Escaping from the mold

So, firstly the usual apologies for it being nearly two months since I last wrote.  When things are slow at work I find little motivation to write about the monotony of my life, and September was REALLY SLOW.

Anyways, the most exciting news is that the rain has finally stopped, and lately there’s been this big, bright, orange ball in the sky that fills me with happiness the second it shines through my window.  It’s incredible really what a difference a little bit of sunshine makes.  Of course, it didn’t come soon enough o prevent some serious damage in other areas of my life.  My bookcase (that I built myself, handy handy) started molding and covered all my books in mold, my clothes continue to smell musty and damp, and the biggest tragedy occurred in the kitchen.

I’m a big mac and cheese from a box kid (as any of my childhood friends can attest to.  Lunch was ALWAYS mac and cheese) and along with the chocolate and nuts that keep me sane from my mom’s care packages, she’s done fabulously with satisfying my bright orange powder fettish as well.  So, one day I decide to devour the last box for lunch, and as water is boiling I’m reading the back of the box, which is all about their new organic pasta.  So water boils, macaroni goes in, and all of a sudden I realize the noodles are a slightly different color than what I’d remembered them to be.  Had it just been so long that I forgot what they looked like?  Or was it the new organic noodles that caused the green fuzzy color that soon dyed all the water green as well?  No, it was mold.  THE RAIN MOLDED MY ANNIES!  Insert tears and tantrums here.  I half contemplated trying to rinse them off and continue cooking them, but decided it was not worth the risk.  Needless to say, I am not upset that it’s not supposed to rain again heavily until May of next year.  Maybe my walls will have dried by then.

Anyways, in other news school’s out!  Summer vacation down here goes from mid October to mid January, so we have several months of not quite as structured work.  Realizing that I would probably go insane without something to revolve my time around I’ve taken up several side projects.  Not sure if I mentioned this previously but I’ve started a cooking group in one of my communities with the mothers of students.  We

teaching me to tortear. A couple of the little boys came in about 10 minutes later and could not stop laughing at my funny shaped tortillas. oh well, i ate them! p.s. i am a freaking GIANT!

usually have about 10 a week and alternate between making delicious breads and teaching them new ways to eat veggies (serious malnutrition here, which is depressing considering it’s a farming community).  We made stuffed peppers this week, and then the moms decided I needed to learn how to tortear, and I finally remembered to bring my camera to something, so one of the older girls was the photographer for the day and now I have documentation that I actually live in Guatemala.  Yay.

I’m also starting girls groups in 3 of my schools where we meet once a week and play sports and then learn about self esteem and pregnancy prevention and stds and leadership and all that jazz.  I’ve had one meeting with two of the groups and it’s been fun so far although I will admit it’s hard doing solo.  Last time I did something like this I had someone to bounce ideas off with and it really helps, and doing 3 solo is I’m sure going to wear on me, but then at least when vacation ends I’ll be ready to go back to my old work again.  Will be sure to take pictures the next time one of these happens again.

My house is coming along nicely.  I’ve painted and have built a bookshelf and put up shelves in my kitchen.  I plan on building one more and then starting gardens on my roof, and I still have a little painting left to do in my bedroom but will be sure to put up pictures once I’ve actually made it my ownJ

Anyways, sorry for the lame update, this is all I have energy for.  Will try to do better next time!

Abby

here are some pictures related to other things…

Spent a day in the terreno of my host family in nearby town Comolapa. This is my host mother walking through the corn fields. she doesn´t like to show her face in pictures

It was my nephew´s birthday, who is possibly the cutest baby alive, so we celebrated with a piñata that he actually really enjoyed

host family tortearing

November 1, dia de todos santos, is a huge kite flying festival in parts of guatemala. The main activity for kids this month is making and flying kites.

We had an outing with the directors of all our schools where we spent the majority of the day eating sweet corn. did i mention i love october?

Me hanging out with directors. This...is...awkward...

Beans are beautiful. I made about 2.5 lbs in my pressure cooker the other day. Who knew pressure cookers had a limit, but when i released the air vent thing on the top it led to a volcanic eruption of bean juice all over my kitchen walls. it was kind of exciting. beans are delicious

Just some peeps walking in one of our aldeas. the weird thing about this picture is there is a dog on a leash. i´ve seen maybe 4 since i´ve arrived here

Two gringas walk into a Hiper…

“I can’t.”
“Abby just do it¨
“It’s 30Q! That’s way too much. It’s too extravagant. I don’t need it.”
“Okay Abby, let’s weight this out, how often do you think this would use it? ALL THE TIME. And it’s not like you use a ton, so it would last you a while. It’ll probably last you another year. And it would make such delicious things. YOU COULD PUT IT ON SANDWICHES”
“Oo I didn’t think about sandwiches…”
“Just put it in your cart and you can decide at the checkout.”

The item in question was an 8 oz bottle of Dijon mustard, which cost the equivalent of $3.50 USD. I stood in front of it for maybe 10 minutes before my friend convinced me it was a good investment. After all, I had already splurged on extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, and what good were they without their good buddy Mr. Dijon?

HiperPais is part of a large chain in Guatemala that more or less resembles Walmart. Scratch that, it does resemble Walmart. It probably is an exact copy of Walmart, with latino flair, because it is owned by Walmart – as is every other major supermarket/department store chain in Guatemala. For Walmart haters like me, this was a very difficult concept to accept my first few weeks, and I solemnly swore to never step foot in anything associated with them. This was all good and well the first few weeks when tortillas and beans were new and exciting (I do still love them), but after week 4 or 5, once I started to get cravings for those US staples that you just can’t find in the marketplace (you know, things like old fashioned oats, feta cheese and chili powder) I caved. It now has become maybe a once every two month routine – make the 1.5 hour trip to Guate, splurge on coffee and a crepe at the mall, and then spend way more money than I probably should on a limited peace corps budget buying unnecessary but much missed items at Hiper.

