Friday, 26 December 2014

I'll Be Home For Christmas

I snap awake.
Where am I? I ask myself.
In a bed, I reply, and then I remember where the bed is. I’m in Guatemala City. Today is the day I fly home. As I start to leave the state of confusion, I suddenly wonder what time it is.
I’ve probably overslept my alarm, I think to myself. I fumble for the phone that Galen lent me and press the first button I feel. The phone reads 4:58 AM. I had set the alarm for 5:00. I relax slightly and wait for the annoying ice cream truck music mixed with vibrating-phone-on-wood sound. It comes. I get up and turn on the light. Jason is in the bed next to mine.
“Hey, Jason.”
No answer
“Hey, Jason.”
Jason stirs and then lifts his head.
“We’re going home today.” I tell him in an excited voice.
In about ten seconds, he is out of bed and just excited as I am. Jason hasn’t seen his family since August. I haven’t either. Jason is going home to Canada after serving for two and a half years in Nicaragua. I am going home after serving for two years in Guatemala. Although we are sad to leave our “homes” here, we are excited about getting back. Very excited. The long-awaited day has finally come.
We dance to the bathroom. After showers, last minute packing, and a quick rendition of YMCA, we are ready to roll. Galen and Lee, not looking quite as excited as the two of us, hop in the Mitsubishi van and we head to the airport.
We get there a little after six. Our flight leaves at 8:10. After saying good-bye to Galen and Lee, we enter, breeze through security, and start the hunt for the nearest McDonalds. We find it and order breakfast. We make a deal that we’re only allowed to talk Spanish until we get to San José, Costa Rica. After ordering, I make a comment in perfect English. We decide that there must be stakes. The person who says something in English the most times has to buy the other person lunch in San José.
We finish breakfast and head to our gate, arriving an hour before take-off. I start reading my book and Jason starts reading the Bible. We are sitting in chairs that overlook the runway, a short distance away from the rest of the people waiting to board our flight. My book is interesting. In the back of my mind I hear Spanish announcements. I pay no attention. I’m with Louie Zamperini in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I decide to stand up to see if they’ve started boarding. No one else is in the room. I look at the time on my computer. 7:51. Exactly nineteen minutes until take-off. We rush to the desk and show our boarding passes. We enter the plane and see that everyone is already seated. We decide to pay more attention next time.
We arrive at SJC airport on time without any problems. The only minor problem was when the guy next to me gave me two pieces of gum. I offered one to Jason in perfect English. With that minor mistake, I was offering to buy him lunch as well.
We get off the plane and go through security again. We enter what will be our home for the next seven hours. Since our flight is too far in the future to even appear on the board, we walk until we can no longer walk, and then we sit down. Glad for SJC’s free WIFI, we check Facebook and email, but are completely bored after the first hour. I continue reading my book while Jason sleeps. I start to get hungry. I don’t want to wake Jason up, but I also don’t what to starve. I wake Jason up.
“Let’s go get something to eat.”
“Sounds like a plan.” He says.
We walk to the food court and KFC looks appealing to both of us. I soon realize what a mistake it was to offer Jason gum in English. 24.50 American dollars for two meals. I am not in Guatemala anymore. Despite the pain of the price of the food, it is excellent. Just what we need. After finishing our food, we go get refills. We pull up two chairs and watch the tail end of a soccer game. Anything to kill time.
It is now 1:30 PM. Although 4:55 is getting closer, it is certainly taking its time. I soon don’t like the aftertaste of KFC chicken in my mouth and we look for a store that sells gum. We find one, and I go up to the counter to pay.
“4, 500 colones,” the man behind the counter tells me, “Or 4.40 American.”
Since I don’t even know what a colón is, I decide to pay with dollars. I give him four dollars and fifty cents. He hands me a 50 colones coin. I look at the coin for three seconds, before thanking the man and walking away.
At least I now know what a colón is. I tell myself.
We make our way toward the nearest flight board and notice that our flight is now there. Gate four. We excitedly walk in the direction that we came from. We finally have a heading. After walking for two minutes, I notice a sign that reads “Gates 6-10 ahead.”
Wait a second. The gate numbers are going up.
I look back. I see a large “4” not 5 meters from the flight board we had just come from.
“Maybe it’s good we have seven hours.” I tell Jason.
We arrive at Gate 4 to see that another flight has to leave before our plane even arrives. We notice a sign that says “Gate 4A and 4B” with arrows pointing to a staircase.
“Maybe it’s down there,” says Jason.
“Maybe,” I say, “and even if it’s not we should still go down there.”
We make our way down the stairs to find a room full of chairs. There are two “boarding desks” and an elevator but not a single person. 

