Sunday, March 31, 2013

babies and boobs

In these here parts, boobs are for feeding babies and that’s about it. If a kid is hungry, hike up the shirt and let him have at it. Or, if it’s more convenient, simply hoist the breast over and out the top's neck. Whatevs.

While I was sitting in Central Park the other day, I decided to try for some breastfeeding shots. Once I started looking, I found photo ops everywhere.

I had to squint hard to make sure I was actually seeing what I thought I was seeing, since nursing is such a non-event.

The mothers’ body postures and expressions don’t change.

They don’t even break stride.

This woman (purple shirt) was just a couple feet away. Her baby lucked out: milk AND a balloon, what a day!

There was another woman nursing her baby practically in my arm pit, but, ‘cause I was aiming for discretion, that shot didn’t happen. 

Eek! A baby nursing IN CHURCH! Heaven help us!

Later that night when I was poring over my photos, I found I had unintentionally taken yet another breast feeding picture.

Can you find the breast feeding mama? It’s kind of like Where’s Waldo...but better, because it involves happy babies and boobs.

Now I'm tempted to go back and scour all my crowd shots in search of more nursing mamas...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Good Friday fun

What a day.

Short version: my younger daughter got chomped on by a dog, we went to Coban to look at the carpets, and then, at the end of the day, we finally took her to a doctor. Also, it was a really fun day.

Long version: brace yourself. Also, there will be a little blood, but it’s only fitting, seeing as it was Good Friday.

So, Escobar, the neighbors’ old Rottweiler, was eating his breakfast when my daughter spied some of his food on the ground and picked it up to toss to another dog. Escobar didn’t approve and let her know by clamping down on her arm with his teeth. This is the same dog who has punctured car tires with his bare (bared?) teeth and who terrifies taxi drivers. In other words, he's got a mean bite.

Naturally, my daughter screamed and lit out for home where she bled all over the patio and her shirt, and we, once we realized she was actually hurt and not just screaming for the joy of it, jumped into high gear. After washing the wound (there were actually three—two small ones on the back of her wrist/hand and one bigger one on the inside of the wrist), we sat her down with a rag, ordered her older brother to read to her (so she would stop wailing and we could think), and started reading up on dog bites. We called our friend who is a nurse, messaged my brother-in-law who is a pharmacist, and paged through Where There Is No Doctor, the go-to health manual for overseas workers.

I had been chatting with my mother online when all this went down, so my son (before we commissioned him to read to the wounded) took over the chatting. Here's the conversation, slightly edited:

My son: She just got bitten relly bad. Nothing to worry about.
My mother: relly bad. NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT?????

After about twenty minutes of allowing the wound to bleed, we called up Nurse Friend again and she said it was time to apply pressure. My husband put antibiotic on it and wrapped it in a panty liner (panty liners have more than one use, as we already know), we jotted down the recommended antibiotics, and off to town we went. This was our original plan (minus a pharmacy visit) because in Guatemala, Good Friday equals PARTY.

For Guatemalan Catholics, Good Friday is a really, really, reallyreallyreally big deal. (Easter Sunday not so much.) On this day, they make elaborate alfombras (carpets) on the roads and then parade over them in a series of processions that last all day long and into the night.

When we got to Chamelco, a procession was already underway.

The fashionista rocking her panty liner bracelet.

The carpets are mostly made out of colored sawdust, but pine needles get some heavy use, too.

Fresh flowers, fruit, twigs, and candles are called into service as well. My favorite was this: Jesus on the cross with a banana in his hand.

We went into the cathedral just to see what was going on.

Tourist tidbit: our little town's cathedral was the first one to be built in this whole region.

Inside, there was some sort of service gearing up, plus people were working on the floats.

readying the women's float

Later in the day, people would carry these giant floats through the streets. There was one for the women (16 women on each side) and a bigger one for the men (30 men on either side). These, however, are peanuts compared to the float in Antigua, the mother of all Good Friday celebrations. That one takes some ridiculous amount of men to carry it, like a hundred on each side.

Once we arrived in Coban, we only had to walk a little ways up the road before arriving at a roped off street. It was buzzing with alfombra-making activity.

self portrait 

After watching for a bit, purchasing the antibiotic (and changing the bandage), we went to a little comedor for lunch.

Fried fish was on the menu, and my fish-loving kids jumped at the opportunity. They didn’t, however, expect it to come with eyeballs attached.

Turned out, fish with eyeballs isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, because if it still has eyes, then have they even gutted it? (Yes, of course, but we couldn’t convince everyone. It didn’t help that my husband’s fish was still partly raw.)

Also, we are never giving that boy Pepsi ever again. Within minutes, the kid was pulsating with unbridled enthusiasm for life.

