Sisters in School

It has been a very long time coming, but finally all 3 of our weekend daughters are in school and we couldn’t be happier.   Here in Mexico children must have birth certificates before they can enroll in school, and the two youngest in this family had never been registered, never been counted, never really existed as people with the right to be educated and employed.  After more than a year of knocking on the closed doors of doctors, lawyers and other bureaucrats, Britany and Pricila finally possess the papers they need to open locked classroom doors.

During the week these girls live at Manos de Amor, Casa Hogar and on weekends they hang out with us – at the pool or at the beach, eating chorizo quesadillas and tacos.  Little Pricila has a medical issue that keeps her from living at Casa Hogar right now, so she is temporarily living with us all week.  It’s been a long time since I took a little one to her first day of school, but I was pretty excited to do so this week.  So was she!  I definitely need some practice on how to create pretty braids and keep white uniform shirts clean,  and what the heck do I do with Spanish homework?  But I’ll learn.  More importantly, finally Pricila has her own opportunity to learn… to read and to write and to dream of a future where she can grow up to be whatever she wants to be.

 

 

The Timeshare Dilemna

So the big question….. drum roll…… what do you do with your Timeshare when you move to the place where you own the Timeshare?

12 years ago, we took our first big trip to Mexico with our daughters and like many tourists, we went home with the dreaded Timeshare purchase.  It had been a great week at beautiful Paradise Village – as soon as we had made the *gulp* expensive purchase on Day 1 of the vacation, they had moved us from the crappy cheap hotel at the Marina to the 2-bedroom beauty on the beach.  We fell in love.  Not only with the hotel but with the ocean and the bay surrounded by the mountains, with the people, with the food, with the whole Mexico thing.  But when we got home, well I just thought we were probably dumb. That we would never use this crazy impulsive purchase.  I was wrong.  Every year since then we have spent at least a week or two in this favorite spot.  As soon as we drive in the entrance, I feel the stress melt and the smell of the lobby just makes me happy.  We used the Exchange program to travel to many other places around the world, but every year we were drawn back to our favorite spot on the Bay.  We brought family, we brought friends, we even brought a few missions teams who appreciated the peaceful surrounding after a long day of painting orphanages and chopping down fields with machetes where churches would be built.

In fact, we loved that Bay so much that eventually we sold our home and our business, and we moved here for good.  We definitely don’t live in a 5-star resort – we live in a modest home on an unpaved street full of chickens and potholes.  But we are surrounded by those mountains and a 5-minute walk takes us back to the Bay. So what are we going to do with 7600 points at a Timeshare resort 10 minutes away?   At first our plan was to exchange those points for visits to new destinations.  But then it hit us….. STAYCATIONS!  We can skip the airports, the layovers, the lost luggage, the customs lineups…. we can throw a bathing suit and a toothbrush in a grocery bag and head to paradise.  For a long weekend or a whole week.   And that is just what we did last weekend.  This time, we shared the fun with our two little weekend girls who have never stayed in a hotel.  We had a blast.  I think they had as much fun on the elevator in the hotel and on the escalator at the mall as they did at the pool with the crocodile slide.

We ate ice cream and nachos, we spent hours in the pool and then swapped for hours on the beach, we collected shells full of tiny crabs and boiled little white clams, and in the evening we watched the dancing entertainment in our pjs.  I felt the same magic I had felt on the very first visit to our favorite spot, the same joy I always feel here.

 

On Sunday night, we left to pick up children and return them all to Manos de Amor and then we returned for one last night alone.  We ate a picnic and watched the sun set and reflected on how our lives have changed since our first visit 12 years ago.  We both agreed that if we hadn’t found this place, if we had stayed at the cheap crappy hotel, we probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with Banderas Bay, probably wouldn’t have found ourselves here, probably wouldn’t have little children hanging on our necks every afternoon and living in our home most weekends.  On this crazy journey, we’ve found that sometimes dumb is actually smart and expensive is actually a bargain.   (Ok I’m not talking Economics here – then expensive is just expensive!)  So we’re keeping the Timeshare – and the next time you can’t find us, well we might just be in Paradise!