(If you wish to watch a video of Jason and I killing time in this room... CLICK HERE)

We decide to hang out there for a while. A little peace and quiet can’t hurt. The WIFI connection is a little better down there and we start watching the first episode of The Amazing Race Canada.
Jason periodically goes upstairs to our gate to see what’s going on. He comes back every time with the same answer.
“No one is even at the desk.”
We get a little carried away with The Amazing Race. The first team is about to reach the mat when I check the time. 4:25. Exactly thirty minutes until take-off.
“How did that happen?” I ask Jason.
“I don’t know!” he replies, “It was three something ten minutes ago.”
We gather together our things and rush upstairs to hear our names being announced over the PA system. We walk right onto the plane. Besides us, there are only 22 passengers.
After 10 minutes, the Jetway backs away from the plane. Jason is two rows behind me on this flight. How they couldn’t get us beside each other on a plane with 180 seats and 24 passengers remained a mystery, but we decide to move beside each other after take off.
We wait.
We hear a voice come crackling over the plane’s PA system.
“Um… we’re having a few problems with the computers up here. We’re um… trying to reset them, but uh… they aren’t resetting.”
Oh no. I think. This is way too much like the last time I came home for Christmas.
I tell God that I’d really like to fly home today.
The captain says something about being in contact with the mechanics in Toronto. I envision myself and Jason stranded in Costa Rica for Christmas. A two-year-old girl is whining behind me. I try to sleep. I hear the girl say “BOO!” awfully close to my ear. I hear her mother say, “You can’t play 'boo' with just anyone. Some people don’t like to play 'boo'.” I smile, but I’m soon annoyed again by a ten-year-old girl who is jumping in the aisle next to my seat. I look back a Jason. He’s fast asleep. I start to worry. They roll the Jetway back to the plane’s door.
Here we go. We’re going to deplane. I’m going to spend Christmas in Costa Rica, far away from Jasmine and my family.
A guy wearing a bright, greenish-yellow vest walks onto the plane and into the cockpit. I overhear a flight attendant saying she’s doesn’t know what’s going on, but “Whatever happens, happens.”
She mentions that Christmas in Costa Rica could be fun. I try to sleep instead of worry. A flight attendant offers me water. I accept, and drink it down right away, trying to calm my nerves. Jason is still fast asleep. He would later ask, “So how long were we delayed, anyway?” Sometimes, I dislike that guy.
It is now 6:10, a full hour after scheduled departure. I move from my window seat to the aisle seat, hoping to see what is going on in the front of the plane. The man with the yellow vest comes out of the cockpit. He has a huge smile on his face and gives us two thumbs up.
“We fixed it. The computers reset.”

The twenty-three passengers give him a round of applause (Jason was still asleep at this point). I thank God for caring about me, and in five minutes, we are taxiing down the runway. Minutes later, we are airborne. We are headed to Canada. As the lights of San José get dimmer and farther away, I think about Guatemala…

One day, one of my students took me back a long dirt road to some land that his grandpa owned. We climbed a nearby hill and had an amazing view of Petén ranching country.

We weren't finished with the new ping pong table but we were itching to play ping pong. 
The new ping pong table.

Myself with the volleyball buddies. As a farewell gift, they gave me a green jacket and pants. They made me try them on right away, then wanted a picture. 

We had hamburgers after my last volleyball game. 
Jason grilled them.

