When Differences Become Normal

Guatemalan women washing clothes at a creek.

Guatemalan women washing clothes at a creek.

By far, my most cherished moments in my recent trip to Guatemala were observing my children’s happiness. Seeing them smile, listening to their laughter, and seeing how at ease they were in their own skin.

This was our fourth trip back to their birth country. Our first trip was June of 2010 when they were 7. Sitting high on our horses, we walked through villages put together with sheets of tin, boards, paper, and straw. The front and back yards were dirt. Hoses were strung and used for bathing children in a tub. To the dismay of Juan and Crystel, I waved and hollered, “Hola.” They shushed me. “People live there,” I’d say in reply pointing to another shelter. “We know. Ssssh.”

On that first trip, every time I saw a boy with a load of wood on his back, walking barefoot, or planting in the field, I wanted to poke Juan and  Crystel. Wake them up to make sure they didn’t miss what I was seeing. The importance of it all. The women carrying heavy baskets on their head, the girls with a baby or small child strapped to their back, meat hanging in the open market, the bright orange lava flowing down the side of Volcano Pacaya.

A man carrying boards up a trail to the next village.

A man carrying boards up a trail to the next village.

They seemed to want to run away from the sights.

We were all startled. On our return to the United States, the four of us would have kissed the ground under the Welcome to Houston sign if we weren’t running north as quickly as we could.

Two years later when they were nine, we returned to Guatemala to meet Juan and Crystel’s birth families and to travel to Lake Atitlan.

At Lake Atitlan we had young Guatemalan men as guides.

Knowledgeable about their country and heritage, they answered our questions and shared their stories. It was with Juan and Crystel, that they had a different purpose—to show them that they should be proud to be Guatemalan.

IMG_0518 (1)During this fourth trip, I was even more aware of the relationship that our guide, Alex, had with Juan and Crystel. He had endeared himself to them as well as to Jody and me. He welcomed us and our friends, Pat and Mary, into his home. His family took a day trip with us to Hot Springs Fuenta Georginas, outside of the Mayan Village of Zunil, Guatemala. By sharing his family, his wife and two children, he provided us all with another experience—being around a Guatemalan family in Guatemala and seeing him as a loving father.

Our trips changed me. I no longer felt as if I needed to elbow the children.

This time, I heard Juan say, “Did you see that boy with the three cement blocks?” The Guatemalan boy had stopped to take a rest. The blocks must have matched his weight.

Crystel poked me and held out a fresh sprig of basil for me to smell.

Bringing home firewood for cooking.

Bringing home firewood for cooking.

I can still surprise my children. I gave a loud two handed whistle and hollered to let our friends know that the public boat we were on was coming to their dock. I surprised the other Guatemalans as well. This time instead of being shushed, Crystel told me that I needed to teach her how to whistle like that.

My experience is that when difference becomes normal the world is pretty darn awesome.

Thanks to Nancy Hoffman of Guatemala Reservations for introducing my family to Lee and Elaine Beal. We have stayed at Los Elementos Adventure Center on Santa Cruz la Laguna on our last 3 trips to Lake Atitlan. Juan and Crystel would have it no other way. Thanks to the Beal’s for training guides like Alex Vincente Lopez for us who come to learn the heritage of Guatemalans and to see the beauty of the country.

Recipient of a Jerome Travel and Study Grant

Jerome_foundation newJody met me at the end of the driveway. In her hand she held a yellow envelope addressed to me.

Notifications on two prior occasions from the Jerome Foundation came by email: We’re sorry to inform you….

This was an envelope. A large envelope. I opened it slowly and carefully which isn’t my nature. Rejections don’t come in such packaging. This could only mean one thing.

As I pulled out the contents I realized that I’ve been a beneficiary of much goodness: wonderful teachers, mentors, my writing group, peers, friends, and family.

In November of 2012, participating in Mary Carroll Moore’s weekend workshop, “How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book,” at the Loft Literary Center, I understood for the first time what my book was about: A Woman’s Search to Be Seen. Using her W-shaped Storyboard and Three-Act Structure, I left her workshop with an outline and edited structure for my near completed manuscript. That weekend, I revised several chapters and was able to reach a new depth in my writing.

More importantly, I was excited about my writing and my book, HOUSE OF FIRE. I had been working for ten years on finding the right structure to tell my story.

guatemala-map[1]After applying and receiving a Next Step Grant funded by the McKnight Foundation, I attended a one-week writing retreat with Mary Carroll Moore at the Madeline Island School of Arts, September 2013 and participated in two twelve-week online classes – “Your Book Starts Here: Part 3.

