Posts Tagged ‘cross-cultural living’

2nd November
written by Michelle


Yesterday driving home from the store on the only paved road right outside of town, I slowed down as I saw a family huddled together on the opposite side of the road. The older son, stood in the street to direct traffic around his parents who were kneeling down on the edge of the road. There is no curb between where the street ends and a small grassy ledge begins. I watch as the mom carefully places red, yellow and white flowers around a wooden cross. I drive along this road at least three times a day, slowing down just enough to go over the 6 different speed bumps, but I have never noticed that cross before. I instantly knew that this family cannot not notice that cross. They probably see it in their dreams and feel a lump in their throat when they walk by it. Because when you lose someone you love, you find the memory of them more present than ever.

I don’t know exactly what happened there. But I do know, someone they loved died in that spot, by the wooden cross on the side of the road. They went yesterday to decorate, to honor their life, and to invite anyone who drives by slowly enough to pause and take note— We remember their life, won’t you too?

Guatemala, like many Latin America countries celebrates Dia de Los Muertos or Dia de Los Santos on November 1st as a way to honor and remember loved ones who have died. In a blend of Mayan and Catholic traditions, Guatemalans visit the local cemetery arriving with arms full of fresh flowers to decorate the graves of loved ones. Some families gather to laugh and tell stories while kids fly kites. Traditionally the idea was that you can send a message on the kites up to the sprits of those who have died. Other families sit more somberly and pray, their heads resting against the large cement aboveground tombs.

There is such beauty in remembering, because it gives permission to grieve. For some grief is a very private thing, but in Guatemala grief is something that is shared. There is often something powerful about making it public, about letting other share in your pain and in your memories.In general, I don’t think our U.S. culture knows how to grieve or mourn together. We don’t like to talk about death. Maybe there part of evangelical Christian culture that makes us believe and give pat answers about how “he is in a better place.” But even when you have hope that you’re loved ones are in heaven, that doesn’t necessarily help those who are still grieving here on earth.

Other cultures seem to do this so much better, then we do. I remember reading about the Jewish tradition of saying Kaddish, a prayer for the dead, that was supposed to be said twice a day for an entire year after someone died. Whoever was mourning, was instructed to pray those words, not in solitary but with people, in community. I have had friends tell me one after loosing a parent or a sibling, one of the most helpful things people did was to share a memory of the person who died. The person grieving often feels so alone in their pain. When someone else shares a memory it reminds them of their loved one and it gives a little bit of life to someone is so recently gone. The person who is grieving is usually thinking about their loved one all of the time, so when someone else uses their name or shares a memory it usually makes them not feel so alone.

I remember one year where three friends, my age, all lost a parent. One to cancer, one to plan crash and one to suicide. No one in their twenties is ever prepared to have to bury a parent. I am not sure if can ever really be prepared to burry a parent. I remember sitting with one friend the day after her dad’s funeral. She said, “Sometimes what feels the hardest is everyone else’s world keeps going, but I feel like mine just ended.”

Typically in the U.S. we set-aside a day at best. Maybe we attend a funeral, send some flowers, write a sincere, sympathetic card and then that’s it. Our life and schedule move on. But what if there was a different way?

In Guatemala there is a catholic tradition called La Novena. It literally means the ninth” or “the nine days.” Every night for nine days after someone has died, family and close friends gather in the deceased person’s home or in the street in front of their home just to be and sit. The family sets up white plastic chairs and a tarp or canopy to protect from rain and people come. They stop what is going on in their world to be with the one who feels like their world just ended. There is coffee and sweet bread and kids running around. For nine days people gather to mourn together and care for the widow or family who just lost someone.

I remember the first time I experienced a death here in Guatemala. Gerber called me and said the 4-year-old son of one of his neighbors had died in the town where he grew up. I naïvely asked, when the funeral would be and what should we bring. Gerber paused on the other line, “No, we go tonight for the valorio.” I remember looking at my watch. It was 5pm. I drove home, changed my clothes and we left for his neighbors’ house. There was a small casket in the front of the garden. Neighbors had already brought chairs and flowers. Baskets of sweet bread were making the rounds and everyone sat. There was some music and a prayer, people came and went, kids played in the doorway. But that family was not alone. Gerber said people would be there the whole night.  The burial would be the next day and then La Novena would start. I sat there and glanced up at the young mom and her parents, who had just lost a son and a grandson, their eyes red and puffy from too many tears. I said a silent prayer and imagined for a split-second the fear of what it might feel like to lose a child.

After a few hours of sitting had passed, we got in the car to head home. I told Gerber, “Our countries handle death in such different ways.  I explained how in the US a lot of people are cremated and then a funeral or memorial service may be planned for weeks or sometimes months later. Invitations get sent out, people fly in and schedules get coordinated. Part of this is our U.S. culture of busyness and planning, and perhaps having access to more advanced morgues and burial options. In Guatemala, people die and then are buried usually within 24-48hours because there are very few places to preserve or embalm the body.

In the U.S., I think we would like to compartmentalize grief. As if it’s something we can check off, follow 5 simple steps and then be done with it. But I think other cultures better embrace the fact that grief is a process, one that ebbs and flows with memories and seasons and certain times of year. And how beautiful to know that every year on November 1st is a day set-aside to remember loved ones who have died.

This morning, Angela, the woman who cleans our home, greeted me as I was about to leave for work. She drives a green pick-up truck, has more energy than I do and you would never know by looking at her that she has teenage grandkids. I asked her how her weekend was. “Fue bien bonito.” It was lovely.

She told me how every year on Dia De Los Muertos she goes to the cemetery where her son is buried. I have met some of her adult-children, but I never knew she had a son that died.

He would have been 37 this year,” she smiles, like only a mother does, knowing exactly how many birthdays have passed.

He died when he was 6 months old. He was born with a hole between his esophagus and stomach. He needed an operation, but I didn’t have money to pay for it.”

Her eyes look toward the tile floor. My heart drops. I am so sorry, I say. What was his name?

She smiles, Se llama José. His name was José.

When you reserve a day to honor and remember loved ones who have died, you not only acknowledged their death but you also get to say their name and remember who they were when they had life.

13th October
written by Michelle


I realize I am making an erroneous leap, assuming that all cross-cultural workers are working with people in poverty. I know that is not the case. There are cross-cultural conversations happening all the time across board rooms and school rooms that involve people from two different cultures, but similar level of socioeconomic status (SES). However, there are a large proportion of cross-cultural workers who are partnering with people in poverty. And it is for them that I address this question.

How do you define poverty?

Because I am going to suggest that how we define poverty deeply affects how we seek to alleviate it.

Most people from the US automatically define poverty in terms of a lack of material things. Be it water, health insurance, a home or a job. Most North Americans, especially those who have not spent much time with people who live in poverty, think the lack of these material things is what constitutes poverty. And it’s true in part. There are real hardships when you don’t have access to basic material things. However, when the World Bank* asked 60,000 people living around the world in poverty to describe “what is poverty?” 90% of the time they described an emotional or physiological feeling, not a lack of material things. What people mentioned was lacking dignity and not having enough opportunities. They said poverty was feeling like your voice didn’t matter, or worse, that they didn’t matter. People mentioned having the desire to be seen and to be listened to. They talked about feeling shame and embarrassment.

