Monday, April 28, 2008

Bacon Vacation

On Friday, I went with Chorjale to play sports against Las Ventanas, another of the big schools around here. I spent all day in the sun watching first girls, then three different boys teams play soccer. We lost every game. We also lost every game of basketball they played simultaneously up at the school. In Guatemala, they don’t really go for the “the most important part is that you had fun” philosophy so the kids were pretty disappointed. I had a good time though and we get another chance to win this Friday when the school is coming to play on our home turf in Chorjale. We also rode there in the back of a giant truck which was pretty fun. They tried to insist I sit up front with the driver but I told them I wanted to ride in the back with the rest of the teachers and students. It was a great game trying to keep my balance on the rough dirt road. When they went through to drop me off in Cabrican, the other two teachers climbed over the side and tried to tell the driver to put the ladder down for me but I insisted on climbing over the side too. I just want to be like everyone else as much as possible because I look SO different.

I left at 5am Saturday morning to go meet some people at Lake Atitlan. I got to Panajachel at 9:30am and found out that everyone had gone across the lake to go swimming. Thankfully, they left one person waiting for me and we took a launch out to a hotel where they let us swim because we bought lunch there. They had these great stone patios that you could sunbathe on a dive off. I also got to enhance my sunburn from being outside all day Friday. The lake was SO beautiful and the water was perfect. You have this amazing view of volcanoes all around you. The lake itself is a huge crater left over from a monumental volcanic eruption in the past. It has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. After swimming, we went back to the hostel and rested before meeting some Guatemalan friends for dinner. We went to a restaurant owned by a Canadian man where I ordered a bacon cheeseburger. It was HEAVEN after not having anything of the sort for 4 months. We also stumbled upon a punk/ska concert that was happening across the street. It was almost like being home for a night.

In the morning, I woke up too early as usual and left for home at around 7:30. I stood on the side of the road watching buses pass too quickly to stop for me for awhile before I finally got one to stop. The problem was, there weren’t any seats left so the ayudante sat me down in his spot, which is on an upside down bucket in the front with the driver. I had to hang on for dear life around all the curves through the mountains. We were almost to Xela before a seat opened up for me. I politely declined the free ride to San Marcos they offered me. I had to get back to Xela early because the last bus leaves for Cabrican on Sundays at 1:30pm. I got back in plenty of time, did some civilization-shopping (I got cheese, butter, coconut milk, measuring cups, a wooden spoon, and nail polish) and got on a bus that was leaving at noon which put me home around two. I was so exhausted that I slept for 2 hours when I got home. I hung out at Sara’s house and ate popcorn for a few hours and went to sleep at 8pm because I was still so exhausted.

This morning half my teachers didn’t come to school. The ones that were there didn’t really feel like working and invited me to eat scones and coffee and go across the street to the store to drink soda with them. I also got roped into playing basketball for an hour after recess and when I finished, the teacher that had brought me to school had left without telling anyone. I was going to take the bus but the teachers all insisted I get a ride home with a local man they knew because the bus was “too rough” on those roads. I opted for the free ride over paying for the bus. I also got invited to eat dinner at a teacher’s house tomorrow because they are killing a turkey to celebrate Labor Day (Thursday). Life just keeps getting more interesting around here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Deeper Thoughts

Author’s Note: I apologize in advance to you casual readers who aren’t ready to hear the serious thought-provoking side of living in Guatemala. I promise the next one will be really funny and witty, don’t worry.

Today my school got canceled so I decided to go on a hike. I just finished reading Donald Miller’s book “Through Painted Deserts” which is about an outdoorsy-finding-yourself type of road trip so I was feeling extra adventurous. I decided I would go up the road past the police station and see where it might take me. It took my down a winding hill (not quite as much fun on the way back) and through some houses before giving way to a lonely road all the way down to the river. There, I found a perfect grassy-picnic-knoll where I could sit, eat lunch, and do some good alone-in-nature-thinking. I thought I might share with you a little of what I wrote in my journal while I was there…enjoy my deeper thoughts!

“It’s funny, at least five Guatemalans told me on my way down here that they couldn’t believe I was walking alone and I was going to get robbed [side note: I know there are times when you should definitely listen to the locals and I assure you mother, I was not doing anything unsafe]. It is so tranquil here; it doesn’t really feel unsafe at all. We Americans, we love to be alone. We love the freedom and the independence that comes with doing things on your own. We love the tranquility and serenity that comes with being alone in nature. To concentrate, we need silence and to pray, we want to be alone. Guatemalans don’t understand that part of us. They think it’s ridiculous to go on a walk by yourself, they think it a waste to live alone and a tragedy to be away from your family. I don’t think they really think I am doing something unsafe so much as they think I am doing something strange and unnecessary. They are always around family, always cooking for ten (or twenty), always looking for someone to talk to, and they always, always know each other’s business.