Today was no different. The bus ride there was full of excitement as we imagined the delicious things awaiting us at the other end, and my heart started to race as we got dropped off in front of the big H that I can only assume stands for Happiness as well as Hiper. Everyone has their adjustments to make in Guatemala – not going out on a weekly basis, not having regular access to good beer, not being able to purchase new clothes at the mall and instead having to PACA it, or not having the constant comfort of American sitcoms on TV at unlimited access. For me, it’s food. I’m a glutton, I will admit it, I’m proud of it. You put a bottle of beer in front of me and a hunk of fresh mozzarella cheese and you know which I’m bound to pick. Needless to say, Hiper has become an exciting yet taunting place for me.

I imagine that we make quite the scene. Upon entering, we stand out as two solitary gringas in a sea of chapines with eyes as big as cantaloupes in complete awe of what we are immersed in. Jaws open, we stand around just looking for a good three minutes before we realize that people are starting to stare and begin to roam the aisles, making frequent stops, screaming at each other from down the aisle about our good finds (“Amber! They have couscous!”), and making longing faces at items that are deemed too extravagant. I come with a list of 5 things, and somehow at the end of two hours of scanning aisles, approvecharing all the free samples we can, gawking at the vast array of cheese, agonizing over decisions like whether or not I really need a box of honey nut cheerios at THAT price, and grabbing things off the sales rack that I definitely didn’t think about eating until I saw them with that big red sign that says their 50 cents cheaper than they usually are, I depart the store with 300Q less in my pocket and significantly more than 5 things in my purse (Dijon mustard made the cut, although several other items were deemed “not worth it” at the checkout counter).

I love Guatemala, I love my life in my town, I’m finding good people, I feel like I’m doing meaningful and rewarding work, and I really do love beans and tortillas… but I desperately wish Honey Nut Cheerios were still a part of my weekly staples.

And I look forward to the days when buying an 8 oz bottle of Dijon mustard is no longer a major financial decision.

The essentials of learning language

So no matter how well you know a language or how long you’ve spoken it, there are always those moments when you find yourself completely in the dark.  Hell, it happens to me in English and I would consider myself mas o menos fluent in that category (although it has definitely gone down in the past 7 months).  Those moments when everyone in the room is laughing and you just sit there with this incredibly red stunned face because you can’t figure out what for the life of you you could’ve said that also could’ve doubled as meaning “I want you in bed.”  This happened with a friend of mine not to long ago when guys started catcalling her on a run and she turned to them and pulled out Ross’s version of the middle finger, only later learning that it actually means something along the lines of “let’s get busy.”  It’s even better when you’re in a room full of 35 teachers, the majority of whom are significantly older than you, and you happen to make sexual references without even darseing cuenta

So this week we started giving workshops to the teachers at our schools.  We’re going to be doing this monthly with a different health theme each month, and this month we’re doing Nutrition.  We’re using them more to help teachers plan out lessons and give them ideas for activities they can do with the kids.  We also wanted to use the opportunity to talk about the severity of the situation in Guatemala, as 44% of kids in Guate are malnourished and I would bet that probably 99% of them (slight exaggeration) suffer from growth stunting as a result.  Did I mention that I feel like a giant here?

Anyways, it was super fun, and at the end we had an activity called “Que  me vende?” (what are you selling?) where the teachers have to come up with a healthy snack stand that they would sell in the school and we choose the healthiest and cheapest.  It was going great until one of the male teachers came up to sell and I said “I’m so excited to see what you have to sell!” and all the teacher’s started dying.  In Guatemala, the word “excitada” has more of a sexual connotation, but even though I used “emocionada” which I was 95% sure had no sexual connotation at all they all started cracking up and making rude comments.  Okay, that’s okay, quick recovery.  So then he says he’s going to sell corn on the cob, and in trying to ask if they would sell the whole ears or half I used my hands to show measurement, which I learned in our class on gestures NOT to do but for some reason se me olvido and my site partner looked at me like “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” as all the teachers se pusieron de reir otra vez.  What’s something else you might use hand gestures to show size of?

So that was fun.  But the taller actually went really smoothly for the most part and all the teachers seemed to get a lot out of it and enjoy it.  For me it was most interesting to hear their perspective on the issue.  Sometimes a stereotype of teachers here is that they aren’t very qualified to be so, but in contrast there were a lot of teachers that had genuine interest in the issue and asked a lot of very thought provoking questions.  I got into a whole discussion with one on why Guatemala has the highest rates of malnutrition for children in all of Central America and he started to propose a whole host of theories in relation with the political history here that I hadn’t even thought about.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot from their feedback and opinions on the issues as to why Guatemala faces a lot of the problems it does.

A few weeks ago we also started giving workshops to the kids in middle/high school.  Our first topic was self-esteem, which we thought would mostly be a way to get to know the kids on a not so personal topic.  Even though it’s kind of sencillo and most of them had some concept of what it was, I always feel like it’s one of the things lacking from education (Guatemala or US or wherever) and one of the most important concepts for adolescents.  I definitely could’ve used more of it when I was younger.  It seemed more useful when we went to do it one of our rural communities who have less exposure to that sort of education.  I actually think it helped me as well as all the activities we encouraged them to do to improve their self esteem we did as well in preparation.

Also, two weeks ago we had reconnect which was a week long of workshops and language training.  I got to take Kaqchikel with a fabulous teacher (which I’ve learned makes all the difference in the world) and we did things like learn how to sing songs about skipping to school and learn really important words to communicate with people in town and build confianza.  My favorite, and probably the most important thing I’ve learned in languages thus far, is Yatinkamsa, which means “I will kill you!”  This came about when we were brainstorming methods to stop the patojos from annoying and catcalling me when I go on my morning runs, so I decided from now on machete in hand I will simply turn around and chase them while screaming “YATINKAMSA!” Unfortunately most of the jovenes here probably don’t speak too much Kaqchikel anymore, but I think it’ll get my point across.