Our staff and organization has spent a lot of time reading and discussing,  When Helping Hurts.  If you’re looking for just one resource to challenge the way you or your non-profit board or church thinks about poverty I can’t recommend it enough. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert weave their unique experiences of local and international work in cross-cultural settings and their background in economic development together. The Chalmers Center has done extensive reasearch and training in helping cross-cultural workers better understand how to alleviate poverty.

One of the things that I have loved is how they expand the definition to include 4 different types of poverty:

  1. Poverty of Being - a broken relationships with Self. I call it Emotional Poverty and it can be from having a low self-esteem, not valuing yourself or on the other end thinking too highly of yourself, having what the authors call a “savior complex.”
  2. Poverty of Community- a broken relations with Others. I think of it as Relational Poverty. What relationships are broken in your life, either in your neighborhood or across the globe? Abuse and exploitation of others fits into this relational poverty both from a micro standpoint, like in a family system and a more macro standpoint, like from a systemic or societal cause.
  3. Poverty of Stewardship- a broken relationship with nature or creation. I think of this has Environmental Poverty. It is not just poorly caring of our earth and environment, although that is part of it. But it is also the poverty of not being able to work or to have a sense of purpose.
  4. Poverty of Spiritual Intimacy- a broken relationship with God. I think of this has Spiritual Poverty. It comes from the idea that all people are spiritual beings and when we live disconnected, un-purposeful lives or place our self-worth in what we have we become broken from God and our spiritual selves.

Now they obviously see poverty and the world through a Christian lens, but even if you don’t identify as a Christian, I think you can still use these descriptions to help understand the different types of poverty in your life or community.

So you see, when we talk about the materially poor in our world we are not just talking about people who don’t have access to food and basic water and sanitation. That would be too one-demensional. We are talking about people, complex, three-dementias, whole people.

When we talk about poverty we are talking about people who yes, often lack materially things, but also lack the purpose and meaning that comes from having  job and an economic system that provides security and safety. These are people who often lack trust in relationships or have lost people close to them and with that comes certain kind of poverty. There are people who suffer environmental poverty because corrupt governments have contained their rivers and land and they have no option for clean drinking water.

I am not saying all poverty is created equal. Or that the relational poverty you feel when you and your neighbor can’t agree is the same kind of poverty a woman in Ethiopia feels when she has to choose between buying medicine for her baby or food to feed her family. By gosh, no.

But what I am saying is that before we try to help the materially poor, we have to fist identify and acknowledge what is our own poverty?

More on that tomorrow.

For previous questions in the 31 Questions for Cross-Cultural Workers Series click here.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about poverty and development, but don’t have time to read a book, you can watch this 15-min video from the Chalmers Webpage which has some great resources.

*World Bank fact came from the afore-mentioned video 

1st October
written by Michelle

IMG_8974.JPGFor the month of October I am joining thousands of others writers and bloggers and committing to write for 31 days. I haven’t written consistently for years. I compose drafts in my head and never write them. I start posts, only to save them for later, where they accumulate in my draft box like a stack of old photos. I am well aware that some seasons of the writing life are for soaking up, gathering ideas and paying attention. But sometimes there is wisdom in just starting, in putting words on the page, fingers to the keys and practicing the discipline of showing up every day and just doing it.

If you’re new here you may not yet know how much I like questions. I like questions that challenge me, like when Andy Stanley asked, “What does Love Require of me?.” I ask a lot questions about raising a bicultural and bilingual daughter like, “Will she feel more Guatemalan? or American?” I’ve written about what I learned in my 20’s and that being able to ask good questions and listen to how someone responds are of equally importance.

For the next31 days I am going to write 31 questions that I think all cross-cultures workers should ask themselves and those they work with. If you’re reading this and thinking, what on earth is a “cross-cultural worker?” I would say it is anyone who specifically devotes part of their life working with a group of people or culture different from the one they most closely identify with. That encompass expats, missionaries, non-profit leaders who live internationally, and locally. But I would also like to extend the definition to include educators, pastors, nurses, administrators, business owners and really anyone who has consistent interaction with people from a culture different from their own. Be it at the gym, in the classroom, around the board room, or in the living room. For me, the majority of my cross-cultural learning has taken place in Guatemala. And as a result, the majority of my writing will stem from my experience as a cross-cultural worker here, but I will also draw on experiences and questions from being a teacher, a wife and mom.

My hope is that the questions I will ask and discuss will apply across generational, socioeconomic and ethnic lines. My hope is that teachers, working with students from a minority (or majority) culture can also relate. And that youth pastors working with teenagers who are almost an entirely different culture altogether will also be able to relate. I hope that parents trying to connect to their kids, will be able to relate. I even think many of the questions also apply to marriages, because even when both spouses come from the same “culture” we all know that people have very unique family cultures.

Questions have the potential to help us get to know someone else better by first helping us know ourselves.

So, join me for the next 31 days to find out what are the 31 questions worth asking.

You can check back to this page and I will list the questions by day. Or you can sign-up on my blog under the “email option” in the righthand column so you get an email delivered to your inbox with each new post.

Look forward to writing and discussing this with all of you.

Here’s to 31 days,



Check back here for links to each day:

Day 1: Do you use person first language? 

Dat 2: How do you define poverty?

Day 3:

3rd January
written by Michelle

 On Monday night we boarded a redeye flight from California to Guatemala. We’ve done this numerous times before, the difference being this time the little baby we thought would sleep was wide awake. We sat on the runway for a while before being giving the clear to take off. As she stared out the window pointing at the lights, we tried our best to keep her occupied. Like any parent who has flown with a toddler knows, you’ll do anything to keep them quiet and contained. I started whispering “bye bye” to each item we spotted out the window. We waved bye bye to the moon and to the lights and to the man with the orange flashlight. We continued…

Good-bye to Nana, Good-bye to Papa, Good-bye to Bean and wooff wooff,

In her sweetest voice she repeated, “byyeee, byeee.”

Good-bye Bobo and Grandma Charlotte. Good-bye Tia Steph and Uncle Brian.

As the plane started to speed up we waved good-bye to Target and Trader Joe’s, REI and easy returns. We waved goodbye to Starbucks and the sleeping deer. Good-bye library and the parks with no sand.

Good-bye 5-lane freeways and the carpool lane. Goodbye sushi and roasted seaweed.

Good-bye beach walks and friends in Santa Barbara. Good-bye Boat House and Blenders.

Good-bye Jen, Good-bye June. Good-bye church and cousins in LA. And good-bye putting toilet paper in the toilet.

As the headed west out over the Pacific and the lights behind us faded we waved one more time. I whispered in her ear…

Good-bye California.

. . .

