Friday, July 30, 2010

No room to complain

We just discovered a new route to take the bus to the hospital! It cuts the amount of time walking between buses from 25 minutes, to about 5. It now takes us a little under an hour to get there. I´ve been looking into apartments in Minneapolis for when I get back, and I´ve been thinking that I don´t want to commute more than 30-40 minutes, which is hard to figure out since I don´t know where I´m going to work. However, after this trip, with a good hours worth of commuting each way in buses that are bursting at the seams, I feel like I can handle just about any commute at home. And Marta, our first teacher, commutes 2 hours each way every day! 2 hours each way! That´s like 20 hours per week spent in a public bus, for several years. I definitely have no room to complain.

Dr. Mack told us that RNs in Guatemala make about $400 per month, which is less than $5000 per year. The nurses we work with are actually like LPNs, so they make even less. I can´t imagine living with that little. I know I get stressed about money sometimes, but I will always have enough to get by and still have some to go shopping or buy coffee. I know that I will always be able to have a house, and one that is not 4 pieces of tin with a dirt floor, like many that I have seen. I definitely have no room to complain there.

There is a dump in Guatemala City, near the downtown. I heard that it is filling up and is only estimated to be able to be used for 2 more years. There are an estimated 4000 people who depend on the dump for food and to find things to sell. As if these people don´t already have it hard enough, who knows what will happen in 2 years. I definitely have no room to complain.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Santiago & The Lake

The market street in Santiago Atitlan.

The view from our hotel room. Those are houses with tin roofs, and the lake is behind them.

The docks with people getting on and off the boats. We heard that it´s only 8 quetzales for locals to cross the lake, but they charged us 25 (like 3 dollars).

Steph, loving the boat ride :)


The main shopping street in Panajachel.

A vendor near the docks. I try to be respectful about taking pictures in public, so I asked her for permission and gave her a couple quetzales.

The lake is gorgeous.. It basically fills the valley between these mountains.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lago Atitlan

Steph and I did go to Lake Atitlan this weekend, which was beautiful! We left Saturday morning on a chicken bus that was supposed to be direct. Our hotel was in Santiago, but the other, more touristy town is called Panajachel and is across the lake. After about 2 hours on the chicken bus, the driver told us that it was our stop and we would need to take another bus to Santiago. So, we got off in what looked like the middle of nowhere, and there was a 15 passenger van across the road. The guy told us that it was headed to Santiago, so we got on and waited for it to fill up with other people (mostly indiginous). It dropped everyone off in a small village, so we were looking around for another bus to take to Santiago. One friendly street vendor told us we would need to either take a bus or a pick-up to another town, where we would find the bus that would actually take us to Santiago. We jumped in the back of a pick-up (which are used a lot for public transportation) with about 7 other people and took a 40 minute ride through the moutains. It was SO much fun, definitely my favorite part of the transportation. We saw our first view of the lake from the truck, which was gorgeous. One guy in the truck said that he was going to Santiago and would help us find the final bus. The bus was exxxtremely full, but we finally made it, and safely! We got off in Santiago and took a tuctuc (little red things that are used like taxis) to our hotel.
We wanted to call the other students, but realized that we didn´t have their phone number like we thought. After we checked into our hotel, we literally walked a block and ran into them. We hung out with them most of the afternoon and heard about their first week of service. The people who live in that area are mostly indiginous. The woman all wear traditional dress, and most of them speak indiginous languages. The other students said their host families are all indiginous, and some of the family members are not fluent in Spanish, but the others can translate into Spanish. Two of the students are working in a clinic (and have seen some deliveries!), two are doing health teaching in schools, and two are teaching English at a special ed school.
The rest of the day Steph and I shopped in the markets. The next day, Sunday, we took a boat across the lake to Panajachel. There is a main street lined with vendors there. In the afternoon we found a direct bus back to the City, which was a little less eventful :)
I can´t believe we have less than 2 weeks left! It took a couple weeks to get adjusted, but these last few weeks have been flying by. I have been loving every new experience and getting to understand the culture a little bit. The more I think about going home, the more excited I am, but I am still definitely enjoying it.
I just tried to upload pictures of the weekend, but it´s not letting me for some reason. I´ll try to do that tomorrow.

