Sunday, March 30, 2008

My new (and final) address

Andrea Stanaway
Voluntaria del Cuerpo de Paz
Recomendado por el Correo de Cabrican
Cabrican, Quetzaltenango
Guatemala, Central America

If you send things to the Peace Corps address in Antigua, they will still get to me. It will just take a little longer because they have to forward it to me in Xela and I have to go pick it up. I have heard a lot of “I have stuff to send you…” but my mailbox is still feeling a little lonely so…send me a letter atleast!

Buen Viaje

After being too sick to go out and celebrate, I spent a tranquil night alone in the hostel in Antigua and decided to make the long trek up to my site. I felt well enough that I thought I could make the trip without feeling too miserable. I talked Mel and Jessica into helping me drag my stuff to the bus terminal in Antigua so I could catch a camioneta to San Lucas. I was debating taking a Pullman (like a charter-type bus) but someone I asked told me they only left at 7am and another person told me they left all day long. I decided that I didn’t want to risk going all the way to Guatemala City and taking a taxi to the bus station only to find out that my last bus left at the crack of dawn. So instead I decided to brave the whole way in camioneta. I got thrown on a bus out of Antigua, kissed Mel and Jess goodbye really quickly (easier if it’s a quick goodbye…like ripping off a band-aid), and was off the San Lucas.

In San Lucas, I had to lug my stuff (too much and too heavy) across a sky bridge in order to wait for a bus to Xela (AKA Quetzaltenango). A strange man asked me what bus I needed and told me to wait while he found it for me. Sometimes it is hard to tell if people are really nice or really strange but he found me a bus. The odd thing was, it wasn’t a camioneta. It looked more like a small tour bus, but I decided I would go for it. The ayudante told me it was going to Xela and it was the same price to I figured “what the heck?”. The problem with this bus was that I sat next to a man who was REALLY interested in getting to know me and if I had a boyfriend in the U.S. So, I did what any sensible girl would do in this situation and I made one up. The trouble is, you can’t just say he exists, you have to say how old he is and how long you have been together and if you have kids and if he is going to come visit you (26, 4 years, no, yes). He bought it, but then told me that since I was gone for 2 years I should find another boyfriend here. Sometimes you just can’t win.

The other problem was that when the ayudante told me he was going to go to Xela, what he really meant was that he was going to tell me I had to get off in Cuatro Caminos and find another bus to Xela which is like 30 minutes away. So I got off with this really nice lady and her son who were going to Xela as well and she told me I could follow her because she knew where the bus was. So she brought me to a bus that went to Xela but didn’t go the bus terminal. I decided to wait because I did in fact need to go to the terminal. So I sat on the side of the road (luggage piled around me) and waited while 2 more buses that were going to non-terminal Xela passed by. So I finally got a bus that told me it would take me to the bus terminal.

The problem with that bus was that the ayudante lied to me and stopped at an unknown location in Xela and told me that I had to get off because the bus wasn’t going any further (certainly not to the terminal). So I got off another deceptive bus and found myself in the middle of Xela. Luckily there were some other people there and I asked them if I could catch a bus to the terminal there…the answer was yes which was good because I didn’t think I could carry my stuff very much further (did I mention all I had eaten was a pancake and soda crackers?).

So eventually I got tossed onto a terminal-bound bus in Xela and made it to the actual terminal at long last. I made my way through the throng of buses to Guatemala City, Panajachel (Lake Atitlan), and lots of other exciting places looking for a bus to Cabrican. Every time you pass a bus her, the ayudante smiles really nicely and asks if you are going his way. When I said “no, gracias, voy a Cabrican” they looked confused (not a normal gringo destination) and pointed me in the right direction. So I made it (with all my things intact) to a bus that was headed to Cabrican. I sat next to a really nice older man who begged me to take his sons to the U.S. He didn’t really understand that my embassy connections only extend to swearing to uphold the constitution and being rewarded by a tiny tuna sandwich and a barefoot-grass moment at the ambassador’s house. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really help my find visas for Guatemalans.
So here I am in Cabrican. My room at Reina’s isn’t ready until Monday so I am chilling at Sara’s house and tomorrow is market day so we are going to buy everything I need to survive in Cabrican.

