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!


We’re Padrinas mistaken for Celebrities

It’s the last week of school here in Banderas Bay and that means it’s Graduation season.  Just as it has in Canada, Graduation has spread to every level and we were invited to a Kindergarten (Kinder) grad as well as to a Sixth grade grad (Sexto).  We were honored to be included in both of these important days with these students and their families.

On Tuesday, we accompanied the three Manos de Amor Kinder students – Gigi, Geraldine and Jose – to their ceremony.  We picked up the prince and the two princesses in our chariot and headed to the school.



When we arrived, there was standing room only and we found ourselves a spot right at the back.  That’s when it got hilarious.  One of the teachers – perhaps she was the principal – came to us and asked, “Were you invited here for the ceremony?”.  Not quite sure what she was getting at, we said yes and she told us we needed to sit at the front.  We thought perhaps we were standing in an off-limit area, so we followed her to the front before we realized that she was leading us to two empty seats at the head table.  I tried saying “No, there must be a mistake” but it was too late – the program was starting and she indicated we needed to sit in those chairs.  Somehow, we had been mistaken for some expected VIPs.  She had me write our names down and we were introduced and asked to stand – to great applause.  We couldn’t actually understand the introduction except for the part where they thanked us for all our help.  Huh?  For the next 2 hours, we sat there like celebrities, handing out the graduation certificates and the parent awards.  We shook hands.  We stood for the Mexican National Anthem – notice in the picture that we are the only ones not saluting.  That was rectified with one sharp elbow to Grant’s side.  After the ceremony, the woman who had been leading the ceremony thanked us profusely.  We graciously accepted her thanks.  Eventually they will realize that we were just two old gringos who were celebrating like all the rest of the parents but for those long 2 hours we had the best seats in the house!




On Tuesday afternoon, we attended our second Graduation party – this time for Samuel who was graduating from Primeria (primary school) and heading into Secondaria (high school).  Samuel is the son of Norma who used to work at Manos de Amor and the nephew of Veronica the director.  Again, we were honored to be included in this family celebration – with Anna’s delicious birria.  We had to leave early to teach our English classes and sadly missed the Karaoke!

20170719_140137On Wednesday, we went to nearby San Vicente to attend the 6th Grade graduation of Isabel and Laurentino.  This time we were asked to be the Padrinas, which are similar to Godparents.  In Mexico, children will have many different adults throughout their lives who will be considered supporters or mentors.  At important milestones such as baptisms, graduations, even weddings –  families choose madrinas and padrinas to stand alongside the children to show love and support for them.    At the graduation ceremony, we each sat behind our graduate and walked with them to the front to get their diploma. I love the symbolism of that – we support from behind, we walk alongside.    I admit I looked around today – the only white English speakers in attendance – and wondered what on earth we are doing here – with this very poor community, with this family, with the orphanage, with Mexico in general.  Maybe this is it – we are offering love and support and encouragement from behind, walking alongside our newfound friends as they find their own way.   When the ceremony was over, we told Isabel and Laurentino that if they finish High School, we will help them fund university.  I am giving you fair warning – it’s a few years off but I will be asking for your help when that day comes!

Madrina Karen and Isabel …. Padrina Grant and Laurentino


Meet the Santanas – Laurentino, Irandi, Isabel, Mom Tina with baby Cristofer, Ibet & Kevin, Ivon & Lupita.  Irandi’s baby Alison is missing from the picture.  Also missing are brothers Jose and Nasabid

So this was a good week of graduation and celebration.  Milestones.  Accomplishments. Hope.  Future.  In so many ways the odds are against these children but for this week we dream and we celebrate.  FELICIDADES ALUMNOS!


A Sick Baby & A Scared Mama

Imagine that you are a fifteen-year-old mom with a 5-month-old baby (a really cute baby).  Your grandma died 2 weeks ago in a nearby hospital – she had a harsh sounding cough which quickly developed into pneumonia and she was gone.  Now your baby has a bad cough.  You have no vehicle to get her to a doctor, no money to pay for one.  Your own mom is still struggling with losing her mom and really doesn’t want to go back to the hospital.  You’re scared.  What would you do?

You would do exactly what every good mom would do – you would call a friend and ask for help.  That is what Irandi did this week when Baby Alison’s cough started sounding ugly and obviously causing pain.  She was scared – really scared when she called me.  She wanted to see a doctor but had no money or health insurance.  Would I help?

Of course we will help – that’s a no brainer.  But the question we face every day here – what is the best way to help in the short term without hurting in the long term?  I don’t have the answers fully worked out in my head so for now I go with my heart.  There’s a sick baby that needs to get to a doctor and her mama is scared.

