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

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Q'anjob'al, Men and Site Pics!

This week I started classes to learn Q’anjob’al, the native Mayan dialect they speak in my region. Becca, Cathaleen and I have four hours of class every morning in the main city of Santa Eulalia. We are working with a man, Pedro, who was recommended by the former volunteers. We started with the basics of the language- pronunciation and the alphabet. The language has lots of sounds that are made in the throat and almost sound exactly the same to the untrained ear but I am slowly picking up the differences. Also the grammar structure is completely different from Spanish and English. I am really trying just to get a basic understanding of how the language is set up and also the basic phrases. I have no intention of trying to become fluent but I just want a working knowledge since I know it will help me gain confianza with the people. Pedro says we are catching on faster than most so he thinks we will be able to progress quite rapidly.

I have been trying to get someone to talk to me about actual health work but I am struggling. The fact that my town lacks a Health Post/Center is proving to be one of my biggest struggles as far as work goes. No one really understands why I am here. I tell them my title- Preventative Health Technician- but that doesn’t mean much to them. I also keep bugging the community leaders to schedule a meeting so we can sit down and I can fill out my schedule but that also is next to impossible. One of the male town leaders was supposed to take me to meet the school director this week but then the town decided to do work on the main dirt road so all the men in town have been preoccupied with that. I guess that is Guatemala for you.

On another continued note-Guatemalan men. I am not sure how to act when men come by my house just “to chat.” I have been warned by almost every volunteer that most men have bad intentions as far as young American women go. This one younger man came by my house once when Becca was still staying with me. He said he just wanted to chat with me. I thought it was a little weird and I did not invite him in (that is a big no-no here…no men alone with you in your house). Today he was back at my house waiting for me just to chat. I do not get a bad feeling from him but my nature is to just assume he is a good person until he proves me wrong. I think I made it pretty clear this time that I was very busy and I did not want to chat with just him. Then he invited me to his family’s house in August for his mother’s birthday celebration. I am not sure what to do. I do not know him and cannot trust him but he may just be innocent and his family may just want to meet the gringa. I do not want to put myself in a bad situation but I can’t feel this one out. UGH. I have until August 12th to decide what to do! Also, Becca told me today that ANOTHER man in town has been asking about me. He told her he really likes talking to me and wants to “pasear” with me (spend time with me). NO NO NO!!! I think I need to put my ring on and start making it a point to talk about my fake boyfriend who lives in the states. I do not know how much more of this male attention I can handle.

A different view of my house. I live in the little green part.

A view of the large municipality, Santa Eulalia.

Another view of Santa Eulalia.

A view of my aldea (village),Pet, where I live.

Another view of Pet. Notice how all the houses are so spread out and surrounded by cornfields. There is no real "town center" except the school which is the large-ish building in the center in the distance.

Every afternoon the huge storms blow in. This afternoon looked so beautiful with the storm and the sun still shining.

A rainbow right outside my front door!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Here are some more pics of my home and some of the kids in my huge extended host family:

My host grandmother, Magdalena, bringing in the pig. She speaks almost no Spanish and speaks to me in K'anjobal like I understand it perfectly.

The part on the left is the corner of my house. The house in the distance is my "host family." The field there is where I play soccer with the kids...with sheep and streams and all sorts of obstacles

My little house. It used to be the kitchen of the bigger part of the house on the left. I only live in the one room though.

Looking out from my front porch as the clouds start rolling in. I literally live high up in the clouds

Tico and Fermin...two kids from my host family. Fermin is at my house everyday all day.

More of life in the clouds...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stove Debacle and Celebrity

