Friday, May 8, 2015

Sometimes

Sometimes there is an anger or sadness or fury inside that wells up out of nowhere. No, it is not from nowhere, probably the come down of the alcohol and drugs, but it doesn't come out of the blue. That is for sure. It is dizzying and consuming and somewhere recently you have wanted to cry out for attention.

Help. Love. Love me. Accept me. Hold me. Why aren't you worth it? Why do you not believe you're worth it? How can you ever heal and move past this and feel comfortable in your own skin?

A moment of bliss. Pure happiness. Where there is honestly not a single shred of darkness. You hold onto this moment dearly and enjoy it, do others enjoy these moments as you do?

That is the root of it, though, isn't it. The pursuit of happiness and longing for acceptance. The nagging fear of being laughed at, not with, not in the way you want. You make a fool of yourself to see a glimpse of a smile. You withdraw when you feel a moment of exclusion. You run.
You want them to notice you are no longer there. See the emptiness. Is it them or is it you? Who are you more angry with anyway, yourself for not being good enough or them for not loving you.

It started at an early age, before you can really remember, but most likely around 5. You, the loner. That marking, ugly word. The girl on the swing. Oh, you idiot. It probably started from not being invited to play a game and you never fucking got over it. You replayed every fucking word that came out of your mouth, of theirs. What should you have said differently. Who should you have been instead.

You show your true self, that dark, quirky, giddy side. That total oddball weirdo that you are proud of. One second of doubt and you recoil. Don't they know how hard it is to be yourself. It is a daily conscious decision.

Sometimes it is easier to hide. To cover yourself in darkness and self pity.
You want to cry out, pay attention to me, love me. You fear the worry of your family. You fear the others will tire of you. Nobody wants to be around someone who craves love.

You question everything. Did you run. Will you ever be whole. Will you ever be loved in the way that you crave. What could you have done to be included. What should you have looked like to keep his attention.

To be wanted. Oh to be wanted.
A song runs through your head. I want you to want me. I need you to need me.

But you refuse to change. You are proud. Proud of who you are. Aren't you? Fuck you for not seeing me for me. It is a paradox. You are submerged in a life of contradictions.

Are you attracted to danger, or are you genuinely curious? Can it be both? When you walk into the the lion's den, does it matter why you're there? Only that here you are, half hoping you will see something terrifyingly beautiful and eagerly awaiting that feeling of your heart in your throat. Will it see you? Will it recognize a lost soul wandering? When it rips you apart, do you regret romanticizing all of this?

And finally, that nagging question: would you, the one I hold onto so fiercely, have turned out differently if I had been better?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Day 25: All the Farewells

Last week was my last (official) day at Vida, and I have been missing them dearly ever since I left. My last day was perfect and I would like to tell you about it.

I am always delighted to come in to Vida and see Shari and her little brother there (they aren't always able to make the trek) and I was happy that I would be able to say goodbye to her. There is something so bright and magical about this little soul that drew me in from day 1. About 30 minutes in she bumped her head pretty hard and rather than me stick around the classroom as I usually did, I scooped her up in my arms and sat with her until the tears subsided. Even though I knew her head hurt, I was content to just sit there with her on my lap and I started to sing her the lullaby that my mom sang to me when I wasn't feeling well. I found it very fitting to sing Que Sera Sera (Doris Day) and sure enough she settled. We talked about siblings and boyfriends (myself, no, but there was a very tall and cute boy she would like to be her boyfriend) and she asked where I was from. She asked if there would be any more gringos coming (white people) and I told her I hoped so.
We made our way over to the swing and as I slowly pushed her she leaned back, closed her eyes and smiled up at the sky. I will never forget that moment. Partially because it was so perfect and also because I have always done that same thing. I smiled from the bottom of my toes.

