A Big Final Step for Britani

Two steps forward.  One step back. ALWAYS!  If we think we have something completed, well we don’t.  It’s just the way it is and we are learning what it means to be persistent and stubborn and patient.  Last November I told you about Britani who was in the process of getting her birth certificate which would allow her to attend school.  She is 7 and has never been registered, has never legally existed.   So we were excited in November when it seemed the process was finally complete and Britani started school for the first time.

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But the story was not finished – not even close.  After I wrote that Blog post, things slowed down.  The government registration offices said too much time had passed.  The final papers we needed were no longer accessible at the hospital – they are only kept for 5 years.  The whole process had to start from the very beginning. A lawyer, more offices, more trips to the hospital in San Pancho and saddest of all – no more school for Britani.  At the end of December, the school reminded us that 2 months had passed and no papers had been produced.  Britani could not return to school after the Christmas break.  Just one more sad letdown for this little one.

But Super Director Veronica kept knocking at the door, kept pushing.  We kept picking Mama up and driving her to the hospital, to the registration office.  It was sad but hilarious when they put Britani’s 7-year-old foot in ink and stamped it in the box on the birth certificate form that was the size of the baby foot it was intended for.

But finally!  This week Britani received her Birth Certificate – with Grant and I signing as witnesses and friends and weekend parents.   Her life, well it is still full of challenges that make me cry every day, but tomorrow morning she can go to school.  She can learn and grow and dream of what she wants to be when she grows up.  She can be like the other little girls who are 7.  And that is a big deal for Britani!

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Gael Goes to Guadalajara

This is an update my husband Grant wrote to tell you about our trip with Gael to Guadalajara – another one of ‘those days’!

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2 hours into our drive and the sun is just rising

As you probably read last week, we recently took a trip to visit the implant doctor and his team in Guadalajara, excited to take the next steps in this journey.  Our team on the ground here in Mexico, made up of myself and Karen (English/some Spanish), Francisco (bilingual), Gael (charade and hand signal language) his mother Mariela (only Spanish) and Laura his Manos mama ( only Spanish) left  home a little before 5 am and traveled to Guadalajara, arriving at the doctors’ offices in the hospital a little after 10:00 am.  We met the surgeon and team leader Dr. Hector Macias and discussed the process and what would be required for the final testing.  And then the challenges began—how could we not have expected challenges?

The first test we were expecting was an MRI, but we were informed that the MRI machine at the hospital was out of service and we would need to go to a private clinic—and would it be ok as the cost there was going to be over $9000 pesos?  We of course agreed, but then found out there was no availability that day—we would need to return on Monday.   Sigh.

We then met with Dra. Cynthia who was to do a computerized brain scan to test Gael’s brain for its ability to process sound.  Things then got difficult—Gael refused to sit still and wear the head phones required.  No amount of convincing by Laura or Mariela was effective.  We were told then that the test would need to be done on him sleeping and were given sleeping pills for that purpose.  Of course he refused to take them, so we then slipped the contents into a juice bottle to give him when he was unsuspecting.   Dra. Cynthia told us she was leaving at 2:00 so he would have to be asleep by 1:30 if the test was to be performed.

The third important task of the day was for Gael’s mom and Laura to meet with the psychologists who would assess the caregivers and ask questions about Gael.  We should at least be able to do that right?

Francisco and I took Gael outside to run around for awhile and see if we could tire him out.  We went back inside and as we waited for the psychologists appointment Gael fell asleep in his mom’s arms.  Great—we had time!  As Laura and Mariela were called into the psychologist’s office,  Karen, Francisco and myself attempted to carry Gael through the busy hospital, down to a different floor in hopes he would sleep through the  brain testing.

20180511_124251Of course, 1/2 way to the testing office, Gael woke up and nothing could get him back to sleep.  We chose a quiet spot in the waiting area in hopes Gael would go back to sleep—but in typical Gael style, he did not want to miss a thing.  He just stared around and watched all the activity going on around,  yawning non-stop.

In the meantime, Francisco got on the phone with doctors in Puerto Vallarta to see about an MRI there—could we avoid doing this whole trip again on Monday?  Yes—we could get one for around $3600 pesos and Dr. Macias agreed that was an acceptable option.

Meanwhile, Laura and Mariel had their interviews and came to find us.  They told us that the psychologists wanted to meet with Gael, but because he was not there with them during their appointment,  the doctors had gone home and we would have to come back on Monday at for Gael to be assessed.  Sigh again.  He absolutely could have been meeting with them since he had no intention of sleeping at all but who knew they wanted to meet with him?

