Friday, December 23, 2016

Pre-Christmas at Casa Guatemala...

...and thoughts on my volunteer experience
Snow in the jungle
It is traditional in Guatemala to host Christmas parties leading up to the big day called posadas. You can read more about them as they are also common in Mexico and other Latin Americans countries with heavy Catholic influence. Pretty much they are reenacting the story of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus looking for a room at an inn. Except, and this is important, with singing! The guests sing to request entry and the hosts sing to accept. The song goes back and forth maybe 5 versus and ends in a fun chorus. Casa Guatemala had 4 of these posadas and I was able to attend 3. I had actually been to a posada hosted by a Posada previously but didn't realize it. Angelo's uncle Danny hosted one while we were living in San Diego about 5 years ago. We all hated the singing and just wanted to eat but in retrospect I'm really glad I was able to participate. Angelo's family name on his mom's side is Posada. It usually means hotel so Angelo and I always get excited about staying at 'Posada blah blah' during our travels in Spanish speaking countries, but in the case of Christian stories - it's inn. 

Out of the three posadas, the Posada de Casa de las Ninas was my favorite. The girls get really excited leading up to hosting the party. They braid their hair and wear their best outfits. They help cook the food all day for the party. We had empanadas with carne de res (beef) and veggies with a tomato sauce and cabbage slaw. It was my favorite meal out of all my time at CG. We hang blankets over the rod iron gate that serves as the house door so that the guests can't see the hosts and vice versa. They build an elaborate nativity scene using colored sand as the ground around the figurines and crumpled paper as the river or mountains behind. Sometimes there are dinosaurs and gigantic turtles present at the birth of Jesus but....hey!
Jesus wouldn't leave anyone out. We carried all the benches from the comodor (cafeteria) to the girls house so everyone couldn't eat and celebrate in their space. Since the kids eat 3 meals a day for the entire year (especially those that live here) in the comodor, eating somewhere new is a big deal. We brought the big stereo and speakers over from the office and replaced the regular light bulbs with screw in disco lights. Those lights are really cool by the way. Whatever volunteer or other person thought to bring those to the school, great job. They really change everything. We hung up Christmas decorations made by the kids over the last month and a few favorites saved from years past. All it takes is a stapler straight into the wood to hang whatever you want at Casa Guatemala...

...One of the best volunteers even bought lights which we hung around the main room and used to decorate a small plastic Christmas tree.

As the start time approaches, we shut the doors and leave only a few lights on. You can hear our guests approaching as they sing carols. Once they arrive to the door, the special song commences. I can't read the Spanish well enough to tell you what the lyrics mean, but at the point when I can only assume we graciously allow them entry into our inn, we burst open the doors. Next we continue singing with several other carols - my favorite hands down is Burrito Sabenero. I'll post the lyrics below just for fun. At the other posada parties I had access to the lyrics notebook so I was able to sing along but at this one I couldn't see one so I just listened. After maybe 6 songs, we start serving the boys. (At the boys' party, girls are served first.) 

Once everyone is finished eating, it's dancing time. Sometimes the kids love dancing and sometimes they just sit there...I guess that's a people thing. I was internally hoping Guatemalan kids would dance more but whatta ya gonna do. The girls party though...the dancing was on. I spun around little Leysi and Miriam, picked up Ana Carolina (she's 3), and we all tried to copy the teenage girls' little choreographed moves for popular songs (like Picky, Shaky, and their absolute favorite called Andas En Mi Cabeza). I had to give Angelo a break with Magali. She loves Angelo and won't leave him alone, it's adorbs. I had a lot of fun dancing around for a good hour at least. And they leave the generator on an extra 30 minutes on posada nights so we can keep the party going until 8:30 (otherwise we'd lose the lights and music). An extra bonus for us volunteers is that everyone is together and with the teachers so we can easily sneak off and use wifi throughout our evening shift...which isn't always the case. 
Our last magnificent sunset at Casa Guatemala
It's never easy spending the holidays away from your family, but I was happy to participate in the local traditions at Casa Guatemala. After spending a month taking care of these kids every day, it was fun for me to see them celebrate and get so excited about Christmas. For a place run completely on NGO that often has to make do with what's was so amazing to see how it doesn't take more than some paper, scissors, random paints and crayons to make Christmas special. I will carry that perspective with me the rest of my life. I've always known that things people think they need, they don't really. Still, to see it played out in the hearts and minds of these people who live in the jungle, who's families struggle to keep the rain out of their thatched roofs and who send their kids to school not because of education but because they don't have to feed them, it stays with you. 

Angelo and I didn't volunteer for three months like we intended, we stayed 6 weeks. The circumstances changed and also the antsy feeling of using our travel time wisely started to overwhelm us. We wanted to make a positive impact and up to the point that we left - we did. But maybe that positivity would not have continued if we stayed beyond the moment that felt right to move on. Together, we always listen to our hearts. We talk things out and discover each other's feelings sometimes even before ourselves, it is one of my favorite things about our relationship. Ultimately, we decided that spending actual Christmas and into the New Year in the jungle wasn't what we wanted. And luckily their need during this period of time wasn't great enough to negate our want to continue our adventure elsewhere. We wouldn't have left if our time was valued and necessary, of that I am certain. 

Casa Guatemala is a beautiful place full of inspiring people. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in volunteering their time. I would suggest thinking carefully about whether to volunteer as a live-in voluntario or a tourismo who lives in town...the difference is drastic. Please feel free to write me an email if you'd like more specific information from a former volunteer. 

Mi favorita
I'm very thankful I had the opportunity to witness and participate in the lives of people completely different than myself. It's what travel is all about and I loved it.