Feliz Pascua

1 Apr

April 1, 2013
Feliz Pascua (Happy Easter)! I hope everyone had a fantastic Easter and got to spend some time with family. I sure missed my family, but it was nice to spend my first holiday here in Mexico with the NPH family. I was very excited to see what it would be like to celebrate Easter at the house. I had heard it was one of the best times of the year, so there were a lot of expectations and I was looking forward to seeing what was in store for the week.

The week leading up to Easter is Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the kids have the whole week off of school. It is nice for the kids when they don’t have school, but for us that means we have to work longer days. During this week I worked from 11 am-10 pm. I was lucky though and I got Wednesday off since it was such a long work weeke. But in general it was not too stressful and it was fun to do some different activities with the kids. Also, we had a lot of extra people at the house so it was a bit of a different environment. The sextos (the high school students that are in their last semester of high school) came to the house on the Monday to spend the week and go through rotations in each section. They will be starting their year of service in July so they will get to choose/be placed in a section just like we did in January. Mainly during the week we did activities like swimming, soccer, movies, and zumba. On Tuesday we went to a children’s museum for the morning. It was nice to get out of the house with the kids and be in a new environment. It was fun to see them doing different activities and just getting to spend some time outside of the house with them was great.

Playing with the big bubbles at the children's museum

Playing with the big bubbles at the children’s museum

On Thursday, the rest of the high school home arrived and suddenly we were a house of 500. It seemed like there were so many more people around, but it was fun to have almost everyone back together. Thursday evening was a mass for the last supper and also it was first communion for about 40 kids. At the mass on Thursday some of the kids participated in a feet washing re-enactment. Also, during the week all the masses were held outside in the garden of the chapel. It was so beautiful under the trees and with the stone chapel in the background. After mass on Thursday we had a nice dinner for the last supper. Of course it was meat so it was not too nice for me, but everyone else enjoyed the food more than the usual food that is served at dinner (usually it is a soup or noodle dish). We had pork of some sort, creamy noodles, and tortillas.

On Friday, we had a noon mass for Good Friday. It was pretty typical of the other masses, but obviously the message pertained to Good Friday. Other than that Friday was pretty typical of a normal day in the house. In the evening we had some good volunteer bonding time. The Cuernavaca volunteers were all staying the weekend in Miacatlan and also we had an ex-volunteer visiting and one of the volunteer’s dad and brother were visiting. It was fun after a long week (and preparing ourselves for the long weekend to come) to have some laughs and just time to relax with each other.

Saturday morning after breakfast we had a whole house water fight. They brought the hoses out and everyone brought either buckets, bottles, containers, water guns, or anything else that would hold enough water to throw at people. It was a lot of fun to run around and just throw water at some of the kids. Unfortunately not everyone participated, but the ones of us that did participate had so much fun. The water fight lasted for an hour and half and then immediately everyone just went to the pool and we had a giant pool party. There was music, snacks, and pool toys and everyone in the pool had a good time. I spent most of my time in the shallow end playing with the little girls in chicas that don’t know how to swim so they love hanging all over me and playing on me. While I obviously love my section and spending time with my girls, one of the things I like most about house activities is getting to know kids from the other sections. It is so fun to see all the kids with huge smiles on their face and hearing the squeals and laughing from them as we played in the pool.

After our water activities of the day we decorated Easter eggs for the hunt on Sunday morning. Each of my girls got to paint 2 eggs and I even painted an egg. I have not decorated eggs in probably over 10 years so it was fun to do that again. Of course the activity ended with my girls painting each other, but it was nothing that a shower couldn’t take care of. Saturday night we went to bed so early so we could be ready to go for sunrise mass on Sunday morning.

