Gringa [or close enough] in Guatemala

October 2, 2009, 4:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m home.

Busy adjusting to a different time zone, drinking tap water, speaking english, driving on the left side of the road and the strangest to adjust to…throwing toilet paper in the toilet again (it goes in a bin in guate).

Mostly it has been easy settling back in so far; in fact everything here is so different that it feels a little as though my Guatemala adventure was just a dream…Narnia style, like I stepped into another world for a few months and when I came back it was as if no time had passed. Strange.

But everything seems so quiet and organised; I miss the music and general volume of life in Guatemala. I miss the colours and the food (although I think my stomach is appreciating eating australian food) and most of all I miss the girls at Salem.

Have already been to the doctor and am undergoing several tests to identify exactly what’s wrong with me and how they can help. Have also been advised to rest up a lot, which is actually a little hard for me after being so busy and living such an adventure for most of this year…

Thankyou so much to everyone for your support, encouragement and prayers during this year. It has been an incredible and life changing trip, and definitely not my last to Latin America.

Feel free to keep in contact.

Que Dios les bendiga y hasta luego!


CNN/Compassion International on Guatemelan Food Crises
September 21, 2009, 8:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Interesting CNN news clip with Compassion International on food crises and child malnutrition in Guatemala. Check it out here.

Farewell Salem…
September 19, 2009, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Deepness, Life in Guatemala

I finished up at Salem yesterday.

It was harder than I thought.

I´m not even sure why, up until the actual goodbye part I felt pretty calm and collected, and ready to leave.

But they made a big deal of it and made the day special…so somewhere in between the pizza for lunch (a big deal for salem!) and the road trip to the city and seeing the girls delight and fear when using escalators for the first time in Tikal Futura (shopping centre) and eating ice creams in Pollo Campero while each girl took a turn to say nice things to me and realising that there´s a good chance I might never see these people again, my heart started to ache…

And then when they dropped me off at my house late at night and prayed for me and each gave me a hug the tears started, and didn´t want to stop.

And I realised how much this country has taught me about loving people, about living in communities and about taking the time to make the effort to encourage someone and tell them when you appreciate them.

And I realised how much these precious girls have taught me about enjoying each day and making the most of opportunities despite the challenges life throws at us.

And I realised how much they´ve all taught me about generosity as they all piled my arms high with presents from their own limited treasure collections…stuffed toys, yo-yos, posters.

And I realised that children can actually become my really, really good friends, even if they are a third of my age; when I was having lonely-far away from friends and family-moments they gave me so much in the way of friendship and hugs and love and encouragement.

And I realised in spite of all the language difficulties and cultural differences that I have really connected with the people I´ve worked with and come to care for them so much.

And I realised that people and community and family and love really are the most important and fulfilling things in life…even though I´ve missed some comforts from home, like hot showers and carpet and having a car and speaking the language, they just don´t seem as important to me now and I would trade them in an instant for those real, true connections with people if I ever had to.

I have honestly never felt such sadness during a goodbye before…weird, deep, strange achy feelings…
But I am so glad I spent that time there in Salem, and so glad I let myself love these girls so much, and looking forward to opportunities to love more precious kids like this in the future….

Poverty in Guatemala according to CNN
September 19, 2009, 11:57 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

“According to the World Bank, about 75 percent of Guatemalans live below the poverty level, which is defined as an income that is not sufficient to purchase a basic basket of goods and basic services. Almost 58 percent of the population have incomes below the extreme poverty line, which is defined as the amount needed to purchase a basic basket of food.” CNN

10 days left in Guatemala
September 15, 2009, 6:43 pm
Filed under: Life in Guatemala

Just over a week to go.

