Category Archives: Travel

Chacho En Bogota: Fortuitous Times

I took a cab by myself (in a foreign country) for the first time yesterday. I was going to an English tutoring session for two 13 year-olds and was going to bike there, but then it started pouring so a cab suddenly looked a lot better. I ended up walking back after the session, which was fortunate because I got to see a double rainbow above Bogota. Good times.

Chacho En Bogota: The Cows Are Off To Pasture

SuperVacas has ended. Ninety kids showed up on Friday. Monday there were about 50. It’s incredible how good news travels around the neighborhood. A lot of the kids were first-timers. It was an exhausting week because there were only 10 adult workers for the 90 kids that showed up, but everything got done and the kids had fun.

Also fun: Jorge’s birthday on Thursday. We had a block party – ping pong table, music, five different cakes, and lots of people hanging around. I didn’t mingle for too long because I had a pretty bad headache, but it was cool to see how block parties like that can happen, because they don’t happen often in the States – at least not as easily.

Should be going to El Centro tonight and Monday for some sightseeing and gift-buying. Report on that to come. Until then, estén bien.

— Chacho

Chacho En Bogota: Blessed Indeed

Some 70 kids came to SuperVacas today, which means the good word is spreading ’round the barrio. The kids played ping-pong and soccer today – I pinged a little pong before they did and remembered how much I loved playing. My backhand, though, is much stronger than my forehand.

The Encisos invited a boy from SuperVacas to have lunch with us today. It was a pretty modest lunch by usual standards: noodles with chicken and soup. But the boy said it’s as much food he’s had in a long time. It was humbling and a little heartbreaking. It made me realize just how blessed I am to have; three squares a day, a roof over my head and a pillow under it, the ability to come and live in Colombia for three months, family and friends who love me, money (however little of it) at my disposal, and, among many other things, an iPod and personal computer.

I’m blessed indeed.

– Chacho

Chacho En Bogota: Cows That Are Super

Today was Day 1 of, as Jorge would say, ¡¡¡SUPERVACAS!!!! It’s basically an AWANA-type day camp hosted by the church from 9am-12 every day this week. About 60 kids showed up today in total, so it was a lot of controlled chaos. It definitely brought me back to my days as a counselor at Lake Waubesa Bible Camp, but in the best way possible.

After a few worship songs and then a short teaching time (the theme for this week is “Jars of Clay”, or parrijas de barro), the kids got to actually work with some clay, resulting in many creative constructions and a lot of amorphous clay globs.

After a snack, game time. Out in the adjacent patio, the kids were divided into four teams and played racing games. The Red Team, captained by Jorge, eventually prevailed. I look forward to more craziness this week.

Chacho

P.S. Tonight, Jorge brought back Cinnabons for everyone, in his words, “for a taste of home.” I replied that anything that clogged by arteries tasted like home to me. I don’t have to go over how it feels to eat a Cinnabon, but I will say this: God bless sugar.

Chacho En Bogota: Flea Market

I played drums this morning for church – the first time I’ve done so while I’ve been here. It’s been a while since I’ve played and it felt pretty good.

After church, a couple of people from the singles group, plus the Encisos and the adopting family, visited a flea market not far from our neighborhood for lunch and craft browsing. Lots of local artisans with booths. I’m glad I’m not into jewelry because there was way too much of it to buy. I did, though, get a gift or two and a wallet for myself.

The wallet was made by a dredlocked, Madison-type hippie not much older than me. His stated price was 20,000 pesos (about $11), but I’m lucky I had my Colombian friends with me because they balked and the vendor bumped it down to 15,000 pesos. He also threw in a friendship bracelet he quickly made on the spot and tied it on my hand, after I pledged to, in essence, keep love, peace, joy, happiness, etc., in my heart always.

Deal.

— Chacho

Chacho En Bogota: Adorable Babies

It’s quite humbling to get schooled in a pick-up soccer game by a kid more than half your age. That happened to me yesterday when I brought a soccer ball out to the kids who live in the orphanage around the corner from the Encisos. I was doing pretty well, but this one kid – I forget his name – about 10 years old just comes in and makes me pay for my Gringoness. I still scored a few, but he put things into perspective.

Some friends of the Encisos arrived in country a few days ago to pick up the little 9-month-old girl they adopted. They were over at the house today for lunch so we got to see her. All kinds of adorable. She did the stare-for-awhile-until-I-decide-what-to-think thing that most babies do when they first see me, but I think I won her over. The process for the adoption started three years ago and won’t end for at least a couple more weeks until they get the final nod from the courts.

Rest of today: practice for worship tomorrow (first time I’m playing drums) and for SuperVacas, which is happening next week. More info to come. Until then, estén bien.