And in other news I’ve changed my residence!  This is very exciting for me as I was at my wits end in my old house dealing with small children and 6 (yes, 6) starving dogs hounding me 24/7 for food, although my last day there I went on a rant to the three children about how they never feed their dogs and treat them horribly and it seems as if their trying to torture them just to the brink of starvation to take their frustrations out.  Anyways, Mostly I’m just relieved to have my own space where I can eat at a table and walk around in spandex.  I felt bad when I left as the mother started bawling, mostly because she is now going to be alone again all the time with just the children there.  It’s hard for me here to see so many women who are just stuck in these routines and have no way of getting out of them because they think they need permission from their husbands to do so.  The only time she ever really got out of the house was to deliver milk in the mornings or go to market.  Asi es en Guatemala, I guess, but it still dame pena.

Anyways, the new place is great, although still quite a mess.  I have a terrace on the roof which I’m planning on using for plants and veggie growing.  Some guys were supposed to bring me lemon and avocado trees to the market this week but weren’t there due to rain.  I have visions, we’ll see if I can actually make them pan out for once.  Also, the night before I moved in the family who owns the house invited me over for a dinner party, which I expected to be family sitting around eating and having a good time, but turned out to be a two hour church service blessing the house.  I try not to be too cynical about religion, but when they started blessing the house with oil and salt I got a little cynical, as happens.  They also had several groups of dancers and about an hour of praying and crying, follow by stuffing our faces with turkey tamales and punch.  I really can’t even explain the bizarreness of the whole night…

This whole experience has definitely taught me a lesson in how to find the good qualities in all aspects of other culture, and I have found a lot of people who have found their strength in their faith, for me the problem is that there is no other way and that I feel Christianity has taken away a lot of their traditional culture and values.  But honestly, I am no one to come in and tell them that their traditional culture and values were more important than their current ones.  What’s interesting is that I often complain about certain Guatemalans trying to impose their culture on me – the culture of marrying young, accepting machismo (don’t get me started), accepting God, and yet one of the hardest parts of me in this experience is not imposing my culture and values on them here.  There’s a fine line between sharing and imposing and sometimes I have a hard time not crossing it when people can’t understand my side of the issue.  And then again, my biggest issue with religion in general is when it goes to the point of forcing it on others, and that’s how I feel here most of the time.  There have been very few people who I’ve expressed my faith to (which does not follow the bible at all) and even then only when I’ve known them for nearly 4 months and know they’re a little more open to the ideas I bring.

Regardless, I love the family that is my neighbor.  They’re a very different Guatemala from what I lived with before.  They’re much more health conscious which I like and the kids are closer to my age so I more enjoy hanging out with them.  The youngest son is 10 and accompanied me to find a good tortilleria in the area the other night and always offers to open doors and carry bags for me.  It’s cute.  He may be the most well behaved child I’ve ever met, and definitely an improvement from the frequent tantrums at my old house (although the kids there had some perks too…)

Unfortunately I have been seriously lacking on the taking picture front here, and de todos modos we’re not allowed to show pictures that could give clues to our residency in case people decide to rob or abduct us (just kidding mom, we’re super safe here!)

Until next time!

So this is peace corps…

So it seems the entire country of Guatemala decided the month of June should consist of as little work as possible.  I still choose to believe it’s not a mere coincidence that it so nicely coincided with my birthday, although I’m going to say that hurricane Agatha was not my most favorite present ever…

So this month we officially worked a week and a half due to a whole slue of fantastic events.  There was the hurricane/volcano chaos (okay, not so fantastic) followed closely by a week off in celebration of Teacher’s Day (which conveniently allowed me to not work on my birthday…no complaints)

Apologies for the smoke screen...again, fireworks

There is a day for everyone in Guatemala, and all are celebrated in a pretty similar manner – a giant acto civico, this one including anyone having anything to do with education in the district.  And let’s face it – no acto civico is complete without the 10 minute Guatemalan national anthem (I will never learn it in the next two years), Fireworks (although these ones are just noise and smoke…no pretty colors or fancy designs), a reina (or in this case 3 – these are basically just beauty queens)

plenty of raffles giving out awful prizes, Marimba versions of American favorites (specifically Simon and Garfunkel Sounds of Silence), and plenty of food.

This one had the added benefit of gringas making complete fools of themselves.

So, as we didn’t belong to any school, we somehow got overlooked for raffle tickets.  I was okay with this because most often they’re really crummy, but then came the soccer jerseys and I got a little bitter, especially when some random gringa from the back ran up with the winning ticket.

Um, EXCUSE ME.  Let me start by saying that any time I see other gringos in my town I get a little defensive and bitter.  I’m sorry, but my site partner and I are the token gringos of Patzicia.  No one is taking that away from me, and when gringos are in town people confuse me with them, because all white skinned brown haired girls are identical twins.  So needless to say when random gringa who I knew was only in Patzi for two weeks won the best prize in the entire raffle I started to get a little bitter that they got raffle tickets while we were overlooked.  So, I decided to participate in one of the competitions.  Generally the emcees just ask for people to volunteer and don’t tell you what you will actually be doing, so when I went up with Profe Pablo and they told us we were going to dance, I turned momentarily beet red before putting my game face on.  Now just a reminder, I may be one of the most competitive people am the most competitive person in Peace Corps Guatemala, so when one of the directors suggested reggaeton instead of what would have been less embarrassing salsa or bachata, Profe Pablo (who’s a good 3 inches shorter then me) and I got down.