Friday, July 23, 2010

This Week´s Happenings

This was the first week without the rest of the students here. We went to the hospital Mon, Wed, and Fri, and had class everyday, as usual. We have seen a mother crying over her baby that is near death, and made friends with an elderly man in a wheelchair on our street. I cannot predict a day in our lives or the adventures we will encounter. Last week, 3 buses were attacked. I´m not sure if the drivers were killed or just robbed. There has been some of both cases lately. The buses were very scarce after that, but they have been almost back to normal in the last couple days.
Veronica, our teacher, took us to Zone 1 on Tuesday to the market and to see the ¨Palacio National¨ and the cathedral. Afterward, we had cake and coffee in a cute restaurant and bought bread for our family in a bakery that is definitely worth going back to.
As far as the language goes, I definitely have improved. At the beginning, I could hardly follow a conversation at our house or put a sentence together. It was incredibly frustrating. I felt like people were also less patient with me because Steph could speak pretty well. I still don´t speak well, but it is easier to follow conversations and respond some. I´m not terrified to order coffee anymore, and actually enjoy some small talk in Spanish. I still have some stumbles, take an example from the bus yesterday: There was an empty seat between me and a college-age guy. I usually just motion for the other person to sit, but for some reason I just said ¨Quieres sentir?¨ He said no, so I said ¨Gracias¨and sat down. I immediately realized that I meant to say ¨Quieres sentar?¨, and that I had asked him if he wanted to feel, instead of if he wanted to sit! Oops. Luckily, my stop was only a couple minutes later...
Steph and I are planning on going to Lake Atitlan this weekend. We hear that we can pay for the bus both ways and a night in a hotel for less than 100Q ($12)! Four of the other students are doing their service there, so we are planning on meeting up with them too.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Antigua Una Otra Vez

We went to Antigua again yesterday, with Joseph Spory. He went to both Hesston and EMU, but he´s a year behind us. All of the regular CASAS students are leaving tomorrow for their 4 weeks of service in various parts of the country. Joseph is going to take another class at CASAS in the last 4 weeks, so he is staying in the city. It´s only a dollar to get to Antigua, and it´s only an hour away, so it´s easy to go on a Saturday. We did less shopping and more seeing of old buildings and stuff than the first time we went.

The artisan market

Part of the old cathedral

One of the streets.. they all basically look like this, adorable.

Joseph consulting the map.. Definitely reminds me of my dad on vacations, ha.

This is the director (I think) at the hospital where we are working. We´ve met him a few times, but he is very well known here. It´s kind of a long story, but his dad was Guatemalan, his mom was from Honduras, he was born in Italy and grew up in Germany, attended Harvard and taught there, and now lives here. He knows 7 languages and has been a pediatric cardiologist for 50 years (he´s now 80 and still working). There is a foundation here named after him (Aldo CastaƱeda Foundation). The pediatric cardiologists we work with had an international conference in Antigua this weekend, which we were invited to, but we didn´t go because it was expensive. It was going to be a 3 day event all about Transposition of the Great Arteries, in English. Anyway, when we were walking around Antigua, I had forgotten about the conference, but we happened upon the building where it was taking place, so we took a picture with this :)

Antigua, cont´d

Entrance to the Merced church

The view of Antigua from the hill. You should be able to see the volcano in the background, but it was too cloudy.

I love these paintings! I bought one about the size of a postcard because it was all I could afford. I know he´s got nothing on Isaac, but they are pretty amazing :)

The street market.. they sell a lot of jewelry, bags, etc.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Random Observations