I looked out the window into the black sky. I swallowed the ache in my heart. So much has changed since I first left.

I moved to Guatemala trusting that still small voice that says, Go, Will you trust me? My plan was for a year. I think if someone had told me you’re leaving and not coming back, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But a year seamed do-able, even desirable. And in these 4 years some pretty significant life changes happened: I fell in love and got married. We bought a home and then welcomed the birth of our daughter. My life has expanded and changed and simplified in a million ways. I became a foreigner, a wife and a mother within a span of three years. Sometimes when I let that all sink in, I think, woah! That’s a lot.

And then we go back for visits like this past one. And I

My parents spoil us. They do everything possible to make visiting with a toddler easy. They let us borrow a car and give us the guest bedroom, they buy diapers and wipes and set-up a changing station in our room. They have a closet full of toys for Elena to play with and a fridge full of food for us. They welcome us and love us well.

One of my very favorite things was watching Elena reach her arms out for Nana or Papa. My sister spoiled her with crafts and cups of Starbucks’ hot chocolate and she spoiled us with free babysitting for date nights and afternoon errands. Gerber and I went to the movies together for the FIRST time since Elena was born. We saw, the Hobbit (his choice) and Interstellar (my choice).

I have a new appreciation for the benefits of living close to my family. I get a glimpse of what it could look like.

Then we went to Santa Barbara for a week. Some of my favorite people and favorite places are there. We bounced around and stayed with three different friends’ who gracioulsy hosted us. We piled Elena in the car for dinners with friends and breakfast dates. We walked along the beach and spent a morning out on the pier at the Sea Center Museum. I planned play dates and we had an open house. I visited the high school where I taught and ran into a few old students around town. The week was full. On our way out of town we even stopped for coffee with two of my favorite professors.

We drove down the 101 with the ocean sparkling in the rear-view mirror. As, we rounded the last curve the orange-pink sunset slipped behind the hill and I sighed. Not a sad sigh, just a nostalgic, heart full and heavy sigh.

Maybe I was mourning what I left behind. Or maybe just reminiscing. Although we all know the past often looks better when seen through rear-view mirror sunsets. I know in a heartbeat I would leave it all again, but for some reason being back this time touched something different.

. . .

Elena finally settled down on my lap, buried her head in my chest and was asleep before they turned off the cabin lights. I leaned my head back against my seat and closed my eyes. Gerber grabbed my hand. He knew. He always knows. Even when we don’t exchange words, he senses the heaviness in my heart. He saw the tears as we waved good-bye to my family at the airport.

I glanced down at my husband’s hand tightly wrapped around mine and the little girl asleep in my arms. I may have left some really good things behind, but I am deeply thankful for what I gained.

A few short hours later, the captain makes an announcement in Spanish that I am not awake enough to understand. I lift open the window shade and let the light in. Elena pops open her eyes and pulls herself up to peer out the window.

Down below is Guatemala, in all of her majesty. Volcanoes, lakes, tiny cement pueblos built on the edges of cliffs.

We start the slow descent by waving hello to everything she knows in Guatemala.

She waves hello to horsies and doggies in the street. Hello, to agua and the fountain in Antigua.

Hello, Mama Hilla and Papa Choyo. Hello, Tia Mimi & Tia Ara. Hello, Sofi and Emmita.

Hello, Guayo and Dalilia. Hello, Alessandra and Tio Walter.

Hello, nuestra casa and the community playground. Hello, bumpy streets and breakfast bagel dates.

Hello, black beans and handmade tortillas.

Hello, Guatemala.

We are home. My heart is full and yet there is always an ache in the leaving, huh?

19th September
written by Michelle


We have been back for a few days. We’ve done laundry and put away our suitcases, and our tanned face our fading, but I still find little bits of sand in the bottom of the laundry basket and I smile. We needed this vacation. We needed time away as a family where we weren’t juggling life and work and ministry and a thousand little decisions about our future. We needed the simplicity that comes from being away, where our biggest decisions for the day were, where to get lunch and whose turn it was to sing Old MacDonald? This vacation invited rest and play and…lets be honest, lots and lots of driving.


God Bless, Google Maps.

This past season has been a challenging one. One friend of mine said the year after each of her children were born was the hardest in their marriage. That made sense to me. Of course having a child has been one of the best choices we’ve ever made, I also think we weren’t totally prepared for how it would change us. Gerber and Me, that is. Becoming parents has challenged us and changed us. And add into that mix two unique cultures and two very different ways of growing up and you can say we’ve had a lot to work through.

We knew we needed a break. One thing that has always been easy in our marriage is travel. We both love to travel and our travel-style (spend-less-on-hotels-more-on-activities) meshes well. Originally we thought it would be great to drive from Guatemala to Panama, covering aaallllll of Central America. But then we remembered our sweet, active 1-year-old who is not exactly found of the carseat, so we reconsidered.

Instead we spent a little over 10 days driving through El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

El Coco, EL Salvador

If you’re thinking of traveling through Central America here’s my quick recap: Air-conditioning is a must. The beaches get better the further south you go. And be patient at border crossings. There, done and done.

If you’re wanting the longer, play-by-play of where we went, where we stayed and what we ate, keep reading. But warning, it’s long. :)

Hotel La Tortuga Verde, El Salvador

We loaded up our truck early Monday morning and made reservations for the first place and then planned on figuring out the rest as we went. (September is a slow season is most of Central America, so this worked. If you’re traveling anytime from Nov-April, better to plan ahead!) We made it into El Salvador, after 2 hours at the border. Apparently our plastic boxes in the back of the truck seemed very suspicion. We arrived at La Tortuga Verde in El Coco, the most southern part of Salvador, and as soon as I stepped out of the car, I signed in happy relief.

A small part of my heart will always feel at home with my toes in the sand and the sound of waves. And although we have the beaches in Guatemala, it never really feels like the beaches I remember in California. But this was perfect.

She clearly loves the sand

Our hotel (one-step above a hostel) was literally on the sand. You walk out of your room and touch the sand. The restaurant sits on the sand and every table has an ocean view. This was great, except we quickly learned that Elena doesn’t really like the sand. Ha. The food was good, service great. And our simple, but adequate room had AC and a screened in porch with 2 hammocks. We’d put Elena to bed by 7ish and then hang out in the hammocks. We spent the day rotating between the beach, the pool and the hammocks. It was lovely.

I could be a professional hammock-baby-wearer if there were such a thing

Then we loaded up again and made plans to cross the Honduran and Nicaraguan borders. When you cross the border driving, you actually cross the border of the country you’re leaving (and turn in a bunch of paper work, get a stamp in your passport and maybe pay a multa) and then you wait to cross the border of the country you’re entering. Border crossings were not our favorite. We couldn’t find much to see/do in this southern part of Honduras so we drove straight through to Nicaragua.