I won (so did Profe Pablo).

Next of said fantastic events was me attempting to organize the Guatemalan version of Bikes Not Bombs annual bike-a-thon.  BNB has a partner organization down here (Mayapedal) so I got together some friends and people from Mayapedal and we had our own version riding through the hills of Guatemala (luckily mostly down them).  I will say that ours differed from the one in Boston in several ways.

There were far fewer of us.

the group standing outside Mayapedal

We served as propaganda boards for Mayapedal (and didn’t have to be completely politically correct)

Directly translates to ¨Hey fatty, where´s your bike?¨

We had fabulous helmets

And our view was, I’ll deem it, many times more spectacular, despite my love for bean town.

The ride was pretty easy until we got to Antigua and decided to ride walk our bikes up to a lookout point.  Then we decided that this would be fun to do:

Feel free to make fun of us.

Next exciting event:  Vacation!  Birthday celebration occurred in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been – Lago Atitlan.  It’s a crater lake surrounded by 3 (or 4?) volcanoes and indigenous communities as well as extremely touristy hippie towns.  Normally these are not my favorite, but when I’ve been living without delicious things like tahini and peanut butter bars and COUS COUS for 6 months, the tourist hot spots come in handy.  We spent 3 days between Solola and Panajachel, stopping for a dayin our friends site on the other side of the lake and feasting the whole time.  Did I mention that food is a huge weekness for me?  Unfortunately my camera batteries died on the most beautiful day when we walked through milpa fields on the flooded beaches of my friend’s site, but here are some tastes:

View from my friends balcony

view of the lake early morning

accidental picture taken...kind of cool

As we motorboated across the lake I began to think that at least this was secluded enough to escape money-hungry oil diggers and stay pristine, but just as I was thinking that I heard clunking hitting the bottom of the boat and looked off the side to see a buttload of trash everywhere.  Apparently when the hurricane hit it washed more than dirt into the lake, including some houses, and people could be seen days after fishing out doorsand windows and other household items.

And then American Patriotism hit Guatemala full force.  The lovely folks at PC Guatemala deem 4th of July an important enough holiday to give us the weekend off and have a bbq for all 210 PCVs in Guatemala.  Three days of nearly every volunteer in country staying in Antigua and showing off their American pride…I’m still recovering.  I’m used to a wild night in site meaning getting tostadas from the street vendors (actually can be pretty wild if you decide to go for cabbage on it…it’s like Russian roulette with diarrhea) and tucking in at 8:30.

So, needless to say, this week has been tough as after two weeks of vacation I’ve tried to get used to the idea that I do actually have things work related that I should be doing.  It’s been a challenge to my motivation, but I think I’m almost back on track

Which is a good thing because we only have one week before returning to Antigua for re-connect.  Really peace corps?

Anyways, to give you all some catch up on work related news (there IS some I swear) on the whole I feel like I haven’t been doing all that much, but when we went to schools the other day it dawned on me that nearly every kid is now starting to wash their hands before eating and brushing at least once a day, which is something right?

the one in the middle is on the list of top 10 patojos in the district I´d say

We’re also finishing up 6 grant proposals for getting schools more faucets or water where there is none.  Now we have to start petitioning the muni with the schools for funding..  Unfortunately we tried to do this last week (trying to get funds donated to make copies of health manuals available to the teachers at a more feasible cost for them) and were informed that no money was available because the town’s Ferria, which comes up in two weeks, was too expensive.

I tried to not laugh hysterically in the mayor’s representative’s face as I pictured the ¨cancel the who centennial?!¨ scene from Horton Hears a Who.  God forbid we take away a churro stand at the expense of our children´s health.  No no that´s insane!

Next week we’ll be starting to give workshops with some of the high school students on various topics – this week is self-esteem but we’re hoping to go into AIDS, pregnancy prevention, drugs, the works.  I’m actually incredibly excited for this.  As much as I believe in the work I’m doing as a means of promoting sustainability and putting the project and changes more in the teachers hands rather than ours, it’s hard not having the direct contact with children with the warm and fuzzy feeling inside when you see kids changing and maturing.  I think this will be a good way to get the motivation factor and more substantial immediate gratification to keep me going doing the other stuff that’s not quite as rewarding or fun, although completely necessary.

We’re also starting to give workshops with our teachers next month so that they can start teaching health to kids.  We have 6 planned for the first week in August – each one 4 hours.  I may be dead, but it will be a relief to finally start working again.

Here’s hoping you’re all having a happy, scorchingly hot summer.  The cloud that I live in usually just parts for about two hours a day to give me my vitamin D before enveloping us in fog once again.   I’m missing those 95 degree heat waves.

Love you all

Natural Disasters Demolish Guatemala

okay, I know you are all deserving of a much longer update, but I don´t have time right now.  Rest assured I will later this week because we have no school throughout the entire country the entire week.  Why?  Well, in case you live in a hole or the US is too busy covering the damnation of our entire east coast (drill, baby, drill!), Nature decided to shit on Guatemala last week. 

Rest assued, I´m alive.  Luckily our site wasn´t hit to hard, although there were a couple of houses caved in and some stranded visitors whose buses couldn´t make it to the town over because the bridges were flooded.  The southern pacific coast has been devastated though, and on MSNBC they have a terrific slideshow of the damage done.  There are legitimate holes in Guatemala city where the land just seems to have dropped and the south coast is flooded completely.  This hurricane damage (hurricane Agatha, had a discussion with some Guatemalans about how they always pick the ugliest names for natural disasters.  Sorry if anyone reading this is named Agatha) was on top of the damage done by Volcan Pacaya as it errupted last Thursday killing one and causing several thousand to evacuate surrounding areas, as well as dumping a ton of ash on Guate city.  End of Guatemala might be before 2012.  Luckily we climbed this volcano 2 weeks ago so have no reason to go back in the near future.

