Sunday, May 17, 2015

No Más Corrupción!

Recently all of the children received their grades and Diego's were among the worst, which was quite a surprise as there is no question that he is quite bright. The teacher delivering the grades reported that he did not do his homework, did not participate in class and did not ask questions. Diego reported that he got very nervous when taking the exams, most of which he failed. Diego's math tutor, who found him an enthusiastic math student, was as puzzled as I was.

Diego, better at soccer than academics?

As I had, in the past, seen Diego have a meltdown when it was suggested that he was not performing to standard, rather than get stern with him I probed a bit. I suspected that feeling responsible for his mother and siblings at the tender age of twelve had left him with a fear of failure that was getting in his way. I called in the psychologist who had, a year or so ago, tried to work with Diego's mother, Marielos. That relationship had ended when we all realized that Marielos was constantly lying to the psychologist in an attempt to manipulate things in her favor.

It took Olga, the psychologist only two sessions to discover that Diego was having trouble concentrating at school because he had been told that his grandmother who owned the home that nine of them live in was going to sell it to pay debts. Probably in an attempt to manipulate me Diego had been told that they would have to live in the street. Once Marielos discovered that Olga was working with Diego she started calling Olga in yet another attempt to twist things into economic gain for herself. Olga and I quickly concluded that Marielos, likely directed by Alex in prison, would stop at nothing and was using her own child in yet another attempt to get money out of me.

Olga and I both assured Diego that he was not ever going to live on the streets, that if the family home was sold we would then deal with the problem. I reminded him that Estela had offered to take the children if it came to that. A text message conversation with Gladys, Marielos's older sister, confirmed that the house would be sold to pay debts. Gladly, she said that this was not my problem and the family was grateful for the help I was giving the children. She added that they would all likely move into her house.

The ugly truth is that, as long as Alex lives, he will continue to scheme and use Marielos as his messenger. She is not smart enough to see what he is doing. When one scheme fails he simply develops a new one. She denies that there is an ongoing relationship but this country being a small town she has been seen at the prison on a regular basis on Wednesdays when her kids are at school and have been told that she is working in the market.

No doubt Alex has convinced her that he can go free only if she succeeds in extracting funds from me. After all this is Guatemala. Thus she holds me responsible for this lovely fellow convicted of kidnapping, rape, extortion and murder remaining in prison. If she were to succeed in stockpiling enough money for him to buy his freedom I have no doubt that this now very hardened felon would be gone from her life forever. I suspect that she is turning whatever paltry earnings she makes over to Alex rather than supporting her own children.

Most recently she talked her younger sister into trying to extract money from me ostensibly to help pay the mortgage payment for the about to be sold house. I declined as one must here or it will never, ever end. Only school expenses. Nothing more. Gladly, the sister whom I quite like apologized profusely for asking and said that she understood. Maybe she does but probably not.

So, plot they may, there will be no funds forthcoming. But I do need to be aware that Marielos has already shown that she is willing to compromise at least one of her children so I need to make sure that the children are not only supported but protected. I would not put it past either Alex or Marielos to arrange for a kidnapping if all their other schemes fail.

Demonstration in front of the National Palace May 16, 2015

Speaking of kidnapping on a more upbeat note a recent corruption scheme involving the highest levels of the Guatemalan government led to massive demonstrations yesterday around the country and even around the world against the ongoing corruption and lack of justice in the country. The vice-president has already resigned and the demonstrations yesterday called for the president to also resign. An estimated 60,000 turned out for the demonstration in Guatemala City undeterred by pouring rain. I made some signs and explained corruption to everyone at lunch and the younger kids agreed to go and participate in the Antigua demonstration. Today there is a lot of hope in Guatemala.

Soon they will know what they were demonstrating against.

And even more upbeat news is that Astrid, along with Tia Joan, flies to San Francisco on June 7th for what will be not only her first plane ride but an almost three-month stay in the United States. She has a very expensive passport as it was necessary to make a "contribution" to the now shaky government as her father, whose rights were paramount, was unavailable to grant his permission. Getting a ten-year visa to visit the United States was a walk in the park in comparison. The embassy didn't even ask about her father. 

Astrid will spend six weeks with a family in Portland, Oregon who rented my Antigua house some years ago and have a daughter the same age whom Astrid used to play with. She will then move on to my family in Reno, Nevada and mid-August I will collect her and bring her back to Guatemala via New York City and Washington, DC in time to start the ninth grade at the Antigua International School. She wants to go to the beach, ride in an elevator, visit the World Trade Center museum and a whole lot more.