Central Park in Leon, Nicaragua

(photo credit thanks to google images and

We made it to Leon, where we found a nice hotel with breakfast included and 2 blocks from the central square. Apparently there are beaches and some cool volcanoes to see around Leon, but given the heat we just stayed one night. After all day in the car we walked down to the central park at dusk. Neither one of us brought our phones or camera, but for a second it felt like we were in a plaza in Europe. By far one of the most stunning plazuelas I’ve been to Central America. Elena was entertained by the agua in the fountain, Geber I walked behind her, holding hands as she squealed with delight running around the open space.

THIS was the top of the Cathedral. Dreamy, huh?

In the morning we did a tour of the cathedral, apparently the biggest in Central America and got to walk on the top of the roof. It was designed with a special mixture of chalk and egg whites to form this white plaster. You even had to take off your shoes to walk on top! No joke. Elena enjoyed the view from the ergo, sleeping through the whole tour. We took advantage of the sleeping child, grabbed smoothies and hopped back in to car.

Next stop, Granada. We had heard wonderful things about this town, which is a sister-city to Antigua. It’s quite a bit bigger and not as “picturesque” feeling, but there is a 1-mile pedestrian only street, with outdoor dining, small cafes and live music that quickly became our favorite.

La Calzada: Granada, Nicaragua

La Calzada, it’s called. It starts at central park and ends at the Lago de Nicaragua. If you’ve ever been to Barcelona, it feels just like Las Ramblas or for my Santa Barbara friends, it would be like State Street, but smaller and no cars or stoplights… or Abercrombie.

We ate at this place recommended by a friend of mine and may have gone back the next day for drinks and snacks. It was kid friendly, had hammocks inside and a gorgeous garden with a fountain. (agua!) Can you tell what things entertained our daughter?!

We found the best little gelato place owned by a man from France. And spent lots of time walking up and down this street. By the end of the night Gerber was pushing the stroller and I was carrying Elena in the ergo. As he hauled the empty stroller up the flight of stairs at the hotel he said, “Well, at least we have a stroller to push the diaper bag?” Ha. Has there ever been a truer statement?! We learned a lot traveling with a wee-one. Elena usually can only handle the stroller for about 20 min and only then, if there is something to look at, otherwise she wants to be down and walking. Active one, that girl. I don’t know where she gets it??


We stayed at this place, which was ok, kind of a quirky style in one the oldest still standing mansions in Granada. The silver lining was a wonderful breakfast buffet with French toast, eggs to your gusto, and crepes. We did a lot of juggling, eating and chasing after a toddler, while trying to get a few pieces of food in her system. Most places in Central America don’t have high chairs (which we has assumed), but what we didn’t realize was how distracted and hard it would be to feed our little one without anyway to strap her down. By far, the best part of the hotel was the 30 min message that was included for each night you stay!

View of Lago de Nicaragua and smooth wide sidewalks!

Since we had a car we spent one day exploring the area just outside of town. We had heard about Lago Apoyo (which is kind of comparable to Lake Atitlan, but much, much cleaner!) It’s right in the middle of a reserve so Nicaragua has done much to protect this little gem, especially consider how polluted the much larger Lago de Nicaragua is.

Laguna Beach Club: Lago Apoyo

We spent a day here, at the Laguna Beach Club, and kind of wish we would have spent a few nights there as well. It was delightful: warm water, best fish I had on the whole trip, a little grassy area and hammocks built into the side of a hillside.


Elena is down to one nap a day right around 12pm, so I just held her wherever we were. I mean how much better does it get, holding a sleeping baby, reclining in a hammock overlooking water. I got to read and rest and Gerber went to kayak. Win win. I will say given her natural inclination to nap while being held, she’s a pretty easy traveler. Hold her, nurse her and she can sleep anywhere :) We didn’t even travel with a pack N play, just a camping pad because our little one still sleeps better on the floor.

We loaded up again. And by “we” I really mean Gerber. Bless him. He must have loaded and un-loaded our stuff and taken off and on the monster size wheels of the bob like a 100 times. #husbandoftheyear

(If you made it this far, you either must really love traveling or are just scrolling down to see more cute pictures of Elena.)

Our Room: Hotelito El Coco Azul

Next stop was San Juan del Sur, originally we booked this little hotelito for 2 nights, but we ended up staying for 5 days! It was simple, clean, had a wonderful ocean breeze and was less than 1/2 a block from the beach.

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

We’d wake up early, thanks to our adorable alarm clock and the first words out of her mouth, “agua?” agua?” So we’d throw on our swimsuits and walk down to the beach. We did morning beach walks most days, and sunset swims. The water was always warm, the sand soft and the surrounding cliffs and boats in the harbor made me take gazillions of sunset pictures.

Playa de Remanso, Nicaragua

We’d come back to our hotel in time for breakfast and then decide which beach to explore for the day. We spent one morning here, where Gerber rented a surfboard and tried surfing for the first time. I held Elena, who decided to take a 2- hour nap (she never takes TWO-hour naps!) listening to the sound of the crashing waves. I think I need to sit by the ocean every afternoon. It would greatly improve our nap situation over here.


Marsella Beach Front Hotel, Nicaragua

Then another day we drove north to this beach and found a great hotel where we had use of the pool and patio and beach access as long we ordered lunch at the restaurant. If you’re vising Nicaragua and don’t have a car you can take a shuttle to all of these places. My friend Brooke lives there and had tons of great recommendations. You can check out her website San Juan Live for more info.


In the afternoon we’d usually walk along the “boardwalk” - just a strip of restaurants and surf shops and get smoothies.

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Sunsets in San Juan are like a call to prayer. Everyone turns their chairs and their gaze to watch the colors dance across the sky as the sun dips below the horizon. It’s breath taking, really. It invites a moment to pause. To stop doing everything else and just sit. And be. And watch. There were no other distractions, nothing else demanding our attention, there was no 3G, no meetings, no dinner to cook, just the simple joy of watching the sunset.

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Sometimes I feel closest to God watching the sun set over the water.


There was one evening I sat on the sand watching the two loves of my life play in the shallow breaks of the waves. I realized in the past year one of the things that has brought me the greatest joy, is seeing Gerber father Elena. He loves her fiercely and cares for her with tenderness only a father can give his daughter. She laughs with him more than any other. And as I watched them run back forth, trying to not let the water touch them, this new love washed over me. Like a fresh start of parenting and marriage, with a renewed dose of grace and gratitude.



One afternoon we splurged and asked our friend for a babysitter recommendation and left Elena in good hands, so we could try paddle boarding. We rented two boards and after we managed to get over the waves, we paddled around the harbor in between boats and along the coastline for an hour. I may have gotten the arm workout of the century, but well worth it. At one point we managed to both sit down and face the sunset. Gerber grabbed on to my paddle and pulled my and my board close to his. We smiled. It was the perfect amount of new-ness and adventure, and just a tad scary to be out so far away from shore. It had been along time since we did something new and fun together.

My ideal way to do the beach

San Juan stole our hearts. The laid back lifestyle, the amazing beaches, the beautiful sunsets and the affordable beach-style living are all pluses! We even pondered staying longer, but decided we needed a place with a kitchen so we could do some meals at home for Elena and for our budget. But we couldn’t find a place to rent. So we vowed to come back.

