Monday, May 26, 2008

Rainy Season

We have now officially begun the rainy season here in Guatemala. I am told that it will carry through until around September or October, when we will begin the not-rainy season. During the rainy season, it rains every day (sounds like home, right?) for several hours, usually just in the afternoon. Some years it is really predictable and always starts and stops at a certain time. Some years, it is a little more random. Who knows what kind of year we will have.

The bad things about the rainy season are discussed a lot around here and lamented about to me by other volunteers. Your clothes never dry, you get rained on wherever you go, Guatemalans don’t go out in the rain, there is mud everywhere. Every volunteer I talk to hates the rainy season and assures me that with time, I will find a special place of disdain in my heart for this time of year.

Maybe it is the Northwesterner in me, but despite it all I still love the rain. There is a certain kind of understanding that the rain brings, and a certain part of my soul that really feels the emotion of the rain. It doesn’t make me sad, just content, like the world understands me a little better. Rain makes everything smell cleaner, makes the corn in the fields grow tall, and makes the land a little greener. The sound of the rain lets me sleep better at night.

Guatemalans think I am crazy to like the rain. They have a level of respect for the rain that makes their crops grow, but they personally hate it. They hate getting wet, they hate mud. When it rains here, the streets are completely empty. The sight of someone walking in it, especially without an umbrella and without a disgusted look on their face, is very strange. I have lived my whole life with rain, and I have learned not to let it slow me down. If I had plans to go out, I go. If I need to walk somewhere, I enjoy the fresh smell and the feeling of raindrops on my head.

Rain reminds me of home. They say I will grow to hate it, but I don’t believe them. I am from the Northwest: I have rain in my soul.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Picture Day

On Wednesday I took my camera to the school to get a few pictures of kids. They insisted on taking a picture of myself. I tried to explain why I wouldn't want a picture of myself but they didn't quite understand. Atleast you guys might get to enjoy it!
This is a group of the youngest kids I work with...esentially kindergarten/preschool. They are actually the bravest out of all when it comes to talking to me and being my friend.
This kid really wanted his picture taken. He is drinking atol which they serve the kids during snack. It is kind of milky-rice drink. I really love it. He does too!
This is what happened when I told him to smile... I love the other kid looking so concerned in the background. They are really happy kids, I promise. There is something ingrained in the Guatemalan mind that smiling in pictures is silly.
This might be my favorite that I took.
Me in the sea of children. I have 3-4 other pictures just like this with the kids switched out for other ones...I chose this one to show you.
Ok, now the real work I do is right here...tooth-brushing! This school has already got it down, it is furthest along out of all of them.
My favorite part of the day is right after they brush their teeth and I ask them to show me. I get the biggest, brightest clean-teeth smiles in the whole world!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

German Youth

Tuesday, May 13th

I found a dead rat in the pila while I was washing my dishes...good news: it was already dead. Bad news: the rat poison/burning survivors alive didn't get rid of all of them.

One of my friends in Germany is organizing a ¨Youth Task Force¨in his church to go out and combat things like hunger and poverty in their city. He is giving this huge inspirational speech in June and he asked me to write something that he could use as an example of someone out in the world working in development. I had a lot of trouble doing it because I feel sometimes like what I am doing doesn't quite qualify as ¨development¨work in the sense that people might expect. I am teaching kids to brush their teeth and wash their hands--not exactly what you see in the movies. I was talking to my mom about it and she pointed out that the fact that life here working in Guatemala isn't neccessarily rewarding, exciting, or difficult is important for people to know. Moms do always know best. So here is what I wrote to my friend:

“I guess one thing I would like to say and I don’t really know if this is relevant or not…but I don’t feel like my life right now is what people would expect when they hear I am working for the Peace Corps in Guatemala. I am actually pretty comfortable here (I have electricity and running water). The help I am giving people isn’t really as obvious as feeding a starving person or keeping someone from getting AIDS. Suffering in the world doesn’t always look exactly like what they show on the news or in the movies or in commercials on TV. Thinking about writing this for you or sending pictures, I found myself thinking that the people I work with aren’t “needy enough” to be an example to anyone. I realized how stupid that way of thinking was. I think a lot of people who want to “save the world” seek out the neediest people they can find where aid work is really obvious when in fact there are people suffering next door. There are people everywhere that need help and the point isn’t where or who you help but that you are doing something to better the life of someone else. The people here are needy even though they aren't desperate. I know that I am in the right place, but I didn’t have to come here to find someone who needed my help. On the other hand, I could have gone somewhere that they needed my help more than they need it here. The point is in the attitude. The point is to do something for someone other than your self. It doesn’t really matter who you are helping, what they need, or how badly they need it. It isn’t always as obvious as putting food in the mouth of a starving person in Africa, but it is often a lot simpler and a lot closer to home than that.