20180624_203651_resized

 

 

 

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.

https://karenmovestomexico.com/2017/11/09/good-news-for-britani/

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!

20180514_133502

My One Word for 2018

my-one-word-2This country has stolen my heart – and when a heart becomes connected to a person or a place or a cause it means there is the potential for that heart to be broken.  To be busted wide open.   When you love something, it has the power to hurt you too and Mexico has brought me much love along with some pain.   As I grow closer to the children of Manos de Amor, I see the suffering they carry.  Two new little boys who are so malnourished, their shoulder blades stick out like sharp knifes pushing against their t-shirts.  A sweet little 10-year-old girl who was so excited to meet the dad she hadn’t seen in years and instead found herself being repeatedly raped by him.  Three little girls whose mom promised to pick them up on Christmas Eve and then disappeared for 6 weeks.   Just. so. much. pain.

I thought carefully about my word for this year.  My guiding value.  The one thing I want to focus on, remember, search for, chase after.  At first, I thought compassion would be my word.  More love for the people I rub shoulders with.  But as a difficult December moved into January, I noticed something happening in me.  I was getting discouraged and a bit cynical and even a bit hopeless.  The stories were piling up and my heart was getting bruised.

That’s when I read a Scripture verse and found my word – well it’s actually a phrase – for this next chapter.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”    Philippians 4:8 NIV

Whatever is lovely.  I get to choose to think about what is lovely.  Yes, there is pain and suffering and injustice here.   Too much.  I have chosen to spend each day grabbing it and fighting against it.   But I know that the way to keep my heart soft is to train my mind to think about what is true.  To look for what is noble.  To overcome the crap by embracing the lovely.

So I have started looking and counting and recording.  How many good and lovely gifts can I see around me? How many will there be in a year?  Here is just the start:

  1. The sunrise and palm trees framed in my bathroom window every morning
  2. A fountain garden oasis in the middle of an office complex
  3. A coconut that broke a headlight but didn’t smash a windshield
  4. Breakfast with a view of bobbing boats
  5. Immigration card ready just in time
  6. A tiny orphan falling asleep in my arms
  7. Buttery popcorn
  8. Hot coffee and a good book in bed
  9. A husband who gets up at 5:00 to sit with little girls
  10. A home with extra rooms for the broken children who need a family
  11. Long distance friends who still love us
  12. A few unexpected moments of sleep
  13. Bacon and eggs and perfectly ripe avocados for breakfast
  14. A tiny “I’m sorry” from a little one who strayed from love
  15. A glass of wine at the end of a full weekend
  16. The smell of bleach and ajax in an almost clean bathroom
  17. I’m so Happy” sung by children who have little reason to be
  18. Sound of a marching band going by at midnight
  19. A giant pot of tamales followed by little laughing dancers
  20. My tiny garden oasis – torches and candles and fountain and wine and a wooden saxophone
  21. A goat and a turkey and a tuba – fun afternoon ride around town

And at least 40 more so far.  Honestly, I’m finding it harder than I expected.  I forget to look. I forget to rejoice.  I forget to be thankful.  Complaining is way easier.  But that’s the whole point of the ‘word’ – to embrace a new thing and to grow. So for this year, I choose to focus on whatever is lovely.   What’s your word for 2018?

315371-lovely

 

More Chasing After Illusive Papers

This week we tackled the next step of our legal residency and while it was eventually successful, it was not without the expected challenges.  As our first year of Temporary Residency comes to an end, it is time to renew our residence status for 3 more years and renew our Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for our truck.   The good news is that there is lots of information online as to how to do both of those things.  The bad news is that absolutely none of it is accurate.  Rules change here often, and online advice has not kept up.  We decided to start by heading directly to the Immigration Office to get the correct papers and procedures.  The process is pretty simple, even though it will mean 5 trips to the office in Nuevo Vallarta:  One to get the correct papers and instructions;  two to deliver the papers and photos and many copies of everything and to get the form that must go to the bank;  three to take the financial paper to the bank and return with the receipt and again many copies;  four to get our fingerprints taken when the application has been approved and; five to pick up our new Residency card.   The clerks at the Immigration Office are friendly and helpful and although it is time consuming and really poorly organized, it is not difficult and hopefully we will get an email next week saying we are approved for 3 more years and can come to give our fingerprints (which we just did a year ago and …. uhhh… they haven’t changed).