Lunch over, we headed to central park. I sat myself in the shade and reveled in the abounding photo ops.

fruit carts: peeled oranges waiting to be sliced in half and sprinkled with spicy ground pumpkin seeds, mango slices, fruit salad in bowls (and a honey bear because here fruit salad is always drizzled with honey)

boiled field corn on a stick: they dress each ear with liberal amounts 
of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise

cotton candy: it takes two men to make it, one to catch the sugar with the stick 
and the other to hand crank the machine

Dog Bitten Daughter’s bandage was getting rather bloody (again), so we changed it.

Immediately, we had a crowd.

“We could charge money,” I hissed to my husband as I handed my older daughter the camera. (She didn't back up far enough so she missed all the people standing on either side.)

When we took off the bandage, the blood started running down her arm right away. Also, the wrist was swelling and there was a good bit of purple underneath.  

Hmm, should we be concerned yet?

Nah, not just yet. 

We slapped on another bandage and went to the cathedral. Inside, the priest (or somebody) was preaching about the wounded and sick and people were milling all around. The huge floats were parked at the front of the church, awaiting their moment of glory.

I alternated between hanging out in the church with the family and going outside so I could make phone calls. The wound was still, after three changes, steadily bleeding. Perhaps the damage was a little worse than we thought? Was a vein punctured? An artery? Should it be sutured? The high risk of infection had me slightly nervous. I kept checking her arm for red streaks.

Outside, the crowds were tucked to a fever pitch. Official looking men (my husband just informed me they are firemen) were finishing up an alfombra.

A band arrived:

Men in long robes scurried around moving motorcycles to make room for the procession:

Seemingly out of the blue, two long lines of Roman soldiers marched into the church:

Upon seeing the fierce, broom-capped men with their long pointy swords, my kids, boredom forgotten, snapped to attention.

Roman soldier in training

The Roman army had two not-yet-in-use generators—one at the head of the procession and another at the tail.

That’s the best part, my husband said. So I got a picture.

Then when I was outside, a whole line of men in black suits and sunglasses streamed around the side of the building and into the church.

They—the first round of float carriers?—looked like the mafia, or secret service men. That many of them were on cell phones made them look all the more intimidating.

They were accompanied by not-yet-lit incense carriers.

 And right about then was when I connected with the people I was calling. They said they could meet us at a private clinic—the best one in the area, our different sources agreed—so we had to leave the party.

I never did get to see the monstrous floats in action, much to my everlasting disappointment.

At the clinic, they called a doctor while we waited in a hallway. I let my daughter play games on my cell phone to take her mind off the upcoming ordeal. Our friend, who so generously stayed with us the entire time without us even asking her to, bless her heart, chattered away, helping to distract our daughter even more.

The doctor came and was wonderful. He suggested, and we agreed, not to stitch up the bite because of the risk of infection.

He flushed it out while I helped her breathe: in through your nose, out through your mouth, LOOK AT MY EYES. And then my son, who was outside with the other kids and Luvia (who was with our friends when they swung by the clinic to help us out—it's all very confusing so don't even try to follow), called on the cell phone and visited with her for the rest of the procedure. The doctor gave us a prescription for a 7-10 day treatment of high-powered antibiotics, as well as drops for inflammation and pain. And then we were done!

Our friends offered to drive us all home, but I wanted to see more of the festivities. So my older daughter and I stayed in town while the rest of the family headed home.

Even the kids had their own spot!

Recognize this alfombra?
I am so glad we stayed. We ended up walking down the same street that we first saw when we arrived in the morning, but now the alfombras were mostly completed. We joined the hordes of Guatemalans in admiring the alfombras and taking tons of pictures. It was like a giant block party: everyone working together to make something beautiful. The atmosphere was fun, light, focused, and peaceful.

Towards the end of the street we discovered our landowners busy working on an alfombra with their extended family. One neighbor handed my daughter a bucket of sawdust and put her to work.

The sun was setting, so we had to head home. The party, however, was far from over. The procession, we were told, wasn’t scheduled to reach that particular street until 9 p.m., and the whole thing wouldn’t be over until midnight or one o’clock.

Back in Chamelco, the morning’s alfombras had already been swept clean. But more were being built on the side streets. The celebration was far from over.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

on being together: it's different here somehow

This week—Holy Week—the entire country shuts down. Our children are off school and we’re off work. Also, because it’s a crazy busy time at all the vacation hot spots (read rivers, ponds, and beaches), travel is a sticky mess and prices are jacked through the roof. Therefore, we opted to go Nowhere. (I told you we aren’t any good at being tourists.) In other words, we are having a self-imposed staycation.

The first part of the break was taken up with my brother and church and regular stuff. But then on Tuesday, while my husband was spending 12 hours on buses, the kids and I found ourselves at home with nowhere to go for an entire day for the first time in forever, or at least a couple months.