– Chacho

Chacho En Bogota: Arm Wrestling

Last night, I’m doing laundry, getting ready for bed, when Jorge tells me to get my “party clothes” on because we’re going to a surprise birthday party.

OK.

We get there, gather with the other party attendees, climb silently up the stairs to his apartment and sing him Happy Birthday, en español, claro. We eat cake and drink soda and proceed, somehow, to have arm-wrestling contests. I duel with Francisco and emerge victorious and lead my own chant of “USA! USA!” No one else joins in, strangely.

We sing a few songs, have a prayer, and return home having participated in the most spontaneous party I’ve been a part of in a long time.

¡Viva Bogotá!

— Chacho

Chacho En Bogota

Hola amigos cerca y lejos.

I’ve officially been here for a month now, which means I’m almost a third through my time here. It’s a strange thought because it means eventually I’ll have to start thinking about what I’m doing to do when I get back to the States. I, like many people, will need a job. If you have any ideas, let me know.

Friday we hosted the teens and single 20s and 30s again. Because the groups meet back to back, there’s always some overlap time for everyone to play games and sing together. A favorite game to play is called Olla (pot). Everyone stands in a circle with one person sitting in the middle. Someone serves a volleyball to another and the third people to get it has to hit the person in the middle with the ball. If they miss, or if the person in the middle catches it, the hitter is in the middle. And so it goes until someone wins. It can get violent at times, but it’s a great stress-reliever and community builder.

After a few rounds of Olla, we went inside and sang some songs. Most of the songs we played had Spanish and English versions, so we switched languages back and forth during the songs. One was “Cambiaré Mi Tristeza” (“Trading My Sorrows”). I’ve been playing the Spanish version for so long that I actually forgot how to sing it in English. Ditto with “Shout to the Lord” (“Mi Cristo Mi Rey”). I guess that’s a good sign…

Saturday, after the drum lessons, the church hosted a wedding. I played guitar for a few songs in the ceremony, which I didn’t know I was doing until the night before. It was great, though. Really low-key. Probably 50 people, tops. Needless to say, a strong contrast with American weddings. Afterward, I got to relax at home and catch up on Modern Family and Mad Men – two shows I would highly recommend.

Which brings us to today. After church, the 20s and 30s group got together and we went to a nearby park and played soccer, dodgeball, and a version of basketball for a couple hours. The rain mostly held off, so it was a great time. I’m always happy to play soccer – I scored two or three goals I think. Contrary to popular belief, some Gringos can play soccer. Then we came back to the Encisos’ and had dinner, after which I saw the Packers (barely) beat the Lions. Overall, a great day.

That’s it for now. Thanks for all of your prayers. ¡Hasta luego!

–Chacho

Rockin’ Guat 2009: Episode 12

PEELING, PAINTING, AND PACKING

Hello again! Day 46 of the trip. We’ve been in Guatemala City for the last week hanging out with Jeanette and Juan Carlos and enjoying the much cooler temperatures. Some good news: the sunburn on my back has finally gone away! There was some major peeling going on, but thanks to Elise it’s pretty much cleared out. She was grossed out by it all, but I love the sensation of dead skin peeling off the back. Sorry if you’re eating right now.

On Wednesday we visited Pastor Alevino and helped out with a lunch-feeding program he does every day. He lives in a very dangerous part of the city, so we were extra aware of our surroundings. Elise reported seeing a random man with a shotgun enter a house very near to the church we were at. To do what, who knows.

Jeanette teaching a lesson.

Jeanette teaching a lesson.

The lunch program, though, was thoroughly enjoyable. Elise and I played a few worship songs in Spanish, and on the second day we led the silly game we did a lot in Chiquimulilla. It was a hit again. I especially love when the moms in the back are entertained at us funny looking Gringos shaking around in compromising positions.

After the game and a short lesson from Jeanette, we helped serve the food to the kids. It would be the only meal they would receive that day. Each child and parent had a Tupperware container and cup with them which we filled with rice, beans, tortillas, and a local corn drink. It was pretty humbling to serve these kids the only thing they would be eating that whole day.

There was a tense moment during the serving, though. A woman, upset at a kid who was strangling her child despite repeatedly being told to stop, hit the kid with a plastic foot stool/chair and broke it over his head. Elise and I were concentrating on the food serving at the moment, and because our Spanish isn’t good enough we didn’t get the gist of the situation until Jeanette told us later. Apparently the kid who was doing the strangling ignored the mom and kept choking the boy, which is why the mom lashed out.

