A Re-Visit to Guatemala and the Past

Currently Listening To: Where Have All The Flowers Gone? – Joan Baez

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

This past Saturday, I had a impromptu meeting (along with my parents and little Aubrie) with one of the two missionaries we used to work with in Guatemala. The husband, John, was sick and unable to make it, but we spent a good three hours with his wife, Sharon Harvey. She is originally from New Jersey, and this is their year to travel (every two years they make their rounds to various states in the Midwest and the East Coast), but I was not expecting (at all!) to meet with her for lunch. It’s been at least 6-7 years since I last saw the Harvey’s, and it was in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. I traveled with my family for seven trips in ten years (my parents beat me and my sister for ten trips in ten years), before we stopped going. But after meeting with Sharon, it seems that there is a possibility for another trip to Chichi. I am excited about this prospect, because it will be a different dynamic, now that my sister is a nurse (as well as my mom being one), and I will be finished by Masters program in public health, so I will have more to offer in that realm.

When we traveled to Guatemala in previous years, my sister ran the pharmacy while my Dad and Mom (and the other nurses) saw patients. During these trips, I was in charge of the children’s ministry, which means that I was in charge of anywhere between 50-300 kids in a given day. There were various activities, from games such as red light-green light, duck duck goose (you’d be surprised how popular that one was!), and plain old soccer to activities such as puppet making (either the brown paper bag kind or the yarn dolls), coloring, face painting, song singing, and some Bible stories and lessons. I wasn’t the only one who ran the children’s ministry – whoever was “younger” and amongst the team usually was assigned this post with me.  This position evolved as I grew up working in Guatemala. The first trip I was on was when I actually turned 13 years old. My mom had to convince the organization we went with (Gospel Outbound) that I was not only old enough (I believe the cut-off was fourteen), but that I was mature enough to go on this trip. Somehow, they believed my Mom – much to their regret. Haha. Joking aside, I can understand in retrospect what the hesitation would be to take someone that young along on an experience such as this. And I am extremely grateful that they let me go; that first trip had such a profound impact on me that it is difficult to explain. Not to lessen the influence of the subsequent trips on my psyche and world perspective. But that first trip – I remember so many details because I think the culture shock and the sheer reality of how so many people (I think seeing kids my own age made it hit home) live – how drastically different it is than how I grew up – that first trip changed my life.

Imagine yourself at thirteen. What was important to you? What your newest outfit was? What boy or girl liked you that week? What boy or girl you liked that week? Whether or not you did well on your Social Studies or Math test? Whose house you were having a sleepover at that next weekend? Basically, the normal preoccupations of most thirteen-year-olds in this country. Now, try to envision living in a one-room hut/shack that is made of mud bricks (not so much more evolved from more ancient times) and roofing made of tin, or terra cotta tiles, if you have money for that. There is one room for your entire family – parents and multiple siblings. There is a single light bulb, but it may not be working because the light bulb may have broken, and buying a new one is too expensive. Water for bathing is gathered from a cistern in the dirt yard behind your house. There is no running water to speak of – and outhouse as a bathroom that can double as a “shower,” with a bucket to fill and dump over your head. But bathing is infrequent, especially during the dry season; because water is much more scarce and needed for more pressing things, such as cooking. The clothes you have on may be the only set you own; if you’re lucky, you own a pair of shoes. Most kids your age go barefoot. If you’re a girl, you are considered by age thirteen to be a “sister-mother,” and help Mom care for the younger children. You most likely did not finish school past the 3rd grade, despite government laws requiring enrollment to 3rd grade. You spend much of your days either with your parents in the field growing what little crops you have, or walking hours to market to sell your wares. Or, if your family is really hard-pressed, you are sent into the streets to beg.


It’s difficult to imagine, isn’t it? Does it feel impossible to put yourself in the shoes of a child such as that, in a place such as that? At an impressionable age, I was exposed to the harsh reality that everything I had at home; even the things I complained about, I was damn lucky to have. I was lucky to even have the opportunity to even travel to Guatemala to experience what I did.

That first year, we visited the city dump on the outskirts of Guatemala City. It was most definitely not for sight-seeing purposes. Rather, a few thousand families made their homes in a slum on the side of the dump.** There was raw sewage, one main water pump for numerous families to share, and no indoor (or outdoor) plumbing for bathrooms. It was such a raw, harsh scene it was difficult to take it all in. I remember the smell. It was a mix of rancid sewage, the smell of fire from cooking, and body odor of some of the “villagers.” It put the final touch on a portrait of poverty, at least in my perspective. Some of the kids were unruly, and when we went to pass out some little gifts we had, I ended up getting backed against a wall with nowhere to go, with at least thirty kids pressed up against me grabbing for what I had in my hands. Finally, John had to break them up and get them in an orderly line to continue.