Astrid, front and center, spending a few days translating for visiting students.

Denis, 18, will go with Tia Joan to visit a former math teacher in Peru during his mid-year vacation at the end of June. Several days in Arequipa and, of course, on to Cusco and Macchu Pichu before returning to Guatemala. 

So earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, brilliant sunshine, occasional torrential rains, manipulative parents, corruption and all. There isn't anything I would trade it for. Look at that smile on Cristofer's face and that after losing a soccer game.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An Average Day

I was awakened by the sound of a harp. It was still dark and I realized that the harp was the ringtone on my cellphone. It was just after six in the morning and Estela was calling to alert me to the fact that Denis would not be going to school because he had mucho fiebre, high fever, a symptom of every ailment in Guatemala whether or not infection is involved. I already knew this as I had sat on a stool in a doctor’s office for several hours the previous afternoon waiting for Denis to be seen about an allergic reaction to something. He had been given two prescriptions by a reputable doctor so I wasn't concerned. Estela further asked if she could work the next day instead of the current day as she needed to go into Guatemala City with Jackie regarding the girl’s enrollment in university.

Coffee speeded up the process of greeting the day. An hour or so later after finishing a nice hot latté I heard the harp again. This time it was Marielos who had failed to get Cris and Mishelle to the school bus in time and had only enough money to get them two–thirds of the way to school on the chicken bus. Or so she said. She told me where they were. I pulled on yesterday’s clothes, grabbed my car key and found them in San Sebastian park. Marielos pushed the two children into my car and headed for her stall in the market on foot. I succeeded in getting Cris and Mishelle to school more or less on time.

After a shower and change of clothes I walked to the bank with forty dollars to be deposited into the account of a shipping company so that I might receive a package from the states. Then I went on to the office of a lawyer doing the documentation to register in Guatemala an American non-profit. The secretary wrote the check for me to avoid errors and I signed it. On my way out I bought six large, perfect mangos for two dollars from an indigenous woman sitting on the sidewalk outside the office. I then headed for the office of an accountant who was going to complete the registration of the non-profit. I stopped at central park and ordered a latte. I had a view of the blooming jacaranda trees, which turn the whole town into a spectacle of purple during the Lenten season. 

After a visit to the office of the accountant I drove to the local organic farm where, much to my dismay, they were out of my two regular purchases, kale and arugula. One of the fellows in charge of the shop asked me if I could wait a few minutes and he summoned someone who went out to the fields and picked two pounds of kale and one pound of arugula. On my way home I stopped by one of several pickups in town laden with fresh fruit of every variety. One is handed samples cut with a machete to encourage purchases. I bought some more mangos, a large papaya, bananas and a very sweet smelling pineapple.

After leaving my purchases at home I drove to a school that looks after sixty-four children with special needs. My plan was to take the founder and director, a Guatemalan woman, to observe the Montessori kindergarten class at the school that Cris and Mishelle attend. Fairly quickly I could see that it was going to be difficult to extract her as one mother of two of her students was sitting at her desk and the mother of a nine-year old who had been rejected by a number of schools was expected. 

Letty was talking to the mother at her desk and from where I was standing I thought the mother was in tears but then she started making some odd physical movements. I heard Letty say “I don’t know what is wrong with her” and very quickly we realized that the woman was having a grand mal seizure. Several people grabbed a limb and got her down on to the floor. Drawing on my airline first aid training I looked around for something that could be put between her teeth to protect her tongue. I handed someone a small notepad and asked them to put it between her teeth. Then it was a matter of waiting for the seizure to finish. I suggested calling the bomberos, firemen and paramedics, who handle the most dismal work of dealing with the dead and dying in Guatemala. Letty pointed to one man saying that he was a bombero. I knew that it was also likely that the woman thrashing on the floor didn’t have the spare change that the bomberos would want to transport her to the public hospital where probably nothing would be done for her. 

After about fifteen minutes the woman stopped seizing, was conscious again and very confused. Her student son, who gladly had not witnessed the incident, reported that she had never had a seizure before. Letty decided, quite understandably, that she couldn’t leave the school with a semi-conscious woman lying on the floor of her office so we rescheduled our kindergarten visit. The mother of two special needs children would likely be sent to the local health center where little or nothing would be done for her. I hoped that the next time she experienced a seizure that she would again be in an environment where she could be kept safe and not be in front of her young children. I wondered if she might have a brain tumor or had she suffered abuse at the hands of a family member? Perhaps she had treatable epilepsy but would she ever get the care she obviously needed?

