Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Working Poor, Why?

Poverty and the reasons for it have been in the news media a lot recently.  I live in Seattle and most of the poverty news has been related to the progressive raising of the minimum wage to $15.00.  One of the recurring themes that I have heard for NOT raising the minimum wage to a livable level has been that those who have minimum wage jobs always have the choice to work their way out of them, go to school, move up the career ladder, in other words, pick themselves up by the bootstraps and get the hell out of poverty, another way of blaming the victim, because the underlying reasoning would be, “it is your fault that you are poor, do better.”  The trouble is, many of the people casting this argument have never been poor themselves.  There is plenty of research out there that suggests those who have money feel entitled to have the money that they have even if it is inherited rather than earned, in fact, even the illusion of “earning” money can cause an almost immediate entitled response.   If you want to learn more about this immediate elitist mentality, check out this TedTalk with Paul Piff,  https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_piff_does_money_make_you_mean.   

This post, however, is not going to be about the behavior of those who have monetary means, it is going to be about their attitudes which I attribute to a possible knowledge gap regarding some of the oft not mentioned reasons people are poor.

1.       Childhood Abuse:  Now I know that there are always stories about those who were abused in childhood, but managed to overcome these obstacle and do great things.  While it is encouraging that these success stories exist, this more often than not is not the case.  There is new research out that suggests abuse in childhood can actually alter the cellular structure of the brain.  Beginning at about the age of 10, the brain has less plasticity (the means to heal itself) so many of these changes are cemented on a cellular level.  Positron Emission Topography (PET scans) are one means researches have to study brain differences in action and “normal brain” reaction areas are being patterned for a number of different development and learning activities which means that we can actually see what used to be hidden and mysterious, the parts of the brain that function while doing things like learning.  The current research is focused primarily on the effects of physical abuse.  Long term effects of emotional abuse and neglect remain to be discovered.  A few characteristics of these children all grown up, include the following: Learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, and attention issues.

2.        Learning and Cognitive Challenges:  One thing that I have learned in my 20 years of working with special needs populations is that some people have cognitive and emotional abilities that will only take them so far in life.  Getting a job that is not route and routine will NEVER be something that they can do, why not?  Because they can’t, end of story.  Whether because of a learning disability, cognitive impairment, head injury, neurological event…even with the best therapy in the world, everyone has their limits. Not to mention the thousands of children that go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with behavior problems and wind up dropping out of school because they are really learning disabled, but no one has caught on to that and given them the services that they need to succeed in school. My limits are that I will never be an engineer, why? Because I can’t do math.  We all have our ability limitations, some just have more than others.

3.       Lack of Mental Health Care:  Mental health care is expensive and it is not easy to access specialized mental health practitioners even if one has good insurance and money in the bank. I have experienced this first hand.  Research proves over and over again that medications work best when paired with good therapy which is hard to find and often unaffordable to those that need it the most.  Many specialized mental health drugs are not covered by insurance and can sometimes run as much as $600.00 a month, which means that people who can’t afford it are prescribed an alternative and less expensive, also maybe less effective, medicine or they just don’t take their meds because they can’t afford to.  I realize that on every level in this country our health care system is broken.  If there is anything to learn from the recent suicide of Robin Williams, it is that people with mental health problems are sick and they need help regardless of their financial status.

4.       Family History of Drug and Alcohol Abuse:  Just because someone is poor, does not mean that they are a substance abuser (although I do have to hand it to some people for hanging on as well as they do without being a substance abuser, I am not so sure that I could do as well myself).  This is what growing up in a drug house can be like, you never know when the cops are going to come, you never know when the drug lab that your dad is operating in the garage will be busted or explode, you have probably already had police unexpectedly in your house in the middle of the night shining a bright light on you and your sister asleep in bed.  I got this information first hand when I interviewed someone raised in a “meth house.”  Growing up like this leaves you anxious, you often have sleep disturbances, what you really need is a mental health counselor and appropriate medications, but you may actually become a drug user yourself because things like pot and alcohol are cheaper and more readily available than adequate mental health services.

