What Do You Miss From Home?

If you’d asked me this question when I’d been in Guatemala a year, I could have given you a loooong list of things I missed terribly. Stuff like Twizzlers, cornbread, real hamburgers, the ocean, walking into a store and picking up what you want instead of asking for it . . .the list went on.

Now that I’ve been here nearly 13 years, the question doesn’t have the same weight. There was a time when I would yearn for things from Canada, sad that Guatemala didn’t have the basics that I was used to. Over the years, that’s changed. When someone asks me what I miss, I’m hard-pressed to remember things that I once would have traded my left arm for.

This is partially due to the fact that many things are available here now and they weren’t back in the day. Over a decade has passed and you can now find things like Bragg’s Amino acids, root beer and plenty of other once impossible items in the supermarket. And part of my lack of things to miss is that I’ve simply forgotten them or gotten used to the alternatives here.

Soy sauce was once the bane of my life in Guatemala. It was sweeter than I liked  and my sister would bring me bottles of China Lily when she came down. Now, I could care less. I’ll happily swap those bottles of China Lily for something else.

Things I still do vaguely miss, when I think of them, include:

  • Blueberries (though they are available here, but they’re crazy expensive)
  • Cherries
  • Real lemons, the yellow kind
  • Black forest ham
  • Dates
  • Libraries

Yes, it’s nearly all food. Funny how that works, isn’t it? But then again, if I were to move back to Canada, I would miss avocados, pitaya, pineapple and tamales an awful lot! I think food is very much a part of culture.

If you’d told me 12 years ago, or even 10 years ago, that I would stop missing things from my home country, I probably would have shaken my head adamantly and told you that you were terribly mistaken. But it’s true. After a while, things just don’t matter anymore. Sure, they’re nice to have, but they’re not pieces of home that cause you homesickness anymore.

I guess, if you live somewhere long enough, anything can become the norm!

Keeping Busy

Work has picked up lately, which means that everything has picked up, of course. Isn’t that always the way? Here’s what has been going on around here:

Dominic is:

  • Reading sentences and wants to practice reading daily
  • Playing in the rain and mud
  • Arranging the flowering plants (in pots) to his liking around the patio

Dante is:

  • Sculpting with the clay some wonderful blog readers brought us
  • Painting up a storm
  • Bugging his brothers
  • Crafting and reading

Dorian is:

  • Preparing to become a “Youtuber”
  • Taking a programming course on Khan Academy
  • Creating comics

Irving is:

  • Making furniture, signs, and shelves from pallets to sell on Antigua Rustico
  • Playing music gigs (as usual)
  • Taking the kids for hikes while I work

I’m:

  • Writing for several clients, including sales copy, a novel and website copy
  • Baking up a storm, by myself, with friends and for business
  • Redoing my websites to be FDA compliant
  • Sewing NICU vests and gowns for preemies

What are you up to?

A Third World Hospital

Just what is a third world hospital like? It all depends on where you go. I’ve had quite a few experiences with the public hospitals in Guatemala, but most of those were years ago, when I miscarried our early babies and when the two older boys were born. Dorian’s later surgeries and Dominic’s birth were in private hospitals, so dealing with my mother-in-law being in a public hospital was a return to a familiar world.

Most people know that third world hospitals aren’t going to be that great, but what other option do people have if they don’t have money? Something I’ve learned is that the system has gotten far, far worse than when I was giving birth in San Felipe’s hospital. Or perhaps it was simply because I was there for something natural and normal, rather than needing special help. Either way, here’s a look at what a public hospital in Guatemala is like these days.

1. Bring Your Own _____

The hospital will give you food and a bed. That’s pretty much it. The food is very basic, as is to be expected. There’s no fancy JELLO here! You’ll be served a spoonful of beans, a piece of bread and a melamine cup of atol (a thick drink, like gruel). If you’re lucky, you’ll get a side of veggies or a piece of plantain. It’s not filling, but it will keep you alive. Let me just say that this tiny amount of food is NOTHING when you’ve just had a baby and haven’t eaten in 12+ hours!

Now, while this is provided, there is NO water offered in the hospital. You will need someone to bring you a bottle of water or you will have to drink from the unfiltered taps in the bathroom. Which I’ve seen many women do, since there is only one visiting hour in the day. If you have your baby or go in early in the morning, you’re kinda hooped until 2pm.

