This blog reflects my opinions and does not reflect the opinions of the US Government or the Peace Corps

Monday, May 31, 2010

Volcanic Eruptions and Tropical Storms

Some pics of Tropical Storm Agatha and the damage it did in my community:

The big news this week is all the natural disasters hitting Guatemala. Thursday the volcano Picaya erupted. I have not seen any news footage on it or anything but I know some people died. All the ash in the air also shut down the Guatemala City airport. However this was all quickly overshadowed by Topical Storm Agatha that hit. Friday the rain was light all day but then Friday night a continuous downpour started. We were supposed to attend a Mayan Cultural Ceremony but that was cancelled. We also were told by Peace Corps to stay put in our house so I spent the day just reading. I have never seen rain like I saw on Saturday though. It just kept coming. We lost power a few times. The best was when my host mom, Ingrid, appeared wearing a headlamp (I always thought headlamps were an American thing). The Peace Corps office had been in touch all day long. They made the decision to evacuate my town of San Luis but since I technically live outside of town and in a less flood-prone zone I had a choice to evacuate or stay with my family and I decided to stay. The other girls’ houses are much closer to the river and during Hurricane Stan in 2006 all of San Luis flooded. My family told me I am safe and it has never flooded at the house so I was not really worried. It was kind of just one big adventure for me.

Sunday morning I got to see how the storm was actually worse than I thought. I had stayed in my house all day Saturday so I didn’t really have a clue. The morning paper though showed how so far 12 people died and more are missing. The pictures are crazy. A lot of cities all over Guatemala flooded completely. I found out Peace Corps had to evacuate volunteers that live on or near the Pacific Coast. The girls from my group that were evacuated Saturday night had to also spend Sunday night at the hotel since Peace Corps thinks the river is still too high for them to return home to San Luis. The road I live on is windy and has houses on one side and a cement wall along the other that separates the road from the river. About a quarter mile down the road from my house the ground gave out and washed a big chunk of the wall into the river and part of the road washed away. There is also dirt and mini-mudslides all over. All in all it was quite exciting. The Peace Corps also kept sending texts to all trainees and volunteers with updates so that made everything a little more exciting too.

Tortillas Eaten: 100+
Cold Showers Taken: 20+
Times I´ve Been Told I´m Tall: 3
Giant Spiders Killed: 2
Tropical Storms Survived: 1

Odds and Ends of Training

This week has flown by so fast. It’s been one thing after another. Wednesday was my first official Charla (Health Talk). The whole day was a Women’s Health Fair at the Centro de Salud in Antigua where my group works. The fair had booths with health foods and offered free HIV tests, pap smears, orthodontists, pre-natal care, a beauty salon and more! A lot of the women that came have only been seen by a doctor once or twice in their lifetime. There was also an MC and music and yes, they played some Lady Gaga. It was loud and hectic all day but also a lot of fun. In the morning Kim, Mary and Melissa present their Charla on HIV to group of about 40 female jovenes (youth). They did a great job and I think the girls enjoyed it. In the afternoon Cathleen and I presented our Charla on Domestic Violence. They decided to move our Charla from the classroom to the main lobby area and they wanted us to use the microphone. Yikes! There were about 50 jovenes from another girl’s school in addition to the regular people waiting in the lobby area. It was an intimidating audience at first but the youth were very excited and wanted to participate which made our jobs easier. We played a dinamica (ice breaker), presented our objectives and then they divided into groups and had to match a cartoon of a type of domestic violence to the correct name and then discuss why. After about 10 minutes we came back together as a large group. We went over the cards and each type of violence and then had a more general discussion on why it happens and what to do if someone is the victim of Domestic Violence. All in all everything went really well for my first talk. I know I completely butchered some of my Spanish words but oh well. They thought it was funny because I’m a gringa.

