Sunday, July 14, 2013

4th of July in Guatemala

Steph and Aracely

We just returned from spending six wonderful days with Humberto and Paulina's family in Panajachel ,Guatemala. It had been a full year since our prior visit, which is far too long; the children grow quickly and we like to see them as often as possible.

The trip got off to an inauspicious start on the 4th of July. Our flight was at 8 am, and I meant to set our alarm for 3:45. But somehow I miscalculated in my head and set it for 4:45. We woke up and took our showers and got ready to go, only realizing that we were an hour late when it hit 5:45. I realized that we had meant to arrive at the airport by at least 6 o'clock. We immediately panicked and ran out the door. We were so flustered by this that Craig missed the exit on the drive to the airport. Luckily he was able to take the next one without losing much time. We arrived at Logan Airport at 6:30. Not too bad, considering. We had made up half an hour.

We had checked in and printed our boarding passes at home the previous night. But since we had a bag of presents for the kids that we needed to check, they made us re-check in at a kiosk. Craig was completely overheated due to the stressful morning, so much so that an airport employee suggested he go outside to get some air. As we were in the throes of a 6 day heat wave (over 90 degrees), we decided that wasn't the best idea.

There was a very short line at security and we made it through quickly. We had time to eat breakfast at the food court, and we got to our departure gate in plenty of time.

The flight was uneventful except for our seat mate, a pretty young woman from Germany who rested her bare toes on the top of my water bottle and then proceeded to spill a cup of Sprite on my lap. More bad luck.

We arrived in Miami and after a very short layover we were on our way to Guatemala City. When we landed, immigration went fairly quickly, but our checked bag seemed to be one of the last off the plane. Then we were delayed in a big customs line.

Luckily, after this point, things turned around for the better. Adrin, who had driven us several times before, was there to pick us up at the airport. The road was in good shape despite some intermittent rain, and we made it to Panajachel in under 3 hours.

When we arrived, it was just before 5 o'clock and it was pouring rain. Aracely was sitting in the office playing on the computer and she ran out to meet us. She greeted us with big hugs telling us how much she loved us and had missed us. At first glance it was remarkable how much she looked like Yoselin had at her age. Aracely was now almost 8 years old. She had grown taller and her hair was now a lot longer.  She also had a beautiful smile, showing off her adult teeth to us for the first time.

The kids' cousins Julisse, Andrik, and Neli came over with Eddy in tow. Eddy was such a little man! Humberto and Paulina arrived and we sat in the office chatting. Yoselin and Yasmin showed up, both looking much taller than they had last year. In fact they were almost as tall as Paulina now.The kids' cousin Rocio stopped in to say hello, and it was the first time we had seen her in about a year and a half.

Vanesa arrived in her uniform for tourism school, looking very professional and grown  up. Aracely was patiently waiting for gifts, and suggested several times to take our bags and go to our room to speed up the process.
Vanesa in her school uniform

When we did go to the room, we walked down the alleyway and passed through the bamboo gate. Humberto had installed paver stones leading to the house and guest rooms. Our room had an additional table and chair, and there were Mayan huipiles (embroidered blouses) being used as tablecloths. Each time we visit, Humberto and Paulina have always made more improvements to the property and the rooms. It is a very comfortable place to stay, and they now operate as a bed and breakfast with private en suites.

Yasmin and Yoselin had moved into one of the guest rooms since our last visit. Now only Aracely and Eddy slept in the main house with Paulina and Humberto. We got settled in and then headed over to the main house. The kids were gathered around the dining room table watching TV. The orange color of the walls had been changed to cream in the dining room. Paola got home from school and then all 6 kids were home together.

We had a very tasty dinner of chicken in a salsa sauce with rice, carrots, and squash. Aracely wrote us notes in Spanish and passed them to us across the table. Eddy even wrote "ABC" on a note, and he was very cuddly. He had just finished a year of English immersion preschool at Atitlan Multicultural Academy, where Aracely had just finished first grade. Humberto and Paulina told us that since finishing the school year, Eddy had not wanted to get up or eat at normal times, saying he was on his "vacaciones."

