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Personal Stories

Personal Stories: Jenipher's Journey

Jenipher Young-Hall left on February 1 for Guatemala with only the vaguest of plans. Her intention is to stay for at least a year and this is the story of her journey as she tells it on her Facebook page and through her Facebook photos. Click on the photos below for full size images. Links provide background on the country and its people.


After a mostly conventional start to life - marriage and family - Jenipher went back to school and graduated from Boston University at age 39 with a Masters in Social Work. She enjoys helping people so worked for the next decade as a social worker while dreaming of something more. At age 50 she decided to do something really interesting and joined the Peace Corp heading out to Nepal for two years.

"Joining the Peace Corps was the fulfillment of a long-held dream. This is something I've wanted to do since I was in high school. When my children were finally grown up, I saw the opportunity and I took it."

She fell in love with the people, especially the women and children, and determined to find something that would help them help themselves. An article she wrote tells the story of three heroic women she met.

"I hatched the premise for Mahila, a small Connecticut-based jewelry company, on the floor of the Peace Corps center in Kathmandu, Nepal. I had no business background, no previous entrepreneurial ambition or skills. I had fallen in love with the people, the jewelry and the many children wanting to change their lives through education or cleft palate surgery. A social worker by background, I came home and took crash business courses, but largely learned by the seat of my pants. I started Mahila as a home party business. I knew that we needed a web site, but was reluctant because I was afraid that it wouldn't be able to tell customers what we did 'with heart'. I was wrong, it really tells our story."

Promoting Mahila

For the past ten years she creatively found ways to sell the jewelry and raise funds for cleft palate programs. See Hartford Courant article. It grew and she has been able to turn it over now to others.

"I started a jewelry import business to support myself and two programs that my counterpart and I had developed: a cleft palate-operation program and a scholarship program for girls. Recently, I closed the business and turned Mahila into a non-profit organization. We are beginning a liaison program with the Children's Hospital in Hartford and the women who have worked all this time to keep the programs going in Surkhet."

Now the travel bug has bitten Jenipher again. For the last year she has been putting her personal affairs in order so she could take off on another adventure. . . at age 65. We should note that Jenipher is a huge fan of Esther and Jerry Hicks and the Abraham material. She co-produced the quarterly dinner gatherings of Abraham readers at the Taste of India in West Hartford, which regularly draws over 40 people. She has obviously learned how to create the life she wants with the power of intention.

The New Adventure

After several years of dreaming and a year of getting her affairs in order Jenipher left Manchester on February 1, 2010 for Guatemala City. Her intent? To meet people, learn about the culture, help as she can and get all she can from life.

Guatemala is home to the Mayans, who are much in our thoughts as we approach 2012 and the end of the Mayan calender. Although this didn't influence

One bag's enough
her choice she's sure to bump into new age tourists. During the 1980's and '90's the country went through a bloody civil war, included meddling by the United States. Ending in 1996 it resulted in the murder of almost 200,000 people, mostly Mayans. Today it is stable and welcomes visitors, but the scars remain.

Before she left Jenipher set up a Facebook page to stay in communication with home. Much of the following is from this source. She has uploaded many photos with comments on what she has seen. Very early she made contact with a school where she offered her services and has found a new home, at least for now. Photos shown here are from her Facebook albums.

"Finally I am on the road and it feels great! It was really hard to get everything done on time and if Kirt hadn't helped me Saturday night I'd still be in Manchester. First thing I had to do when I arrived in NYC was stop at EMS and buy a new back pack to squeeze in all the stuff I am bringing. But it is all down to one big day pack." - January 31

First Stop - Antigua

Jenipher's first stay is in Antigua, a United Nations Heritage Site located in the Central Highlands and surrounded by three large, active volcanos.

February 11 - "Today is the first day that I have had.....no time taken just to relax. I sat in the park for awhile and just watched everyone. Everybody I seem to meet has a very interesting story. I happened to sit next to a couple from Denmark who were waiting to meet their son who work in Guatemala City. We joked about how wealthy they were as I think Denmark leads the world financially.

"Moments later I literally bumped into a woman in the street and found that she has just returned from India and manages a micro credit union for poor women. God knows the world needs more of her. I guess one of the reasons I came here was to see just a bit more of the world and to explore who I was without the trappings that I have collected around me. And even Sun Say (her cat).

"But this is just the beginning with all the highs and lows. I think that I might be moving too fast as I am already in touch with a deaf school here. There is wonderful energy with the kids, the man who started it and the teachers. But here I go, getting back into something similar. The dust hasn't even settled and I am creating the same thing over. I do miss all of you, the Abe group really kept me on track, my family next door, Josh and kids in NYC the morning walks."

February 12 - "The vegetable market....just like Stop and Shop! I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but there are coffee shops with good smells everywhere. The market place is really fun....you can buy almost anything including coffee beans of all shapes and colors. You can buy a dozen roses for about $2 and that is what I'd pay. I haven't gotten the bargaining down yet. I usually lose my edge when I blurt out 'how much' in amazement? The dollar is down, but so is tourism so you can get a wonderful apartment from $200 to $400.

"I have done more walking than I have since I left Nepal. I am just beginning to be able to navigate the city. It is small or I should say compact. Almost every house has a wall around it so you can't tell from the outside what it is like inside. There is always a center garden which could easily be in one of our home magazines. Antigua has lots of ex patriots who bring in lots of money so needless to say the tourists are treated well.

"The old churches arches, cobblestone streets and horse and carriages are wonderful. There are book stores and poster shops at every corner....its really hard to take. Plenty of Churches both in ruins and restored, though nothing new. Antigua is on the United Nations Historical registrary so they can't change anything. There are several volcanos (live) outside of town that tower over the city. The temperature is about 73 degrees and they are in their dry season.

"A grave yard, looks like New Orleans. Funny story, when I first got here I saw a 'procession' coming down the street and thought I'd get a picture. No traffic so I got in the middle of the street and got my cameras all set, looking like a real tourist. But when I focused I realized it was a funeral. Oh......Rats, did I look bad."

Playing The Tourist

February 17 - "I finally did the volcano trip. You all know that I can be really cheap, but I very wisely chose the best tour (most expensive - $39). Two American brothers own it and our guide was well trained. What a great choice and as a result a fantastic trip. It was also the most rigorous trip I've ever taken. It made Nepal seem sooo easy. I was the oldest by at least 30 years too. We had an hour or so next to the lava. I am really glad that I chose the night tour. We weren't in a hurry to go down and we had a picnic dinner half way down. It was probably like seeing fireworks during the day time or at night."

February 18 - "I went to a town famous for the weaving that is done all over Guatemala. I didn't buy anything because I need to keep my backpack light so that I can travel a bit later. My Spanish is moving much slower than the lava. Nice shot of a woman with a hand loom. The cloth that they weave is very thick/heavy. Their dresses have to be rather warm in hot weather. The Mayan women pretty much stick to the traditional dress. Though they make up 60% of the country they have suffered a great deal of discrimination and more; yet they are the sweetest people.

"Women still wear traditional clothing but not the men. Someone said that the men stoped wearing the traditional clothing so that the military could tell what village they were from. Each town has it's own design for their weaving."

February 28 - "I've decided that generally there are two kinds of tourist. Those who want to get all that they can from the people/country and those who give back to the country. These are folks who give big time. The little girl is a "servant" and it is her 14th birthday. We sang happy birthday and all helped with an appropriate present for a 14th birthday.

"Miss you all especially two nights ago when we had two tremors at 5.4 and 5.6 on the Richter scale. It got me out of bed and outside quickly, with a great view of a full moon."

March 20 - "Sunsets with the backdrop of the volcanos surrounding the town is wonderful. It has rained only once since I have been here. I can't wait to find out what monsoons are like.....yeh sure! The town is still in it's Easter Festive mood and every room is filled with a flood of gringos and Guatemalans who can afford to travel. I will be glad when the Easter stuff is over.

"I seem to be taking lots of pictures of kids, flowers and old people. The chicken buses are so much fun to ride. You meet such wonderful people. It is a way to be a part of it all. You are all in the same situation, everyone is equal and eager to either sleep or get to know one and other. I think I could just get on Chicken buses and ride all day to nowhere just to meet people like them.

"I don't take a shot of people's faces unless I first ask. Every line had to be a story. Where we were the revolution was especially hard so I expect a few lines speak to the hardship of that experience. Their war made our revolution look very civilized. The part that the U.S. played is really sad. I have to hand it to Bill Clinton in that he came and at least apologized for our part in so many peoples death.

"Kids here seem to be happy 99% of the time. They seem to be too happy to fight or cry much. Just goes to show that $$$ just doesn't hold the key to happiness. But then anyone of you who are looking/reading this knows that anyway.

"A man from Denmark has traveled the world with his puppet show. It was the most moving presentation I have seen about sharing the planet with each other. There is something here that is so moving and touches the heart...wish I could put it into words.

"I wish I had a better camera. But I am glad that I decided to travel light, one small back pack. I didn't need the Kindle, the books that I need just seem to show up. Abraham at work!"

Life In and Around Antigua

April 4 - "I visited a wonderful little village on the side of one big volcano. We have had several quakes since I have been here, only 4.2, but it is enough to get your attention.

"It seems in small mountain villages they take going to church seriously. There must have been at least 500 people at this service. And the energy was indescribable. I love flowers and Antigua provides the most amazing array of colors and variety of flowers that I have ever seen.

"Pottery is for sale in the street. It is very pretty, but I wouldn't trust that there is not lead in the glaze.

"We talk about family values but they live them. It's so much fun to watch the relationship between parents and their children."

April 17 - "This is rainy season. It is raining unbelievably hard outside the computer/phone shop right now. It nice as long as you're warm and dry. We had a workshop yesterday for the kids. I think it was harder for the adults to do.

"Dogs have a great life here if they have generous owners. One lives at an orphanage so table scraps are at easy access. My little cat friend sleeps on the wall above the outdoor laundry tub while I do my washing. There are a lot of wild dogs so there are not too many cats. We are inside a walled compound so he has an unusually good life.

"So do we all!

"I had such mixed feeling about this photo. That is an American Flag hanging out to dry at a house that is clearly at poverty level and it is just across the way from a new gated community that has EVERYTHING that you could ever want behind a wall. The gated community has a security guard and unbelievable gardens and landscaping. I'm not sure if in the long run it is good or bad, It does bring in jobs...better than none if guess.

"I am always amazed that things that I need just come to me. The books that have just fallen into my lap and the people that I need to dig a bit deeper into myself just "happen to appear"."

April 27 - "A free medical group came in from the USA and examined all of our kids. Only two were able to benefit from a hearing aide. One little girl had a battery operated hearing aide, but when the batteries died the family didn't have the resources to buy new ones, so they are going to provide her with a new solar powered one. It was good for the two who they could help, but reading the other kids' charts..."profoundly deaf" was hard especially when there were two that could benefit.

"We talked The Montessori school owner into coming to Lavosi and doing a clown presentation. The kids loved it and so did the older of our group. Hopefully she is going to come back to work with the teachers on Montessori methods. Montessori was original developed for learning disabled kids with some emotional problems. It is going to be hard to leave the school, I love the kids and everything about it."

May 26 - Visiting Belize

In late May Jenipher went to neighboring Belize for some fun in the sun and to meet friends from back home. Belize is on the Atlantic Coast. While there she made a side trip to visit Mayan ruins.

"I left for Belize and took some time going to meet friends. I stayed in the port town which was a poor fishing town and then went to an island for a day or two. I loved the laid back no hurry feeling, but I lost my credit /ATM card. It was a bear to get everything back in order. Then on to meet Kathy and Nancy.

