Van Der Zalm’s, us, Dave, Alley, Nicole, my family… Everyone greeted each other warmly… everyone was up early and full of life to begin the day.  Here we were alone and separated by the very sense of familliarity that makes us a family.  I don’t like it one bit.  As I write this, Geoff is sitting beside me on his computer, Zack is in his room with a friend playing a game, Luke is watching tv and Gabe is colouring.  We are inhabiting the same 1200sqft space and we have certainly carved out our ‘alone’ place in it.  Now, everyone needs time alone… I get that… but this is different… this isn’t being alone… this is being separate.  Why must it be that way?   Why is it that in Guatemala, we laughed, we cried, we played, we worked, we hung out 24/7 as a unified family… never separate… and here separateness is total.

I think waking up that Friday morning here in Beamsville was as eye opening as seeing Guatemala and its strife.  You could feel the tangible wrongness in all of us.  We missed it… missed the camp, missed the students, missed Ted, Miriam and the kids… missed Guatemala…missed the mountain, its people,  its poverty, its beauty, its hope.   Zack has not communicated much of his feelings to me since that day a few weeks ago walking with him in the jungle… but I know he feels it too.  As much as his 15yr old heart and mind can handle … or will allow him to handle.   All he says now is that he wants very badly to go back.  Luke and Gabe have made it their mission in life to raise $2000.00 before we return (which they are hoping is within a few weeks) to build a classroom for Laguna school where we handed out the toys…   The end goal for them is to raise $10,000.00 over the next 1-2yrs. They want to build a home for someone and to help fix up the Nutrition Centre where we met Eduardo.   These 2 are so young and yet such an inspiration.  For them its so simple…. “Mommy, these kids need us so we are going to get money for them so they don’t have to hurt and die anymore”… Oh if it were just that simple….   I’m going to do my best to make their dreams come true… and I will do everything in my power to help these boys raise the money and reach their goal!!!

For me, everything has changed…. how do you go to a mall… how do you order a steak at the Keg… I know I will… but its not going to be easy… not at first.  Everything I spend, everything I do from now on, I will be a bit more mindful of the cost.. not just to my wallet but to the world as a whole.  I know life will continue…. I know that I will shop… I know I will overspend at Christmas… I know these ineveitable truths… but I know that my idea of ‘inconvenience’… my idea of ‘give till it hurts, then give some more’ will always be different than it was a few weeks ago…  Shelley, Eduardo, Pavlo, Cantidad, Baby Daryl and the others will be the scars I carry… good ones… ones that not only make me sad but remind me of times where I listened to the laughter… danced in the rain, hung out and talked with some of the most wonderful young people I have ever had the privilege of knowing, worked until I hurt so bad I wanted to faint and had….. hope…  True, real, tangible HOPE!    I want to return to them all… sooner rather than later… I want to continue to Be the Change….and I know I will….

Without every communicating a word of my feelings to Geoff…. Friday morning,  less than 12hrs after getting off that plane, he just knew.  He opened his laptop and began searching flights back.  So there it is… we are returning… dates have yet to be set… flights have yet to be booked… but I can say that we are going back… and I am talking about within a few weeks.   School will have to deal… work will have to deal… our friends and family will have to deal… The Doppenberg’s need this… we need to return to a place that feels ‘right’ for our family… to a place that feels more like home than here… to a place where hope is alive and well……

…. stay tuned….. the adventure has just begun…..

God Bless you all…

Keep it simple… stu*id….