Grant and I went to San Vicente to pick up Irandi and her baby and while we were at her house, I suggested that her sister Ibet who is 16 come along and bring her 3-year-old son who has had a runny nose for many months.  We filled up Azulita with worried mamas and sick babies and headed to a pediatrician’s office in Mezcales.  We probably could have gone to a local general doctor, but I remember when my youngest daughter Brett was 6 months old she had a similar bronchial infection and had to be hospitalized and kept in an oxygen tent for a number of days.  I remember how serious this type of infection can be for a baby and wanted to get the best care.

The doctor was great.  He asked many questions about her life and the life of her baby.  He asked who I was and Irandi told him I was a friend of her family.  He was kind and concerned for Alison.   He prescribed a number of medications and put her on oxygen for 30 or 40 minutes.  He knew little English and we struggled to understand one another but he tried to keep me involved in what was happening.  He asked us to come back on Thursday afternoon.  Kevin also received some antibiotics to help his infection.


On Wednesday night after I had gone to bed, Irandi called in a bit of a panic.  Alison was still coughing.  Maybe we should go to the hospital in Vallarta in the morning.  But that is where Grandma had died and no one wanted to go there again.   I could hear Alison in the background and she sounded strong so I told her to call me early in the morning and we would decide what to do.

In the morning, I had my friend Anita call the doctor using the cell phone number he had given us, to ask if we could see him sooner.  He was in another town until later in the afternoon, but he offered to phone Irandi and find out what was happening with Alison.   That calmed everyone down a bit and we decided to stick with keeping our afternoon appointment with the pediatrician.

That afternoon we picked up Irandi and Alison and this time Irandi’s boyfriend’s mom came along too – I was so relieved to have some family support for this young family.    The doctor listened to her lungs and sent her to xray where it was confirmed she did have a lung infection.  He felt she could be treated at home with the medication he had already prescribed.  He gave her more oxygen and sent us on our way, to come back in 2 weeks.

Again I am faced with the reality of what poverty looks like when you look it in the eye.  Honestly, I just want to kick it in the head most days.

One of the cool parts of this story is that just the day before Irandi called me, I had looked in my purse and found a folded bundle of cash.  I had no idea why it was loose in my purse, or where it came from.  It wasn’t in my wallet with the rest of my money – just a loose wad.  I had asked Grant if he had any idea what it was and he looked at me with the “what are you talking about” look.  I still don’t know where it came from – but it was almost exactly the amount that I needed to pay the doctor’s bill and purchase the medication.    So I told God, “I don’t know what I’m doing here, and we don’t have all that much money now that Grant’s not been working, but if you keep filling up my purse, I’ll keep using it to care for the people you put in my path.”

I now recognize one more thing I need to learn:  what medical and financial resources are available for families like Irandi’s when illness strikes?  How can I help these young moms stand strong and be wise as they care for their children?

Yesterday I received a text from Irandi.  “Thank you Karen.  For yesterday.  Thank you.  Alison is much better.”

Another day, another baby, another difficult life lesson.  And another miracle.


Irandi and Alison Naomi



El Dia de los Reyes

On Friday we went with the children to the last fiesta of the Christmas season.  Here in Mexico, January 6th is known as El Dia De Los Reyes (3 Kings Day).  It is the last of the 12 days of Christmas and symbolizes the three Kings who found Baby Jesus.  This is a day of family gatherings, parades, gifts and the special bread called Rosca de Reyes.  The children of Manos de Amor were invited to a party at the La Cruz Yacht Club, sponsored by the mostly tourists who sail in the Bay and live on their beautiful boats.    It was a fun party with lots of games and crafts and hot dogs and a gift for each child.

20170106_133016One of the highlights was the cutting of the Rosca.  The bread (it reminds me of Easter Bread) is a sweet bread shaped in a circle to represent the crowns of the Kings.  It is covered with candied fruit.  Hidden inside the bread are little plastic dolls – baby Jesus.   The tradition is that whoever finds the baby must host a Tamale party on Feb 2nd.  For these children, the promise is whoever finds the dolls gets as many tamales as they want on Feb 2nd.    It reminded me of when we hid money in our birthday cakes when I was young – what kid doesn’t love a fun choking hazard treasure hunt?   And the best part???  I got a Baby Jesus!  So I think that means I have to host a Tamale party.





















That brings to an end Christmas 2016.  Like all children, these ones have been loaded with candy and spoiled with gifts.  I have no idea if they understand that it was the generosity of total strangers that gave them the Christmas that most other children get from their parents.   I don’t know how their parents feel either.  It is something I wrestle with all the time – how can we help without hurting?  I don’t have the answer and so for now I just trust my heart and give what feels right.  Thank you to those who donated money and time and gifts to make Christmas special for these sweet children.   I trust that you will reap the blessings of spirit that come from sharing your heart.  Oh, and I guess you’re invited to my place for tamales on February 2nd!