To get anything done here that would take maybe an hour in the states it takes at least 2 days. For example, my stove. I bought the cheap two burner stove and when I got home found out it was missing a part. Okay, so I had to go back, not a big deal. I traveled back to Soloma yesterday and talked to the store and said they did not give me this part. It turns out this stove actually doesn’t come with the part. All of the employees were fascinated by the Gringa so they all felt the need to help me. I had the whole staff trying to figure out how to put together the connection piece for my stove. During this whole time the men are talking about whether or not I was from Spain or Holland. They assumed I didn’t speak Spanish so I chimed in and said yes I speak Spanish and I am actually from the States. It definitely shocked them all. So after about an hour in this store they fastened me up with this make shift connector that looked like it would work so I headed back home. At this point I am feeling very proud of myself for going and getting this all done by myself. However that feeling soon ends when I get home and try to use the stove. I start boiling some water when I hear a WHOOSH sound and look over and see my whole stove on fire! I turned off the propane tank and ran outside. I looked at the stove and decided things just needed to be tightened. I tightened everything and tried again. This time it was after about 10 minutes I hear another but smaller WHOOSH! I decide this stove piece does NOT work. There was propane leaking a little bit from one part which caught on fire. At this point I am pissed and frustrated. I just wanted to boil water so I can drink without getting diarrhea, is that too much to ask?! I basically give up at this point and feel defeated for the night. Today, I asked Cathaleen to come with me to the store to figure all this out. She has a very strong and forceful personality and I needed someone like that when dealing with the store people. We traveled the hour back to Soloma and went to the store. The people there immediately tell me well of course it leaked it didn’t have the plastic protector stuff on it. WHAT! Why did they let me leave yesterday knowing I could potentially blow up!?!? I tell them they either need to fix it or I want to return it. Cathaleen tells them too we are not leaving with the stove unless we actually get to light it and try it out. After another hour and lots of input from everyone the stove was set to go and worked! I came home this afternoon and boiled water without incident so now I finally have a stove and can start cooking for myself. The whole situation really tested my patience but in the end it all worked out. I often have to remember to just stop and take a deep breath here when dealing with things.

Aside from the stove issue I have realized being an American here makes you kind of a celebrity. Everyone that walks by comes over and wants to talk to me and all the cars always honk at me. Also, one day this last week Becca and I were sitting waiting for our microbus to take us home and these two ladies in front of us were speaking Kanjobal and turning around and looking at us and clearly talking about us. We were chatting with this guy we had met at a restaurant earlier so we asked him what the women were saying. He told us that the people of the town have been talking and the gossip is that the American girls eat all the food they are served. This was hilarious to me! Gossip here is huge so it was no surprise we were the topic. The fact that we eat all our food is also a plus because it is rude not to eat what you are served. The whole thing was just great because I had never seen these women before but they clearly knew us. Also, today in Soloma the guy that delivered my gas tank walked by me yelling my name. I had no clue who he was at first but then I placed him. Pretty much I am very memorable and fascinating to all Guatemalans. Everyone stares and everyone wants to talk to me. I just have to be careful the intentions of the people…especially the men.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Becca making tortillas on the stove.

"Bedroom" area

"Kitchen" area

My bed with all my pics and also my map of Idaho to the left!!!

I am all moved into my house now. The walls are painted and semi-decorated, my bed has sheets and my clothes are on some shelves. I consider all of that a huge success! The last week has been one of the hardest and most stressful weeks I can remember. It is never fun moving but trying to furnish a home with a Peace Corps salary is a challenge. Luckily my amazing host family had an extra bed they don’t use so they are letting me use it. That saved me mucho dinero! On Thursday Becca, Cathaleen and I went to Soloma, a larger nearby town, to buy some other things we can’t get in Santa Eulalia, our muni. I decided the wood burning stove is not going to work for me so I bought a cheap little two burner propane stove. Unfortunately today I found out they forgot to give me the “fitting” part which connects the hose to the stove so tomorrow I am going to try to find the part in Santa but I may have to go all the way back to Soloma. Grrrr…not the way I want to spend my Saturday.

About my living situation here…I technically have a host family but I am not in the same house as them. I live about 100 yards away in one room of another house. The family used to use this room as just a kitchen but they have since left for the US so it has been unoccupied for a long time. My host family consists of about a thousand people…not really that many but a LOT. Marta Lidia is the woman who is more or less my go to “mom.” As far as I know she is a single mother and has a 6 year old son named Fermín. Fermín absolutely loves me which is a blessing and a curse. He always wants to play and hang out with me which I like but it has been hard to have a little privacy. Also in the family are the grandparents. Magdalena is the grandmother and she only speaks Kanjobal. The grandfather is a deaf, crazy evangelical who always repeats himself. He asks me every time how many states are in the US then proceeds to tell me how many states are in each different Latin American country. He also tells me every day I need to accept Jesus Christ in my life and I just keep telling him I am Catholic. I have a feeling this conversation will never end. Also within the same family but in a different house there are two other families but they are all related and I have no clue how. There are about 10 different kids all under 10 running around here. I am not sure on all the names yet and I can only hope in two years I will be able to figure out which kids belong to which women.

Also, nothing has been done about building a latrine me for. I am going to really have to get the ball rolling on this one. Luckily I am highly motivated to have a latrine so I will make sure it gets done in the next month…until then, Milpa here I come!