Overall, though, on that first clinic, on that first trip, what impressed me most was the level of happiness these people exhibited. This would continue to be observed in every village we went to, and almost every individual I interacted with. These people could express the most heart-wrenching story that may have left some of us in tears, and they would tell it with a smile on their face. Their live are difficult, unrelenting, and unforgiving in the poverty they endure. But the grace and determination exhibited by the Guatemalans is unparalleled when compared to many in “First World” countries.

So, we met with Sharon on Saturday. And the notion of traveling again to Guatemala was briefly discussed. And while time has passed since we last were there, the need has not diminished, and my family’s desire to give back and serve others has not either. So, time will tell if it works out for us to go. I certainly hope so. And if I never make it back their again, I will forever carry every trip, and every smiling face, and every story shared -both happy and sad – with me .And I will forever have a grateful heart for all the wonderful people of Guatemala that I have had the opportunity to meet, however briefly our exchange may have been.

“Experience life in all possible ways —
good-bad, bitter-sweet, dark-light,
summer-winter. Experience all the dualities.
Don’t be afraid of experience, because
the more experience you have, the more
mature you become.”

**A few years ago Hurricane Agatha caused massive mudslides in Guatemala, and part of the area affected was the Guatemala City dump and the slum that sat atop it.


Generation Disrespect

There will most likely be another post later today – a carry-over from yesterday’s impromptu meeting with our Guatemala missionary friends. But for the moment – a rant. I was debating commenting on it at all, but it is still bothering me, and this said something occurred on Thursday. So perhaps it is better to rant and get it out of my system.

Thursday afternoon I have a graduate class called U.S. Healthcare System Organization and Delivery. I personally have found it informative, if not a bit confusing, but have been able to directly apply what I am learning to the practice that I currently work at. So, Thursday. We were having our mid-term in the library’s computer lab, and then we were to return to our normal classroom after a short break to have regular class. This was mentioned the class last week, the morning of the test, as well as two e-mails being sent by the T.A. during the week and the morning of. So, really, there was no excuse to not know what the game plan was. I arrived about 15 minutes early, and only two other students were in the lab. Both made comments about how they don’t learn anything, and can’t believe we would have class after an exam, and that we as a class (there are 9 of us total – one was out sick, and another had a work engagement directly after the exam – leaving 7 of us.) should just boycott the class and not show up after the test. I didn’t comment, and sort of thought they were joking. Because, really, who does that? Especially at this level of school?

The test, by my estimate, was not too difficult. Had one paid attention during the lectures and read the material we were assigned, then the answers were relatively easy to come by. It was a five-question exam, with the requirement to pick four to answer. So, I take the test and finish first. I had about twenty minutes before the allotted test time was going to finish, so I took my stuff over to our regular classroom, and walked down to Starbucks, about three blocks away at the edge of Jefferson’s campus. I return, and another student appears. By this point its almost 3:10. Both professors show up. And then….nothing. The other five students didn’t show. A professor got the T.A., who sent yet another e-mail, reminding that class was now resuming. And then about twenty minutes to 4:00; a full forty minutes after class was supposed to begin, all five students come rushing in together. Now, one could possibly argue that they went to grab something to eat or drink really quick. Maybe they did. But given the comments that were made prior to the exam, as well as them all arriving together and so late, begs suspicion. My professors were certainly pissed, and made no attempt to hide that fact.  And they should be. I was, for sure. In all of my years of school –prior to college, and since then – I have never encountered something like this. One would think that when you get to graduate school, that the level of maturity increases. However, the students in this class have shown time and time again the utter disrespect for the individuals who are teaching. These same students bring their computers to class (to a class where one doesn’t have any need to have their computer on), and routinely sit on Facebook, shop for clothes, apply for jobs, and the like. It may sound a bit far-fetched, but it is not. I sit in the last table in the room, and I have a clear view of all ahead of me. My one teacher sat at my table one day while the other professor was lecturing, and surely, he saw it too.respect

I think what this begs is a conversation about a generation that seemingly has grown up to be as disrespectful as some were when they were kids. The attitudes and the sense of entitlement anger me, and it bothers me that people are headed into the same field as I am pursuing. The attitude and entitlement need to be left at the door, as far as I am concerned, when it comes to helping others in need. I really just don’t understand the mindset of some people, and it is embarrassing to be associated with people who act that way. It is also embarrassing to be part of a generation of young people who think this sort of behavior is completely acceptable. It was not how I was raised, it was not tolerated with most of the parents of kids I grew up with, and it most certainly will not be acceptable behavior should I ever have kids of my own. I don’t care if you hate the class with every fiber of your being – you pay attention when you are there, and you show up. I liken it to the old standby – Treat others as you would like to be treated. I think a change in perspective is what is sometimes needed for people like this. Or perhaps just a rude awakening.

