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

Saturday, October 30, 2010


This week I spent a few days in the cabecera (state capital) of Huehuetenango. Becca and I traveled down to attend a few days of training with the NGO Casa Materna. We looked at the schedule for the second day and saw “Cunicultura” as a two hour session. Neither of us had any idea what that meant but both of us saw a relation to a similar word in English that is not so appropriate. Becca later looked it up online and to our relief “cunicultura” means the cultivation of rabbits. Whew. We attended two days of sessions on a bunch of different topics such as how to grow and use composting worms, reforestation and school gardens. The sessions were intended to train the Guatemalan technicians who are working directly with Casa Materna. Each municipio, Santa Eulalia for us, has two technicians assigned to work in the aldeas of the muni. One technician will be working to improve nutrition through education and projects in about 30 different aldeas over a three year period. I am hoping to work with the technician to assist her in her training of the community. It is a very valuable and much needed project. The malnutrition throughout all of Guatemala is horrible (most malnourished country in the Western Hemisphere as of 2009) so I am hoping this project will at least aide the families of my community.

During the week we stayed with my friend Claire who lives about 20 minutes outside of Huehue in a small aldea. She is always such a great hosts and lets us crash at her place when we have work in Huehue or passing through. I always have a great time hanging out with her and we got to watch some Disney movies and Becca and she let me sing along! We also took a hike up the hill by her house which provided us with a beautiful view of her aldea, a volcano and part of Huehue. The day was warm and the sun beaming down on my white, flea-bitten legs felt so soothing. It was a great way to end a semi-stressful week of travel and training sessions. Tomorrow I am off to Todos Santos, another municipio in Huehuetenango about 2 hours away, to enjoy a Peace Corps Halloween Party and the famous Day of the Dead celebration! Pics and stories to come I’m sure 

On the bus to Huehue with Becca

Claire with Puchica (Cathaleen's pup) and Lubu and me. Our girl dogs need to learn to close their legs!

My baby girl

View from the top

How can you not love that face!

Lubu investigating the piglets in front of my house

Lubu is not too sure about these things

Lubu and the Mama pig

Sunday, October 24, 2010

From the Fields

Friday was the day I had my community meeting in the next town over. I had made plans to have two women meet me at my house and walk over with me since I did not know this new community. They were supposed to come at 11am which is Guatemalan time means 12pm. I waited until noon then I called because no one was here yet. They said they were on their way. I waited another 45 minutes and they finally showed up. We were so late by this point we had to catch a ride to the town. We got out of the car and walked up this hue hill to the school. As I was approaching I saw all men! Normally, only women come to my talks and men work in the fields. However, since the community had to vote on whether or not they would let me work in their town all the men had to be there since they are the only ones who vote (equality=nonexistent in Guatemala). I ended up talking about myself, Peace Corps and the Healthy Homes Program for half an hour or so and then they pummeled me with questions. Most of the questions had to deal with money and when they would get projects. I had to explain this year I am only doing health education and nothing else. In the end they voted to have me work there. We will see how it all goes. It is always difficult stepping into a new community. It has taken me 3 months in my own community to finally have the townspeople understand why I am here. As long as people come to me health talks and show interest I will work in this new town.

The fact that so many men were there was very surprising to me. Most things to do with health involve only the women. It is the time of year where every man and most children are out in the milpa harvesting their corn. The men had all clearly come directly from their fields because there was not one man at this meeting who was not carrying his hoe, shovel or pick. I must admit I was very intimidated by all the men. They all just stare with leering eyes at this American girl standing up front. As most know I am very VERY jaded with men right now because of all my negative experiences with Guatemalan men. Standing up in front of the men of this town and acting confident was not so easy. I often feel like I am forever fighting the stereotype of the uneducated woman. I usually emphasize to people that I have my university degree and in general I am not full of shit (sometimes I am though…). The men just intimidate me. Period. It’s also frustrating that the women do not have a voice in this community. I want to work with primarily women as they have the most direct effect on the health of their families. I am not sure how this new town will work out but I have to hope for the best because there is nothing else I can do.

Latrine Update: the materials have arrived! I have everything I need to start building the latrine but now I need to find some people to help me figure out ho to lay cement and such. I am being realistic with the whole project and really just hope to have it done by Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I want to write a bit about my new found love in Guatemala named PACA. Unfortunately this is not the man of my dreams but rather stores which sell used American clothing. Most know I am a big fan of Savers/Goodwill because one man’s trash is MY treasure. I am not sure where exactly all of this used American clothing comes from but I am glad it makes it way here. The PACAs are all over this country and even in some of the smaller municipalities. Some are a bit classier and actually use hangers but most just have huge piles of clothing. I always have the urge to run and jump in the piles and throw all the smelly, used clothes around like a child in a pile of fall leaves.

