Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lovely Alta

Yesterday I went on a long trek on a dirt road. There were butterflies dancing around my head and crickets chirping. Below me lush green hills stretched for miles...paradise right?

Well, it is certainly very nice. This week I am just northeast of Coban in Alta Vera Paz. I get to visit a volunteer that has been working here a year to see what her life is like and what my future might hold. I am having a really good time hanging out with her (named Jill). She lives in this little town about two hours outside of Coban. Yesterday we went to two of the schools she is working in (two hour walk in total) and tommorrow we will go to two more. Today she had a meeting in Coban so we are spending the afternoon running errands around here.

It is so nice to have a little independence. Yesterday we made hummus and falafel and tonight we are eating pasta and we are going to make cookies (a nice break from the Guatemala food even though I love it). We also go to go to a cooking class yesterday and we made caramelized plantains which smelled a lot like apple pie...I missed the US just a little=).

I really love it up here. The scenery is really green which reminds me a lot of home. I am hoping to get placed here but there are only a few sites available so we will see what happens. It is really nice to see how her life is and have an idea of what is in store for me. She is in a really small town which is something I am hoping for and also gets to do some work with NGOs in the area which I would love. She also talked a lot about her friends and family coming to visit her and I cant wait to share all of this with everyone!

I find out on Monday the 3rd where my site will be and I am really anxious. I am really going to miss my family in Alotenango but I am definitely ready to get started. I will let you know as soon as I can! Keep thinking about me, write me letters! Big hugs!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

FBT and the Beach

¡Bueños dias!
I´m a little behind on my blog, so I apologize that this is being published a little late. I have been meaning to tell you about this all week but in Santa Lucia I ran out of time because I was invited to a Salsa Dancing class in Antigua (If you are awaiting the debut of my dance career you´re probably out of luck, but ti was fun) and I just now had a chance to get to the internet cafe.
Last week we traveled to Huehuetango and Quetzaltango (Xela) to visit some volunteers and see how their lives are. They also happened to be sites that I might be sent to where volunteers are on their way out so it was fun to see the possibilities. I took this picture of my family before I left:
We started out in Huehuetango city as our base and traveled out to various sites from there. We got to stay in a hotel/hostel which was pretty fun because we all got tol live together for the first time since Washington D.C. Poor David (showing off in this picture) had to spend the week with all of the girls but the good news is that he got his own room. Also in the picture (left to right) are the other Andrea, Melanie (lives with me in Alotenango) and Christina who went to Gonzaga in Spokane (the closest thing to a Washingtonian I have here).
One of the schools we went to in our first days was a school that was certified by another volunteer 2 years ago. The prepared a presentation for us where they had speeches and all the students sang the national anthem (impressive because there are lots more verses than we use in ours). Also, they presented us with huge bags of lemons and oranges that the parents had brought to give to us. It was SO generous of them and we felt really honored. The Guatemalan people here are SO welcoming and generous! The problem was that we had to cross the department border on our was back to the city and you aren´t supposed to bring fruit across. However, we didn´t want to part with the gift from the school so we all stuffed our backpacks and purses full of oranges and smiled our biggest smiles at the checkpoint. Luckily, they let us go through, but it was pretty exciting and funny---I don´t think I am cut out for a career as a smuggler. We got elected to guard the oranges overnight so our room smelled really sweet all week. Here is Mel and I with some of the booty!
Every school we went to welcomed us really warmly and always had something for us to eat. On normal days this consists of atol (a drink made from rice kind of like oatmeal) but since we were special guests we got an actual snack. Once we got tostadas but mor often than not we received either tamales or panches. They are both the same sort of texture of corn, rice, or potatoes cooked in some form of leaf. They are generally delicious but we had so many of them that I think I might be happy not to have them again for a very long time. Another thing we got was bags of chocolate milk the schools are given for a school feeding program they have here. Warm chocolate milk from a bag is something I might not be looking forward to in the future. I was really impressed by the generosity of everyone welcoming a group of conspicuous strangers into their schools. It was really great.
On Valentine´s Day (Dia de Cariño here) we were in Xela and we had a chance to go out and hang out a bit which was really nice. On the way home, we visited some volunteers that were just going in to their second year and they had really good advice. I got to meet Nikki, who lived with my host family last year and it was fun to chat about the family.
In total, the trip was really long and I was glad to be home in Alotenango. It made me really look forward to knowing where my site is going to be and what my life is going to be like in the future. I think I am really going to love this job. I am anxious to get the training part over with and find out what the future holds for me. On March 3rd we find out our sites. All I know is that it will be in the department of Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, Chimaltenango, or Alta Vera Paz.

