Monthly Archives: December 2011
The mood here changed drastically 2 days ago with new arrivals! Four students from Canada arrived and brought with them a lighthearted exuberance that we needed here. We loved our weeks of family time but it was becoming time to get some new blood here and get things rolling! It is JD, Jazmin and Jessy’s first time visiting Guatemala…. for Rachel it is her second. She was with us last year for a few weeks and it is now a huge part of her life. Day one for them began with part one of ‘the tour’….
We had big plans yesterday…. to visit sights, friends, and show our newest volunteers some of why we are here, beginning in Jalapa. We started at the Jalapa dump. The dump is a place that is hard to believe when you first see it. It is a dump like any other city has…. one can even accept the pigs and cows that are left there by rich farmers to fatten them up…. what one cannot accept is the families living there. The laughter in the truck got quiet very quickly when these 4 realized that the structured mountains of garbage are actually makeshift shanties that people live in. Kids and moms are everywhere sifting through garbage hoping to find a scrap of food or a treasure to sell. It is a place unlike anything I have ever seen in my life…. and I was rendered speechless and teary…. and I had been there several times. I can only imagine the thoughts running through our visitors brains upon seeing this horror for the first time. I remember the first time I went, I cried for days…. and it was an experience very formative to my decision to serve here.
Having JD speak Spanish is a blessing. Our Spanish is improving and coming along nicely but communicating with the Mayan people is very difficult due to the speed and accent they speak with. He wandered around and talked with people… One woman told him she had been living there for 30 years…. 2 children told him their parents were killed and they had no where else to go…. So many people… so many stories… each one just as tragic as the last…. There are very few word I can write to do this place justice…. suffice it to say that with the people covered in filth, living with pigs and rats, eating literal garbage and perpetual fires burning that if there is a hell on earth, the Jalapa dump comes very close to being it. We handed out some candy, warm blankets, hats and warm clothing and left with promises to return soon with more provisions. The ride out the gates of the dump was quiet with everyone thinking very hard of what they can do to help….
From there it was off to visit friends… Mynor, Vincenta and their family…. I wrote in a previous blog last year of their precious daughter Claudia. Our team last year pooled money together to buy her a mini laptop computer so she could continue her schooling and hopefully get a job to help her very poor family. We had many plans after visiting them…. but things change on a dime here…..
I read once a few months back on a sign at a Church near our home in Beamsville…. “Coincidences are God’s way of being anonymous…”… I truly believe that. Especially after all the ‘coincidences’ we have experienced here, through the years in Guatemala. Well our visit with Mynor and his family was one of those ‘coincidences’…. We were going to visit them a few weeks ago but for one reason or another never got there…. so we decided that today was the day… no idea why…. just the way everything worked out. Well we got there and I heard a scream of delight from Claudia inside the door when she realized we were there. She threw herself into my arms and began to cry. I looked over at Vincenta and she was holding her youngest son Jose David who is just under 2 years old, and she was quietly sobbing. I let go of Claudia to hug Vincenta and she pulled violently away from me. At first I did not understand, but she quickly showed me her son. His arm was very severly burned and looked absolutely horrific. She was holding up his arm… and it was weeping blood and looked awful. Apparently he had pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove onto his arm on Monday…. they took him to the hospital but had no money to pay…. so the doctor cleaned the wound and sent them on their way. Since then she had just been holding him, keeping his arm up… fearing infection and with no idea what to do. It was a no brainer…. none of us needed to even talk about it…. we needed to help them. So we told them that we were taking them to the Clinic and getting Jose David fixed up and we were paying. She tearfully explained to JD that they had been praying for a miracle…. and then we knocked on the door….
The rest of our day was instantly planned for us…. there would be no more time for visiting our other friends or anything…. God had other plans for us this day. So off we all piled into the truck and went to the clinic. They took the little guy right away and so we waited. They gave him some medicine to make him sleep and they took care of his wound. We took the others to a local restaurant for some lunch and played with the other boys in the play area. Vincenta and Jose David joined us when all was finished with his arm nicely wrapped and safely protected from infection. We paid the clinic for 3 more visits so that they can just take him every few days and get everything cleaned up and he can stay healthy. Together we ate… laughed and enjoyed the blessings of the day!
