Monday, January 21, 2013

Reflections After Guatemala

Welp--we're all back safe and sound in the United States!

The little fire "Johnny Tiger" built us at on the Mayan Nose.
After a hectic day of delayed flights and sprinting through airports, we made it back to Kansas City late last night, and I'm back to work at Graceland today. Did I mention that I came home to a toasty -19 degree wind chill in Lamoni? Because I did...and if feels just slightly different than balmy San Pedro.

As I walk around the office and people ask, "How was your trip?" I'm finding it hard to find the words to capture Guatemala. The easiest thing for me to tell people is this: "It was perfect. I wouldn't have changed a single thing." And truly, it was.

Who's afraid of a big bad Mayan calendar?
For many people, a trip or a vacation should include sandy beaches, relaxation and an overall feeling of tranquility and comfort. Our trip to Guatemala didn't include swimming in Lake Atitlan (trust me--it's not water that you'd want to frolic around in), gratuitous amounts of free time or a luxury suite--but as I said, it was simply outstanding. I would much rather live in a homestay, connecting with people from a culture unlike my own, than a resort. I would much rather wake up before the sun to climb 2/3 of a volcano or listen to a sermon I can't understand (because it's in the Mayan dialect, Tz'utujil) than rub my eyes from a warm bed at 10:00 a.m.

Melanie, queen of dominos.
San Pedro was the perfect location for our work. With about 3,000 inhabitants, it had that small-town Lamoni-like feel that I know and adore. We were able to safely walk everywhere we needed to go, pausing to say "Buenos Dias," "Buenos Tardes" and "Buenos Noches" along the way. The clinic in San Juan was full of passionate, kind-hearted workers and volunteers, and the patients at the clinic were true to their name (patient) as the nurses took vitals and drank in as much experience as they could. Though at times some of us were uncomfortable, the value our experience in the San Juan clinic is unquestioned. Many of the nurses had never seen first hand how bad a scabies epidemic could be. Many of us understood for the first time that diabetes isn't just an American, fast-food lifestyle problem--it springs up in more places that you'd think. And we all learned, regardless of our profession, how useful it can be to be bilingual.

Domingo and Melida, our host father and mother
Outside of the clinic, we saw true compassion for others when it came to health care. We worked with a curandero and midwife that charged little to nothing for their services. We saw people finding innovative ways to heal and help those around them, despite not having the most advanced technology. We learned about the flower remedies of Edward Bach, that can be used to treat emotional and spiritual ailments, when other medication is not available. The resourcefulness and compassion of these people is truly amazing.

Stephanie dancing with one of our classmates!
And in our Spanish classes and homestays, we learned to be brave. We learned that just because you aren't fluent in Spanish, just because you know you're making mistakes, there's no reason not to try not to speak a different language. Now, mind you, some of us made frequent or embarrassing errors (I consistently asked my teacher about being tired (cansado) instead of being married (casado)) and sometimes things didn't quite translate, but regardless of our barriers we were all able to make strong and lasting connections with the Spanish speaking people around us. We've returned back to the states with a larger Spanish vocabulary, and an even larger desire to further our Spanish education.

Ardella, riding home from San Juan in a tuk tuk!
While, naturally, some of the things I will remember the most vividly are the "touristy" things (kayaking, mountain and volcano climbing, zip lining, etc.) by far what I'll remember most fondly is the people of San Pedro. My host mom, Melida's concern about us getting enough to eat and her passion for controlling her diabetes, my host daughter, Melanie, trying to explain dominos to me in Spanish, and my teacher, Nicolas, telling me "tranquila, tranquila" when I was frustrated about not understanding verb conjugations. While the lifestyle and culture of San Pedro is quite different from my own, one things that translates perfectly is the love and passion for helping others.
Adios, San Pedro!

As we flew back last night, many of us were full of sadness about leaving Guatemala behind, but as we flew over the beautiful lights of Texas at night, we couldn't help but feel a little pride in our home country. We come back to the States full--of ambition, of stories, and tortillas. I hope from the bottom of my heart that we will continue this Guatemala winter term experience for many years to come--it's an experience that will open your eyes and fill you with love.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Our Last Night in Guatemala

¡Buenos Tardes!