Look closely: HER BABY FOOTPRINTS!! Awwww.

I have always wanted a little place to call our own, or a place to say, “This is where our family goes on vacation. This is where we go to recharge, to play and to rest.” And I think San Juan could be that place for us. It’s a long drive, but doable, even with a toddler!

Me and My Girl: San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

After we packed up (yet again), we made our way back toward Managua, where we stopped to visit some friends who had moved from Guatemala. We originally we’re going to just stop for lunch…but ended up staying the night. I like friends like that. They opened up their home and their life and let us live right along with them for 24 hours.

Elena + Andrew: Future Bilingual/Bicultural Friends

They have two kids, and Elena had more toys then she knew what to do with. They are also a bicultural couple- he’s from Minnesota and she’s from Guatemala- and they are a bit ahead of us in the journey of parenting and marriage and ministry. It was a joy just talking with them and realizing, oh, ok good…so this is normal? We hope to see them next time we’re in Nicaragua.

Car Naps

We left their home at 10:30am and started driving. We knew we had three border crossings ahead of us and weren’t sure how far we’d get. We were going to stop in El Salvador, spend one more night by the beach and then head home. But after 9 hours in the car, Elena fell asleep in my arms. (I know I know, you can all gasp now. Car seats are not required here :) So we decided to just keep driving and avoid one more night un-packing and re-packing the car. After a quick stop for some tacos, and a bathroom break we made it home after 15 hours. Tired, but grateful.

The View of San Juan Del Sur Harbor

Traveling has a way of doing that…filling you up, giving you lots of be grateful for and making you slightly exhausted.

My Family of Three

Gerber and I have traveled often, but this was our first time traveling as a family. And in many ways we are still learning how to be a family-of-three. We are re-learning how to be husband and wife and mom and dad. How to be us, with her.

Traveling with a little one changes things for sure. We worked around her schedule and needs, which meant most nights we were in our hotel room by 7pm. One of us would head out and bring back dinner and then we’d sit on the floor in the dark, eating dinner with plastic forks, pointing and whispering and trying not to laugh. It was simple, some might say ridiculous, but we were together. We went to sleep early because our days started when the sun came in. We learned to reorient our expectations and plans based not on what we wanted to do, but what we could all three realistically do or enjoy or handle. And maybe that’s what a lot of the first year of parenthood is about, about re-orienting and re-arranging your expectations and plans.

Now we just need a few days to recover from our vacation, right? Isn’t that how it always is?


11th August
written by Michelle

If your new here, these are series of letters I started writing to my daughter before she was born. This was the first one, and this is one her Daddy wrote her. I wrote about her birth story here  and I seem to write a lot about raising a bilingual and bicultural daughter and hardest part of motherhoods . These are my way to capture and remember parts of her life and I invite you to read along. This may be last “Dear Mija” letter for awhile, but I am sure I’ll come back to it.


Dear Mija-

In June we celebrated your first birthday. (And our first year has parents! Let’s be honest, both are equally important.)

Elena, you say “Dada” first thing every morning, you are starting to give real besitos and you would eat black beans by the spoonful if we let you. I am convinced the Guatemalan side of you will always prefer to sleep right between me and Daddy and it’s a good thing we live in a country where no one bats an eye if you breastfeed your walkin’, talkin’, toddler because that very well may be us. Your favorite things are doggies, agua and signing “more.” Maybe in that order.

Anytime you see a doggie you make the cutest little “ruff ruff” sound. Oddly in Guatemala, the toilet paper brand Scott has a cute golden retriever as its logo. So you often walk down the supermarket aisle pointing and barking.

Before you said “mama” or “dada” you said “agua.” And it’s still your favorite thing. Washing your hands, taking a shower, playing in the pool…as long as there is water involved you’re a happy camper. We’ve started teaching you signs for “more” and “all-done” around 7 or 8 months and I was convinced that you could care less. And then one day around 11 months or so you ago you just got it! It’s like it clicked and you started signing “more” ALL. THE. TIME. More aguaMore beans. More nena. More books. More, more, more.

When I tell you it’s time to go “night night” you grab your monkey or your nena and start to pat their back and say “shhhh.” It’s pretty much the cutest thing ever. You now sleep in a small corner of your room on the floor, surrounded by pillows and blankets. We call it your nest, and ironically you sleep better now then you ever did in your crib.

You wave to people we see on the street and you love playing with and poking other kids. We’re working on more of the former and less of the latter. You have always liked noise and activity and being out and about. When we go to a birthday party or out with friends you’re as content as can be. But the moment I get you in the car you start to fuss and cry and basically melt down. When you meet someone new you usually give them a stare down at first. When someone talks to you, you listen with your eyes. Serious, focused and intent. When you trust someone you usually grab their hand and a cautious smile comes across your face.

Without intentionally planning it we got to celebrate your first birthday in both countries. First in California with your US family and then a few weeks later with your Guatemalan family. At Nana and Papa’s house your Auntie Christine and Stephanie decorated with an etsy banner that matched the circus theme.


Nana bought Animal Crackers and delicious cupcakes and everything was red, white and yellow. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough bread with onions and veggies and drank fancy drinks through pretty straws.

You sat on the floor in your red birthday dress and loved trying frosting for the first time. You opened gifts and tore paper and played with the envelopes while I read your birthday cards.


You are so loved by your family in the states. Your Uncle Andrew was there and Grandma Charlotte came by. I so badly want you to have memories in that home where I grew up. I look forward to the day when you say, “I want go to Nana and Papa’s house.”

In Guatemala a few weeks later, I picked up some balloons and a “Feliz Cumpleanos” banner at the Bodegona. I had you dressed in jeans and little blouse, but when we got to Mama Hiya’s house she surprised us with a huipil and corte that she made just for you. Your Aunt Mimi got you dressed and everyone said how beautiful you looked.


You didn’t look so sure about your new wardrobe, but you were a good sport. Your abuela made pepian for the whole family and we drank rosa de jaimca.


We had a huge Winnie the Pooh piñata, which I think your cousins were more excited about than you were. We sang to you and ate cake and drank Pepsi.

I made your “cake” with banana bread and cocoa date frosting and gave you water. Sorry, Mija…if I can hold off giving you soda for a little bit longer I will.


And you are so loved by your family in Guatemala.

I love watching you grab your cousins’ hands and walk around the home where your Daddy grew up. I look forward to you learning things about your Guatemalan heritage, things that I can’t teach you.

Elena, as you get older we’ll probably have our own birthday celebrations here at home. And I have a feeling we’ll take some traditions from both families. I imagine you may always want a piñata and ya know, the Bodegona has some half-decent decorations on the 2nd level. Your Daddy and I may get you a gift or two and let you choose a new birthday outfit. I will probably make some half-healthy snacks and I think pretty straws are sometimes fun. I imagine as you grow up we will keep finding ways to honor and celebrate you, and where you come from and who you are.

