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?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bye, Bye Alex

Last week Estela came to work and said that she and her kids had seen Alex on the news that morning. She was concerned because the portion of a trial shown was one in which rape charges had been dismissed. A sobbing woman testified that she had been raped by Alex and his three fellow gang members. The judges had dropped the charges because the woman had not sought medical attention thus there was no proof of rape. Clearly this woman had nothing better to do than to put herself forth on national television as having been gang raped. A quick internet search indicated that a trial of Alex and his three cronies had started the day before. I knew that in time the press would yield more information. There was great concern that Alex might be freed but I knew there were other charges and other cases.

Liam, the grandson who will hopefully never know his grandfather.

The next day I sent Estela and Astrid to Guatemalan immigration for the fourth time in the hope of getting a passport for Astrid.  In a previous visit one of the officials had snarled at Estela "how do I know that you are not going to take the child away from her father?" This time we really thought we would succeed as we had everything that had been requested during the previous visits. I had paid an attorney to go to the prison and have Alex sign a document giving permission for Astrid to travel. I had written a letter explaining my relationship to the child and the reason for her needing a passport. The founder of her international school had written letters. There were documents from the court detailing Alex's case. A crisp $100 bill was in a plain white envelope. As I was not allowed in I had rehearsed the two over and over as to how to proceed.  "Tell them you will be back next month." "Ask them why they are punishing Astrid for the crimes of her father." I was very pretty optimistic that a passport would be forthcoming this time.

After several hours of hard negotiations the two returned once again without a passport. There were corrections written all over the document that Alex had signed.  The attorney had made several blatant errors in writing the document.  In addition to having much of my information incorrect she had indicated that Alex had signed the document in her office which was obviously not the case.  Attorneys in Guatemala are not held to the same standard as in the United States. Interestingly the $100 bill had been returned. I had suggested that the two offer the money as a last resort indicating that it was "another letter from the gringa." Astrid said that only after the passport had been denied had the boss looked at my Guatemalan identity card and then the white envelope sitting on the desk. He reached for the envelope and Astrid grabbed it. No passport, no bribe.

The two groups of kids have become great friends
since their father's arrest, a real bonus.

Astrid was furious however I insisted that she go on to school. That same evening the news yielded that, the same day, in another department of the government her father, whose parental rights were of such great concern to the immigration department had been sentenced to seventy (yes, 70) years in prison.  A fuzzy picture of the four bad guys in the newspaper showed Alex slumped over, head in his hands, upon hearing the sentence. I can only imagine how many cases of kidnapping had been involved to generate the equivalent of a life sentence. Hopefully, the woman without proof felt vindicated.

The next morning, Saturday, as Estela and the children trickled in for music and swimming lessons I learned that they didn't know about the sentence.  I told Astrid and she grinned.  Diego read the article in the newspaper without comment. He had recently told me that his mother had stopped going to visit Alex. Much to my surprise Denis who had not spoken of his father for almost two years said, in English, "bye, bye." Then in Spanish he said "It is better for all of us." He was clearly relieved even jubilant. I talked to Astrid and Denis, once again, how it is often those who face the biggest obstacles in life who are the strongest and have the greatest amount of success. I further told them that their story would likely help them to get scholarships to attend university in which case they would need to say "gracias, papa."

Estela arrived and I showed her the newspaper article. She then told me of a time, some five or so years before, when Alex had asked her what she thought I would do if either Jackie or Denis were kidnapped. Fortunately, for all of us, Estela had told him "nada" because they were not my children. It was hard to imagine that Alex was such a monster that he would contemplate putting one of his own children through the experience of being kidnapped for financial gain. Unbelievable.

Hopefully Mishelle, 6, will never know the real truth about her father.

If as indicated by the court the kidnapping activities had been going on for years one could only wonder where the money was. There had to be money somewhere. We knew that Alex once tried to open a bank account in Estela's name. Perhaps he succeeded somewhere. It has been suggested that I search my garden as Alex was once my gardener, albeit not a good one.

No one discussed the news with the youngest two children.  Cristofer went with some school friends to see a Disney movie in his first ever visit to a real movie theater in Guatemala City. Mishelle helped Estela cook lunch, worked on her iPad reading program and challenged me to way too many games of Tic Tac Toe. The older two boys washed cars in the rain. There was an air of lightness and relief amongst everyone. No more concerns about Alex turning up one day and starting in again with lies, pleas for money and more. He is gone. But then this was Guatemala where a prison year was only nine months long and where strange things happen almost daily. My hope was that nothing strange would happen until the children were grown and established and in a better position to fend off Alex should he one day be free.

Cris was 4 when his father was arrested. He occasionally
gets weepy about not having a father.

Before he left Denis gave me a big hug and thanked me once again for my support.  I told him that we should just all forget about Alex. He agreed.

For readers who once knew Alex I am sure you can appreciate my continued amazement that the same fellow who buckled his youngest two kids into their seat belts after a visit to the zoo weeks before his arrest could, in reality, be such a monster. For once there had been some justice in Guatemala.

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  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?