Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Touch Wood ... Everything is Going Well Right Now.

At the moment, no one is pregnant (fingers crossed) and everyone seems to be doing well in school. Astrid is starting to sound like an American when she speaks English.  Denis, who was once written off by two different schools, produced the best grades of anyone, an 88 point average.  Astrid was trying to earn a smart phone with all eighties but missed by one 78.  She is now more determined than ever. Mishelle, six in a couple of weeks, is swimming from one end of the pool to the other while her older brother, Cris, seven, is not yet quite as brave.  Mishelle will start the first grade in January but has already demonstrated her reading skills in both Spanish and English at a recent parent event at school.

Mishelle, 5, and Astrid, 14, at a fund raising event in March.

Diego's grades weren't bad considering that he is only in year two of learning English and also in his second year of being in a decent school.  His lowest grade was 47 in science but when asked what his favorite subject was he cited science.  When I questioned how he got his lowest grade in his favorite subject he reminded me that the science class was all in English.  We all now laugh when we hear someone say "qué dijo?" (what did she or he say) as they struggle with English and I am certain I won't live long enough to really master Spanish.

Diego, 11, trying out a water slide.

Cris recently got to go on an overnight camping trip with fellow students and teachers.  The group hiked into a camping area on the side of the volcano Agua and toasted marshmallows and told stories over the campfire.  One teacher made huevos rancheros for the group for breakfast. Mishelle is already looking forward to going next year.

Very pleased with themselves after jumping off the deep end
and swimming to their instructors.

My biggest challenge at the moment is to get Guatemalan passports for Denis and Astrid.  As they are still minors it is required that both parents be present at the passport office in Guatemala City.  Since "papa" remains unavailable and after three visits and three denials we are a bit stumped.  I have paid an attorney to draw up a document which Alex signed revoking his parental rights and giving the two permission to have passports and travel.  Clearly, what is missing is the necessary bribe.  This is Guatemala after all.  The last attempt resulted in Estela being challenged by the hombre behind the counter who snarled at her "how do I know that you are not going to take the children away from their father?"  Their father the convicted kidnapper and rapist who shows little if any interest in his children. The father whom the children have no interest in ever seeing again.

It is likely I will have to engage my own immigration attorney who will be able to make us all an appointment with the head of immigration and also knows which palms to grease to get these kids passports so that they can see a bit of the world.

Jackie, the 18-year old mother, has learned a very, very hard lesson.  Her fatherless son is now seven months old and is adored by his aunt and uncle and grandmother.  He is robust, healthy and appropriately curious.  Jackie tends to Liam and also her studies and that is about all that her life is about at age 18.  She will not get pregnant again anytime soon unless the required (to continue school) IUD should fail.  She is on track to graduate from high school this fall, the first in her family.  And hopefully shortly after that she will be gainfully employed and will be able to support her son.

A very curious Liam, 8 months, with his Aunt Astrid.

Most days I think these six kids will have a chance to leapfrog out of poverty but other days I worry that I am setting them up for a future that may not exist in their country.  Am I bringing them along to believe in the "American dream" which does not exist in Guatemala (and is declining in the US) or will Guatemala move forward, poco and poco and meet them halfway?  They are all in better than average schools and are speaking English at varying levels. Their decent schools assume that they have internet and computers and printers at home.  The 1 or so% seem totally ignorant of the fact that internet scarcely exists in the villages where these kids live on the other side of the digital divide.

Astrid and Diego have shown a lot of interest in music so I schlepped a keyboard from the US on a recent trip.  The two started Saturday music classes in Antigua and seem to be making great progress. Denis, much to my surprise, had signed up for guitar classes at a nearby community center.  He didn't even have a guitar but I managed to borrow one from some friends.  One afternoon I came into the house and heard someone playing scales on the keyboard, in different keys even.  I assumed that it was either Astrid or Diego practicing but I found Denis instead.  He proudly demonstrated his skill at playing scales in different keys.  Puzzled, I asked him how he had learned to do that.  He turned around and showed me his laptop sitting on a nearby bed running an instructional YouTube video.

The real miracle is that all of these kids are starting to think for themselves and I thank all of their schools for that.  Creative thinking is a skill not enjoyed by the majority in Guatemala, certainly not by those working in the immigration department.

