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

Monday, March 7, 2011

I'm Out!

I am finally done with my Peace Corps service. After a long week of dealing with all the documents needed to exit Peace Corps and then transfer my VISA from my PC passport to my personal passport I am done. YEAH! I learned getting into Peace Corps is hard...but getting out is even harder. Poop tests...check. Essays...check. Palabras given...check!

Sabiha and I have been enjoying our time attempting to get out of Peace Corps. Everyone with the PC staff has been so gracious and understanding to both of us. The process was made much easier given all their support. I never though I would be leaving this way, but I am.

Now I am off to Honduras for 2 weeks to visit some ruins, the beach and learn to SCUBA dive. Not too shabby! Then my mom will come for a week then I will be back home April 3rd in Boise!

Ooo and I must mention I was also the recent champion of Musical chairs at the hostel...going out with a bang!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Walking Away

For the past few months I have been tortured with the decision to stay in Peace Corps or walk away. This has not been an easy decision to make and I still have a knot in my stomach thinking about it. I feel it is the right decision for me at this point in my life. I am terminating my service with Peace Corps.

In November, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, probably due to the high altitude and the stress of Peace Corps (not speaking dialect, drunken men coming to my house during the night, travel, lack of safety…). I visited a cardiologist in Guatemala City who warned me that I am far too young to be having these problems. I also have a very devastating family history of heart problems. I went along with the advice of the Peace Corps Medical Office and started a regime of medications. In January, I went back to the PC Office to have my blood pressure checked again and unfortunately it was still just as high as before. The doctor informed me that if it does not come down in the next few months Peace Corps will have to “Medically Separate” (sent home for medical reasons) as I would not be fit to serve. I could stay and hopefully my BP would come down but that was not guaranteed. I was in limbo.

This news devastated me. First, I do not like being told that someone else gets to decide whether I can stay or I must go. I must live my life for myself. I had a few rough weeks but ultimately I decided I would rather leave on my own terms. I have not been happy in my site for a long time. I can point fingers and say my site was not ready for a Volunteer and Healthy Homes Volunteers should not be put in sites without a Health Post, but I want to take responsibility for my own actions. My site was HARD. It was. I still do not have a working latrine after 8 months. My unofficial counterpart was a drunk and drank himself into a diabetic coma for 2 months. I am so far away from other volunteers. And the drunken men…the harassment I received was simply too much for me. Too much. I did not feel safe when bolos would come to my house and try to break-in during the middle of the night. All these things led me to walk away from my site. I know there are things I could have done to make things better-moved houses, studied dialect more, just be out in the community more. However, I feel it is too late.

It breaks my heart that I am not completing my 27 month commitment to Peace Corps. I do not like to quit things once I start them. However, sometimes it takes more strength to walk away from something than to stay and be miserable. I could keep chipping away at my site knowing I get to go home in a year and a half, but I’d rather walk away with my head held high. I have accomplished the true goals of most new sites- the people understand Peace Corps and have met and lived with an American. I have built trust within my community. If nothing else, I have learned from the native Mayan people and them from me.

And now I move on. I began the steps to apply for a few graduate programs for a Masters in Science with Environmental Education. Working on the “Eco-Block” project made me realize how much I love the environment and I think this path is where I belong. I hope to someday have my dream job of leading outdoor, educational excursions for young students or working with community outreach for an environmental NGO.

I will go into the Peace Corps office on Monday and begin the paperwork to “Early Terminate” (Peace Corps lingo for resigning). I have to do some medical tests and write a few essays and then I will be free. I am not returning directly home. I will go travel to Honduras and Nicaragua with a friend of mine who is also done with Peace Corps. Then my momma comes at the end of March and we will travel through Guatemala. I also am working on sending little Lubu home to the States. I cannot leave my beloved street dog.

So that is it. I do not know if I will continue to blog or not. Right now I cannot think past tomorrow. I hope my blog readers understand my situation and respect my decision to leave. However, if not that is fine. No one understands situations except the people who live in them. I have made internal peace with my time in Guatemala. I would still recommend Peace Corps to others but with a grain of salt. Know what makes you happy and do not sacrifice that. Live for yourself because if you are not taking care of yourself you can never help others.