Also, added a little addition to the family.  will update more later this week.

Luz

Lapoo I´m afraid I´ve been thinking…

Learning how to make tortillas with my family, unfortunately taking pictures is something we´re still working on so you don´t get to see my face

Learning how to make tortillas with my family, unfortunately taking pictures is something we´re still working on so you don´t get to see my face

I have this brilliant friend (I have many brilliant friends, but this one is especially exceptional) who recently introduced me to an interesting criticism by Ivan Illich on international service work.  Let’s figure out where my twisted and confused mind has been this past week, shall we?

“You, like the values you carry, are the products of an American society of achievers and consumers, its universal schooling, and its family-car affluence. You are ultimately-consciously or unconsciously – “salesmen” for a delusive ballet in the ideas of democracy, equal opportunity and free enterprise among people who haven’t the possibility of profiting from these.

Next to money and guns, the third largest North American export is the U.S. idealist, who turns up in every theater of the world: the teacher, the volunteer, the missionary, the community organizer, the economic developer, and the vacationing do-gooders. Ideally, these people define their role as service. Actually, they frequently “seduce” the “underdeveloped” to the benefits of the world of affluence and achievement.

If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home (the U.S.). Work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don’t even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as “good,” a “sacrifice” and “help.”

I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status and your education to travel in this land. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.”

This past weekend we started our second round of visits to schools, and our main priority this trip is to do a Diagnostico (essentially figure out where they are in terms of the program now) and present them with Rincones de Salud, another requirement to be certified as a Healthy School.  A Rincon de Salud is basically a part of the classroom dedicated to health, where students can keep their toothbrushes and toothpaste and soap in the classroom so they can always practice healthy habits in the school.  To be honest I have not been enjoying this round of visits all that much.  It feels just like a chore, and like we’re going in and telling the teachers “You have to do this because Healthy Schools requires it,” disregarding their opinion on it or whether or not they think it is feasible or useful.  Personally I think it’s a good idea to have, as at least it ensures that kids are washing their hands and brushing their teeth in the school if nothing else.  But, regardless, it’s been making me think about my job and what I’m here doing and whether it’s as imperialistic as I was afraid it was going to be coming into Peace Corps – Americans coming in and saying “you need to do this because we have determined it’s what you need” rather than working with schools to determine what they need together and helping them achieve it.

We come in with a specific agenda, and in the first meeting are very clear on the six requirements to be certified as a Healthy School.  We tell them this is what we’re going to be working towards the next few years and want to certify all the schools in Patzicia as Healthy Schools.  What does it matter to them?  What do they care about having another stupid plaque on the wall?  We visited an already certified school a few weeks ago, one that another volunteer had worked with.  She helped them build bathrooms, faucets, a new kitchen, the works, as well as helped them achieve all the other requirements of Healthy Schools.  The kitchen was still gorgeous, but 6/8 of the faucets were broken and out of use and the toilets were filthy and not entirely working either.  We visited each classroom and no one had rincones up, nor did it look like they really ever taught health lessons to the kids.  How much long term change can you make when you’re working with your own agenda, whether or not the school has agreed to participate in the program?

I am that U.S. idealist in so many ways.  How many times have I ventured to another country, or even another part of the States, with the delusion that I was going to help and make the lives of people less fortunate better?  I have been constantly disappointed and critical of things I’ve seen here – things that at first glance seem wonderful, but upon closer inspection are incredibly twisted, at least in my mind.  I was thrilled with the surrounding farmland when I first arrived in Patzicia – so many fresh local vegetables!  People know where their food comes from!  Such dedication to the land!  I was so intent on finding a farm to work on, until I started to see the packs of fathers and sons at six in the morning, hopping on their bikes to head off to work loaded with backpacks of excessive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides.  I was so quick to marvel at the enormous carrots, which had to be so big because of their knowledge of farming and experience in correct farming techniques that ensured that soils weren’t depleted and thus so rich in nutrients – until I learned that they are, in fact, so big because farmers douse them with ridiculous quantities of chemical fertilizers.  I was so excited that my family had cows – they knew where their milk came from, it was such a better way of raising cows than what we have in the states, pasture grazing them, letting them walk and move like cows are supposed to – when in fact their tied up most of the day and fed carrots and nasty mucky stuff that I don’t know what it is.  It seems to me that the whole world uses the U.S.’ poor example as what they should achieve and tossing out their traditional, better ways.  But better in what sense?  In terms of environmental safety and long term health?  Well, yes, but is the best thing for them?  It’s hard to encourage people to stop using so many chemicals when dousing crops in pesticides may give them enough income to ensure food on the table a few more days.  One has to meet people’s immediate needs before addressing the long term.

I don’t know how many people here share Ivan’s views on U.S. volunteer work, but I still can’t accept that what I’m doing down here is entirely bad, or that people here “haven’t the possibility of profiting from these.”  I can’t make peace with the idea that it’s better to sit on your couch in the U.S. or in some luxury resort in Mexico, aware of yet passive to poverty and inequality instead of trying to do something.  I cannot believe that education and empowerment are insignificant merely because they come from foreigners with slightly different values and culture.  Equality and security should not be rights that only Americans have access to.  Will being in Guatemala and teaching children to value themselves and have respect for themselves and others make their lives better?  Who can say, but sitting on one’s ass in that Mexican resort and tipping the cabana boy for bringing you your martini certainly won’t.  Hay que intentar, no?  Hay que esperar.