For those of you who have asked for a flow chart of who belongs to whom below is the best I can do within the blog format.

Jackie, 18. father is Alex, mother is Estela .... she is the mother of Liam, 8 months, father ??????
Denis, 17, father is Alex, mother is Estela
Astrid, 14, father is Alex, mother is Estela

Diego, 11, father is a mystery man, mother is Marielos
Cristofer, 7, father is Alex, mother is Marielos
Mishelle, 5, father is Alex, mother is Marielos

There are at least a couple of others whom Alex has fathered.  Gladly, I do not know their mothers.  In spite of what Marielos thinks Alex did have a vasectomy when she was pregnant with Mishelle and another woman was also pregnant with another one born a month after Mishelle. Yes, rabbits.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sanity, Mine and Theirs????


In the end Marielos's intravenous "vitamin" treatment had the desired effect.  You may recall that she spent a week or so in the public hospital after her vitamin intake threatening to miscarry, which did not happen.  Still pregnant she took to her bed with what appeared to be clinical depression and left the care of her children, once again, to others.  She gave up the only job she had ever had at Cris and Mishelles school.

We all pitched in and maintained the routine for the three as best we could.  The family chattered endlessly about what to do with Marielos.  Gladly her mother talked so fast that I didn't catch most of her complaints but I too wondered why this twenty-nine year old couldn't tell the truth about anything, keep herself from getting pregnant or earn enough money to feed and clothe the kids she already had.  All she did was sleep and eat her mother told me. "What are we going to do with another baby?" she wailed.

Gladys, Marielos's older sister thanked me for having the psychologist elicit the truth about the baby's paternity.  So, the father was either, as Marielos reported the nineteen-year old kid in the market or, as everyone else reported, some old guy in the market.  Or someone else entirely but most certainly not Alex.

Boys being boys, Diego and Denis, in Rio Dulce

In late November and early December a trip to the eastern part of Guatemala and the Caribbean coast with Denis, Astrid and Diego gave the latter a break from his parenting duties.  A week or so later Denis and Diego had the thrill of their life (as did many of the adults) by joining a helicopter visit to a recently discovered archeological site in the northern Petén region.  I have discovered that when Diego is really happy he sings.  En route back from La Corona Diego was the co-pilot and entertained us all by singing into our headphones. 


Diego, the singing co-pilot.

Shortly thereafter along with my visiting nephew and the younger three we traveled up several thousand feet to a Christmas tree farm where it was cold enough to make one believe they were not in the tropics.  Hot chocolate, grilled chorizo, blue corn tortillas and guacamole all tasted pretty good while the tree was tied to the top of my car.

Cris and nephew, John, at the Christmas tree farm.

Mishelle warming up with hot chocolate, chorizo and tortillas.

The week before Christmas I received a text message that Marieloss baby had died and that she was in a private clinic in nearby Ciudad Vieja.  I went to the clinic where the story was confirmed. Marielos was in labor and receiving medication to speed the process.  I left, as there was nothing I could do.  It was to be a very unpleasant waiting game which I hoped might convince her to pursue birth control going forward.

Later that evening a call came from one of Marielos's sisters saying that she needed to be moved to a hospital for surgery.  Off I went collecting their father along the way.  I had to show him how to use the seatbelt to keep the buzzer in the car from sounding. The small clinic was overrun by family members; each sister gave me a different story.  She had to go to a private hospital.  She had to go to the public hospital.  Finally, I was able to find a doctor, a European woman, who knew exactly what she was doing and was likely, more competent than any other doctor in the area.  She told me that Marielos was in no danger, that things were progressing as expected and that the best thing I could do would be to take all of the family members except Gladys home.  She further told me that Marielos seemed to be terrified of going back to the public hospital, which is how she came to be in the clinic.  I didnt have time to enlighten the woman about the fact that Marielos was likely fearful of legal action as no doubt the public hospital knew exactly why she had threatened to miscarry a couple of months earlier. 

I packed everybody off and the next morning Marielos went home after delivering the deceased fetus.  Gladys assured everyone that she personally would see that Marielos was relieved of her ability to conceive as soon as it was feasibly possible.  I wonder.  The family rabbit. 

