Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010: Earth Lodge & Dinner with the Girls

It’s the first morning of no field school. No more waking up to walk to some sort of obligation. No more Casa Maria. No more Spanish classes. But most of all, no more field school students roaming the streets of Antigua. It was strange walking around this morning because most of the students took early flights out so the normal day to day running into people was not the same today. I didn’t see anyone I knew which felt so odd and a little scary because I really feel like a foreigner now. It’s like day 1 all over again.

A few stragglers did stay behind including Sue Coppola (the OT Practice Supervisor), her daughter Josie, Joy, Ellen, Jessica, and Nicole. We all headed for a day trip up to Earth Lodge, an Eco-Resort a 15 min drive up a hill near Antigua, which we did standing in the back of a pick-up truck. It was a sight to see and when we got to the very top of the steep mountain, we saw people living in a place that didn’t seem possible. Here we were trying to get away and be in a more primitive environment as a change from the norm, and for these Mayans, it was the norm.

Anyway, Earth Lodge is a cute little place on the top of a steep hill with magnificent views of Antigua and the surrounding areas. We played Farkle, ate amazing food, playing with the resort dogs, and just lounged in the quietness of nature (with our laptops of course!). I liked it so much that I booked a night for my amigos who are visiting for the week so we have a guaranteed getaway in one of their unique treehouse rooms where we can just enjoy doing nothing for a change.

At 3pm, Joy and I headed back to town to have dinner and drinks with Mary and Jennifer, an OT student from the pediatrics component. Now that the field school is over, we all got together to discuss our thoughts, feelings, and impressions of the whole experience, which I have to say, are mixed. When you bring people from different backgrounds, experiences, and with different expectations together, they all have different experiences no matter how much you try to make them the same. That’s my way of saying that some people loved the program and some people didn’t. I can see both sides, but I guess I liked it more than I didn’t and I don’t think we’ll know what we’ve gotten out of this until we get home and start putting our new skills to work.

Brian comes tomorrow!!! So much to do… can’t wait to see him!

Friday, August 13, 2010: Last Day at Casa Maria & Spanish Graduation

We had a Despedida (or Farewell Party) today at Casa Maria. It was the first time I think I realized that these people actually like us. It’s weird because the residents started crying when we announced it was our last day there. I don’t know why it was so weird so me or shocking, but I just felt like we were simply another group of volunteers to them and I didn’t entirely understand that we meant so much to them… until the tears started to come.

Did I mention that I’m not good with emotional good-byes? I don’t do them… it’s too hard. So I shook a few people’s hands and then went and sat with my little woman who always says things in such a distressed manner but she’s really just saying “hello” or “it’s nice to see you.” But by the way she talks, you’d think she was scared to death when she’s not. Today she asked me to take her somewhere in the same voice so I took her to a chair about 10 feet from her bed and just sat with her. I asked if I could have a picture to remember her and she said yes. Then I showed it to her and she was a little confused by the look on her face in the foto. She looks terrified like always but that’s just her. I’m so going to miss her!

After the party we went to the Tecun Uman graduation where we all got graduation certificated and Don Mario served us carrot cake. This was our chance to say goodbye to everyone and again, I sort of chickened out, shook a few hands, gave a few hugs and snuck out the back way. Goodbyes really aren’t my thing since I’ll stay in contact with the people who I’ve connected with the most. These days with Facebook and email, you really cant hide from anyone.

Lisa, Erika, and I spent the rest of the evening in the market, bargaining for the mejor precio (best price) and trying to convince people that another man offered the same item to us for less. After 2 hours in the alleyways we were exhausted and  worn down from trying to get an extra 5Q off an item, the equivalent of 70 cents. It’s so absurd when you really think about it but it comes with the territory.

We ended the night at Lisa’s house, just hanging out, reminiscing, and watching Lisa pack. We were supposed to go to La Sala, a club where people were going to all meet to say their goodbyes, get a little tipsy, and dance. But we were all so tired and it seemed like the 6 weeks of work finally caught up with us. As much as we all wanted to say goodbye, we all felt like it was better to stay in and just spend quality time with each other…. It was perfect.

Thursday, August 12, 2010: Casa Maria, Transitions English Class & Dessert Party

This morning at Casa Maria we just spent with the people, hanging out and starting to prepare for the party on the last day. Ana Lydia pulled some of us aside and asked us to refrain from using the term “fiesta” when talking about the party tomorrow. She thought the residents were getting too excited and wanted them to not expect too much from us. We did plan to deliver on our “fiesta” though, since any sort of party we have would be more action then these people have seen in quite awhile.

Afterward, Peggy and the rest of the research crew (all 3 of us) headed next door to Finca Filadelfia, a coffee plantation/ resort that no one seemed to even know existed. We had frappacinos and walked around the beautiful grounds. It’s a stark contrast to the dreariness of Casa Maria and it’s right in the home’s backyard. I had pushed to be able to bring residents for strolls through the gardens there but nothing came of it. Hopefully in the coming year, the residents will be able to venture there.

