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

Monday, June 28, 2010

IDA, Fleas and Bronco Nation

View from the top of San Frnacisco El Alto



Susie and Me!


Susie enjoying the view



The Church with the remains of market day in front



Last Wednesday I went on my IDA (Independent Directed Activity) trip with Susie. We visited Anna who lives in San Francisco El Alto, Totonicap├ín. Peace Corps did not provide transportation so we had to get there on our own. I traveled there with Susie, Misty and Mary and we got ourselves on the right buses and held on for dear life as the camioneta sped up huge mountain passes. I believe the camionetas defy gravity a bit because all laws of physics would say that the speed at which the drivers take those turns should make the camionetas flip over but they never do. I just brace myself and hold onto the seat ahead of me. Also, since Guatemalan usually sit 3 to a school bus seat it is usually better to get the middle or the window so you don’t accidentally go flying into the aisle at any time. After three hours of this we switched buses and Susie and I headed to meet Anna at her Health Center. The rest of Wednesday we mostly just hung around and prepped for our charlas the next day.

Thursday started with a hygiene charla to a Mi Familia Progresa group (a Guatemalan government organization). Susie read the story Mariquita Cochinita about a dirty girl who gets sick from not washing her hands. I acted out all that happened to Mariquita. The women loved it, especially when I have to go the bathroom in the campo. It was nice to get a few laughs out of such quiet, shy women. In the afternoon we went with Anna to an aldea named Palemop to a meeting with health promoters. Anna is training the promoters on how to give health talks and work within their communities. Susie and I gave two parts on the importance of being a health promoter and also about the Experiential Learning Cycle. Both parts went well and I think the women responded well to the information. There were a few parts during the meeting that all 16 Mayan women would not agree and they would start talking a mile a minute in Quiche and everyone talking over everyone else, just like a group of American women.


Me as Mariquita Cochinita using the campo as my bathroom


Germs on my hands


The ice breaker with the Mi Familia Progresa group


Friday morning Susie and I gave the same Mariquita Cochinita charla to another group of women with Mi Familia Progresa. The rest of the day was spent watching World Cup matches! Espa├▒a took down Chile!!!!! After that we just read and then walked around the town to check out the view.

Saturday morning we got up early to head back to Antigua in time to watch the US vs. Ghana game. We ended up on a camioneta that was hauling so fast we made it in about an hour less than it took to get there. We watched the US game and I was so sad to see the US get eliminated after a game plus two overtime periods. Now I am hoping Spain can pull out the whole thing!

Sunday I got up early and headed to Guatemala City with my family. A good chunk of Ingrid’s (my host mom) family came too. We were piled into two cars with two babies in tow. As a PCV, Guatemala City is actually off limits to due the violence, robberies and kidnappings but I was allowed to go since I was going with my family. We went to a few supermarkets and then just hung out at one of Ingrid’s brother’s house. The real excitement came when we went out to lunch and I ordered what I thought would be a seafood stew but I didn’t think about the fact that here they give you ALL of the animal. I had a bowl full of clams, half a fish body with skin and tail and all, full body shrimp that kept staring at me with those creepy eyes and tentacles and then to top it all of a huge crab just floating around. Where do you start with all that? My family just laughed at me for expecting clean shrimp and just pieces of seafood. How naive I am to Guatemalan food! After lunch we went to a good old fashioned Open House and looked at some town homes. I’m not sure why exactly but we all piled out of the cars and walked through. The homes were very nice and modern and nothing I am expecting to live in while I am here.

Other exciting news from the week…
-BUGS! I somehow have flea or mosquito bites all around my waist and on my face! I look like I have some disease. Just lovely.
-BRONCO NATION! I saw a Guatemalan man walking down the road with an orange Boise State Bronco Nation shirt on!
-SITE ASSIGNMENT!!!!!!!! Thursday morning I will find out where I will be spending the next 2 years of my life! Check back Thursday! I’ll try to put up a map too of where I’ll be!!!