Christmas was, as usual, a great success.  The three younger children received bicycles.  Cristofer has asked for one with those little wheels. Diego received a cheap tablet which he is using to study music theory which he can access without internet at home using a $35 computer called a Raspberry Pi (google it) and offline educational content from www.worldpossible.org.  Denis and Astrid received cameras to augment their old iPad1s and Jackie an iPad mini so that she can document the life of her son with photos and videos.  A few days after Christmas I asked Diego who carries his tablet everywhere with him what he was using it for the most.  Music, he replied, mostly Beethoven.

Baby Liam's first Christmas.

The first week of January I sent Estela to the capital to get passports for Denis and Astrid.  She was denied twice because their father had not accompanied them.  The first time she was told to come again with a copy of Alexs prison sentence.  She went to the court and was told that, after two and a half years and several notices in the newspaper, he had not actually been sentenced.  His sentencing is scheduled to be April second.  Estela called immigration and explained that there was not yet a sentence and asked what else they would accept and the answer was a letter from the court indicating that Alex was incarcerated.  When she went the second time to immigration with the aforementioned letter she was again denied by a low level, power hungry, macho male bureaucrat who snarled at Estela, the childrens sole support, and said how do I know that you are not going to take the children away from their father?  Their father the kidnapper and rapist.  The same father who had been given a passport with no questions asked so that he could abandon all of his children and go to the United States. Sure I get it.  Makes complete sense to me. 

Estela went back to court and was referred to a family law attorney who told her that she would need to have Alex to sign over custody of the two minor children and advised her to go to the prison and ask him if he would sign the necessary document.  Of course he would sign as he never really cared about his children anyway or he would not be where he is.

That same day, coincidentally, Alex called my house and left two messages by the time Estela had returned from court.  He called again and reported to Estela, the mother of his eldest children that the woman he had left her for and who had just lost someone elses baby had come to see him the previous Tuesday.  He said that Marielos had insisted that the baby was his and that she had lost it because of his operation, his vasectomy six years prior.  This story is true; it is not fiction. 

Very reluctantly, Estela dragged an unwilling Denis along, and found her way to the infamous prison in zone 18.  Alex agreed to sign away his parental rights and, in the course of the brief visit, told Estela that he believed that Marieloss baby was his.  I put my money on the fact that his belief was about nothing more than the prospect of another conjugal visit.  And further that she had promised to put her two youngest children, who scarcely remember Alex, through a visit to him in prison, which Estela reported was one of the scariest places she has ever been.  She had been told that Denis could only visit for fifteen minutes and then he had to go somewhere with the guards but that she could stay.  She was smart enough not to let Denis out of her sight and limited her own visit to fifteen minutes.  She reported that the place was overrun with obvious gang members covered with tattoos and body piercings and that Alex seemed quite at home there. 

I guess I would rather not know what risks Marielos subjects her five-year old daughter to during her conjugal visits. 

So, I no longer question the sanity of Alex or Marielos but my own has come into serious question.  Am I throwing money down a rat hole by paying to educate Marieloss kids?  Can I possibly overcome the influence of an incarcerated felon father and a sociopathic mother who cant keep her knees together?  Should I just cut my losses and run?  But if I run what happens to Diego who wants to write computer code and listen to Beethoven?  Since Alex is not his father (nor is anyone else) at least he doesnt have to go and see him in prison. 

On a recent trip to the beach I had a chance to talk to Marielos.  She is the third child of seven children, the last two twins, which might explain why her mother has a drinking problem.  However, of the seven, Marielos is the only one without at least a primary school education, the only one with illegimate children and the only one with a penchant for felons.  Diegos birth father was reportedly assassinated because of his kidnapping activities.  The rest of them seem fairly sane which might well explain why the children are doing reasonably well.  They are, in reality, being raised by the extended family in spite of their biological parents.

Diego started the new school year on Monday and was thrilled that he was allowed to skip fourth grade and go into fifth.  He likes his teachers and has friends in class.  His favorite class, once again, is robotics and he said that they are allowed to listen to music while doing math problems. He takes the chicken bus to school and I collect him in the afternoons.  Arrangements have been made for some tutoring and homework assistance so that he wont have to rely on his family to help him with homework.  At eleven he is an old soul, all grown up in many ways. He likely feels much more mature than his mother.  He takes his parenting duties of Cris and Mishelle very seriously.  I enjoy giving him a break now and then and seeing the child inside of Diego emerge.  Today was Cristofers birthday and I had asked Diego to find out what he would like for his birthday.  The answer was a remote controlled car.  As I had a meeting I sent Estela to the store with Diego and told Diego that he, not me, was to give the gift to his brother.  He was very excited that he had a gift for Cris. 