Since winning the Loft mentorship, I have been working closely with mentor, Mark Anthony Rolo.

Under his tutelage, I enhanced the structure of my book to weave in my present story with back story. For example, on our flight to adopt Antonio and Crystel the sun is setting when the plane descends into the airspace above Guatemala City. Three large volcanoes dominate the horizon and I ruminate how both me and the Guatemalans were literally running from fire in 1974 when I was 15-years old.

And now, receiving a Jerome Travel and Study Grant allows me to travel to Guatemala to research indigenous Mayans and Mayan heritage to inform my memoir. I’m truly blessed. This trip is critical to finishing my book.

The trip is detailed field research on the traditions and history of Antonio’s and Crystel’s homeland. Besides the powerful emotional content intended for the last chapters, my visit will also provide insights that will enrich the whole manuscript.

Pacaya Volcano

Pacaya Volcano

Following Antonio and Crystel visit with their birthmothers we will travel by van to Panajachel and board a lancha to take us to Santa Cruz la Laguna, a small pueblo located on the northern coast of Lake Atitlan in Solola, Guatemala.

Situated half a mile above the shore on the mountainside it is home to indigenous Mayans.

Accessible only by rocky footpaths and lanchas, Santa Cruz is a virtual island on the mountainside.

Because of its isolated nature and small size, Santa Cruz is a great home base for our stay. We will be employing indigenous Mayan guides to explore small, traditional Mayan villages around the lake. The guides will be much more than guides as Antonio and Crystel will daily be seeing their own rich café au lait skin.

Santa Cruz la Laguna

Santa Cruz la Laguna

During our travel I will create a record of the voices, landscapes, and villages of the indigenous Mayans. Following my return home I will be able to create prose that truly draws its inspiration from the specific natural setting.

I’m lucky and grateful to have won a Next Step, Loft Mentorship, and Jerome Travel and Study Grant. Receiving these grants will help me complete HOUSE OF FIRE.

Antonio and Crystel, of course, understood the nuances of winning the Jerome Travel and Study Grant but it was Jody and I who were doing the HAPPY THANKFUL DANCE in the driveway.

What A Day We Had with the Indigenous Mayans of Lake Atitlan

CECAP Training Center and Cafe Sabor Cruzeno

I walked into Cafe Sabor Cruzeno in Santa Cruz la Laguna, Lake Atitlan with trepidation. Not because it was recently opened. Not because it wasn’t yet rated on Trip Advisor or that it was a student-run café. And not because it was part of an NGO, Non-Government Organization.

Café Sabor Cruzeno was the result of the CECAP (Centro de Capacitacion) Culinary Arts program of Amigos de Santa Cruz foundation. The goal of the program is to train young people for successful employment in the restaurant and tourist business.

No, it was because I had my doubts that the culinary arts program would be successful with Antonio. I had a suitcase of dried pasta betting on it. Some people might pack extra clothes and shoes to match each outfit. I was more concerned that we have a food supply tucked away. When we traveled to Guatemala in 2010 I had forgotten to pack Crystel’s swimsuit. She ended up swimming in her Hello Kitty pajamas. But, I didn’t forget emergency rations for my son.

View from Café Sabor Cruzeno

Antonio is a healthy ten-year-old. He will eat a salad. Just don’t make a pyramid out of the raw vegetables. Instead, imagine a horizontal sundial and align the fixings uniformly around his plate. No dressing wanted or required. When Antonio and Crystel were in highchairs Jody and I would put food on each tray and what one toddler didn’t eat the other would. Being low maintenance, Crystel’s sundial can be any shape: cylindrical, conical, or vertical with a dab of ranch dressing. She’s satisfied with a ham sandwich. Antonio came to us waving a chicken leg in the air. He has never eaten a sandwich in his life. But give him a Sweet Hawaiian bun in one hand and a slice of salami in the other and he will happily eat them separately.

Our table waiting for us

We cater to Antonio and Crystel because we can, though sometimes I remind him that he was born in Guatemala.  Tamales made of corn and filled with beans are eaten with nearly every meal.

Lee Beal, our guide, originally from Texas, has lived around the world over the years, with Colorado being his home base. His wife, Elaine, and he have been full-time residents of Santa Cruz for the past 5 years. The couple came to Guatemala looking for a simpler and more fulfilling life and found it on Lake Atitlan. Lee originally started working with Amigos de Santa Cruz foundation and now serves on the board of directors. As he learned more about the people of Santa Cruz he realized there was a need for jobs creation. A part of this is now being fulfilled through the CECAP vocational training center.