Humberto and Eddy

The older girls were still in school (their school year runs from January to October), so we needed to let them get to bed. Humberto told us that he and Paulina would be taking us, Aracely, and Eddy to Quetzaltenango tomorrow to visit an animal market.

The next morning, Adrin arrived in the van to pick us up at 6 am. We drove for two hours to San Francisco el Alto, a town on the outskirts of Quetzaltenango. Paulina and Humberto had come here by chicken bus before, but this was the first time for us and the kids.

We walked up a hill to a market area where people were selling cows, chickens, baby chicks, turkeys, pigs, cats, goats, dogs, and rabbits. Eddy and Aracely really enjoyed seeing the animals. We asked Aracely which she liked best and she said the dogs. We knew she had been wanting one since their lovable dog Terry had passed away last year. Aracely and Eddy got to feed some grass to a cow, and Eddy held on to a kitten on a leash.

Eddy, Humberto, Craig, Aracely, and Paulina at the animal market

Eddy and Aracely feeding a calf

We walked through the crowded alleyways of the market, being pushed and pulled by the throngs of locals in traditional dress. We always try not to be in the way, but here it was inevitable. We had to push our way through at the risk of being pushed over and trampled by the mobs.

We were pretty much the only gringos in the entire market. We know that thievery and pick-pocketing are common in these conditions, and we had tried to do our best defensively to prevent it.  I had two extra rechargeable camera batteries in a cargo pocket in my pants that buttoned securely. Craig had his backpack, but all that was in there was sunscreen, bottled water, and light jackets. Still, he carried it on his front when in the crowded areas.

Eddy with a puppy
Humberto bought us each a piece of cornbread cooked in corn husks, similarly to how tamales are cooked. It was very tasty. We then stopped at a little stand that was selling breakfast. We sat on wooden benches with locals at a table. We were served barley tea and black beans, rice, and tortillas. The locals smiled at us and wished us buen provecho.

After breakfast, we went into the San Francisco church.  San Francisco is the patron saint of many towns here; it seems that every town has a San Francisco church. This church was gorgeous and had nice silver work on the altar. There were  many carved religious icons which looked antique. While sitting in the pew admiring the architecture,  I realized that my cargo pocket was unbuttoned. My extra batteries were gone. It wasn't the end of the world, as I had more back at the house. I hoped that the one currently in my camera would last for the remainder of today's excursion.

I suppose it was possible that the batteries had fallen out somehow, but it didn't seem likely. The pocket had been securely buttoned. I thought back to some of the locals who had pushed against me in the narrow aisles of the market and wondered if someone had pick-pocketed me. At least we didn't have something far more important stolen. I felt disappointed. In all of our  trips to Guatemala (of which this was the 10th), we had never been robbed, though we had witnessed some pickpocketing at Easter time, and know full well that it goes on.

We went out into the church courtyard, which was quite nicely landscaped. We climbed up a set of narrow concrete spiral stairs up to the roof of the church. There was a beautiful view of the surrounding area, as well as a bell structure. We could see nearby Santa Maria volcano, and we could see the city of Quetzaltenango down below. We enjoyed the view, and then climbed back down the spiral stairs.
Craig and Aracely
Craig on the roof of Iglesia San Francisco

As we stood in front of the church, Eddy decided that he wanted to have his shoes shined. He stood with one foot at a time up on the shoe shiners' wooden box and got his shoes buffed a shiny black. Little man indeed!

We walked back out through the crowded market streets. An elderly woman in traditional dress brazenly reached right into Craig's empty pants pocket! He noticed and looked at her sternly. She proceeded to then try to open the zippers on his backpack as she retreated. Really?? We were now pretty much sure that the batteries hadn't just fallen out.

It wasn't the loss of batteries that bothered me. They were easy enough to replace at home. What bothered me was the resulting loss of innocence. We have such respect for the Mayans and their culture, and we try to travel in a sustainable manner. Yet poverty drives people to desperation and we are reminded that we need to be even more careful than we already try to be.

Adrin picked us up and drove us a short distance to Quetzaltenango, known locally as Xela (Shell-ah). Adrin dropped us off at the main square, which contained a beautiful park and some stunning colonial architecture. Humberto told us that Xela is a center of learning in Guatemala. It has universities and a laid-back feel, and was much safer than Guatemala City. The  park had Greek columns and a rotunda, and there had been a roof for shade before it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1902. We spent half an hour in the park and Eddy chased the pigeons.