  • People live with their parents loooooong past age 18. Our teacher is probably around 50 and lives with both her mother and her own children. Our sisters are 22 and 24 and they both still live at home. Most people go to college close by so they can stay living at home. I think it is both a culture thing and a money issue. Or maybe it became a culture thing because it saves money. I don´t know, but it is cool how much emphasis is on the family and relationships. (Not that I would still want to live at home, or am planning to do so.... :) )
  • There is a chain of donut stores called ´American Donuts´. When we saw it, I said ¨I´ve seen stores for American Clothing, American Music, and now they want American obesity?!¨ Steph said, ¨Yeah, someone should tell them it´s not as glamorous as it looks.¨ Haha.
  • The city has been buying a bunch of brand new buses. Right now the buses cost 1 or 2 quetzales per trip, so the bus drivers always have a ton of cash. Apparently, there have been gangs in the evenings that will go around and rob the bus drivers. The new buses are made so that people swipe a charge card when they get on, in an effort to prevent the robberies. The government doesn´t have enough money or the capabilities to let everyone get cards right now, so there are only a few of the new buses. We can´t get cards anyway, since we´re not residents. Because there are new buses, there are less of the old buses, which means that people without cards have to wait longer to get a bus.
  • No one cares about PDA. We see at least 5 couples making out per day! The culture is more affectionate in general than we are, which is fine, but sometimes I feel like it is a little excessive. Last week we had a bus driver, who looked 18, and had his girlfriend sitting in the seat next to him. When he´d stop to let people off, he would turn around and start making out with her! They are also not shy about making cat calls. It feels like we get 10 per day. I´m not sure if it´s because we´re American or just female, but we are so sick of it and groan everytime. It´s kind of frustrating because we are used to saying ´hi´to people and being friendly, but there are 2 or 3 groups of guys that we pass on the street every day that we feel like we almost have to ignore because we don´t want to give the wrong impression..
  • Remember Tavo? The band we saw play the first week we were here? Sandy had dated the lead singer´s brother, so she and Diana wanted to go see them. They told us that the band was fairly famous here, whatever that means. We met him and he introduced us to the crowd and gave us a free CD. Well, a couple weeks ago we saw a celeb gossip magazine on the rack by the checkout at the supermarket.. and it had his picture kissing a pregnant woman´s belly, with some headline about him having a child. Kind of sad, but I guess they like celeb gossip as much as many Americans.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Ancient Mayan ruins in Guatemala, about an hour from Flores..

Map of Tikal. I didn´t realize it was so spread out! Lots and lots of walking through the jungle.

Some of the ruins, including the most famous one on the left.


I must have overlooked my fav picture when I was putting them on the computer. The view from one of the temples was awesome... It´s above the trees, so you can see for miles and some of the temples stick up through the trees. I´ll try to post it later this week.

Walking through the jungle. We didn´t see any animals, but some of the others on our bus saw monkies and other things.. We should have been looking harder!

Weekend in Flores

Steph and I just spent the weekend in Flores, a little island-town near the Mayan ruins Tikal. It was PERFECT! I didn´t really know what to expect, but it was soo much fun. We took the overnight bus from the city to Flores on Thursday night. Diana had made reservations at a hotel, which were great. It was only about $30 a night, and was right on the lake and close to a bunch of great restaurants. The town is pretty touristy, and we met people from the US, Canada, and Europe. Most of them were traveling throughout Central America.
My devotion the other day was explaining how we often miss the small signs or actions from God, dismissing them as coincidences or luck, because we tend to look for huge signs or miracles. To me, everything that happened this weekend were small actions of God. Two girls with an intermediate knowledge of Spanish traveling to a new place 8 hours away for a weekend? Sounds kind of crazy, I know, but everything went smoothly. The town was so relaxing and the hotel worked out great. We were planning to check out Saturday morning, before leaving for Tikal, but the night before we realized that we didn´t want to carry our suitcases around Tikal. We asked if we could keep our room, but they said the hotel was completely booked. When we were leaving the next morning, he said that a room had opened up and they would only charge 1\3 of the price because we weren´t actually staying over night. What a relief!
There were several locals with canoes or small motor boats looking to take tourists around the lake.. most of them were 100-200 quetzales for an hour, but we found a nice guy who only asked for 20 and took us longer than we asked. He took us across the lake and showed us a great lookout spot, and we got to practice Spanish quite a bit.

This awesome restaurant, La Terazza. It overlooks the water and has great food :)

On the canoe with our friendly tour guide, Caesar

Flores from the lookout point that Caesar took us to.

The buildings are all so colorful, I love it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hospital Stuff

We have now spent a few days in the hospital and have adjusted to the routine. We are only going 3 days per week, which is nice. It takes an hour and 10 minutes to get there, and we´re supposed to be there by 7 am. I wrote about the first day when we waited for the bus for an hour and it never came.. Now we are walking from where we get off the 1st bus to where the terminal for the 2nd bus is, which is a good 20-25 minutes.
Everyone in the hospital has been really nice! It is generally pretty slow, because there are always 6 nurses for the unit, and there has been 3 patients, at most. It is a long narrow room with 6 beds. It gives us time to practice our Spanish some with the nurses, and we are glad that it´s not a really stressful environment. We don´t feel like it´s very cost effective to have that many people sitting around, but I guess the nurses are getting hours at least. They only work 3 shifts per week, and most of them work the same amount at another hospital as well.