So, sane or not, I will likely continue on the same course as long as I see forward momentum.  I no longer have any hope at all for Marielos but I do think that what I am doing is important to her extended family as well as to the kids.  Together we may be able to make a difference in the childrens lives and through the course of their education they will hopefully see that there is a better way. 

Now that everyone is back in school they are seeing better ways and better people.  They are out of the market, which seems to be the only life their mother knows.  Will Gladys succeed or will Marielos soon be pregnant yet again?  Will she be able to convince Alex one more time that his vasectomy causes miscarriages?  Will she take up with another potential felon? Will her family put her out of the street as she feared before?  


Can these three rise above their DNA?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

His name is José

Marielos had asked me to pick up all the children one Tuesday afternoon.  She had a story about being on an IV all day receiving "vitamins" from a nurse. A few days later she was in the hospital threatening to miscarry.  My suspicion is that, whatever happened vitamins were not involved and the "nurse" was really a midwife skilled in both delivering and not delivering babies.

Despite having my fingers crossed Marielos was discharged after five days still pregnant.  During those five days I had the chance to re-connect with her fairly sensible older sister, Gladys. I asked Gladys if Marielos had told her family that Alex, with a six-year old vasectomy, was the father of her baby.  She laughed and said "yes." 

Again I was witnessing something remarkable in that, with a crisis at hand, Gladys had moved her three kids back into the home of her parents and was caring for all six children.  She got all six off to school and then filled in for Marielos so that she wouldn't lose her cleaning job. As a result there was little disruption for the children who, in reality, and thankfully, have a multitude of parents.

Once Marielos had recovered from whatever happened at the hospital the day of reckoning was at hand. Olga, the psychologist, had an appointment at my house with Diego.  I had told her that I would pay for one more appointment for Marielos to see if we could impress upon her the importance of telling the truth if for no one else's sake but Diego's. After Olga's meeting with him I shepherded Diego upstairs where Cristofer was watching the video "Pinocchio".

I sat in on the conversation between Marielos and Olga and when the opportunity presented itself told Marielos that it was time that she told, at least, her eldest son the truth about his pending sibling.  I was surprised at her level of resistance.  I countered with the fact that I had paid for Alex's vasectomy, that I knew that he had gone back for two re-checks and carried a "no sperm" certificate.  I told her that I was not going to support the child regardless of whose it was. She continued to resist and only when I said that she had been seen in a car with an hombre did she start to crumble. 

First he was twenty (she is twenty-nine) then he became nineteen and even had a name.  His name is "José."  She then talked about her fear of telling her family whom she expected would put her out on the street. And why shouldn't they except for the children.

I then realized that behind many of the lies that we gringos find so objectionable is often abject terror.  The desperate live their lives every day so very close to the edge so why not tell a lie even if it only works for a few minutes?

Marielos is quite obviously clinically depressed as a result of way too many bad decisions.  I suspect Diego's angst is about being denied his childhood and being pushed into the role of parent way too young.  At least with this next one he will be in school and Marielos will need to care of it herself.

Otherwise, Jackie, the child mom seems to be doing a decent job with her offspring who still is not official with a birth certificate because she can't decide whether or not to add the father's name.  Reports are that he screams a lot and I have pointed out repeatedly that he needs to be stimulated, that he is bored.  Custom tells them that it is OK to leave him lying on his back in a dark room staring at the ceiling.  They are stunned when I pick him up and walk outside with him and he stops crying.  They are stunned that, at not quite three months, that he is fascinated by my cockatiels (birds), that he responds when people talk to him and that, given the opportunity he is reaching for things.  Estela, mother of three, is amazed at his development which seems quite normal to me.    Estela is certain that he is a genius. I explained that he needs to use his senses so that his brain develops.  For Jackie's birthday I bought a baby seat with things hanging from it so that he doesn't have to be lying on his back staring at the ceiling.  Reports are that he is reaching for and playing with the hanging things.