The vehicle was a little trickier.  There were so many different opinions online as to how to renew its TIP.  We asked the Immigration officer and she said we needed to go to the Customs office (Aduana) in Puerto Vallarta – across from Costco, beside the wine store.  Okay that works – I need groceries, I need wine, we can make a day of it.   When we walked into the Aduana office I stood in shock – there were DOZENS of people waiting for an appointment – maybe HUNDREDS.   It was a huge building with SO MANY PEOPLE and none of them appeared to be speaking any English.  The first woman we talked to told us we would have to take the truck back to the border.  Ah no.  Another person please.  Finally the English-speaking supervisor appeared, gave me the form we needed and told us she couldn’t help us.  We needed to go to the Aduana office at the airport.  They could help.  Sigh.  Every post I had read online said the office at the airport was absolutely NOT the place to go.  But I was more than happy to get out of that madhouse –  the airport was the next stop.

When we got to the airport, we wandered around for a while looking for the Customs office.  We found the Immigration counter – but no Aduana office.  We approached the Information Desk and a Spanish clerk directed us to the office we were looking for.  “Go outside and turn left.  Go to the end of the building, go around the corner and walk until you find the only grey door.  Knock on the door until someone comes and then tell them you want the Aduana office.”  Okay – sounds easy.  Even in Spanish, I thought I understood.

20171207_123825_resized

Imagine eyes staring through that slot!

We eventually found a grey door, but there was literally nothing on it indicating it was an Aduana office.  In fact, as I stared at the door, I notice a tiny slot in the door with two brown eyes staring at me.  After jumping out of my skin, I told the eyes that I was looking for the Aduana office.  “Uno momento”.  And the slot slid shut – was I at a government office or a rent-by-the-hour motel?  After waiting for 5 or 10 minutes, a Customs officer opened the door, and we explained what we wanted.  He took our papers and began looking through them.  And I mean ALL of our papers.  Papers in our file folder that had absolutely nothing to do with this process were inspected.  “Okay, let me get someone to help you.”  Big grey door slam.   After we waited in the tiniest triangle of shade for 15 or 20 minutes, another Customs Officer came to the door and we told her our story again. She looked over our papers and told us we needed 2 copies of these papers, 3 copies of those.  Again, the copies.  “There is a copier in the middle of the airport.”  Okay we will be back with our copies.  But the desk in the center of the airport said “No Copies.  Maybe at the nearby business mall.”    Which meant leaving the airport parking lot.  We had, of course, parked in the absolute last stall of the parking lot, and when we got to our car we realized we had forgotten to pay for our parking at the machine – INSIDE THE TERMINAL, at the furthest spot from where we were now standing.  We trekked back to the Arrivals area of the airport, paid to get out and drove a mile or two to the mall where we indeed found a copy store.  After getting our copies, we headed back to the grey door.  We knocked on the door, spoke to the eyes, waited 10 or 15 more minutes in the blazing sun and eventually another Customs Officer – now our 3rd – came to the door, inspected the papers, shuffled the copies around and told us to wait a few minutes.  It was now 2:00 – we had left home at 9:00 – and we were hot, thirsty and hungry.   But in another 10 or 15 minutes the grey door pushed open and the Officer handed us our papers – with the needed stamp.   Our truck is in – again.  For 3 more years.   And I am considering taking donations, so Customs at the Airport can have a sign, maybe even a desk and a chair, to help weary travelers who don’t want to stand outside in the parking lot while papers are being shuffled.