Me, Shannon, Kim and Lindsay one day in AntiguA


This is a giant poster hanging at my health center...note the kid in the back in the white OREGON STATE t-shirt!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Free Rides

On Monday Kim and I went into Antigua for a meeting with midwives. We got to Antigua but could not find the building where the meeting was to be held. We walked around for a little bit then decided to ask these two policeman who were just sitting in their car. They radioed and got the address and directions. Then they told us just to get in and they would take us. I was VERY skeptical but we needed to get there and it was light out and I wasn't alone. So the police drove us through Antigua to the building. The whole time they just kept hitting on us. They asked where our boyfriends were and called us dolls and told us multiple times we are beautiful. Then they asked us what we were doing on Saturday and if we wanted to go to a party with them....HELL NO! I was very creeped out by this point but luckily we arrived and I high tailed it out of there! Note to self...I probably shouldn't accept rides from cops!

Other than that nothing too exciting to report from here. I leave today for San Francisco El Alto, Totonicapan for a 4 days visit to a volunteer. I am going with Susie!!! YEAH! We are watching the end of the US World Cup game then we are off to figure out the camioneta! I love public transportation here. Hopefully no one will be sitting on my lap for 4 hours. I'll update on the trip when I get back!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Week of ¨Fije se que...¨

This last week has been the week of “Fije se que…” Let me expand on this Guatemalan phrase just a bit. In this culture it is considered rude to be direct in speaking or to just say no. So if a Guatemalan doesn’t want to do something or something else came up they will talk in circles around the reason and use “Fije se que this” and “Fije se que that.” The real meaning doesn’t really translate but more or less it means “look/about that…” and it always precedes an excuse of some kind. On Wednesday we were supposed to go out with Sandra to check the chlorine in the water in and around Antigua but “Fije se que…the Ministry of Health decided to pop on by and I can’t go.” Then Sandra found someone else to take us but he says “Fije se que…the driver is out right now so we can’t go until 10:30am.” On Thursday our Hep A and Dengue charlas were cancelled for the second time. “Fije se que…I’m sick and can’t take you.” Then to top it all off Friday we were supposed to have our weekly Spanish class but “Fije se que…I thought Healthy Homes Volunteers cancelled so I’m in a different town.” Pretty much everything we had scheduled did NOT go according to plan. Maybe that’s why the Peace Corps says flexibility is #1. But really I cannot complain about any of these cancellations because it let me catch a few world cup games! Spain is still my favorite but the US isn’t doing terrible and that’s a plus!

Despite all the “Fije se que” we did actually do a few productive things this week. On Wednesday my group finally ended up going out to check on the chlorine in the water in some communities surrounding Antigua. Mary, Cathleen, Kim and I hopped in the back of the little old Datsun Health Center truck and with the driver Melissa and Arson, the water inspector, shoved in the front we went roaring through Antigua to the communities. It was a BUMPY ride in the back and I’m sure people were wondering why there was a bunch of Gringas in the back of the Health Center Truck. We must have been quite the sight. We visited about 7 different communities. Arson told us there is no method he just goes to the community, picks a house or a store and asks to use their faucet to check the water. Some people were very skeptical of all of us but all but one let us in. More or less we all came to the conclusion that there is no standard for the chlorination of the water. It is the job of the municipality to chlorinate the water but the job of the health center to check it. There is definitely a disconnect between the two. Some communities had no chlorine and others had way too much. That is just one reason NOT to drink the water here!


Mary and me in the back of the pick up


Kim, Cathleen and me riding along


On Friday my group presented the HIV/AIDS taller (workshop) to a group of 30 middle school students. I can’t say it was a complete success but we didn’t do terrible. The kids were really shy and we were just exhausted by Friday afternoon. We struggled to be entertaining and energetic. I also should have practiced my parts before (whoopsie) because I forgot some important things and messed up some words. But oh well it’s over now. I did the “Street Words” section where the kids have to write the slang words for terms like testicles, breasts, penis, etc. Mary and I also did the condom demonstration which of course made the kids embarrassed but I honestly believe it is something everyone needs to know so I’m glad they saw it. Some school directors don’t allow it but this one was very young and forward thinking which was great!

Me with my small group during the HIV workshop.


Mary introducing the definitions of HIV AIDS


Mary and me during the condom demonstration.