2. Call Buttons, Shmall Buttons

Don’t expect to be able to call a nurse when you need one! There are no call buttons here and if you do get up to find a nurse, you’ll most likely be scolded and sent back to bed without any real help. I suspect the nurses are jaded and underpaid here and are tired of being unable to tell a patient that a doctor is on his way or give out any concrete information.

3. What to Wear

You can’t take anything into the hospital with you. When you arrive at the ER, one person may accompany you and that person will be given everything you have on you in a plastic bag, including earrings, underwear, and shoes and socks. You will be given a gown that may be in pretty poor condition (my MIL wore one with a huge tear in the side and no ties).

During the visiting hour, family or friends can bring you flip flops and such. Until then, you get to show off your assets. ;)

4. Need Meds? Buy Them Yourself

The hospitals here work on a very limited budget and have virtually no supplies. When Dante had to go into the ER a couple of years back, there was a child brought in who had drowned in a well. They were trying desperately to resuscitate this little boy and one of the doctors was pacing the hall, calling every resource she could think of to try and find a ventilator so they could try and save this little one. They were bagging by hand until they could get hold of one. Can you imagine? That’s a vital piece of equipment for a hospital that serves at least a dozen towns!

My MIL needs a metal plate in her shoulder. The hospital does not provide this. Instead, they give you a prescription for it, should you be lucky enough to get a surgical consult, and it’s up to you to go and buy it. If you don’t have the money, your loved one remains in limbo, waiting until the family can get the pieces and the medications they need. The blood tests she required were also extra out of pocket costs.

As Irving put it, “This is basically a public hospital now, because you have to pay for everything except the bed!” This makes it extremely difficult for families who are unable to raise the money for a necessary operation.

 5. Doctors Off Call

When I had Dorian, there were no doctors in the hospital. Since the hospital in San Felipe is a teaching one, it’s full of interns and residents who seem really resentful of their need to be there. When things go wrong, there isn’t always a doctor around to step in and that can be dangerous. Fortunately, I never had an issue with that, but there are people who have.

All that being said . . .

I am very grateful that there ARE public hospitals here. They aren’t the best and they have many, many faults, but they also provide medical care to those who can’t afford it elsewhere. There are some doctors, like Dorian’s surgeon, who are true to their oaths and are willing to help their patients and make life better for them.

While most of my experiences have been bad, Dante’s birth was a wonderful experience with the help of two amazing female doctors in the same hospital where I had such a terrible experience with Dorian’s birth. So, I think there are a number of people working in these poor conditions, trying their best to help, but without the necessary resources to do so. That’s sad, but it gives me hope that things can get better.

Why My Children Are Allowed to Play Computer Games

There’s a lot of opinions out there against screen time for kids. I had a friend with a 9 year old who had no idea how to use a computer and I’ve seen many, many people criticizing parents for allowing their children to play computer games.

In our house, we’re gamers. That’s the way it is and I’m not going to apologize for it, for several reasons. First, it’s our decision as parents to let our kids have computer time. Second, we’ve actually found computer games to be beneficial in many ways. I know those are crazy words, but let’s take a look at some of the things my boys have learned from playing games.

1. How to Use a Computer

I think children MUST learn to use the computer these days. Not many jobs exist where you aren’t going to be using a computer at least a little. Not allowing children to gain valuable skills in technology is doing them a disservice in my opinion.

2. Language Skills

Yes, you can learn vocabulary from books and other methods, but I’ve seen quite the jump in vocabulary, thanks to my kids playing games. The in-game stories are often advanced and give them vocabulary you might not hear normally from an 8 and 9 year old.

3. Reading Skills

When my kids were just learning to read, they were reluctant to pick up a book. Give them a game, however, and they were all over it! Dorian looks up information online to read about games he enjoys and reading instructions kept them learning early on.

4. Reasoning and Strategy

There’s no shortage of reasoning and strategy when it comes to computer games. Yes, some are mindless and dumb. My boys find those kinds of games boring for the most part. They do love games where they have to plan out their moves and where they need to strategize.