On Friday I did my “Home Visits” with a health promoter. I went out with Dona Odilia in Jocotenango to visit a family and discuss healthy habits. She told me she never really does home visits so I was a little apprehensive. We ended up “visiting” 4 families but we didn’t really talk too much. She just asked them how many kids they have and if their kids are at the correct weight. It was actually surprising to see that pretty much all of the children were underweight. One of the girls looked about 3 years old because she was so small but her mom said she was 5! It’s crazy because these families live in a relatively healthy part of Guatemala. The campo, where my permanent site will be, is much less developed and health issues are much more prevalent and serious. Dona Odilia was great though and of course she asked me over for coffee after and kept filing up my cup and making me eat more and more pan dulce (not that I’m complaining!). Everyone here is so welcoming and kind.

Also this week we found out more about Field Based Training. On June 6th we will leave to go spend a week with some current Healthy Homes volunteers. There are 7 people in my group and I am psyched because I think we have the BEST group. We all have very vibrant personalities and I know we will have a lot of fun. We do however have one of the most rigorous schedules. We will travel to the Department (like a state) of San Marcos and the first few days we will be in a very small town named San Lorenzo. The second part of the week we will go visit a different volunteer in the town of Comitancillo. During the week we are all giving various Charlas. I am working with my Montana friend Lindsay on a Water and Trash talk and with Elizabeth on a talk about Acute Respiratory Infections. But the best part is that my group is doing a radio socio-drama on one of the local radio stations and my group wanted me to be the director and of course I couldn’t turn that down (hahaha). I am excited to get to see a different part of Guatemala. My group is going to one of the farthest places; the department borders Mexico to the north.

Cathleen and I giving our introduction to the group.

The youth and audience playing the ice breaker

Group Discussion

More of our rockin´Domesic Violence Charla!

Melissa, Mary and Kim giving an HIV Charla

Monday, May 24, 2010

Un Cangrejo en la Pila

Saturday we had an unwelcome visitor in our house. At dinner my host dad, Armando, asked me if I had seen what’s in the pila (a pila is a 3 part sink+water storage+dishwashing area). I said no and he said there is a “cangrejo”…a what? A CRAB! I went over and looked and he said it just crawled in there since the night before and it has been in there all day! I never even noticed it and I used the pila at least 5 times during the day. I did not believe him that it just appeared I thought they were playing a joke on me and it was for lunch or something the next day. But then the rest of the family assured me it just climbed in there at night with the heavy rains. They think it came up the drain and found its way to the pila and the water there. Armando scooped it out and put it in a pot with a lid and put a big rock on the top so it doesn’t get out. They also told me it has happened before and sometimes they get turtles in the pila too. This by far has been the most random experience since I’ve been in Guatemala. I expected crazy bus rides and getting lost and cold showers but a crab in the pila!?!!! Never. LOVE it!!!

Yesterday was a “free day” by Peace Corps rules. During training we are not allowed to leave our communities on our free time (lots of lovely PC rules…grr) except on certain days. Kim and I met up with some other chicas from different groups in the morning and we just hung around Antigua. We walked everywhere and ate some delicious food. I had an amazing veggie burger on a bagel for lunch (not so Guatemalan I know) and tried the famous Gallo Beer. It was not so good…I’m going to have to wait two years until my return to the Pacific Northwest for some good beer. Next time I’ll check out the wine situation in Guatemala…hopefully more promising. Mostly I just had a fantastic time hanging out with my friends. Training is so go-go-go and everything in our lives is scheduled by PC so it was nice to relax and do what we wanted. It was also great because I feel like I am finding some really amazing friends. We are all very different but same in a lot of ways too. It’s just nice to find friends I connect with. One month down and all is still going well. Let’s hope the “Honeymoon Phase” doesn’t wear off anytime soon.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Demasiado Trabajo and Community Exchange

Me and mi amiga Kim from Chicago!

My group at work

A view of my town San Luis from a hill above. My town is past the main highway yo can see and I live further through the mountains a bit.