Paulina, Aracely, Craig, Humberto, and Eddy in Quetzaltenango

Adrin needed to be back in Pana by 2:30, so he picked us up after half an hour. The weather was absolutely gorgeous today. We were in the highlands and the family felt chilly, but it was refreshingly cool for Craig and myself. Most of us slept on the ride back to Pana.

Once we got back to the house, Yoselin and Yasmin were home from school, and Vanesa and Paola had recently left for school. Paulina offered us lunch but we were too full from the market. We ate an orange instead, while the kids ate. We gave the kids a Crayola activity book with markers. Aracely and Yoselin played with it, and they were quite concerned with doing it "right" (i.e. copying the colors exacty from teh packaging rather than trying to be creative about it. ) Part of the activity required them to draw something from their imaginations, and they faithfully did those parts last.

Their cousin Josue came over and played with Eddy. Aracely asked if I had brought my little netbook computer this time. I went to get it and they were looking at some photos and videos. Josue asked for "the one where Vanesa says hola". I knew exactly what he was talking about, I couldn't believe it. It had been over a year since he had even seen that video on my computer. He was talking about "Wiggles, a video compilations I had made from footage of the kids a few years ago. The kids watched it and were amused seeing their younger selves.

Humberto told us that they had to go to Vanesa's tourism school to pick up her report card. They invited us to go, and he, Paulina, Eddy, Aracely, Craig and I piled into a tuk-tuk. It was so crowded that Humberto called it a "chicken tuk-tuk" as a play on the ubiquitous and always overcrowded Central American chicken bus.

Chicken tuk-tuk: Aracely, Paulina, Eddy, Steph, Craig  Not pictured: Humberto and driver

Unlike the elementary school, Vanesa's school was not especially close to the house. The tuk-tuk drove us upstream and over the bridge to an area where we had never been before.
It dropped us off in front of the school gate. Humberto knocked on the door and we were let into the courtyard. Vanesa was standing on a balcony with some friends, and she waved to us.

The principal gave Vanesa's report card to Humberto and Paulina.  Vanesa came down to say hello. We didn't want to embarrass her in front of her peers, but she came over on her own accord and hugged us, which was very nice.  We said goodbye to Vanesa and left her to finish her day.

We walked all the way home, over the bridge and towards the market. Humberto pointed out the middle school that Paola attends, and we peeked into its darkened courtyard. The students had all gone home.

We almost didn't recognize the market at this time of day. We usually go with Paulina in the morning when it is full of sellers and shoppers. Now there were few stalls open. We stopped at one and Humberto and Paulina ordered us a warm chocolate rice drink (it tasted and had the texture of rice krispies which had been sitting in milk for a long time.) It was good - chocolatey, warm, and hearty. It seemed particularly Mayan to us.

They also ordered us each a tostada (hard tortilla covered with half guacamole and half salsa, with grated cheese on top) and we also shared a pupusa (soft tortilla with cheese inside, topped with cabbage). Each was purchased from a different stall. Aracely got fries from a chicken vendor. As is Guatemalan tradition, she slathered them in ketchup and mayo. She let us each try one and they were quite good.

Steph, Aracely, Eddy, Paulina, Craig
Snacks at the market

We walked back to the house, where Yasmin was coloring in the Crayola book. When she was done Humberto looked at it with Eddy and asked him questions about the pictures. He was able to identify objects in English, even knowing the word tractor when Humberto couldn't come up with it. Her named the colors and also identified a fish. Aracely played on the computer and they watched Wiggles , Take Care of All of My Children,  and New Years 2012, videos we had compiled from footage from past visits. It was bittersweet to see images of the kids' grandmother, who had passed away last August, and David, their young cousin who passed away last July.

We heard noise in the kitchen and realized that what we had eaten at the market was not dinner; it had been a snack. "We eat all the time," Humberto joked. But it's true. Luckily dinner was a bowl of homemade chicken soup which we were able to finish despite our earlier "snack". The family watched some TV and we went to bed at 10:30.