Later, Dra Cynthia came by and after much conversation between her, some of her associates and Francisco she took us all back to her office to see if Gael would agree to wear a hearing aid.  They had decided that this was now going to be a requirement before an implant to ensure that he was willing to have any type of device on.  Seeing his resistance to wearing a headphone earlier had worried us all—what if he just refused this whole process?   By this time Gael had already had a melt down and was adamant that he was not interested in having another bad experience with a hearing aid.  He had had a bad experience a few months ago with Dr. Austin of Starkey when a hearing aid that was turned too loud was placed on his one ear that hears low frequencies, and the loud noise badly scared him…. (probably the first really loud sound he had heard in his life!)  So a long winded conversation occurred between the Dra.  and the mothers,  Karen and Francisco adding input.   During this time the hearing aid was passed around, everyone putting it in their ear, big smiles and thumbs up in hopes Gael could get past his fear and put the hearing aid on.  After a long time he did so, and then he liked it.  In fact he loved it!  He packed it in the little box and indicated he was talking it home.  By now all doctors involved were gone home, and Dra Cynthia was also anxious to leave.    We were given the hearing aid to take home, and told that Gael needed to wear it for a month to see if he would cooperate.   We can have the brain test done in a month—and we can get it done in Tepic if we choose.

I admit we left the hospital pretty discouraged.  We had driven 5 hours through mountain roads and were going home with no MRI done, no brain test done, no completed psychological assessment.   Most importantly, no surgery date chosen.

 

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So now we regroup, schedule an MRI locally, and reschedule the brain testing and psychological assessment for Gael.  All as soon as possible.  We also continue sign language training which has helped immensely in Gael’s ability to communicate, and according to his kindergarten teaching has done wonders for his behavioral issues.  We also will look for ways to get Gael more comfortable with a hearing aid and using headphones so he will return to being cooperative when we do the brain assessment.

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Gael is still willingly wearing his aid – a good predictor of future success!

Or, we make a plan that involves keeping him up all night so he will sleep through the testing procedure with minimum sleeping pills.  At the time of posting this update Gael has been wearing the hearing aid ever since arriving home, and he loves that it is blue.

We realize that this is a very long journey for Gael and those who consider themselves his friends.  Hearing will open up a whole new world for him,  but he is currently 5 years behind his peers in hearing/speaking and in developing certain cognitive/emotional skills.  School will continue to be a very difficult experience and probably will require additional supports that we are currently looking into.  Experiencing a single-mom family situation provides further challenges.  The ultimate question remains the same: what can we do for one of God’s precious little ones—give him the very best we can.  Stay tuned.

 

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Cinco de Mayo… Huh???

It’s Cinco de Mayo – which means almost nothing here in Mexico unless you are living in the town of Puebla.  May 5th marks the Battle of Puebla but it is NOT Mexican Independence Day which many Canadians and Americans mistakenly think.   While you’ll be eating giant tacos and sipping giant tumblers of tequila while wearing giant sombreros – well that’s just another normal day here in my neighborhood.

We have, however, seen two other very Mexican cultural celebrations take place this week. The first was Children’s Day – Dia de Los Ninos – which always takes place on April 30th.  It’s a day where families and schools celebrate and honor children with parties and pinatas and candy and everything else KID.  We attended the Children’s Day Party held at Manos de Amor which was led by the students of one of the local universities.  It was a blast and we walked away covered in face paint, hotdog condiments and sticky candy remnants.

 

Manos de Amor Fiesta!

Almost 300 children attended the party at my local church

May 3rd is known as Day of the Holy Cross and it is a tradition that was brought to Mexico by Spanish missionaries centuries ago.  Mexican construction workers have taken this celebration as their own, and as we drove around our neighborhood we saw that every construction site – no matter how big or how small – had a cross erected, decorated with colorful flowers and paper streamers.    At the end of the day we saw crews of workers enjoying some food and ‘adult beverages’ together on the worksite in the shadow of the cross.   An expression of gratitude and a request for blessing and protection.

Mexicans love to party.  They love to eat and drink and dance.  Everywhere you look you see the rich symbols of Mexico’s culture displayed and celebrated.  The recent movie “Coco” is a great depiction of just how deep and passionate Mexican traditions run.  They love to honor one another – everyone has a day and a party and I can’t wait until it’s my turn on May 10th when we celebrate Dia de la Madre – Mother’s Day!  In the meantime, enjoy your Cinco de Mayo burrito – I lift a toast to you and VIVA MEXICO!