This is the awesome cmemetry located in Santo Domingo Xenjacol

My group and the group from Santo Domingo

The church in Santo Domingo

Inside the church in Santo Domingo

I have officially gotten “into the thick of it.” Training went from being fun and easy to OMG I have a lot of stuff to get done in the next few days. My training group is working with the Centro de Salud (Health Center) in Antigua and next Wednesday the center is hosting a Women’s Health Fair. They asked us if we wanted to help and we said yes of course. However, now we are giving two talks, one on HIV and one on Domestic Violence. Yikes! In technical training sessions we are just starting to learn how to give a health talk (called a CHARLA here). My group had to expedite the process since we will be presenting to about 50 women on Wednesday. I am working with Cathleen and we are going to do the Domestic Violence talk. As of now I have no idea what we are actually going to do but I know it will come together somehow. I guess one way to learn how to give a health talk in Guatemala is to just throw it out there and see how it goes.

On Thursday we went to meet the mayor of Pastores, the larger municipalidad that San Luis belongs to. He was very helpful to talk to and knew all about the population, taxes, public services and groups that the municipalidad works with. He was also very supportive of the Peace Corps and its goals and I think by the end of the meeting he wanted to get a volunteer placed in Pastores! He also invited us all to the “Aguas Calientes” (Hot Springs) with him one day. Hang out with the mayor…why YES!

In addition to the mountain of technical training/health talks we are doing and meeting the mayor we have been trucking along with Spanish class. We had a feedback session with our teacher this week and all went well with that. On Friday we watched a movie called “El Norte” about the 30 year Civil War in Guatemala (that ended only recently in 1996) and how the war affected immigration to the US. It was interesting to see through a movie how another country views America…the Land of Milk and Honey. However it also showed the reality of living as an illegal immigrant in the US and how it is not so easy to have the “American Dream.” It was a good movie but a little on the depressing side (but I guess that’s real life, eh). Friday was also the last day with our Spanish teacher, Chepe. They switch teachers during training so we will have Oscar from now on. I think my whole group is really sad because Chepe was The Man! We got to do fun stuff (like go out to breakfast in Antigua) instead of regular class. Hopefully Oscar will be the same.

Today we had a “Community Exchange” with another training group that lives in Santo Domingo Xenjacol. They came here to San Luis first and we showed them around and did a mini-scavenger hunt. We had them hike up a big hill to get a better view of San Luis. Unfortunately San Luis has one road in town and not too much going on- no internet, no ice cream, and no basketball courts- so it was hard to come up with stuff to show them but we played a trivia game and I think they enjoyed it. Then we went to visit their town and it was amazing! It’s about 20 minutes from us by car and it’s nestled in a bunch of green mountains. They city is also much bigger and they have their own mercado, puesto de salud, and 5 escuelas. Not to mention the best Guatemalan ice cream shop, Sarita! I must say I have a little town envy. Poor San Luis is just so small comparatively.

Other than a lot of work I have been hanging out with my host family a lot. Friday night we went out to a mall to eat and had a sandwich at a little coffee shop. They are really great people and I love watching them with their new baby. It was kind of funny today because they asked me how I feel in their home and I said “bien.” Ingrid wasn’t so sure and had to double check and I had to reassure her I am very happy and they are very kind and wonderful to me. I really am having a great time so far. The amount of work is overwhelming at the moment but I know it will all go alright. And even if I make a fool of myself with these health talks they will just assume it’s because I’m a Gringa so I’ll just go with that.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Guate City...Not for Me

Yesterday we went into Guatemala City for the day. The purpose of the trip was get to know the city in case we need to go there for a medical emergency or something of that sort. We took the camioneta in and then got a taxi once in the town. We are only permitted to use a certain taxi company becasue the other companies are not reputable and have a history of bad incidents. We took a yellow taxi to see the US Embassy and the hospital. The city was huge and kind of dirty and really I'm not a fan. I much more prefer the smaller cities where you can see the beautiful green mountains.