Vacation Bible School 2014. 
My group of boys at VBS
 ...I can almost not comprehend the fact that my time in Guatemala is over for now. Two years. In the past two years, I have learned so much. 
As I stare out the plane's window into the blackness, I smile. It was sad to leave Guatemala. It was sad to leave all the people that have meant so much to me these past two years. 
I'm glad God called me to Guatemala, I think to myself. 
I feel the plane start its decent. The flight attendants come around with forms to be filled out. The plane drops steadily. I can barely sign the form because the plane is moving around so much. I look outside. I see clouds and snow.
We must be getting close.
As the plane gets lower, the turbulence gets worse. For the first time, an airplane’s seatbelt is actually very necessary. I feel like I’m not a roller coaster, but with a higher chance of dying. Finally, the plane drops beneath the clouds and we see a beautiful view of the lights of Toronto. We are close.
I start to feel very excited.
The plane lands and taxies to the gate. Jason and I are fourth off the plane, but we get to the baggage claim long before anyone else.
Not remembering having heard the carousel number for the luggage on our flight. We go from carousel to carousel, looking for our flight number. Since there are many carousels, we decide to see if it tells us where ours is on a screen. We walk over. As I’m scanning the screen, I hear…
Two men dressed in airport uniforms are sitting below the screen.
“Five?” I ask.
“Five,” the man tells me.
I suddenly realize that these men probably just watched us walk up and down the carousels, looking for ours.
We head to carousel five. Our bags are already there. We breeze through customs. We see the automatic sliding double doors ahead.
“Jason,” I say, “Our family is going to be waiting outside those doors.”
We pause for five seconds, just savoring the moment.
We go through the doors. Our family is there waiting.
Hugs, laughter, and smiles.
It feels so good to be home. We walk back to where the van is parked. I say good-bye to Jason, and thank him for accompanying me.
We drive home. It’s Christmas.
I feel slightly sad about leaving Guatemala, slightly scared about adjusting to life in Canada, but mostly excited about what God has in store for me in the next chapter.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Love Your Enemies

I’m not sure if you noticed or not, but last Monday, I didn’t put any new videos on YouTube. Due to technical difficulties, I wasn’t able to do so until today. But here it is… CLICK HERE!! Enjoy!

Monday, 3 November 2014

"I'm About to be the Second"

It’s November 3rd. It’s hard to believe but my time in Guatemala is all but finished. I have mixed feelings about that. Here is what has been happening in the past few months.

In A Nutshell…

The month of August went by quickly, just like every other month of the year except July. I was planning on writing all about the Básico school trip that we were planning to take in August. Yup, were planning… as in we were planning on going but it didn’t happen. What happened was this. There needed to be at least twenty students going on the trip because too few students meant not enough money to cover the expenses. Every student took a permission sheet home with them to give to their parents. The parents are the ones who decide if the students are allowed to go or not. Due to bad grades, finances, and other reasons, twenty students weren’t allowed to go. That only left seventeen students with permission. Since we needed at least twenty to be able to go, we didn’t go at all. That decision left everyone a little disappointed; those who had permission because they couldn’t go, and those who didn’t have permission because they “lost” a potential three-day break. So, instead of a break, we had classes, and it was good. So, since the trip didn’t happen, I will try to bring you up to date with all that has been happening in the past weeks months.
"Look what you can do with a pop can and water!" says Ricky to his students 
Then they did this
…and this
…and even this.
One day for "home ec" class the students made a meal for five different teachers. I got ribs. 
On the very last day of August, our church had a special service in the evening. Due to what we had been hearing about persecuted Christians in Iraq and Ukraine, we decided to have a “secret service” (nothing to do with the guys who protect the president). To understand a little more what they go through, we had the evening church service in Benj’s new house, outside of El Chal. Bringing a bible or songbook was prohibited. Throughout the previous week, different families memorized passages from the Bible so that we could hear the Word of God without actually reading from the Bible. At the end of the service, all the “leaders” of the congregation (Stephan, Douglas, Aron, Benj, and Juan) left, while the rest of had a closing prayer. Stephan had explained that Police always target the leaders of the church, and many churches have meetings with only the women and children, because the men have been arrested. After prayer, Doug’s son Caleb came up to me and said, “Mi papá no está” (My dad’s not here). I thought of what it would be like for a two-year-old in Ukraine. He asks the same question, but may never see his dad again. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like.  The service was a unique experience that reminded us how important it is to pray for those Christians being persecuted.