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Gloria Builds a House!

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I’d like you to meet my friend Gloria and her husband Adrian.  In fact, I’d like to invite you to join me for a Fish Feast at their new home!  I know Gloria won’t mind if you come with me – she’s proud of her new home and loves to cook and entertain.

 

I met Gloria at Manos de Amor.  She works part time in the kitchen and helps clean the home.   She speaks no English, but we are friends and I have been cheering her on for the last year as she and Adrian build their dream home down the river on the outskirts of town.

Life has not been easy for Gloria.  Just over a year ago she lost her oldest son in a car accident and she has never fully recovered.  What mom could?  Her oldest daughter has a learning disability.  But Gloria is strong and resourceful and over the past few years she has been paying tiny sums of money each month to buy a piece of land.  Her dream was to own her own home, so she would not have to pay rent.  On her small salary, the rent was killing her, and she was determined to create a better life for her family.

Finally, the day came when Gloria announced to us she had paid off the land and she was ready to start building.  And by ‘ready to start building’ I don’t mean calling a general contractor, and an architect and an engineer and an interior designer and a bunch of crews for different trades.  I mean she was literally ready to start building.  She and Adrian took a saw and some machetes and headed into the bush near their land.  They cut down trees to form the posts that would hold the structure.  Over the next few months they accumulated some cement blocks and a friend donated money for a roof.  They created two bedrooms and a tiny kitchen area for storage of food and dishes.  The cooking and eating will be done outside.  In fact, as in most Mexican homes, most of the living is done outside with family telling stories gathered around a fire.  Adrian dug a hole that will be their underground pit oven for cooking birria.  Birria is a spicy Mexican stew usually made from goat, a favorite dish from the state of Jalisco which is just a few miles from Bucerias.  The rocks in the bottom of the pit will be heated and a clay pot full of meat and chilies and other spices and covered with maguey leaves will be roasted for many hours.  Gloria also planted a garden to keep her family supplied with the important Mexican salsa ingredients – tomatoes, avocados, chilies, onions and cilantro.  To ensure her late son was not left behind as they moved into this new chapter, Gloria hung pictures of him in every room – there is no doubt he is still a big part of her family and even in her new joy, she continues to mourn.

Yesterday Gloria invited us to her home for a feast of grilled fish, homemade spicy sauces, beans and of course corn tortillas.  The entire fish was brushed with a spicy sauce made of garlic and chilies and flattened on the grill.  It was delicious and there was something comforting and liberating about pulling the white meat off the fish bones and licking the spicy sauce off our fingers.  Some of my friends popped the cooked eyeballs into their mouths – I drew the line there!

Grant and I tried to keep up with the Spanish conversation but mainly we just enjoyed sitting back and celebrating success with this family – including their 2 dogs, some cats and 2 baby parrots.  They still have work to do.  They don’t have lights yet.  Eventually they’ll have windows.   But this is their forever family home, built with their own hands and dreams and love and we say SALUD GLORIA AND ADRIAN!

 

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So the World May Hear

When you move to a new place – especially a new place like this! – you are constantly stumbling into new experiences, new places, new people.  This month we took part in a project that was outside of our normal areas of involvement with people we had never met before.  And it was very cool!

As we have been helping to raise funds for our little deaf friend Gael, we have been searching out contacts within the hearing loss community – doctors, therapists, and other service groups who just might be able to help us.  We have been learning and stretching into a whole new world that we really didn’t even know existed.  Which led us to meet Enrique and the Lions Club of Puerto Vallarta.  They were holding a Hearing Aid 30777117_10155413869121198_2007058191_nbenefit in conjunction with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, a charity that was created by Starkey Hearing Technologies and its founder William Austin.   Austin is a leader in the Hearing Aid industry who has worked with a number of US Presidents and other celebrities.  He now spends his time giving the gift of hearing to those in need.  This amazing group has donated hearing aids to people in over 100 countries and its goal is to provide 1 million aids in this decade.   This month they were in Mexico and we saw that they needed volunteers for their outreach in Puerto Vallarta.  Wanting to know more about this whole area and to meet some people who might have advice for us and for Gael, we offered to help.  We literally had no idea what we were volunteering for, but we showed up at 6:30 a.m. as requested, ready to lend a hand.

30429685_10155413870136198_1784692417_nAs we predicted, we were the only volunteers to show up at 6:30.  We noticed many Mexicans already lined up at the front door of the convention center, but when our new friend Enrique motioned us to follow him to the volunteer area, we saw we were the only ones there.    2 or 3 more arrived around 7:30, the majority after 8:00.   Why am I still surprised and why am I still showing up on time for things?  At about 7:40 Enrique’s wife came to us and said, “I am so sorry you are on time”.  You and me sister.

