I am grateful.
I am thankful for my childhood and the doors it has opened for me as an adult. I had the fantastic opportunity of growing up in Peru from age 6 to about 15 or 16. My folks allowed me to enroll in 2 different Peruvian schools during that time. I integrated well and took on much of Latin American culture as my own. I now see how much my unique experience positioned me to connect quickly with my peers in Guatemala as an adult. And no, it's not all the same here as in Peru. But solid cultural ties exist throughout Central and South America due to the shared historical patterns and timeframes of indigenous conquest by the Spaniards. Because of this, even the colonial architecture of places like Antigua, Guatemala, mirrors my hometown of Arequipa, Peru, so closely.
The Central Parks of Arequipa in Peru and Antigua Guatemala.
All that to say, I am happy for my parents' decision to follow their hearts and live an unconventional life where they put their faith above comfort and material possessions.
Many religious centers and retreats are offered around Lake Atitlan that focus on meditation and self-care. While Christina and I have established The Giving Experiment as a project with no religious affiliation, at its core, The Giving Experiment is about the daily activities of loving our neighbors as ourselves and seeing where it leads. As a community, we test if the spiritual awakening that many seek can come simply by loving others through action.
Loving people that are easy to love is one thing. But what about the widow, the orphan, the addict, the oppressed?
A few weeks ago, a reader and monthly financial supporter of our projects mentioned that she would like to read about the people we are working with! Btw, we LOVE hearing from our readers and supporters. While we do hear from a handful of you regularly, it would be great to engage with more of you. Leave a comment below or write an email!
So then, without further ado, here are some of the people we are working with that are very involved with our family.
This human is a gem of a man right here. Valentin is truly givin 'er all he's got. He's a man visibly riddled with all sorts of problems, and we love him all the more for it. We are not here to lend a hand to those that don't need it or don't want it. Valentin's passion for the environment and his children shines bright. He is a man pushing through to pursue a better future for his family. He shows up weekly for the club and participates with new ideas and initiatives. We love him.
We love him so dearly. It is pretty hard to write about him without tearing up! The Giving Experiment is sponsoring Valentin's family with a weekly box of tortilla corn and veggies while he gets his feet under him with a little more stability. Thank you to our donors that have enabled this to happen! Here is what 25 Canadian dollars can buy here at the market!
I wrote about Maria briefly in the last post to share a little about her, but I would like to include a picture this time. She is a Tzutujil woman who only spoke the local Mayan dialect until recently. To me this is beautiful and the language and culture must be preserved. On the same token, it would be ignorant of me to ignore the vast employment opportunities that learning Spanish has opened up for her.
She is a single mother that lives in a mud-brick home with no amenities. To make it brief, I can guarantee her living situation is beyond the imagination of most. She carries herself with such dignity and elegance. It is so beautiful! "Tell them I am so thankful," she said when I told her that her weekly provisions were now coming from a sponsoring family in Saskatchewan, Canada. Since she has started receiving the weekly groceries, she has been able to focus on finding some classes to learn more reading and writing in Spanish, and now even some English. She has found some stable employment with Alma, our kid's club cook. This name leads me to the next person from our community that I would like to highlight!
Alma Linda's name literally translates to Beautiful Soul. Her parent's nailed the title. This woman faithfully has shown up to cook the meals to feed the kids week after week at kids club. Alma's daily routine is to cook up a storm all day after a very early morning market run and prepare pot after pot of stews, beans, rice, livers, chicken, and fish. At 5:30 pm every weekday, she hauls all the pots downtown from her home and sets them up on a rickety old table. People gather by the dozens and swarm her little table to get a crack at ordering some of the best cooking on the lake at dirt-cheap prices.
She has a dry humor that takes some getting used to, but once you get to know her, laughter ensues. As a kitchen captain, her bossiness is just a necessary front for getting things done, and it's a quality we love about the way she does business. She's a commander that gets things done! We are thrilled to see her working with Maria now and are starting to see networking happening within the club's community. It's all so incredible.
Our kids have had more "senior time" in the last year we've been in Guatemala than the rest of their lives combined. It is a daily occurrence for them to stop and chat with the elders in their community. Our children have come to understand the cultural importance of acknowledging their elders, and the elders, in return, are very affectionate—hugs, kisses, and so, so many strokes of their blond hair. I am so proud to say that they (Katie especially) have a reputation for their courtesy. I have written before about the local tradition of greeting those with white hair with kind of a sung "na'an" to the older women and "ta'a" to the older men. The hands are then taken and kissed. The words mean "Grandmother" and "Grandfather," and even if they are unfamiliar, this respectful acknowledgment of their wisdom by children is highly valued and taught to kids from a young age.
To see our young girls engage in this has been one thing, but when I see my young men kiss the wrinkled hands of the indigenous elder women, it is such a powerful gesture! It makes my whole adult-male self tremble with emotion!
Maria (Different Maria)
Maria is our neighbor here in San Juan. Her family owns a coconut business and greenhouse, so since we have started planting the community orchard, we have seen her a lot! Maria is always smiling, and we exchange greetings and even some hugs for the girls when we pass by. So thankful for the way she stops what she is doing to visit when our children walk by and that we get to see her beautiful and smiling face on a daily basis!
Last but not least, Juanma
Juanma is exclusively Royal's friend. He and his mother live beside our community center in San Pedro. We have a little peek window on the main door at the center that we usually keep open.
Juanma's little face is also usually in the window asking about Royal several times if Roy is not around. When Royal wakes up in the morning, his first question is, "When are we going to San Pedro?" Marbles, pogs, kites, whatever the "toy season" calls for, Juanma and Royal are there together, keeping their childhood real. Has there been conflict to work through? Absolutely. For example, at one point, our little white boys did something terrible enough to have all the neighborhood kids throwing rocks at them. Several meetings with the neighborhood parents and our community dinners have helped the children adjust to their new boundaries as they continue to learn and adapt to cultural differences. (Not to mention they are just kids learning how to behave around others!)
These are just some of the incredible people we regularly see here. We are honored to call them friends and so thankful for the things they have brought to our life. We are learning much.
Want to hop in on sponsoring a family in need or helping feed some kids at club? Here's where you can sign up to help! Click for more info.