There. I’m finished. 🙂

Nice Little Saturday & Week Re-Cap

Currently Listening To: Whispers in The Dark – Mumford and Sons


Ah, Saturday morning….for once, I wish that even without setting my alarm that I could sleep past 7 AM. And I usually wake up in a semi-panic on the weekends that I have overslept and have somewhere to be. It has gotten quite old, to say the least. Anyways, Saturdays are good for longer morning work-outs (and possibly double workouts, depending on what is going on at the other end of the day), which I did while watching the rerun of last night’s episode of Blue Bloods. I like that show; I have a number of shows that I enjoy, but I have so many  other things going on, that catching up on TV happens while working out. I suppose, too, that it’s better than just sitting and doing nothing while watching TV. I therefore don’t consider it a complete waste of time.

I have been using this app on my iPhone called Lose It! to track my calorie intake and log exercise. It has definitely helped me be more focused on what I am eating and what is in it. Awhile back, I would stop at Dunkin Donuts in the morning; get a hot tea and a wheat bagel with cream cheese. Using this app (and looking it up elsewhere as well), I came to find out that the bagel by itself is about 350 calories! That immediately ended the bagel eating. I am getting frustrated, however, because my weight keeps fluctuating by a pound or two. I have been eating better, and less, and exercising more, and yet the weight isn’t moving a whole lot. And logically, I am fully aware that as one loses fat and gains muscle, the scale is not going to reflect that change. I wish it did, though, because it would be wholly better positive reinforcement!

So, enough about food, exercise, and weight. At least for the moment. This week was busy. Worked Monday-Wednesday. I had my Biostatistics class on Tuesday evening. I had a meeting for the South Jersey Ski Club on Wednesday night. Thursday I had a midterm in my U.S. Healthcare Delivery and Organization class (which I think I aced, by the way!). Friday I volunteered at My Father’s House in Gloucester City, under the pre-tense that they were having another Food Bank like last week. I stopped and picked up 2 dozen donuts for the other volunteers, and then find out when I arrive that there is in fact, no food bank! Oh well, everyone else who works there got to sabotage their diets because of me yesterday. 🙂 I enjoy the people who work there and the people who benefit both from the addictions program, but also the food bank program. It helps put life and how many awesome opportunities I have had in my life into perspective on a weekly basis. It’s good to keep grounded that way.

Speaking of volunteering, I will be leaving in a little bit to head down towards the shore area (Egg Harbor Township) to meet with a missionary couple who have been based in Chichicastenango, Guatemala for the last 20 years. My parents, sister, and I have spent many past years on medical mission trips working with this couple (John and Sharon Harvey) and their organization, ASELSI. I haven’t seen them in about 6-7 years, and am thoroughly looking forward to this lunch! I will post again after I get back.  Happy Saturday everyone! 🙂

Clairekid Guate


Santa Clara Guatemala











top: Me and a young girl at a medical clinic we worked at at the slum on the side of the Guatemala city dump. I believe I was mid-way through high school in this photo, and it’s one of my favorites 🙂

bottom: Our medical missionary group just outside Santa Clara La Laguna, Guatemala, after leaving a three day clinic in the town. I was about 14 on this trip

New-ish Beginnings

Currently Listening To: Tonight, Tonight – The Smashing Pumpkins

I am not completely new to the world of getting into shape (or staying in shape, for that matter). Last year about this time I was full steam ahead in my fitness kick. Between August 2011 and February 2012, I lost about 35 pounds, and discovered my love-hate relationship with both food and fitness. I’d venture to guess that a lot of people share this contradictory relationship with what they eat and how/when they exercise.

I’ll be quite honest: I love sugar. Not baked goods so much, but candy. And chocolate. I know this, and I also know that it is very difficult to have just one piece of candy or chocolate. So I try to not have any. It doesn’t always work.  I also highly dislike running. I am no super-marathoner, to be sure. If my legs or side begin to ache, I slow to a walk. I don’t really push through the burn like people always say to do. I’m not trying to win a race, I just want to stay in shape.