3 times waiting – at least – and we’re all fighting for that one triangle of shade

As we have worked through all the steps to live in this country, I have been frustrated but I am also super excited.  No one would ever go through all of this craziness unless they knew they were meant to be here, unless they were already rooted in the soil and breathing the air.  We have been grumpy, we have been angry, we have laughed, we have cried – but we have never doubted.  And that makes me happy.

How Can We Help?

The thing we have struggled with the most and continue to struggle with is how to best help the people we find in our path here.  Every day we see a need, feel some pain, touch a wound and we are not sure when we can or should help.  It is not just about money – maybe it’s least about money.

I have told you many stories about some of the families we have come to know and love.  Recently I have been sharing about the 3 girls who have stayed in our home after mom lost her house.  We are living week to week in that story and last weekend we waited at the orphanage on Friday afternoon to see if mom would come for her girls.  2 of them were in school (yay!) and the agreement was that at 4:50 she would come to pick up her youngest and then walk to the school to gather her other 2 for the weekend.  We waited and at 5:27 we decided she mustn’t be coming and we needed to go pick up the 2 at school at 5:30 and bring them home with us.  I was relieved.  We jumped in the golf cart and about 4 blocks from the orphanage we saw mom slowly walking towards the school.  So now my conscience had a battle.  Should we meet her, hand over her 5-year-old who was with us and deliver her to the school to get the others?  Or should we turn down a different street, so she didn’t see us, go get the girls and take them home.  Honestly, I didn’t want them to go home with her – but she is their mom and she appeared to be doing the right thing – although late and without her youngest.  So, we pulled up and

20171110_173852_resized

Watching Mom walk away with ‘our’ girl

offered her a ride to the school.  I knew the oldest daughter would not be happy – she wanted to go home with us – so we quickly left before we were seen by the girls.  No one needed a scene outside the school.  We continued on to drop off 3 of the other Mans de Amor children in another town 20 miles away and stopped for some seafood.  We were quiet – I imagine this is how divorced parents feel when the ‘other parent’ gets their kids for the weekend.  We were worried, angry, frustrated.  But we are not their parents and it seems mom is trying.

About the time we were leaving the restaurant, I looked at my phone and saw a number of missed calls from the orphanage director.  She had the girls, mom didn’t actually want them that weekend because she had no beds in her ‘new’ home.   Relief.   They would be ours for one more weekend at least.

We headed back to Bucerias to pick them up and then we were faced with another moral dilemma.  We had an extra bed in our garage.  Our friend Diana had left it there and told us to give it to someone who needed it.  I knew the orphanage had another little bed to be given away.   We could help them set up their house so that they could again have their daughters with them.  I could make happen the exact opposite of what I wanted.   Oh, the struggle that went on inside.  No bed = the girls stay with me.  Beds = the girls go home.

I talked to Veronica that night and she said “let’s meet tomorrow morning and take them the beds.  Also, they want you to take your truck and help them get all the things that were thrown in the street when they were evicted from their last house.”   I knew – albeit grudgingly – that this was the right thing.  Let’s help them make a new home.

Saturday morning, we drove to their new house to pick everyone up.  House is a bit of an exaggeration.  There was a tiny cement room.  The yard was surrounded by a wire fence and miscellaneous filthy blankets were attached to the fence to create walls.  There was a piece of tin over it all.  That was the home – a fenced yard.  But it was theirs and it was not much different than many others in the neighborhood.

Off we went to help them find their discarded stuff.  We drove into one of the worst neighborhoods in Bucerias.  Grant and I had driven through there before in the golf cart and had said we didn’t think we better come back – a little rough.  But we helped them load and unload their few belongings and left them to set it all up.  The littlest one

20171111_112520_resized

Family Saturday errands

stayed with mama and we took the 2 middle girls to the swimming pool for the afternoon.   I was very upset – I didn’t want them to go live in that little house – and when some tourists at the pool tried playing with the girls I grabbed our stuff and said “Let’s go” – no stranger is going to talk to my kids.   Except they’re not my kids and the home their mom is making for them is all she can provide.   The best way to help right now is to empower her to be the best mom she can be – offering support when she needs it.  That is what my mind tells me, my heart was struggling to agree.

That night the two youngest daughters were excited to stay with mom.  The oldest still refused and stayed with us.  We had some good talks about the importance of family and we told this angry 9-year-old we would be there if she needed us.  If you are scared, you know where we live.  She talked about her other siblings – besides the three of them there are 3 more brothers, 2 more sisters.  The sisters live with Grandma.  She doesn’t even know where the brothers live – Brian and Juan Carlos and one other. They are just teenagers living on their own.   It was a sad conversation and I feel so much pain for this child and for the mom who has lost all but 2 of her 8 children.   For now at least, the girls will continue to come to Manos de Amor during the week so mom and her boyfriend can find jobs.  Our weekend house will be open if they need us.

This family is not the only one we contemplate helping each week. There are constantly people showing up at our door selling things, needing things – maybe legitimate needs, maybe scams.   There is one young man who comes once or twice a week and rings our doorbell and asks if we have work.  We get him to sweep leaves or wash our car or other small tasks.  We give him 20 or 50 pesos, usually whatever food we have around.  Grant noticed his shoes were almost completely worn out and gave him some sandals.  Another day some pants.  A leash and some food for his scruffy little dog.  Well you’re not going to believe this.  Today he came to our door as usual and this time he said – “I am Juan Carlos.  You know my sisters.  You know my mom.”  It was one of the lost brothers!  For the past 4 or 5 months we have been feeding and clothing the brother of these three sweet little girls.  No one but God could have joined us all together.

I don’t know what our continuing role will be with this family.  The oldest daughter does not want to go home with her mom.  She does not like the mom’s boyfriend.  I don’t know that it is right for us to keep her with us.   I want to support a relationship but how can we help it become a healthy one?  How can we help reunite the brother with his siblings and his mom?

Today we stopped at the orphanage and all 3 girls surrounded us and gave us letters they had written to us.  Yesterday they had been in a fight with one of the boys in the home.  The letter said they were sorry for fighting.  (I didn’t know anything about the fight – not sure why I was getting the apology 😊) And then the last sentence of each letter – one to Grant, one to me.  I love you Grat. (They can’t say Grant).  I love you Karen.  Hugs all around.   And the story continues.

A Weekend of sad FUN

Last weekend was fun, scary, hilarious, perplexing, humbling, exhausting and deeply satisfying.    Instead of doing our regular weekly vegetable shopping and house cleaning, we spent the weekend playing Monopoly, making bracelets and trying to braid the hair of the three little girls who stayed with us from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening.

We are so fortunate to spend most days working at Manos de Amor, a children’s home here in Bucerias.  Most of the children have some type of family or extended family – but every one of them has a painful story of poverty, abuse and neglect.  Even those parents who care, struggle to provide what their children need.  I have written before about the three little girls whose mom pops in and out of their lives, depending on the desperation in her own circumstances.  2 of the girls have never received birth certificates so they cannot attend school.   Usually we drive them to their grandmother’s home on Friday nights but since their mom and their grandmother recently had a falling out, that is no longer an option.  Mom has recently moved to Bucerias and we were hoping that living closer would make the situation a bit safer for these young girls.  Unfortunately, for the past 2 weeks Mom did not show up on Friday to get her children, nor did she call to explain.   The first weekend they went home with the orphanage director and then came to our house for Saturday afternoon.  On Sunday we all ran/walked/biked/skipped in a 5k together.

Our first weekend together away from the orphanage – some beach time and a 5k together

Last week they begged to spend the entire weekend with us.  No one, not even these sweet children, expected their mother to show up.  Of course, we agreed.   We knew it would be fun and maybe a bit terrifying.