At 4:30 pm, Devva invited me and a couple of others to a weekly English class that is held at the Transitions house. The guys come over after working at the factory and they learn basic conversational English. The Disabilities Studies team brought over pizza and pastries for their last day with the guys, and I just sat back and watched. It was interesting to hear the guys speak English the way that I speak Spanish. Finally I stopped feeling so bad for butchering their language because we were on a now level playing field.

Can I tell you the joy that I got out of hanging out with these guys? I guess from Casa Maria, I came to expect people with some sort of disability to be a little down, but these guys were joking, loving life, picking on each other, and just having fun. I loved that! I saw one guy move his legs and he was in a wheelchair so I pointed at it. He smiled and said it was a miracle. Then he told me he had polio when he was a kid and could walk little bits but preferred to use a chair. I felt a little silly really thinking a miracle could happen in front of me. Another guy with one leg invited me to watch him play soccer. When I asked how he was able to run around the field, he said he just can… I have to see that.

One of our missions as an OT is to help people live fulfilled lives, so I can’t tell you enough how amazed I am that these guys are doing that. They’re living with a disability, but they aren’t disabled by it. As a therapist, I feel like these guys have more to offer me than I could ever offer them… they’re just inspiring. I’m coming back next week with my friends so they can meet them.

As part of our final farewell, the NAPA-OT group hosted a Dessert Party at a beautiful hotel for us. Everyone in the field school came for a dessert bar of cakes, mousses, and coffee. It was so delicious. We followed it up with a piñata in the shape of a clown which survived all of 4 people hitting it. We used the “torch” feature on our Guatemalan cell phones to light up the grass and find all of the candy. Afterwards, I snuck out since I’m not much for sappy goodbyes. I’ll see them all again soon.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010: Presentations, Shopping with Devva, and Meeting Old Friends

Wednesdays mean another day of Integrative Seminars. However today was special because instead of doing the same old PBL Groups (or Problem Based Learning), we all had a chance for our groups to present about what we’ve been doing during our time here. After all, it’s our last chance to all meet at Hotel Candelaria and what a better way to end it.

Ok, so maybe we started off with an hour long session of quiet time to fill out our program evals. It was interesting because everyone brought their laptops and went to little corners of the hotel to write about all their deep thoughts on how they would change things for next year. Hindsight is 20/20, but I didn’t feel like I had much to offer in the way of criticism. We’re here to learn… everyone’s here to learn… you’re bound to mess a few things up in a 6 week period of learning right? Who are we to tell people that we could do it better?! I guess a few people wanted to change things so we took a long time filling out these long evals.

The presentations were interesting. Pediatrics talked about working in the hospital with the kids and then visiting their homes. Of course many of the girls fell in love with their patients. How could you not? Guatemalan kids are so cute! Then we Gero people talked about our experience at Casa Maria. The Disabilities Studies team talked about advocating for people and the rights that their supposed to have but no one does. (Welcome to Guatemala, the land of many laws that no one really follows because there’s no money to enforce them). The guys from the Medical Anthropology surprisingly did not talk about getting robbed at gunpoint at one of the largest slums in Latin America, but they did say a lot about clean water and the lack of it in Guatemala.

Did I miss anything? Honestly, I spent a lot of time just taking pictures and feeling the hope that we all had in the room. It’s like we each got more out of talking about what we did than anyone else got out of hearing it. When you’re in the moment and doing the everyday tasks, you forget that you’re really accomplishing something pretty huge. I think when we had a chance to put it into words, we understood that we weren’t just enjoying the beauty of Guatemala, we were actually making a pretty big impact. I wish people did their presentations before they filled out those silly evaluation forms because I think many of the negative statements that were written (there were a couple) maybe wouldn’t have been there because people realized that they got more out of the experience than they’d hoped to.

So after lunch, Devva, Lisa and I headed to the markets to shop for some last minute gifts. Did I mention how much I love hanging out with Devva? We watched Lisa haggle and get amazing deals on coffee, bookmarks, and rum. Devva pointed out where the products were made, most of which were from India. We gossiped a little and then walked her back to her house in the rain.

We were supposed to have a Despedida (Farewell Party) at our host family’s house tonight for me, Armando, Jackie, and Sharon… my current roommates from the group. I attended it for the first hour and Don Mario, the owner of Tecun Uman, our Spanish school, came over for the BBQ. At 8pm though, I asked Armando to walk me around the corner to Erika’s house so we could walk to visit Jorge and Marie (our first host family). Are you following all this? Well, since Armando was already with us, Erika and I invited him to come along since it was dark out and he has a sense of adventure. We took a TukTuk to Jorge and Marie’s house and they were thrilled to see us.