An extremely obnoxious volunteer we met about a month ago told us that he was sorry for us because Healthy Schools was the worst program in Peace Corps (he, too, was in Healthy Schools).  I got very defensive and reactive at the time, but in retrospect I’m not sure he was completely wrong.  Whereas a lot of Peace Corps programs have an overarching goal, the specifics are not defined as ours are, and we come in with a very specific agenda and priorities.  However, I wanted to work in health with peace corps because it’s not so much preaching American ideals and attitudes but providing people with a very basic, non negotiable need (I challenge you to find one person who says that brushing your teeth and washing your hands are not good for you or take away from indigenous culture).  So, to end this lesson on a not so depressing note, I’ve been trying to brainstorm this weekend how I can change my work and what I’m doing in order to be more in line with my values and to stop being such an imperialistic “idealist.”  It’s something I think I will be working on a lot over the next two years, but any suggestions whatsoever would be great.  I’d love to hear all of your thoughts (if there is an “all of you” or if not just my mom’s J).  You’ve all been so influential and helpful in my life up to this point, no reason it should stop now, right?

I also should point out that after writing this I talked with my site mate and alleviated a lot of my concerns and re-justified what I’m doing, but I figured I’d put these thoughts out anyway.

In better, less jaded and depressing news, we’re making friends!  We now have three and counting, with the potential for two more who have promised to teach us how to weave.  This weekend my family wanted to take me to a farm, so Sunday afternoon we walked to what didn’t sound like a farm – my sister’s kept talking about playing games and soccer and that they don’t actually plant anything…so who knows what it actually was because we never made it.  We were walking down the path to it when my Dona stopped to talk to a woman and it turns out, darn it, the owners came home early so we couldn’t go.  It’s private land, so we only go when the owners are away.  Yay lax laws in Guate and good fun trespassing!  So instead we went to the cancha and played basketball and soccer, which resulted in the older sister complaining that the younger one was too slow and too bad and then the youngest one crying on the grass for 30 minutes because she didn’t want to play with her sister and spending the last 15 minutes sobbing while chasing around her father who was trying to play with us in attempts to get him to carry her.  It was a fun morning.

Also, my friends entertained us all by dancing in their town’s ferria this weekend.  If you’re up to date on my blogs you may remember week one the festival in Pastores which consisted of dancing ‘figuras,’ or people dressed up in extremely large cartoon costumes and dancing.  Well, after several weeks of hard work and lessons, they spent four hours on Sunday in large furry animal suits continuously repeating the eight different dances they learned.  Here’s a little snapshot;

So I have several new goals I would like to achieve by the end of the next two years:

  1. Make my host sisters not brats – this will be a challenge
  2. Run the 10 km race in the town next to ours in less than an hour (we’re starting running three times a week starting yesterday)
  3. Take a shower at least 3 times a week

I will keep you updated on my progress.

Also, in umpulse buy news, last weekend we went to Guate (Guatemala City) with a family we´re friends with and the introduced us to ¨PriceSmart,¨ the Guatemalan version of Cosco.  Um, big mistake, because we left it buying a 2 lb block of cheddar cheese.

So then, my site mate made the mistake of telling my family about it, which now has me all sorts of worried and I´m hiding out in my room more often dreading the moment when they ask to try a piece.

I´m not selfish, I swear I´m not, there are just certain things I don´t like to share, and food is one of them.  Don´t get me wrong, I like having people over for meals, I like cooking for others, and if I´m PREPARED I like to share, just not when it´s something that I don´t get very often and that others would probably not appreciate.  Like chocolate.  I have very limited access to it here, so when my mom sends me a bag of Dove dark chocolate (yum) it´s understandable that I´m slightly stingy, and that when my sisters are in my room coloring I take a ´bathroom break´ when I actually go shove a piece of chocolate in my mouth so they can´t ask me for any.  I mean really, they only like things that contain massive amounts of sugar here, so I doubt they´d even LIKE dark chocolate, so why should I waste my precious resources on people who wouldn´t even appreciate it?

And the Guatemalans here enjoy the nasty prepackaged overly processed not really cheese but advertised as such individually wrapped salty crap you can find in the tiendas here, and so they probably wouldn´t even appreciate the deliciousness of extra sharp cheddar, and even if they did it´s not really something they´d have access to (only in Guate) and so they´d never be able to have it really again because they can´t really afford trips to Guate and it cost 50 q for our 2 lb block and that´s even an extravagant expense even for us who get paid probably a little more than the average Guatemalan and don´t have to care for a family of 5, so what´s the point of sharing something so precious that they probably won´t even appreciate, and then even if they did like it would never really be able to eat again and then that would just lead them into chronic depression because they´d have to resort to eating the crappy tienda cheese and they´d realize it was no good but would have no other choice and then they´d  cry and be depressed for the rest of their lives and probably would stop going to work or school or being productive and would just go into a reclusive state in their rooms and never leave or be social or really live, and no one wants that right?  So really, I´m saving them from a horrible fate.  right?  anyone?

Also, birthday of younger sister Carla.  Yesterday she told me her mom was making Chuchos (a type of tamale here) and she was going to wake up early to sell them on the street in the morning so that they would have enough money to buy a birthday cake.  I almost cried and just bought it for her myself, until her mom told me that that wasn´t true and they were just for her birthday breakfast.  And last night I was doing yoga with them when the 10 year old turns to me and goes ¨Miss, you´re pretty fat!¨  After nearly slapping her and storming out of the room (and almost going on a rant saying ¨EXCAUUUUUSE ME HAVE YOU LOOKED IN THE MIRROR LATELY MAYBE YOU SHOULD STOP EATING SPOONFULS OF SUGAR WITH YOUR WATER¨)  I´ve started a work out plan, and ran 4 miles today!  Time to start toning the Guate butt.

Love you and miss you all lots

In sadder news, I just learned that Joan O´Brien, my dance teacher of 13 years, died recently of leukemia, so if you want to take a moment of silence for her that would be great.  RIP Joan, hope you´re still dancing.