It seems that every day we are here, we are reminded of why we are here…. that this is our reason for being born into a country that is so prosperous….. that this is our reason for fundraising money for Guatemala…..I am reminded of what Hermana Mercedes said to us just before Christmas through her tears that “We were all born to serve the poor”…. My prayer, and I hope your’s is that these young people that are here volunteering are touched… that everyone who visits here, or anywhere in the world that has need, are touched…. and that they spread the word… and one family by one family, together we can change the world….
Firstly, let me say…. The Doppenberg family wants to wish each and every one of you, and your family a Muy Feliz Navidad! A Very Merry Christmas!!! Tomorrow (Christmas Eve) I have the privilege of killing, plucking, cooking a turkey for Fernando’s family (pray for me haha). Afterward we will walk through the town holding candles while someone carries the baby Jesus to His manger in the village Church at midnight. We are really looking forward to experiencing this. Welcoming our Saviour into the world the Guatemalan way. This is a beautiful country steeped with tradition… Its quite beautiful.
I spoke last blog of the best Christmas gift I could have received… a kiss and a hug from a group of kids in a remote mountain village… and a heartfelt, teary eyed, Blessing from Hermana Mercedes… there was more to come…. It all began at 5am when we opened our front door to a group of nuns standing on the sidewalk so excited to begin what was going to be an adventure for them. A kind, generous donor & friend back in Canada sent us money to help buy Christmas gifts for the Hermana’s and the kids at the hospital. We pooled that money with the money we had set aside ourselves for gifts and we decided that toys were great, but shoes were better after seeing so many of them walking around barefoot. We told them we wanted to buy them all shoes…. they were thrilled and timidly asked if we could take them shopping in the big capital city. They squealed with excitement when we said sure!
Imagine being in your mid 50’s…. and never, ever going to a mall. Imagine you’ve never been able to buy something for yourself, just because …. Imagine you have never enjoyed a meal in a restaurant with your friends… Can you even imagine that? I know I couldn’t. I don’t think my eyes could have gotten any wider when I was sitting in an IHOP in Guatemala City with 10 Hermana’s from the Hospital and Hermana Mercedes told me this was a day of many “firsts” for her. First time shopping for herself… first time eating in a restaurant with the other sisters…. I was shocked…. she’s in her 50’s and had never done these things. Little things we take so for granted in our life… like the ability to shop whenever, wherever and for whatever we want or being able to pick up a phone and say to a friend, “Lets go for wings and pizza tonight”.
The day began like that for me. Humbled once again and yet mortified that we have so many opportunities and they have so few all because of where we happened to be born. As the morning progressed, I watched in awe over the next 3 hours that we spent in a little Payless shoe store in a giant mall in the Capital City, as they shopped like pro’s. Hermana Alba had brought a list of the other Hermana’s, the Novitiate’s (Nun’s in training), and all the Nino’s (Children). Everyone got shoes… and some socks for the kids in colder mountain climates. This single random act made life easier here for almost 100 people! My Mastercard actually declined when it was time for the purchase to be made. It literally imploded and I had to call and it took more then 1/2 an hour for the security/fraud department to trust that it was actually me making what they called ‘the single largest purchase at a Payless” they had ever gotten… Shameless plug here… but if you want to ever contribute… please do… and I promise you that the money will be spent in a more worthwhile way than you could ever imagine. It truly doesn’t get any better than this.
Next week our first volunteers arrive… this is so exciting for us. It has been kind of lonely here at times. Together we will build chicken coops and plant vegetables for the Hermana’s. They will be able to both eat and sell these. It is our plan to help give them hope and a way to be more self-sustaining. They want this so badly, but have never had the means to do so. To raise a baby chick from birth to market costs around 15 Quetzals… which is approx. $2.00 Canadian. They can then sell the chicken for around 100 Quetzals. This is a no brainer for raising money for the hospital. But they have, until now been unable to afford even the mere 15 Quetzals to buy the first baby chick. Having us build the coop, provide the guard dog (even here at the hospital, the poor will hop the fence and steal from them) and buy them the first 50 or so baby chicks is invaluable to them to get started. It’s not just about raising money and buying things for the poor here… its about finding a way to get them on their feet and give them the little push they need by providing an opportunity to thrive.