Painting Easter eggs

Painting Easter eggs

Grandes A Mujeres painted eggs

Grandes A Mujeres painted eggs

At home we always say we have sunrise service, but that usually means at 7:30 or 8:00. Here when they mean sunrise service, they mean for the sun to rise by the end of the service. Therefore, we had mass at 5:45 and by the end it was nice and bright. Though it was early, I did enjoy the service and seeing how it is done in Mexico and in a Catholic mass. After Mass, Father Phil gave each kid a chocolate egg, a tradition he brought from his family in the U.S. Also, the kids got donuts and hot chocolate. Once everyone was served then they opened up the gates and the egg hunt began. There were all the eggs that the kids painted that were hidden, but there were also the eggs from the directors. I heard there were about 15 of those eggs painted silver or gold and if the kids found them then the received money. Those eggs were hidden really well. They are not just placed under a bush, they are buried under a bush. The egg hunt last for about 4 hours and the last few eggs they gave clues for. One of my girls found a silver egg and she received 300 pesos (about $25). I heard the last golden egg was worth 1500 pesos. Some of the kids took the egg hunting really serious and it was fun to watch as they sprinted across the house digging around the gardens. After the egg hunt, we went back to a normal Sunday with activities and chores. It was a wonderful, but long day. A 16 hour work day can really get to you and by the end of the night I was about ready to fall asleep watching the Mexico soccer game with the kids.

Searching for eggs

Searching for eggs

My first holiday at NPH was a huge success and definitely my favorite moments here in the house so far. I loved so many parts of the week and doing something different with the kids. It was fun to see so many smiles and to celebrate Easter with all the people here. Weekends like this are definitely reassuring and help to affirm why I came and why I committed a year and a half to these kids. I am truly blessed for everything I have and the opportunities I have been given.

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Monarch Butterflies

14 Mar

February 11, 2013

This past weekend on descanso I went to Angangueo to see the Monarch Butterfly reserve. Our descanso group is small and the other two girls were busy, so only Charlotte and I made the journey to the butterflies. We were a little nervous since it was just us two and our Spanish is not the greatest. Also, the trip required multiple buses and venturing on to the Metro system in Mexico City. However, we arrived safely in Angangueo after 2 buses, 2 Metro rides, 7 hours, and only one little bump (I got on the train as the doors closed behind me leaving Charlotte on the platform. But we figured it out and ended up at the same station).

Angangueo is a small, sleepy town in the mountains. It used to be a mining town, but now it is mainly the gateway to the El Rosario butterfly reserve. We arrived, found a hotel, and spent the afternoon walking around the town. There was not much to see other than two churches in the center of town. But it was nice to wander around the incredibly quiet town and enjoy some of the mountain scenery.

On Saturday morning, we woke up to take the 30 minute bus ride up the mountains to El Rosario to the monarch butterfly reserve. Every year it is estimated that 60 million to 1 billion monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and the U.S. to this area of mountains in Mexico. There are several biospheres around the area, but not all are open to the public. El Rosario is one of the biggest and better biospheres to visit. It wasn’t until the 1970s that scientists discovered the large population of migrating monarchs in these mountains. Of course as with pretty much all animal habitats, the butterflies are at risk because of deforestation and the destruction of their habitat. Hopefully the current restrictions and the efforts to conserve the forest will preserve the habitat so the butterflies continue to migrate to these mountains each year.

We arrived, paid the entry fee, and received a tour guide (who had the easiest job since we couldn’t understand most of what he said, so we mainly walked up the mountain in silence). After about a 30-45 minute walk up, we arrived to a roped-off area. Our guide pointed over to the trees and said “all the butterflies are over there”. However, all I saw were trees and what I thought were leaves. We walked a little closer to the rope and saw that what I thought were leaves were actually thousands and thousands of monarch butterflies. They were still “sleeping” from the night before so they were just hanging from the trees. Since we arrived in the morning, the sun had yet to reach the trees so they butterflies were not able to fly. Once the sun began reaching the trees, the butterflies were able to fly because the dew and moisture dried on the butterfly’s wings. It was amazing to see the butterflies come to life and flutter all over. There were so many butterflies on the trees that it looked like orange leaves hanging from the trees and it was an unbelievable site to see the butterflies emerge from the trees. It is hard to explain how amazing it was and of course I did not get my dad’s camera skills so all of my pictures turned out like orange blurred blobs.