Sitting at their kitchen table was just like old times. Marie served us Atol (a drink made from Plantains) and little empanadas cut in the shapes of leaves. They were so cute and Armando finally understood why we needed to see these people so bad. Although we only spent our first week in their home, Erika and I felt like we never left. They were so warm, welcoming, and just good people. It was nice for someone else from our group to see that too. We talk about them so much and it’s not because we were spoiled by them… they’re just a rare breed. Genuine. Warm. Amazing People.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010: Casa Maria and Transiciones

Party decorations! Remember those chains we used to make as kids out of paper? We made so many of those today at Casa Maria with some of the residents! This one lady who calls me “Mi Reina” (my queen) was so intent on cutting strips of painted newspaper the exact same size and width… I’ve never seen anyone concentrate so hard! Some school kids came by and sang us songs then handed out cookies to everyone. We asked her if she wanted her cookies and she said “work first, then eat when you’re finished!” Yes ma’am! I love her!!!

After lunch, I went to McDonalds for the first time here in Antigua to meet with a group on a presentation for tomorrow. Boy, the US McDonalds are so crummy compared to this place! It’s like a palace with an open garden and a covered patio with cozy chairs and couches. Clean, quiet, upscale! Three words that people never say about Mc Donalds in the US!

Next, I headed to the Transiciones house for the first time, in a Tuktuk. Neither I, nor the driver knew where we were going, but somehow we managed to find the place. The Transiciones House is the house that guys who work at the wheelchair factory live in. It’s completely accessible to suite the men’s needs, many of whom are in wheelchairs.

I assisted Erika and Devva in recording a focus group they held with the men who are from Transiciones. We had 10 men and our goal was to figure out what it’s like for them to live in Guatemala with some sort of disability, how they felt about it, if they knew what their rights were, and if they see things changing for them in the future. From what I heard, it seems like there are many laws here but no one enforces them, and there’s never funding for mandates that are imposed. People in Antigua are more considerate of people living with disabilities because of Transiciones’ presence in the community. However, most towns outside of Guatemala aren’t as open-minded and the towns are incredibly inaccessible. I was surprised to hear many of the men say that they consider Antigua to be an easy place to maneuver in a wheelchair. Cobblestone streets, foot high curbs, narrow sidewalks… nothing about this place is easy! It makes you wonder what “hard to maneuver” must be like!

One story worth hearing though- I met one of the founders of Transiciones today.  In short, they make wheelchairs out of bike parts and stainless steel so that the chairs last longer and can be fixed at any bike shop in the country. All of the employees have a disability and they learn the trade, with the goal to move on and start a new place or work with the skills they have learned. The man I met is 27, and contracted polio at the age of 2. He uses a wheelchair, but he is able to walk for short distances. He started Transiciones with 3 other guys at the age of 10! I was astonished when he told me this… The things this organization does is beyond incredible. I can’t imagine how a group of 10 to 13 year olds could come up with and continue to run a place like this, with a mission of helping people the way that it does. 

Monday, August 9, 2010: The Beginning of the End

I spent the morning at Rainbow Café, sending emails, and preparing for my upcoming wedding, hounding people for their addresses and researching some places to stay in the upcoming week in Guatemala. I want to see my grandpa in Chiquimula, find a place for Brian to surf, head to Semuc Champey to swim with a candle in my mouth, and see my cousin Kikix again. I don’t know how it’s all going to happen though. Guatemala is a small country but it takes so long to get everywhere because of all the mountains and volcanoes. I’m excited though to see Brian, Ana, Vin, and Andrea on Sunday. I really can’t wait.

We were supposed to watch Kelly from our research group give a lecture to the staff at Fray Rodrigo, but they had to cancel because someone died. So I had more time to research, plan, and most of all to relax, which was very welcomed after our busy weekend.

During the afternoon we interviewed Ana Lydia, the owner of Casa Maria for the second time. Devva and Erika from Disability Studies came and asked some interesting questions about the laws that govern senior care facilities here in Guatemala. Interestingly enough, there are many laws that Ana Lydia told us about, most of which she doesn’t follow. Her reasoning for not following them was this: The government doesn’t help her, so why should she follow the laws? They can’t shut her down because there’s nowhere to put all the residents, so Casa Maria gets to exist. It’s interesting to see that the government not providing help is reason enough not to follow the laws. I wonder what the US would be like if we all adopted that attitude. However, as astonished as I was at the things Ana Lydia said, Erika and Devva said that it’s a common thing they’ve heard in their many interviews here. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010: Market in Chichi

We went to the market in Chichicastenango today. It was so huge, with tons of alleyways and Joy and I almost got lost a few times. We found some cute things though and I got started on my Christmas shopping way too early this year. I’m now known as “the bag lady” in my group because all I buy are bags. How can you resist when they’re all so beautiful. I love it!!! I guess my biggest issue when I get home is going to be letting go of them because I want to keep everything that I’ve gotten.