Elena, each year on your birthday I want you to remember three words:

strong, kind and grateful.

These are three words I hope to teach you and model for you. Three words that I pray over you and the one day you’ll look back and say, my mama taught me how to be strong, kind and grateful.

I want you to be strong in who you are. I want you to have an inner strength to know where you come from and how deeply loved you are. I pray that your strength comes not from what you do or what you achieve but from a deep trust in God. My hope is that your strength allows you take risks, and be the kind of girl who who stands up for what you know is right and is willing to sometimes do the hard thing.

I also want you to be kind. This is something that I have had to learn how to be. Sometimes I think being a first-born means we learn to be bossy and brave, but kindness gets buried underneath being in charge. Elena, my sweet girl I want you to be kind to people, kind to the boy or girl at school who other kids make fun and kind to the old lady you see in the park. Kindness is kind of like of a muscle, the more you use if the stronger it becomes.

Lastly, and maybe more most importantly, I want you to be grateful. I want you to be grateful when we sit on plastic stools and are served caldo de galina, even if it’s not your favorite. I want you to be grateful for the home we have and the privileges that will have. I think you can either choose to live life complaining about little things, or being grateful for the big things. I hope we can always choose the latter.

Elena, I know if I want you to be a strong, kind and grateful girl, then I need to model that. So on your birthday, this is also a reminder to myself, too. Because the truth is I want to be a strong, kind and grateful mother.

Whenever Daddy asks you, “Cuantos anos, Elena?” you hold up your little pointer finger ever so proudly. Uno!

Yes, my dear you’re one. And sometimes I want to bottle up your little finger, and chubby legs and sweet smile and say, stay my one-year-old baby forever. But then I remember what a gift it is to watch you grow and change and learn. And how being your mom is one of my favorite things ever. So here’s to a lifetime of celebrating your birthday…and making me a mom.

I love you, Elena.

 All my love,



P.S. Here’s a little quick 15-second look at the past 12 months, month-by-month!

5th August
written by Michelle

Most evenings before heading up to bed, I start a load of laundry.

The water fills the basin; I toss in half a cup of liquid soap.

I dump in the pile of dirty clothes and washcloths and towels that sit in the basket. Why are there always so many dirty washcloths?

I close the lid, turn off the light and walk up the stairs, careful not to trip on the one uneven stairs at the top.

At least while I am sleeping one thing will get done.

But I can’t help but feel a twinge of tension. The tension that comes from knowing privilege.

Knowing Privilege

It’s the privilege that allows a machine to do my laundry while I sleep.

It’s the same privilege that allows me to turn on the faucet any time of day knowing very well that water will come out, when many in my community fill up buckets because for them water is not a guarantee.

Or the privilege that comes from living with the physical and emotional security of a door with a lock. I have never lived in a place without both of those.

In most countries, at least the one where I am from and the one where I live, the color of my skin gives me immediate privilege. I know because my husband’s skin color does not afford him the same. We have both felt it.

It would be silly for me to deny the privilege that I have.

Privilege that means I am not forced to choose between buying food for my family or buying medicine. I can have both without so much as a second thought. Can you imagine the heartache a young mother or father must feel when forced to chose? I cannot.

Privilege that means when it rains, it’s an inconvenience for me at best. I may get wet or an outdoor party may get canceled. But my crops or livelihood have never been dependent on the weather. Never.

Maybe the danger of living a life of privilege is how quickly it can disconnect us from the people and the places where we live.

The longer I live outside of the US, the more this tension grows. I don’t think it means we’re supposed to live in guilt and pity. That never helped anyone. However, I don’t think living in denial or ignorance is the answer, either. As with most good things in life there is something about living in between. Or better yet maybe learning to live with the tension.

A Suspension Bridge 

I don’t know about you, but living with tensions sounds, quite frankly, horrible and hard.

The only kind of tension that I know is good is the kind that holds up a suspension bridge.

A bridge needs tension to remain suspended. And I often wonder if we need a healthy dose of tension in our life to remain upright. Tension that reminds us that we are in fact connected to each other and the resources in the earth. A tension that pulls on our hearts and minds because maybe that’s how God gets our attention.

What if like a suspension bridge, we were meant to live with tension?

Maybe I need to be reminded of the women walking home from working 10 hours at the coffee plantation behind my house. Maybe I need to feel a tension as I watch her two kids following close behind, carrying wood they just collected on their back. Maybe this should always tug at my heart, especially when I am driving my daughter across town for a pool play date at the loveliest spot in Antigua.

I feel this tension when I hop in my air conditioned car and leave our sweet friends in Coyolate. I drive back to the comfort of my two-story home with a bathtub and they stay in their single room home with a dirt floor and corn stalk walls.

I feel this tension when I buy my iced latte, which I thoroughly enjoy for 12 minutes while pushing Elena in the park. But I know what I just spent on my latte is what a farmer in Santa Maria will make for the whole day, on a good day.

It doesn’t mean I drive around feeling guilty, but it does mean I walk around with a tension. And it’s a tension I am learning to live with. And I think the challenge is not to let this tension paralyze you or fill you will pity, but instead move you to action and awareness.

Maybe my examples are extreme. In the US, you don’t have to feel the tension if you don’t want. Here, I find there is no way to escape it. The discrepancy of privilege and class and gender and race are plain as day here.  To me the harder of the two was living in the US, because you don’t have to see the inequality or feel the tension if you don’t want to. It’s fairly easy live within the shelter of our self-contained vehicles, where you can avoid certain parts of town or certain groups of people all together.

Richard Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, inventor, and philosopher from the 1800s said, “Tension is the great integrity.” He was talking about architectural design, but perhaps the same holds true for life.

When we pray before a meal, I have started thanking God for the hands that planted the food and those that picked it. Because in many ways I know my life is deeply connected to theirs. I am not naïve. I don’t think a simple prayer or acknowledgement changes some of the deep injustices in the world. But I think it’s a place to start.

Even just paying attention does wonders on the human heart. At least it has for me. Sinking into guilt is too easy, but what if there was another option? What is it that gets your attention? What is that you notice? Is it the men who pick up your trash? Or the young guy who mows your lawn? Is it the kids that walk home from school by themselves? Or single mom that waits at the bus station after dark?  Maybe it’s the farmers that work in the hot sun and don’t have access to a drinking fountain? Or sunscreen?

What is that you notice in your town? Pay attention to that. Because what I have found is that choosing to identify with one person, or one cause, is a thousand times better than feeing overwhelmed by all of the causes.

I Will Keep Doing Laundry at Night

When I close the laundry lid at night I often think about what a luxury it is that a machine will wash our clothes. I am grateful for the convenience, for the ease and for the fact that it allows me the privilege to take Elena for a walk or catch up on emails, because I am not spending hours bent over a pila hand washing our clothes.