The next week, a group from our church went to Santa Rosita. I was included in the group, as well as Samuel, Doug and Kris, Caleb, Karen, and Elizabeth. We left at noon on Saturday, and arrived in time to go fishing that evening. I’ve never been a very big fan of fishing. I’ve caught one fish in my entire life. It was a perch about 13 cm long, and three other people helped me reel it in. I am not a pro fisherman, or anything of the sort, but I actually had fun fishing this time. A Guatemalan named Axel went with us and brought his net. He stood on the front (Bow? Stern? Helm? Plank? Hull? Sail? …I should have paid more attention in that “Parts of a ship” lesson) of our boat and repeatedly tossed his net into the river. He was quite successful. In about 20 minutes, he caught about 15 fish. That is my kind of fishing; none of this waiting around stuff. Plus, this way, you’re going after the fish instead of waiting for the fish to come to you. I was secretly hoping that Axel wouldn’t be able to catch anything so that I could tell him to cast his net on the other side, but he started hauling in fish right away. The following Monday, we had a nice little fish dinner. On Sunday afternoon, after the morning service, we were relaxing on the porch of the mission house in Santa Rosita. Craig was lying in the hammock. I noticed that the hammock was rather large and looked very comfortable. Since he was only taking up half of it. I decided to occupy the other half. Samuel then decided to occupy the small amount space that was in-between us. A short while later, Douglas came outside and managed to get himself on the hammock as well. After that, the rope that was holding the hammock up only put up with the 750+ pounds that it was holding for about ten more seconds. Before we knew it, the rope had broken and the four of us were lying in a heap on the porch floor. I imagine we looked quite ridiculous. It was funny for everyone, except for Caleb, who was quite traumatized by the whole thing. Douglas commented later that the hammock committed a foul deserving at least a yellow card, (and maybe even red) but the referee said, “Play on.”
Fish supper (before)

Fish supper (after)

The next weekend was Independence Day weekend for Guatemala. The actual holiday is the 15th of September, but our school celebrated the Friday before. For some reason, they made me lead the national anthem at the celebration. I’m not sure if it was an honor or a punishment. It was slightly embarrassing, since I didn’t know quite all of the words. Before you get all critical, you should know that it is long. There are four verses, and the whole thing takes over five minutes to sing. After the national anthem had been sung, and the national symbols had been presented, there were some other activities. There was a sack race, a three-legged race, a toad race, water balloon volleyball, and even a triathlon (with an obstacle course instead of swimming). Edix won first place in that event.   

For most of the month of September, the básico students and I spent the drama classes working on making movies. The seventh grade students worked on the story of Carlos and loving your enemies while the students from eighth and ninth grades worked on a the story of Stephan from the bible. Everyone had a lot of fun, and although it was a lot of work, it was worth it. We hope that the students learned something besides how to have fun.
Licha beards

At the end of September, a group from El Chal went to Los Achotes, a small church on the other side of the capital, for Eduardo’s baptism. Eduardo is a brother to Aura, one of the nurses here, and has visited us in El Chal a number of times. We left on Saturday (Sept 27th) and headed for Los Achotes. We stopped for lunch at a mall in Chiquimula. Chiquimula has to be one of the most fun words to say, and they have a McDonalds. That puts it right up to third on my favourite Guatemalan cities list. Edix is from Chiquimula, so he was telling me all about it. A few hours later, once we were getting fairly close to our destination, my navigators sent me down the wrong road, and we lost about twenty minutes. I gave Edix a hard time for this mistake, since he was holding the map and this was his homeland. But he was actually an excellent navigator. He’s also good at letting the driver know when it’s safe to pass or not. And just because there’s a hill or a curve ahead, it doesn’t mean it’s not safe to pass. He also told me to “Put it in fifth! Put it in fifth!” at exactly the right time. We got to our destination at around 7:00. Eduardo’s mom served us an incredible meal of tamales. After supper, Lucio, Samuel, Edix, Hubener, and I drove the half hour drive to Oratorio, which is where Samuel is from. I had never been there, but Douglas likes to make fun of its size and how advanced it is, so I had made fun of it plenty as well. Upon arriving, I realized that it was not a “normal” town. Because of its location, (a valley surrounded by hills) a straight level street does not exist in Oratorio. It was a little bigger than I was expecting, so I had to take back some of the jokes I had made without actually ever seeing it. On Sunday, to get from one house to another, we had to drive through a soccer field while a match was being played. So there is a reason for some of the jokes. After the service on Sunday, we ate a wonderful meal of chicken and rice at Samuel’s house. After lunch, we headed back to Los Achotes for the baptism. There were quite a few people packed into the small church building. Victor Ovalle had the message, which was nice, because I hadn’t had the opportunity to hear him preach before. They tell me that he is somewhat of a MAM legend. After the service, which was successful, we were served a snack of tostadas and cake. The next morning, Craig helped me drive the El Chal group back to El Chal. We got back around 1:00 Monday afternoon, just in time for my music class.
One of the streets in Oratorio
Coca-Cola got us through all those "exam" nights.