On Friday after our English class we loaded them into the golf cart along with the other 3 that we drive home to a neighboring village a few miles away.  About a block from the home, we saw a couple sitting on the curb and one of the little girls quietly said to me “That’s my mama.”  We slammed on the brakes, pulled a U Turn and signaled for the woman to follow us back to the orphanage.  I could immediately tell she was in no shape to look after 3 children, and my own motherly instinct kicked in.  I was not about to part with these children who deserved to be safe this weekend.  I needn’t have worried.  Mom was coming to tell us that she did not have a home to take the girls to, she had been evicted and would like them to stay at the orphanage for the weekend.   I tried to see the positive in this – she had at least come to tell us.  Unfortunately, she did not talk to her girls, did not hug her girls, did not acknowledge them.  She walked away, and we drove down the dirt road out of town.  I turned around and watched the middle girl – the 7-year-old – put her dirty little face in her hands and start to quietly sob for the mom she still loved and wanted to be with.  The mom who hadn’t even said hello after not showing up for a number of weeks.   I saw she had a paper in her hand and when I took it I saw a heart she had drawn and the word “mama” written on it.  Even though she didn’t expect her mom to show up, she had drawn her a picture just in case.

Grant and I did all we knew to reduce some of the pain – we went into extreme grandparenting mode.  Over the next 3 days we took the girls swimming, played all kinds of games, did crafts, cooked the foods they requested, went out for pancakes, watched movies with popcorn, went to church, and even got up in the middle of the night to get rid of a bug in their room.  They chose which bedrooms they wanted, unpacked their few clothes into drawers, and claimed a stuffed animal each.   We had a blast and they behaved really well.  Each of them had a ‘moment’ but we were prepared, and they passed quickly.  It was a great weekend and I was even called ‘Mama’ once by the littlest 5-year-old.

 

At the end of the weekend the oldest 9-year-old asked for my Spanish translator and typed in ‘divertido’ – FUN –“this weekend was divertido.  Can we come again next week?”  How do you answer that when everything about her life is so uncertain and unstable?  I don’t know what next week holds for you little one.

Today during English class Mom showed up at Manos de Amor.  She has found a new home, close to the orphanage.  The director immediately took her by the arm and drove her to get a passport photo taken.  That is the first of many steps to get birth certificates for her daughters.   At first she argued because she wasn’t’ wearing makeup.  Seriously?  That’s what you’re concerned about?  Obviously, I have mixed feelings.  I am invested now.  I have wiped away tears and combed away lice and cut up pancakes.  But she is their mom and they love her and in her own brokenness, she must love them too.   But she needs help and perhaps that is the best we can do – be there when she doesn’t show up to pick up the pieces.   Suspend judgement and be a friend.  Love her daughters when she can’t.  Today I shook her hand and said, “It’s good to see you”.   And then I came home and tidied two bedrooms, put stuffed dogs in the center of beds and prepared for visitors.   Maybe these three will be back.  Maybe it will be others.   Whatever our assignment, we’re ready!

20171105_153043_resized.jpg

Our First Mexican Wedding

I admit my last few posts have been a bit cranky as I have shared frustrations with getting things done here in Mexico.  Last week we had another experience getting plates for our second remolque (trailer).  There was ‘a guy’, some payments, some copying and stapling and shuffling.  Waiting.  But enough of all that.  It’s time to remind ourselves once again of all the things we love about Mexico.  There are a lot.

This week we were excited to attend our first Mexican wedding and to celebrate with our friends Carmelo and Paolo.  Carmelo is a young pastor at the church we attend in Bucerias.  He leads a mission in the tiny village of Higuera Blanca every Tuesday and Saturday.  Although it is mainly children who attend his programs he is committed to helping these children and to reaching out to their families.  He is relentless and passionate and Paolo is his faithful partner in this hard work.

19894623_1398041686957384_3432535226601340814_nCarmelo has been dating Paolo for a year or two.  When he first approached her dad to ask for his blessing to marry Paolo, Dad said “It is too soon – she is too young.  Let’s wait a bit”.  Carmelo respected this advice and waited until Dad gave him the green light.  Immediately the engagement was on and now, just 4 months later, it is the wedding day of these two amazing young people, the boda.