Also today was another common session. I love Tuesdays becasue I get to see all the other trainees. I like my group of 5 but at the same time its always nice to see new people. Also people have been starting to get packages (HINT HINT)!!!! I am a huge fan of peanut butter M and Ms and face wash. haha! But really I would love to get any type of mail from you guys! My address is at the very bottom of my blog!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ancient Mayans had Jade Grills

Yes, it´s true some of the anient Mayan people wore Jade grills on their teeth to show their status. Today we went to the Jade Museum and Factory in Antigua and the guide showed us some old artifacts with the Jade in the teeth. Love it!

Monday was El Dia de La Madre here so my group decided to throw a mini fiesta. We went to Antigua and bought a delicious cake and then had cake and ice cream and helado with all of our host mothers. We mostly just sat around and chatted and it was nice to have everyone together.

Thursday we got to go visit a real volunteer in her site. We visited Ellen who is currently finising up service in Santa Apolonia in Chimaltenango. It was awesome to see someone being so successful in her site. She has built 37 latrines between two small villages outside of her main town. We went up to the indigenous village where almost all the people only spoke Kakchiquel. We saw Ellen present a health talk to a women´s group and then we got to tour the womens´ houses. This was the definition of rural poverty. However the women were so happy and you could feel the love they had for Ellen. The women´s group wanted to cook for all the gringos so we had a delicious chicken soup and tamalitos which I LOVED! (I ate waaaaaay too many) We all also recieved some good advice from Ellen just on general stuff like living situations, buying food and getting the health talks going. It was a great day and made me excited to serve.

Other than that I have just been contining with all my Spanish classes and technical training. Right now all the information is very overwhelming but I know once I´m out there I´ll get the hang of it. It´s been about 3 weeks since I left home and time has flown by. I really do like it here. Riding the camionetas are terrifying and exhilirating at the same time. I´m also working on just being ¨tranmquilo¨here with everything.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cooking Time!

I´ve still been doing the same old same old...class and more class but today we got to have a cooking class at Chepe´s house! Enjoy the pics!

This is our dog Sultan. He LOVES to bark and howl..all the time.

Mi amiga Mary and I making Tamalitos...little tamales.

The mother of my language teacher taught us how to cook today! She is amazing at it. I tried my best and I did alright at the tamalitos but I am NOT talented at making the corn tortillas! Mine had huge holes in them.

A view of a volvano as we walked up to Barrio La Cruz today for class.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Day to Day

I have now been in Guatemala about a week! We are already deep into training. More or less my days Monday through Friday, and sometimes Saturday, are split between Spanish class in the morning and some type of technical training in the afternoon. I am in a group with 4 other women and we all live in San Luis Las Carretas. Every day we meet for class at 8am at one of our houses. We don’t do anything like a traditional class since we are more advanced so our focus is on conversational Spanish. In reality we just sit around and shoot the breeze and talk about everything from prostitutes to the supposed end of the world in 2012 (which by the way the Mayans here explained that, no, the world is not ending, it’s just starting a new era). Our teacher is Chepe and he is awesome! He lives in a nearby town of Pastores and rides his little moto everywhere. He also has a lot of good information about culture and customs. After class I walk home and eat lunch around 12:30pm and then it’s back to either more class with Chepe or a meeting with one of the Healthy Homes technical trainers. Yesterday the group from San Lorenzo came down and 10 of us met with Caroline who talked to us about figuring out a community’s needs and making sure it’s the people of the communities who are making the decisions.
Today we had class at Dona Lydia’s casa and did an exercise where we had to listen to a Guatemalan song and then put all the jumbled lyrics in order on paper…not easy! I am also taking it upon myself to work on my grammar outside of class on my own because in comparison to the rest of my group it is terrible but I am getting better and I can speak and understand everything and that’s what is important. In the afternoon we got picked up by the PC and all the Healthy Homes volunteers met in San Antonio Aguas Calientes for a common session. We discussed public health and what it means here in Guatemala. The statistics here are staggering:
-about 70% of population lives in poverty
-leading cause of death among children is pneumonia and diarrhea
-90% of water in Guatemala is contaminated
-the poorest country in Central America
The stats can go on forever like this. It is overwhelming to learn it all in one day. Needless to say there is plenty of work ahead of me.