This past weekend Cathaleen and I went to the medium sized town near us and we did a little PACA shopping. I was on a hunt for parts of my Halloween costume so I visited a few stores. This one store was a goldmine! All the clothes were Q10 (about $1.20) which is actually a little steep for PACA clothes. I usually find stuff for Q2-5 ($0.20-60) but the sheer amount of awesome clothes made it worth it. I found too much stuff and had to hold back but I got a few new warm sweaters and all I need to complete my Halloween costume.

The best part of the PACA store was the store owner. Cathaleen was looking through all the baby clothes saying how cute this and that would be for her “baby.” Of course I knew she was talking about her dog (who was tied up outside) but the store owner did not. The lady finally asked some question about her “baby” and Cathaleen and I had to laugh. We told the lady that the little puppy outside was Cathaleen’s “baby.” The lady LOVED it! She handed Cathaleen a pink, fleece onesie and put Puchica the puppy in the outfit. Puchica could not walk without a tail hole and just had this “please help me my owner is nuts” look on her face. But I must say the outfit was adorable and with a little clip of the scissors to add a tail hole Puchica will have some great PJs. The store owner was dying of laughter, as was I, and ended up just giving the outfit to Cathaleen. The whole ordeal was hilarious. People here do NOT understand our relationships with our dogs and this was just another crazy experience.

The only bad…the lady called me gordita (little fatty)! Grrr! Even though she did not mean anything by it, it still bothers me to constantly be called gordita!!!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Things are Turning Around!

Isn’t it funny how everything can change in a 24 hour period?!! I have been gravely frustrated with my site the last few months. I knew the first three months in site (which I will complete Saturday!) are the most difficult for most volunteers but I felt as though I had a few things thrown at me that no one could have prepared me for in training. First, I have no health post to work with. This means I am more or less on my own to get people together and work with me. I have the town Health Commission but they are not paid and it is not their primary responsibility. Second, I have no working latrine at my house. I have no problem with latrines (out houses as I used to call them) and I am starting to prefer a clean latrine to a nasty toilet. I have been waiting and waiting for the materials to build a dry, composting latrine for my house since I live in a flood zone a regular latrine does not work here. These are two things I did NOT ask for when requesting site preferences. I had no idea that Healthy Homes sites existed where there was no Health Post and that I would be told to live in a house without a latrine. In addition to trying to “integrate” into a community who does not speak Spanish and the stress of moving to a new place and starting a new job, I had these other 2 concerns weighing me down.

However, there is light on the horizon! In the last day many things have changed. On Wednesday I was notified by my Project Specialist that the materials to build my latrine will arrive this Saturday! I still have to build it which will be an experience I am sure but this is a huge step in the right direction.

Second, I gave my first official community charla on Wednesday. There was a nasty rain storm but about 60-70 town members made the sacrifice and came to listen to me speak about my job. I gave background information on The Peace Corps and some of its work in Guatemala. I described what the Healthy Homes project consists of and what my role will be in the community the next two years (really, only 21 months!!!). To finish, I read the story of Mariquita Cohcinita which is about a dirty girl who gets sick but then learns how to live a more sanitary life without disease. I think the townspeople, and about 95% women, enjoyed the story. I had to use a translator for the entire charla and sometimes I knew she was not saying exactly what I said but that is fine. She knows the community better than me and how to motivate them to be interested in my work. The COCODE also decided that I should give the same introductory charla next Saturday and see if more people will come that didn’t show up to the first one. I was satisfied with the attendance at this one so either way it looks like there are some families who do indeed want to work with me and have an interest in preventative health.

Finally, to round out my amazing 24 hours, I was given the opportunity to work in a different community. I was sitting in my house this afternoon dilly dallying and someone knocks on my door. I open it to a group of about 7 men and two women and my neighbor, Marta Lidia, who is also on the Health Commission of my town Pett. She tells me the others are here to chat with me and then leaves. I am not sure exactly what is going on at this point and am hoping they are not here to run me out of town. Not at all I find out. They introduce themselves as the community leaders of the smaller community over the hill named Yoch. They have heard I am here and working in the town (and I am sure they hear the word “projects” thinking free stuff) and they wanted to ask me to come visit their town and possibly work in their community. This was music to my ears! Were people coming to me asking me to work? I have spent so much time trying and failing at finding work here that this was seriously the happiest work related moment I have had since being in site. The desire of this community to have me will open up so many more opportunities for me. I grabbed my day planner and told them my free days and now I will be going to present myself and my work to their entire community next Friday! Just the fact that these nine people walked the hour to my house, not even knowing if I would be home, to try and get me to work gave me so much hope.