The kitchen

Walking into the restaurant, I was surprised how open, clean and fresh it was. I felt as if we were on top of a mountain and we were. Two graduates of the culinary arts program were busy in the kitchen completing our authentic Guatemalan meal. They would also be serving us.

I don’t out Antonio unless I have too. Usually I just take him aside and remind him that we have food at home and simply be polite and say, “No thank you” if he doesn’t like what’s served. No funny noises or grotesque looks necessary.

After snapping a picture of our seating area, I took a deep breath and sat down. We had our choice of freshly made cold tea, several sauces, mashed potatoes, and a mixture of glazed vegetables and chicken with pulique sauce. At first glance, there wasn’t anything that I thought Antonio would try. Pulique is a common dish of the Guatemalan highlands. It is often served at holidays, anniversaries, and yearly fairs. Alex, our Guatemalan guide, explained how special it was that our chef had made the pulique for us. (Lee has been employing local guides trained through INGUAT. His goal is to create well-paying jobs that fit with the Mayan culture.)

Antonio with Alex paying our bill

The pulique sauce was mild, gentle, and creamy. I watched Antonio as he scraped a bit of it off his chicken.He tried a bite, finished his chicken, and asked for more.

Antonio had proven that CECAP’s culinary arts program was headed for success.

The café is located in the vocational center which houses carpentry, welding, computer education, sewing and weaving. The training center was buzzing with students sewing on Singer sewing machines and students welding on the rooftop.

What makes CECAP unique is that it has always been a community-driven vision and not a government project. Amigos is helping CECAP become self-sufficient.

Singer sewing machines. Girls and boys sewing.

Touring the vocational education center, watching students sew and weld, and dining at the café were some of the many highlights of our trip. We were getting a glimpse into the future of Santa Cruz la Laguna. Santa Cruz is one of the 45 poorest townships in all of Guatemala with illiteracy and malnutrition among the highest in the country. Amigos believes that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty for the indigenous people of Guatemala. Their primary focus has been on education both at the primary and secondary level. We were fortunate to see it at work.

Before we left Minnesota, Crystel had told us that she wanted to learn how to weave while in Guatemala. Lee contacted a local Guatemalan and set up a time for us to meet with her in her home. Both Antonio and Crystel quickly became engaged in learning to weave. They returned to her home several afternoons to complete their projects.

While Antonio and Crystel were weaving, Lee took Jody and me on a tour of the town church and also to Casa Milagro. Casa Milagro (since 1992) is an NGO that supports widows and children. Thilda Zorn, founder and manager of the project, focuses on providing an environment for creativity, joy, and freedom. Jody and I purchased handicrafts that the children had made.

Casa Milagro – children learning to weave

By the time Jody and I returned to our children, Antonio had left with Alex and Zach to play soccer in the village square, and Crystel was making fast friends with the girl of the house.

Antonio rushed in breathless and excited. He was poking fun at Alex and Zach, “Those kids were smaller than me,” he laughed. “We lost 10-7. It cost us 3 quetzales (50 cents).” Apparently, there was a side bet and the local children came away the winners. “Alex, they blew right by you,” Antonio added. “And, Zach he couldn’t stop anything.”

Antonio and Crystel learning to weave

Antonio and Crystel were being changed. And, it had nothing to do with their parents and everything to do with their parents. We had brought them here – to their birth country to have an opportunity to connect with other Guatemalans.

The boy who wouldn’t look at the kids in the square the first night was now facing off with them in a soccer match and for a short time he had two older Guatemalans, Alex and Zach, that could brother him.


Antonio’s bud’s – Zach and Alex

Crystel’s new friend

This very fine day would finish in a hot tub and swimming pool in the next village, El Jaibalito. A ten-minute launch from Los Elementos.

Hiking the Canyon

Starting our hike up Pampatin Canyon, Santa Cruz la Laguna

Antonio had mumbled and grumbled up the zigzag paved road to the village square the first evening at Santa Cruz la Laguna and often brought up that traveling by tuk tuk was an excellent way of going from point to point and why didn’t we do that more often. He hadn’t warmed to the idea that we were a-people afoot. Still, I was hopeful when he was handed a walking stick for our hike up Pampatin Canyon. He could poke, stab, and slash his way through the jungle, over the creeks, and up the gorge that starts its accent from the backyard of Los Elementos. In my suitcase back at our suite were the guide books Moon Guatemala and one that I thought would be particularly helpful on our trip, Moon’s Guatemalan’s Western Highlands Including Chichicastenango & Lake Atitlan. But I didn’t crack the handbooks open our entire trip. No need. Lee Beal and our Guatemalan guides were our experts. They went into detail about the age-old traditions of the Mayans, the colorful mountain villages, the indigenous Guatemalans, and the forest jungle.