5.       Dumb Luck: And by luck I mean, “bad luck.”  People don’t get to choose the family that they are born into.  Some people, like me and most of the people that I know, were born into a family that valued education, goal setting, and ambition.  It goes without saying that in addition to passing these values on to me, my parents also had the financial means to support the adventures and experiences in my childhood that made me who I am today.  There are some parents out there who don’t try and do the best for their kids regardless of their economic resources.  While some poor parents do everything that they can to ensure that their offspring will have a better life, others do not.  They don’t value education or finding meaning and happiness in life and these attributes are not passed on to their children.  Although some people may choose to differ, it is really hard to overcome messages from your childhood as an adult, especially when your peer group may have similar issues and you do not have access to or knowledge of therapy and healing wounds from childhood.

6.       Incarceration: You don’t need to look very far to get the statistics, poor people are incarcerated more than those who are not poor.  A few months back I was listening to a program on NPR about this very thing, it included live recording of a judge talking to the defendant.  The defendant was back in court because he hadn’t paid a fine, the dialogue between judge and defendant when something like this:
Judge: “You need to pay this fine today or I am going to have to send you back to jail.”
Defendant: “I just started a new job and I get my first paycheck on Friday, I can pay you $50.00 then.”
Judge: “Friday is too late and $50.00 is not enough, why can’t you pay more? How old are you anyway?”
Defendant:  I can only pay $50.00 because this is my first paycheck and I have to pay rent, I am 27 years old.”
Judge: “You are 27 years old!  Look at yourself, what have you done with your life, you haven’t done anything, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
Defendant:  “Yes, your honor.”
Judge:  (more comments on the client’s age and how useless he was) “Well, I am going to have no choice but to send you to jail if you can’t pay that fine.”
Defendant: “Your honor if I go back to jail, I will lose my job and then I won’t be able to pay the fine.”
End of story:  Judge sentences defendant to jail time with the stipulation that the defendant must have a job by a certain time or face going back to jail and an increase in the amount of the fine once her is released.

While this is, of course, only one example, I think that is relevant to note that the judicial system and prisons are economic enterprises.  A recession means that they are no longer being allocated the same amount of public funds and it becomes “necessary” to obtain those funds from elsewhere, especially if you are the government and cutting back is not considered an option.  To be fair, those with money and privilege are also arrested and fined, the difference between the two populations is, of course, that one can afford private legal services, and can, in fact, afford to pay the system and get out of trouble without losing their job.  I am also certain that judges hear sob stories all of the time and, in their defense, may get weary of the same old routine.  This may mean that it is time to retire, take a long vacation, get a different career, invest in some self-care, I find it very hard to have pity for anyone who has resources available, does not take advantage of them, and takes their problems out on the people that they  are supposed to serve.  A judge is not in this category:

What amazes me is that even in light of the constant media poor bashing , victim blaming, lack of resources, and social circumstances is that any of the working poor ever make it to work.  They put in full time hours at jobs that I most certainly would not last a day at.  Not everyone can be a CEO, we need people in lower level service jobs, the economy does not run without them.  It is a national disgrace that they are required to do this work for:

For an insider’s view (and by “insider” I mean people like me) it gives you the inside scoop on what being in the working poor is like without becoming a member of the working poor yourself.  Barabara Ehrenreich is well educated, upper middle class writer who actually goes out a works in several positions that are considered “working poor,” including a house cleaning service and retail assistant.   

Unless you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you never really know…

Saturday, August 2, 2014

On Missing my 30 year High School Reunion

Why I am sorry to be missing my 30 year class reunion.  For those of you who know me, you may be surprised to hear this, but I am actually bummed about missing my 30 year class reunion which is today. When I first found out about this event, my intent was to attend, but that was before I double booked myself.  It is always interesting what actually makes it to my brain (e.g., my smart phone calendar) and what doesn’t.  Kid events are first and everything else gets scheduled around those.  No kid events=no organization.