My dates for the wedding – no surprise, it was 2 hours late getting started so I was glad I had good company to enjoy the beautiful day in the country

I love how Mexico embraces symbolic rituals within its fiestas and celebrations.  Everything has beautiful meaning and even though this wedding looked very similar to a Canadian ceremony, there were a few things that I found very touching.  In all life stages, Mexicans choose Padrinas to stand by them – at baptisms, graduations, quinceaneras (when girls turn 15) and at weddings.  (See our post about when Grant and I were Grade 6 Padrinas).   They’re like godparents.  Carmelo and Paola had 5 different couples who performed a piece of the ceremony with them – a way of telling them “we’re with you – we’ve got your back.”

The first set of padrinas presented them with coins – symbolizing the hope that they would always be prosperous.  The second couple wrapped a beautiful white lasso around them – signifying that they were now tied together with an unbreakable bond.  The third padrinas presented them with their wedding rings – grownup ringbearers I guess.  The fourth couple presented them with a new Bible – exhorting them to follow the path of God’s words.  After Carmelo and Paola read their vows and were pronounced husband and wife, the fifth couple served them communion – Cena Santa.   It was all beautiful and I have so much hope for these 2.  I predict that they will be a life-changing team here in Mexico.

Note the lasso around Carmelo and Paolo in the bottom picture

While the newlyweds snuck off for photos, the guests dove into a candy bar with sweets and donuts and churros.  And hot sauce on all of it.  The groom’s dad, who operates a tiny restaurant in the dry river in Bucerias, had cooked up his specialty – birria and handmade tortillas.  This is a delicious beef stew like dish with lots of Mexican spices.  The only speeches were from the two fathers – giving their advice to this happy young couple.  There were lots of tears.  The throwing of the bouquet.  Carmelo threw an apron to the guys – not sure what that is about.  And then dancing.  Lots of fun dancing.  Not much different than a northern wedding except no chicken dance, no YMCA.

We snuck away around 10 or 11 and the party was going strong.  Carmelo and Paola are heading to Cancun for their honeymoon and we couldn’t be happier for them.  Every day we see so much need, so much brokenness, so much pain in this neighborhood – but today we celebrate a young couple that loves God, loves people, and really loves each other.  Felicidades Carmelo and Paolo.  We’re cheering you on as you start the journey!

FB_IMG_1509201409425

Another Grad…. Another Head Table

What the heck is with me and graduations and head tables?  This weekend I was thrilled to attend the graduation of my dear friend Veronica from the Information Services computer class she has been taken for the last 2 years.  Veronica is the director of Manos de Amor – a fireplug if there ever was one.  She invited her children and her sister and some Manos children and a few friends to the ceremony and dinner, and Grant and I were excited to be included.

Like every Mexican event we have ever been invited to, it started about an hour late.  We arrived at 2:00 sharp and the only other people in the whole room were our friends Francisco, Anita and Manuela.  Not another graduate.  Not a staff member from the school.  5 of us alone in the room.    At around 2:45 people started to trickle in and things were ready to start at around 3.

There were 4 chairs at the head table, and 3 people sitting there.  One empty chair. About 5 minutes before the ceremony was to begin, Anita came to me and told me the organizers would like me to sit at the head table to help hand out certificates  and to give a few words on behalf of Manos de Amor.  WHAT???   Déjà vu flooded over me – was this a mistake again?  (Remember this? We’re Padrinas mistaken for Celebrities)  Because I don’t speak Spanish and these people are all Spanish and what on earth should I say and why do they want me to say it?  I slightly panicked.  They told me Anita would translate for me and then that was it.  They were announcing my name and I was sitting at the head table.

20170923_152031

I am still a bit confused.  I think that Veronica is just really well respected amongst her peers as is her organization and they were genuinely pleased that we were there.    So what did I say?  I congratulated the graduates, told them I recognized how they had sacrificed in order to help their families and their communities and in fact all of Mexico to become stronger.  I told how much Manos de Amor values education and that it was important that children who are watching them see that they value it too.  I told them not to stop learning.  And I promised that even though I am old, I can going to continue learning until I can speak Spanish.

