the good and the bad

It is 5:53 in the morning. I am sitting in bed under a mountain of blankets. I’m wearing three shirts, long underwear, and wool socks. It is cozy. I want to go make my coffee, but I’m afraid the harsh kitchen light will wake the children, so I’ll wait a little. The kids need their sleep.

preparing to leave the capital

We traveled out to our house on Wednesday afternoon. Yesterday was our first day of work. Today is Sunday. We should be going to church, but instead we are skipping. We need a day off. I am going to make pancakes, and then we’re going to head into the neighboring city in search of some hard to find items, like floor mats.

Break for Mini Orientation

We are living about 5 hours north of Guatemala City in the department of Alta Verapaz. The capital of Alta Verapaz is Cobán, a fairly large city with a McDonalds and Walmart. We live in Carchá, another fairly large city-town, about fifteen minutes from Cobán. Bezaleel is about 10-20 minutes from our house, out towards Chamelco, another town that we have yet to visit. The name of our neighborhood where we are living is Chajsaquil (Chak-sa-keel).

End Mini Orientation

card games: it looks like fun but they always end in screaming matches

The transition has been very hard on our younger daughter. The older kids are mostly going with the flow, and the youngest is acting out by having superhuman amounts of energy, but our younger daughter is the one who is struggling the most, at least for now. You know how when you’re maxed out with stress and frustration and then you drop a plate on the floor, it breaks, and you burst into tears because you just can’t take it any more? That’s how she is feeling. She has no buffer for frustration, and let me tell you, there is certainly a lot to be frustrated about!

the fence around our house

It wasn’t until we got here that I realized that my children have never been uncomfortable. They have never been away from the support of friends and family. They have never moved to a new town. They have never ridden in taxis with bullet holes in the windows or ridden buses while standing up. They have never seen mountainsides covered in steaming trash. They have never seen legless beggars. They have never not understood the dominant language. They have never had house help. They have never been locked into a house that they can’t see out of.

the view from the pila: a strip of grass, more fence, the road

The bickering level are through the roof. They are loud. They scream when they are mad or hurt. Because we have no privacy—the front half of the house is against the road and the back half (the house is two long rows of rooms with one central hall) is joined to the neighbor’s house and a construction site—all their loudness makes me and my husband tense up and stress out.

our hallway: to the right, the living space, and to the left, the bedrooms

A couple nights ago when my husband was out running errands, I completely lost it. The kids were fighting and interrupting and running in circles, and I broke down and cried. Then I called a meeting. We sat in the girls’ room and I explained how hard this is for me. I explained that I didn’t like it that we weren’t out in the country like I had hoped. I said I didn’t like it that they had no place to play. I told them that when we first went to Nicaragua, I hated the place. But over time, I grew to appreciate it, even love it in some cases.

My younger daughter sobbed, begging and pleading to go home…and for me to buy her an American doll. My younger son started sobbing, too, because he doesn’t want to have to leave Wilmer when we go back to the States. We talked about ways we can make the house more cozy (we pretend we are the Boxcar children).

What helps, I said, is figuring out one or two things that we can do when we’re feeling really bad. For me, it’s lighting some candles or stringing up some twinkle lights. Maybe, I suggested to the kids, for you it’s alone time? Maybe it’s having a snack? Maybe it’s writing an email to a friend? I promised them that we would make the house cozy, but it will take time. Everything will take time.

Our Situation: Pros and Cons

Con: There is no yard/place to play outside.
Pro: There are many little rooms in this house, so everybody can have some alone time.