Its Tuesday… the internet here has been down since last week… its difficult being so out of touch with the outside world… and yet… its been wonderful… No tv.. no internet… very sporatic and rare cellular communication.  Even newspapers and tv hold no help for catching up with the world inside and outside Guatemala because we cannot speak, read or understand the language.  Apparently a 5.0 earthquake hit here at 5am… all we know is that it sounded like every animal in Guatemala was making noise… we heard about it 3days later when someone called home!  Its like the world outside of Campo Esperanza, Jalapa and this mountain have ceased to exist to us.  This is our world now.  Its going to be difficult to integreate back into life I think.  Its all so simple here… wake up early, breakfast, work, lunch, work, dinner, together time, sleep, repeat.  There are no further distractions.  Its given me so much time to focus my family, others, myself and my faith.  Not just my faith in God… but my faith in humanity… in those around me… and those around the world…  We are just a handful of people here and yet we have managed to achieve so much in just a few short weeks.  2 homes are being built…. one of which (Antionette’s) is drying and will be completed by having the roof added within a week or so…the other (for the elderly couple Pavlo and Candidad)   has begun and will be ready soon…. we dug a trench and installed water lines to the family across the road from camp.  They are in severe poverty and this access to water will enable them to grow crops through the entire year (even the dry season) and provide them potential for a solid living.  All in all we have had a productive few weeks.  Much of it was spent touring the area and setting up things for the teams yet to come.  But we managed to make a difference in some lives.. we provided hope and opportunity for a different, better future.  As I said, simple…

Yesterday we drove Adam and Aaron (2 university students who were here for 10 days) to Guatemala City for their flight home.  We spent the day there as a family (and Dave) and tried to do ‘normal’ things.  Things like eating in a restaurant, going shopping… sightseeing.  Within an hour we were all stressed and annoyed by the normalcy of it all… by the chaos and redundancy of the city.  Camp is like paradise… rooms, beds, fantastic meals, fellowship and community.   Here in the mountains you can be sure that everyone you see says “Buenos Dias”…  The city is cold and makes you feel stressed and isolated, you dont make eye contact anywhere there.  It will be interesting to see how our return home goes.  On one hand we are excited to be going home.  We have much to look forward to there… people we love and miss… our own beds, our dogs, our life…  and on the other hand it would be easy to just sell it all, move here and help people every day… it would be simple….

I had a mental meltdown on Sunday… it had been a stressful weekend.  We decided as a group on Saturday to pile in the trucks, pick up Mario (our interpreter)and his family, grab pizza and go to a big soccer game that was happening in Jalapa.  It was a great night… full of fun and excitement.  But somehow it all felt wrong deep down.  Its hard to enjoy things when the world around you is a total mess.  We all know that guilt is counter-productive but its hard to not feel the wrongness of it all here.  All you have to do is step outside the door of the camp and look out into the mountainsides…  Either way it was still a fun night with all of us.  On Sunday we went to church and wow.. what an experience that was.  Mass was to begin at 10:00am and was outdoor.  It was a huge feast day where the bishop was attending for the blessing of the seeds for the upcoming planting season.   Fireworks and those bomb like things were going off every few minutes throughout the celebration.  It was a sea of people.  There were no more services on the mountain so people for all the surrounding villages made their way to this one outdoor service.  Booths were set up on the perimeter selling drinks and snacks.  The sun was beating down on us and it was very warm.  Mass did not begin until almost 11am and was very, very long.  We were all hot and quite honestly frustrated that we could not understand a word of the service.  Once it was over, we dragged our crispy bodies back to camp had some lunch and then we were off again.