As far as work goes I have my job cut out for me. I have no Health Center or Health Post in Pet so I don’t have anywhere to base my work out of. I am really going to have to be proactive to try and find some groups that want to hear health charlas. The town really wants me to work with the schools so I am excited to start there. Becca, Cathaleen and I did do one Dengue charla yesterday to 275 students at an elementary school in the next aldea over. It went well for our first charla here. It was nice to get something under my belt but I really need to focus on my own community and getting started here.

O and one final thought…do not give your number to anyone who seems even slightly interested in you. I received 4 calls from the ambulance driver today and it was awkward and I need to steer clear of him! Why do all Guatemalan men think every American woman will sleep with them…NOT TRUE!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Swearing-In and Site!

The last few weeks have been crazy busy. I finished up all my final projects, took my final language exam and packed up my room. The week was a roller coaster of emotions. I was so excited to get out to site and start working and living on my own but at the same time I have made some amazing friends here and I was so sad to leave them. My San Luis group hosted a good bye dessert party last Sunday for all of our families. Then on Thursday night the families made us all dinner together. My host mom said some "palabras" to the group that almost made me cry. Melissa's host dad talked about how we are all human beings and there are no borders between us. It was really nice and I could tell how much our families enjoyed having us the last 3 months.

Friday was the official swearing-in ceremony. The US Ambassador, Stephen MacFarland, came and swore us in and gave a speech. He gave us some advice- never lose our curiosity of the world. I will take that to heart with me out here in site. A bunch of other people gave speeches and then we received our diplomas! It was all very exciting. It is hard to believe I have had this goal for so long and I am a real volunteer! After the ceremony we all headed to Antigua and went out to the bars and dancing. It was a fabulous night spent with some fabulous friends.

Saturday I got on a camioneta/chicken bus and headed as far as the Huehue state capital for the night. Then Sunday I arrived in my site but I had to sleep in Cathleen's site because I had no food and no bed or anything. Yesterday Becca and I came over to my new house and cleaned most of it and got it "ready." We ate dinner with my host family and also made a bunch of tortillas and I must say I am getting better at it! Later we went to bed and we still had to sleep on the cold, wet cement floor last night. This is real Peace Corps.

Today I have just been hanging around my house and people keep dropping by. Most of the people speak some Spanish but a lot do not. I had a whole conversation with a lady with me speaking Spanish and her speaking kanjobal and I have no idea what went on. I think this is how it will be for a while. I also started painting the inside of my house. Two walls are purple now and I am going to do the other two green. Still no word on whether or not I am going to get a latrine! My fingers are crossed! So far one day down...729 more to go!

This is my FBT group "Equipo Mono" (team monkey) and the Ambassador happened to be standing there talking to us when we wanted to take our traditional monkey shot so he just joined in! This guys is AWESOME!

The whole San Luis Family. (Kim sadly decided to go home early and she will be greatly missed)

My San Luis group with our Program Director Basilio.

Me receiving my diploma.

Some of my best friends here! Shannon, me, Lindsay, Susie, Sabiha and Sam

Out at the Antigua bars- Tony, Peter, Megan, Dirk

Me, Melissa and Mary...with Lindsay in the background

Lindsay, Me, Melissa P and Brittany...the first people I met in the Peace Corps! Airport buddies!

My bed the first night in my house

All of mine and Becca's stuff and Becca heading to bed after cleaning all day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Some Pics

We had a Healthy Homes BBQ yesterday at a park and we all got to hang out and play and relax (finally)!

This is my improved wood burning stove that I will be cooking on for the next two years.

My baby "sister" Camila. Her hair is always out of control!

The nicest McDonald's I have EVER seen is in Antigua!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New Address!

Here is my new permanent address for the next two years!

Kelly Knapp, PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
Aldea de Pet
Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango
Guatemala, Centro America

Notice how there are NO numbers...I love Guatemala. Pretty much this man at the post office just nows I am the Gringa who lives in aldea Pet. There are no mailboxes. Pablo the post office guy just saves the mail for me and let's me know when I have some. Hopefully I'll hear from ya'll soon!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Counterpart Day

I left San Luis on Sunday with almost all of my luggage and we all drove up to Xela for the night. Monday morning was “Counterpart Day” where all of our counterparts (the Guatemalans we are assigned to coordinate our work with) drove down and we met up for most of the day and got to know each other and started planning our site visit work. I share my one counterpart with two other volunteers who are around Santa Eulalia now and then also with Cathaleen and Becca who are assigned to aldeas around Santa like I am. Also two representatives from my community and two representatives from Becca’s communities drove down with my counterpart. The day was mostly presentations and expectations of the PCVs and the counterparts. I did start to learn a few words in Kanjbol but I have a LONG way to go before I actually understand anything. From Xela my site, in car, is about 5 hours away so they decided we should only go to Huehue, the capital city of Huehuetenango, for the evening.