Oliver then asked me if I'd like to accompany him to the market to grab the day's lunch food, and while peeling away from Shari was hard I've always loved my conversations with Oliver. He speaks with such passion and love and sincerity that you know that he loves what he does more than anything. On our walk there we noticed two children pulling at someone.
It was one of the kid's mothers. She was drunk, past the point of being able to open her eyes or stand and her child was trying to get her home. It couldn't have been later than 3 pm. Slowly the kids pulled her up but she soon collapsed with her underwear around her ankles. The pain in that boy's eyes ran so deep, he should have been coming to Vida but instead he was forced to make sure his mother didn't find her end in the streets.
It's these sights that pull you back down to reality and force you to see how much work needs to be done. But it can be done and slowly but surely, Oliver, Daniel and Marcos are changing the lives of the children in Dueñas. We soldier on.

When we get back to Vida, Oliver and I make the kids sandwiches and I find myself quieting. I am sad to leave and it is getting nearer. After lunch I notice the kids huddling outside and Oliver asks if I'm ready. I'm not. They yell my name and I'm greeted by a giant farewell sign with drawings and messages from all the kids. They thank me for my love and patience but inside I want to cry and only hope that I have left solely a positive impact on Vida, for they have changed me. Each one of them comes up to give me a hug and kiss goodbye and many of them have made additional cards. They are beautiful and perfect and I am full of pure love.
The money that we all raised, you and I, is going to pay for the salaries of the teachers and helping staff. Many have not been paid in awhile, and they have lost some amazing teachers as a result. The teachers are so important here, with their love and patience and generosity and I knew that they couldn't lose another.

Thank you, Marcos, Daniel, Oliver, for showing me what pure love looks like and how to be a champion for children.

Always yours,
Ale 🌷

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Day 16: All the Vida

Last week I went on "house visits" with Oliver, one of the founders of Vida, and Meg, my volunteer companion and friend.

I had been warned and prepped for what I was about to see. I knew what to expect. I knew it would be difficult. And then I experienced it and realized that no matter how much someone tells you what an experience will be like, whether it is someone close to you dying or falling in love, the actual experience is completely different.

I didn't take pictures. I didn't feel comfortable invading their privacy. I didn't want to be the girl with everything who was passing through wanting to take pictures of a life she couldn't imagine living.

We visited 5 homes. They were all very different. Everything is built from aluminum laminate, some had laminate "roofs" others had bamboo holding up plastic sheeting. Some had cement floors, others had dirt. Some had been tidied and made to feel somewhat homey, others were littered with garbage and other matter. There was normally 1 bed, a sunken mattress, for 3-4 children and the mother.

The children, when I saw them at home, were completely different from when they were at Vida. I was used to their never ending smiles, squeals of laughter and boundless energy. Here they were shy, quiet, reserved. Many children spent the entire day, every day, on the streets. Their parent(s) rarely know where they are and this is the norm. Some children didn't know where their parents were. Some have an alcoholic father or a mother who prostitutes.

I am so thankful to Oliver for taking me here to see the reality of these children's lives. These kids, who jump on me and wrap their arms around me, they don't have happy lives at home. They barely have a home. But every day they come to Vida for a piece of happiness and a moment away from reality. I am so thankful that Oliver, Marcos and Daniel found each other and built Vida. Last week they didn't have the money for rent for next month, but Daniel says he is not worried. This is God's plan, He will help them find a way. This is their calling.

I only have a couple of days left and I am wracked with guilt. I do not want to leave these children. But I also need to find my own way. I need to follow my own path, that may lead me back to them. Of this I am sure.

I would like to find a way to help them fundraise for different things; whether it is their lunches, rent, paying the teachers, buying more desks, or new toothbrushes or vitamins, I would like to gather sponsors. Their work is never done. They will soon be building a new house for a family thanks to a volunteer's contributions. They are opening a second location in a neighboring town for children with down's syndrome. They are tireless. They are warriors and angels and saviors and very humble.

I only have a couple of days left with them, but I know my work with Vida is far from over.

(I would also like to add that while writing this post, My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion was playing in the background. I can't make that shit up. I don't know where it came from.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Day 10: All the Kids

When I signed up to volunteer in Guatemala I knew that it would be tough and rewarding. It is so much more. It is humbling, tiring, fun, taxing and sometimes frustrating. My feelings of frustration are always at myself. It has been hard to pick up Spanish, even with classes. My brain keeps telling me to speak French. This is not helpful. I want to be able to communicate better with the kids. One girl, Shari, she must be about 6, teaches me words in Spanish and I love it. I love when the kids teach me because I hope that it makes them feel important.