With that…I’m OUT! Peace and Love to all :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I was my sister for a day

Today I went over to Cathaleen’s new community to help her with a water system project. Her town is in the process of putting in tubing and a water tank so the community has water (right now only two houses have water!!!!). The town has been working diligently and Cathaleen decided to solicit the help of an NGO, Agua para la Salud, to come help as well. A civil engineer came all the way up to Cat’s village and is spending the week doing measurements and figuring out the hydraulics of the system. I understand the basic concepts of the whole projects but there is still a LOT more for me to learn about water systems.

We first traveled up to the first spring where we measured the flow rate. We then had to measure the distance of that spring to the point it will join a pipe from another spring. We had to do this piece by piece since PVC pipe can only go in a straight line. I was in charge of holding the tape measure as Cat walked as far and she could. The engineer figured out some other measurements using a compass and some other thingy. I honestly did not understand that part! Something to do with figuring out the change in altitude, I believe. To get to our destination we had to cross the stream/go in the stream, climb through bushes and try to do it all on our feet! Luckily no one fell in the river, except Lubu.

We did the same flow rate measurement for the other spring. We then measured our way back to the town. We had to break for lunch after about 3 hours of this. After lunch we finished up. It was very interesting to get to help today because I have read a lot about water systems and my sister is a Civil/Environmental Engineer but I never really understood until today when I was there helping. I only wish we got to wear the orange vests and hard-hats like surveyors in the US. Maybe I should introduce that to Guatemala!

On another note, I am doing various presentations in my community, as well as neighboring communities, to promote the “Bottle Puesto de Salud.” All the PCVs in my muni are collaborating to attempt to expand the current health post in the main town using “Eco-Blocks” made out of plastic bottles filled with plastic trash, like candy wrappers and plastic bags. I am really excited about this project and I hope it actually gets off the ground!

Getting the flow rate

Measuring distance for the water tubes (me with the yellow tape measure)

View from Cathaleen's community looking over to my community (30 min walk)

Cute little girl hollering into the empty water tank


Monday, February 7, 2011


Ok I am not going to brag or anything but I might just be the coolest and/or luckiest PCV in G-Country (aka Guatemala). I received a phone call from the lady at the Peace Corps office saying I had a package waiting for me. I couldn't think who would send me a package at that address since its 10 hours from my site. I told her I will come and get it in time. No worries, it can't be important. She was very insistent it was important and said it was from the US Ambassador. I assumed it must just be the photo of our group and him from reconnect. She said no, it is a regalito (a little present). Say what!?!? A regalito…I’m excited.

Cathaleen picked up my regalito from the Xela office for me this weekend and it was more of a regalo! It was a cute little Santa wine holder filled with peanut M&Ms, a dog bone for Lubu and earplugs. Also, Ambassador McFarland put in a little note saying he is a fan of this blog! I feel so cool! (“I’m so popular, I’m so cool!” –UD) Who knew I would basically become a celebrity here. I sure had no idea! Kidding!

Long story short…THANKS Ambassador! You still ROCK!

Lubu and me with our Christmas present from the ambassador!

Bubu Lubu

Claire and Cathaleen holding onto Mora "the lap dog"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sad School

I went to a meeting yesterday to help plan the “desfile” parade that will happen for my town fair in two weeks. I sat in a classroom for about 40 minutes waiting for others to show up and I noticed the only school rules are as follows:
NOT Permitted:
-bad habits
-being without a uniform
I agree that most of these are good rules but what about respect? Or raising your hand? Or turning in assignments? There are so many things wrong and corrupt with the education system in Guatemala it breaks my heart. These kids want to learn but often it is just not possible because of lack of funding, quality teachers or they have to stay home and work.

Another sad fact for my middle school is there are currently NO teachers! I went to visit with the director on 3 different occasions a week ago and he never showed up, not even once! I was really annoyed and couldn’t understand why he kept standing me up when I was doing him a favor and teaching English classes. I found out yesterday all the teachers got better job offers in other communities so there is no one to teach now. There are 6 classes of students in three grades that are without classes. School was supposed to start the 17th but as of yet, nothing. The town men are meeting on Friday to “discuss the problem” but what can be done?!!? They need teachers ASAP but knowing how slow things move in Guatemala it may be a while before there are teachers for these eager minds.