The jungle

After I started blogging about our trip, I quickly learned that even Google couldn’t provide the information about the area surrounding Lake Atitlan that Lee and the guides did. It was through Lee that I learned that the old and original name Mayan of the village of Santa Cruz (Spanish for Holy Cross) is Pampati. The name of the canyon is from this origin.I shrugged when handed a walking stick by our guide, Alex. I’m not a grumbler. I’m agile. I can skip up rocks. I survived Kor Am Tae Kwon Do black belt camp. Quickly, I learned the poker was useful for pushing aside large leaves that I termed itch weed. Alex told us the correct name of the leaf but my head is only so big. As far as I was concerned it was itch weed and I shouldn’t touch it. We stopped often on our trek up the canyon as he pointed out a fruit, a plant, a leaf, and coffee plants.

Alex showing us the pitaya fruit

Alex nodded to our left towards two children, who looked to be about 5 and 7 years old, resting, tucked under a tree with a bundle of wood made up of dead twigs and branches. Alex told us that any child who wasn’t in school or working had the job of fetching wood from the forest for cooking fires or to sell. Of course, I hoped Antonio and Crystel were hearing this.

When we received photos from their birth families, I sat with them, and told them to look past what their eyes first saw. “See your family sitting around the table and on the bunk bed?” I said to Crystel, “From this photo you can tell that this one room is the family’s living room, bedroom, and kitchen. The room is smaller than your bedroom.” I added, “Look past your family and see the toothbrush on the window sill? There is only one toothbrush. It is likely that your family is sharing that toothbrush. If you look at the walls you can see that they aren’t painted. The walls are plastered or whitewashed.”I wanted Antonio and Crystel aware on our Guatemala trip. This is their birth country: beautiful, vibrant, rich in culture, poor and illiterate. Alex and Samuel our guides, would receive 200 quetzales, about $25.00 per day for their service, their skill set speaking English, is marketable. The average Guatemalan earns 50 to 60 quetzales a day, about seven dollars.

Antonio, Crystel, Jody, Elizabeth

Alex showed us a pitaya (Mayan word for the color of the inside of the fruit) also known as dragon fruit. When he opened it with a machete I could see that it was a fruit that had been offered at our breakfast buffet at Hotel Grand Tikal Futura, zona 7, where we stayed for three nights in Guatemala City. Jody and I encouraged Antonio and Crystel to try at least a taste of something new at each meal. The pitaya tasted like a cross between kiwi and pear.

On our hike we met a local Mayan woman who was picking pitayas to sell at the market.Our trip in June of 2012 was very different than our trip in June of 2010 for many reasons. One of them was the fact that we didn’t take any pictures of the Guatemalans that we saw in remote villages. Having Alex, Samuel, and Lee as guides meant that taking photos was possible because with their Spanish we could ask permission. Antonio and Crystel have more than four years in a Spanish dual language school but their grasp of the language was most evident when they were buying boom booms (lollipops) in the tienda (store).

Locals carrying firewood down the canyon

When Alex asked the children if we could take a photo they smiled shyly and shook their head no. Later we met the woman who had been picking pitayas and we learned that the two children gathering wood were hers. After visiting with her, Alex asked if we could take a photo of her and her children. For a few quetzales, she agreed.

Our goal for the canyon hike was to reach the waterfalls. We didn’t make it before Alex called Lee and found that it was time to meet up with him to visit our first NGO (non-government organization). It was odd to me that we were in a third world country yet you could use a cell phone to call someone. Cell phones are inexpensive in Guatemala. You can buy one for less than $20 dollars. This is something I will do on our next trip if only to be able to call within the country.

Later that evening, Zach took Antonio and Crystel back up the canyon to see the falls. The 14-year-old and two nine-year-olds returned breathless, happy, and flushed with energy. The grumbly nine-year-old boy had transformed into an adventurer. And truly, he didn’t grumble the rest of the trip. But then again, on a few occasions in villages we all piled into a tuk tuk to get from point A to B. Funny thing, his Spanish came alive when I told him it was up to him to ask for a tuk tuk and find out where it would pick us up. Ah, kids.