Natasha, me, Karlee and Robin at the bottom of the Volcano
The past few days in Guatemala have been just as busy as ever. Friday morning started bright and early (well okay, maybe not bright--we met our tour guide for the climbing the San Pedro Volcano at 2:00 a.m.) After a 15 minute walk to the local park, we began the long trek up the mountain. And, sorry mom, for the second time in one week, we followed a stranger with a machete into dark woods. Our group--myself, Karlee, Robin and Natasha began to slowly make our way up the volcano. It was evident to us by 3:00 a.m. that this was going to be no simple task--our pace was slow, but we were determined. Around 5:30 a.m. we were just an hour away from the top--but unfortunately we had to turn around. A member of our group began to get altitude sickness, and in the dark, our guide insisted that if one of us went down the volcano, all of us had to. Though we were disappointed not to reach the top, it gives us all a fantastic excuse to return to Guatemala one day, and try it again.
Amanda, conquering Lake Atitlan!

After watching the sunrise in the park, we headed to our favorite cafe for some waffles, then went kayaking in Lake Atitlan. I´ll admit that we weren´t exactly the most skilled sailors on the water--but we had an amazing time.

After our morning fun, it was time for our last day of class. Parting with our teachers stung--over the last two weeks, we've spent 40 hours learning and growing with these wonderful people. We´ve frustratedly tried to conjugate verbs in our head, struggled to say what we wanted, and at times wanted to just give up and speak English--but through it all our teachers were there to help us, genuinely caring about us and wanting to help us get better. At any given time during class, you´d always be able to hear one of us just laughing with our instructors. And while saying goodbye to our teachers was bitter-sweet, saying goodbye to our host families this morning was even harder.
My teacher, Nicolas and I.

My host mom, Melida, and I up at 6:00 a.m. today to go on a little run through the smoother streets of San Pedro. As the sun and the clouds crawled over the mountains, we did a little jogging, a little talking and a lot of pantomiming the things we couldn´t say. After breakfast, it was time to finish packing and then say our tearful goodbyes. I think being a host family for a foreign student would be a wonderful experience, but I couldn´t imagine bearing such difficult goodbyes over and over again!

For now, we're spending the night in Guatemala City so we can be ready to catch our flight tomorrow morning. We´re sleeping in a cozy little hostel (my first hostel ever!) and the six students and I are sharing a room (yayyy, bunk beds!) En la maƱana, it´s back to the United States!



News from the Philippines!

Hello everyone! I am sorry this is the first you have heard from the Philippines travelers in a long time. We have had some difficulty with the wifi connection at the hotel we are staying at. So, a lot has happened since you heard last.

Because of the established relationships between OPI and the community of Kapagena, Enactus has been able to spend time learning the ins and outs of this community. We have talked, laughed, and learned. But most importantly established relationships that developed the trust required for our project work.

Ethan, Becca, Chris, Andrea, and I, initially were split up and paired with the four different communities that make up Kapagena. Those being Pulong Visaya, KPK, Saganna, and Samanatayo. We were each paired with an OPI worker and went the the communities. The goal over the next few days was to form friendships, and learn of the needs and concerns of each communities. Our time was to be spent sharing meals, stories, and even sleeping in their homes one night. We were instructed that while doing this, we should attempt to identify and discuss their needs. Or rather, ask questions that would provoke them to recognize and vocalize these needs on their own. It is sometimes difficult to keep in mind just how different our cultures are. The way we think we would act in this poverty is not necessarily the right way. 

Over the next few days a variety of emotions were experienced. For some it was quite the rollercoaster from frustration, to joy, to many other feelings. Overall, we had an amazing time. We laughed until we cried, planted rice, rode water buffaloes, slept overnight in the community, and formed new bonds. Ethan received several marriage proposals. Becca sang Videoke (PhilippenoKaraoke.) Chris has eaten a variety of interesting food, from coagulated blood, to chicken intestine, to snake. And I have become painfully aware of just how tall and white I am. We each have describe many times where we were overcome by surreal "I can't believe I am right here and this is happening to me right now" feelings.

Along with all the fun, there have been some serious times. Sharing hardships, and simply witnessing poverty at an up close level. After this small glimpse of what life is like in Kapagena, and with the combined conversation results, we identified a lack of income sources as their greatest need.

Moving forward we plan to continue last years work of the L.O.V.E. project. This project was developed by the people of Kapagena with the guidance of SIFE last January. The project is simple enough, land ownership. Graceland Outreach Club has raised the funds to purchase the land. So now, we wait. Finding the right land is very difficult. Location, condition, and price all must be considered.

So today, after several days of communicating with each small community individually, Kapagena as a group met together. This meeting was facilitated by the Enactus Team. We organized their thoughts on what has been done and what needs to be done. And then sent them off with homework to create an action plan of the next necessary steps to accomplish their goals. The meeting went well and was even fun. Also some of our campfire songs were quite the hit.

The past few days have been very humbling. Everyone close to us has been truly kind. From the OPI staff, to the community members, to even the hotel staff. The generosity we all experienced is very inspiring, and something we could all learn from.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Climbing Mountains

Hola de San Pedro!