As homeschoolers, this used to be a common occurrence. Many days we’d just be banging around the house together, reading, cleaning, cooking, studying, fighting, writing, etc. But since we’ve been here, we’ve been on an entirely different schedule. We get up early and then go our separate ways for hours on end. A strange woman shows up at my door to mop floors and scrub the toilet. There are neighbor kids to play with and lots of errands to run and then we shut down the day extra early so we can do it all over again the next day.

I like this routine we’ve carved out for ourselves. It’s reasonable and fairly balanced, as far as schedules go. So with an entire week of no childcare (I mean, school) and no house help (oh crap) looming before me, I panicked just a little.

“I don’t know how those homeschooling moms do it!” I fussed to my husband before bed one night. “How do they live with their kids all day long? I’m going to go out of my mind!”

But I’ve been pleasantly surprised. After that awful Sunday, things have gradually gotten better. The kids are settling down and sinking into our agendaless existence. I didn’t realize how pushed we’ve been to get up, get out, and go, go, go. Even though ours is quite the laid back lifestyle, it’s a lot more than what we’re used to.

So Tuesday morning, I woke up to the sound of a steady rain on the tin roof and my older son’s voice droning on and on as he read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to the other kids. We spent the day doing some Spanish study, reading aloud about the aboriginal people of Australia, and playing Spot It. I made granola and the kids played Ticket to Ride. We had rest time and writing time. Things went downhill around 4 pm, but we worked it through and ended the day with a couple chapters of The Phantom Tollbooth.

Yesterday, the rain continued—the only difference was that my husband was here with us. There was more book reading and Spanish study. My husband got out a 1000-piece puzzle and then rigged up a light so we could distinguish between the varying shades of blues and greens. I don’t think we’ve ever done a puzzle together, but we are, amazingly enough, very into it.

Before we left to come here, a wise friend told my carpenter husband: You are not going to Guatemala to build anything. You are going to build a family.

I always thought we had kind of already built a family, but I’m beginning to see what he meant. It’s different here, removed from all we know and rely on. Here it’s just us. We’re still the same people, very much so, but we're growing and changing together. Sure, we still fight like cats and dogs, and yes, we get homesick and cry for our stateside friends, family, and pets, but we're on this adventure together.

Heck, we're doing puzzles together. Something is obviously different.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

the visit

As I mentioned, my brother visited us for a week. Life was low-key and simple while he was here.


*He and the kids cooked up some snails and crabs legs. The kids ate the crab legs and he ate the snails (though part way through he announced they tasted of “pond bottom” and quit).

*He played lots of 10 Days in the USA with the kids.

*We went to Cobán for church and afterwards paused in our trek across town to watch a soccer game.

*My brother was about as fascinated by the market as I am and took to making trips to town and coming back with random food.

*He visited the kids’ school with me and went with my husband to Bezaleel.

*He borrowed a neighbor’s guitar and sat out on the porch strummin’ and a-hummin’ while the children fell asleep.

*He got to experience riding in very full buses. (In the above photo, you're looking at five of us.) Once we counted 28 people in a 12 passenger van. It always cracks me up when the ayudantes (bus assistants) tell us to make more room for people because there is supposed to be four in a row, or five (or six or eleven or whatever), and we just look at them blankly because, hello, we can not shrink our leg bones, thank you very much.

*He wanted a picture of himself with a gun-wielding guard, so I (and the guards) obliged. We agree that it was the most excitement those guards had all day and probably all week.
*The only touristy thing we did was on Saturday when we went to a reserve and hiked up to the top of the forest to see out over Cobán and Chamelco (sort of).

I want to start getting to know this area a little better. There are so many incredible things to see in Guatemala and the best place to start is right where we are. However, because simple day trips with six people can end up being quite pricey, and because it’s much easier to stay at home than to try to navigate the aforementioned stuffed buses, I often don’t even bother. But a friend mentioned this forest reserve to me. She said things like “close by” and “easy to get to” and “cheap,” so we slapped sunblock on everyone, filled water bottles, and set out.

(When a kid waves this in your face and screams SPIDER, things happen.)

Despite the fact that we chose the absolute worst time to visit a reserve—between 12 and 2 pm when all the animals and birds are snoozing their way through the shimmering heat of day—and despite the fact that the guide sprinted instead of walked, and despite the fact that a couple of my kids have no endurance for long, uphill, speed walks in the woods whatsoever, it was a splendid little foray. We got to do stuff like power walk through lush woods and see out over the whole of Cobán and glimpse a Toucan and examine an ant hill and see the most incredible camping spot ever—a perfectly level area shaded by two huge stands of bamboo and with a thick ground cover consisting of dried bamboo leaves. The reserve has gardens and pineapple plants and rhubarb (which I wanted to steal) and a swimming pool and velvety soft boxer dogs. We can go back any time to picnic, swim, and hike, the owner said. We just might take him up on it.