The younger two, Cris and Mishelle, seem oblivious to the travails of their mother.  They get along amazingly well and much of the time are laughing together.  Along with Diego they are taking swimming lessons during their school vacation.  Their mother, a non-swimmer, came once to watch and the following week neither wanted to go as mom had instilled her fear of swimming in them.  So they sat out while Diego got to swim for two hours. The owner of their school had a talk with them and they are now back in the pool and can't wait to get there. Cristofer, the future comedian, who is always either smiling or talking, has had to learn to shut his mouth when he goes under water.


Diego, after less than a year of English, is using English first with me and seems to understand most everything.  After a year of getting no school credit as his only task was to learn English I trust that he will be back on track in the fifth grade in January.  I may consider moving him to the international school after another year of English.  As he and Astrid are good friends they could provide support for each other.

Jackie and Denis both finished their school year successfully with good grades.  Jackie has one more year and will then be the first in her family to complete the equivalent of high school.  She will then pursue a teaching job which will require her to continue her education at the university level.  Accommodation is made here for those who need to work in order to study.  University classes are held all day on Saturdays.

In another year Denis will have completed basico or middle school.  Then he and I will decide if he continues for two more years to finish high school or whether he goes to a technical school to learn to become a mechanic, which is a very good job.  All the cars discarded years ago in the United States as being too old are running quite nicely here thanks to the skill of the mechanics.

Astrid continues to shoot for the moon.  She is in her third year at the international school where she has a large group of friends.  Last week she went to a birthday party for a boy in her class.  She told me that she had befriended him because others discriminated against him because they think he is gay.  She has a remarkable compassion for others which may be directly related to her roots.  Her best friend at school is also fatherless.  Her father was once a gang member who left the gang and achieved great success as a clown. His story was documented in a film after which his former gang members assassinated him.  She and her brother are being sponsored at the school by the filmmaker.  Astrid has shared the story of her father with her friend who, with her younger brother, are the only other students who ride the chicken bus to and from school.

Dental work for all is tapering off.  Diego has had the worst time.  He had teeth pulled, has two different retainers but will end up with straight teeth thanks to one of the world's greatest dentists.  Thankfully, it is all very affordable and he enjoys having help too.




No one has heard a word from Alex.  He hasn't called since Marielos found herself pregnant again. No one visits him that anyone knows of.  I hear that boredom is the hardest thing to bear in Guatemalan prisons.  It is hard to imagine how he is coping.  I wonder if anyone would even be notified if he were no longer living.  I have been told that the case (cases) against him are a matter of public record.  Somewhere I have his case number and one of these days I will go around and ask to see his file.  The day may come when the children might ask whatever happened to their father.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

New cell phone number for Marielos

Olga, the psychologist emailed and indicated that Marielos had something "muy serio" (very serious) to discuss with me and that she would be taking Diego's session the following Monday at my house.  I assumed that it was about money, that she was getting threats from some of those whom she owed.  As the children were all happily ensoncsed in my living room with various tech devices the three of us went into one of the bedrooms to talk.  I found myself thinking "anything but that you are pregnant again."  Almost immediately my worst fears were confirmed when, through tears, Marielos blurted out "I am pregnant."  And then to compound matters she had quite obviously convinced Olga that the imprisoned Alex, six years into a vasectomy was the father of the baby.  This new unwanted life was allegedly the result of her visit to the prison to tell Alex that she wouldn't be coming to see him anymore.  She had blamed me telling him that I would pull my support of the children if she continued to visit him. Not true and being made the fall guy made me a bit nervous in this land of little justice but I had decided that any excuse was OK.

No wonder Diego had been having issues with his mother.  And all this time I thought those television novelas were based on fiction.  I told my maid who was around when Alex had the vasectomy.  She indicated that Alex had gone back twice for re-checks and had been assurred by the doctors that he could never father another child.  Further she said that he had been issued a "sperm free" certificate.

Consequences are not something often considered at this socio-economic level.  Just say what is necessary at the moment. This is likely a result of growing up thinking that there may be no future as a result of dire poverty. Marielos has succeeded in destroying an already fragile relationship with Alex's older children. For once, their father is innocent.  Denis tells me that Diego is on the verge of leaving home. Estela has said that he could come and live with them.  She has always maintained the innocence of children and has always been willing to make room for one more, if necessary. "It would be good for Denis, " she told me.