5. Problem-solving Skills

Have you ever played a computer game where you were required to figure out a combination or assemble a puzzle in order to proceed to the next level? These are simple to an adult, but to a child who has yet to learn problem-solving, they can be incredible learning experiences.

6. Math Experience

When I was learning math, it took me forever. I wanted to know WHY I needed to know it. HOW was I going to use it? Well, my sons never ask those questions because they’re already using math and are fully aware of it. Dorian was multiplying and dividing, as well as skip counting long before he was learning it in school, simply because he needed it to pass his game levels.

7. Play Nicely with Others/Teamwork

Some games that the boys play are online and require them to work with other players. These games can be very challenging because they aren’t in control of everything. Learning to work with others can be a challenge, but it’s a necessary lesson. Dante has built houses with others in Minecraft, while Dorian has organized teams that head out to fight monsters. There are plenty of opportunities for learning in these games.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on these things. I know too much screen time is a bad thing and we do strive to keep something of a balance in our home. The boys have specific times they can play and the rest of their time is spent outdoors or crafting, reading, etc. Balance is key, as it is with everything.

Our favorite games include:

Minecraft: An excellent, open world game where you can collect resources, explore the world above and below ground, fight monsters and build awesome structures. There’s even some basic electricity included so you can wire your home or roller coaster.

Potatoman Seeks the Troof: This is a fun game that involves strategy and planning as you maneuver Potatoman through a series of obstacles. It’s a cute game, but keeps kids figuring out how to move forward.

Limbo: Dorian really likes darker, scarier games and Limbo is the perfect option for a kid who isn’t necessarily ready to play adult games, but wants something a little creepier than the average cartoon. It’s also extremely complicated and requires quite a bit of strategy to move through the various levels, including sequencing, strategy and planning ahead.

Learning to Read: Round Three

We’re about to have three readers in the house. The older boys have been reading for a while, of course, though they’re still not that excited about picking up novels. However, Dominic is now learning.

When a three year old gets mad at you because he can’t read yet, it’s probably time to start teaching him. This kid has been trying to catch up to his brothers from the day he was born and reading is no exception. He asked to read me a book the other day, then sat there and stared at the words and finally asked me how he was supposed to read it. We started lessons that night.

I still love Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for new readers. I dug it out and Dominic and I go over a lesson or two each night. He’s extremely motivated and very quick to catch on. In fact, in just the week or so that he’s been learning, he’s already started to sound out 2-3 letter words.

His excitement level is through the roof! When he successfully reads a word on his own, he jumps up, dances and screams, “I DID IT! I CAN READ IT!” He also frequently proclaims, “I love these letters!”

Soon we’ll have all readers in our house, which will be odd. No note will go unread from here on out!

Esperanza

Any long time readers know that I don’t exactly get along with my mother-in-law, but I also don’t want to see her (or anyone for that matter) hurt. This morning, we received a call saying that she’d fallen in Antigua. The sidewalks and cobblestones there are rough and prone to holes, so this sort of thing happens frequently.

Thinking she had just been banged up a bit, Irving headed off to pick her up. When he got there, he realized that she was hurt far worse than just a few bumps and bruises, so he took her to the ER at the local public hospital.

They did X-rays and discovered that not only did she break her arm, she’s shattered her shoulder and it will require surgery. While the public hospital offers basic free care, Irving has already had to pay for the tests and her immobilizer. Any medications are going to be out of pocket, as well . . . including those for the surgery.

Since Esperanza hasn’t had much work lately, she’s pretty upset about losing her job while she’s recovering, so we’ll see what happens. Hopefully it won’t come to that! In the meantime, we’ve set up a GoFundMe page to help out with medical costs and getting her back on her feet. If you’d like to donate, feel free. If you just want to share the page on your Facebook or Twitter, that would also be awesome. And of course, prayers for a quick recovery will be a big help.

You can click here to donate or share. Thanks!

Esperanza's medical fund

300 a Day

I was going over my stats for my various websites and blogs and realized that I have around 300 visitors a day to Expat Mom. Wow. I know some of my regulars who leave comments, but apparently there are a lot of people who just read. Quite frankly, I figured that number had dropped drastically since I’ve been awful about blogging lately, but nope.