But finally, at around 8:30, a bus load of people wearing red T-shirts with the Starkey Foundation logo arrived and the front doors were opened to allow the long line of waiting people in.  My job was to work with the hearing specialist at the first point of contact.  As people filed in, the red shirted lady looked in each of their ears and indicated to me whether their ears were clean or not.  I had to take their application form, check a SI or NO as to clean ears and sign the paper before directing them to take their form and their little white card to the next station where their forms would be inspected.  Grant then led them to their next station – the ear washing place or the hearing aid fitting place.

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Over the next 4 hours, I marked and signed forms for 400 Mexican people.  800 ears inspected.  The youngest was 5.  The oldest was 103.  All poor.  All needing help to hear.  All excited to be receiving free hearing aids that day.  They came from around the states of Nayarit and Jalisco – from Tepic down to Manzanilla.  Some came on buses.  Some had other disabilities.  It was amazing and beautiful and I was so pleased we had showed up to see this miracle.

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As we were about to leave, Enrique’s wife came to us and said, “I would like you to meet Mr. Austin – he is a very important man.”  Now at this point, we had no idea who he was.  We knew nothing about his company, about his work with Presidents, about his billion-dollar net worth, about his philanthropy around the world.  We only knew he was offering free hearing aids to 400 Mexicans and we were happy to meet him and tell him about our small project with Gael.    His response was not what we expected.  He told us that perhaps he could help Gael with a hearing aid.  He said that he had the best hearing aids in the world and just maybe he could help.  Just maybe Gael could hear if we brought him to meet him that day.   Well you can imagine that we didn’t need to hear more.  We phoned our friend Francisco and asked him to track down Gael – we’re coming to get him and bring him here.  Just maybe…..

It took around an hour to drive back to Bucerias, pack up Gael and drive back to Puerto Vallarta.  The crowd was still large when we returned but Mr. Austin dropped everything to look at Gael.  He tried several different aids and Gael sat quietly, curious as he watched all the people in chairs around him putting these strange devices in their ears.  He seemed to understand what was happening and was very cooperative.  After 30 minutes or so, Mr. Austin said what we had already believed.   Hearing Aids will not help Gael.  He just doesn’t have enough hearing in either ear to create discernible sound.  I admit I shed a tear or two.  Even though we were receiving confirmation of what we had already learned, a tiny bit of hope had landed on my heart that afternoon.  Perhaps this was the miracle we were hoping for.  Instead we were encouraged to stay on the path we were already on.  To find a way for this little guy to have the Cochlear Implant surgery.  To help him learn sign language so he can begin to communicate while going through the whole process of surgery and speech therapy.

 

But then, as we turned away and prepared to leave, the miracle arrived after all.  It just looked different than I was expecting.  As we turned around, a young woman and an older woman were standing behind us.  They had been quietly listening.  And waiting.  I saw the name tag on the younger woman.  It said, “Sign Language”.  The older woman introduced us to Isabel and told us that she is a sign language teacher.  She lives in San Vicente and is willing to do private lessons.   Would you like her help?

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Well yes. Yes we would.  And just like that another piece had fallen into place.  Isabel now comes to Manos de Amor 3 days a week to teach Gael, his mom, and one of the Manos caregivers how to sign.  We have wanted this for a while but had no clue how to find someone who would come to us.  Had we not taken Gael to see Mr. Austin, we never would have found Isabel.

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As always, things happened exactly as they were meant to.  For Gael and for 400 other Mexicans who now have the Gift of Hearing!  Thank you to William Austin and the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

https://www.starkeyhearingfoundation.org/

 

 

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Should I help? How? How much?

My husband Grant has written some great thoughts about how to help people when you live in a place that can overwhelm you with need – a place like Mexico, a place like our neighborhood.   I think he nailed it!  What do you think?

Sick of being asked for a handout every day? I wrestle constantly when I encounter people with needs looking for a handout—whether it is the guy with no legs on a hand peddle cart, or the woman with deformed legs being pushed in a wheel chair, or the woman and child begging on the bridge, or the guy yelling “hey mister how about today?” or “Can you loan me some money?” I constantly ask myself….”how much today? How much tomorrow? The change in my pocket?” “Do these people make more that the average person working at an average job in Mexico?”

Then there all the charities and the organizations—the ones for animals, for children, for seniors, for the handicapped, for orphans, for schools/kindergartens, for Christmas, for nature, for wildlife.….