Life has been pretty uneventful actually, as have only had a quiet few days resting up to try and get some strength back for my last days at El Castillo (on top of the stomach bugs had a full on head cold). Have taken the opportunity to sleep, prepare farewell gifts like a photo collage for Salem, write cards to people, spend way too much time online getting reacquainted with the world and what is happening outside of Chimaltenango, watched TV for the first time in ages and discovered the TV show ¨I survived a Japanese gameshow¨. Also had to speak in spanish in front of a crowd. That was interesting! But I think I got my message across ok. Was a training day for all the host families and mentors for the new striders (volunteers) coming.

Where I locked myself out of. Photo was taken while I was locked out.

Where I locked myself out of. Photo was taken while I was locked out.

Funny how you do stupid things when you´re sick (well, that´s my excuse anyway!). Like going outside to deliver something to the neighbours – favour for the couple I live with – only to return and realise you definitely left your keys inside. The prospect of sitting outside for hours waiting until for my host fam to arrive after dark didn´t appeal to me so I surprised myself when I managed to scale up a neighbours door, crawl across a wall and jump down into the front garden – all the while thinking of all the numerous people I know who have fallen off roofs this year and hoping I wouldn´t be joining them! A crowd of little boys had gathered to watch the spectacle. I quickly reassured them that it was actually in fact my house, I made some new friends and they helped me deliver the last of my flyers.

This was my second time to break in somewhere recently, and it turns out it´s easier than I would have thought considering all the barbed wire and barred windows you find in this part of the world. I managed to crawl through one of the tiny windows at Salem a few weeks back when I arrived to find an empty house. The kids do it when we forget the keys, so I figured if they could, why couldn´t I? Where there´s a will, there´s a way! (window has since been fixed to avoid randoms crawling in)

Emotions are a bit up and down these last days…At times I am excited to be returning home and seeing everyone, and relieved to have the chance to get my health sorted; tired of feeling so run down. But I have had too much time alone to think, and since this is the kind of work I hope to devote my life to helping (whether in Australia or here) I keep battling the feeling that I could have done more in my time here in Guatemala; could have learned more, could have visited more projects, improved my spanish more, made more of a contribution to Salem, looked after my health better. I keep feeling scared that as soon as I leave I am going to remember something I really should have done these last few days. I don´t know why. But that´s what I keep feeling. And honestly I feel a bit strange about going home after so long, and just trying to slot back into my old life. Things will have changed. And so I have I. May be strange. Or may be completely fine. We´ll see. Wow ok lots of rambling and honesty on my blog…can you tell I have been alone for 3 days with no one to talk to? Gah, I´m such a girl! Kudos to you if you read all of that!

There are 3 new volunteers coming from England and Switzerland to work at El Castillo, 2 of whom arrive this week. Glad to see more help coming in and will be fun to meet them before I go.

Finally back off to Salem tomorrow (they won´t let me work more than 3 days a week now…said, and I quote, they ¨don´t want to send me home dead¨) to spend my last mornings getting up at 5am, cooking ridiculous amounts of food and helping out with homework. Going to share a bit of Australia…anzac biscuits and cadbury chocolate…should be good.

Entonces, hasta luego!

Some things I have learnt these 9 months
September 11, 2009, 8:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
  • Always carry toilet paper. Especially when living in the developing world.
  • You don´t need much to survive. It is totally possible to live out of a backpack.
  • And it is totally possible to live outside of your comfort zone, even if it is uncomfortable.
  • That ¨there are no shortcuts to any place worth going¨.
  • That I am so grateful and blessed to know what life is like outside of a garbage dump
  • I have so many opportunities and choices in my life and will never take them for granted again.
  • That I could not survive without my faith in God.
  • It doesn´t hurt you to be uncomfortable for awhile. ie. cold showers, squishy bus rides.
  • When all else fails, laugh. It will get you through anything.
  • That missionaries and volunteers who are here long term (as in years) really are incredible, hardworking and selfless people
  • And that we could do a whole lot more to encourage and support them
  • That in unkown cultures with strange languages you will regularly embarrass yourself. and that is ok.
  • Guatemalans are incredibly friendly and generous people
  • We could really do to be more friendly in Australia
  • And that we could really afford to be more generous and hospitable in Australia
  • It´s actually not that hard to learn another language
  • The world is a lot bigger than I thought it was
  • The world is a lot more broken than I thought it was
  • And that I have fewer answers than I thought I had
  • But that love – the forgiving, unconditional, giving type – really is the most important thing
  • And that it is totally possible to make a difference in the world.