Steph and Eddy
On Saturday, Humberto was taking some clients out on a Mayan village tour. We were able to see him before he left for the day. Paulina made us scrambled eggs with black beans and cheese, along with coffee, for breakfast with Aracely and Eddy. As usual, it was delicious. The other girls eventually woke up and Josue came over and looked at pictures on the computer.

At 10:30, we headed to the market with Paulina, Paola, Aracely, and Eddy. We stopped at a barber shop to get Eddy's hair cut. Though he can be a very intense and energetic kid, he sat perfectly still for his haircut with clippers and a straight razor. After that we headed to the market and bought fresh fruits, vegetables, and supplies for a dinner party tonight with Humberto's neighbor nephews and their families.
Eddy's  haircut
Buying veggies at the market
When we got back to the house we sat outside and ate some pitaya. It was incredibly juicy and delicious.We had a nice lunch of salad with fresh avocado and cheese, with fresh pineapple juice to drink. Craig and I took showers so that we would be ready for the evening. Aracely colored in the Crayola book. Paulina got out a folder of homework papers that Eddy had been given to practice over the summer. He colored for over an hour, doing a nice neat job.

Paola and Humberto

Paola and Julisse were all dressed up to go to a school fundraising block party on the next street over. Humberto wanted to take Aracely and Eddy for ice cream. Ice cream? Wasn't it almost time for the dinner party? "Not for a couple hours," said Humberto. We swung by the block party but there was a curtain over the entrance to the park so you couldn't really see what was going on. But you could hear  a band churning out some live music.

 We followed Calle 14 de Febrero down to Santander and popped out at Sarita, the ice cream shop where we usually go with the family. Humberto said there was another newer location further down the street that he liked better. So we walked down to it. Craig and I didn't want much because we didn't want to spoiul our dinner, so we shared a single scoop of mora (blackberry) frozen ogurt. Aracely, Eddy, and Humberto each got small sundaes, and each kid gave each of us a bite.

Ice cream at Sarita: Aracely, Craig, Steph, Eddy
We walked back home and met up with Paola and Julisse in the street. I asked how the party was and they said that it had been boring. All the kids were home now so we took the opportunity to give them the presents we had bought them in Vietnam. We got each of the girls a small porcelain doll dressed in various ethnic minority outfits. They were wrapped in bubble wrap, which, as expected, almost caused more enjoyment than the gift itself. We gave Eddy a small metal bicycle with a chain that really turned the back tire. Vanesa hung her doll from her purse. Aracely sat hers in the basket of Eddy's small bike and took it for a ride. It was just the right size.

Yolanda, Fatima, Juan Carlos, Craig, Steph, Victor, Rosa, Paulina
Neli and Fatima
Humberto's nephew Victor came over with his wife Rosa and their kids Andrik, Julisse, and Neli. Junior, now looking all grown up at age 12,  came with them as well. Junior's parents Yolanda and Juan Carlos and little sister Fatima shortly arrived as well. There was a wooden table for the adults in the garden area, and a similar table for the kids on the concrete in front of the house. Still other kids ate inside the house at the dining room table. We had a very nice dinner of chicken in mushroom sauce with mixed veggies and rice.

El Aleph Disco Bar

They were drinking  Brahva beer, but Juan Carlos had thoughtfully brought some rum and 7Up for me, since I can't drink beer. For dessert there was a cake to celebrate my and Humberto's birthdays, which had each occurred in the past couple of weeks.

At around 10 o'clock, the four couples along with Victor and Rosa's eldest son Alex walked up Santander Street to El Aleph Disco Bar. This was somewhere that they had been coming together for the past few weekends, to do some drinking and dancing.

The place was hopping and "Gangnam Style" was playing when we entered. Lasers and lights were flashing. The white on our clothing glowed in the black light.  They staked out a table and ordered beer for them and vodka and orange juice for me. Alex stayed with the table and the four couples proceeded to the dance floor.It was really hot in there and after dancing for almost an hour, we were overheated and we sat down to take a rest.  Couples rotated in and out, taking breaks to have a few sips of their drinks before getting back into the sweaty mob.  Craig saw a familiar face over by the bar. It was Pablo whom we had met last year. He came over a couple of times to say hello.

