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

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I am finally getting to do some work! Yesterday I went to the school and met with the principal about doing some charlas with the students. Of course the only thing he actually wanted me to teach was English but I told him that I am only here to teach about preventative health. Every conversation is becoming a replay of the previous- I am here to teach preventative health NOT English. One of the male community leaders came with me too but arrived late. I will continue that story later. I held my ground about why I am here and I am giving charlas to 8 different classes over the next two days. They did not seem to understand doing the same charla 8 times in a row was just too much. However I think I have the support of the principal and I am excited to work with the kids. Some know my name and yell at me from across the school yard while others look at me and run away giggling.

In the afternoon yesterday I met with all of the community leaders. It was a group of about 20 people that belong to different committees and commissions that I will be working with. To my delightful surprise the majority of the leaders are women! This is very unusual because men dominate society here in every aspect of life. Some Guatemalan women are even forbidden by their husbands to leave their houses. To see that many women with power made me smile a bit because it will make my job a little easier! During the meeting I presented about what the Peace Corps is and what my job entails. However during the two hours I maybe understood all of 15 minutes of discussion as the leaders all prefer (and some only know) to speak their native Kanjobal. I sometimes could understand the gist of the topic but mostly I was lost. The same male leader who went with me to the school in the morning translated everything for me but I know I was missing some details since it came down to 10 minutes of translating for an hour of discussion. At the end of the meeting it was decided I am going to meet with the whole community again and then start doing home visits next week. The meeting felt productive and at least it got the ball rolling a little bit on my job. I told them I want to focus on health promoters, womens groups and youth. Afterward, one of the female leaders, Candalaria, who works as an auxiliary nurse, invited me to accompany her on her rounds the next day. I jumped at this opportunity.

This morning I walked uphill for 45 minutes to a very small and remote village named Onona. Candalaria and her team gave vaccinations to many of the town’s children. One of the men in town asked me if I wanted to work there too and I said yes I would be more than willing to come give some charlas. I hope this doesn’t fall through as it was apparent to me this village has a much greater need than Pet. After the vaccinations we visited the small two room wood shack of a school house. They asked me to “entertain” the kids so I went in there and sang a health song about washing your hands to the tune of Frere Jacques. The kids loved it! They wanted me to stay and sing more but I do not know any more songs! I told them I would learn more and come back. I had a mini discussion after the song and we reviewed the most important times to wash your hands. Hopefully at least one of them will remember!

After the school visit we went to visit two “senoras” who are widows and are taking care of a mountain of children. The first lady was 79 years old and was very sick with respiratory infections. Candalaria took her blood pressure and gave her some vitamins. The worst part was that she had some sort of flesh eating infectious disease on her nose. He middle bridge part of her nose was utterly gone and only black, caved in flesh existed in its place. I can only look at this woman and imagine the lifetime of struggles she has endured- losing a husband, losing children, a civil war, diseases, no food, no bathroom, barely having a place to sleep and who knows what else. It makes me appreciate all the small things I do have.

Finally, back to the story about the male leader. This man has been on point with every meeting and was one of the community men who came to Xela to meet me for Counterpart Day. He is a smooth talker and gets things done. Without him I would have already been in a few sticky situations. He clearly understands my job here and helps me explain to the people who I am and why I am here. He is a great ally to have. So yesterday morning he shows up to the school meeting late and clearly hung over. My suspicions were confirmed when the principal made a joke that he was sick with “Fiebre de Gallo” or Beer Fever. I was upset because I had hoped and hoped that he was not like every other Guatemalan man and did not drink too much. Unfortunately he falls prey to the Guatemalan alcoholism. So many, and I mean almost all, men are binge drinkers. It is very unfortunate to see and hard to deal with. I have a hard time trusting any man who may or may not show up drunk. He did profusely apologize to me but still…GRRR! However that afternoon he redeemed himself at the community leader meeting when he remember all the facts about the Peace Corps with JFK and 1961 and 1963 in Guatemala and 200 volunteers here now. That impressed me and showed me he does care about my job and takes it seriously. It is just frustrating for me to never know when one of these great men will fall off the bandwagon. I wish there was some lesson I could give about alcoholism but it is such a huge problem and I do not know if I have the “ganas” to deal with it. As long as this man can keep his head on straight most of the time that is all I ask for.

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