Archive for January, 2009

20th January
written by Michelle

When I got my first car in high school, (and by “got” I mean, I got my dad’s used, 1988 white Volvo station wagon) I also got a tire gauge. It’s like the two went hand-in-hand; some rite of passage for an over-excited new driver. You get your license. Get a car. Oh, and then get a tire gauge? go figure. But I assume my dad wanted me to be a prepared and competent driver, so like a dutiful daughter I have kept that little tire gauge in my glove department ever since.

Last night, trying to be the responsible car owner that my dad taught me to be, I noticed one of my tires looked a little low. I pulled into the gas station on the corner of San Andres and Carrillo and pulled out my nifty tire gauge. And I must admit that I felt quite proud of myself and as I unscrewed each of the valves and checked the pressure for each tire. Sure enough, my front tire was low. It read 20 psi and it was supposed to be at 30 psi.

I looked at the air pump standing before me and thought, well, this shouldn’t be that hard, right?

Little did I know.

I spent the next 20 minutes feeding quarters to the machine, screwing the pump onto my car, attempting to fill the tire with air, only to check the psi and notice it was going to down! My now not so nifty tire gauge read 15 psi. What the heck? How is my tire pressure going down? I paced back and forth. I must be doing something wrong.

At this point I was frustrated. This was supposed to be easy. I mean in all seriousness, I wasn’t changing a flat tire or anything; no, I was just filling up my tires with air! I stood there turning over every possible solution of what I was doing incorrect, but I couldn’t figure it out. My tire was now flatter than when I started and I now I couldn’t drive home on it. I conceded to the fact that I needed someones help. I needed someone to just tell me what I was doing wrong or better yet, show me how to fix it.

So, who do I call when I have a car/life/home/problem-to-be-fixed question? My dad.

He didn’t answer.

Second best is my brother, but he didn’t answer.

I called one of my friend’s husbands who lives down the street, but he didn’t answer.

I even called one of my former students who is a mechanic, but he didn’t answer!

What is it with men not answering their cell phones on a Monday night? All I needed was someone, anyone, to help me fill up my tires. I know it sounds pathetic and albeit, I am slightly embarrassed, but I really just wanted a guy to come fix it. sorry, ladies, no offense to those who are much more car competent than I.

I was now annoyed as I frantically started scrolling through my contacts. Who else can I call?

Just then two latino men climbed out of their white pick-up truck, probably ending a tiresome day of gardening and tending to people’s yards- (mind you, yards that may have been three times bigger than their own small apartment.)

In a thick Spanish accent the older man looked at my car and asked, “Que paso?”

With an empathetic head nod, I tried to explain in Spanish that the air pump wasn’t working and instead of gaining air, my tires were loosing air. I don’t even know what exactly I communicated, considering I didn’t know the words for tire, pressure or pump in Spanish.

But before I could explain myself any further, Julio, and his son Eduardo bent down picked up the pump and started mumbling in a quick, spit-fire Spanish that left me standing there not understanding a thing. They some how figured out that there was a leak or hole in the air pump and so obviously air was not being pumped into the tire.

They wiped their already stained hands on their jeans and stood up smiling. I’d like to think they were thinking, “Man, it feels good to help someone” but they were probably thinking something more along the lines of, “Aww, stupid gringa, she didn’t even check to see if air was coming out of the pump.

Regardless of what they were thinking, I was so thankful. These men stopped, helped and it meant the world to me. Some part of me felt like this is what neighbors are supposed to do. Neighbors are supposed to graciously give and share just because we’re neighbors, and we live in the same community, share the same streets and city. I am always challenged by the simplicity of Jesus words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” His command is not to like all of your neighbors or even to know all of your neighbors, but simply to love them. It made me want to be better neighbor.

11th January
written by Michelle

I’m back….back to grocery shopping and grading papers, back to the putting away, the picking up, and the sorting through the stuff that we call life. I don’t always like the coming back. Even though I’ve been to Guatemala three times I consistently fail to remember how hard it is to come back.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of good things to come back to: dear friends whom I love, wonderful roommates, a home that’s a few blocks from the beach, a job that is fulfilling AND enjoyable, not to mention being able to flush toilet paper down the toilet again. (Trust me this is a luxury that many central American sewer systems cannot handle). But there is something, something about Guatemala that is hard to bring back with me.

The people.
The culture.
The language.
The richness of simplicity.
Having time to linger over meals.
Freedom to wander and wait without a sense of urgency.

Surprisingly, I am able to find joy in what I would normally classify as inefficient or impractical. I have been able to see and experience first hand what happens when a country chooses to value relationships over accomplishments. Guatemalans will sacrifice any task at hand to be with a person. It’s a beautiful thing, really. And one that I am often guilty of neglecting when I am in my-north-american-practical-efficient-to-do-list-gotta-get’er done mentality.