Other than class I do a lot of studying and hanging out with the family. I have successfully made Carmila the baby stop crying a few times so that is good! She is so cute and already getting big. Cruz and Ingrid like to do things so yesterday we went to another little town and they had some street food. I tried to politely decline as I do not think my stomach is up to the challenge of street food just yet. I will try to start bringing my camera with me a few places so I can get some pics up here! Hasta luego!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The First Weekend in Guate

Mi cuarto (My room)


I feel like so much has happened yet nothing at all. On Saturday we all boarded some PC mini-buses and went out to our communities. I was the first of ten to be dropped off and was quite nervous to meet my familia nueva (new family). However Dona Ingrid and her new baby, Carmila, greeted me at the door of the boot shop they own. Don Cruz (ok I THINK that is his name but people keep calling him either Cruzando or Armando…I need to figure this out ASAP!) Don “Cruz” came home for lunch and we all ate. They are a very sweet and living young couple and I feel privileged to be part of their family as they grow. Also Don “Cruz”’s parents live in the same house and names soon to come on them! People seem to mumble their names every time I ask. Now that I’ve been here a few days I think it would be rude to ask so I will try to find a way to figure them out. O there is also a dog named Sultan who is a 4 month old hound dog that looks way too much like Shanti. The town I live in is technically Pueblo Nuevo but it is right down the road from San Luis Las Carretas which is where I’ll be every Monday through Saturday for language and culture class for the next 3 months. Sunday another PCT, Mary, and I walked through the VERY small town (called “aldea” here) to go watch the local soccer team play. The town is mostly on one main road so I won’t be getting lost too much. And walking alone I’ve only received one bit of harassment when an older man said “guapa” (beautiful) instead of hello but if that’s the worst of it I’ll take it!

The last two days I’ve been to Antigua and it is beautiful. PCTs are not allowed to go during the 3 month training unless you go with your host family and conveniently my host family usually goes and walks around every weekend! Saturday it rained in the afternoon so we just went to the church named La Iglesia de Santo Hermano Pedro. On Sunday we lucked out with the weather and walked around a lot of the main plaza and saw another big yellow Iglesia but I did not catch the name. This big Iglesia has catacombs beneath it! Umm….Awesome! I’m excited to go to Antigua some more and check out the bookstores and coffee shops I passed by. It’s also nice traveling a big town when I am with Guatemaltecas (Guatemalans) because they know so much and I feel very safe.

Tonight on the way home from Antigua we went to Ingrid’s parents’ house for dinner. My stomach was not feeling well all day from the malaria medicine I’m on so I tried with all my might to put the food in my stomach but it was not easy. Here it is considered very rude not to finish your meal. Since I just met the whole extended family I did not want to come off wrong so I just sucked it down. My cultural lesson for this blog (although really I have muchos) is what I learned at dinner tonight. I was talking to Ingrid’s sister after dinner and in my understanding and translation she said, “It’s funny because you Gringos always want to leave the US and are so excited to arrive in Guatemala but us Guatemaltecas are the opposite we don’t want to leave and are so happy here.” She continued on about family and such. I thought this sentiment was interesting and true, at least for the Peace Corps Volunteer population. They do not have much but they have their family and are content with their lives. I love my life in the States but I always wanted more and I thought PC would help me figure out what “more” was. Maybe at the end of this whole experience I’ll have realized that the thing I wanted most was my family which I’ve always had in the US. Maybe I should appreciate what I have and my family more. Just something for all to ponder…