To sum it up, I couldn’t ask for a better 24 hours. I really needed a day like this to keep me sane. I had been losing steam quickly as I struggled to find work. I had questioned what I was even doing here in the first place. I am here because I want to be a tiny drop in the ocean of change. I left everything I had in the States to come to Guatemala and live in and learn about a different culture. I have learned things here are not easy. It is a struggle to just survive each day. I must try not to lose hope when things go bad. I have had this goal of completing Peace Corps service since high school. Every day is a new day and I must keep hope that I will have more and more of these extraordinary days.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Birthday Bash

Today I attended the 1st birthday party of my neighbor’s daughter, Anayeli. My neighbor, Maria, is one of the 12 children of my “host family” (host neighbors really). First, I must say she is one of the few people in town I can call a “friend.” Here it is next to impossible to form meaningful relationships with friends in town as I would in the States. Women my age usually have at least two children, stay home and work in the house and do not aspire to more in life. This is a generalization because I have also met some amazing female movers and shakers that break this stereotype. However, in my small Mayan village, most women fall into the stereotype. Maria is 22 years old, has her two children and a husband who is working in the States. I was drawn to her initially because she loves my dog Lubu which is a rarity here. Most Guatemalans treat their pets horribly. Maria loves Lubu and has even learned a few commands in English to use with Lubu. She also stops by every single day just to see how I am. I feel that she understands why I am here and genuinely believes it is a worthy cause.

Her second daughter, Anayeli, turned 1 today. About 20-25 people came to her house and there was a feast. For birthdays here the entire family gathers and eats (my kind of party, eh?!). We had two types of soups and all the tamalitos I could consume. Also, there was an adorable pink cake. The whole party tried to get me to sing Happy Birthday in English but I had way too much verguenza so I opted out. I said I would teach all the little kids so next time we can all sing it. I also had my camera at this festivity and they had me take soooooo many pictures. I found it amusing because I had to take a picture with every single adult holding the little birthday girl. You can imagine a one year-old would not be too happy by the end of this photo session. I diligently shot all the pictures they wanted and we enjoyed the cake. After, we all went outside and they wanted me to take more pictures. They also wanted me to be in the pictures with them. I knew that I am “tall” here but until I saw those pictures I never realized how much of a difference there is. It is a nice change from being the short one to being the tall one. They cannot understand that in the States I am NOT tall at all. They just laugh when I say this. The whole afternoon was quite lovely and I had a very good time spending this special day with this family.

On the work front, I actually have something to do this week (whoa crazy, I know). Tomorrow Becca, Cathaleen and I are giving an HIV/AIDS workshop to the Health Post employees. Wednesday is my first community charla. This charla has been rescheduled and pushed back for months now. I am ready to get the show on the road and start real work. I also talked with Magdalena, another of the 12 children, about being my translator. She is 23 (with 2 kids) and studying to be the equivalent of a certified nursing assistant here. She also has to give charlas/health talks and does not know how. I told her I will help her and go with her if she helps me by translating. I think this is a very mutually beneficial agreement. She is the one person who I know understands completely why I am here. We discuss my job and health care a lot so I know she is a knowledgeable woman. She is the older sister of Maria and also another “friend” I have here. It feels good to finally feel like I am making progress with integration and work. I have really been down in the dumps lately and feeling like I am wasting time here but then I have days like today that re-energize me and help me continue on!