With my newly gained free time I went for my twice-weekly swim in a friend’s lap pool. With a panoramic view of the volcano Agua and the sun warming the surface of the water, once again, I wondered why anyone would want to live anywhere else. Except perhaps the impoverished woman with special needs kids who had just had a seizure that no one was going to do anything about.

Mid-afternoon I collected Diego at school. He asked me if I could give his friend a ride to the bus. His friend’s name was Marvin and he seemed like a very nice boy. As was our routine we stopped at the ice cream store and I bought the two boys ice cream. Marvin indicated that he too spoke English and thanked me for the ice cream. Diego wanted to go to my house because he had left behind the charger for his tablet. I heard him chattering away at his tablet and asked him whom he was talking to and he responded “my friends.” I asked him “how” knowing that he did not have a Skype account. “With messenger,” he replied. At the age of twelve Diego had already outgrown his mother in so many ways. I asked Diego if he would be willing to go to the special needs school with me the following Monday and teach the teachers how to use the Khan Academy videos and website in their classrooms. He said that he would. And he did.

Sometime later I drove Diego and his heavy backpack over to the mercado, market, to meet up with his family. Returning home just as the sun started to set behind the ever puffing volcano, Fuego, I poured myself a glass of wine and went up on the terrace to watch the setting sun create artistic renditions with the clouds and the volcanic eruptions. I had made it through another day and everyone was safely home. I could feed the dogs and cats, including the three feral cats waiting by my living room window, walk the dogs, perhaps get five dollars worth of fish tacos with a friend and read my book for an hour or so before falling into bed.

“Ping,” went my phone and there was a message from Diego’s aunt, Chaito, pleading with me to help the family pay Q4000, or $520, for a colonoscopy for her mother who is suspected of having colon cancer. I responded that we could talk about it and was able to learn that Dr. Oscar, who had once intervened on Mishelle's behalf, could arrange for a Q2000 colonoscopy at the local private hospital. Feliz Noche!

As for the children Jackie, 19, is working as an assistant in the kindergarten classroom at the bi-lingual, Montessori school that Cris and Mishelle attend. She has started university classes, which take place all day Saturday, towards becoming a certified teacher. Jackie is pictured below with one of her students.

Liam, 19 months, is the youngest student in the same school. He receives a scholarship as part of his mother's employment and reportedly loves school. In his backpack are diapers and his food. In his first week he definitely learned to shriek.

Denis just turned eighteen which makes him eligible for a national ID card, a driver's license and a passport. He is still washing neighborhood cars on Saturdays and does light maintenance around my house one day a week. In another year when he graduates from high school he will have to find a real job. Denis and Diego climbed the Tolliman volcano at Lake Átitlan on New Year's Day and following is one of Denis's photos from the 10,000 foot top.

Astrid, 15, is thriving in the eighth grade at the international school where her team took first place in a recent science fair. Yesterday her science class climbed the spewing Pacaya volcano as part of a geology project. A friend who is working at the school told me recently that other students have started approaching Astrid for answers.

Diego, 12, is a kid on a mission. He attempts to communicate first in English and only resorts to Spanish if he gets frustrated. He has an illegal (as he is only 12) Facebook account which he accesses using an internet connection shared with a neighbor in his village. As I set up his account I am able to monitor his use of Facebook. He is working with a math tutor to help him overcome his dubious math beginnings and talks repeatedly about becoming an architect.

Cristofer, 8, remains passionate about math. "Á mi, me gusta por, I prefer multiplication," he says. All of the kids know that they can earn money for points earned on the Khan Academy website. One centavo for every point. Cris earned Q6 on Saturday. He didn't know what to do with it so he gave it to Diego. Cris's favorite food is broccoli which we have every Saturday for lunch.

Mishelle, 6, translates for Cris when he doesn't understand my English. She adores her nephew, Liam, and has started going to music classes on Saturdays with Astrid and Diego. She likes to cook so Estela taught her how to cook broccoli at home for her brother. She is also an eager participant in face painting at birthday parties. 

Otherwise, the volcano, Fuego, that dumped ash all over town last month continues to provide some dramatic scenery not to mention endless work for those cleaning up the ash. While the ash causes respiratory issues in both humans and animals it also provides fertilizer for plants so we expect amazing things once the rains start again in May.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holding Heads Above Water

So, my African escape was great and I recommend it for all especially for anyone, including those needing a break from raising other people's children in Guatemala. Camping in game parks listening to the roar of lions and the bellow of hippos at night is quite an experience along with watching a herd of elephants wandering through your campsite by the light of a full moon.