Con: The house is a concrete with tile floors. It echoes something fierce.
Pro: As we get furniture, the hollow, tomb-like feeling will lessen dramatically.

me and my sink

Con: We have almost no furniture. Let me clarify: we have beds (comfy ones), two bed stands, a table, six chairs, a sink, a stove, a small refrigerator, a hutch, a desk, a dresser, a book shelf, and one four-legged stool.
Pro: We have money to buy furniture. The stove is large—six burners!—but…

Con: It delivers a wallop of an electric shock when using the ignitor, but…
Pro: It lights easily with matches.

peeling yet another banana

Con: Our house has no natural light. The windows in the back of the house open directly into the neighbor’s house (and you can see through the cracks), so we are covering them up with curtains. The windows in the front of the house are made of opaque glass. We aren’t supposed to keep the front doors open (the best source of natural light) because of security issues.
Pro: There are a few translucent sheets of roofing so some light filters through. Also, you can prop open a few of the opaque pieces of glass so you can see out as far as the road.

Important Pro: A bunch of people worked long hours to fix up our house for us. At the outset, there wasn’t even a sink in the kitchen—we would’ve had to walk out the front door and around the side of the house to the pila (concrete sink and water holder) for our water. We are extremely grateful for all they did to improve this place. And for all the cons, I actually really like the house. It’s the lack of outdoor space, privacy, and natural light that bothers me, but these are more location and situation than actual living space.

Con: We haven’t seen the sun since we got to Carchá.
Pro: They say it will come out sooner or later.
Con: I don’t believe them.

Con: The roof leaks and water runs down the walls and puddles on the floor and there is lots of mold which means that my husband is having trouble with allergies and asthma. The youngest is having lots of stuffiness, too.
Pro: Laying a rag on the floor where the water runs in helps to absorb a lot of the wetness and minimize the slippery floors.

the current floor mat

Con: Our washing machine doesn’t work and the clothes take days to dry so they mold in the process. Also, we have a week’s worth of very dirty laundry and we’re running out of underwear.
Pro: There is another North American couple in town and they gave us the key to their house and said we can use their washer and dryer.

Con: They are in Honduras now and we don’t know their address.
Pro: I have their cell number.

after watching Luvia, my daughter got inspired

Con: We only have internet access in one room of the house—the one that we’re using to store our mountain of dirty laundry and that has a river of water running through it.
Pro: At least we have internet!

Con: There are cockroaches.
Pro: There isn’t one.
Pro Take Two: At least there aren’t many cockroaches.

makeshift apple pie

Con: It is freezing cold. In the morning you can see your breath! And there is no, I repeat, NO, heat.
Pro: Yesterday we bought a queen-sized comforter for our bed and for the first time I was warm at night.

Con: There are so many basic items we don’t have.
Pro: I am deeply grateful for every single item we brought from the States.

I bought plates and cups, but we still only have two forks.

Con: We feel isolated, lost, and disoriented.
Pro: Wilmer! He comes in during the day to help us run errands, play with the kids, take us to the school, etc.
Pro: Luvia! She is our house help and I adore her. She comes at 8 in the morning, about three times a week, and gets right to work washing dishes, scrubbing clothes (that don’t dry), mopping floors, washing the bathroom. She takes me to the market. She links arms with my daughter when they are walking down the street. She takes time to teach the kids Spanish. She braids the girls’ hair. She gives me hugs and makes me coffee.
Pro: other North Americans! There is one couple and one single guy, all of which work through Eastern Mennonite Missions. They know a lot more than we do and are very willing to help out and show us around.
Pro: all your sweet comments and emails! We savor them all. Thank you.


  • Camille

    Praying for you all Jennifer Jo…hang in there!! The memories you are making are going to be fondly looked back on in years to come! Your children will be richer for it all…really, they will!!


  • Queenie

    Thanks for your posts. Moving anywhere sucks–I know from recent personal experience (though we were certainly missing some of your challenges.) It is especially hard to see one's kids' suffer from it. It will get better, I'm pretty sure, even if I can't say when. Sending big sympathetic hugs!!

  • Mavis

    I'm rooting for you JJ, Mr. Handsome, Yo-Yo man, BeccaBoo, Sweetsie, and the Nickle. Please keep writing. Even if does make all of us happy and sad for you all at the same time. We love you!

    P.S. You are going to get so many freakin' forks from everyone it is going to be nuts. Just you wait and see.