Humberto danced with me for a couple of songs, and also adeptly handled a drunk guy before he could become a little too friendly. We were pleasantly surprised that there was no smoking in this disco. So although the air felt tropical and sticky, we could at least breathe. Any smoke seen was a result of a fog machine.

It was a lot of fun. at 1 o'clock, the place closed and we walked home. We said goodnight to everyone and we all went to our respective houses to sleep at 1:30.

The docks in Panajachel
Our swimming spot at Cerro de Oro
Yasmin and Paola
Yasmin and Yoselin
Picnic: Paola, Craig, Yoselin, Yasmin, Neli, Eddy, Humberto, Paulina, Aracely

On Sunday morning we slept in. Breakfast was a mixture of dinner party leftovers and scrambled eggs. As a drink we had warm ponche, a fresh fruit cider. All the kids were together, sitting side by side at thet able, and we were struck by how much they had all grown. They don't all play the way they used to; they have matured and our relationship with them starts to change as well.

At around 12:15, the whole family and Neli headed down to the docks on Lake Atitlan. It looked like many of the docks had been replaced since last year. You could walk on them without fearing that you would fall right through.   We boarded a lancha (small motorized boat) called the Linda Palopo, and crossed the lake to Cerro de Oro. The scenery was gorgeous, with volcanoes and mountains ringing the crater lake. There was a nice grassy area here next to the remains of a house that was never finished. There was a shallow place that the little kids could swim, and a deeper place near some large rocks where the adults could jump in. The water was quite cold at first but was very refreshing. We enjoyed swimming around. After a while my core was actually cold and I needed to get out. This was a rarity; I am usually hot and sweaty all the time in Guatemala.

Paulina, Humberto, Vanesa, Paola, Yasmin, Yoselin, Eddy, Neli, Aracely
Aracely at Igelsia San Francisco at Cerro de Oro

Aracely and Neli collected some snail shells for us and also picked us flowers. When everyone was out of the water and had started to dry off, we had lunch. It was a picnic consisting of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, bananas, peaches, and strawberries.  It was always so nice to eat local, fresh food when we come to Guatemala.

After lunch we packed up and hiked through some corn fields up to the road. The area was very pretty and there were some nice houses there. The kids stopped for a few minutes at a playground with a metal slide and monkeybars.

We walked up a hill to San Francisco church. Father Stanley Francisco Rother, a priest originally from Oklahoma City, was killed during the Gutemalan genocide in 1981. He was beloved by his parishioners and was viewed as a martyr after trying to help them. There is a shrine to him at his church in Santiago Atitlan. But he also had a parish here in Cerro de Oro. So we saw a shrtine for him here too. The church building itself seemed large compared to the size of the community. Maybe the people here are particularly pious, given when they underwent during the genocide.

We took some group photos in front of the church;  they had a nice view of the lake in the background. The girls bought frozen chocolate covered bananas at one of the little nearby stores. These were refreshing in teh afternoon heat  Paola boosted Vanesa up to pick a pitaya fruit from the cactus vine. The first one she grabbed was too overripe, and would up disintegrating in her hand. She threw it to the ground and then got a second, which she cut into wedges so that everyone could have a taste. Talk about fresh!

We walked past some very pretty areas which have been choked with water lilies. The reflection of the white puffy clouds on the water with the white flowers and green leaves was beautiful.We walked to the Cerro de Oro docks and took the Linda Paolopo lancha back to Pana.

Lillies on the lake
Humberto, Yasmin, and Paola on the boat back to Pana

We came home and took showers (unfortunately the lake is polluted, so it is always a good idea to shower after a swim). Just as we were getting ready to emerge from our room, there was a knock at the door. It was Rocio! We had not been able to be there for her quinceañera in April, so we had brought her some gifts now. It was really great to see her as we hadn't seen her in a year and a half. She is growing into a lovely young lady. She told us that on Friday she had come in second in a regional science olympiad  even competing against a college student! We asked how her mom Juana was, and she told us that she was home, would we like to say hello? Of course we would!