On another note I was in Xela last week for more medical appointments. The city is the second largest and it felt like it. I am sure used to aldea life. I stayed with my friend Shannon who lives nearby and it was great to hang out with her and see her town. Nothing new to report on the medical side…things are still up in the air. It’s all very frustrating. But I push on….

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Christmas Vaca Pics

Here is my website to view all the Christmas Extravaganza 2010 pics. Also, you can connect to the rest of my albums of my time in Guatemala.

Christmas Vacation 2010

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Back to Reality

Vacation is definitely over. The days of drinking Pina Coladas on the black sand beaches are far gone. I have been back in site a week now and it is funny how things go back to normal so fast. Yesterday I went to the Consejo Tecnico with all the health workers in my municipality and unfortunately there are now about half the number of health workers. The government does not have the money to pay the workers so a bunch of people lost their job over the holidays. Also, the NGOs that were providing health care lost funding so they left too. My town has been without vaccinations and any health attention since October. A different health post has been reassigned to take over vaccinations so hopefully these kids will not be forgotten.

I did my first charla of the New Year this afternoon. I asked Cathaleen to come help me. We focused on food preparation, washing fruits and veggies and chlorinating water. We did a little skit where Cat was a fly who contaminates food with poop and I was the girl who ate the food and got diarrhea. The women laughed and enjoyed it. The women seem to comprehend everything well but unfortunately when I reviewed the important times to wash hands I could hear crickets. No one remembered! Seriously?!?! I have reviewed the 4 times to wash your hands (after bathroom, after changing diaper, before eating, before cooking) but no one spoke up or anything. It was a very frustrating end to an otherwise great charla. It makes me remember that maybe I am doing no good as far as health education. I am entertaining to the women and they enjoy themselves. Maybe that is all a first generation volunteer can really achieve.

Other news, I am off for 3 days of medical tests in Xela next week. I have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and anxiety. They think its stress….duh! I am not sure what the doctors will say but hopefully something good. I have not responded to treatment thus far and Peace Corps has given me a time limit to get things under control. On top of the stress of my unprepared site, these medical issues are really testing me. Updates to come.

Finally, I want to thank all of my friends back home. I do not think I would still be here without the support from you. I love all the letters and packages and emails and everything. Thank you so much and know how much you are appreciated 

Saturday, January 8, 2011


The fence finally went in! JAJAJA! The men and a few women showed up around 8am and work actually began at 9am. First, I must say the community bought all the materials and donated their time. I said I could pay but they said that they would collect money from the town and pitch in more themselves. I expected the fence to be done while I was gone but in hindsight I was glad to be around for the building day.

As they worked outside, I cooked inside. I agreed to cook lunch for the 20 people a few days ago. The only thing I could think to cook for that many people on my little two burned stove was chili. I started cooking beans last night and did about 4 batches of beans in my pressure cooker. This morning I borrowed a huge pot from my neighbors and adding the veggies, meat, and seasonings. It all came together in the nick of time. I wasn’t too sure if all the people would like my food but everyone finished it and some even had more. Of course I made too much so I will be eating chili for a few days. This afternoon I gave a bowl to my little neighbor friend who just laughed. She is only 11 but I’m sure she cooks much better than me.

I just need a lock on the gate and I now have a secure fence! The only bad news is that I won’t be getting help to build my latrine until the END of February! GRRR! I said I could just do it but they all said they are interested in learning about it and could I wait and show them about the dry composting latrines…I agreed. Yes, I will have to wait another month but they actually seemed genuinely interested in learning so I will take another month of my sick-nasty flooded latrine in order to promote the sanitary ones.

In progress

Everyone that helped

My delicious chili

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Holiday Vacation: Bombas, Dinosaurs and Sea-Turtles

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I must write about my long vacation and I will try to keep it interesting. After a few days in site, Lisa, Rem and I traveled to Huehue and visited the Zaculeau Ruins. After the day eating street tacos and sightseeing we headed to my friend Callie’s site about 40 minutes away. There we were able to hike around, swim in the pools and drink some delicious wine. I also got very good at impersonating the Turkey at her house…Gobble Gobble Gobble (trust me, it’s much better in person).

