Here But There

culture and society, heavier things

I’ve been home from Guatemala for a week now, and the transition has been kind of strange.  There are things to be done, leaving little time or attention to sort through my emotions, so I do so haphazardly.  Woodenly.  My friend spent a good amount of time in Africa last year, and she came back and told me that the people there are in starved for clean water.

I flush clean water in my bathroom.  I run it through a sprinkler and my kids play in it.  I wonder if the people in Africa know that I do this.

I’m here, in Connecticut, with my family… but I’m in Guatemala, too.


I stand on the side of the road in and a dog walks past me.  Not a dog – a skeleton of a dog.  Ribs bare and eyes black, head down.  He looks so pitiful and it makes me so sad, but I do not shed tears for this dog or any of the dozens of strays I see throughout the week.  Instead, I cry when told that small children die in Guatemala because of gang violence, malnutrition, and preventable diseases.  Respiratory infections and stomach bugs send children to their graves.  Gangs formed out of a war-torn land battle and children become their casualties.  Young girls and boys are bought and sold like chattel, forced into prostitution or hard labor.

I’m in a shop in Antigua and I feel a hand on the small of my back.  I turn around to face a little boy.  He holds up a brush and asks if he can shine my shoes.  The man to my left says no in my stead.  The boy doesn’t move.

Por favor.  Tengo hambre.  Please.  I’m hungry.

Before I can say anything, the shop owner shoos him off, he scampers down the road, and I’m flooded with guilt.

“You couldn’t have told him yes.  It’s child labor,” a low voice explains.  “And if you had said yes, that money is not going for him to have a meal.  That money is going to his handler.”

Said so matter-of-fact, but the words twist inside me.  Children, up and down the streets I’m walking, asking me to buy their bracelets, offering to clean my shoes.  Human trafficking is prevalent in Guatemala.  Here, in this same town, there are children being rented out to depraved men – children turned into marionettes by someone bigger than them.

Remmy puts her arms around my neck and plants a kiss on my cheek.  “I figured it out.”  Her smile is wide.  I look down and she’s assembled a truck with Legos – just like the pictures showed her.

“It’s perfect!  Great job!  I am so proud of you.”  She beams and runs off with the instruction booklet, ready to build a house next.  I watch her build with Legos and draw pictures of her sisters and dance and sway to the radio.  I smile when I see her snuggled into bed with a pile of books next to her.

Remmy does not worry about her next meal.  No one will ever buy her or sell her.  She doesn’t think twice about dancing through clean water spouting through a garden hose in the front yard.  A common cold does not threaten her being.

I am blessed and grateful and yet I’m devastated knowing that there are Remmys in Antigua and Guatemala City, hustling strangers for money, and being hustled by handlers for money.  And then I am mad, angry, white-hot inside that we in our privileged countries are unaware of it.  Or aware of it and unwilling to do anything about it.

World Vision is not perfect.  No humanitarian organization is.  Abject poverty is beast with many layers and no easy solutions.  But I know that World Vision is changing lives and saving lives all over the world.



When I was first asked to be a part of this trip, my yes was to partnering with a big humanitarian organization.  But it has become so much more than that.

My yes is a yes to the heartbreak that comes with tearing down ignorance.

Yes to justice.

Yes to eradicating child trafficking.

Yes to anger on behalf of the oppressed.

Yes to loving children that are not my own.

Say it with me.

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  • Reply Rebecca September 23, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Thanks, Roo.

    • Reply Roo September 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      Thanks for reading, Rebecca. :)

  • Reply Annette September 23, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Thank you for reminding me.

  • Reply Kristine September 23, 2013 at 11:10 am

    YES to all 5 of the above!!

  • Reply Lauren September 23, 2013 at 11:17 am

    When I was a nursing student in college, we traveled to a rural village in Honduras on a medical mission trip, bringing with us supplies, equipment, medicines, and man power. I was shocked at how efficient the medical clinic was with so little resources and crazy things like iguanas hanging out in the hallway. While we were there, a woman went into labor 6 weeks early. My nursing knowledge and experience told me that even though the baby was early, six weeks isn’t THAT premature. The baby was born. He was a 6+ pound beautiful baby. But he needed breathing assistance. And even though the clinic had oxygen tanks and ventilators, the doctors knew that those precious resources needed to be saved for the people who had a better chance of survival. After just five hours, the baby boy’s cries fell silent and he was sung into eternal sleep by the voices of his grandmother and four nursing students singing a Christian hymn in a native language we couldn’t understand. It was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had as a nurse, and even though our medical system is far from perfect, our access to basic care makes us as Americans extremely fortunate. And this is a reality of the third world, that mothers and fathers must burry their babies far too often. I have never forgotten that baby’s face, in a way that both haunts me and reminds me to be grateful for everything that I have. Thank you for reminding us to be conscious of what’s happening in the world and to pray for protection for its most vulnerable people.

    • Reply Roo September 23, 2013 at 11:30 am

      Wow. That is so devastating, and it’s hard to comprehend that something like this is a reality for so many nations. Lauren, thank you so very much for sharing your experience.

      This is not completely related, but my midwife went to the Dominican and I think you might find this post interesting: http://semiproper.com/dominican-republic/

      • Reply Lauren September 23, 2013 at 4:31 pm

        Wow, that was a great read! My experience was very similar to hers, in many ways. There was a well organized nursing school at the mission clinic where we were working, which included instruction by American medical professionals. In our culture, nurses are often viewed as being subordinates of physicians. Seeing what a huge difference good nurses can make made me really proud to be one:)

        • Reply Roo September 23, 2013 at 5:31 pm

          Haha, a few of my relatives are nurses, Lauren, and they’ve told me some horror stories saying much of the same. Love your last sentence. :) You should definitely be proud!