To us, God exists in nature, in silence, in a “still small voice.” We feel God most intimately in the quiet times and the quiet songs. I think for many Guatemalans, God exists in the laughter of friends and the joy of community. For Evangelicals here especially, God is loudness and joy and movement and LOUDNESS. I don’t think either way of thinking is wrong, but which makes more sense?

The awful truth is, I am not sure if I really fit in Guatemala. I never felt like I fit into life in the United States. When I went to South Africa, I got caught up in the miracle of Ubuntu and the strength of human kindness there. It is a human spirit that I am sure exists here and I know exists in the states in some people and exists most definitely exists in my heart. The thing is, I can’t decide if I could do more good in a place where I fit in or a place that I don’t.

It is safe to say that when I joined the Peace Corps I had definite thoughts of “finding myself” (and the Latin man that I have given up hope on, by the way). Seriously, the truth is that I know who I am, I just don’t know where I belong in this world. I just know there is a place out there with my name on it. I am not feeling like Guatemala is it, which doesn’t mean I can’t love my time here and grow a lot because of it. Sometimes I just think I don’t make sense. I didn’t make sense in the U.S., I don’t really make any more sense in Guatemala. I made more sense in South Africa but I was only there for a month so it is hard to know. I just know there is a place out there where who I am makes perfect sense and where I will feel at home being exactly who I am.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

Encyclopedia Guatemalteca

Author´s Note: I killed atleast 20 of those beetles in my room before I went to sleep on Saturday night. Thank goodness they aren´t rats...

Today I rode home from school 6 deep in a 2-door Volvo with a group of encyclopedia salesman. Life is so strange.

On Friday I went to Xela and met with Ashleigh for lunch. Before I left I went to the post office and I had TWO packages…one from my parents and one from the Strash family. I was SO happy. So I went to Xela and we went to a Mennonite bakery that is only open Tuesdays and Fridays and I bought some wheat bread. I also went and bought a guitar which will make me very very happy. I might not have to resort to watching the Desperate Housewives DVD that Sara gave me.

On Saturday I got to go with Brian to an aldea close to here named Coralles where he has a stove project. I got to help him build the bases for 4 stoves. A lot of people here are still cooking on fires on the floor of their house or on stoves without chimneys so respiratory problems are a HUGE deal here. So, his project is to build 73 “estufas mejoradas” in houses there. It was really great to be able to go into people’s houses and see their lives from that perspective. Everyone was SO nice and welcoming. They all fed us several times. I also got to do a little manual labor which felt good. We used cement block and cement and basically built a box on the ground (the hardest part is making sure it is level) and when it is dry they will fill it with sand or earth and then build another box of brick on top of it where they can put the metal cook top. They have chimneys so they can still use wood to cook and it will heat the house but there won’t be smoke. It’s great because respiratory problems are some of the most serious illnesses here. It is nice because he teaches people to do it so they can build their own and he doesn’t do it all for them. Also, a lot of the women end up working on it which is great because it isn’t the kind of job they normally let women so around here. It is great to see everyone work together and get something accomplished that is so good for them.

Sunday was market day and I had to buy another blanket for my bed because it has been really cold here at night. I spent all day cleaning and washing my clothes because it takes SO long to wash them by hand. I also make quicoi (kind of like zucchini) bread which turned out really well in the oven I made on my stove top. Next step: chocolate chip cookies with the chips Ryan sent me! It felt really great to bake something, I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.

This weekend I get to go watch the schools play sports against each other on Friday and on Saturday I am meeting some of the people from the training group at Lake Atitlan to hang out. It will be nice to have a vacation.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Did I Mention the "rat"?

While I am talking of bad weather and natural disasters and things going generally wrong...