I have also included some pictures of my family at the beach. The day after we got back we all rented a bus and headed for a place called Las Lisas on the coast in Esquintla. It was really fun and nice to relax with my family. The ocean was warm but it felt a lot like home because there is a riptide so you can´t really swim. The kids were really fun though as you can see from the pictures.
We had to take a boat through a canal to get there---pretty exciting!

Even my granparents came! I can´t understand them very well but they are really nice and they enjoyed the trip!
Andreita LOVED playing in the sand. I was reminded of a certain little brother of mine that used to eat sand at the beach in Seaside...

Christian was scared of the ocean so they filled up a tub for him to play in. Later we coaxed him in a little ands he enjoyed it. For lunch I ate Caldo de Mariscos (Caldo with seafood) which is against the advice of the Peace Corps (sometimes seafood is a little dangerous here) but it was really good. One problem was that all my sea animals were cooked whole so I had a crab, a fish, and 4-5 shrimp staring up at me. I don´t think I´ve ever had a meal with that many eyes! It was worth the risk and the work because it was delicious and I didn´t get sick so life is good.

This week we taught a practice lesson in the school. It was my first of hundreds of lessons I will teach here and it went really well. I taught hand washing to the first grade and it was really fun. That class is my favorite because they are really enthusiastic and they love to do things like sing. Now we have set to work preparing a workshop for the teachers who will be a tougher crowd. I also got reviewed and I doing well (not going to be sent home after training) I am doing well in my technical activities and have a Spanish level of Advanced-Basic although some days it doesn´t feel like it. Yeah!
This week I am going to Alta Vera Paz to visit a volunteer named Jill and see how her life is. It will be fun to see that part of the country. I will have a 5 hour bus ride to enjoy the view! I hear that part of the country is really beautiful!
Thanks again for all your support. My parents keep telling me about people that I know and some that I don´t who are reading this and I really appreciate your interest! The adventure is just beginning here. I can´t believe I still have more than 2 years to enjoy this beautiful country!

Saturday, February 9, 2008


This week, we made tortillas at Jessica's house for Spanish class. I already had a little experience because my Abuela let me help her a few times. It is really hard to get them right with the right shape, round, and thin. People here have been doing it since age 4 so the learning curve is a bit steep. I am getting better though...

They tasted really good with lemon and salt. Jessica's parents told me I was ready for my Guatemalan husband! Jaime says I just need to know how to make beans but the beans in a can here taste pretty good so I am pretty sure I could manage. I'm just missing the husband part...

We also took a tour of a Macadmeia nut farm that is owned by this really crazy old American guy. He was really nice and helpful but for every one fact he gave us he told 5 dirty jokes in Spanish. It was pretty funny and the Macademia nuts were SO good. They have trees they donate to indigenous communities and I bought some Macademia butter. It is SO good. Yesterday was our last day with Eduardo as our Spanish teacher. Jessica's sister made a pineapple upside down cake. Today we get to go to his house for dinner and meet his wife and kids. I am really excited. Today we celebrate our one month Anniversary in Guatemala. Everyone from our training class is still here. Only 2 months until I go to my site. 2 months to get better at Spanish/being a teacher!

Thanks again for the support. This is Jessica's cat, Manino (and Mel). He's real cute but I think he gave me fleas. Bummer.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Daily Life

Here is a picture of daily life for me here in Alotenango (really rivetting, I know!)

Every morning I wake up between 4 and 4:30 AM to the sound of the 50 roosters within hearing distance of my house. I also wake up because I have to go to the bathroom--every mornng, its unbelievable! I think the nurse should give me a prize for being hydrated! Around 5 my grandma starts making tortillas and I can hear the of her forming them in my room which is farthest from the kitchen. Its a beautiful way to wake up.