The butterflies on the trees. It looks like orangish/dead leaves but they are all butterflies

The butterflies on the trees. It looks like orangish/dead leaves but they are all butterflies

The butterflies beginning to take off and fly from the trees

The butterflies beginning to take off and fly from the trees

After about 3 hours of watching the butterflies, we decided to head back down the mountain. On our walk down we constantly saw butterflies flying around (which on the walk up we saw no signs of butterflies). We ate some lunch at a small stand in the parking lot and then headed back down in the back of a man’s truck (don’t worry, it was safe and the only transportation down). After returning to Angangueo we grabbed our bags and headed towards the buses to make our way back to Cuernavaca. After 4 buses, we arrived back to Casa G in Cuernavaca. We were exhausted from all the traveling, but it was worth it to see the butterflies. It truly was amazing and I am so excited I managed to see them before they migrate back north in the spring.

Bienvenidos a NPH!

4 Mar

January 21-February 28, 2013

Hey everyone! I realized I have not written anything about moving to the main house and starting to work here. So I will recap the past month or so and I promise I will be more up to date in the future on my blog postings.
After the two weeks of orientations in Cuernavaca, Annika, Charlotte, and I packed all of our bags and moved to Casa San Salvador (CSS) in Miacatlán. It is about a 45 minute to an hour drive from Cuernavaca. Miacatlán is a much smaller, rural town (I have even seen people riding horses on the streets in town). The NPH house in Miacatlán is very different than the house in Cuernavaca and the house in Guatemala. The house is an old sugar cane hacienda that was donated to NPH to use as their home. The home is rather large and has a small community feel to it because of the cobblestones streets and the many buildings located in the home. The home includes: multiple buildings for the school, the children’s dorms, a large patio area with offices and more dorms, the dining hall, the volunteer house, multiple director’s houses, the farms with fish, pigs, sheep, a greenhouse, and several acres of fields, a soccer field, a swimming pool, two churches (one is now a museum), and a clinic. It really is a beautiful place with all of the trees, flowers, and cobblestones.

The patio with offices and boy's dorms

The patio with offices and boy’s dorms


The three of us joined the other two volunteers that had been here before. Andrea has been here for 6 months and is from Arizona and Andrew has been here for 2 years and is from Virginia. It has been very helpful to have them here because I have so many questions. Of course I do not think of them all at once so I feel like I am constantly asking questions. They have been good sports about answering my questions and they have been great about making us feel welcome.
The chapel and the comedor (and the old smoke stack that was used for the sugar cane)

The chapel and the comedor (and the old smoke stack that was used for the sugar cane)


Our first week was a little crazy and exhausting. We had Monday to settle down, tour the house, and prepare ourselves for our week of rotations. There were five sections which needed another encargada (caregiver), so we took five days and rotated through each section. The sections were Grandes B Hombres (boys 10-12), Grandes A Mujeres (girls 12-15), Chicas and Medianas (girls 6-10), Secundaria (girls 14-17), and Kinder (boys and girls 2-6). Before doing the rotations I really had no idea what group I wanted. I was pretty open to all the groups so rotations week was stressful just trying to figure out what group I wanted, not even taking into account my bad Spanish and that I had no idea what was going on. After rotation week, the three of us sat down and talked about it with Andrea the volunteer coordinator. Ultimately she chose our sections from our top 3 lists and I ended up with Grandes A Mujeres which was my first choice. I liked them the best because I felt like they were old enough to have deeper relationships and they just seemed like a fun group of girls.
One of the school buildings

One of the school buildings


I started in the section and I was completely overwhelmed. There are 26 girls, 3 year of service, one director, and me. The year of service girls have all grown up in the house. They have finished school and are giving back 2 years of service so they can go to university through NPH. Since they have grown up here they know exactly what to do. Also, when I started the director was on vacation for a month so it was a little confusing and I was not sure what my role was supposed to be. I am still not sure exactly, but it is getting a little better now that Blanch has returned.
The boy's dorms