The month of October went by very quickly. The last day of school was on October 17th, and the two weeks leading up to that day were filled with making exams, preparing for exams, doing exams, marking exams, and giving back exams. It was a relief to hand back their report cards and exams and send them out the door. It was a relief, but at the same time, it was kind of sad. I miss my students. For part of the devotional that morning, we watched the movies that they had made during the last quarter of the year. They did an incredible job with the acting. I am quite proud of them. Another thing I did on the last day of school was give them each something of mine that I thought they might like. My water bottle, a jack knife, and other things of the sort. My personal favourite was a Canada t-shirt signed by me. That one was the hardest to give away. Those who had the best attendance this year got to choose first, and each student took something home with them. I don’t know how thrilled they were with my great idea, but I least they all have something to remember me by.
My students offered to sign my shirt so that I'd have something to remember them by. I figured, "Why not?" Then I found out from Seño Enma (the principle) that we don't do that at Árbol de Vida. Whoops.

On the evening of November 2nd, we had our final program. The students sang a number of songs that they had learned this year. Later, each student was given his or her certificate saying they had passed. Douglas received the teacher of the year reward. He preferred calling it the MVP award. So now that the final program is over, that means the 2014 school year is officially over. It was a blast
Last day of the school term. So happy and full of life.
Edix, who won first place, is giving his speech.


>>The video projects. Although directing a group of 37 15-year-olds is not always the most fun thing I can think of to do, I had a lot of fun working with my students on the last project of this school year. It helps that my students are such good actors.
>>Going to Santa Elena for Samuel’s birthday. Samuel is now 22! For his birthday Lucio, Edix and I took him out for lunch and fun in Santa Elena. It was going to be lunch and fun and tennis, but the tennis court was occupied.  
Group picture! Yes. That's real sky in the background.

Not so Highlights…

>>Almost breaking my finger. While playing soccer, I slipped and fell (or did I trip and fall?) and bent my finger in such a way that it still hurts to this day.   
>>Expensive mistake. Due to the need for more projectors on the last day of school, Douglas borrowed one from a friend. I tried using it with my computer, but there were issues, so we decided to trade with the teacher who was using the school’s. When I turned the borrowed projector off, I heard a really loud pop. Apparently, there were sparks as well. That projector will never project again, but the memory of buying another one on eBay will remain with Douglas and me for a little while yet.   

Top Quotes…

“Don’t answer it. It’s not important because it’s not me calling you.” – Douglas (When I got a phone call while I was with him on the motorcycle)

“Once, there was a shepherd who had 100 sheep. 99 of them got lost. Wait… how does this story go?” – Victor Ovalle

In a taxi in Guatemala City…
Stephan: It’s pretty cold here. This might be the first year that it snows in Guatemala city for Christmas.
Taxi driver: I hope not. Apparently, a 30-year-old woman has died of hypothermia. She’s the first to die from the cold this year.
Kevin: (Shivering in the back without a sweater) I’m about to be the second.

“The guy who invented Linux says that Windows isn’t evil… they just make lousy operating systems. I, however, am not so convinced that Windows isn’t evil.” – Steve

WOW from Ricky…

>>When travelling to the city from El Chal, always bring a sweater. Always.

>>If you want two months to go by really fast, try finishing up a school year.

>>If there’s a dead mouse in the house, it’s going to stink.

More to Add…

Today my friend Chris Mullet is coming to Guatemala to visit me. Also, I’m planning on hanging out with my cousin Anthony today since we’re both in the city. It should be splendid! Also, the videos that my students made will be posted on YouTube later today! I will be posting a link as soon as I can.