People tell me all the time how they can’t believe that we are doing this…. moving our family thousands of miles away for 1/2 a year. I guess after only a short time here I realize that we are the lucky ones…. the ones that get to experience this joy first hand. A few years ago if someone told me I’d be living in Guatemala basically on a farm, I’d have told them they must surely have bumped their heads lol. I’m just a girl who grew up in the city and look at me now…. living with my family in Guatemala… in a home that we share with tons of baby chicks, 3 bunnies, and 2 puppies. Yet everything has a use… the chickens & bunnies will provide food for the hospital… the puppies will provide security. There is no waste here… everything has a purpose. And so does everyone. I think that is what strikes me the most. Back in Canada we struggle to find our purpose…. why is that? Here, everyone know’s exactly where they are in God’s plan… while we read, and study and sometimes get paralyzed with fear and confusion over purpose. I realize now that we just have too much opportunity. It floods us and clouds our vision. Here life is simple and there is nothing to cloud anything. I can honestly say that it will be very hard to leave here and return home…. but I do know one thing…. All 5 of us will return home very changed people, changed for the better, and above all else THAT is the best gift we could ever receive.
Settle in… grab a drink… I have a lot to say today….
Ah, life…. life is funny…. life throws you curve balls… life is hard… life is fun… basically life is what you make it. The past few blogs when I read them over are so very different and yet I am glad I wrote them. They are raw and totally capture my feelings the first week here. Wow, what a ride. People ask me how I am doing here… hmmmm, thats a bit of a loaded question. Basically I would say I am happy here. Are there times I wish I was home? Of course. But overall, I am happy right where I am. It’s been a weird couple of weeks. To go from the ‘normal’ life back in Canada to the ‘new normal’ life here in Guatemala has not been easy. Funny thing about following the so called ‘calling’… once you get into it, it feels ‘right’ very quickly. We are all moved in and settled into our new home. I can describe it in 2 words…. LOVE IT! We have made it our own already and have settled into a routine of sorts. Sure there are many things to get used to…. like the fireworks (read: mini bombs) that go off in the streets literally at all hours of the night (today was 5-6am) as people celebrate the coming birth of Christ. But overall things are good. We miss family and friends back home and anxiously await our first visitors due to arrive shortly after Christmas!
Speaking of Christmas…. that is a tough one here. Sure we have our 1 foot tree sitting on our plastic dining table, surrounded by our plastic lawn furniture ‘dining chairs’…. but it simply has been a struggle to ‘feel’ Christmas here. For me, Christmas has always been a big deal. I spend months preparing, shopping, and decorating. Here I have done none of those things. I bought that tiny plastic Christmas tree at the market for a few quetzals and one piece of blue and silver tinsel to decorate. That is it. Nothing else. There are no Christmas carols playing here… not ones I know anyway. There are no big decorated pine trees anywhere except the town square. There is a bit of hussle and bussle of shopping in the market, but for us gringo’s it’s no worse than the normal chaos the market brings. There is no mall here…no Santa sitting waiting for screaming kids to be put on his lap for pictures… Here, there are those fireworks set off, scaring the daylights out of you all night…. in anxious preparation for the birth of the Saviour.
We have made a family decision here… to pretty much not buy any gifts for each other. But instead to buy gifts for the Hermana’s at the hospital and the children, both there and on the mountain. Monday I am braving a trip to Guatemala city to take the Hermana’s shopping. They need some ‘girl’ stuff and would like to pick out specific things… that will be their Christmas gifts from us and a very kind donor back home who gave a significant amount of money for gifts for them. During that trip we will buy toys and things for the kids. Should be an interesting day. Overall, Christmas has had me kind of in a weird place. The woman who made Christmas such a big deal back home was taught a valuable lesson yesterday. People talk about the true meaning of Christmas all the time.. as we bitch and gripe on our way to the mall to do more shopping. We get our blood pressure up on the crazy drive there, screaming at traffic we don’t have time to be in because we are afraid the ‘perfect’ gift might be gone if we are one minute late getting there. Then we get to the mall and whine over the line’s in the stores, or the fact that the debit machines are so slow… We chase our tails for weeks before, preparing for an occasion that will be over literally within minutes of waking up on Dec 25th. Is that what Christmas really is? I guess it was time for me to learn another lesson…..