"Got too much sun but saw a wonderful array of fish, sharks, rays, corals, sponges and sea fans. Belize is the second largest coral reef. Great time!

"This was on my bucket list; the Mayan ruins at Tikal. It was unbelievable. I was awed at the size and building skill. How did they do it without even a wheel or iron tools? The height of the structures is staggering. You could just sit quietly and imagine what it was like when it was full of people and a thriving intellectual center.

"Unfortunately, Tikal is not as well preserved as some of the sites that I saw in Mexico. Some anthropologists have said that they wish they could just cover them up again to preserve them. There are very few carvings except for people who have carved their names in the walls. Really sad.

"But of course I had to take the challenge and climb the pyramid. I am not afraid of heights, but I want to tell you that I had weak knees when I got to the top and thought about coming down the same way. There were hundreds of monuments all over. But there is an new area they have recently discovered that is mammoth. It is a two days hike in the jungle. Very tempting.

"The jungle and bird life is wonderful. The jungle noise in the morning was deafening. I went off the trail and started finding feathers. I realized it was a kill and then spotted a juvenile owl. Suddenly a shadow passed over me and when I looked up I saw the biggest bird I have ever seen. I clearly interrupted his dinner. I could have spent three or four day there and intend to come back again before leaving.

"The amazing thing is that unlike other major societies the Mayans developed quickly on their own. They had nothing to build on from other groups and yet they were, for their day, remarkably advanced. They were almost intuitive. Their system of math was far advanced, they invented the concept of zero.

"The circle is an important shape for them, it represents the cycle of life for all you 2012 fans. By the way I have been invited to a 2012 party in the area where the calendar references have been discovered. Every serious student of the Mayan predictions sees them as positive so it should be a good party."

June 13 - Pacaya & Agartha - What A Mess

While Jenipher was in Belize the Pacaya Volcano started erupting on Thursday, May 27 about 20 miles from Guatemalla City and even closer to her base at Antigua. Three days later Tropical Storm Agartha hit on Sunday, May 30. Agatha came in from the Pacific Ocean (see storm track) causing mud slides and floods. Many people were killed in Guatemala as the powerful tropical storm swept across the country, adding to the chaos caused by the erupting volcano. Parts of the country received their highest rainfall in more than 60 years. The airport in Guatemala City was closed.

Overflowing rivers, collapsed bridges, roads blocked by landslides, swamped fields, homes destroyed, almost 200 people killed and tens of thousands evacuated or displaced, in just a few hours. More than 70,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

When Jenipher returned to Antigua she pitched in and helped with the cleanup.

"As you might know from the news we have had a volcanic explosion and a major flood one right after the other. I have never seen rain like what we had although Antigua handled the water fairly well. If it had been in NYC it would have washed the city away. Some villages outside Antigua were really hurt with homes washed away and ash filled streets and homes. The volcano is still flowing but the huge amount of dust and rock are back to normal. It has gone back to a normal monsoon that is not dangerous now. Antigua is fine but there are over 100 bridges out in the area and there is volcano dust inches thick in surrounding villages.

"I avoided taking pictures of people in this situation except for kids and volunteers. We loaded three pickup trucks with games, puzzles and other kid stuff and drove to one of the villages. I haven't played football for years. It was like the pied-piper, kids came out of the broken walls and muddy banks to join us. The work that they did was wondrous. If you didn't know what they were doing you would just think they were playing and not helping the kids deal with the huge losses that they had just suffered.

"I really lucked out by getting to know some of the NGO's (volunteer agencies). I was invited to volunteer with one of three groups that worked with kids with PTSD (Post trauma stress disorder). This particular NGO was well organized and flexible enough to meet the crisis. As always when you help out it is as good for you as those you are "helping". Being an old social worker I was really interested in their processing when they returned to the NGO. Guatemala may be poor but this group was using methods that are really effective and admirable.