I know most Guatemalan women or young girls spend their morning at the town pila. I sometimes wonder if some of them too might want a washing machine to wash their clothes at night. Wouldn’t it be nice? I think…if everyone had a washing machine? 

But then other times, I realize that I bet some of them may actually feel sorry for me. Sorry that I live in a home far away from my mom and grandma and sisters and brothers. How lonely to do laundry at night, by yourself. Maybe I am the one missing out? Imagine how different your life or your friendships would be if you spent a hour or two each day washing, scrubbing, talking, together. I don’t really have that.

And yet again, I am reminded of the tension. I may have a washing machine, but maybe I lack something deeper.

Like all things in life, by the very nature of gaining something, you have to lose something as well.

There is a tension.

And my prayer is that I can find a small piece of integrity there.


4th July
written by Michelle


I have lived in Guatemala for 4 years now. And every year around 4th of July a wave of homesickness rolls over me. I know myself well enough, that now I can kind of anticipate it, but I can’t make it go away. Funny how emotions work like that, huh?

I have always loved the 4th of July. It’s the epitome of summer. BBQs and bare feet. Family and friends gathered around picnic tables. Sun-kissed shoulders and beach hair and finding sand between your toes. 

But when you live in another country, where summer is celebrated between the months of January to April and July 4th is just a date on the calendar, it just feels different. Gerber and I talk a lot about this because we both “know” in our heads that our respective independence days are a big deal for each other. Individually, and for our little girl. But it’s so hard because we don’t feel anything. He can tell me all about the “antorchas” and “bandas” and “actos civicos” that are preformed on September 15th, but for me it’s still  just a date.  I understand what it is and what to expect, but I don’t feel anything. There’s not a collective memory or emotion attached to those things. At least not yet.

And I know the same is true for him. I can tell him about summer BBQs and beach days and how we used to sit on the curb bundled up in sweatshirts eating popsicles, staying up way past our bed time to watch fireworks. He knows all of that, but there is no emotional attachment or collective memory for him. July 4th is just a date. 

I think one of the beautiful and challenging things about cross-cultural relationships if you get to celebrate both. Or at least learn how to make space for both. You learn how to empathize, and negotiate and understand things that you’ve never had any reason to understand before. You learn to verbalize and explain things you’ve never had to explain before, because they just are. But when you’re an outsider trying to understand a foreign culture nothing is as it seems to be.  And  you also learn to accept that there are certain things that can’t be explained or verbalized, they just are. And you learn to accept those things as they are.

We have lots of explaining and trying to understand kind of conversations. Sometimes it’s a lot of work; this cross-cultural, two countries, two languages, two independence days kind of living. But it’s a good work.

And I think one of the reasons we put in energy and time for this “work” is because of this little one. 


This little gringa, growing up in Guatemala.

Because we care about her identity and her sense of belonging. She’s too little to remember anything from today. And she certainly won’t remember her first dia de la indpendencia last September.

But my hope is that she starts to build something in that collective memory of hers. So that when she see’s  the 4th of July on the calendar she’ll feel excited. And when we get to el 15 de septiembre each year she will also get excited. 

 Today we celebrated with some other expat friends up at a park overlooking the whole Antigua valley. Gerber left early because of the World Cup because as he said, “You’ll have 4th of July every year, we only have the World Cup every 4 years.” Touché. And I didn’t get any pictures of the adults. But the kiddos were pretty cute. Maybe one year we’ll celebrate 4th of July in the US. We won’t watch any fireworks tonight, but I am thankful that we live in a country where fireworks are enjoyed year around.

Happy 4th of July!


P.S. Did you know that one year Gerber even surprised me for my birthday with fireworks?! And at our wedding we had fireworks right at the start of the ceermony?! Ever since I’ve been a little girl I have always loved fireworks.

13th June
written by Michelle

We have been back in Guatemala for almost 2 weeks and I juuust feel like we’re getting back in the swing of things. We came back from a whirlwind 3-week-loving-summer-trip to a rainy, cloudy and flooded Guatemala. Then the baby got sick, I got mastitis (again!) and we welcomed our first group for the summer.

I have realized all the coming and going doesn’t really get easier the more you do it, I just now know what to expect. And I can expect that it always takes me a week or so to settle back into Guatemala life. It’s a rainy Friday night and the baby is sleeping (on the floor nonetheless- but whatever, she’s asleep!) so here are five quick things before I too fall asleep (in my bed, not on the floor: )

1. My iphone is gone. I tried to bring it back to life. But sadly after it’s 2nd toilet swim and intense rice treatment it’s officially dead. And I realized just how much I miss it. Is that pathetic? I miss my phone. Like a lot. I use my phone like it’s part of me. I keep my notes, my contacts, my pictures, my email, my calendar, basically my entire life in that phone. God bless Steve Jobs and whoever created istream because I think all of those things are backed-up somewhere. But for now I am using my frijolito and cursing myself just a bit for keeping my phone in back pocket. Do tell, where do you keep your phone so it does not fall into the toilet??

2. I’ve had to say good-bye to THREE dear friends in the past month. One friend left in May, another last week and another one leaves on Monday. Needless to say I’ve been a little sad. When I moved to Guatemala 4 years ago I was prepared to say good-bye to friends when I left Santa Barbara. I was prepared to set-up skype dates and write emails and work to maintain  friendships. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the revolving door of good-byes here. I think since moving I have had almost 10 close friends leave. That’s been hard. I loved this post about Staying Well: 10 Tips for Expats Who Are Left Behind. And for my friends who are leaving I liked what he said,  “Leaving is a PROCESS- not an event.”

3. You may have already seen it, but an article I wrote was published over at Relevant Magazine last week. One of my favorite writing instructors said writing and publishing is kind of like dating, you have to keep putting yourself out there. It has to be the right piece and the right time. I think this piece was both. So thank you for those of you who shared it or commented on it. One of the best parts has been some new connections & friends like Tim over at and Maria who lives in Haiti and blogs at I love how social media works like that.

4. The World Cup! I know, I know…you’re thinking, Michelle, I didn’t know you were a soccer fan?! Shh.. I’m not, really. But I live in a country whose love language is soccer and my husband and my first date may have been to watch a World Cup game 4 years ago. I have loved being part of my friend Sarah’s group of #worldcupwives. Follow along on twitter for some hilarious commentary. Also, if you still don’t know who is playing who and how the teams and groups work use THIS!  It has helped me make sense of the whole World Cup.

5. Our afternoon walks have been replaced by Baby Einstein videos. It’s true. I have given in to the world of television and technology and I must admit it’s kinda wonderful. The rains have made it tough to take our usual afternoon walk so I have been setting Elena in her high chair with an array of food options on her try and Baby Einstein on the computer. And guess what? She loves it! I have never seen a little one so engaged with the screen before. When the teddy bear or kitty cat comes on the screen she starts pointing and yelling, “ahhh, ahhh.” These are her current two favorite: Babies! and Music! I would have taken a video but alas no iphone (see #1) She watched 20-30 minutes of this and I make dinner. #winwin

ok, one last one….I made brownies this week for an afternoon play date and I forgot how you’re supposed to use a plastic knife to cut them. Have you ever heard this? I have no idea why it works, but I swear it will save you and your brownies from frustration. Use a plastic knife to cut brownies, always. You’re welcome.

ok, so maybe that was 6 things on a Friday.