I gave Diego some bus money to keep in his backpack along with my cell phone number just in case but I think his extended family will offer him the support he needs. I have not had the chance to confront Marielos as she spent a week in the hospital threatening to miscarry which, unfortunately, did not happen. She is now hiding out at home while her older, fairly sensible sister is filling in for her at work and in caring for her children. When I ask Gladys about Marielos she shakes her head and says "mas o menos." When I question whether she is referring to her head or her body she indicates both.  She agrees with me when I say that Marielos needs to tell the truth. She has even told her family that Alex is, miraculously, the father of the child she is carrying.

In the meantime Olga tells me that Diego is very angry with his mother.  He does not believe the baby is Alex's and questions how his mother can care for another child when she can't take care of the ones she has. A lot for a ten-year old to absorb.

As I had been asked to give a demonsration of both on and offline educational content to group of business people concerned about the shabby state of education in Guatemala, I decided to have Diego accompany me and run the computer.  He was a great success and went around the room helping people he might otherwise never have met to log on to the offline content from www.worldpossible.org running on a $35 device called a Raspberry Pi. I drove him home around 8:30pm and noticed that his face was glued to the car window.  I asked him if he had ever been in Antigua at night before and he said "no." Ten minutes from home a whole new world of people wandering around at night, having a good time. This is unknown in the villages for a number of reasons: poverty, lack of security, long work days and no place to go.

Diego, 10, showing business people how to access offline educational material

Jackie has returned to her studies and seems determined to succeed academically.  I think that her mother is making room for that one more innocent child.  Jackie turned up yesterday with Astrid looking and acting brighter than she has since prior to meeting up with her sperm donor.

Astrid is dreaming about a visit to the United States next summer at the invitation of my brother and his wife. She was overwhelmed to learn that it might be possible to visit the US legally, with papers. We shall see. Once she has a passport we will tackle the visa process.

Denis often doesn't say much but his wheels are apparently always turning.  I recently took him to visit an NGO sponsored school in a nearby community and asked him to take photos for me.  He has a very good eye for photography though is still lacking in some technical skills. On our way back to my house he asked me if I would be going back to that school and I told him that I would be in about a month's time. "Can I come?" he asked. I wondered what it was that had so intrigued him about the school. It might have been that much of their funding comes from the Manchester United Soccer team in the UK.

School of Hope by Denis Turuy

School of Hope by Denis Turuy

The littlest ones remain oblivious to the pending addition to their family.  They continue to thrive in school and show tremendous potential and I am hopeful that the behavior of their mother won't ultimately compromise their progress.

Little interest in television.

Mishelle, 5, showing the owner of her school her
favorite learn to read app, "Learning with Homer"

Diego and I have another gig to demonstrate how motivated kids can circumvent the government system and educate themselves at a minimum cost in hardware and no cost in software.  We are hopeful that one of these days Diego will be invited to demonstrate his "home schooling" to the Ministry of Education.  You might recall that Diego is receiving no school credit for this year as that was the deal we cut to get him enrolled in a bi-lingual private school.  Our goal through his "home schooling" and English tutoring is to have him be placed where he belongs at the start of the new school year in January.

So, the rainy season ends on October 15th according to the locals, the volcano Fuego never stops going off, school vacation (also the coffee picking season) starts in six weeks, earthquakes come when they may, eggs, vegetables and fish are delivered to the door, drama occurs with great regularity and travel is curtailed when the roads wash away. But all in all it makes each day an adventure.

A typical brief but serious September downpour.

Fuego doing its thing most any day.

Organic eggs delivered to the door.




Monday, August 26, 2013

It's a Baby!

So, the baby wait is over and all is well with the teen mom and the unsuspecting infant who, unknown to him, was born in the wrong place like so many others.  Every time I take out my tattered passport upon entering an airport I think what a difference that document has made in my life.  After a range of due dates from July 30th to September 27th the baby found the courage to face life as an yet another impoverished, fatherless Guatemalan on Thursday, August 22nd 2013.


The baby's name is Liam and something that I cannot pronounce and none of his relatives are able to spell it for me. Changes are still possible as he doesn't yet have a birth certificate. I understand his reluctance in opening his eyes. To be determined is whether his father's name will be added to the birth certificate.  To add his name acknowledges paternity and also leaves the sperm donor vulnerable to support demands (Estela's choice of course).  To leave that space blank with all that implies is not that uncommon in the region.  No one will bat an eye. Diego who, at 10, wants to learn to write computer code has a blank space on his birth certificate too. 