Lack of time management on non-work/non-school days is a problem for me, but so actually is missing my reunion.  I started on what I will call a forward only trajectory in my early twenties.  Which entails being set on a perpetually forward course of action that goes something like this, graduate high school, go to college, get married-life lesson number one, I shouldn’t have gotten married so young-get divorced, live what I can only call my “fertile void” until deciding to apply to graduate school.  Career decided, I am set into forward motion again, get into graduate school, move out of state, finish graduate school, apply for jobs on the west coast, but not in my home state.  The key, keep living somewhere else, live, learn, move forward.  Of course, I never thought about what life might be like when I finally met many of these fast forward goals towards which I had been rushing such as having children and getting settled in a career, for the past decade my life has been more of the abrupt halt that is sometimes known as growing up. 

So why would I want to potentially live in reverse?  Now that I am older, although not that much more mature, I have come to realize that life isn’t defined by the constant forward momentum of obtaining observable goals.  This may sound very Eastern mystic of me, but life is really about where you are as an individual in ways that are not readily observable to others, it is a circular rather than linear journey (again, forgive the philosophizing, I just got done reading “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle”).  Also, once you reach the age that I am, it becomes increasingly more important to hunt down those that knew you when you were young, being young at heart does nothing to negate the surprise that I often feel when I look in the mirror.

Reunions of any kind are part of coming full circle, back to where you started.  While this can be a measure of how far you have come, I have come to believe that it is more a validation of who you are.  A recent study correlated nostalgic music (for me that would be the 1980’s) with feelings of nostalgia for a good time gone by, and thus a mood elevator, an excuse that I am now using for blasting “my” music when all of my kids are in the car (although unlike the tunes of my parents, my kids actually like many of these “old” songs).  It is not too big of a stretch to associate something like a high school reunion to a similar good nostalgic feeling.  Of course, I didn’t love high school as much as I love my hits of yesteryear, but it is all about perspective.  Once you get past being a teenager and are looking back on that period of time with people who shared it with you, it is possible to see all of the good things that were not observable in the moment.

So I will miss not seeing all of you from Glencoe High School class of 1984, it has been fun to see the yearbook posts and get an idea of what people are doing, electronically at least.  As for me, I am good, I am on the brink of guiding three strong minded girls into young adulthood, I enjoy what I do for a living, and I still have an obnoxious laugh that sometimes embarrasses at least one of my kids.  Cheers to you all, here’s to red wine, song, and making memories.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Thankful American

Although I may not effusively show evidence of this, I am patriotic at heart. With all of the violence and negativity going on in the world, our country included, here are ten things that make me hopeful to be an American:

1.       The response of the church and religious organizations to the influx of child refugees from Central America.  Some religious institutions are even choosing to transcend their theological differences and network with each other to support the youngest victims of the drug war that our country helped to start and continues to perpetuate.

2.       There is a satanist group petitioning to put their statue next to the donated Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma.  I love that we have these freedoms in America.  Whether you agree or not does not matter, what matters is that we still have the fundamental right to disagree with our government and institutions. 

 3.       Mega church pastors, like Mark Driscoll, can be taken down by the same public that elevated them to guru status.  Americans can still use their brains and actions to discredit religious leaders without being burned at the stake.

4.       Gun toting Texans can freely walk the streets with semi-automatics strapped to their backs and children on their hips.  While there are many who do not like these actions, the point is that people have the right to demonstrate their beliefs whether others agree or not.
5.       Education is free.  In many countries around the world, education is not free and this is one of the reasons used for blocking education access for girls.  If the family does not have the money, the boys will be sent to school, but not the girls.  I have three daughters, I am very thankful to live in a country that values the education of girls and women.

6.       We are not pressured to marry off our daughters at an early age and to the highest bidder in this country.  It sounds ludicrous to be thankful for something like this in the 21st century, but clearly one glance at worldwide statistics is all that it takes to know that in many, maybe even most, parts of the world the freedom of choice regarding who to marry is nonexistent for girls.