Depending on our shedule for the day I get up between 6 and 7. I used to shower in the mornings but people here think that showering in the cold will make you sick so I try not to worry my family. If I have to get up early, I eat breakfast alone and its really serene. I always have cornflakes with bananas and sugar. Aura leaves a thermos of hot water out for me at night and sets my place at the table. If it is a little later, I eat with Christian and the morning is full of Aura trying to get him to eat and not be late for school. Sometimes if I am done early I get a chance to drink my coffee on the roof and make volcanic observations (this morning was cloudy with smoke straight up into the air because there was very little wind.) Otherwise, I make observations on the walk to Jessica's house to pick her up and we go off to enjoy the day!

Usually Jessica and I have to walk to the other side of town where Melanie and Candi live in order to meet them for class or to catch the camioneta. That means we say "Buenos Dias" atleast 50 times during the 15 minute walk because everyone greets each other around here. Sometimes we meet Eduardo for Spanish class at someone's house or at the plaza in front of the church. Otherwise we take the bus to Antigua or to Santa Lucia (Mondays) for other activites. We return home for lunch between 12 and 1 (things are pretty scheduled as far as eating in our houses) which means "Buenos Dias" another 50 times. That walk is tough because it is right on the line between "Buenos Dias" and "Buenos Tardes." Technically the switchover happens after lunch but it definately doesn't feel like you should still be saying "Good Morning."

Lunch is the most important meal of the day and dishes vary a lot. My family eats a lot of chicken in general. Almost always there are some form of beans (usually black beans prepared a variety of ways) and there are ALWAYS tortillas. Adult men here who work in the campo eat around 20 tortillas a meal, which is a lot. I usually eat 3 or 4 because I am trying to fit in, but thats all I can manage. Usually I eat lunch with Christian and Aura. Jaime usually leaves for work before lunch or comes home after depending on the day. On Thursdays Aura's grandmother who lives next door eats with us. She is in here 80s and I can never understand what she is saying but she is really sweet. Aura's mother, father, and brother live in our house but her mother cooks for them and they eat seperate. Unfortunately, I never get to eat the tortillas I hear in the morning. We buy ours from the lady at the corner and they are really good.

After lunch we return to class for a few hours. Usually we can convince Eduardo to finish early so we can go to Antigua and run errands or do group work or relax (not usually). Dinner isn't until 7 at my house so I usually have plenty of time for homework in the afternoons. The other option is watching Discovery Kids with Christian and I can't understand any of it. It makes me a bit discouraged that I can't even understand kids shows in Spanish. Sometimes he watches movies. Here they are pirated copies that come 3 to a disc. We have the Lion King (Rey Leon) 1,2 and 3 ad well as a disc that has Curious George (in English!), some fish movie, and Cars. I've seen all of these like 10 times each and I still can't understand the words but yuo get the jist of it. Curious George in English was really entertaining the first 5 times.

Dinner is a lighter meal. Usually leftovers from lunch or beans/tortillas/cheese. Jaime is home every other night and we usually talk or watch cartoons during the meal. Sometimes I have assigned questions for my family from class and its pretty funny. After dinner everyone goes to bed between 8 and 9 and I read a bit, write in my journal, and then go to sleep. The nights here are cool but not cold and I usually fall asleep really quickly and sleep soundly until tortillas/roosters/bathroom in the early hours of the morning.

Thats my daily life! Not so rivetting, a little predictable, and I love it!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Photos de mi Vida Ahora

My favorite view of the volcano outside Jessica's house! It is SO beautiful here!

Spanish Class waiting for the fateful bus in Aposetas!

The Healthy Schools program all together on Mel's roof! I think my expression is funny=).

Me and my friend Fuego

My little sister, Andrea ("Andreita") she is SO cute and she is used to me now so she doesn't cry when I hold her!

Fuego just this morning, it had a lovely plume of smoke. I love the views from where I live. Some morning I can wake up and drink my coffe on the roof with this is my face. I am SO lucky!