As Astrid's school is on the North American schedule she is the only one in school right now. The younger three have been attending a vacation program at school which is yet another attempt to minimize their time with their goofy mother. Astrid finally obtained a passport after I gave in and paid a substantial bribe to the immigration authorities who were not going to let her have a passport by any other means. As a result she was able to represent her school at a leadership conference in El Salvador, her first ever trip of any kind. She was thrilled. She now also has a visa to visit the United States which is good for ten years.

During the course of my African journey I received a message from Astrid's favorite teacher of last year who had been tutoring her in math. Not only had Astrid lied to him but she had tricked him into helping her cheat on a math test. I have put her on notice that such behavior will not be tolerated, that if it happens again she will need to find a job selling avocados on the street. Perhaps it is not possible to leapfrog someone from abject poverty to a world where honesty is of great value and important to one's success. However, she and I have talked about the importance of finding the right role models and her teachers are on board as well. There were lots of tears when I asked her if she wanted to grow up and be like her father or Marielos.

Astrid at the immigration office for the sixth time.

Diego was in danger of not passing the fifth grade as he failed the final math exam. Some intensive tutoring by one of the teachers at the vacation program worked and helped him to pass on the second retake. So, he will enter the sixth grade in January and has chosen to return to the same school. I was hoping to get him to move to a slightly better option but, given his home situation, I think stability is important right now.

The afternoon before I returned to Guatemala I called Estela to confirm plans for a music concert that Astrid, Denis and Diego were to participate in. Estela told me that Marielos (mother of the younger three AKA "the other woman") had come to the house and told Estela that she didn't have enough money to feed her kids and that she wanted either Estela or myself to take them. WHAT? Estela would take them and they would prosper but I know that she doesn't make enough money to support seven kids. She told Marielos that she would only take them with all the proper paperwork from the courts. Estela gave Marielos bus fare as she didn't have any. Welcome home, Tia Joan.

Shortly after my return Marielos came to the house with yet a different variation of her sob story. Once again, or still, she has debts and is being hounded by loan sharks or so she says. One "señora" came to the family home and her mother told Marielos that she had to leave the house. I reminded her that I had already "loaned" her Q11,000 (US $1400) that I would never see again and told her, once again, that her debts were not my problem and that she was not going to get any more money from me. Period. I am quite certain, as are Denis and Estela, that she is operating on Alex's instructions and attempting to raise money for his "buy out" from prison. She repeatedly denies that she sees him but I told her that Alex calls Estela and tells her everything including the fact that she visits him every Sunday. She then said that she didn't give him any money. I don't believe her. Why would I believe her?

I gave them all a ride home and Diego asked plaintively in English, "what time are you coming for us tomorrow?" When I collected the boys (once again Marielos had taken Mishelle with her to the market as Mishelle loves to come to my house on Saturdays and cook with Estela) I asked Diego to tell his grandmother I would like to talk to her. With the boys in the car out of earshot I told the grandmother that I hoped she would understand that I could not pay the debts of Marielos. This led to a long conversation, some of which I even understood, and many tears. Marielos goes to the market and supposedly works six, even seven, days a week. She tells me that her debts are all for buying inventory. Since she sells barrettes and other hair accessories she should have lots of inventory. She contributes nothing to the family home yet her parents house and feed her and her three illegitimate children. The grandmother also thinks that the money goes to Alex. We agreed that he should be imprisoned for life

Thankfully the children are well cared for and I give the grandparents and Marielos's siblings credit for that. I told the grandmother that Marielos had tried to give her children to Estela and she was horrified. I also told her that while Estela would gladly take them she had told Marielos that she would only do so with approval from the courts. Tearfully, she told me that she didn't know what to do about her, that in spite of Marielos being her daughter she wanted her to go away. We agreed that, whatever happens, the children should stay with the family. I told her that I would continue to help with the children but would not give Marielos any money. She understood, I think.