Statement Retraction

So last time I went on a rant about my love of cooking.  I believe some changes need to be made, primarily because I believe the previous article was extremely biased in its presentation of what appeared to be facts and did not adequately represent the Guatemalan viewpoint, so I will attempt to write this blog post with a more sensitive attitude toward Guatemalan beliefs and cultural attitudes, and following this perspective the answer to the previous blog title would more likely follow along the lines of:
Um, not so much.  That is, unless we stick strictly to Betty Crocker’s oatmeal cookies in a bag.

So, this week we decided we were going to cook a lunch for the family that my site partner lives with.  On Wednesday we ran into one of them in the market and told them “We want to cook a big lunch for you on Saturday!” She asked us “what are you going to make?” and we told her our brilliant idea to make a huge Indian feast!  What a great idea!  I love Indian food, my partner Amber loves Indian food, we’ve been dreaming about it and I’ve wanted to make Na’an ever since we found a recipe.  It seemed like such a good idea to us that we brushed aside the girl’s open-mouthed, wide-eyed, terrified stare when we told her this and took no notice of the fact that Guatemalans are not a fan of spicy foods, weird combinations of spices and flavors, or any meal that does not include ketchup, mustard, or fried chicken (or all of the above on tortillas).

So, Saturday morning we spent four hours making na’an, rice, samosas, and Cauliflower curry, which consisted of a combination of toasted peanuts, sesame seeds, cayenne pepper, ginger, coriander, and a variety of other ingredients not commonly blended (or let alone found) in Latin American Cuisine.

Throughout the morning our lunch guests entered the kitchen to see what awaited them, offered several nervous helping hands, and the 11 year old came in about every 5 minutes to inspect our concoctions and announce loudly that she did not like any of the ingredients that we were putting in the pot (no onions, garlic, carrots, peas, cauliflower…the list goes on).  We then realized that half of our guests would be children, most of which were under the age of 6.  Good luck pushing Indian Curry on Latino children who don’t eat anything without, again, covering it with ketchup.

Around 2:30 we packed up and prepared to go to our predetermined lunch locale.  We started to sweat as we tasted our delicious concoction and realized there was no way in hell that anyone (besides ourselves) was going to enjoy this meal.

I will say this.  They did like the bread.  And the white rice went uncontested, but for the next hour while Amber and I sat sweating and laughing uncontrollably, we listened to the only dinner conversation going on which consisted of following. “oo, pica!” “si, pica!” “Ay, me pica!” “Me gusta, pero me pica!” (pica = spicy).  Rinse, repeat, sweat.

We just sat there waiting for it to be over, trying to throw in our sarcastic humor saying things like “Sorry it’s not spicy enough, next time we’ll use more chili.”  Unfortunately sarcasm is entirely lost on Guatemalans, so they just continued to nervously look at each other while pushing the curry around their plates to make it look like they were eating it and dreading the fact that we made allusion to the fact that we might actually cook for them again.  Their faces as they forced themselves to shove it down in politeness reminded me of that time when we were visiting the Parvulos school in town and they force fed us that black bean atoll nastiness.  It was one of those moments when I truly realized how little we understand each other.

Also in culinary adventures, made jam with my host sisters.  They really liked it the last time I did it so wanted to help me this time.  The problem is jam is ridiculously easy to make and there’s not really enough for one person to do let alone four, so then they all got whiny and irritating because there wasn’t enough to do, and because I kept making them wash their hands every five minutes because they could not keep them out of their mouths (we’re working on hygienic practices in my family, I really don’t like having diarrhea).

Anyways, back to business, we’ve been ridiculously busy the last few days.  We started taking Kaqkchiquel classes this week, which have been ridiculously fun and difficult.  Everyone keeps telling us that gringos always learn faster, especially when they already speak Spanish, but I don’t see it.  So far my favorite expression is what may soon become the new title of this blog, “Rin man xinatin’ta kubixir.”  Special package in transit for anyone who can figure out what that one means, I will be thoroughly impressed.

We also are currently trying to get together two grants for water projects, as one of Healthy Schools main goals is assuring students have adequate facilities so that they can actually do things like wash their hands and brush their teeth.  Most of our schools have no more than one faucet for 100-300 students, and as we recently found out about some funds we’re trying to get two schools moving to do projects.  We had a meeting with the PTA of one of the schools and it was pretty intense.  The director is really great, he had everything prepared even though we had only had one half hour meeting with him, and people seemed initially responsive but there was a lot of skepticism, mostly because the grant requires unskilled manual labor to be provided by the families of the students and a lot of parents don’t necessarily have the resources to give up several days of work.

In the other school we’re working with is slightly more difficult because it’s somewhat of a preschool with only one teacher/director/everything.  She has two practicantes (teachers in training) that she receives from the university every year, but other than that she’s really on her own.  Apparently the community may prove difficult to work with as well since many of the parents are single mothers (the common response from the kids is “my dad’s in the US,” but usually that’s just the cover story the mom gives when the dad’s a jerkwad and left).  The one benefit is the director seems like a very strong and forceful woman who knows how to get what she wants done, and when we met with her about the project she decided it was best to go to the Mayor’s house on a Friday night to ask for his help, because how could you ever escape that?  So we went at 8 pm last Friday night and he told us he’d have a mason to give us an estimate Monday morning at 9.  We got there at 9, waited a half hour, went through about 15 minutes of calling the Mayor’s office and not being able to get through, finally got in touch and by 10:45 we had a mason.  Meh, that’s Guatemala for you.  The office told us “It’s Monday, he’s really busy, he probably just forgot.”  I’m trying really hard to not start getting fidgety and freaking out in situations like this, because asi es la vida in Guatemala.  My friend told me that if by the end of 2 years I’ve learned to have patience, this experience can count as a success for me.  Well, I’m working on it.

