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.
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.
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).
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.