  • Reply nick September 23, 2013 at 11:23 am

    “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” serious business, that. we sponsor a child, too, and something as simple as the little notes we get every few months just wreck me every time. thanks for letting us share this experience, homegirl.

    • Reply Roo September 23, 2013 at 12:08 pm

      Oooh yeah that verse is on point. Great reminder, thank you.

      And thanks for sharing it with me, Nick!

  • Reply Jacqueline September 23, 2013 at 11:58 am

    I loved this. You wrote it deeply enough that I had tears in my eyes reading.

    Suggestion: it’s probably really important that you do slow down, take time and process all the emotion. I find it helps to write how I feel about something, and just keep writing, blabbering until it all comes out and I can understand what my body and mind are saying. Until I can understand what I need to say and feel.

    Holding it in could cause problems. It sounds like a difficult experience to go through. (However, rewarding).

    • Reply Roo September 23, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      Thanks, Jacqueline. :) You’re right.. I probably should. I’ve not been the most gracious person this week, either, and I think it’s likely because my emotions are running high. Haha, I think it’s reflecting in my writing. One day I’m TIHIF, and the Monday after it’s a super heavy post about human trafficking. Ayyyyyyyyy. Thanks for sticking with me through my current state of emotional disarray.

      • Reply Julie September 23, 2013 at 12:28 pm

        Hey Roo, I’m thinking disarray is a good thing (albeit exhausting and difficult). you got dis array of thoughts and feelings and dat array of emotions and beliefs, all getting slapped around by the Before Roo and the After Roo. any “normal” way of processing all of this probably goes out de window. I’m guessing you could possible be a teeny tiny bit hard on our girl Roo, who’s had quite a reality shift and needs some extra love and hand holding herself. Heart expanding experiences take time to accomodate, so do what helps you while you adjust to this bigger, better, fiercer you.

        • Reply Roo September 23, 2013 at 12:54 pm

          I am obviously a little bit of a trainwreck, because this comment made me cry. Thank you, Julie. :)

          ♥ ♥ ♥

          • Julie September 23, 2013 at 3:17 pm

            xoxoxo girl. xoxoxo.

  • Reply Sunnie September 23, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    This is a hard post to read, because it’s a hard reality to confront (and I’m experiencing it second hand! I can’t imagine what it’s like for you), but I’d rather read it and be uncomfortable than live in a fantasy world. THIS is the real world, full of economic disparity and heartache, joy and pain all wrapped up in a colorful, chaotic package. That’s the world I want to be a part of, even if the help I can give is small in comparison to the size of the problem – each small thing we do to help changes the world a little bit and changes us immeasurably.

    • Reply Roo September 25, 2013 at 10:15 am

      “THIS is the real world, full of economic disparity and heartache, joy and pain all wrapped up in a colorful, chaotic package. That’s the world I want to be a part of, even if the help I can give is small in comparison to the size of the problem – each small thing we do to help changes the world a little bit and changes us immeasurably.”

      So good, Sunnie. Thank you.

  • Reply Courtney @ Don't Blink. Just Run. September 23, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I can’t even imagine. We’re on a “boil water” alert (in a few towns in RI) for a few days due to E. Coli being present in the town water. I feel guilty for thinking how inconvenient it’s been at work not being able to fill up my water bottle throughout the day. Kinda puts things in perspective.

    • Reply Roo September 25, 2013 at 10:16 am

      Yeah I was just reading about that, Courtney, and Jack was telling me that a news anchor on CNN was like, “CAN YOU IMAGINE? NO RUNNING WATER?” and thought it was so interesting because that’s our perspective in the US, when in so many other parts of the world, it’s just a reality.

  • Reply kirby September 23, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Oh Roo….my heart seriously. I wish I was in a better financial situation to help, and saying that makes me feel so guilty because I have so much more than they do. My girls also don’t have to thinks twice about missing a meal, etc. That being said, I’m not forgetting World Vision. It’s on my list of things to do once everything settles in. I am a Madrina to someone but I’d love to be a Madrina to a little child in Guatemala.

    • Reply Roo September 25, 2013 at 10:17 am

      You are so sweet, Kirby! Someday a little kid in Guatemala will love to have you as his or her madrina!

  • Reply Natasha September 23, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Oh, Roo. I’ve said it before, but thank, thank, THANK YOU! For sharing your experience, perspective, processing, and obvious heartbreak as you have gone on this journey. We NEED this wake up call, to see reality and that it’s more than shiny cars and are my shoes nicer than the other moms’ in my neighborhood. Children are out future (cliche as it is) and that human trafficking and abuse still goes on, is so painful to realize. Just, keep sharing with us. You write so beautifully, it’s like we are there also.
    And if this post makes no sense, it’s cuz I’m crying, again.
    And Remmy is SO clever for putting those Legos together, I love that it was a truck :)

    • Reply Roo September 25, 2013 at 10:18 am

      Awww Natasha, you are just the sweetest. Thanks for sticking with me through all of my emotional + mildly incoherent blog posts. :)

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  • Reply Whitney Dupuis September 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I just cannot even fathom any child living like this. My Canon never has to think twice about joining a soccer team or having swim lessons or drawing with an abundance of crayons, much less when he will next eat. We sponsor a child, though admittedly we don’t “take care of him and love him” as we should.

    Thank you for this reminder. Please understand that this emotion that you are feeling – the ups and downs – are there for a reason. I believe one of those reasons is to remind people like me to be thankful for what we have, and to do what we can to help others that don’t have those same “luxuries”.

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