  • katherine

    I've been reading your blog for awhile, but never commented. (I don't have children yet, but I particularly love the way that you let yours live life & learn from their experiences. So much of modern parenting seems to be about keeping kids under constant supervision and protecting them from harm. As a teacher who sees those kids in their teens, I know that children benefit from running free, being challenged, trying things, and sometimes making mistakes. I hope that I'll be half as good at that as you are.) Your post made me think of the times I've traveled and/or lived abroad. It was often challenging and lonely, but the benefits far outweighed the costs. Taking care of myself in that situation was hard enough, so I can only begin to imagine what it must feel like to be in charge of 4 children's well-being as well. I'll be thinking of you. And I think the commenters are right: the experience will be worth it in the long run.

  • Becky

    My house here with all the amenities doesn't get a lot of natural light either.

    You have internet! Which is more than our friends living in Guatemala City can say. From what they say, no one there has heat. It's in the teens here today in Virginia (with the sun shining!) and I can honestly say, I'd trade it for a little moisture and warmth in my air.

  • Christine Fairfield

    I love reading this and yet know how much of a challenge it probably was. I've found my blog to be an infinite source of perspective–I love your pros/cons format! Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed or sorry for myself, I browse back through my blog and realize what we've accomplished and created this year. We don't have a play place either and it rains a lot here. I also don't have a dryer (with four kids too!) but we're in a modern culture and anything we didn't bring with us is easily purchased (except for the odd American food item). Anyway, nothing compared to what you're facing and I admire you and your whole family for the guts that it's taken to do this and to continue to do this. Your kids will grow so much from this experience, as will you. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers as you adjust to your life in Guatemala!

  • Theresa

    I'm really enjoying reading about your family's adventure, Jennifer Jo! It sounds like it's a bit of a struggle to adjust right now, but I'm sure it will get better as you settle in. I'm glad you're able to find the pros in your situation. Can't wait to read more!

  • Becky

    Thank you so much for the gift of your adventure journal 🙂 I get so excited when I see that you've posted a new "chapter". I can't imagine what a culture shock you're all going through. I was watching an old "Designing Women" episode yesterday and they said something so true… "Adventures are never fun while you're on them." It's only after that you realize the benefit of the adventure, isn't it? Some of our favorite family memories were terribly stressful at the time. I hope this family adventure turns out the same way.

  • Ciara

    Thank you for sharing with us.
    It certainly sounds quite claustrophobic.
    More power to you for finding a way to write a pros and cons list.
    Hoping you find some more light soon.

  • Jules

    Isn't it cool that people you've never met are praying for you and your kids? 🙂 I've enjoyed reading about your journey to get to this place, and I'm looking forward to seeing what God has in store for you all.
    And, to be honest, my first thought was, I wonder if we could send them some forks, or would they not make it through customs? !:)

  • teekaroo

    I logged on tonight hoping for an update from you. I would go crazy all cooped up like that. I hope the sun comes out for you sooner, rather than later.

  • Jennifer Jo

    Wow. You guys. I just read all your comments, crouched down on the floor in the room closest to the router, not even taking time to run out to the dining room to grab a chair. (We only have six, see.) You made me laugh and tear up and smile. You all are so wonderful. Thanks for loving on us.

    Our mailing address is:
    Comite Central Menonita
    19 Avenida 5-94 Zona 11
    Colonia Miraflores
    Ciudad de Guatemala

    Care packages would be fabulous, of course, but I have no idea how much it costs to mail something and it's probably crazy expensive. So please, don't knock yourselves out or anything. Your comments and emails are hugely encouraging and plenty enough. xo

    • dawnbdh

      I know it probably seems weird, but what are some things that you are wishing you would have brought or your kids are missing?
      I've traveled enough to know that sometimes you end up wishing you would have brought certain things. We would love to support you in whatever way we can.