The boy’s dorms


The first month has mainly been me getting into the routine and learning what the girls do each day. I am having a lot of fun with the girls and I am enjoying getting to know them. I am still struggling with my Spanish. Some days are better than others. But in general I still struggle understanding a lot of things. But I know it will get better (or at least I hope)! I am getting to know more people in the house which has been nice. I feel like I am beginning to fit into the NPH family. Also, I am enjoying getting to know the volunteers and being a part of this community. We have had a few outings- going for milkshakes, beers, pizzas, etc. It’s been nice being able to lean on them and vent my frustrations to people that have been through the same situations.
The girl's dorm

The girl’s dorm


That is all I will write for now. I know there is still so much that I need to say, but I need to save something for the next entry so hopefully I will not have to wait another month to post something new 

Vamos a Acapulco!

28 Feb

Hey everyone! I realize I have not written on the blog in a while. But I promise that I have several entries coming. In order to please the organization side of me, I am going to post the entries in the order they happened. Sorry it has taken me so long and I will be better in the future. I have so much to say and so much I want to share with all of you!

January 21, 2013

As a celebration for finishing Spanish classes and orientation, Annika, Charlotte, and I decided to go on a last minute trip to Acapulco. The other volunteers encouraged it since it was our last weekend before starting work and once work starts it will be less likely that we will go. We took a 4 hour bus ride to Acapulco and arrived there in the evening. I was not really sure what to expect when I got to Acapulco. I did not really know much about it and I had heard so many negative things about Acapulco. We stayed at a hotel across the street from the beach on the main street of town. There was so much going on and it was much bigger than I thought. It reminded me of a big city beach destination in the U.S. There were many tall hotels and condo buildings, and so many bright lights and restaurants open to the road. It was very touristy also with people selling things, handing out passes to clubs, and many horse and carriage rides. We decided since we got in at around 9:30 at night that we would just walk down the main street, find some food, drink a beer or two, and call it a semi-early night since we had been traveling all day.

On Saturday, we headed across the beach thinking we would just find a nice spot to lay our towels and sit around for a few hours (since I can’t be in the sun that long without burning). When we walked to the beach we noticed no one was lying on towels, but rather sitting under umbrellas in chairs. Immediately someone walked up and asked if we wanted chairs and umbrellas. At first, we thought no since we did not want to pay a lot for them. However, after walking down the beach and thinking about it we decided to go back and ask the price for an umbrella and long chair. They told us for two long chairs and an umbrella for the whole day it would be 80 pesos, which is about $6 US dollars. We decided we could splurge the money and this way I could stay out on the beach longer since I could go in the shade whenever I wanted. It turned out to be a fantastic idea, as Charlotte and I spent about 7 hours on the beach while Annika found a beach out of town to go surfing. It was such a nice and relaxing day. We had some fruit and beer on the beach and spent the day reading and playing on the beach. Our relaxing was broken up a little about every minute or so when a person selling something would come and ask if you wanted to buy whatever they were selling. They were selling everything you could think of on the beach: clothes, sunglasses, fruit, foods, pens, shells, massages, and so many more things. It was a little annoying at first, but it became habit just to say “no gracias” and they were really good about walking away and they did not keep trying to get us to buy their things.

When in Mexico...

When in Mexico…


Bay of Acapulco

Bay of Acapulco


After a day on the beach, we went back to the hotel and set out for the big excursion of the trip. We took a 10-15 minute old VW beetle cab ride outside of the bay and went to the cliffs to see the famous cliff diving. We had to pay about $3 US dollars to go to the viewing platform and watch the cliff divers. They put on about 5 or 6 shows a night every hour, but when we got there 30 minutes early there were a lot of people so we were unable to get the front row like we were hoping. But we were still able to see pretty well, just not when they entered the water. Next time we will get there earlier and definitely get the front row. Either way it was a really cool experience, but very different than I thought. First of all I thought they would walk out on top of the cliff and jump off into the open ocean. That was not the case at all. The area of water where they dove into was a small inlet between the cliff and the rocks the viewing platform was located. It was quite a narrow entry way and they had to time the dives just right with the waves otherwise the water may be too shallow. When they started they did not start from the top, but rather free climbed up the side of the cliff to the top. There were about 6 men (all probably younger than me) that climbed to the top and about 6-8 small boys that climbed only part way up the cliff to where they dove from. I was very surprised to see such young kids doing the dives. Also, I thought they would just dive straight of the cliff. However, the older ones did really difficult dives with multiple flips. It was very awesome and such a fun experience.
Looking down to the cliff and the spectator lookout