Yesterday, we were invited to a breakfast at the hospital. To meet with Hermana Mercedes about the coming months and work projects etc. Hermana Mercedes has been burned many times in the past. People come and people go… People make promises to her and don’t follow through. Hermana is a brilliant woman with a Master’s degree in medicine and is one tough cookie to crack. She has always been very ‘guarded’ with us. Never letting her guard down one bit. Very nice and polite but waiting for us to bail on her so to speak. At the end of our meeting yesterday… she made a speech. One I will never, ever forget. She spoke of how, ‘everyone in that room was born to serve the poor’ and that God send our family at a time when she was at a low. When her faith in God was shaken because she had literally no hope. There was no money, there was no help, there was no hope. But God sent ‘Angels’ from Canada… and these Angels are spreading the word in a far away country… and sending more Angels… and God, through them have restored her hope…. her faith… and for the first time in almost 30 years she can see her dreams again…. dreams of opening other “hospitalito’s” (little hospitals) for starving children in other parts of Guatemala… Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador etc. And for our family and the people of Canada she will always be thankful. Children are being saved from certain death and she will pray always for us…..and thanks God for us.
When I looked up, when she was done speaking, I saw she was crying. You have to know Hermana Mercedes to know this is an incredible thing. All the other Hermana’s were crying just seeing her cry. Of course that made me cry… I reached my hand across the table and she very hesitantly she took my hand. I looked in her eyes and said… “we will always be here to cry with you, to walk with you and to follow wherever God leads right beside you”…. That was all I could manage in that precious moment. Fernando, Geoff, my boys, all the Hermana’s and me and Hermana Mercedes… all teary eyed…. all together… united in a goal… a goal that God has put on all our hearts. A goal that my family will see through until the end….
After that incredible moment… we parted ways. It was time for us to go to a village about 2 hours away. The village of San Juan Las Brisas. This village is in the Santa Rosa region of Guatemala. A lush, green area that is famous for growing coffee and sugar cane. A region that is also famous for their earthquakes. Back in July they had over 500 small earthquakes in a 30 day period. Imagine living there… imagine being poor there.. no where to go. Simply accepting your fate and knowing that a big earthquake could hit at any time and you could simple vanish from the planet… and no one in the world would know but your village… you are the forgotten… obscure little blips on this big blue ball. Guatemala is full of them.
A big one did hit… 3 big ones to be exact… back in September. Fernando called us. The village of San Juan Las Brisa’s was decimated by earthquakes. The rains were heavy in September and they were cut off from help by the fact that the one and only bridge to their village was under the river so there was no way in or out. People were dead and the ones left were cold, thirsty and starving. We immediately sent money down for him to buy water, blankets and some food for this village and Fernando and his father delivered the supplies once the water had receded enough to get help to them. Yesterday was the day we were invited to meet the people we helped face to face. We loaded ourselves, a pinata, some stuffed animals that were donated, some blankets and knitted hats that Geoff’s mom made into the truck and off we went.
To make this short and sweet, it was an incredible day. We met Carmen and her sister… Together we toured the devastation and with heavy hearts went back to Carmen’s home where all the village children had gathered to see the white people. Everyone knew we were coming and they were all dressed in their best clothes and had prepared a meal for us. Fernando explained that we could only eat the meat they had prepared because the parasites in anything else would be very dangerous to our health. Carmen brought out a 2L bottle of pepsi. I have to explain… the amount of meat they had prepared and a 2L bottle of Pepsi costs more than they make in a month. But for us, they sacrifice. Drives us banana’s to think they won’t eat much now for the month… but its part of life here. Give, give… give… give… It’s crazy. Would any of us back home share our last cracker if that is all we had to eat for a week? If that is all we had to feed our kids? Think about it… would you? Anyway…. we ate… and we set up a pinata. The kids were so incredibly happy… we found out after they had never had a pinata before and had no idea what to do. After some instruction and after the first piece of candy fell… they knew. Once it broke it was instant chaos. So fun. Many of these kids had never tasted ‘dulces’ (candy but literally ‘sweeties) before. Then we handed out stuffed animals, hats, blankets etc.