My last Guatemalan email newsletter..
September 11, 2009, 8:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As emailed out on the 11 sept…

Hola again from Guatemala!
Here is another…and sadly my last…news from life in Guatemala.

Life in Salem lately has been busy, noisy, happy and messy as always.

Fun in Salem

Fun in Salem

The beautiful Salem girls are all doing well, except for a flu that they are all generously sharing with each other (and me!).

Last Saturday they had their ´visitas´…once a month they get to meet up with their families, or whoever from their family is willing to come to the visit. It is an exciting time for them, they spend time the night beforehand making cards and drawings to give to parents and siblings. It is hard for some of them though if their families´ don´t show up. One of the normally cheerful little girls, Amarilis, was crying yesterday because she didn´t get to see her mum this weekend. I remember asking her once if she was happy in Salem. She told me she was, but not very happy because she doesn´t have her mummy there. Although they are so well cared for in Salem, my heart still breaks for these girls having to do life on their own at such a young age.

[El Castillo does believe that the family is the best place for these kids and works continually with each of the children´s families, to try to improve their situations so that the kids can go home. But sadly often the situations are so bad that it´s just not going to happen in the near future. A hug and a lolly later and Amarilis was fine. ]

As for other news, September 15th is Independence Day in Guatemala but it turns out that for patriotic Guatemalans the whole month is basically a celebration. There are fiestas in each town and Guatemalan flags are hanging from every rooftop and car windshield. Today the girls were very excited because the El Castillo school celebrated with ¨La Torcha¨…a mini marathon run with a torch to celebrate independence day…thankfully the bus follows behind for those that need a rest!

Wednesday night before going to church we took the girls to the local market where they spent time handing out food and clothes to the children and adults rummaging among the rubbish there. The rubbish in the markets stinks. Picture huge big piles of rotting fruit and veg and who knows what else right in the middle of the market. Along with the children and adults looking for things of worth there and eatting scraps, there are hundreds of stray dogs scavenging and fighting. A lot of the girls have come from situations like those they were giving to, so it was a good opportunity for them to learn to pass on the blessings they have received. They were so enthusiastic about it and did a great job!

The children handing out food and clothes at the local market.

The children handing out food and clothes at the local market.

So this is my last newsletter because thanks to yet another bout of amoebas and several other bacterial infections I have been advised by my australian doctor to return home to rest, get treatment and give my stomach a chance to recover before possibly doing some long term damage. I am disappointed to be leaving here almost four months earlier than planned but definitely hope to come back in the future.

If there´s one thing I´ve learnt in these last 9 months, it´s that it is actually very possible to give these kids from the streets a chance at a decent future.

Yes it´s hard work, but with the resources and people, it´s possible. Unicef estimates that there are 40 million children living on the streets of Latin America, and just because I am leaving Guatemala now doesn´t mean that I will forget them. I can´t forget them. I have had a chance to see their struggles and their joys first hand, and I plan to do what I can to help them whether I am in Australia or in Latin America.

Saying goodbye will be hard. Little Amarilis, the girl I mentioned before, said to me out of the blue yesterday, ´You know that I love you a lot, don´t you?´ and I just couldn´t tell her I have to leave next week…pray for me!!

If you are interested in learning more about the lives of these children, Toybox sends out a fantastic fortnightly prayer email newsletter with stories from the streets…you can sign up here:

MUCHISIMO GRACIAS to everyone for your invaluable encouragement and support during these 9 months. And to my Australian family and friends, will be home end of September, can´t wait to see you! 🙂

Dios les bendiga MUCHISIMO! Adios de Guatemala,
Gemma Freeman.