Rocio and Juana had previously lived in a  house with Humberto and Juana's mother, who had passed away almost a year ago. Since then they had moved across the alley. It was our first time into this house, which shares the exact footprint of Humberto's house. Aracely went with us and helped to translate, and Josue joined us as well. We gave Rocio two blouses and we also delivered a small gift from a dear friend of ours who happens to share her birthday. It has been a rough year for them, suffering the losses of three separate people who were quite close to them, and it was nice to see them smiling. Rocio gave me a stuffed teddy bear with a heart and she gave Craig a stuffed bulldog. What a sweetie!
Steph, Rocio, Craig

When we got back to the house, Humberto and Paulina were watching some of our Ecuador videos on my computer. They asked us some questions about Antonio and his family, our compadres in Ecuador. This led us to think that it would be fun to some day get Antonio's family and Humberto's families together to meet one another. We think they would enjoy learning from one another.'s cultures.

After 8 o'clock we headed right around the corner to Paulina's sister Isabela's restaurant on Rancho Grande. All six kids, along with Humberto, Paulina, Craig, and myself. Isabela's restaurant had been in this location for just over a year and was doing a good business. There were two other tables of people dining, and a couple of people at the bar. We had loved Isabela's tacos the last time we were here, so we wanted more of the same. A lot of the kids ordered hamburgers, a novelty for them that they don't always get a chance to have.

Isabela was alone in the kitchen so Paola went back to help her. Craig, paulina, and Humberto shared some large bottles of Gallo beer. The girls had strawberry smoothies. The tacos were delicious, just as we remembered them. Chicken tacos with carmelized onions, picante, and all the fixins. We stole a couple of fries from the kids' burger plates and they were excellent as well. It wouldn't have been a proper night out if Yoselin hadn't fallen asleep in her chair. After rousing her, we walked back to the house at 10:30 with full bellies.

Isabela's restaurant
Paola helps to serve food at Isabela's restaurant

On Monday morning we had breakfast and then went with Paulina, Humberto, Eddy, and Aracely to Atitlan Multicultural Academy,.Aracely and Eddy's English-immersion school. The school is in the process of moving locations, and until this morning it was still yet to be announced which of two properties they would choose.

We went to the current location and met Alyssa, who is the new director. She said they had just decided on a new property and she took us to see it. It was only a short walk from the previous location, so it was still within fairly easy walking distance to the house.  They would be renting a space which had formerly been used as a gallery and art space. It was a gorgeous colonial building with high ceilings and wood beam construction. It had a lot of character, and had a beautiful private yard where the kids could play in the shade of many trees and plants. We walked out the front gate of the property (which had an adult-sized door and a child-sized door which looked like the entrance to a hobbit hole) and went next door, to a property which is currently used as a house. They will adjoin the two yards and the house will be used as school space for the younger grades, including Aracely and Eddy.

Alyssa sat with us outside and as hummingbirds passed by and fiesty Scottish terriers played with the kids, she outlined her vision for the school. She studied economic development in Latin American countries, and previously worked at Kiva. For the past few years she has been the director of Hiptypico, a company which fairly trades with local artisans. She works with the community and the artisans provide higher quality wares than the cheap stuff usually sold in tourist markets, so they are able to be sold at high-end prices. She is starting a nonprofit which will also benefit the sc hool., She wants to encourage microgiving, giving $5 or $10 via the website, to receive a small handmade gift and to know that they are helping an indigenous child to get a world-class education. Alyssa's enthusiasm is infectious, and we wish her nothing but the best. We are looking forward to the launch of the school's new website which will encourage online donations.

Alyssa was very generous with her time and we were thrilled to get the inside scoop on some of the changes within the school. We are thrilled by the progress that Aracely and Eddy have made at school, and we know they are excited to be the first kids to have seen the new space!

Alyssa, Eddy, Aracely, Paulina, and Humberto in front of the new AMA property
One of the new AMA buildings
Aracely, Eddy, and Alyssa
We went back to the house and had a nice lengthy chat with Humberto. Paulina made us a nice spaghetti and meat sauce for lunch which we ate outside.  We gave the kids a game called Suspend where you need to hang and balance metal pieces based of rolls of a dice. It was a lot of fun and we had fun playing all afternoon. Josue and his young niece Brittany came over. When he was little his big brother Luis used to bring hij over and take care of him, and now he was assuming that role with Brittany. He had matured so much at the ripe old age of 8. He was very patient with her and helped her to place pieces.