Our first NGO visit, Mayan Medical Aid, opened by Dr. Craig A. Sinkinson, M.D.,  in 2004 serves the 99% native Mayan Indians that make up the population of Santa Cruz. To help subsidize the clinic, he gives private Spanish lessons along with his Guatemalan wife who is also an M.D. Dr. Sinkinson developed a medical Spanish accredited program that also brings in funds. The benefits of the program for medical students are the

Lee Beal and Dr. Craig Sinkinson, M.D.

one-on-one attention, the ability to participate in the clinic, and the immersion experience. Prior to Dr. Sinkinson coming to Santa Cruz, 12 to 15 Guatemalan women died each year in childbirth. Most years they now have 0 deaths. The locals come to the clinic for medical assistance with digestive, reproductive and skin concerns, diabetes, and emphysema.I found the doctor to be very hospitable and knowledgeable with a respect and passion for the Mayans that was similar to Lee’s. One of Dr. Sinkinson’s goals is to teach the Guatemalans working with him to operate the clinic. In this way if something were to happen to him, the clinic would be self-sustaining.

The goods we brought–gloves, vitamins, aspirins. Oh, yes, and suntan lotion. Dr. Sinkinson was happy we left the large blue suitcase on the cardboard box for him to use.

Antonio and Crystel sat patiently while we visited with Dr. Sinkinson. Though Lee and his wife Elaine don’t have children, they have a sense for when it is time to move on. Prior to leaving the clinic, we stuck our head into an office and saw the suitcase we had brought filled with sterile gloves, Centrum, and Ibuprofen for the most part. Alex asked what was in the spray cans. I explained that it was suntan lotion for the clinic. He laughed and pointed to his skin. All I could do was raise my hands and tell him that it was on the list. Funny foreigners.

What are Antonio and Crystel doing and where are their mothers?!? You can see a typical casa in the foreground. Tin roof, chickens, dogs, firewood, dirt yard.

Walking across the village square, Lee said lunch at Sabor Cruzeno Restaurant was next. The restaurant is part of the CECAP Culinary Arts program that trains young people for successful employment in the tourist business. CECAP is supported by Amigos de Santa Cruz foundation of which Lee is on the board.

Local tienda where Antonio and Crystel buy their boom booms. This Mayan is a graduate of the CECAP vocational training center run by Amigos de Santa Cruz

Though not yet totally immersed in village life, the di Grazia family was beginning to place their fingertip on the local culture. We were closer than we had ever been before to the Guatemalan way of life.

If you like my blog writing hit the subscribe button on WordSisters. You will automatically receive my posts every other week. Also, I find Lee Beal’s blog very interesting.  He writes about his meanderings in Guatemala, Lake Atitlan, and the Mayan culture. http://lakeatitlantravelguide.com/blog/

Guatemala, Our Best Vacation Ever!

Our front yard at Los Elementos Adventure Center

By Elizabeth

It’s amazing our best vacation ever would be in a third world country deemed dangerous for travel by the U.S. State Department. Even my best friend was questioning my risk assessment capability when I told him that I was going to Guatemala AND taking my partner and two nine-year-olds AND calling it a vacation. I myself found it a strange thought to be spending ten days in the same country where the Peace Corps announced that they would stop sending new volunteers due to the increasing violence in the country.

So what was I, a white woman, with her partner and two nine-year-olds doing in Guatemala? Simply, having the best vacation of our lives.

My next several posts will be about our trip. I hope to capture the feel of the Mayan culture in Guatemala. How truly immersed in our experiences we were. How full our days were. How peaceful and at ease we were and how I slept with the doors open each night without fear of intruders.

Antonio and Crystel loved the trampoline

This would be our second trip to Guatemala. Our first trip in 2010 was to see the country and Antonio and Crystel’s birth villages. Following our trip, Antonio and Crystel said they would like to meet their birth moms. That story and their recent meeting is described in my forthcoming memoir HOUSE OF FIRE: From the Ashes, A Family, a memoir of healing and redemption.

Making our acquaintance with the locals

I made our travel arrangements with one primary goal: to get as close to the Guatemalans living in villages as possible. Since Antonio and Crystel were born in Guatemala, I wanted to show them what their life might have been like if they had grown up there. Seeing it in a picture book doesn’t equate to learning to weave from a Guatemalan woman in a casa and playing soccer in the village square.

