Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our sponsored girls

It has been a crazy past few weeks! LOTS going on at work; Michael and I hosted Thanskgiving for my family; and we're getting ready to go to Guatemala soon.

However, I received some pictures today from Sharon at Mayan Families that I wanted to share with everyone.

Some very generous donors (you know who you are!) sent money for food for Juana's family after she had her baby. It took a while for the family to get the message that food was waiting for them at the Mayan Families headquarters, but they finally did, and they came this week.

Unfortunately, Sharon was not there when they came, so she did not get to speak with the family. But the staff did take photos...although not of the baby! I don't think the staff knew how many people are waiting to hear about the baby.

Juana already looks older to me. You can see she's got the sling for the baby knotted across her chest, like her mom does.

I'm hoping we'll get to see the family in person when we go down. We have bought them a tamale basket, and we'll also be bringing down some gifts for them. Among other things, my mom found cute hoodies for the two babies (Juana's and her baby brother).

We have renewed Candalaria's school sponsorship for next year. Unfortunately, Juana, as you know, is no longer going to school.

But Candelaria has passed to the next grade, as we saw from her report card. So that's good news! We'd love to see her raise some of those grades, though, next year.

The most important thing, however, is that she stays in school. We've learned this from experience.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christmas Tamale Basket Drive

If you're starting to get into the holiday spirit and looking for a Christmas charity, this might just be the ticket!

As I have mentioned, Michael and I will be going down to Guatemala next month to help with some of Mayan Families' service projects. One of the projects is putting together the Christmas Tamale Baskets.

The Guatemalan Christmas tradition is to have a special tamale meal at midnight. Unfortunately, there are a great many indigenous people who cannot afford to eat much of anything for Christmas. This year has made it even more difficult, now that food prices have risen 38% in Guatemala.

So one of Mayan Families' major projects is putting together baskets containing all the fixings for a traditional tamale meal and distributing them to needy families.

However, they can't do it without support! Mayan Families relies on donors to sponsor the estimated 800 baskets that are needed.

You can help! For $35 you can give a Christmas Tamale Basket and feed a family of 12 or more. The Christmas basket is made of plastic and will be used afterwards by the family to stack and wash dishes, hold food, etc. The food items will include: oil, 15 lbs of rice to make the tamales, a block of drinking chocolate (this is traditional to drink at midnight), a loaf of bread with which they eat the tamales at midnight, raisins for the tamales, grapes, apples, sugar for the tamales, 5lbs of meat, tomatoes, one pound of coffee, and leaves to wrap the tamales.

If you would like to donate, please follow this link:

I will be posting tons of photos from our experience, so if you are able to contribute, you'll be able to see your money at work.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sneak preview of Nicaragua/Panama

Ok, I inadvertently lied in my post from Saturday. I said the next entry would start my adventure in Nicaragua and Panama in February 2005. In the meantime, I just had to post about a few other very important things.

But I'm back! To give you a taste of what's to come, here are some of my favorite pictures from this trip. That'll give you a hint of what's in store!

Horse-drawn utility vehicle in Granada, Nicaragua

The building that set my imagination spinning

Buying an alarm clock in Nicaragua

Chicken bus to Masaya

The incredible view of Panama City from Casco Viejo

There is so much more to come!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Don't miss this Charity Raffle!

I want to give my blogger friend, Nikki, a plug here. Nikki is the one who did the graphical design of my blog, and I have featured her several times in my posts, primarily because of her fascinating and moving accounts of her volunteer work at home in Canada and abroad.

Nikki's a college student, and she's planning a trip to Ethiopia next year to do more volunteer work. To help fund her travels, she is now holding a raffle with lots of fantastic prizes, including gorgeous jewelry, various handmade items, as well as a blog makeover.

Half of the proceeds of the raffle will go to World Vision, a Christian relief organization through which she sponsors a child in Ethiopia, and half will go towards Nikki's trip.

Selfishly, I can't wait to read about Nikki's time in Ethiopia, so I've already bought raffle tickets!

Check it out! The drawing is November 20, so don't wait!

Race and politics

I made a conscious decision not to talk about politics on this blog. Why? Politics give us reason to form prejudices about other people, make assumptions about who they are and what they believe. More often than not, they are divisive and take us far from our common humanity.

But I'm going to make one exception today.

Last night, Michael and I watched The Great Debaters, a movie based on a true story about a debate team at a small black college in the 1930s that went on to break the race barrier by competing against white institutions, all the way up to Harvard.

Now, the film is rather formulaic (some reviewers compared it to a traditional sports movie); however, there are a few scenes so powerful that made me understand racism in America like I never have before.