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that Diego sees me as his lifeline. He is, at least, old enough to (sadly) understand and to escape as necessary. So, for the time being anyway I have given up my one time peaceful Sundays to give the three more respite from all the nonsense. I suggested to Diego that he should help me fill a large market basket with food for the family for Christmas and he liked that idea. I will take him to the capital next week for a day of Christmas shopping and his first ever visit to Pricesmart (aka Costco). Diego has reported back to me what everyone else would like for Christmas but says that he doesn't know what he wants. Probably peace and quiet in the house. Mishelle who was denied after school cooking classes because her mother refused to pay the Q150 ($18) fee has said that all she wants for Christmas is "cooking classes at school." I think Santa can handle that.

Tia Mishelle, 6, with her nephew, Liam, 16 months

Meanwhile Marielos called a friend who used to be the director at the younger kids' school. While she told me she owed Q10,000 ( a nice round number) she told Karen that she had to pay Q7,000 that day (coincidentally the day she "doesn't" visit Alex in prison) and she didn't know what she was going to do. She complained to Karen that I was angry with her which was correct and that I told her that she was an adult and needed to take responsibility for her own problems. Was that a surprise to her?

At this juncture I am mildly concerned that she might feel desperate enough to compromise one or more of her children. My hope is that she wouldn't stoop that low and given that they have been kept safe until now hopefully my concerns are unfounded. Perhaps the best scenario would be that she do something that would land her in jail and also out of the children's' lives.

One must be careful what they ask for. Marielos called, once again, in tears to tell me that a "denuncia" (formal police complaint) was being filed against her by whomever loaned her money (silly person).  I told her that I was sorry and asked if the kids needed a ride to school. I picked them up a short time later and they were without lunches or lunch money. Of course she knows that I will see that they are fed. What she doesn't know is that she will lose her children as they realize that they cannot count on her to keep them safe and fed.  

Apparently Marielos will have to go before a judge and present her side of the story and there is a very real risk of incarceration if she makes no effort to pay off her debts. For now I am not asking any questions but it sounds like mom has, once again, taken to her bed with another case of depression. Estela thinks the grandmother should kick mom in the butt and tell her to get out of the house and go to work. Good idea. 

On a more positive note for several years we have gone on an excursion to a Christmas tree farm about an hour up in the hill from Antigua. This year our planned trek was thwarted by the knowledge that the obvious capitalists who run the farm had cut their limit of trees and sold them all at a premium in the zone in Guatemala City where Guatemala's 1% live.  Gladly, a Facebook message to a local group found me buying a beautiful, very fresh tree on the other side of town for a mere $40. And it was delivered to the house too.

May all of your Christmas wishes be so quickly granted.  All the best in 2015!

Cristofer, 7, Astrid, 15, Mishelle, 6, Denis, 17, Liam, 16 months, Jaquelin, 19, Diego, 12

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Forward Momentum

Alex has once again faded from everyone's mind. After his sentence of seventy years was handed down he was moved several hours west to a prison in Quezaltenango where those with the equivalent of life sentences go. Immediately after his move there was a flurry of phone calls and pleas for Q1000 ($130) to be paid to the prison boss for the privilege of leaving his cell and working. I said "no" and Estela said "no" and then we found Denis in tears. 

I told Denis that he should talk to his sisters and the three of them should decide whether the Q1000 should be paid. I have very mixed feelings about the corrupt system of the families paying for prison privileges as most of the families are fairly destitute. In any event despite Astrid's insistence that the money should not be paid under any circumstances her siblings held the majority vote. I asked Denis if he and Jackie would be willing to contribute from their good grade rewards and his meager earnings. He said "yes" and I thought that it might be good for the two to think that they had done something to help the father who has done very little for them.

Showing off their Google "swag".
Denis did get a haircut shortly after this was taken.

The money was deposited in the bank account of the prison and/or gang boss and Alex was told that the money came from his three eldest children. No doubt he is already fantasizing about the possibilities once the three are gainfully employed. He called a few more times and did express his gratitude to Denis but then he faded away again, thankfully.  The last news was that he was temporarily back in the jail where this all started so that he could be in close proximity to Antigua for yet another trial.

A week after his move Marielos, mother of the younger three, rode a chicken bus for ten hours round trip to visit the convicted kidnapper and murderer. Yes, the seventy year sentence was the result of one of the kidnap victims having been murdered for lack of ransom. I asked Marielos if she planned to visit every Sunday for seventy years. I was pretty sure that my sarcasm would escape her and it did. "Maybe not every week," she responded. 

It was becoming increasingly clear to me that she has a few loose screws. She came back from her prison visit sporting what appeared to be a stainless steel wedding band. Do they sell those in Guatemalan prisons or did she take it with her? I couldn't help but remind her that according to the Renap, the office of vital statistics for Guatemala that Alex was still officially married to "Sylvia," her first cousin. 