7.       Women have access to birth control.  I am thankful that women have this option. That anyone would argue against safe contraception is something that I cannot fathom.

8.       Companies can say, “no” if they don’t want you as a customer.  I recently saw a post on fb, a restaurant put up a sign saying pretty much that they did not allow families with young children to dine in their establishment.  While I am sure that this has produced outrage on both sides, as a mother and a restaurant customer, I think that this strategy is a win-win.  You know up front as parents with young children where you are not wanted and you know up front as adults who wants to get away from young children where you can find that option.
9.       We have free access to social media.  This global network is the primary means of generating grass roots movements and political activism around the world, no wonder dictatorships spend huge amounts of time and resources trying to block access for the masses.

10.   There is still a division between church and state.  While this may be upsetting to some, we need look no further than countries like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Iraq to recognize some of the obvious problems of merging church and state.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Beauty of a Soccer Ball

One of the things that I plan to have plenty of for next year's Guatemala trip is soccer balls.  Soccer or, futbol, as it called in every country in the world except for the US, is less of a game and more of a way of life.  While riding around the Guatemalan countryside I  noticed people of all ages kicking around a ball, mechanics taking a break in the tiny patch of dirt outside their garage by playing a heated, shirtless match of 1:1, two tween age boys kicking a ball around on a patch of grass while a toddler kicked at her own ball in and out around them, a quick game timed in between oncoming cars on cobblestone streets, bare feet, flip flops, sandals, it didn't matter.  I saw many basketball courts, not one had an intact net on the hoop and all were being used as cement futbol fields.  The boys trying to impress the girls, the girls who really, really wanted to play, the ones who joined in, the little kids and the big, just drop, kick, and play.

For those little ones trying to kick around a ball as big as them or a flimsy piece of rubberized plastic not meant to be kicked, I would like to bring small sized balls that a bigger kid would be ashamed to use.  For the girls that wants to get out there, but can't move past the boys, I would like to bring bright pink, purple, princess and Barbie soccer balls.  The gender gap was as big as I thought that it would be, but there were girls out playing, even ones older than age 10.  Younger girls were fierce, especially when outnumbered by boys.

Culturally the power of a soccer ball is enviable, something so simple to light up the eyes, make the heart pound, invite a moment of bonding, community, friendship, that is the beauty of a soccer ball.  I believe that everyone can be captivated by this level of simplicity when it signifies something greater like connection and community.  While I don't think that those elements are missing from our culture, I do believe that they are often overlooked.

It is easier to be consumed by activities and gadgets, both are time consuming, they don't mean to be solitary, but often are.  The further away from feeling connected that people feel, the more they seem to fill their lives with trying to do more to force connection to happen.  In the process, the gift of acting on the opportunity to use something as simple as a ball to make a connection is lost.  Making things more complicated than they are becomes culturally acceptable.

 I realize that I am idealizing just a little bit, but I am doing so to make a point.  Children begin life hardwired for things that are simple to give like communication.  It isn't like it is all that different for older children and adults, it is the relationship to things that changes, specifically that more of them are needed which complicates life, allowing less time for real time interactions, which leads to isolation and lack of community.  Instead of finding an app for that, look for what brings people together in real time, the answer isn't all that complicated.

Monday, July 21, 2014

SUV Moms and Other Traffic Hazards

For years now I have been watching the transformation of the 520 bridge with growing anticipation.  I pay the toll (no small feat at almost five bucks per crossing) with reluctance curbed only by what those dollars have been promised by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), to do to ease my life as a commuter.  My dreams whenever I drive west to cross the 520 bridge on my way to work, grow bigger as each phase of development is completed, I will be able to commute on public transport in the same amount of time it currently takes me to drive, that is dream number one.  In my four years at my current job, I have yet to find a consistent and timely means for taking public transport to work.

Let me begin by saying, cost aside, that my driving commute from the time I leave my front door, to the time that I put my key in the door of my office is about 20 minutes.  Let me also say that, in addition to working full time at an outside job, I am also a full time mom to three daughters, ages 15, 12, and 12.  No matter how you slice it my life is busy! So any means of public transport will need to compete with that 20 minute drive time because time is also money, especially when it means keeping your kids safe by dropping them off and picking them up in a timely fashion.

In my four years of commuting from the east side to Seattle, I have found one bus route that will get me to work in 20-40 minutes and home in about 45 minutes.  On those days when I don't have to race home to make dinner and chauffeur kids around, I allow myself the extra time to commute.  The source of this efficient commute:  metro bus 255 at the South Kirkland Park and Ride and metro 271 at the Evergreen Point Freeway Station.  Both buses come with a high degree of frequency and regularity.  Imagine my excitement when I notice that the beautiful additions to Evergreen Point Freeway Station were almost complete.  A glorious commuter overpass complete with windows and covered stairways leading to a from the newly expanded bus bays.  Imagine my disappointment when riding the 271 one evening a couple weeks back I found that it no longer stops at the Evergreen Point Freeway Station.  Why not is very surprising indeed, not your typical culprits, levies not passing, budget and route cuts, no the 271 route is still alive and well and still bursting with frequent and timely buses.  The reason that the 271 must now permanently bypass my freeway stop is because of a low wall of concrete that extends from the bus bay to allow a few more feet to keep the bus lane separate from the car lane.  Now the 271 can no longer access the next exit off of the highway as is part of its route.  That's right, budget cuts be damned, this is nothing but complete lack of planning on the part of WSDOT.

The buses that currently service the area where I work directly from South Kirkland Park and Ride and Evergreen Point Freeway Station?  There is one, it comes three times in the AM and three times in the PM.  If I need bus service after 9:00am or after 5:00pm, this route is a no go because it doesn't run.  And that beautiful palatial structure that spans the highway like a glass castle? It is connected to a 30 spot park and ride.  I have made a number of phone calls to Metro, WSDOT, Sound Transit, the office of my state representative and NO ONE knows if there will ever be a larger park and ride to serve what looks like a huge mass transit system on a major high way.  I did find out today, however, from one of my sources, that they will be building what is called a "Kiss and Ride," this is code for someone drops you off at your bus stop, clearly not something that was designed for parents running in two or fifty different directions every morning.

So, what is in it for me.  Let's see, Metro is advertising that they have funding and they are putting that funding towards a project called, "Right Size Parking."  The premise behind this project is that, if there are not enough parking spaces, people will stop driving."  This is akin to building a large sports arena without bathrooms, if you don't build them, people will not need to go or some kind of reverse psychiatry "Field of Dreams," don't build it and people will come!  Other websites talk about the need for limiting vehicle miles traveled or VMT's and reducing greenhouse gases or GHG's which sounds good to me, how do I do it? Wellfrothe research that I have conducted so far, the only way that I can hope to do any of these things is to get rid of my kids and become a renter in a dense urban multi-family dwelling.  If you aren't in that category, my friend, you as a commuter are screwed!

Now I do not consider myself an expert by any means, but what I have been able to learn so far is that mass transit relies, somewhat, on levies and they are very vocal about the need to cut services when these levies don't pass.  Their target audience is renters in dense urban multi-family dwellings where public transit is already working, so no one who lives this lifestyle is going to want to support a levy.  Besides, when you completely omit homeowners from the equation, you omit those that are most invested in the community.

I have also been reading a lot about traffic and the need to have less cars on the road, I work at what should be a highly bused area, it should be efficient for people to get to and from work this is a university for heaven's sake.  In my little department there are no parents that bus to and from work.  That's right, NONE and I mean people who live in the city and on the same side of the bridge.  Our public transportation is so inefficient and so utterly blind to the needs of families that they have everyone on a transit center merry-go-round, one cannot park at most transit centers, one can only transfer, once you have to wait and transfer, you are sunk, if you have little kids you will not be home in time for dinner or bed no matter how close you live when looking at the map.

Does anyone really like to drive?  Do I enjoy paying for gas, toll, and parking to drive to and from work every day?  Absolutely not, no one does, but if you are a home owner and live anywhere near the suburbs your options are limited.  There are exactly 80 parking spots total for me to use if I want to bus directly to work without a transfer, that's right 80!  The nearest transit center is located in the opposite direction of my commute to work and is a 45 minute walk from my house.  If I want to maintain commutes under an hour each direction, I have to drive.  My message to everyone out there, think twice before judging that lone commuter in an SUV, we may be trying harder and against more obstacles than you can imagine to not be a stereotype, but until public transit acknowledges that not everyone is a childless renter, expect traffic and poor air quality to continue to rise.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

All in a Day's Work

Pictures of mangoes and coconuts before they are ripe.  I thought that the papayas were plums.

Working at an orphanage that isn't yet done with a nutrition center and physical therapy clinic that is.  Apparently in the 1990's following the civil war in Guatemala people were coming in and literally taking babies from their families then paying whoever brokered the "adoption."  There was a freeze on adoptions from Guatemala for a time and thus large quantities of red tape that need to be cut through in order to build and operate one.

Spiders that surprise you on your way out of a river following a swim should NOT be this big!

During the civil war in Guatemala, people were fearful of the police, firefighters, and other public employees.  Now those in civil service professions are attempting to give back to the people, at the clinic we visited yesterday, the police personally escorted a grandmother and 13 year old girl from the mountains to the clinic.  The girl was born with spina bifida ( a common occurrence around here) and she was never treated, in early childhood she got a leg infection and her leg was amputated.  She was then taken from her neglectful mother and now lives with her grandmother.  Her visit to the clinic was for the purpose of evaluation by the physical therapist and prosthetic practitioner to be fit for an artificial limb.  Amazingly enough some of aspects of this system seem to actually be geared towards helping the child rather than the abusive parent. 
It is possible to play on a soccer field that is actually a field and play extremely well even in bare feet if you live in Guatemala, but the Americans out there today didn't do have bad in sandals.

 Swimming in a cold river at the end of a hot day feels incredible!

 In Guatemala, laundry is usually done by hand and then hung out to dry.  The hanging out to dry I get, who would want to run a hot dryer in a small house in this climate!  Our interpreter told us today that she has friends who do their laundry by hand even when they own a machine because they think that it is easier, jeans are said to be the easiest because they can be scrubbed with a a brush.  By the way, most everyone wears jeans around here.
 It may look like all that I do is sit around and hold cute kids and smile, but really I am working, trying to give the students as much experience as possible is one of the main reasons I am here.
I am here to personally tell you that three shots of rum in a large glass of pineapple juice ties the end of the day up in a nice ribbon of relaxation, ah....

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Guatemala Trip Day 2

Today was our first real therapy day working in a local clinic.  Although a typical day at the office does not usually include
 Lizards that skitter across a window like this or
moths that are the size of bats who even I, who fear insects never, do not want to see disturbed.  Aside from the intrusion of local wildlife via broken window pains and ill fitting doors, there were some real highlights.
This little guy was a real joy, he gets around by scooting on his knees, but is learning to walk, he love to play games and engage with others, but cannot say much of anything.  His mom has a heart of gold.
Active, active, active, I will say it again, "active!" This kid could really get around.  If you could slow him down long enough, he could repeat just about anything that was said to him.
This little girl has quite a story, she received a donated wheelchair that is far too big for her and thus she tends to lurch right out of it.  Today she was "fit" for a "new" wheelchair, refurbished might be a better word for it, notice the car seat strap in front.  At least now mom will be able to get her around on the bus without having to carry her or have her fall out of a wheelchair.
This was our first evaluation of the morning.  A little girl with expressive and receptive language delays, it would be awesome to see her for treatment once a week, but this is Guatemala and we had to make do with passing on recommendations to the grandmother.
Our group translator holding her namesake.  If you stick around here long enough, you may get a baby named after you.

The similarities between American parents and those that we encountered today were amazing.  It didn't surprise me that all of the parents who brought their children to the clinic for a speech and language evaluation cared deeply about, loved, and wanted the best for their children, what did surprise me was the similar responses to referrals and home recommendations.  Some parents came in today deeply concerned that their child, at age 5, could not trill his "r's," they were worried about all kinds of things including possible diabetes?! Another mother excused her child's lack of meaningful language at age 5, saying that he used his own made up language at home and his cousins and grandparents all understood, so what is the problem?  If anyone thinks that kind of thing doesn't happen in the states, guess again.  Then there were the well educated, professional parents who came in with their nanny and we were a bit nervous to present our findings, that the child definitely needed further evaluation for Autism Spectrum Disorder, to them.  They were both relieved and distraught when we made the referral, relieved because they had done a fair amount of research on their own and they were not all that surprised and distraught because they were losing that hope.
I wish that I could speak Spanish, our Spanish speaking students and interpreters were busy running here there and everywhere.  At around 2:00pm we got word that 50 children with Autism were going to descend on the tiny clinic in about 30 minutes.  We made a plan and descend they did, it took us under 5 minutes to figure out that not all, not even most of those children actually had Autism.  Which was good, because 50 children on the spectrum in one location at any time can be a challenge for even the most seasoned of therapists and not so good because the children present had a whole host of other speech and language concerns that we had to sort out and make appropriate recommendations to parents.

When  we were all done, we rode home in a Hearts in Motion van that did not have air conditioning with a driver who successfully navigated through  fruit vendors selling bags of mango and papaya in the middle of the two lane road and parked the van precariously close to another vehicle without hitting it yet again so that we could get ready and unwind from an extremely productive day by doing this.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

First Day in Guatemala:  Ten Things that I have Learned Today

It has been a fantastic start to this adventure with Hearts in Motion here in Zacapa Guatemala.  After arriving at 1:30 am following a three hour drive from the airport yesterday and an early start this morning, our first adventure was to visit a daycare in a nearby town.  The best part of my morning was this little sweetie taking an uninhibited seat on my lap.  Things that I have learned so far:
1) Toilet paper cannot be flushed in Guatemala, we have been instructed to throw it in the wastebasket as there have been many earthquakes and the fragile septic system can no longer tolerate toilet paper.
2) There are a number of single mothers in Guatemala as getting married is quite expensive.  It is not unusual for a man to have more than one family.  Thus solving the irony of the daycare worker's explanation of how the children were making father's day gifts today at the daycare, father's day in Guatemala is June 17, and in the next breath telling us that most of the children were in the care single mothers.
3) Special education programs last as long as the parents need their children to go someplace during the day.  Today we visited a special education program and were conducting speech and language "evaluations" on some "children" that were in their late 20's.  One little guy ( a five year old child) had a left ear congenital atresia and possible progressive hearing loss in the right ear, he is otherwise in all ways a typical child and is in the special education class because he was reportedly made fun of in the regular school classroom.
4) None of the children that we "evaluated" today were even close to being as impaired as most of the children I have seen in special education classrooms in the United States.  One reason is that more impaired children tend to be kept at home in this country and do not attend school.
5)  I use the term "evaluated" in quotes as between grabbing interpreters (a couple of whom are speech and hearing science students in our group), managing the small bug infestation that was the outdoor classroom tables at snack time, and complete lack of structure that is the school day in Guatemala after 12:30pm, I didn't feel as though I was conducting a very informative or helpful evaluation or leaving solidly thought out notes for the next group of volunteers.
6) I found out that the teachers in Guatemala graduate high school, go to a year of technical training, and then begin to teach.
7) More schools need to be built to replace the crumbling old ones that are often sites for vandalism.  This is frequently done through private donations as the Guatemalan government is inefficient, of course, that was no surprise.
8) There is not warm water or hot water for showering, the water is  "tepid" that is how it comes out and that is how it stays.
9) Moleskin has many uses besides patching blisters on sore hiking feet, one of them being to patch bathroom window screens.
10) The people of Guatemala will root for any team playing against Mexico in the World Cup games.