Growing up in liberal, northeast communities most of my whole life, racism has seen more abstract, and I have witnessed very few overt racist acts. More often than not, it is something that I speculated -- was that decision based at all upon the person's race? Is this person treating that person differently because of their race?

However, what this film allowed me to experience viscerally was the fear of being the victim of racial violence -- something that was a very real possibility even for educated middle class black families that seemed, color aside, a lot like mine.

I was amazed that things were like this in the South not even one hundred years ago. But at least they are different now, I thought last night. And now we even have a black President!

So imagine my utter disbelief and disgust finding this article in the news this morning: Election spurs 'hundreds' of race threats, crimes.

Politics are politics. If you voted against Obama because you don't agree with his policies, that does not make you a racist. A great many Americans saw beyond race when making their political decision, whether for a Democrat or a Republican.

While it was not the deciding factor for me in my vote, I am very happy that the race barrier has been broken for the highest office in the land. (Now we just need to see the gender barrier broken, as well!)

But it really disturbs me that there are people so hateful that they are hoping for the President's death and teaching their children that. How else would a schoolbus full of second- and third-graders be chanting "assasinate Obama"?

I wish all those people could see movies like The Great Debaters and realize the horror of their ways and the humanity of us all.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My past life as a solo traveler

Long before I started this blog, I led quite a different life. I held a job where I only worked and slept, which resulted in two things: 1) I was single, and 2) I lived for my vacations.

I always wanted to share my travel photos and stories with the world, but I never really knew how I could do it back then. So, better late than never, I am going to start presenting some of these now, with the perspective of time.

Back before Michael and I got together, I loved the thrill of traveling solo. Why? There was nothing more exhilirating than being completely responsible for your own itinerary, from the planning stages all the way to getting off the airplane in a completely foreign country, knowing that thousands of doors were open to you. The success or failure of the journey lay firmly in my own hands.

I took three major trips back in that phase of my life, between when I came back from studying in Germany and when I started at my current place of work. They were:
  • Mexico, September 2003

  • Panama, February 2004

  • Nicaragua and Panama, February 2005
The February 2005 trip was the longest, most ambitious, and also the one where I had a digital camera! So I will start with this one.

Now, let me preface this series with the fact that I did not really know about voluntourism back then, and it had not occurred to me that I could give back during my travels. If I were to do it again, I would definitely look into non-profits I could help, at least a little, on my way.

However, in keeping with the theme of my blog, these are tales of change, in addition to travel. I learned about parts of the world I had never really considered before, and I became a self-sufficient solo traveler. When I look back on 2003 through 2005, these trips are among my greatest personal achievements.

So, for the armchair travelers out there, I'm writing this with you in mind, and I will do my best to give you the fullest sense of what it was like to make these journeys. And for those aspiring world travelers, particularly those who wonder what it would be like to travel solo, I am writing this for you, as well. It would be an honor to inspire your future journeys.

Here I am in Nicaragua in February 2005 with my backpack and camera, ready for the adventure to start.

In my next post, the journey begins!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I totally missed the Bloggers Unite day yesterday, which was focused on the plight of refugees.

However, I want to point you all in the direction of two great posts:

1) My friend, Kristine, who wrote about Iraqi refugees, as well as the various ways you can get involved.

2) My friend, Nikki, who is currently volunteering with refugees living in Canada.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Guatemala Update

What a long and eventful week! We had our anniversary, Election Day, and lots and lots going on at work.

It's hard to believe that we will be traveling to Guatemala next month!

I've got an assortment of things already, including lots of stuffed animals from Tricia, hotel shampoos and soaps I've been collecting over the past six months, a backpack, and some small toys.

My mom has been diligently collecting some items, which she'll bring at Thanksgiving, and a few other people have offered to give us things to bring down. Thank you all very much for your efforts!

If you'd like to get involved, Michael and I still have room in our suitcases!

I know it's a difficult economic time, so I'm really only looking for things you might have lying around your home.

If you have any gently used items that you have no need for, we would be happy to take them down.

Here are some possibilties:
-Any kind of children's toys (small and light are best)
-Children's books in Spanish
-Puzzles and educational games in Spanish
-Babies' and children's clothing
-Sheets to fit a full-size bed
-Large suitcases (we actually need several to haul the donations down there that we can just leave in Guatemala)

In addition (unused items):
-Hotel or travel-sized toiletries, such as soap and shampoo
-Underwear and socks
-Medical supplies, such as first aid items, pain medications, and veterinary medications (even expired is ok, as long as expiration date is within a year)

If you have anything else you would like to donate, please let us know! You can email me at

Monday, November 3, 2008