Last week I was lying in bed after watching either a movie or 3-4 episodes of Ugly Betty (I don't really remember) trying to go to sleep. All of the sudden, I heard a skittering noise next to the wall beside my bed. No kidding, it sounded like tiny clawed feet running across my tile floor. I thought for sure that there was a "ratón" in my room. I completely pannicked (no screams though). It turns out I am slightly afraid of rodents, especially ones that run around my bedroom at night. I just laid there pannicking, trying to think of what I should do. I figured it wouldn't climb onto my bed (although Sara later told me that it could have) so I just laid there hyperventilating. I didn't even have a broom or anything to shoo it away with from a distance so I was mostly out of options. After what seemed like forever, I got the courage up to turn on my headlamp and find out how big he was. My heart was racing, I got ready to scream, turned on the headlamp and I saw....a beetle. I don't think I had ever been so relieved to see a giant beetle in my life. He was beating his giant wings against my wall which made the skittering noise I attributed to the R.O.U.S. that I thought was in my room.

Huge relief. I named him Jorge, squished him with a shoe and spent the next hour trying to get my heart to stop beating so fast so I could fall asleep. I also went out and brought a broom the next day...just in case.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Earthquakes and Hurricanes

I woke up Monday morning to the worst weather I have yet to see in Guatemala. It was so cold Sunday night that I had to pull out my sleeping bad in addition to sleeping under the covers. Brr. When I woke up it was foggy, windy, cold, and drizzly. It felt a lot like home but not really in a good way. It was strange because it hardly ever rains here except in torrents for a few hours in the afternoon. Also, the rainy season isn't supposed to start for another month. I commented about the weather to Reina (the weather is one of the things I feel most comfortable about in Spanish) who told me it was a hurricane and it would probably pass by the next day. I am pretty sure it wasn't an actual hurricane, but it did get better the next day, and even better today (still cold but sunny).

Tuesday night I was sitting in bed watching Ugly Betty (Sara has the complete first have no idea how great things like that are around here...). At approximately 9:03pm, I felt an earthquake. It was pretty strong, my whole bed was shaking side to side. I wasn't really scared...I was mostly confused because I don't know what they do about earthquakes in Guatemala. It lasted 40 seconds, and I just sat in my bed and thought ¨wow, an earthquake....that is strange...¨Afterward I thought maybe I should get up and go outside or something...but when I looked out my door, there was nobody moving around in my house at all. So, I went back in my room and hit the play button to continue watching Ugly Betty. In the morning, I found out that it was a 5.8 (the U.S. says it was 6.1) and the epicenter was just south of us off the coast of Escuintla. It made a small splash in the U.S. news but since I didn't get any frantic phone calls, I am assuming they didn't make it sound pretty serious. Nobody was hurt. It was a little exciting has been awhile since I felt one of those.

So I have already survived a hurricane and an earthquake unscathed. I think that counts for something.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pictures of the Pueblo (because you asked)

A typical view from one of the aldeas out here. This is the kind of view I see on my way to my schools. SO pretty. It looks a little like the Northwest, right? Maybe I am just a little nostalgic...
This is a view of the town (all of it) from my walk to Loma Grande.
This is the main square with the Municipal building in the background. This is where the market takes place (tiny during the week and gigantic on the weekend).

This is our newly paved road (it is really big news). On the left beneath the peach building is where the gym is.
This is Reina´s store. I also love orange soda, so the sign makes me happy. These are my really fun site mates Brian and Sara. I am pretty sure this is my welcome dinner where they made me some really fantastic tacos. Mmmmm...
More pictures to come!

Trabajando (working)

Well, I have survived my first week of work. I can’t say it was a normal week or that it represents at all what my work will be like in the future, but it was interesting to say the least. On Monday, I went to Chorjale, my biggest school. I got a ride with Profe Pedro because I don’t know how to get there and it is a 5K uphill walk. My goal this week was to meet with the school directors and give them a calendar of my work schedule I made up and hang around the school a bit so people could get to know me. It turned out that Monday at Chorjale was a civil day, which meant an assembly where all the kids sang the national anthem, said the pledge of allegiance, and Profe Eli, the Director, discussed a topic about the country of Guatemala. It turns out this was the perfect time to introduce me to all of the students and invite me to give a speech. In Guatemala, everywhere you go, especially if you are from out of town, you are invited to give a speech. So I gave a speech in front of the school. I am pretty sure I mostly said thank you twelve different ways and them ran off stage. After the activities, I was asked to help hand out school supplies that the government gave to all of the parents in the school. So, all the parents came and lined up for their supplies and I handed them out while Profe Eli and another teacher checked them off the list. It was a whole 3 hours of me running around, trying to understand what grade the kids were in, and trying to remember to grab the supplies to all the grades of the parents who told me (sometimes 4 or 5 kids). I am pretty sure, like usual, I looked like a crazy person. It turns out, all of this left no time for me to talk to Profe Eli about my calendar. I guess it will have to wait until next week.