All of the patients have been on ventilators and are sedated. There is a step-down unit where they are transferred after extubation, which usually has a few more patients. Last week there was a 6-year-old with Tetrology of Fallot who was on an external heart machine, I forgot what it is called. She had had heart surgery the day before, but was bleeding internally. They opened her back up, and suctioned the blood and placed some tubes, which we watched. She had no ventricular function, but they couldn´t figure out why. Later she went for a cardiac cath, but they didn´t have portable oxygen, so they would unplug the O2 from the wall and run to plug it in at the next bed. When they returned to the room, the were doing CPR the whole way until the heart machine was plugged back in. Apparently she had arrested in the hall, but they did save her. We had to leave for class shortly after, so I´m not sure what ended up happening.. I think she went to a different hospital.

The 1-year-old I wrote about last week had been on a high-frequency ventilator. The doctor said that there are only like 7 of them in Guatemala, so they have to prioritize which patient´s need them more. They have had to take it away from her before so that other patients, elsewhere in the country, could use it. I should read more about the difference in ventilators, or the rationale in using high-frequency, but he was saying that it reduces barotrauma. Anyway, the one she was using broke a few days ago, so they were having a hard time getting her O2 sats up with the regular ventilator. They seemed to be good when we left that day, but she wasn´t there when we arrived this morning. The nurse said she died yesterday. I didn´t ask details about what went wrong, but she had been very sick and in the hospital her whole life. Sad situation. Who knows, but if she had been in a more developed country she may have had a different outcome.

The doctor that coordinated this for us is named Ricardo Mack, and he is awesome. He is really friendly and always takes time to explain pathophys, show us Xrays, etc. Yesterday we attended a meeting where the doctors presented cases. I didn´t understand a lot of it, but they were discussing a 7-year-old with VSD. One doctor, who was visiting, thought they should look up research from developed countries on how to handle the case. Dr. Mack explained to us that it is impossible because developed countries don´t have 7-year-olds with VSD, or 6-year-olds with Tetrology of Fallot. They would operate and get it taken care of ASAP. I suppose it is a money issue, which actually really sucks.

We have been really impressed with the sterile technique of the nurses. They are very adamant about washing their hands before and after touching a patient, and they clean the thermometer and stethoscope before each use. There is actually a pediatric Litmann for each bed. There are signs on the wall explaining sterile technique for central lines, which Dr. Mack said he took from a research article done by Harvard or something. The medical terminology hasn´t been hard at all either. Most of the words, and names of medications, are very similar to the English terms. Most patients have 5-7 IV pumps at all times, which are labeled directly in big letters. Generally, they all have one for sedaciĆ³n (midazolam), dobutamina, electrolytes, furosemida, formula (or TPN, I guess), and heparina.

Enough of the depressing stuff. Steph and I arranged to have Friday off so we can go to Tikal! It is an 8 hour overnight bus ride away, and is Mayan ruins which Guatemala is famous for. We are pretty excited :) Our sister booked a hotel for us, which is cheap but looks pretty good. We will go overnight Thursday night, stay Friday night there, and come back overnight Saturday night.

Sorry this was so long! Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Steph and I with our first teacher, Marta

Our little classroom

Our Dad´s Birthday Party

A couple weekends ago was our dad´s birthday party. They are divorced, so we went over to his house for late lunch and karoke! Ha. He was actually really good. The only English songs they had were the Beatles, so Steph and I ended up singing ¨All you need is love¨.. ha.

Mary and Diana, 2 of our sisters.

The 3 girls with their dad.. he has cake on his face. It must be a tradition to smash your face in the cake, because at Sandy´s birthday party the week before they smashed her face in the cake also... Glad my birthday has already passed :)

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Nothing I write on the blog seems important compared to the tragic accident on Thursday. Jason Marner was a cousin and good friend of Matt. They lived together, along with Bryce and Dustin, this last year in Harrisonburg. I went to college all 4 years with Jason, at both Hesston College and EMU. I first met him while doing the photography for the Hesston magazine our freshman year, but had gotten to know him a lot better in the last year when he was living with Matt. My parents met Jason in April of 09, and my mom always remembered him as Matt´s cousin who was friendly and had a bright smile. In a nutshell, that was Jason. His death has affected so many people. Steph and I wish we were home so we could grieve with our friends and be around people who understand. Our family here has been nice about it and have prayed for the Marner family, but it feels different because they didn´t know him. It´s constantly in the back of our minds and makes me sick to my stomach. Please pray for Jason´s parents, Stan and Joann, and the rest of his family and friends.