The highlight from the trip was working with the 17 teachers from the two schools, Proximos Pasos and Vida y Esperanza. Now, I tend to always like teacher-type people (probably because I am one) but I get easily frustrated with some teachers when all they do is complain about the school, the students, the administration, etc, etc. I was so encouraged by these 17 teachers because not once did I hear them complain. And if any of you have sat through any type of conference you know that it can be draining and tiring (even the most exciting types when the speakers bring games and candy)

yes. this is me trying to teach a review game complete with candy prizes : )

We spent four days talking about learning styles and different ways to engage students in the classroom. We modeled some different techniques and activities for introducing new vocabulary and some review strategies to aide in memorization. We gave the teachers time to practice and had them share some of their ideas and struggles.

Perhaps what was the most interesting for me was getting to hear some of their stories.

I met Edgar: a 20-year old, who wakes up at 4am everyday to help his uncle as an ayudante for his bus company. He does one trip from his village to the capital and then takes a 40 min bus to the school, where he teaches 28 2nd graders. When school day ends at 1pm he goes back to work with the bus company and gets home around 8pm. Then does the whole thing over again!
And Joselino: He’s a 26-year old, talented musician and excellent teacher who walk around always humming a tune. He spent over 10 hours gluing empty egg cartons to the cement walls of his classroom just to improve the acoustics!

And then there’s Vivian: a 20-year old women, who stands barely 5 feet tall, but she manages and teaches 31 kindergartens and Pre-K kids with the grace and patience of someone twice her age. She takes 2 buses to get to and from work each day and she spends her Saturdays studying English.

And I could go on and on.

I have the utmost respect for these men and women, many who are between the ages of 21-24 and working for less than 12 dollars a day.

As I was talking with Wally, (the principal at Vida y Esperanza) he shared his monthly struggle to make sure the school has enough money to pay its teachers. Mirna, (the principal at Proximos Pasos) expressed how she often has to choose between “Do I pay the teachers their salary or pay the electric bill?” (She often opts for the former). And where I feel so humbled is that we are not talking about thousands or even hundreds of dollars we’re talking about 80 queztales a day (which is roughly $11.50- that’s how much I spend on a sandwich and a drink for lunch).

It just keeps things in perspective. I have access to money and resources that many Guatemalans will never know, but on the other hand they have mastered the fullness and richness of loving people. While I was there I spent some time thinking and praying.

Maybe I should to move to Guatemala? Maybe I could teach here at one of the schools?


I felt a very real, yet subtle reminder that I am supposed to be in Santa Barbara right now. I have students and kids and friends who I care deeply about. I spent one day wondering around the quaint, tourist infiltrated streets of Antigua. In the heat of the afternoon, I parked myself on a bench right near the fountain in central park. I sat silently and watched as a little boy, no more than 8 years old scrubbed and shined the shoes of an elderly man on the bench across from me. The little boy came over to me next and motioned to my shoes. I explained empathetically that my black and white converse didn’t need to be shined, but we started a conversation.

He asked me, “De donde eres?”

Soy de los estados unidos.

He looked intrigued. Normally, someone would follow up with “Que parte? or “Cual estado?” But this little boy asked me, “Por que vienes?

That question made me think. Why do you come?

I answered, “estoy visitando solomente.”

I am visiting.

Yes, I was visiting. And I know, without a doubt I’ll go back.

3rd January
written by Michelle

Yes, I am going back! This trip wasn’t exactly planned or expected, but it’s hard to turn down an offer to go to Guatemala. About 3 weeks ago I got an email from one of the schools where I volunteered last summer. The principal wanted to know if me and another teacher (who went on our trip last summer) would come down to do some teacher in-service training. Before I even knew exactly what “teacher in-service training” required, I said yes. I am not usually so decisive. Typically, I tend to gather all the facts and find out as much information as I can and then, and only then, do I try and make the best decision. It’s really not always the easiest way to do life (sigh) but, its often my m.o.

But this felt different. I just knew. No part of me had to think about it or calculate or ask any questions. I knew in my gut and in my heart. I wanted to go. I sometimes don’t give space to listen to that part of me- that part of me that “just knows.” But when I do listen to it, that part inside that just knows without a doubt, almost with childlike simplicity, I am always surprised at freeing it feels.
So, I am flying to Guatemala in 1.5 hours. I will be working with the two schools where I volunteered last summer, Proximos Pasos and Vide e Esperanza. The Guatemalan school calendar ends in October and then they start a new school year in January. Tim, a veteran teacher and former principal, and myself will be doing the in-service seminars  before the school year starts. What is encouraging is that I have met most of these teachers before. They are highly motivated, hard working, inspiring young men and women- many only 19 or 20 years old. They are often in a classroom with 30-40 kids and little or no supplies or curriculum. They are my heroes. They emailed Tim and I a list of areas that they would like training on; things like reading instruction, classroom management, holistic education, etc, etc. I am not sure if I am qualified to teach on any of those areas per se, but I am willing to try and learn along the way.
If you’re a person of prayer, please pray for safety as we travel and a sense of unity that bridges cultures and languages and….
Oh, they are announcing my flight. Lacsa 641. I probably should listen.
I will write more for Guatemala…..adios!