The strangler was probably regularly abused at home, which is why he was so cavalier about abusing other children. Unfortunately, abuse of all kinds–child, spousal, sexual–is pretty rampant and unchecked in Guatemala. It is also woefully underreported and even if it is reported, there is no accountability. There is no Social Services or anything like that to intervene in the event of child abuse, so it just perpetuates. The social worker part of Elise, then, upon seeing this incident, felt helpless because she couldn’t do the things she would do in the United States, like call the police and make a report.

The local kids gave us a hand.

The local kids gave us a hand.

It wasn’t all bad though. We did some painting while we were there and had a bunch of kids hand-paint the wall. They were really excited to do this. There was even a newborn baby that did it, though it was a challenge to get her to stretch her hand out enough to make a clear hand print. It was aborable nonetheless.

This will probably be my final post from Guatemala. I’m leaving on Monday at 12:30pm from Guatemala City for a connection in Ft. Lauderdale, then arrival at O’Hare at 10:30pm. Then it’s a bus home to end a very long day. It’s been a great time here, my second trip to Guatemala. I can’t say my Spanish is any better, but I’ve enjoyed being immersed as much as possible. I’m also proud that, for the most part, Elise and I didn’t play the stereotypical Gringo tourists, though we do look the part with our pasty white skin and red hair. No fanny packs, though, or cameras dangling from our necks. If you ever plan on traveling abroad, especially to more imporverished areas, please don’t be the Ugly American. It does no one any good.

While Elise won’t be updating from this blog, she’s still on Facebook and Skype and all that. I know she’d love to hear from you. She will be here indefinitely, which is a daunting thought for her. My parents will be visiting in October, so she’ll have to keep herself busy until then. But for my part, I thank you for staying with us this summer. I hope we were entertaining and interesting enough.

Adios, y Dios les bendiga!

Rockin’ Guat 2009: Episode 11

SUNBURN, SWELTERING HEAT, AND SURF

Hello hello! Sorry for the space between posts. We’ve been in Chiquimulilla for the last two weeks with no Internet connection, but now we’re back in Guatemala City with Jeanette and JuanCarlos and have lots to share!

Denis and Alvira in front of a typical crowd.

Denis and Alvira in front of a typical crowd.

Denis and Alvira, our friends in Chiquimulilla, essentially became our Guatemalan aunt and uncle. They travel around to local schools and do programs with the kids with a Bible lesson, songs, dramas, etc. Elise and I tagged along with them for the last two weeks. My first responsibility was leading the kids in a silly game in Spanish. That was always a hit. Then Alvira would teach “The Bible Song” in Spanish and then Elise would teach it in English. Elise has said many times how her fear of both speaking in front of groups and singing in public were challenged these last few weeks.

"Fear"

"Fear"

After that, in the drama I played the part of the Devil, inhabiting three forms: Fear, Doubt, and Sickness. I would come out from around a corner and lurk about the kids before going up to Alvira and saying in Spanish “You’re very afraid!” and “You’re going to die!” And each time I would come out, I would hold a balloon that Alvira would pop with her Bible that was specially rigged with a needle, representing the destruction of fear, doubt, and sickness.

Most of the time, the kids would think my act was rather amusing. But at one school, I came around the corner and half the kids started screaming and ran to their teachers while a few stood up and were about to attack me. Needless to say, it was entertaining all around. We would do the whole program at 2-3 schools per day, and in the hot hot muggy heat of Chiquimulilla, it became a trek. But it was fun hanging out with kids, especially when they would just surround Elise and I as we sat down and just stare at us. Once again Elise’s mild claustrophobia was put to the test.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

Last weekend, the four of us and the family of Eric, mom’s driver while she’s down here, took a trip to Lake Atitlan in the mountains. It was a nice break from the heat and we got some good pictures of the view. There were crowds of gringos there walking the streets–something you don’t see in Chiquimulilla.

And this last week we went to Denis and Alvira’s church four times. Going to church in Guatemala is quite the adventure. First off, you’re guaranteed to be the only white people there. Once the music starts, you’ll notice that an average song can last 15-20 minutes. After that, the pastor does some announcements and welcomes the new visitors. In America, at most churches, you can get away with blending in with the crowd as a newcomer. Not here. They blantantly pointed us out every time we went. Elise and I have concluded that our patience for being stared at non-stop is wearing thin.

After we finished touring the schools we helped clean and paint a large room that is attached to Denis and Alvira’s home. Then on Friday we went to the Pacific Ocean to enjoy the black sand beaches and forceful waves. I was an idiot and got sunburned, mostly on my back, so right now I’m suffering through the feeling of having little pinpricks all over my back. It really sucks. But the beach was still fun and we got some cool pictures.

Awaiting the surf.

Awaiting the surf.

DSCF0104

And now we’re in the city. The next couple days we’ll be helping Jeanette with her photography work, working with a pastor on a lunch-service program, and other things. More on that later. Until then, Dios les bendiga!