One Last Moment on U.S. Soil

March 27, 2008

I officially became a Peace Corps Volunteer. I know what you are thinking… “Um…hello…I already sent you off to the Peace Corps…” but technically speaking I was what they call a peace corps trainee which isn’t an actual volunteer. Go figure.

Mel and I on the micro ride to the city
So on Thursday we had this ceremony. It was mostly just like your high school graduation. We elected a class speaker…we put on our fancy clothes for the first time in Guatemala…we took way too many pictures of ourselves together. The only difference was it was at the Ambassador’s house, he didn’t invite our families, and we had to swear to defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies domestic and foreign. So it was basically exactly the same.

We managed to get through the prestigious high security at the Ambassador’s residence. This meant that we were technically back in the U.S. again. I have to admit, I took my shoes off, felt grass between my toes for the first time in three months, and it felt like home. The house was what you might expect from the residence of a U.S. government official (big, nice, not very home-ey). The ceremony itself was actually pretty anticlimactic. After three months of training, we raised our right hands, swore to uphold the constitution, shook the ambassador’s hand, and were pronounced volunteers. All of us were left saying “Well…congratulations everyone….?”

Me with mister Ambassador

What does the Ambassador serve for refreshments?
Apple or Orange juice (with ice that is safe to drink)
Tiny tuna or cheese sandwiches

I have been sick (in my tummy) all week so I only ate 2 sandwiches and half of a brownie…which was an awful idea because I am still sick and it is probably because I let myself off the soda-cracker diet too quickly. The good news is, in case you are worried, that I don’t have an amoeba…they checked.

Alotenango girls with our Spanish teachers

That was it. We walked out of the gate back into Guatemala (they didn’t even stamp our passports…) as Peace Corps volunteers, feeling…just about the same as we felt when we walked in.

Healthy Schools training group

The real difference is that now I get to start working. I stayed with my family in Alotenango Thursday and went to Antigua to celebrate on Friday. I was too sick to go out so I had a great night sleeping in a hostel in Antigua before I left Saturday morning for Cabrican.

We couldn´t leave American soil without a thumb war

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Top Ten Reasons to Like Cabrican

So I just got back from visiting Cabrican, the site where I am going to be living during my two years of service. In the interest of thinking positively and keeping you informed, I composed this list of reasons why life there will be good. Enjoy.

In no particular order:

1. The panaderia (bakery) there makes these little pineapple pies that are SOOOO good. There is also a store that sells snickers bars. They are Q7 which is like $1 but expensive for here but its nice to know I have got it in case of emergency.

2. Sara and Brian are my site mates and they are SO cool. Sara is a small business volunteer and Brian is Apropriate Technology and they are both really cool. I am sure we will be spending a lot of time together since there isn´t much to do around town.

3. There is a gym in town that was started my some Guatemalan that used to be a body builder, but the only two members are Sara and Brian (and me now....). So basically we have a private gym.

4. My CTA (the supervisor of education...kind of my boss) is making me a desk in the office so I have a place to work. I have always wanted my own desk.... I had to join the Peace Corps to find a job that would give me my own desk...ironic.

5. Chorjale is my biggest school with 11 teachers and they play sports together like basketball, soccer, and volleyball. Anybody remember how much I hated soccer in elementary school? In this case, I think it will be so much fun and make it easy to be part of the ¨team.¨

6. Profe Eli is the director at Chorjale and he came to the counterpart day the Peace Corps held for us to get to know our new companeros. He was SO nice and invited me to dinner with his family!

7. The last volunteer who was at Cabrican was apparently really unhappy there so everyone kept asking me if I was going to be sad...they are SO relieved when I told them I missed my friends and damily but I wasn´t particularly SAD... That is an easy problem to overcome, they just want someone happy!

8. Reina is the lady I am going to live with and she is renting me a room right about here store that she runs. She seems really nice and with her lives her sister and her nephew named Roberto who is SO cute. I think they will make a good family.

9. I get to take classes in Mom, which is the local indigenous language with a lady named Seno Aida who also seems really really nice. I think it will be fun to learn another language. Also, everyone says my Spanish is really good (I wouldn´t say REALLY good, but its nice to be complimented) which is a huge relief.