I sat in a chair after it was all over and watched the kids. They all had mouths full of dulces and were clutching their stuffed animals… some were happily playing all over the dirt with their new toys. My heart was full…. full to bursting. Bursting with the knowledge that I am where I am supposed to be. Then suddenly a tiny little boy came up to me… He threw his arms around my neck, kissed my cheek and said … “muchas gracias” (thank you very much)…. then ran shyly away. My eyes filled with tears…. and I put my head down so no one would notice…. When I lifted my head once I had composed myself I saw an incredible sight… a line of children… big, small, male, female…. each and every one of them threw themselves at me with arms wide open… hugging and kissing me and saying in Spanish…. “Muchas Gracias”… One by one they came… they went to each and every one of us after me. My heart almost burst… and I realized something…. THIS is what it’s all about… This is why I am here… This moment and the one I shared earlier in the day with Hermana Mercedes and the others is all I want for Christmas…..
Life is full of lessons… even for us “old dogs”, God can teach us many new tricks. We have been here in Guatemala for only 5 days…. feels like 5 weeks. So much has happened and we have learned so much already. There is a certain arrogance that surrounds our culture. We think we are going to come into a country as missionaries and teach them better ways. Funny thing happens instead… they teach us VERY quickly what is wrong with our ‘better’ ways. Pretty much just about everything. We come in with plans… Our plans suck, for lack of a better word. Us arrogant Canadiense’s are brought to our knees within moments of being here. We truly don’t mean to be arrogant… we come here with the best of intentions…. but we get knocked down instantly, to their level… which quite frankly is above ours in so many ways.
If Guatemala had a better system of equality and Government they would be coming to Canada as missionaries to help us. Of that I have no doubt. They would teach us patience… they would teach us to trust in God and not in ourselves… They would teach us lessons that our brains need to learn. It has taken less than 5 days for us to be humbled beyond measure. God wanted to make sure we were in complete surrender before He made things the way He wanted them to be and not the way we had envisioned.
All the struggles of the past few days, of which I won’t go into detail but trust me they were bad… were necessary. Necessary to teach us a lesson that we honestly could not have learned any other way. We had that Canadian arrogance knocked right out of us and now we are truly ready to do what we came here to do… God’s way, not ours. We are so rushed in our lives. And I admit I am one of the most chaotic people around. Here, there is no such thing… everything moves at a relaxed, snails pace…. it’s so tough to get used to… especially when you are in need of something… like a place to live. We expect everything to be done NOW…. Not going to happen… no sense getting your blood pressure up. I swear people here don’t die much of stress induced illness… simply doesn’t exist. They don’t get stressed. Even the ones dying of malnutrition simply wait patiently for God to help them… Sure they do everything in their power to make things happen and at the same time they joyfully trust…. completely. They totally understand that they need Him… and His will be done.
We have a home that will be ready for us to move in on Tuesday. The location couldn’t be more perfect… less than a 1 minute walk to the hospital. More than we could have ever hoped for. We have some furnishings already… We have the basic necessities of life now… and we have each other. That is all we need. I will be learning to cook with wood, the Guatemalan way.. I will be learning to do laundry by hand, the Guatemalan way… I will be learning to shower with cold water, the Guatemalan way… And I will be teaching them some of our ways. Fernando’s family has given me the honour of preparing Christmas dinner… they want a traditional Canadian turkey dinner cooked in an oven that they have no idea how to use. They want to learn our way…. and in return they will teach me their way. What a wonderful exchange of lives taking place.
We have already experienced so much of the culture here… Beginning with the day we got here. Dec 7th… El Dia del Diablo. The day of the Devil. Its El diablo’s birthday and at 6:00 pm fires are lit everywhere to burn pinata images of the bad guy. They roast him and celebrate a new beginning to life in the ashes… they burn the bad guy and all he brings… he has no power here…. They won’t let him have any power over them. Out of such simple lives come such wisdom! What a beautiful symbolic ritual that has been carried on for centuries.
And so we carry on… with lessons learned… valuable ones that we will take home and carry with us the rest of our lives. Only 5 days in and already we are changed people. Makes me wonder in awe of what the next 5 months will bring….