Tuesday I stayed in town because I had a meeting with the Education Supervisor to give him my calendar. On Wednesday, it was my day to go to Xacana Chiquito, my smallest school. I rode there with Seño Patti because I don´t know the way and it is a 4.5K uphill walk (seeing the pattern here?). When I got there, I found out the Profe Gilberto, the director, wasn’t going to be at the school that day. So, I couldn’t present my calendar. I guess it will wait until next week. I told the other two teachers that I just wanted to sit in their classes and observe which translated into my giving a lesson. So I was left first with Profe Gilberto’s class because they didn’t have a teacher. I pulled a lesson about hygiene habits off the top of my head and took up an hour of time. I then went to the other classrooms, where the teachers gave me the floor even though I insisted I didn’t have anything prepared. I asked all the kids their names (none of which I remember) and a silly question like if they had animals or siblings or if they lived close to the school. The good news is, I made it through the day and I got atol (hot rice drink) during recreo (recess).

Today I went to my last school, Loma Grande. When I got there, it turned out that two of my four teachers (including the director, Seño Sara) weren’t there today. So, I couldn’t give her my calendar (got the pattern?) and it will have to wait until next week. I told these teachers that I just wanted to observe their classes and it translated correctly this time so I just sat in on the classes for a half hour and then excused myself. Someone from the health center had come to give vaccines and all the kids were crying anyways. I walked home because this school is only 1.5K and was accompanied the whole way by a really sweet grandmother from the community who was going to Cabrican as well.

So that sums up my first week of work. I figure it counts to get to know some of the teachers, let the students see me, and hopefully the real work will start next week. Next week I am preparing a presentation for the kids about my life and my family and friends (you guys!) so they can get to know me. I am hoping it will be fun. The most common questions I get asked are if I am married, why not, if I have kids, and if I am sad. I am hoping to answer the all at once and get it over with.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Ten Ways Guatemala Has Changed Me

1. I am addicted to orange soda
2. I put sugar on my cereal
3. I’m not afraid of public transportation
4. I sing out loud more often
5. I greet everyone in the street
6. I am more positive (out of necessity)
7. When someone whistles at me on the street I smile and say ¨good morning¨
8. I eat beans with my eggs
9. I don’t consider the distance from Seattle to Portland a ridiculous way to go to get peanut butter and tuna fish.
10. I am a mellower person in Spanish…who knew.

Home at Last

April 2, 2008
Well, here I am living in Cabrican. Sort of.

After staying at Sara’s this weekend, my room at Reina’s was finally ready. She owns a store across the street from Sara called the Tienda Tikal and she and her family live above it. Right now she is building an (well, my) apartment but it won’t be done for another few months. So for the time being I am renting a room in her house and using a hallway for my kitchen.

The problem is, I don’t have any stuff. Actually, I have a lot of stuff in the sense of clothes and books but I have nothing in the sense of a place to put all of it. On Monday, I went and bought a bed. The little old man at the store was SO excited for my business (not a thriving mattress market in Cabrican) and I got my bed for the same price Sara paid for hers last year. He even delivered it to my house which meant he and his 15 year old granddaughter carried my mattress 3 blocks to my house through the streets of the town. Good news, citizens, the gringa bought a bed.

I walked past the carpinteria at least twelve times yesterday to see if he could make me some tables but he wasn’t open any of those times. Today I finally caught him open and he is making me a table for my stove, two small tables for next to my bed, and also selling me boards to make shelves with cement block. He asked me what size I wanted and I held out my hands to show him while he tape measured the width I was showing him….so precise. All of this won’t be ready until Saturday or longer so for now my things will have to stay piled on the floor.

You also can’t buy a stove in Cabrican. So tomorrow I am going to Xela to buy one. The other problem is, I can’t really use it without a table so my diet of bread, cornflakes, powdered milk (no refrigerator), and mangos will have to continue at least until then.

The other good news is that the entertainment in Cabrican consists of sitting in my room reading, walking around town (it takes less than ten minutes to do the whole thing), or going to the gym. So far I have gone to our gym every day and I already feel really sore and tired. I have two years to get used to it. Besides, I have to make up for all the bread I have been eating. Also there is the boredom eating. Also the bite size snickers my mom sent me (thanks mom!).

Life is good.