Let me tell you about Vida. I have wanted to write this post for awhile, but knew it would be hard, and needed to prepare this post. And myself. Vida started off as a safe haven for children with down syndrome and is now a place for kids with any mental disabilities or who don't have a parent at home. People with down syndrome in Guatemala (and I am guessing many other countries) are discarded. That is putting it simply, and that is how I will leave it. People with other mental disabilities are at risk of being treated the same. Then there are kids with absent parents, alcoholics, drug abusers, or 6 other kids to take care of. There is a 9 year old who parents his 7 younger siblings. So Vida opened up its doors to them as well. It fluctuates from between 25-45 children. The kids that go come on their own volition and by themselves. Nobody brings them or picks them up.
Vida is their safe haven. It has been built from spare parts and they have been amazingly innovative. The people that work there only get paid when there is extra money. There is never extra money. They have lost some amazing teachers because of this. There is a makeshift playground, a dining room where they eat their snacks, and right now lunch three times a week, 2 small classrooms and a work shed. My first day there I was told that Vida was now my home. Forever.

Vida let me into their home and I let them into my heart. The kids run up to me every day and greet me, "Hola Ale!", with a hug and a kiss, or a high five and a fist bump. They climb all over me and chase me and smile the most beautiful smiles up at me. My face hurts from smiling back. I'm always smiling and determined to only ever bring love to Vida. Vida's first project was called the Love Syndrome, Síndrome de Amor, which is the perfect name. Vida is run down and in need of everything, but it is full of love and acceptance.

I want the money I raised to be beneficial in the most beneficial way possible, if that makes sense. Right now someone is sponsoring 3 lunches a week for the children, but that is not a long term thing. They are also always in need of vitamins. They could always use more craft supplies. The clothes the children wear are stained and torn and always dirty. Their homes are tiny and have nothing in them. I have limited amounts of money and I want to use it for everything, which isn't smart or realistic. You see my dilemma. So I am in the process of strategizing what they need most, what will be most beneficial, and what will have a lasting impact for these children. I will be speaking with the people who run Vida about how they would like me to contribute but I know they will tell me that it is my decision.

And so, for a short amount of time, I will give them my love.

XO
A

Monday, January 19, 2015

Day 8: All the Adrenaline

This weekend 15 volunteers went up to Semuc Champey, and let me tell you, it was the most surreal weekend I have ever had.

Semuc Champey is about 8.5 hours away from Antigua. We piled in, 10 per shuttle bus/van and hurdled through the mountains, weaving through narrow roads, around potholes and fallen rocks and staring down beautiful cliffs and valleys and small towns. That was the first 7.5 hours (including stops for food). We were then dropped off on the side of the road where a pickup truck waited for us and we piled in the back for the next hour. It was 9 kilometres, however since it rains most mornings, the amount of mud, winding roads and rocks makes it an extremely bumpy ride. We managed to get to the hostel, El Portal, unscathed and in awe of our surroundings. The power is only on from 6pm - 10pm. There is no hot water. But man is this place beautiful and how else do you add character?

First on the agenda on day 2 is wake up at 5 AM because there is a rooster outside your window and some lovely men who are renovating the hut next to ours. 🙇 But alas, it is a new day. After bumping around in the dark and breakfast we make our way into the small rainforest and up the mountain. I use the terms rainforest and mountain lightly; the mountain, although not the easiest thing I've climbed, didn't take us more than 2-3 hours to climb. And then we hit the pozas, the natural pools, where a river flowed down the mountain and through the pools, over a waterfall and back into the river. The view is surreal. We are in awe, giddy that yes, we are here breathing in this air and jumping over mini waterfalls to the next pool. I tried to slide down the last, larger waterfall at our guide's suggestion. He was joking and I was thoroughly disappointed.