  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    Wow…this post made me cry. You are doing an amazing thing…I pray that all settles down and that your sweet daughter begins to see the Pros as you did. I will be praying for you and your family…

    And I just KNOW that you will cozy that place in no time…it's what you do. You make a house a home…I mean, look at that pie! You're already starting!

    Blessings to you…xoxo

  • Kate

    You are brave, braver than me. You are stronger, so much stronger than I can imagine being. Your faith! Your courage! This is a good thing. You got this.

  • Anonymous

    so sorry about the youngest daughter…there's someone in our house that is extremely sad too. today at church M was very sad because her bff was not there 🙁 please let her know that someone misses her as well. we'll make sure that M sends an email soon.

    we're hoping for a sustained bit of cold here to do some skating on trissels pond this week…maybe in the teens – perfect to freeze a shallow pond or toes, or fingers…but we can come home to heat! thinking of you as you are cold cold cold. we're sending some warm thoughts your way as well!!!

    lots of hugs and prayers!

  • dr perfection

    OK. I am going to be the voice of reality. You can't live in mold. You will become ill. This is difficult for me to read. You are clearly miserable and you need to come home. Just COME HOME.

    • Feather Rocketship

      But let's not be defeatist. It can't be the case that every Guatemalan family lives in a house that is constantly moldy, in clothes that are moldy, etc. The longer you're there, the more tricks-of-the-trade you'll learn. I am hopeful that both the other North Americans and the native Guatemalans that you form relationships with will give you ideas for not just how to cope with all these basic problems, but even how to thrive in this new climate, new standard of living, new way of doing things. If you need to repair the roof, you will. If you need replace your washer and dryer (or at least the dryer–washing clothes is the easy part, it sounds like!), you can do that too, at some point, and until then, you can use those your generous North American acquaintances have offered. Like you said, adjustments take time, and so will the improvements that one-by-one will make your lives more comfortable. Rooting for you guys!

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    I (and I know I'm not alone) am so grateful for your posts. I know they serve several purposes for you, but for me…they just make me feel better knowing what's going on with you and the ways I can think of you. Let's see…what's some fun stuff you (the kids) can grow in all that humidity? Can they make miniature people (out of I don't know what) and create a little pretend countryside and live vicariously through their little make-believe people?

    Hold on. You're doing awesome because that's just who. you. are.:-)

    • Melani

      Could you grown your own yeast for a special Guatemala sourdough bread? (Thinking of fun things you could grow in all that humidity).

  • jennifer

    What amazing memories your kids will have and the lessons they learn here will no doubt be something they remember.

    Oh! I love the idea of sending care packages– I definitely agree with that suggestion.

  • Mama Pea

    What a huge adjustment period for all of you. I can sincerely say I don't envy your current situation in the least, but at the same time have a definite feeling that things will get much better for you in not too much time. As you so wisely noted, the kids have never experienced anything like what they are going through now. No one likes change and because of the uncomfortable environment right now, it's bound to be a difficult period. Keep putting your thoughts and experiences in words here on your blog. It will be priceless to have it all to look back on nine months down the road. Have faith that it will get better. It's a big adjustment for the kids, for sure, but they are going to grow tremendously during this journey. Keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers. Hugs, hugs, hugs.

  • Jen J

    I am so amazed at your family's bravery, for trying something new and scary, and your generosity, for sharing yourselves with the people of Guatemala (and those of us at home eagerly awaiting updates). I think your story is so special – I'm having my children follow along, as well as my Girl Scout troop.

    On a side note, I'm sure many of your 'blog fans' would love to know if there is a way we can send your family care packages. Is there anything the kids would enjoy, that may make the transition time easier? We'd love to know.

  • Kathy ~ Artful Accents

    Oh my goodness, it all just seems like too much to deal with…but what a huge pro it is that you have internet!! AND what a big pro it is that you look for and can find the pros in the situation. 🙂

    Jane from Thy Hand shared about your family in our prayer time this morning in Sunday School. Know that we are praying for your family's adjustment.

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