So, if you’re one of the few (many?) who has stuck around through my ups and downs and blogging droughts, thank you. I’ll try to write more often!

Kids Say the Darndest Things: Episode 90

Dante was playing Minecraft.
Dante: “This is epic!”
Dorian: “It’s just a couple lines of colored blocks. It’s not really epic.”
Dante: “Well . . . . from THIS angle it’s epic!” Tilts the camera so all you can see are colors stretching away into the distance.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dominic: climbing into a box “This is my box bed!”
Me: “You know, in Finland, all babies sleep in box beds.”
Dominic: “Yes, I know. It says here, ‘Babies are supposed to sleep in boxes.’ I’m gonna sleep here tonight.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dominic: “Mama, do you want to be one or two or three?”
Me: “Um, I guess three?”
Dominic: incredulously “You’re three, like me?”
Me: “Oh, you mean how old am I? I’m 35.”
Dominic: “You’re three AND five? Wow. You staying at three and five. I’m staying three.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dante: Trying a cupcake sweetened with stevia “This tastes like you put a little bit of poison in it.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Irving: “Do you want a long sleeved shirt for sleeping?”
Dominic: tugging on his t-shirt hem. “But my shirt IS long!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dominic: “I’m going to read this book to you.”
Me: “Okay.”
Dominic: opens the book and stares at the words for a bit. “How am I going to read this?!”
Me: “Maybe you have to learn how to read, huh?”
Dominic: “Yes. Teach me.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Me: “Okay, it’s bedtime.”
Dominic: “Okay. . . oh, wait, I need to draw a bear!”
Me: “You can draw a bear, then you go to bed.”
Dominic: draws bear “Okay, I can sleep now. Oh wait! I see my car!” Gets car. “I like this car. It can be a monster and it is able to kill girls. And mans!”
Me: “Really? Well, it’s time for bed.”
Dominic: “Yeah. Wait! This is not my blanket! I need the other blanket.”
Me: “Here’s your blanket.”
Dominic: “The other blanket is still touching my bed!”
Me: “OKAY, I moved it. Nothing is touching your bed.”
Dominic: “Goodnight. WAIT! My car! It’s on the shelf!”
Me: “No, you left it on the floor. Here it is.”
Dominic: “I love you, Mama.”
Me: “I love you, too. Go to sleep.”
Dominic: “WAIT! Fix my blanket, please!”
Me: fixing his blanket.
Dominic: Sticks a foot out. “What about my foot? It needs a blanket, too.”
Me: “GO TO SLEEP!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We were discussing the military on the way home from a Father’s Day lunch.
Dorian: “I was thinking about joining the army, but I could die, so maybe not.”
Me: “It’s a good idea to live your life a little before you commit to something like that.”
Dorian: “I don’t want to live a little. It’s way better to live my WHOLE life!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dorian: “So, you have three problems?”
Me: “I have 99 problems.”
Dorian: “WHAT? That’s a lot.”
Me: “It’s just a funny saying, ‘I have 99 problems, but you aren’t one of them.’”
Dorian: “Except I kinda am, since I’m in here, distracting you.”
Me: “Yeah, you are kinda distracting.”
Dorian: “So, you’re at 100% capacity for problems!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Irving: “Dominic, come out of the room and let Mama work.”
Dominic: “But why? Y-N-Y, WHY?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dante: “I’m going to be making some potions. I’ve drawn up the recipes here, but this one needs a star. So, is it even possible to grab a star? It’s big, right? Like the sun?”
Me: “Yeah, and hot.”
Dante: “Okay, no problem, I’ll just use a cardboard star.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dante: “Today, I’m going to study the body. First, I’m going to read in the body book and learn about the different systems. Then, I’m going to draw a skeleton and what’s inside the body. And then, I’ll make it in plasticine.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dorian: “Um, are we waiting for the eggs to hatch?”
Me: “No, why?”
Dorian: “Well, I saw there’s a box of eggs, so I thought maybe they were for hatching.”
Me: “Nope, they’re for eating.”
Dorian: “Why are they in a box then?”
This is what happens when your kids are used to buying eggs from the neighbor who has free range chickens. Guess we’ve never actually bought a carton before.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dominic: “Mama, I love you.”
Me: “I love you, too.”
Dominic: “Mama, I like you.”
Me: “I like you, too.”
Dominic, bursting into tears: “NO! I said I LIKE you!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Me: “Boys, come see the sky!”
Dominic: “It’s ORANGE!”
Me: “It’s gorgeous.”
Dante: “No, it’s not. It looks like everything is on fire and we’re having a war. It’s not gorgeous, it’s scary.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dante: “Mama, is obsidian real?”
Me: “Yes.”
Dante: “Is the Nether real?”
Me: “No.”
Dante: “Are Nether Dragons real?”
Dorian: “REALLY, Dante? Nether dragons?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dominic: “Mama! My balloon is wet!”
Me: “It’s okay, balloons are waterproof.”
Dominic: shaking his head “He can only blame his-self.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dominic doesn’t quite have the art of negotiating down yet.
Dominic: “Mama. Give me the phone and I’ll give you . . .this!” holds up a crumpled piece of paper.
Me: “You’re supposed to offer me something I actually want.”
Dominic: “Oh. Give me the phone, please?”