"I volunteered again, but this weekend I went to help with shoveling. When I got done I came home to a hot shower clean cloths and a good meal. The people in the village who lost their homes weren't as fortunate. I was the only woman on this crew, but I shoveled a good bit of mud too. The crew was able to clean out a three room house in a morning's work;.or at least we got the bulk of it out. The owner will have to go back with a hose and broom."

July 17 - Trek To El Mirador

El Mirador is a Mayan site deep in the jungles of northern Guatemala on the Mexican border. It includes the Pyramid of El Tigre, a magnificent site that is currently being researched and excavated by archaeologists. The site is part of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve which was created in 1990 to protect the largest area of tropical forest remaining in Central America. Guatemala plans to develop the site for ecotourism, but at this point there are no roads or rail to reach the area. You enter by helicopter or on foot. Jenipher went in with a small group on foot. She and the cook were the only women.

"We hiked over 60 miles in 5 days. Our guide brought us through the swamp first with his machete and then went back for the mule and horse. I found after our short lunch I was really tired so I rode everyday for 20 minutes and was good to go. Thank goodness it was relatively flat terrain. There was a mule train (of I think five animals) that went ahead of us and left our tents, food and bags. So they were there in a pile when we arrived at our camp site. Our feet/legs were wet most of the time. I walked out without any blisters, but did have a diaper rash around my legs the first day. I treated it and was OK from then on.

"I was collecting feathers on this trip and the cook was taunting me with one she had just picked up. She had a great sense of humor. Any time she fell in the mud she would laugh so hard it was hard getting her up. I felt a real connection to her, probably because we were the only women in our group. I was so proud of myself, my first tortilla.....OK, so it is a bit misshapen. The cook tolerated my feeble attempts at her camp fire. The food was amazingly good considering the conditions.

"There were so many things I couldn't get good shots of, monkeys protesting our intrusion in their world, the most wonderful butterflies, and birds that were very camera shy.

"The only way you can get into El Mirador is to trek in or by helicopter....very expensive. So there are very few tourists to spend the night with in the hotel pool. The government is finally using some sense about this and is planning a train, not a road. Roads bring uncontrolled tourism. Of course you will still be able to fly in by helicopter."

The Maya Biosphere Reserve is home to a large concentration of ancient Maya cities, many of which are under excavation. Tikal is the most famous of these, attracting about 150,000 visitors per year. Tens of other sites exist in varying states of excavation. The Mirador Basin, in the northern part of the Reserve, contains numerous interconnected Maya cities.

El Mirador was rediscovered in 1926, but only recently became the focus of ongoing excavations. It holds great promise both as a tourism destination rivaling the magnitude of Tikal and as an important piece in the puzzle concerning the advancements of Preclassic Maya society. El Mirador flourished between 200 B.C. and A.D. 150, much earlier than Tikal, and has revealed a greater level of sophistication than once thought concerning early Mayan society. It is thought to have been home to 80,000 people at the height of its occupation. The site sits on a series of limestone hills at an altitude of just over 800 feet. El Miradorís dominating feature is the presence of two large pyramid complexes, El Tigre and La Danta, running east to west and facing each other.

"There is so much work to be done at this sight and they can only work in the summer monsoon season because they all have to go back to teach their college courses. Money comes from lots of sources, but the leadership comes from colleges and universities from all over the world. To preserve their work they sometimes have to cover it over with the same dirt that they just dug up. Their job is not easy, but very interesting.

"One of our best finds was the archeologist (who actually is an MD) who is really into his work, especially the pottery that they are finding. This is something I have had a long interest in. The exhibit in the Natural History Museum in NYC is great if you get a chance to see it. He talked to me about glazes and firing. Something I am not finding in books.

"The view is awesome...no AWESOME! You look 360 degrees and see nothing but little bumps which are ruins and trees. And there is nothing but bumps and trees. No villages, just drug runners and us. The best part of the trip was just looking in awe and wondering what was once here."

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