I hope that makes sense. I am actually kind of having a hard time because I don’t feel like I am making much of a difference here. I am teaching kids to wash their hands and brush their teeth. It isn’t exactly my world-development dream. The truth is, I know that what I am doing is important, and at least it is doing something for someone other than me. It is “preventative” work rather than “reactive” so it doesn’t feel as urgent. I can’t see the difference that I am making but it is there. It is just a hard adjustment because it isn’t exactly what I imagined when I decided I would save the world. It is good for me though. I feel like maybe I am growing up a little and I am definitely learning a lot about myself which could turn out to be just as valuable as the things I am doing for others. ”

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Peanut Butter Brownies

Author’s Note: Don’t be fooled by the cheery title---if you are at all sensitive to rodents, animal cruelty, or laundry, you should probably just skip to the recipe at the end. The title won’t be quite as witty but you will save yourself some tears.

Today when I got home I decided to get some laundry done. I was down at the pila washing my clothes (by the way, washing clothes by hand is awful and takes a zillion years) when I saw a movement over by where the chicken were pecking at the concrete.

To back up a little, we had all come to the agreement that we had rats in the house somewhere last week. They had been eating my tomatoes at night and also eating clothes in Reina’s room. So, Reina put out some rat poison, which subsequently was gone the next morning. The assumption was that the rats had eaten the poison and had crawled away to some hidden location to die a slow and painful death by poison.

It turns out, a few rats were smart enough or not hungry enough and escaped the trap, because out from behind the crates of empty bottle crawled a RAT. Now, I have spent the better part of two weeks phobically afraid of these guys. I never thought I was scared of rats, but come to find out, they are one of the few things in the world that give me the heebie-jeebies. I have lain awake at night imagining that I hear them skittering around my kitchen. I have run to the bathroom at night as fast as I can because I am afraid they will jump out at me. However, to my dismay, out crawled this rat, and it was CUTE. It was not this giant, hairy, menacing creature I had been imagining. It was this little, cute, furry animal.

So now, I feel bad for trying to kill the little things. I try to imagine all the diseases they carry, all the tomatoes they have eaten, and the swarming capability of twenty of them reproducing behind those crates, because otherwise I kind of wanted to cuddle with it. Roberto (7 years old) came out and asked me if he should kill it. I told him he could kill it, but I didn’t want to see. I was already feeling morally torn and kind of sad for the ones I had already poisoned. So, he proceeded to take a board and throw it on top of the poor little thing. Now, it is halfway squished and suffering, so I told Roberto he needed to kill it all the way because it was hurt. All of the sudden, Roberto is too scared to go near the tiny, half-dead, cute rat. He threw a basketball at it, and a coat hanger, before I realized he did not have the guts to go through with it (I guess he is only 7). So I stood over the dying rat and tried to come up with the courage to kill it. There was a hatchet nearby and I contemplated it, but I just couldn’t do it. I could already feel tears welling up in my eyes.

So, I asked Roberto to go get one of the men who was working on constructing the new apartment at Reina’s house to come kill it. A man came down and stood at the top of the stairs looking down for ten minutes. Meanwhile, the little rat had dragged itself out from underneath the board and was crawling with its front paws back toward the crates (its back legs were already broken from the first blow dealt by Roberto). The man told me he was scared of rats (grown man + construction worker + fear of rodents?) but I finally coaxed him down. By now, the rat had crawled between the crates and he had to pull it out with a broom handle, into a dustpan, where he brought it into the yard onto a pile of garbage. Roberto then proceeded to grab a can of gasoline and some matches. They both looked at me like burning a rat alive was a perfectly reasonable solution. I told them how cruel I thought it was and that they needed to kill it first at least before they burnt it. The man assured me it was already dead. However, when I turned around the leave before I had to see it burn, I saw its little gasoline-soaked body trying to crawl away.

I admit, I cried. I am not a fan of rats, I am annoyed that they keep eating my vegetables, and I don’t blame anyone who wants to kill them. However, being a witness/accessory to the burning to death of that cute little rat was more than I could take. So, I made peanut butter chocolate brownies, courtesy of the supplies sent to me by Ryan Strash and Andrea Skjonsby. Here is the recipe:

Slow and Painful Death by Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies

2/3 cup Crunchy Peanut Butter
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips

Cream peanut butter, butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs. Add dry ingredients and mix until smooth (besides the crunchiness of the peanut butter). Add chocolate chips. Bake in greased pan at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes (I can’t vouch for that time/temp because I used an improvised stovetop oven).