The Fabulous Life of Eduardo

Who's Eduardo? Well he is our Spanish teacher if you are speaking technically, but right now he is actually our guide to everything Guatemalan. He is our resource for language, culture, and sometimes techincal traning, he is our savior when we are confused about family situations, and he often performs life saving feats during many of our weekly outings together. Basically, he is our Guatemalan hero.

So on Friday we went to San Andres Itzapa to see the shrine of Maximon. The whole experience in the town and at the shrine was very interesting, but the adventurous part of the whole trip turned out to be the camioneta (bus) rides we had to take to get there.

The first bus we took was from Antigua to a place called Aposentos to catch a camioneta to San Andres. The camioneta was REALLY REALLY full (like 3 people to a seat with the aisles jammed full) which means a lot of people in Guatemala. It turned out that some girls from another town were taking the same bus to another town to go to the market. So, instead of being our normal spectacle we were a whole gang of strange people travelling around. I couldn't remember the name for the stop so I remembered that Eduardo had said that it was in Parramos, so I paid the Ayudante (the man who tells you to squeeze in tighter and then rolls through to collect fares) to Parramos (Q3.00). The trouble was, Apostentos was a little past Parramos and actually cost Q4.50. So after Parramos the man came through again to collect more fares and I totally pannicked. I couldn't think of how to say "I'm sorry, I forgot the name of the stop and I really want to go to Aposentos but I wasn't trying to cheat you" in Spanish and I couldn't see Eduardo through the crowd to ask what I should do. So the Ayudante came through and when he got to my row he stopped and looked at me and all I could think to do was smile my most innocent smile and shrug my shoulders like I had NO idea what was going on. I was lucky, he decided to avoid the confrontation and move on. So when we finally got to the correct stop we had to struggle to get out the back of the bus through the crowd (really difficult) and someone yelled "Mas tiempo para las gringas grandes" which translates roughly into "more time for the big white girls!" which may sound offensive but we are all atleast a foot taller than everyone here. I was grateful because it meant the driver didn't continue going which would have resulted in us being thrown out the back onto the street.

So the next bus to San Andres was even more full. Since we got on last, we were stuck riding in the front of the bus near the door. I was lucky enough to get on first so I was right next to the driver (basically sitting on his shoulders which was quite awkward). The other girls were on the stairs which meant the only space for valiant Eduardo was one foot on the step and the rest of him hanging on for dear life to the bars next to the door on the OUTSIDE of the bus. I couldn't see well enough to know how he was holding on and I was honestly afraid he would fall out of the bus. There is no clear Peace Corps protocol for what you do if your Spanish teacher falls out of a moving vehicle on the way to see a shrine.

However, we made it to San Andres in one piece. We saw the shrine of Maximon as well as the Catholic church and then we got back on a bus to return to Antigua. The ride to Aposentos was relatively uneventful thank goodness. However, the bus that arrived to take us to Antigua was just as full as the previous camionetas. There was enough room to all get on safely, but then we realized that it was the same driver and ayudante who we underpaid the first ride! When I handed the man my Q5 note he smiled at me and asked me how many I was paying for. It was a joke because the fare is Q4.50. Very funny. In Parramos, the head of the Spanish Department, Patti, joined us and we were having a crowded but pleasant ride. However, Melanie was standing next to the driver and when we stopped alittle bit suddenly, she fell and cracked the rearview mirror! The driver didn't say anything, I'm not sure he noticed. That is, until the mirror fell out of the frame and came crashing down ontop of his head while he was driving! The funny thing is, our theme this week has been superstitions...I'm not sure is Mel or the driver is getting the 7 years of bad luck, but she has been ok so far.

Fortunately, we made it home in one piece. Eduardo gave me some lemons from his lemon tree and I made a refresco of strawberried and lemons for when the group from San Miguel came to visit us on Saturday. On Sunday we watched the superbowl at Melanie's house and played some football with kids in the street. It was lots of fun and nice to see the Giants win. It was a great game even though the announcers were in Spanish.

I will add a few more picture of my fabulous life. Keep writing me, I need lots of support at this point. Life is moving really fast here...its been almost a month already. I love you all and miss you!