And the really funny thing?  All of the graduates had agreed to wear pink dresses to the ceremony and guess what color I was wearing?  I fit right in as if it had all been planned.

20170923_162039_resized

So Felicidades Veronica – Mama Vero – we are proud of you and I was  honored to be the one to hand you your certificate!

Now let’s have a party!!!

20170923_183048_resized

 

Who Cares if it’s a Square?

Today is Friday -the final day of our Monday, Wednesday, Friday English class schedule.   On each of those days we teach 3 classes to the children of Manos de Amor Casa Hogar.   These children are living at Casa Hogar because their parents or caregivers need a helping hand.  A few have no parents.  Many have 1.  Lots of grandmas have stepped in.   They have all experienced great trauma in their young lives – abuse, prostitution, alcoholism. And poverty.  A lot of poverty.

So 3 days a week we arrive at the home with our bag full of worksheets and crafts and videos and songs and tablets.  We have divided the groups by age.  The 6-9 year olds have learned about colors and families and counting to 20 and greetings and this week we learned about Day and Night.  We are working on vocabulary but also trying to learn some sentences.    “I have 4 shoes”. “Touch something red with your nose”.  They love songs and sing them REALLY LOUD.  I expect the whole neighborhood now knows the days of the week.  They especially love the English learning apps we have on the tablets that we use once a week or so.

20170906_163354The oldest children – those 10 and over – use the Duolingo language learning app.  We don’t really have to teach them – we are there to help when they are stuck and to do group review from time to time.  We are also there to stop their little fingers from ‘accidentally’ going to the App store and ‘surprisingly’ downloading games.  “I don’t know how that happened Karen”.  Sure you don’t.  We do reward them with a few minutes of game time to keep them coming back.  I love using this app because each child moves at his or her pace and new students can join at any time.

20170922_145605The funnest class is the littles, the 4-6 year olds.  They are hilarious and are actually learning quite a few words.  They are the ones who speak to me in English every chance they get.  “Hello, my name is Azbeth, how are you I am fine and you?”  They just run it all together and are so proud.   This week they learned shapes and today we finished the week by making Shape Guy heads.  They practiced shapes and face parts and colors on one little craft and they were pretty excited with the final product once they had added some butterflies and dogs and family members.

 

We are having fun but I have to admit that some days I look around at the needs and problems in this country and I wonder what possible difference it will make if Jose knows the difference between a square and a rectangle.   Will knowing their colors keep 12-year-old girls from getting pregnant and will greeting gringos in English stop boys from becoming trapped by alcohol?  Today after our final class we drove children from 3 families to their homes for the weekend and as I am every Friday, I was saddened by what I saw.  How can we think our little classes can make a difference?

But as I held babies and hugged toddlers, and stepped in poopy diapers littered on the ground, I smiled.  Yes, if children here learn English they will have an opportunity to secure a better paying job in the tourism industry.  But these 4-year-olds aren’t out looking for jobs.  What they are looking for is acceptance, confidence, affection, hope, safety and security.  For LOVE.  I watched Jose show his sisters and his niece Lupita his Shape Guy and I realized that for a few minutes today he felt proud of himself.  For at least an hour he experienced confidence and creativity and joy.   I remembered the look on Jorge’s face when he told me he had finished 8 Duolingo lessons.  The cheer Mareli let out when she finished a whole section of today’s learning app.

Our English class is not going to change Pricila’s life.  But maybe it will bring a tiny bit of healing to her broken heart.  Her mom isn’t there for her – but on Monday and Wednesday and Friday I can be.

As we left each of these children at their homes today – I really hate doing that – I did what I do each week.  I opened their little hands, tapped my fingers to their palms and then touched their palms to their hearts, “Okay, here is Jesus.  Don’t forget he’s going to be here with you all weekend.  You’re going to be ok”.

I realized what our class has to offer these little ones. – it offers US.   Our hearts.  Our acceptance.  Our love.  And really, that’s all any of us have to offer.