I cannot believe it is already jueves (Thursday.) Our time here is flying by so quickly. Our host father, Domingo, left yesterday for Guatemala City and it was so hard to say goodbye! It's hard to find the right words for a goodbye, even when you're both fluent in the same language.  
The Mayan you see it?!

Other than that sad moment, this week has been full of happiness. Monday, we went to visit  a midwife in San Juan. The conversation was fascinating. She visits local mothers every three days and eventually delivers their babies for absolutely no charge. She makes her living and supports her children by making and selling scarves. She told us that she learned how to be a midwife in her dreams, dreaming throughout her childhood of how to cut the cord and ease the birthing process. After experiencing these dreams, she delivered three of her own children.

Tuesday, we had a free morning, so some of the nurses and I braved the climb to the Mayan Nose, a local mountain shaped like a face. The trip was about a two hour journey from our meeting spot. We started bright and early at 3:30 a.m., and arrived at the nose around 5:30 a.m., ready for the sunrise. The problem? Sunrise wasn't until 6:30 a.m. and it turns out it gets wicked cold the in the Guatemalan mountains! We shivered in the darkness for an hour, and the wait was certainly worth it--by far the most breathtaking sunrise I've ever seen! Our guide, Juan (aka Johnny Tiger) built a small fire for us and we warmed our hands and soaked in the sun. From there, we went walked to Santa Clara to go zip lining across the mountains! I expected myself to be a little scared, but when push came to shove, I wasn't scared, just amazed by the beautiful sights around me. More scary than the zip line was the truck ride back to San Pedro! But all is well and we made it here safe and sound.
Amanda watching the sunrise from the Mayan Nose.

Wednesday, we got a taste of what medicine is like when you don't have ideal technology. We visited a couple patients with the local cuandero, Pedro. Pedro used a series of massages to help some of his patients, and a simple remedy of olive oil, salt and lime for another. Similar to the midwives, Pedro doesn't try to make a profit with his services--he only charges what the medicine he gives costs.

This morning we woke up bright and early to go on a lakeside walk with our host mom, Melida, and her daughter, Melanie. Melida has diabetes, which is actually quite a large problem here, and she makes a great effort to exercise and eat well every day. We strolled the lake as the sun rose and it was truly a lovely moment, just chatting across language barriers as the sun creeped over the mountains.

As usual, we've been going to Spanish class this week, and learning more and more every day. I am truly a nerd--I have always loved going to school and I am so happy to be a student again. It's going to be hard saying goodbye to our teachers, but if I work hard, hopefully in the future I'll be able to send them a letter in fluent Spanish!

Volcan San Pedro, here we come!

Though our time here is coming to an end, we still have some adventures planned for the rest of the week. Tonight we're attending a Mayan ceremony and tomorrow morning at 2:00 a.m. four of us (are crazy) and making a hike up the closest volcano! Don't worry mom--we're going with a guide and the volcano is inactive. It's supposed to be a 3-4 hour hike up, then we have to hike back down. Needless to say, it's going to be an immense struggle, but with a positive mindset, I'll see another beautiful sunrise tomorrow morning. After class, we're treating our host parents to pizza, giving some gifts, and very sadly packing our things for home. Saturday morning we're headed out bright and early for a hotel in Guatemala City, then we're flying back to Kansas City on Sunday.

But before I get too far ahead of myself here--it's only jueves, and I have class in just a couple minutes! The next time I talk to you, I'll have (hopefully) climbed a volcano!


Nursing in Jamaica - Home

Hello, everyone!

I am happy to announce that I am safely back in good old Missouri.

Before heading home, the group spent at the most beautiful resort I've ever seen (okay, so it is the ONLY resort I have ever seen).  There were were able to shop and eat and dance and swim in the beautiful ocean. It was a fun experience, though I have to admit it was completely different from the experience I have had of Jamaica so far.  Even though it was the Jamaica most travelers know and fall in love with, it wasn't the Jamaica I knew.  I fallen in love with a different part: dirty streets that goats travel down,  crowded market places, and a clinic that needed us more than words can say.

Even now I can't help but reflect back on there.  I enjoyed my time at the resort, but it doesn't equal the joy that I felt those first five days serving the Jamaican people.  It was hard to leave because I know there is so much work left to be down, and I console myself knowing that even though the faces of those we weren't able to help stay with me, there was so many who had received our services. We were able to see 258 patients, not including the time spent at the schools.  Also, we the combined efforts of the group, we were able to leave one last thing behind:  a donation to the infirmary of a commercial blender, since theirs had broken down, along with medication, blood pressure cuffs, and much more.