Looking down to the cliff and the spectator lookout

After the cliff diving, we found a place to eat simply known as “Beer and Tacos”. It was busy and cheaper and we thought it seemed like a good place to choose. After dinner, we went a few doors down to a restaurant/bar to have a few drinks. It was an open air bar and sat right on the bay. Also, it was built and themed to be a pirate ship. It was a fun place to hang out for a while and see the night life of Acapulco without having to pay a cover charge.

Charlotte, Annika, and me enjoying a night out in Acapulco

Charlotte, Annika, and me enjoying a night out in Acapulco

On Sunday, we were determined to do the same exact thing in the morning. Our bus did not leave Acapulco until 5:30 in the evening, so we had another whole day of relaxing on the beach. However, this time was a little different because we made some friends that were sitting by us and we talked to them for the entire afternoon. They were from D.F. (Mexico City) and they were very nice and very patient with me and my struggle to speak Spanish. It was definitely fun to try and practice with people outside of NPH. They invited us to come to D.F. so we are excited to pick them up on their offer and have our tour guides in D.F.

After many hours on the beach and my feet still covered in sand, I headed back to Cuernavaca to start my first of roughly 75 weeks of volunteering. Wish me luck! 🙂

Getting Started

17 Jan

January 17, 2013

Hi everybody. I have survived my first two weeks here in Mexico and I could not be more excited to start working next week. This week we continued with school and had orientation meetings in the morning. They are doing a wonderful job easing us into the program. Some afternoons we are a little bored, but everyone keeps telling us to enjoy it because days like this will be few and far between. So I have learned to sit back and enjoy the slow, relaxing afternoons while I have them. We have gotten a chance to meet the other volunteers. On Monday we went out for one their birthdays and it is definitely nice to get to know the volunteer community that will be my “family” for the next year and a half. There are two volunteers currently at Miacatlán, so with the three of us there will be five. In Cuernavaca there are four volunteers. So it is a small volunteer group, but I think it will be a great group to be a part of. Of course more volunteers will come in July to replace the ones leaving and hopefully expand the group a little more.

Our Spanish class at the school: Me, Annika, our teacher Josefina, and Scott

Our Spanish class at the school: Me, Annika, our teacher Josefina, and Scott

So I know in the last post I mentioned that I would talk about our weekend day trip to Tepoztlán which was a great first trip in Mexico. Tepotzlán is a town about 30 minutes from Cuernavaca and it has been named a “Pueblo Mágico” which is basically something the government and the tourism department came up with to encourage tourism to certain towns in Mexico by saying they were magical places based on their natural beauty, culture, or history. We were told as we got there that Tepoztlán is a hippie town. Of course that meant I was going to like it even more. As we walked the main street there were lots of stores, spas, and restaurants (many advertising vegetarian food which made me even happier). Our main purpose of going to Tepoztlán was to climb up the side of the mountain to El Topozteco. We were told it was a 30-45 minute “not-too-difficult” hike to the top. I bought one small bottle of water and started to hike up. Since Sunday it is free, there were a lot of people doing the hike. Some people wore flip flops, dresses, and even little heels so we were thinking it can’t be that bad. Maybe it was the altitude or the lack of sleep, but we found it rather difficult. It was all a cobblestone pathway with rocks as steps so I had to concentrate on each step. An hour or so and about 10 breaks later we made it to the top. At the top is an old Aztec temple and a fantastic view of Tepoztlán and the surrounding area. The temple was nice, but nothing spectacular. The view was fantastic though and worth the “not-so-difficult” hike up. It was very liberating to sit on the temple and look out over the city and the mountains. Even with all the people, it was very peaceful to sit back and look at the view. I went with the three other new volunteers and I think it was also a good bonding experience for us to share the experience together. After the much easier climb down, we took some time and walked around Tepoztlán and met up with the two other girls that came with us but didn’t climb to top. We saw the Ex-convent of Dominica de la Natividad which is an old church and a World Heritage Site. For dinner we did what all the Mexicans do and ate at a stand in the market. I had my first real Mexican quesadilla with cheese, potatoes, and flores de calabaza (pumpkin flowers) and it was fantastic!