Happy Weekend!


8th June
written by Michelle


photo (7)


If you’re new here I have been writing letters to my daughter each month titled, Dear Mija. It all started with this letter I wrote over a year ago on Spanglish Baby’s site.


Dear Mija,

People often ask me how old you are and I keep wanting to say, oh, she’s 10 months. But the truth is, it’s June and you’re almost a year old! (ah, I can barely believe it!?) But since I am behind on these letters, in my mind you’re still just 10-months old.

At 10 months you discovered the wonderful world of pointing. And you do so with such an intensity about you. Your finger may be tiny, but your will is strong. You will keep pointing until someone takes you to what you want to see.  9 times out of 10  you are probably pointing at a water fountain, an animal, someone’s eyes or when you want me, your mama. This is all cute and fun until we are sitting tightly wedged in an airplane-window seat and you think it would be fun to point at and then poke the eyes of the poor man sitting in the middle. Sorry, kind sir.

     photo (8)

photo (6)

Your favorite things are playing with water, pulling books off of the shelf and laughing with Daddy. You like to eat whatever we are eating and clap along when we start singing your favorite song “los arboles se mueve.

Elena, we spent most of your 10th month traveling. First in Ohio, then in Chicago and then in California. When I think of this trip the first 2 things I will remember are:

One, how you squealed with delight whenever we let you walk.

You’d wrinkle your little nose and grip your hands around our fingers and just GO! You walked around grass fields, and church buildings, down the cement streets of Chicago, on the sands of California beaches and maybe your favorite, on the soft carpet in people’s homes.



And two, how every night we put you to sleep on the floor.

Yep, we tried the pack n play, but you preferred the floor. So there we put you, right on top of the carpet, wrapped tightly in the Guatemalan cargador your abuela gave me before you were born. We placed some pillows all around to make you feel cosy and left the baby monitor nearby to hear when you woke up. Somehow I am sure the SID police would not approve, but hey, it worked.

But there is something else I became astutely aware of on this trip. As your mama, I spend lots of time thinking about the kind of world that you’re growing up in and in your case, the two worlds you are a part of. The Guatemalan world where we live and do life, and the US world that we visit and buy things from. I realize your Daddy and I probably will feel this tension more than you, because for us it’s new. We’re trying to navigate two worlds and two cultures and although we do it just fine most days, without giving it much thought. I know deep down, it’s like the static of an old radio. It’s always there. Quietly humming in the background. And some days it feels louder than others. The awareness that how you’re growing up is so different from how both your Daddy and I grew up.

And often I wonder, what will feel normal to you?

Elena, you’re growing up with more pairs of shoes than your Daddy ever had. And you’re barely even walking. Your Daddy had one pair of shoes for the whole year and those were for school. So when he came home from school he had to take off his black leather shoes and walk barefoot around the dirt floor. And your Daddy’s family didn’t have hot water, or even running water like we do. So the fact that I give you a warm bath every night before bed is still such a foreign idea to him. And he’s probably right, most little kids in the world don’t get a warm tub of water to bathe in every night.

But I did growing up.

Nana gave me and my sisters and brother a bath almost every night. So it seems totally normal for me. Growing up it was normal to run outside on the grass barefoot because we wanted to. And when we had to put on shoes, we had a whole closet to choose from. It was normal to have lots of choices about everything: from toys to ice cream flavors to which backpack color we wanted for each new school year. But when your Daddy was little he didn’t get to choose his backpack color each year. When your Daddy was just starting school, his older brother was going to jr high school and your Daddy remembers how his brother gave him his old backpack. It had a hole in the bottom and a broken zipper and your Daddy had to sew it so it would work. And he told me that even then, he could only open it half way or everything would fall out. There was no choice about it, it was just all he had.

One of the biggest challenges your Daddy and I have faced is deciding how we want to raise you because you see, we grew up so differently. Usually he wants to give you nice, brand new things. Things that he didn’t have growing up. And I want to get you borrowed toys or gently used hand-me-downs because I want to be resourceful and thrifty. This is part of the two worlds where you come from. Two very different socio-economic worlds. Socio-economic is a fancy word that adults like to use when talking about money.  So instead of saying rich and poor, we say different socio-economic levels.

Will you appreciate running water and hot water at that? Will you know what a dishwasher and a garbage disposal are? Will you feel comfortable walking the aisles of Target one week and then walking to the tienda the next?


Mija, to be honest sometimes I wonder, will you feel more comfortable with the luxuries of the rich or the simplicity of the poor? Maybe both? or maybe neither? These are questions I ask myself.

As I write this, I realize many things that I have had to learn about life in Guatemala, will just be normal for you.

When we take walks in our neighborhood, I realize it will be completely normal for you to hear megaphones blaring “zeta gas, zeta gas” around town. And you will know how to wash your hands in the pila without someone having to show you. You will think it’s totally normal to see 3 or 4, or even 5 people piled on one motorcycle.  You will understand the nuisances of vinieravine and vengo better than I ever will and you won’t ever have to ask someone to explain to you the meaning of the national anthem. You will just get it. Because you are Guatemalan. And I hope you feel Guatemalan.


But I also hope you will feel American. I want you to learn the pledge of allegiance, and get excited for the 4th of July. I want you to know the joy of seeing the mailman put a letter in the mail box addressed to you and the excitement of coming home and finding a package at your doorstep. For as silly as it sounds I want you experience good customer service and be able to return something that didn’t fit. I want you to be able to check-out books from the public library and visit The Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park. I want you to feel connected to the United States, because it my country. It’s where I come from. But it’s also your country.

I often wonder, if we live in Guatemala, will you feel American?

They say there’s a word for kids like you, kids who grow up in more than one culture or country. They call them third culture kids because they often identify with a way of life and living that is different from both of the cultures of their parents. I know this can he helpful in making sense of the blending of countries and cultures, but I don’t always love the idea because it sounds like an “other.” Like you’re not from either place, or either culture. Instead you’re from some other third culture.

But as I’ve watch you grow and observe the world around you, I realize there is something that transcends national identity. It’s your spiritual identity. And one of my hopes and prayers for you is that you would come to know Jesus, but not an American Jesus or a Guatemalan Jesus. But a Jesus who loved people, all people. A Jesus who lived simply, befriended outcasts and challenged the status quo. A Jesus who forgave people instead of wanting to get even. A Jesus who loves you, even more than I do.

Elena, that is where I want you to get your identity. First, as a child of God, a follower of Jesus. And then second, as a a blended-beautiful-bi-cultural-American-Guatemalan girl with probably a bit of third-cultureness.


Mija, it is both a wonderful and terrifying thought that this; our family’s life, will become your normal.

All my love,