Lake Atitilan is famous for its natural beauty and the colorful Mayan villages near it. Santa Cruz la Laguna is a traditional Mayan village located on the steep mountainside of the lake. The village can only accessed by boat or footpath. A single winding road connects the dock to the village. A common gathering place in the village is the sports court, used for basketball and soccer by the children of the village.

This location was the perfect destination for our family because Santa Cruz la Laguna also has two nonprofits, Amigos de Santa Cruz and Mayan Medical Aid that focus on the local indigenous people. Santa Cruz ranks at the bottom in terms of literacy rate: 73.4% of the population is currently illiterate. One of the missions of Amigos de Santa Cruz is to help improve the lives of the people through support for education.  Amigos officially opened a trade school in 2010. The school features a computer lab, craftsman workshop, and culinary area. Santa Cruz also ranks # 1 in infant and maternal mortality. Until the intervention of Mayan Medical Aid, health services, were practically non-existent.

A new friend

Lee Beal, a U.S. citizen living in Santa Cruz, serves on the board of directors of Amigos de Santa Cruz and is also involved with Mayan Medical Aid. I contacted him via email to inform him of my interest in visiting the projects.

Kayak Guatemala  and Lake Atitilan Travel Guide showcases the many varied tours that Lee Beal provides. Hmmm, I thought, horseback riding, cliff jumping, ziplining — exactly what our family needs after meeting the birthmoms. Time for celebrating, letting go and having fun! What most piqued my interest is that his services are advertised as being family-friendly and safe for women travelers.

We came to stay at Lee Beal’s Los Elementos Adventure Center, because by the time we were leaving the States, I was totally confused about where we were staying and what hotel was the best for my family. Lee mentioned that they had a guest suite available that was connected to their private home. When he added that it also came with a kitchen, Jody and I were sold. We don’t classify Antonio as a picky eater– we only cook what he eats. And that means familiar foods that don’t touch each other. Packed inside our suitcase was dry elbow macaroni and wide egg noodles. Staples for unknown times.

Los Elementos Adventure Center became our home for the next five nights and six days.

Another friend and fresh eggs every morning

Lee’s personal touch was transmitted in his emails and became cemented when he said that he would meet us at the supermarket once we got to Panachel, help us grocery shop, bank, and then board the launch for his home.

The first thing the kids ran to after getting off the boat was the trampoline in the garden. All of their excess energy flipped and flung away. They only stopped to pet the chickens that ran loose and make their acquaintance with the three dogs. Soon after they were holding the dogs on their laps.

View from the village

After meeting Elaine and informing her that having a massage from Los Elementos Day Spa was on our itinerary we started our hike to the village square. Antonio lagged behind grumbling. It was too hot. The hill was too steep. The top too far away.Once at the square, he sullenly sat by himself and wouldn’t join us in watching the children playing soccer.

But the next day all that would begin to change.

In large part, this was due to Lee Beal using English-speaking Guatemalan guides, who not only guided us throughout our stay, but who also related to our nine-year-olds on a very personal level.

Samuel, a 21-year-old indigenous local guide kayaked with us on Lake Atitilan and rode a horse on San Pedro La Laguna. We looked to him for advice during our lunch, when we bartered with a Guatemalan woman from San Antonio la Laguna who was selling her weavings. Encouraged by Samuel, we ate Guatemalan foods and drinks that we would never have dared without his assurances that they were safe for a gringos’ intestinal tract.

Alex, also a local guide from a nearby village, hiked with us to waterfalls, played soccer with Antonio in the village square with the local children, assisted with weaving, and swam with us at El Jaibolito.

Staying with the Beal’s was Zach, an adopted 14-year-old Guatemalan who is also from the United States and interning with Los Elementos as a guide. He was Antonio and Crystel’s constant companion. It was Zach who first jumped off the cliff followed by Antonio and Crystel. It was Zach who first put on his zipline hardware at Atitilan Nature Reserve to zing through the trees.

As the children’s mother, I could see that it made a difference to Antonio and Crystel that Samuel, Alex, and Zach were Guatemalan. They weren’t Hispanic. They weren’t Latin American. They weren’t from a different country. They were Guatemalan. Antonio and Crystel are Guatemalan. Their brown arms are the same skin tone. Their hair has the same coarseness. Their faces have the same Mayan features.

Through our Guatemalan guides, the village came to us and Antonio and Crystel began to gain a sense of who they are.

Next post: hiking, nonprofits, weaving.