The temple Topozteco

The temple Topozteco

That was our first weekend excursion and it turned out to be fantastic. I am so thankful for the other volunteers/workers of NPH that are so helpful and awesome about taking us out and showing us new places. Without them we may not have left the house yet because we would have no idea where to go. I hope I can reciprocate some day with the future new volunteers.

Our volunteer group on Tepotzlan: Bernadette, Charlotte, Annika, and me

Our volunteer group on Tepotzlan: Bernadette, Charlotte, Annika, and me

The next week is going to be crazy and I cannot wait for it to happen. I am a little nervous, but excited too. Yesterday we decided we are going to take a spontaneous “last-free-weekend” trip to Acapulco. We will have every other weekends off, but all the volunteers told us to go this weekend because once work starts the descanso weekends may be needed to literally just rest from the 12 straight work days. We are heading to Acapulco only for Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday and then coming back to move to Miacatlán on Monday morning and start working! I am so excited and I will of course update you on everything in a few days!

Annika and me sitting on the temple overlooking Tepotzlan

Annika and me sitting on the temple overlooking Tepotzlan

Hola!

10 Jan

Hi everyone! Thanks for checking out my blog. I am hoping I will do a good job of keeping this up-to-date during my time here in Mexico. So come back often and hopefully I will have up something new and exciting to read.

For those of you who do not know what I am doing here in Mexico, I will give you a short description so you are up-to-date. I am volunteering with an organization called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH). The organization has children’s homes in nine different countries in Central and South American and the Caribbean. The organization houses and educates children that are orphaned, abandoned, or from families that may not be able to care for them. In Mexico there are several different houses, one for the younger children (Casa San Salvador), one for the students in high school (Casa Buen Señor), and one for university students. They are all located in different cities. I will be working in Casa San Salvador in Miacatlán where the younger children live. I will be starting out as a caregiver. I will be in charge of a group children and I will basically be a parent to them. I won’t start working until after orientation which lasts about 2 weeks, so I have some time to adjust and get to know the home before I start working. After six months the plan is to switch positions and work in the Life Transitions program which will help the students in the special education program transition out of school into work, university, etc. I won’t go into too much detail because I don’t know that much about it yet. I hope this gives you an idea about what I am doing now in Mexico for the next year and a half. Also here is the link for the website if anyone is interested in learning more about NPH http://www.nph.org

I have arrived in Mexico and everything is going great so far. I have only been here a few days, but I am feeling comfortable and I am remembering more of my Spanish with each day. The first two weeks we are in orientation. There are four new volunteers, including myself. We are a very diverse group which has made orientation fun. There is one woman from Switzerland who is in her sixties, one girl my age from Germany, and another girl my age from England. We are all getting along quite well together. The two girls that are my age will be living with me in Miacatlán, whereas the other women will be staying in Cuernavaca. During the orientation weeks we are also taking Spanish classes for four hours in the morning. It has been a good way to get back into speaking Spanish. During the orientation weeks we are staying in Cuernavaca in Casa Guadalupe which is across the street from the house with the high school students (Casa Buen Señor). Casa Guadalupe is also where the volunteers from Micatlán can come and stay on our weekends off since Cuernavaca has much more to do than Miactlán.

I think that is all I will write for now. I don’t want to overload anyone with too much information. Hopefully in the next few days I can write a little more about Cuernavaca, our weekend excursion to Tepoztlán, and my life here in Mexico and hopefully put up some pictures.

Hello world!

4 Dec

Only one month until I leave. Soooo much to do! I will keep you updated as it gets closer to departure.