Paulina and Humberto showed us Aracely and Eddy's report cards from school. They were excellent. We were so proud of the progress that they have been making. The school has been a wonderful opportunity for them.

Yoselin, Yasmin, and Aracely playing Suspend
Brittany and Josue

Then we went around the corner and up an alley to Paulina's family's land. Yoselin, Aracely, and Eddy went with Humberto, Paulina, Craig, and me. The kids' young cousin Alison Margarita greeted us with a hug as soon as we entered the property. Loren was with her, and had grown quite tall in the past year.

We  sat in the courtyard with Paulina's sister Olga and chatted. Paulina's other sister Estela emerged from the house with baby Michele in her arms. She handed her to me and Michele was quite content. She had been so tiny a year ago, and now she was walking. Estela's older girls, Laisa and Yesmy, were in and out of the house. Olga's older daughters Odilia and Pamela were around, and young Juan Isidro now goes by the nickname "Chilo." Paulina's brother Carlos also came out to say hello.
Alison Margarita and Loren
Yoselin and Michele
Craig and his buddy Alison Margarita
Yoselin, Steph, Eddy, Aracely

The cousins enjoyed playing with one another. Alison Margarita came over to sit on Craig's lap. Just like last time we visited, she paid very close attention to everything he said, nodding seriously, but also at times giving him big smiles. Loren brought us each a plastic baggie filled with peach juice. It was very tasty.

Olga has taken over her late father's business: she sells fresh juice on Santander Street from a cart. Eddy went over to the juice cart and tried to push it. As the adults told him to stop, the cart seemed to fall over in slow motion. Luckily, none of the glasses broke. The only casualties were five eggs which were now cracked. This prompted Olga to invite us to stay for dinner. She and Paulina prepared huevos rancheros with black beans.

We went back to the house where the other three girls were watching TV and playing on the computer.We said our goodnights and the girls promised that they would see us in the morning before we left.

The next morning we woke up early and went up onto the roof terrace to have a look around the neighborhood. Humberto wants to put a small kitchen and a dining table up here to serve breakfast to clients who rent the guest rooms. You can see a glimpse of the lake and the volcanoes from up there, and it is a very pretty spot. He plans to put some sort of canopy to provide shade as well. We are sure that it will turn out beautifully.

Though a couple of the kids had wanted to drive to the airport with us, there was a free dental clinic in town today, and all six kids needed dental checkups. Everyone woke up to say goodbye to us. We all ate cereal together and then walked down the alley to the office, where Adrin was waiting in the van. We hugged and kissed everyone, saying goodbye for now, but that we would be back before they knew it in 6 months. Craig and I got into the van and took a picture of the whole family from the van window. They waved and clapped as we pulled away, and I wiped a small tear from the corner of my eye.

It took about 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to the airport in Guatemala City. Once we had checked in at the American kiosk, we ate lunch at Pollo Campero. The chicken and fries weren't as fresh and hot as they usually are, but they were still tasty. We saw signs advertising their new hamburgers. Perhaps they should stick to what they know: chicken!

Our flight to Miami took off on time at 2:15. When we arrived in Miami we went through a new customs area. The line was long but moved swiftly. However, you still end up getting into individual queues at the very end, which means you can still end up in a slow line (which we did). When we got to the immigration agent, he mispronounced Guatemala, called us Yankees, and asked why our godchildren were in Guatemala to begin with, instead of here. "Um, because they're Guatemalan citizens?" I said, biting my tongue so that I didn't say the rest of what I was thinking.

We were able to go through a very short security line because we had no checked baggage. We got to our gate and got sandwiches at Cafe Versailles. The same sandwiches as on our flight down: chicken salad croissant and jerk chicken wrap.

The flight home was not full, and I was able to convince our seatmate to move across the aisle to give all of us more room. We departed on time at 9:15 p.m., landing in Boston at around 12:25 a.m.

Vanesa, Paola, Yasmin, Yoselin, Paulina, Aracely, Eddy, Humberto
P.S. Thank you so much, Yoselin, for the letter, picture, and going-away surprise that you had for us!