Working on the Future

As parents, I think it’s pretty normal to dream of what your child might do when they grow up. When Dorian was a baby, we talked about whether he would be a musician like Irving or maybe a writer like me . . . or maybe he’d be a doctor, since he has so much experience with medical stuff.

With Dante, we discussed the same things. Maybe he’d be a football player, since he loved to kick a soccer ball around. It was his main reason for learning to walk, so he could kick a ball!

As the boys grew, their interests and talents began to flourish. Dante is an extremely active child, great at sports, but he also thrives on art. He could draw and paint all day and never get tired of it. He loves building things and comes up with plans that he sketches out and then he’ll gather materials to build with. His hands are fast and sure and he’s created some stuff that has amazed us, both in wood and in paper.

Dorian runs like the wind and he loves it. He’ll run and time himself on laps, using stopwatches that his grandparents sent him. He thrives on speeding along the track or grass, legs pumping along with arms in the form he learned from his coach. On the other hand, he’s far more obsessed with computers and has been since he was first allowed to use one. He’s better than I am and even fixes issues I run into on the computer.

Dominic is still at the point where he is into everything and hasn’t really settled on any specifics. He loves to paint with Dante and play on the computer with Dorian. He loves music and likes to try playing his papa’s clarinet, but he also likes to spend some alone time designing his houses with blocks and driving cars around. I suspect we’ll see more of his interests later, as they begin to solidify.

Irving and I feel that our job as parents is to help our sons explore their interests as far they would like to take them. That may not be far in some cases, but in others, it might turn into a career. For example, Dorian has recently been telling us that he wants to be a game developer. So, we enrolled him in Khan Academy’s Introduction to Programming class. He’s doing quite well at it and is loving every second. Dante will be taking art from the same site.

I don’t think you ever stop thinking about your children’s future, but it’s interesting to see what was so vague and dreamy now beginning to take shape as they grow and plan for their own futures.

Enjoy Where You Are

When I first came to Guatemala, it was incredible. The beautiful greenery, the colorful dress of the local indigenous people, the bright colored fruit in the market. Everything was amazing and new and beautiful. Well, almost everything.

13 years on, it’s all pretty normal for me. I rush from task to task, schooling the boys, working on my articles and ebooks, hanging up the laundry, bringing in the laundry . . . without really taking the time to stop and smell the roses, as it were.

Recently, I noticed that I’ve been complaining a lot. The rain coming through the roof bugs me. There are a million things that irritate me about living in Guatemala and living in this particular house. I am always thinking of “when . . .”

“When we have enough money to build a house up the mountain . . . ”

“When the rain stops . . .”

“When the boys are older . . .”

Well, it just seems silly. If you’re always waiting for something to happen to make things better it will just end up being a lifetime of waiting, right?

So, I decided to make a point of enjoying the things around me. I do this already with the kids, knowing they’re growing up fast, but what about other things? So the past couple of mornings, instead of complaining about the heat, I thought about how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful country and to enjoy weather that most people have to go on vacation to enjoy. :)

Here are a few pictures I took to remind myself of this.

canicula

church

Seriously, this place is gorgeous! I love living here.

What do you appreciate about where you live?