Ted, Miriam, myself, Geoff and Dave H. went to visit the Nutrition Centre in Progresso about an hour away.  I was truly looking forward to this trip because nutrition is something I’ve always been interested in as I explained in an earlier blog.  The centre is run by Sister Mercedes.  She founded it 28yrs ago and a kind family donated the property to her to help children who suffer from malnutrition in the area.   She is looking to get an opportunity to have a 2nd more permanent location in Jalapa but for now she travels the hour long one way commute on twisty dangerous mountain roads 3 days a week.  Upon arriving and meeting her another nun came with drinks for us all.  I admit I was terrified to drink this cloudy looking water.   Miriam took it and drank and that gave us the signal that we were ok to drink.  It tasted terrible but we all drank and were thankful for it.  Its a sugar water sort of thing made from a plant and is cheap to make and provides some sweetness.  I suppose its an aquired taste.  They made it with filtered water so we would not become ill… they inconvenienced themselves for us and we truly were thankful.   After our refreshment we were off for a tour of the facility that houses approx 30children at a time.  Touring the facility we noticed that there was a lot of smoke in the inside air.  Ted was fearful that the smokeless stove they built for them was malfuctioning but once we were in the room where they were cooking we realized that they weren’t using it correctly.  The roof has problems and there are areas where it is asbestos and it is crumbling.  The walls need work, the floors, they need small kitchens built… they have one area in mind that would be great for a kitchen.  They tore out an old bathroom in the school part of the building.  When we entered the area to look at it the stench was horrible.  Apparently when they took out the bathroom they left the pipes open and just covered them with wood… Basically they need an overhaul.  Its an amazing group of buildings but it needs much TLC.  I think Geoff and I may have found the personal project we have been looking for…

At one point during the tour Sister Mercedes took us into a room that was obviously a nursery.  Empty cribs were lined up along the walls and there were pictures of past babies and children who are ‘success stories’ so to speak.   I noticed at the far end of the room was a crib covered in marroon mosquito netting… Once I got closer I saw that the crib was indeed occupied by a boy about the size of Lucas (my smaller than average 9yr old).  Sister Mercedes told us his name was Eduardo and that she brought him to the centre a month ago.  His back was to us so she rolled him over and we gently called out his name and rubbed his head.  He was obviously mentally challenged… apparently he was so severely malnourished because his family simply couldn’t afford food and as a result he did not develop mentally or physically.  He is unable to speak and she isnt sure how much he can comprehend.   I heard Sister telling Miriam that Eduardo was 17… I said wow, 17lbs?…. she corrected me … Eduardo is 17yrs old.   I cannot describe the shock that hit me… you sincerely could have knocked me over with a feather.  I walked back over to him and looked into his big blank brown eyes and began to cry.  He looks like a small child!   Through my tears I managed to take some non-flash pictures of him.  I felt awful doing so but Ted reminded me that Im here for a reason and through my blog, my talking and my photo’s perhaps I can raise awareness and inspire people to help both by donating time and money.  My pictures most likely didnt turn out well because they were shot through totally water filled eyes… I cannot say for sure because I cannot bear to look at them.  This little boy, who should be a young man broke what was left of my heart….

Upon returning to camp I could not even sit with anyone, I went for a walk with Geoff and again I cried.  It was his turn to help cook dinner so I continued to walk by myself.  I ended up sitting alone on a rock outcropping near camp where no one could see me.  Gabriel my youngest saw me and came to me and held me tight.  I explained to him why I was crying and he felt ok leaving me alone.  I couldnt bear making him cry too… Once he was gone, the torrent of tears that I cried was unbelievable.  I cried for over an hour…. and I mean sobbing… I cried for Eduardo… for Nico’s hollow eyed children… for Shelley the epileptic girl who is mentally challenged and sexually abused because of lack of money for meds…. for the children at the school… for those at the dirty puddles gathering water… for the 15yr old girls married and having babies… I cried tears of thankfulness that through Gods grace I was born in a country that I was able to raise healthy children…. I cried tears for them all…for it all… for the young, for the old… for the hungry, for the broken… I was mentally and emotionally broken.  It’s not that it was all too much… it was that it was all too wrong…. too senseless.. too avoidable… fixing these things… to make sure they never happen again would be easy… to see that things here are fixed…. would be…… simple…..

I recovered by morning.  The scars that are on my heart will remain.  They are simply too deep to ever leave.  Perhaps they will fade a bit… but I will never let them go away.  This mountain… Jalapa… Guatemala is in my heart now… its a part of me… a part that is painful… and joyful in the biggest contradiction of feeling I have ever experienced… but it is a part of who I am now… its just that simple….

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