Saturday we got up early and went to Ciudad Vieja to help Eduardo (a PC Spanish teacher) with his house that was destroyed by mud in Tropical Storm Agatha. It was a little overwhelming to see his house. It really hit me then how bad the storm was and how here it is not so easy to just pick up the pieces and start over. It has been about 2 weeks since the storm and the house and the yard surrounding it was still just a mud pit. I went inside the house and worked on clearing the living room out. I could see the original mud line that was about a foot below the ceiling. When I went in the mud was about to my chest in ¾ of the room. We took shovels and heaved the wet and heavy mud into a slew of wheelbarrows and then some strong men took them out to the street to dump. We worked non-stop for about 3 hours and made significant progress until someone opened a door to another room and a huge mud flow came and filled up what we had just spent hours clearing. After the morning my body hurt so bad. I had blisters on my hands and mud all over me. I am so amazed that Eduardo, his family, the neighbors and some other workers have been doing this everyday all day for 2 weeks. It was very humbling when Eduardo’s wife came in to “salvage” some pictures off the wall which it was obvious could not be restored. They really lost everything.

Muddy me. The wall behind me is where the mud flow entered the house during the storm.


Entry into the house


The yard of the house





Next week I have another trip from Wednesday-Saturday. We are going in pairs to visit a current Healthy Homes volunteer. We are not getting a ride from Peace Corps but rather going on the camioneta. I’m really hoping I don’t get lost and end up who knows where in Guatemala. Vamos a ver. It will be exciting trying to navigate the camionetas more than just around my town. Also, I officially have less than a month of training left! YAHOOOOO! I am ready to be done with all the rules and classes and everything. I’ll find out my permanent site on July 1st and I am more than ready.

Lindsay and her host sister, Lourdes

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Field Based Training

WARNING: LONG POST!!!! (Sorry)!! I know it has been too long since my last blog post but I have been out doing Field-Based Training (FBT) in the department of San Marcos for the last week. We left Sunday morning and drove 3 hours to Quetzaltenango (known here as “Xela”-pronounced shay-la). We ate in Xela and mixed up our community groups into our FBT groups and were off to our respective sites. My group took off for another 2 hours to San Lorenzo, San Marcos. The drive was one of the most beautiful I have ever taken. We just kept going up and up into the highlands. The mountains are all green with a million different types of trees and cornfields all over. We arrived in San Lorenzo and got our hotel which we pretty much had to ourselves. Abby is the volunteer who is currently finishing her first year in San Lorenzo. Abby was super excited about her site and the Healthy Homes project so it was encouraging for all of us trainees to meet someone like her.

View of San Marcos from the van


Monday was the Water and Trash Charla for a group of health promoters given by Lindsay and me. Lindsay did a skit and taught them how to make “porta-pilas” (portable hand washing units out of old pop bottles). I gave the part about trash. The promoters went out in the town and had to pick up trash and then we sorted it by the best method of disposal. This charla was the most difficult for me because there was a man there who wanted to take over my job as presenter. I could hardly get a word in and he took over the teaching and the discussion. It was extremely frustrating for me. It was my first experience with a truly “machista” man but I’m sure it will not be my last. I was just glad to have that charla over with. In the afternoon on Monday we went to an NGO in the town and Susie, Shannon and Megan gave a micronutrient charla. Also Abby and Lauren (another PCV) did a tire garden demonstration to the women’s group.

The PortaPila Charla


Shannon giving a Micronutrient Charla to a indigenious women´s group.


Tuesday morning started with a Disaster Prevention charla given by Dirk and Elizabeth to 5 different classes of elementary students. All of us had a part in the earthquake skit. The kids loved it and it was fun to do since they all had a lot of energy and were clearly amused by the big group of tall white people. In the afternoon we went up to an aldea about 10 minutes away and Abby gave a cooking class to a smaller women’s group. She made the pancakes with half flour and half “incaparina” which is basically vitamin enriched flour since there is a huge nutrition problem in Guatemala.

Me, Shannon, Megan, Dirk, Lindsay, Elizabeth and Susie on the rooftop of our hotel.