Tuesday morning we woke up early and finally headed to our site. Pet is about a 10-15 minute drive from the bigger town of Santa Eulalia. It sits high up in the mountains in a little valley. It is very Sound of Music-esque. Everything is so green and beautiful and it is definitely cold. We went around to each of our new sites on Tuesday and met with the entire town since as a community they all voted to have me come. First we went to Becca’s site and we had to hike down this huge hill then back up another one, trek through some cornfields and finally arrived at the town meeting. They almost all spoke Kanjbol instead of Spanish. And they had us sit up front as the honored guest at a little table with an American flag towel draped over it. O yes. I really have no idea what went on at that meeting but then we had to hike back up the giant mountain and we continued on to my village.

The aldea Pet is much bigger than Becca’s site. We drove up to the town hall area and when they saw us they immediately started setting off fireworks for us. Then the whole town (about 300 people) filed into the meeting hall and I had to get up and introduce myself in Kanjbol with a microphone. After I said a few words in the Mayan dialect they all started talking amongst themselves. My counterpart told me they were saying how impressed they were with the few words I knew and that I would be fluent in a month…ya right! It was a very nice welcoming and I can tell they are very excited to have me work with them. It is definitely going to be a challenge though because they have barely ever seen Americans before.

This whole site visit we have been staying with Jim and Emily who are a married couple who are finishing their service next week. It has been very helpful talking to them because they were the first Peace Corps presence here ever. They know a lot of the important people and they worked with my new counterpart. They also helped find our housing and everything. I have also got to eat some delicious food whole staying here. So yesterday we all went to the official inauguration of the stove project in an aldea that Jim and Emily worked in. The whole town gathered and there was lots of speeches and music and dancing. The little kids dressed in Halloween masks came out dancing and they pulled all the gringos out in front of everyone. We were out there dancing for like 10 minutes and people kept clapping and loving watching us make fools of our selves. If this is what I have to do to integrate I will do it. After the whole ceremony we went and had a delicious lunch. The whole day was interesting and overwhelming at the same time. I felt welcomed but I felt like I also scared them. It really just made me so anxious to get working in my own site.

This afternoon I am moving my stuff into m house and checking out Pet a little more. I will put more pictures up soon of my new home!

Me, Lindsay and Sam "rearranged" our hotel room for a cuddle fest!

The mountains of Huehuetenango

Walking through a cornfield in one of the aldeas near my site

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My New Home!

I found out my site!!!!! I will be living in an aldea (very small town) named Pet outside the municipality of Santa Eulalia in the department of Huehuetenango (pronounced way-way-tay-nahn-go). I tried to mark more or less where it is on the map below but it is so small it’s not on too many maps. I also put a red dot on where I have been living for the past 3 months in San Luis Las Carretas.

It wasn’t a big surprise that I got assigned to Huehue because I wanted a cold site and now I will be living at about 11,000ft in the mountains. I also said I don’t mind going without water and electricity and I love to hike and walk long distances. I got what I asked for! The site is VERY very rural! By public transport it takes at least 10 hours to get there. I will definitely have plenty of alone time to do some serious soul searching. I am really excited about my site but I am also bummed because all of my very close friends here got placed in El Quiché. They are really close to each other, and well, I am not even on the radar. I’m actually closer to Mexico than I am to them. However, I feel like I will definitely be getting the “Peace Corps Experience.” While living in Pet I will work at the Health Post, which is smaller than a health center. Other than that I do not know too much else. I am excited to get out there and work.

On Sunday I will pack up the majority of my things and travel first to Xela for a night to meet my counterpart and then on Monday out to my site. I will spend all of next week at my site alone getting to know my health post, my counterpart and my new home.

I cannot believe how fast time has gone during training. It has almost been 3 months but I still feel like I just got off the plane yesterday. I hope my Spanish is up to par and I hope I am welcomed in the community. It will be very sad to say good-bye to my host family and to my friends but I am ready for something new.