And of course the special circumstances—”need money to go to my mother’s funeral, to have an operation, to buy a uniform for school, a dress for kindergarten graduation”, ……

When there are no social safety nets these questions will never go away. So I have narrowed it down to a few questions/thoughts for myself:

  • Will supporting this change a life profoundly? Or will the need always be there, never corrected? A medical operation that will allow someone to see, or to hear that now cannot—that is life changing. A surgery to rebuild the body so that it can work again is correcting a bad situation that will not repeat itself.
  • How responsible does this person need to be to correct this situation? Or are they a victim of things beyond their control? Giving to the wino or drug addict probably will assist them in not hitting bottom and being forced to change their life and get help. Giving to the orphanage that cares for abused and abandoned kids, who are in no way responsible for where they have found themselves may definitely help correct a bad situation. Giving to the kids forced by their parents to sell on the beach and streets so they do not have to work or because they want to buy alcohol – that is a mess—give the kids food and support an organization that gets kids off the street and into school.
  • If I help this person are they of a character to give back in the future to others or will what I give be wasted to no end, and will the need be perpetuated by lack of personal responsibility? Helping the mother that has repeatedly abandoned her kids leaving them hungry will not solve the problem. Reporting the problem to DIF (social services) may correct the problem. Supporting the relatives or organization that helps the kids also is very useful.
  • If I don’t give money, will this person find another way to meet the need? Don’t be the quick easy answer to someone else’s struggle. Maybe give them a small job so they don’t fall into begging…. or stealing….
  • Is there something here that will give me or others great personal satisfaction? Will seeing the child in the kindergarten dress (that looks like a wedding dress) give me happy memories and a feeling of satisfaction? Buy it. If not don’t.

So this is what I have decided:

  • Give the change in my pocket randomly to those who seem to be in a retracted long term need. ie. The guy with no legs, the crippled woman, etc.
  • Give what costs me little to the one that will probably squander it soon. ie. An old pair of beach shoes to the addict with no shoes. An old bed to the person who lost their’s from being kicked out of the last house for not paying rent…..
  • Save my larger amounts for those in legitimate emergencies or for those that will experience a profound life change. Profoundly changing a life gives me great satisfaction…that’s when its time to give.
  • Organizations that make profound change in the lives of those who do not deserve to be where they are get the long term support.

I would love to hear your thoughts as to how you deal with this yourself. Please comment and share….

Currently there is one life that I am working hard at helping change. He was born profoundly deaf to a young single mother and a system that has no means to help him. No fault of his own, and giving can make a profound difference. Without a cochlear implant this profoundly deaf child has no hope of a regular normal life. Put in an orphanage by his grandmother as he has become too hard to handle, and not even the resources to get to a school for the deaf. With an implant and a couple years of speech therapy this child becomes like any other with a hope for the future….and a much higher likelihood that he will then want to give back when he can. Please check his story—www.youcaring.com/gaelsgiftofhearing

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Sunday is Market Day

Sunday is one of my favorite days.  Many Mexican people work 6 days a week, and since Sunday is their only day off, it is a real family day.  A day for errands and fun and rest and food and shopping.  We have decided it will be the same for us.  Turn off the computers and get out into the community.  If we have children staying with us, they are dragged along, and we feel like a real local family.  We always start with church – a lively bilingual experience with young Mexican families and old grey-haired gringos.

The afternoon is for the pool or the beach, but first is the market – the tianguis as it is called here.  This area of Banderas Bay is interesting because it is a real mix of developed Mexico (Walmart and Home Depot and Costco) and undeveloped Mexico (dirt roads and horses and chickens).   We live in a very Mexican neighborhood and have chosen to do most of our shopping at the local shops and stands – the fruit store and the fish store and the many taco stands and street restaurants.  And on Sunday it’s the tianguis in the dry river bed.  Blocks and blocks of tables set up to sell produce and clothes and toys and tools and electronics and miscellaneous junk.  New stuff and used stuff.  This is where we go to buy our fruit and vegetables each week – giant bags of bananas and pineapples and avocados and even eggs that add up to $10 or $15.  Enough for the entire week.

I thought you might like to see some of the sights we see each week and to watch the video of us driving through the neighborhood on our way home from the market in our little blue golf cart.   It’s long – 5 minutes – and it’s bumpy, but it shows exactly where … and how… we live.

 

 

 

Now, jump in the golf cart with us….

This is certainly not the life I expected to live here – but it’s the life we love!   Thanks for joining us on the ride.

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