Matron wrote a letter expressing her gratitude.  But I am much more grateful to her.  That there are woman like her in this world makes the world a much more beautiful place.

On Sunday, we spent all day traveling -- including as six hour layover in Atlanta (Yuck!).  It was a rough flight back to Kansas City, but we landed safely. As soon as I stepped from the airplane, a blast of cold air hit me, my breath froze, and I knew I was back in Missouri.  It was so good to see my family again and to tell them about the adventures I've had, but I'm surprised about how much I honestly miss Jamaica.

I miss the warmth, of the son and of the helpers down there.  I miss working with the people everyday.  I am relieved to be home, but a part of me, I think, will always miss the places that felt like home, even for just a few days.

My lesson: We can all make a difference, and no difference is so small that it doesn't matter.  Go out in the world and do good wherever you can.

I want to keep the attitude I learned down in Jamaica with me.  As matron taught, love is the most important thing you can give to someone.  It is what I felt from the people in Jamaica, and that spirit of Christ's love is what I want to carry as I go through life.

I feel completely blessed to have had this experience, and I am hoping that in a few years, the opportunity will present itself to go back.  And I will go, in a heartbeat!

Here to wishing you a life full of adventures!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I got to experience true joy! The new Kafwa center ribbon cutting!! We went to church Sunday morning which was amazing! The music! The choirs! I have never heard such good choirs in my life before... I was amazed. Then after that was the ribbon cutting.

First a little introduction to the Kafwa. The word Kafwa refer to a group of people that have been volunteer community health workers for the past twenty years for their village, Chipulukusu. With simple health training from Sherri Kirkpatrick, a great woman, they have been able to care for the most vulnerable in their community. Sometimes all they can provide is simply the ministry of presence, but that is so much when life is so hard. They do other things like make home health visits, cook the school lunch, weigh new infants, give sanitation advice, run a child support group for orphans who have usually lost one or both parents to AIDS. The Kafwa are amazing and have done so much for their community. Now they have a building of their own that they can cook in, will have a library, have a nurse's station for sick kids during school, and a large room to work in for their income generating projects. Exciting stuff! And you could tell it was during the ceremony. Mre singing and dancing while we were in the front row being treated almost like royalty simply because we were their guests.

Then on Monday there was an all day worksho for community leaders from Chipulukusu, Zamtan, and Chingola to talk about building happy and strong communities.

Tuesday is when the real fun began, though! This was the first day I was in the classrooms and was able to teach my lesson using the book "Chicken Little." I'm modeling a lesson output predicting, but moe importantly showing how you can use the students in the lesson by having them at out the story, stop and ask them what they think is going to happen in the story, and putting life into read alouds. The pupils have seem to enjoy it and have been engrossed in the story as I tell it. I would be no where without the translation of the teachers here at the school though so kudos to them!  Then after that we got to introduce to grade five how playing cards could be used as a tool to teach math. It was fun because almost all the kids have never even seen playing cards before.

Tuesday afternoon after school we got to meet with teachers first and then the school board. It was really interesting and gave a real insight into Zambian cultur and their education system.

Today I did my Cjicken Little lesson again and an activity about houses for grade one. Also, I got to read a story to grade six about a true happening of a woman empowering others in Kenya while working for the environment. I am a sucker for cute kids though and won't forgot the little boy that fell asleep in my arms during nursery today. Much to do and plan for tomorrow being our last day in Chipulukusu.

Sorry for no pictures and for the many spelling errors in this quick, quick summary. Technology is not my friend in ZambiA, well, not anywhere for that matter.

Andrew Murphy

From a Few days ago...

A lot of meeting has been taking place the last couple of days! Yesterday, we had church in Chipulukusu and got to experience all the fun they have while worshipping! I learned a new song and dance that seem to come in handy so far, seeing as how it appears to be a favorite of the church congregation.

After church, we walked across the yard and had a celebration for the opening of the Kafwa Center, a building used solely for the Kafwa, a group of volunteer health care workers. They were so excited about having their own building, and it was impossible not to share their joy. We got to interact with the village's children briefly, and again today, but tomorrow-the first day of school- we'll have a lot more time with them.

Today was dedicated to the adults. We had a day long meeting regarding community action, program development, and the future of their healthcare and education for their children. Even though we sat in discussion most of the day, we were a bit exhausted from the harsh sun on our twisting, rocky half hour walk back to the guest lodge. It probably didn't help that our bellies were full of nshima, spinach and chicken (which we ate the Zambian way- no silverware!)

Tomorrow begins teacher mentoring, so I should go work on my watercolor lesson examples!