Today is a new day… it’s amazing what a good night of rest can do for the spirit. Everyone in the family woke up this morning feeling much more able to handle things. My blog of yesterday was negative. It was also short. Basically if I had written about everything that had gone wrong in the past 48 hours it would have been 12 pages long…. it was about much more than just hot water. Its amazing how one can just get hit over the head multiple times with bad things and still go on, but we are human and we can get pretty down just like everyone else when things become too much. Yesterday we felt weary and worn down though. It really took a lot out of us. Basically it was a disastrous beginning.
Today, I am saying was the official beginning! And what a beginning it was. Early this morning we were off to the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro for a Christmas party. It was a ‘family reunion’ with all the children that had previously been rehabilitated at the hospital invited. We were shocked by the sheer number of people in attendance. Tears rose to my eyes as I saw Hermana Mercedes for the first time in almost a year. She was surrounded by the happy faces of the little children that are now alive because she took it upon herself to follow the will of God and serve here. Her and I shared a hug that had so much meaning behind it even though our spanish/english communication is still in its infancy. There are some moments that are just beyond words…..
Heading into the nursery for the first time in almost a year was unreal. Seeing all the children in their beds trying so desperately to get healthy breaks your heart. Around the corner in his special room was Marquito…. That boy is so incredibly special…. Rachel has worked so hard for this boy and on December 15th he will have the first surgery to reconstruct his face. It hit me as I held him and then again as Geoff was holding him and Marquito was laughing that without people like Rachel that precious boy would most likely have died. God put him on her heart and she did everything in her power to help him… and help him she did. I saw the proof with my own eyes… and heard his laughter with my own ears…. Amazing! After visiting the children, we shared lunch with the Monsignor of Guatemala, some other guests and Hermana Mercedes… The sisters prepared a very special lunch for their guests. They treat us like royalty here and we do not like it. We are here to serve them and yet they serve us so completely. It is so humbling…. It truly is about relationships here… and we have a family here, more so than we had ever realized before. That is a gift straight from God.
No matter what life throws at us here… we are ready for it. This is why we are here… and nothing, not even no water (today we not only have no hot water but no water at all) will ever get in the way of what God has us here to do! And on behalf of our family, we would like to thank everyone who is helping us financially… personally… prayerfully… etc. Without you beside us, none of this would be happening. We promise to stick it out and make the best of every moment and also be thankful for the privilege of getting to serve these wonderful people!
Well here we are… safe and sound in Guatemala. I cannot begin to express how strange I am feeling being here. We had plans. We should have known better…. hahaha. Things rarely work out the way we plan them. Normally I am really great at contingency plans. Being in a foreign country however has me feeling a tad paralyzed at the moment. I am more homesick than I have ever been in my entire life but I know that will pass and is mainly a product of the uncertainty that surrounds us right now.
It all began yesterday… flight delays and minor setbacks had us awake and on the go for basically 2 days with no sleep…. We got through it. Then upon arrival the hotel we had planned to be at the entire time we learned they changed the rules… seems they don’t want to play anymore. Missionaries or not they are ripping us off. Upon arrival it seems the price more than tripled. That is not acceptable but despite our original agreement they won’t budge. So we are at a different hotel for the time being. A very different hotel without any frills. It’s ok… hot water is a Canadian luxury after all right? I am preparing mentally for 6 months here and I know I can do it. It won’t be easy… but it is what it is. We are looking right now at homes to rent. Perhaps we can find one but if we don’t then we simply deal with what we have and be thankful. It’s already leaps and bounds beyond what most Guatemalan people have.
Isn’t it funny how we can be missionaries and still be totally mortified at the thought of no hot water for months…. Makes me stop and re-think my priorities. As much as I hate to admit it, I want hot water! But why? Do I deserve it more than others here? No…. but I still want it. A part of me deep down sort of hopes that we perhaps don’t find a house… and that I live without this luxury… as a learning experience about myself and how far I am willing to sacrifice. I guess I am also worried about the volunteers that will be coming. How will they react if we are still in this hotel? It is no-frills… but it is safe…. it has beds… it is clean… it is totally all we could ever need…. but…. will they be happy… will they be upset? Crazy that I am thinking that…. and worrying… after all… isn’t this whole experience all about sacrifice? If you are a volunteer and you are coming…. prepare yourself… this could be more than you bargained for… but while I cannot promise hot water… I can promise an experience you will never ever forget!!!