059So…as I was saying earlier…I began this journey into weight loss and weight maintenance over a year ago. Last Summer, I felt amazing. In as good of shape, if not better, than when I was on the crew team my Junior and Senior years of high school. And that was a decade ago (man, I feel old!). There was scuba diving, running, and hiking this past summer. This year, however, when grad classes began again in the Fall, I didn’t stick with my game plan as much as I had anticipated. I had two major colds back to back within three weeks of each other, which kept me from doing any real intense running. And then laziness began to sneak back in. It is quite a devious little bugger, isn’t it? 😦determined

So, long story short (or short story made long, for which I apologize), I am back to it. I began using an app on my phone called Lose It! which counts calories and lets you log your weight and food and such. I need something to keep me more aware of what I am eating. I also just recently switched over to the vegetarian lifestyle (much to the delight of my vegan sister!), and have begun taking up my workout routine again. Now, mind you, I don’t go doing laps at the local track, or pushing myself until I think my heart and lungs are going to explode out of fit  my chest, or that my legs will either collapse or dislocate completely. I will have none of that. I believe more in a balanced, healthy diet, and numerous (at least 4-5) workouts, however long or short, per week. It has worked before, and I see no point in pushing to the extremes, if slightly more than moderation works just as well. So…here is to keeping myself in check. And here is to shedding these damn 8 or so pounds in the next couple months. I have a winter hike scheduled at the beginning of March, and it should be a precursor to a fun summer of outdoor activities!

Carnivore No More

Currently Listening To:  Not With Haste, Mumford & Sons


For one hundred percent of my 28 1/2 year existence, I have eaten meat. Bacon, chicken, ribs, pork chops, turkey, ham, fish, crustaceans in their variety of forms. While I have never been one to enjoy red meat, I have still eaten it on occasion. 

Today, that ends.

I picked up a book yesterday at Barnes and Noble titled The Face On Your Plate, by Jeffery Moussaieff Masson. Don’t ask me why I picked it up, or why I went ahead and purchased it. I have had numerous opportunities in the past to do as much with a variety of like-minded books, but never have. I’m not sure what possessed me to buy the book, especially since I have eaten meat my entire life, and I anticipated what lay in store for me in reading such material. Whatever the (unknown) reason may be, it happen all the same. I am just past the half-way point, and it didn’t even take that far in to convince me I need to live differently.

Maybe it was the bit about the hell chickens go through in the process of debeaking, or the fact that humans, as adults, are the only animals to drink milk of another species (to their monumental detriment, I may add). Or perhaps it was the part about the tons of waste that are the byproduct of living and consuming animal products the way that we do – that the amount of animal waste is 130 times the amount of human waste. Or how at least 2/3 of methane emissions worldwide come from agriculture – and of that, a lot of those emissions come from waste lakes on commercial farms.Or perhaps, more simply, the fact that humans are not designed to eat meat – from the type of jaw structure, to the teeth we have, to the enzymes our body produces to break things down. It all points to an animal that was designed to be a herbivore. I could go on and on.

Obviously, I am a new-comber to this side of the debate, but I have long been exposed to it, thanks to my sister, who has been a vegetarian over half her life, and a vegan for about 7 or 8 years.  Despite having a close family member in the thick of this lifestyle, I have recently realized how easily I have been able to place myself in the land of denial with regards to where food comes from, what type of life it led while it was alive, and the process of getting from the “farm” to my plate. On one level, I have always known, since we are taught as children in Charlotte’s Web, what happens to farm animals. But unless you are an animal activist, and an environmental activist, how many of us really are aware of what agribusiness has been and continues to do?  I think it would do everyone some good to step outside of denial and take a long hard look at what we are doing. To animals that we consume, and to the environment in which not only they live, but we do as well. We are creating our own demise, in short. As stated by World Watch magazine and quoted in The Face On Your Plate:

 “The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future — deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities and the spread of disease.”


I strongly encourage everyone to not only pick up Masson’s book, but any book that is related to this topic that sheds light (and fact) on this industry. I think we all need to take a long, hard look at why we don’t like to know about what goes on in getting livestock (of any kind) from its pen to the plate.

Even if you have long ago decided that we are at the top of the food chain so we must eat meat (I too have used that reasoning in the past), I think that everyone who is decidedly strong-willed on a particular topic is not doing his/her position any full justice unless he equally researches the opposing view. 

I will leave you with this:

“Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I’ve discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory– disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals