Sunday, December 7, 2014

Burning our Devils

My life is good.  I am supremely blessed to have the opportunities, lifestyle, and friends that I possess.  But sometimes it’s easy to forget that and get caught up in life’s petty issues. 
This weekend, many activities and thoughts culminated in that reminder.

Yesterday was a “typical Saturday” in the city, inasmuch as there can be such a thing.  Amy, Carrie, Michelle and I hit the trails for a run in the morning.  The day was glorious—bright blue skies, a slight chill in the air that made running comfortable, and not a hint of rain.  Still, there were moments in our run that Amy and I wished it was simply over.  As we chugged up a hill, Amy chanted, “I’m thankful for my body, I’m thankful for my health, I’m thankful that I can run.”  It’s a simple thing, but one we have to remember: there are people in this world who wish they had the ability to run.  Or walk, for that matter.  And there are people in this world who don’t have the luxury of a day off to do something as inane as running just for exercise.  And so we reminded ourselves to be thankful.

The run was followed by breakfast at San Martin, where our waitress brought us 3 baskets of bread when one is standard.  We ate leisurely and chatted away—about travel, and friends, and life in general.

Saturday afternoon, I blasted Christmas music through my house while I baked cookies and whipped up a batch of coquito, my favorite Puerto Rican holiday beverage.  In the evening, we celebrated the Christmas season.

That night, I found myself surrounded by my very closest friends here…the people who have become my Guatemala family.  We reclined on Annette and Joel’s comfy couches and sipped real hot cocoa (the kind made by melting chocolate on the stove with milk or water) while we watched Elf and The Santa Claus and sang along to every Christmas song in each movie (Chris commented under his breath during one such serenade: “Yup, I’m in a room full of teachers…”).  We exchanged the cookies each of us had made towards the end of the night.  And we went home tired, full, and happy.

On Sunday morning, a group of us went to La Alianza, a home for girls who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual abuse.  It’s a place where no photos are allowed because many of the girls are in hiding, with horrific situations to return to if they are found.  A place where girls in their early teens hold their babies on their hips.  At La Alianza, these girls receive healthcare, social work, therapy, and love.  I didn’t exactly know what to expect when we went.  But the day was…incredible.  We did crafts and played games with the girls, laughed our way through a sweaty hour of Zumba, ate lunch, and ultimately gave each girl a Christmas present—a backpack filled with school supplies. 

La Alianza, at least during our short visit, seemed like a very happy place.  Maybe this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.  The girls, despite whatever is in their pasts, are learning to love themselves and view themselves as worthy of loving.  The house is bright and colorful, the girls had big smiles for us, and everyone seemed to help everyone else without being asked to.  The girls looked healthy and happy.  Of course our purpose today was to celebrate, and I’m sure these girls fight their pasts on the inside day in and day out, but we didn’t try to think about that with them today.  Still… seeing the strength of the girls and hearing from their own voices how thankful they were to us for spending time with them put things into perspective.

Tonight, I was sitting on my couch, watching a movie, forgetting completely that December 7th is the day Guatemalans celebrate La Quema del Diablo (the Burning of the Devil).  But exactly when 6pm hit, fireworks went off in all directions as people set off piñatas shaped like red devils, firecrackers, and burned garbage.  The idea of the holiday is that you burn away all of the bad stuff from the previous year and start again fresh.  And Guatemalans love their fireworks, so I suppose that naturally became part of the celebration along the way.  The devil piñatas are often stuffed with them.

I didn’t burn a devil this year (though Carrie had one and we just neglected to make plans to be together at 6pm to dispose of it), but as I stood at an upstairs window where I could see one of the bonfires going on just down the street, I thought about what a good symbolic gesture it is.  I have a good life.  My problems and complaints (which I generally keep out of this blog) are so minor and trifling in comparison to what the girls at La Alianza have gone through.  So, even though I had no diablo to burn, I sent all of my quejas, all of my complaints and annoyances and frustrations, to that bonfire down the street.  I don’t need them anymore; I’m starting again fresh.  And I am embracing all of the good that I’ve been blessed with.  

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