10. There is an Art Corps volunteer from Ecuador who lives in Rio Blanco and works once a week at the library (I know, a library!) in Cabrican and here name is....guess...Andrea. So, once again, there are always two of us. It seems like I can´t escape other people named Andrea. I think life would feel strange with only one of us.

¡Hot like Lava!

Last week we took a trip to see the Volcan de Pacaya near Guatemala City. It is one of the active volcanoes around here and so we were stoked to see some lava. There is a volunteer living there named Carlos (Kyle--in the photo with the walking stick) who took us up there to see the Volcano, it was pretty amazing.

So, after a 1.5 hour uphill climb we finally got to see our goal: the flowing lava. It was SO cool, you can actually hear the cracking noise of the cooling lava rolling down the side of the Volcano.

To my amazement/horror, we actually walked out onto the cooled lava to get a closer look at the lava flow. It was SO hot (I am a genious I know). I was expecting campfire hot, but it was lava.

So we did the only thing that makes sense when you ar sitting around a flowing mass of lava...we roasted marshmallows!

They were the best s´mores I have EVER tasted. They don´t have graham crackers here but they do have chickies which are vanilla sandwich cookies with chocolate covering one side...oh so tasty!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

¡Geographical Destiny!

Big news! Yesterday I discovered my geographical destiny. They took us all out to the basketball court at the training center where they had drawn a chalk outline of Guatemala. They had us all close our eyes and led us (I almost got mistaken for the other Andrea, haha) to where our site is. We couldn´t talk to make noise and we were all trying to figure out where they led us but they were tricky and took us in circles first. I thought for sure I was in Chimaltenango. Then we all opened our eyes and found out where and with whom we would be spending our time in Guatemala. So, at long last, the place I will be spending the next two years living and working is….drumroll please…

¡Cabrican, Quetzaltenango!

Cabrican (Cab-ree-kahn) is a medium sized town in the western highlands of Guatemala. It sounds like it is beautifully situated on a mountain ridge with lots of nice views and mountain walks to take. I will be working in 3 schools in that area which have been working with another volunteer who left in July. It sounds like she did a lot of teaching in the classrooms and building projects like water systems and latrines so I think I will get to work with the teachers and parents more which seems really great.

The town sounds like it has everything I might want like internet, electricity, and water most of the time. It is right on the border with Huehuentenango and San Marcos which are some of the departments that border Mexico. I won´t be very close to Antigua or the Capital, but the city of Quetzaltenango which is one of the biggest in the country is just 2 ½ hours away. There is also a satellite center for the Peace Corps there where they will forward my mail and I can exchange books with other volunteers. The other great news is that the Riecken Foundation started a public library in Cabrican so I will be close to probably one of the only public libraries in the country! ¡Que Suerte!

Next week I get to go visit, so I will have a better idea of what the town is like. However, I am really happy with my site. Everyone was really nervous yesterday and I think some people were disappointed but I know everyone will love their site. So if you are going to visit, start thinking about Cabrican and mountain walks!

Monday, March 3, 2008


On Saturday we went as a training group tp visit Iximche, the first capital of Guatemala when the Spanish showed up. It is this giant ruined Mayan city and it was beautiful! It was the first time we have really done anything tourist-y. It was also fun to all do something together because we don't get to hang out a whole lot.
We had a ceremony with a Mayan Priest, it was really pretty. They burn different things depending on what kind of ceremony it is (I think we got a general luck/wish ceremony). We all went around and talked about things we hoped for during our time in Guatemala. The priest told us that everyone is connected and nobody is here by accident. Being in Guatemala is part of our destiny. It was a pretty good message.
Before, I was really anxious about a lot of things here. We find out our sites today and a lot of people are freaking out. The ceremony helped me a little though. I'm not going to speculate on the Mayan connection to God, but being there with all the volunteers in such a beautiful place talking about out dreams was really comforting.

We find out our sites today, I'll keep you posted. We also get to have pizza lunch with the U.S. Ambassador, so its a pretty big day. I'll keep you posted!