Wednesday morning we packed up our stuff and headed about 30 minutes away to a different town named Comitancillo where the other PCV, Lauren, lives who was also great to work with. She has lots of Guatemalan friends and one morning Lindsay, Shannon and I joined her and some of her friends for basketball, which we were huffing and puffing at because of the 9,00ft altitude. The town was much bigger than San Lorenzo and was situated more or less on a mountain top but surrounded by more mountains and had a beautiful cemetery overlooking it all. We did a Risk Map of the town looking at health problems associated with meat shops, fruit stands and restaurants. It was a good activity to do to look at all the problems in the town and break it town and make an action plan. In the afternoon we went to another women’s group of indigenous women and Shannon and Megan gave a micronutrient charla. Most of the women understand Spanish but speak Mam as their first language. After that charla we all drove to a radio station and did a radio spot on diarrhea. This was the highlight of my week! First, Susie read a whole intro in Mam, which is a completely different language and I have no idea how she did it but she sounded great, I think. Then Lindsay, Megan and I did a skit about three little pigs and one is really unhealthy and one is kind of unhealthy and one is perfectly healthy. We all had to make farting noises on the radio and Lindsay lost it and got the giggles. I almost couldn’t pull myself together either. We both could not stop laughing-yes, we are so mature. We somehow finished the skit and then we all sang a song on the radio about washing your hands. It was fun to have everyone involved and we think it was pretty funny too.

Susie and I in Comitancillo with the cemetery in the background.



Thursday morning we drove out to an aldea way up in the mountains where Megan and Elizabeth gave an Acute Respiratory Charla to a group of about 60 indigenous women whose first language is Mam. After they finished our Spanish teacher, Miguel, who speaks Mam went up and went over some things again in Mam. It was cool to hear him speak the language. I didn’t understand a thing. Learning an indigenous language will be tough I know! After the presentation we drove to Dona Hilda’s medicinal garden where some of the group went in the Chuj, a Mayan sauna. In the afternoon Lindsay and Dirk gave a charla to a group of food handlers. We all did another skit and I was the clean vendor, Dona Limpia. The audience liked it and I think they got a lot out of the discussion too. To end the day we had dinner with a Mayan priest who talked about the mixing of the ancient Mayan beliefs with the Catholic religion. He talked about each individual’s protector animal and how the indigenous Mayan people practice all the same things but a lot of it is secret now.

Elizabeth as a dog and Megan as a fly for the food handlers skit.


Friday morning featured the 4 hour long HIV/AIDS workshop with 70 high school students. This was another highlight of the week. We all had about 2 activities we were responsible for. I did the “Palabras de la Calle” (street words) and “Vocabulaio de VIH/SIDA” (HIV/AIDS vocabulary). The street words activity was fun because the students got to write all the inappropriate words for the scientific term and they all thought it was funny. However, the point was to show them not to be embarrassed and with this serious topic we will only use the scientific terms. The rest of the workshop had activities featuring methods of transmission and prevention, understanding white blood cells and my personal favorite the condom demonstration. Megan taught 70 students how to correctly put a condom on and then in pairs they all had a banana and a condom and got to try for themselves. The girls looked frightened out of their minds. I think this was the most beneficial because there is a big problem with girls as young as 12 and 13 getting pregnant. My whole group worked together so well and the workshop was a complete success! In the afternoon Lindsay and I gave the final charla to a group of middle school students about the environment. I think charlas to students are always easier because they just think it’s funny when I mess up my Spanish and they laugh a lot.

Susie, Elizabeth and Lindsay at the coffee shop.


My group was Equipo Mono (team monkey). Susie, Megan, Shannon, Elizabeth, Abby, Me, Lauren,Lindsay and Dirk!


Saturday we packed up and drove back to our host communities. I was excited to get home and back to my family but I was really sad to leave my FBT group. This last week has been one of the best weeks I’ve had in a very long time. My entire group got along so well and there was no tension and no negative personalities at all. We all helped each other out and also had too much fun just hanging out in the hotel rooms and listening to music, eating, talking about our poop and other everyday things about life in Guatemala. This last week has made me really appreciate the people I am here on this journey with. I learn a lot about myself through my friends here. When I had a down day they all were right there. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that after leaving everything and everyone in the states I am making my own little family here. It also makes me a little sad because we are more than half way through our training and in just two weeks I will find out my permanent site and in one month I will be off on my own! I am ready though and after this week I know I will be okay!

The only real swimming pool I´ve seen here. Nice diving boards but no water.


View from the van



Lindsay and me in the van.