Living in the Third World with Kids
Traveling to Guatemala
Zella “a.k.a. Rosa or Rosita”, Zada (a.k.a. Mae-la) and I set out for our Guatemalan adventure on January 14th. Zella was disappointed to be leaving Vancouver just as the “big snow” was setting in. We took off on a sunny day with a light dusting of the infamous white stuff—rare in Vancouver. I had planned for a 7 hour first leg of the trip but only 3 hours later the girls and I arrived in Houston, TX where we met up with the other three families we were traveling down with. (Long story shirt: my friends Leif and Cilla decided to go to Guatemala to live for a couple of months with their 5 year old son adopted from Guatemala. So I decided to go too. And so did their neighbors. And so did my friend in Cleveland.)
We all played together in the airport for a couple hours and then jumped on another plane for 2.5 hours to Guatemala City. I had wrapped a mountain of gifts for the girls and they were quite amused by unwrapping these “new” (i.e. stolen from random piles around the house) wonders. Oh, and the biggest hit of the trips? Organic cereal-Os strung on string with little bits of dried fruit. The girls went crazy for these and would do anything for them.
The flights went well although I did manage to lose Zada Mae’s baby doll, her stainless steel baby bottle, and Zella’s water bottle. I did manage to keep track of both of the girls, however, so I am considering that part of the journey a success.
Thanks to Cilla and Leif and their great knowledge of Guatemala (and Spanish), we had booked a van to meet us at the airport and take us away from Guatemala City to the historic, smaller, quieter (and safer) Antiqua, which is only about an hour a way.
Traveling to San Marcos
First, A Stop in Antiqua
The four families stayed together there in two rooms for four nights and four days. During that time we got to enjoy hot showers, delicious breakfasts, and take care of some basics (like getting Guatemalan cellphones) and learning to say: Bien! Bueno! Mucho gusto! Como estas? And Me llamo Manda et Me anos es….. (Because for some reason everyone wants to know your age, your children’s ages, the age of your espouso…) It’s really funny.
Getting to San Marcos
Getting to San Marcos involved piling five adults, five kids, and 14 bags of stuff into the equivalent of minivan. We drove for three hours and had a break for lunch with Greg and Heather who are building the Somos Children’s Village for orphaned Guatemala children. The van took us to Pana where we then hired a boat that took us (bumping and careening) along Lake Atitlan to San Marcos. It was a beautiful trip, but you have to bring your own life jackets. Gulp.
In San Marcos
San Marcos is the Guatemala equivalent to a hip, alternative island in the Pacific Northwest: It has a relatively integrated mix of Mayans and exPats from around the world. There is quite a bit of respect between the groups and it does not have the gross feel of some places where foreigners and locals mix. In fact, projects like Escuela Caracol (the Waldorf school Zella is attending) are part of that as it is run by locals and foreigners, has trained the first Mayan Waldorf teachers anywhere, and has a mix of children and languages.
The town has just one real road, which is made of big stones and is lined by vegetable sellers and Tuk Tuk drivers and then stretches of dry, stony jungle. The rest of the town, including most of the restaurants, homes, and stores are along “roads” that are stony, dry, narrow paths that are the equivalent of very rough mountain biking trails. It is down one of these and up another that we travel to Zella Rosa’s school.
A word about names.
In Spanish the “Z” sounds is more like an “S” and thus Zella and Zada’s names are very hard to pronounce. Zella, therefore, is Rosa (or as one of her friend’s says: Rosella and as most people say “Rosita.” Zada Mae is Mae-la. A name that the locals love to say and usually remember. Everyone runs up to Mae-la and pinches, holds, and loves her. She, in turn, is fluent at baby Spanish, hollering: “Hola!” and “Dias” and “Ka Ka.”
A word about houses.
The girls and I have moved three times since being in San Marcos. The first place that I had paid for and reserved was a “newly finished” little concrete bungalow by the water. Unfortunately, that meant not quite finished concrete bungalow strongly off-gassing fumes from paints and varnishes AND with two unfinished homes in the “yard” with tools lying around, exposed beams, and other precarious drop-offs. I moved in at 6 p.m. and moved out at 6 a.m. the next day. The girls and I moved in with a friend for the next week: a sweet little one bedroom with an extra bed in the kitchen. The girls and I spent about a week there where the girls and we got no less than a dozen bed bug bites.
Life starts early
We finally moved into a big house with windows and even—gasp— hot water that was next to the school. Photo below is of Zella taking a “bath” which requires me boiling water on the stove to supplement the warmish shower water.