Zaculeu Ruins outside of Huehue

The lovebirds at Zaculeu

After a few nights there we headed off to Coban. This is where the shit hit the fan. The national government decided to issue a “State of Siege” on the department where we intended to spend the next week. The government wanted to take back the cities run by narco-traffickers. After numerous phone calls to Peace Corps staff and many tears on my side we decided to change things up and head up to Flores instead of visiting the Limestone Pools of Semuc Champey. We arrived in Flores and found a hotel with a lovely view. Unfortunately the tour people in and around the town were vicious and would not leave us alone. I guess everyone is always trying to make a buck. We spent the next day hiking near the island and then hitting up the many bars for happy hour.

The next day we headed up to Tikal. The national park is about an hour outside of Flores. We decided to spend the night at one of the hotels located in the park (thank you Lisa and Rem!). The place had a pool which combined with some afternoon Tequila led to some fun photo sessions.

Lisa and Me underwater

Rem and Me

Claire and Rem

We headed into the Tikal Ruins in the afternoon. The park was HUGE! You could easily get lost in there. We wandered around and saw a bunch of different old temples and got to climb some very scary stairs to reach the top of Temple #5. The view was amazing but I was feeling a bit nauseous looking down. Claire and Rem just walked around like it was no problem. Lisa and I stayed close to the ground. From the top of the temple you could see for miles and miles and it was just pure jungle. We saw a few more temples and the main plaza and watched the sun go down. It was cool to be in this place that 2000 years ago served as the capital city of the huge Mayan Empire. It makes everything else seem so new.

I also officially believe dinosaurs still exist. I know the signs said that the Howler Monkeys make very loud noises but the things I heard at night could no way have come from a little monkey. Those were noises of T-Rex and Raptors! Sleeping in the jungle (ok in a hotel really) was an amazing experience and I am so lucky to have experienced the dinosaur noises and all!

View from the top of one of the Temples

Some Ruins

Lisa and Me

Lisa and Rem

Lisa and Rem


The horribly terrifying stairs to the top of Temple 5

The next day we returned to Tikal and saw some more ruins. After a few hours of climbing up and down we headed back to Flores. We hit up some more happy hours and enjoyed a nice Christmas Eve dinner. I slept through it all but I am told I missed World War 3 status fireworks at midnight. Guatemalans love their bombas.

The 4 travelers: Me, Claire, Rem, Lisa

View of the island of Flores

Me, Sabiha and Claire

Christmas day brought Mass and some more eating and swimming in the lake. We then took an overnight bus to Antigua. In Antigua we visited my old host family, toured a coffee farm and climbed Volcano Pacaya. The volcano was a really easy hike but it was a beautiful view from the top. We actually couldn’t go all the way to the top since Pacaya exploded last May. Too dangerous they say…I would have gone though!

Me on Volcano Pacaya with Volcano de Agua, Volcano de Fuego and Volcano Acatenango in the background

Rock art

A few days before New Year’s Eve we headed to Monterrico, a small town on the Southern coast. The weather was warm, the waves were decent sized and we saw baby sea turtles. What else can I ask for? It was amazing to bask in the sun and hear the sounds of waves all day. We also got to eat some delicious fish and shrimp fresh out of the ocean. We took it easy on New Year’s Eve and just sat on the beach and watched all the fireworks. Once again, more bombas. One of the last days we took a boat tour of the Mangroves in Monterrico. It was very early but we saw some interesting fish and birds.

Baby sea turtle

The nightly release of the sea turtles

Lisa and Me at sunset on the beach


Lisa and Rem

Wildlife during the Mangrove tour

We returned to Antigua the night before Lisa and Rem flew out. We had Indian Food and went out for a beer. They had to leave the next morning ridiculously early. I was so sad to see them go. I cried for far too long that morning after they left. If I have learned one thing since I have been in Guatemala it is the value of family. Seeing my sister made me realize how much I miss my family.

To finish this long post I must update on a few things. I still am having medical issues and have to go in for more tests and such. UGH! I was super healthy before I came here so why now?!?!? It is hard to focus on my job when I have so much other Peace Corps official stuff to deal with. Now that I am back in site I am really trying to make more of an effort to get out. I am going to walk my dog every afternoon to see more people. I am hoping once school is back in session I will be able to teach some English classes as well. A new year and hopefully a new start.

But still no fence and no latrine…some things never change.