Estela had discovered this in trying to get a corrected birth certificate for Astrid. Marielos got quite angry and insisted that there had been a divorce, that she had the papers. As filing the papers required paying a fee I was quite certain that Alex would never have paid that fee but would have just told her that he had. I suggested that she visit Renap herself for confirmation. There is yet another son by this first cousin. A son named "Alex." So, is this Alex a half-brother to Cris and Mishelle or a cousin or both? Marielos is no longer wearing the wedding band.

In any event acknowledging the "loose screws" has made it easier for me to be more sympathetic to Marielos and also determined to keep her kids away from her as much as possible. I have become aware of the fact that her extended family quietly also acknowledges her problems which is why they all take a turn tending to her children. Hopefully, all of our efforts will help these children grow up to be reasonably sane despite of having two sociopaths for parents.

Jackie, 18, and Liam, 1

Jackie graduates from high school in October, the first in her family to do so. She will go to work at the school that Cris and Mishelle attend in January and her son will go with her. Employees get scholarships for their children and the youngest ones start at eighteen months. She will need to attend university classes on Saturdays to gain the equivalent of a teaching credential. She will learn what it is like to have a full-time job, attend university and raise a fatherless child.

Liam will be off to a Montessori school in January. 

Denis, who will be eighteen in March, has chosen to continue for two more years to complete high school. He is doing surprisingly well in school for one who struggled so just a few years ago. With Astrid and Diego he attends a music school on Saturdays where there are other kids their ages and the three are studying piano and are also singing. Denis talks about going to university to become an electrical engineer. He is working for me one day a week doing maintenance on the house. He earns enough to keep himself in condoms (hopefully) and hair gel.

Astrid will be fifteen in November and just started the eight grade at the nearby international school. She is rapidly becoming fluent in English, loves school and her teachers. She has had and does have teachers who take a special interest in her. Her seventh grade math teacher gave her some extra help during her summer vacation in order to give her a head start on eighth grade math. A teacher mentor from two years ago has proposed Astrid for a documentary film with a group out of New York that pairs professional film makers with kids around the world. Astrid''s film will be about the impact of global warming on the coffee industry.  During her school vacation she worked with a local veterinarian who let her assist with surgeries. Her prize was a stillborn kitten that she brought home in a jar of formaldehyde. Her good grades (all in the eighties) earned her a smart phone donated by my Googler niece. She has to pay for the minutes, however, which limits her usage. Her favorite way to communicate is What'sApp.

Astrid at a school soccer tournament.

Diego, the old soul, plugs away at school, music and taking care of his younger siblings. His latest grades reflect a keen interest in computers and robotics but some struggles with classes conducted in English. Currently, I pick him up at school every day and we do his homework together followed by a session in math on the Khan Academy website. I am quite certain that apart from studying in English without any ESL support his grades are suffering from the fact that no one at home is equipped to help him with his homework. He is an eager learner and welcomes the help which is very refreshing. I suspect that the attention that goes with homework support is also important to him. It is too easy to leave Diego to his own devices as he is such a good kid. He not yet twelve and is still in need of some time to be a kid.

Cristofer is winding up the first grade. He loves math and is suddenly reading everything he sees in both languages. He is a natural comedian who never misses an opportunity for a laugh. I was, one day, going through the multiplication tables with Diego in the car. While Diego was thinking about the answer for "eight times six" his younger brother quickly said "forty-eight." When I tell people that Cristofer speaks English he knows that he can get a laugh by saying "no, I don't." Cris is very neat and tidy and occasionally anxious. As he was four when his father disappeared I think the timing of that event contributes to his occasional panic attacks.

Mishelle, 6, translates for Cris when he doesn't understand English. She is addicted to an iPad app called "Learning with Homer" which provides a variety of educational opportunities. She has become devoted to Estela, the one time "other woman." The two cook together on Saturdays at my house and Mishelle confides in Estela. Recently she told Estela that she did not want to go to the prison to visit Alex. Estela told her that she should tell her mother that and she responded that her mother would get angry with her.

Learning with Homer

Life in Guatemala is mostly about waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am already preparing all of them for my six week absence this fall when I go to Africa. Gladly, the timing of the trip is during school vacation for all except Astrid. The younger three are already signed up for a vacation program which will occupy them from nine to three every day. Everyone over twelve is equipped with one form of birth control or another. What is it that I haven't thought of that could go wrong in six weeks time?