My Guatemalan version of rice crispy treat that I brought to the party

Family eating

One of the four Grandmas cooking


Anayeli and her mom, Maria

Abuela (which just means grandma in Spanish but everyone calls her Abuela instead of her name) who lives next door with Anayeli

One of the grandpas...this is about picture number 40 for this poor little girl. She is NOT having fun anymore

Michi trying to sneak some frosting while all the adults are distracted

Eating cake

Leti (who is studying to be a teacher in Chimaltenango about 9 hours away and just arrived back home for "summer break), Magdalena and me

Estefani looking adorable as usual

Magdalena and her two kids, Estefani and Tico

Lucia, me and Anna (I am soooo tall haha)

Lucia, Maria, Leti

Leti, Magdalena and Estafani

Temux Mayan Artisans

Please check out the website of this women’s co-op selling traditional handbags. Located in the next village over, the women’s’ group hand crochets each bag. Every Guatemalan has at least one of these bags and they are said the last up to 20 years! The co-op is in partnership with another PCV in this site! Check it out!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Rumor Mill

Sometimes things happen here and the only thing I can do is laugh. Otherwise I would get really pissed. I found out through a friend’s family that there are rumors going around my town about me. This is no surprise to me because chisme (gossip) is HUGE in Guatemala, especially with the women. Like any small town, everyone knows everyone else’s business. I found out through my sources that some of the indigenous women in my town were in a microbus and were talking about me. Apparently the rumors are that I am dirty. I am dirty because I carry my dog in my arms and I let my dog inside my house. I am also dirty because I don’t sweep inside my house. NOT true! Yes, I hold my dog and let her inside but I actually take care of her and bathe her and check for fleas. I also sweep inside my house every other day. How would these women even know if I swept or not?!?! I mostly find this whole thing funny because, let’s be honest, I AM dirty. I only take a bucket bath once a week because it is too cold to do it more. I pee in a bucket in my house because I do not have a working latrine. I mean I think those things make me “dirty” but I guess everyone has their own standards.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dia del Nino

Friday was International Child’s Day and Pett celebrated with all the elementary students. First, let me back up and remind everyone how the town leaders asked me to run a few activities then decided to do presentations themselves. They all told me to be at the school at 7am and in the back of my mind I knew I didn’t need to go until 8am at the earliest but they were very insistent. Friday rolls around and I am prepared to do musicals chairs and an empowering chant with the kids. I arrive at 7:30am and to no surprise no one from the COCODE is there. I find the school director and we chat a little and he tells me the school has actually already planned out a ton of events with the teachers. I soon realize there was zero communication between the school and the COCODE members which just meant I was completely confused. I also told everyone from the start I HAD to be on the road by 11am to make it to Huehue for a veterinarian appointment.

9am arrives and finally some COCODE members show up. They tell me “Fijese que…we have a meeting in Santa so no one can do anything anymore. You can stay and run the whole thing and do some skits, right?” WRONG! I had to kindly remind them that I had to leave. I could do what I originally planned but I would not be able to stay all day. I was very frustrated with the fact that the whole COCODE was going to be involved and had planned this whole thing only to completely bail at the last minute. Whatever I told myself. I will do what I want to do and leave when I have to.

After this a teacher tells me before they start any presentations the “NBA está aqui” (The NBA is here). He said they are this tall and pointed to his knee. I had to laugh when I say the kindergarten students playing in a basketball game. Instead of the regular sized baskets there were smaller baskets and backboards hanging from the real ones. The kids hardly knew how to dribble and the ball was half their size. It was adorable to watch and I had to just sit back and let the day happen. So what if nothing was going according to plan. O well.

At about 10am (two hours after I was originally told it would start) the kids filed into the main room and the presentations began. I asked if I could do my activity first sine I had to leave. First I did a yelling empowerment activity with the kids. I had them all yell “I am a child. I am the future of the world. I have the power to change the world!” We did a competition between sides and I think the kids liked it. Hopefully they will remember the words and that the words will have a little bit of meaning. After that I did musical chairs. I had 13 volunteers come up to the stage and we played until there was one girl standing. I felt bad I had to leave but I ditched out right after my activity. As I was exiting I saw all the teachers dressed up in silly costumes for some skit. I was bummed I couldn’t stay and watch more.

The rest of the weekend I just went to Huehue and visited the vet. Lubu is all of 8.5 pounds now! Almost double since last time. I also bought her a cute pink collar so everyone knows she is a girl. I only stayed one night and then returned back home to my site.

Other news…I decided to change how I am going to do my first community charla. Originally, I was going to do six charlas with each of the six sectors. However, I had this overwhelming fear that no one would come, or worse, like two people would come. I decided for this first charla I will do one with the whole community and gauge the interest level. The town will go around and use the loud speakers to announce this one charla so I am hoping I get a decent turnout. The only bad thing is that leaves me with less charlas which means less work which means more boredom. Ugh. I am still working on ways to pass my time. I never knew how much I would appreciate a hectic schedule. I like my downtime and all but I think I have learned I am someone who likes to be busy busy!