After we are all chilled a little bit too much we hike home (most of us in our bathing suits and barefooted as our muddy shoes are definitely not appealing to put back on) and grab some lunch. Then it is a five minute walk to the caves where we are handed candles that we will need to use the whole time for light. Most of the way through the caves we are either waist deep in water or can't touch. A candle will go out and someone will help them relight it. Honestly, it is hard to describe how thrilling and adrenaline inducing the caves are. We climb a waterfall using a rope, end up in pitch black when most of our candles go out, jump from a high spot in the caves into a pool below, slide down a mini (very mini) waterfall (that is pitch black at the bottom) and the whole time the stalagtites throw shadows and look like prehistoric teeth, waiting for their next meal. When we end up back out into the light it feels like it couldn't have been real. We were given tubes to float down the river while kids tried to sell us beers from their tubes. The water was cold but when the sun cme out it brought me right back to summers gone by in thr Slocan Valley in BC, mountains on either side. Our last adventure to end the day is to jump off the bridge into the water below. Only 4 of us worked up the nerve, and I think my heart restarted.

Our walk back to the hostels resulted in being covered in mud (and probably poop, let's face it) and being very grateful for a (cold) shower and dry clothes.

So yes, that was my weekend. Actually that was all done in one day. 2 days of driving for one day of pure adrenaline and excitement and beauty.

I would love to upload photos but Blogger won't let me, so the ones on Facebook and Instagram will have to do.

Here I am in week 2 and very excited for the adventures that await.

XO Ale (Alex in Spanish is Ale, pronounced Al-eh)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Day 4: All the Chicken Buses

Before I came to Guatemala I was warned about the chicken buses - they are school buses that have been painted in bright coliurs and blast music, and it's common to have 3 people per seat. Muy squishy. They are super cheap and people pile in and can be daunting if you're not prepared for them to hurdle down the streets. But that's Guatemala, and it is actually a great ride. Which is great because to get to and from Vida, where I'm volunteering, it takes about 30-50 minutes each way. Luckily I have Meg with me each way so I'm not alone.

Here is a break down of my day each day:
7:00 AM: breakfast is served!
9:00 - 11 AM: Spanish class.
11:15 AM: head to Maximo Nivel (the volunteer HQ) to find other people for lunch
1:00 PM: head to the bus station
2:00-5:ish PM: volunteer with some of the cutest kids at Vida. There is quite the language barrier still, but I play a lot with the kids in the yard, and try my best to help them with their crafts and anything else they need.
6:00 PM: dinner is served and I am always late!
The rest of the evening is Spanish homework and often meeting up with other volunteers for a drink. EVERY night is ladies night at different bars. I've done 2 so far and I danced my butt off last night!

I have met some truly amazing people this week. From the other volunteers to Olga, my house mom, to the people at Vida to the locals, it has been great so far and everybody welcomes you into their life.

This weekend I am going to a place called Semuc Champey. There are waterfalls and hiking and caves and swimming and it all just sounds amazing. It is a 10 hour bus ride each way but I've been told it is worth it. !!!!

That's all I have for today, Mr. Moose lost an antler. On day 1 I think. I'm pretty sad, not gonna lie. Don't worry though, I won't let it ruin my trip.

Hasta luego!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Day 1: Learn All the Spanish

So here I am, sitting in a garden with WiFi on day 1 of my adventure. Let me tell you, Antigua is such a beautiful town. There are cobblestone streets and restaurants and shops everywhere. My house mom is very friendly but I feel awkward with the communication barrier. I have enrolled in Spanish classes that will start tomorrow at 9am and I will definitely take them every day that I am here.
There are a lot of dos and don'ts. The hardest for me is that we shouldn't eat fruit that is cut up and sold on the street because of how dirty it is and the word parasites was thrown out there and hell no.

The other volunteers are friendly and young. I am for sure the oldest newbie, but they are sure to keep me young!

This weekend I plan on taking a trip to Lake Atitlan. It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places and I have been looking forward to it for awhile! I think it will be the perfect first tour.

Someone said that they hoped to be able to shop at Target. So there's that. Also, I've been told I have to go to the McDonalds here because it is the fifth most beautiful McDs in the world and you could get married there. (Next week's post will not be about me getting hitched in a fast food chain.)

Hasta luego!