Estela is less than thrilled about finding herself with yet another child which is the harsh reality.  She gets teary eyed and says "I never wanted any more kids" which is the lament of many, many poor Guatemalan women.  Denis and Astrid are trying to ignore the whole thing though I think all three will warm up and adapt when Liam first smiles at them.

The new mother continues to study at a feverish rate (even requesting printouts from the internet five days after a Cesarian) and with any luck (and a lot of help from her mother) will gain her "bachillerato" (high school diploma) in another year.  With that in hand from a respected private school her job prospects will be greatly enhanced and, hopefully, then, she and Liam will be launched.

Denis continues to show enthusiasm for his studies and actually has a plan which involves learning how to be a mechanic and then working as one while he studies to be an engineer.  He is working on non-school days as an apprentice mechanic with a mechanic recommended by my occasional driver, Vinicio.  Vinicio is a rare, honest decent Guatemalan gentleman who has taken an interest in Denis.  So, three days a week Denis spends his days away from his estrogen loaded house in a man's world.  Good for him.  He loves it and recently stepped right up when a tire on my car was hopelessly flat.  Like men all over the world he declined to read the instructions so we eventually had to call in some reinforcements which helped him to get the job done.


Astrid, 13 and pushing 21, is on vacation from school as her school is on the US schedule. She is looking forward to doing ninth grade in (hopefully) the US on an exchange program.  She and Diego both go for English tutoring most afternoons and they have become great buddies.  Recently, I took Astrid to Lake Átitlan for a few days with the provision that we only speak English.  Though she had seen the lake once before when she was about 6 or 7 she was pretty dazzled and mentioned wanting to stay for a month.


The expectation in all of the private schools is that there is a computer at home possibly even with Internet access.  The older kids have an old beat up desktop with "Khan on a Stick" (courtesy of www.worldpossible.org) on it so they can watch the Khan Academy math and science videos offline.  The younger kids don't even have a television much less a computer at home.

Thus, with the help of some cheap refurbished laptops I have more or less turned my house into a cyber café.  The laptops have the kids' names written in masking tape on top.  They use the Khan Academy website in English and when they need an assist in Spanish know how to switch to the offline videos.  Diego just took one home for two weeks while I was out of the country.  His is loaded with KA Lite, the offline version of the Khan Academy website.  He is charged with the responsibility of helping his little brother, Cristofer, with KA Lite.  Cristofer, 6, is not yet in first grade but is already a math whiz.

Mishelle, 5, prefers an iPad for her tiny fingers but recently got into playing some offline educational games from World Possible with her brothers.  She had to use both hands to drag letters into place but I was pleasantly surprised that she could read the words, translate the words and then drag the letters into place.  Bravo to her school, Oxford Bilingual Educational Institute and Maria Montessori.


                                                        As for "papa" we recently had a meeting with a psychologist to discuss where papa is and why.  Cristofer acknowledged that "he is in jail" and offered, when asked why, "I think he is a robber".  He admitted that one schoolmate had asked him if his father was in jail and that he had told him "yes, it is true but don't tell anyone because it is a secret."  We told the two that they could just say that their father had gone away, that he had taken a trip.  "He is in Spain," Cristofer offered.

"Papa" was the furthest thing from their mind on a recent trip to the Pacific coast.  The journey included a 12 kilometer drive off road through a large farm.  The five (not the pregnant teen) hung out of the car windows marveling at the sugar came, cattle, pigs, chicken, geese and more along the way.  On his first ever view of the ocean Cristofer said "wow, where did it come from?"  Good question.


Marielos (mom #2) seems to be finally letting go of "papa."  She has a new cell phone number and no longer answers the old one.  Hispanics everywhere end relationships by tossing their sim chips in the trash and changing their cell phone numbers.  Marielos expressed a fair amount of disgust when I told her that Alex had, once again, called my house asking for money.  Estela told him that I wasn't home.  Marielos has been given her first ever job cleaning at Cris and Mishelle's school.  I credit that ego boost and the work with the psychologist in getting her closer and closer to trashing that old cell phone chip.