The following story can be categorized under “things that make me want to vomit.”  Sunday morning I was sitting in the kitchen with my mother and host sisters while she made breakfast, and my 5 year old sister goes up to the stick of margarine, cuts off a half inch chunk, and puts it in her mouth and proceeds to suck on it until it melts and slides down her throat only to harden in her arteries and give her diabetes.  SHE JUST ATE IT!  She then proceeds to do it again, until I go on a rant about how it will harden in her arteries and stop her heart and give her diabetes and she will DIE! (This may seem harsh, but Guatemalan’s are often fond of using phrases like “and then you’ll die” or “God will punish you” or “you’ll get kidnapped and murdered” to scare children out of doing things.)  So then she stopped, but then for lunch she didn’t have any of the delicious lunch mom prepared and instead downed two bags of chicharron (fried pork skin) flavored lays potato chips.  My stomach kind of flips every time I look at her now, but I’m probably being too harsh.

Anyways, another fun week of introducing ourselves to every teacher and child in the entire municipality.  We may be going to hike a volcano this weekend, and our friends insisted on making lunch this time and maybe we could bring cookies.  Point taken, we will not share our culinary genius with Guatemalans anymore unless it involves Paula Dean quantities of butter and sugar.

Also, again, no pictures, I´m lame, I´ll take some and put them up this weekend

Abigail

Can you cook?

I love that question.  What does it really mean, anyways?  Can I put water in a pot and not burn rice?  Well, usually.  I get asked that question pretty much on a daily basis any time I whip out a knife or spoon (cereal does not require cooking, people) and always answer with a shrug of the shoulders and an irritatingly high pitched “si!” (with slightly less enthusiasm).

(Side note: The one person in the world I know who can definitively answer with a “HELL NO” to the above question is none other than my infamous ex-roommate who is notorious in the kitchen only for that October morning when we woke up after a few too many local brews craving pancakes and I mistakenly thought it a good idea to allow her to take over the process and 20 minutes later bit into flavorless flapjacks with surprise! massive chunks of eggshell interspersed and who I am only tributing here because I’ve spent the last hour reading her blogs that I downloaded to my flash drive and am cracking up to myself while my family watches me from the door of my room, and I highly recommend you reading them, and none of that “no time” excuse, if you’re reading this you clearly have all the time in the world.)

So, for the most part, I pretend I can cook.  My oatmeal rarely sticks (although it’s strictly instant oats here so I guess that’s nothing to brag about) and for my graduation present my parents invested in my future by fully furnishing my future kitchen (stainless steel pots, pressure cooker, and knives much better than my current Miracle Blades (which I also got for my birthday a few years ago…completely asked for)).

So it stands to reason that all my daily excitements, disappointments, surprises, and causes for confinement to my bedroom (rather good or bad) stem from my culinary adventures…

1)      Avocados!  I don’t think I even need to explain this, I’m sure I’ve gone into detail in previous other posts about my infatuation with this gem.  They’re only 1 quetzal (roughly 12 cents) a pop, so needless to say since arriving in our new home myself and my work partner have had AT LEAST one batch of guacamole a day, and half of my clothes are stained with green splotches from guac drip that I am too lazy to wash off (washing clothes takes FOREVER by hand in the pila, besides what’s a little splotch matter if it reminds you that you have not yet had your daily avocado?) We also recently joined a bible group (see below) essentially for the sole purpose that the person who invited us told us she’d bring us a lot of avocados because she has a tree.  One makes sacrifices… Which brings me to my next point…

2)      TORTILLAS!  Because really, what’s an avocado WITHOUT them.  Many Volunteers I think get sick of them by day 3, but luckily not me and I’m making it my goal to learn appropriate proportions (we always failed at our college taco nights) and figure out the appropriate flattening technique before I leave.

3)      Garlic – it may as well be nonexistent.  My ex-host family LOVED garlic, which equated to roughly two mini cloves in a massive pot of Spaghetti.  Please I eat that raw as a pre-bedtime breath freshener (tends to keep any unwanted Guatemalan men away).  It depresses me that the only garlic you can find here is roughly the size of a tea spoon.

4)      Olive Oil – Welcome to my impulse buys.  Numero uno: Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  I mean, I had to lug it all the way back from Chimalt and support Walmart to do it, and it cost the equivalent of nearly 1/10th of my month’s salary, but it was a weak moment and I rarely use more than a teaspoon in a meal so it should last me hopefully through next year at this time when I can afford to buy more.

5)      Patacones, or fried green plantains: Um, pretty much my favorite bit from any previous Latin American travel but which somehow seemed to skip Guatemala on the culture train, although I plan to remedy this once I set up my street food stand with ridiculously high sanitary standards (gringos can come eat here without fear of parasites…yay!) which will only serve this greased out delicacy.  Luckily today my day was made infinitely better when we absent mindedly wandered into a tienda looking for chocolate and found…GREEN PLANTAINS!  Win one for my pueblito

6)      Fish – I wasn’t expecting it, and certainly wasn’t intent on eating it when I’m living no where near the coast and there are definitely not refrigerated trucks in Guate, but their favorite delicacy in these parts is this ridiculously salted, flattened, dried version of our finned friends.  I was very intent on staying away from it but have already been served it twice in the past week.  It tastes like salty, compressed cardboard that’s used to carry fresh fish in the states.  I’ll let you take that as you will.

What I was most excited about in my new site was the possibility to cook for myself again.  We’ve so far made chili (already had a potluck, which was unbelievable) and lots and lots and lots of guacamole.  I turned my one room rented out into a bedroom/kitchen, but every time I go to cook for myself I get a “you’re not going to eat with us?” frown from my host mother and feel obligated to join them.  Usually this is an okay occurrence because it saves me time and money and there’s bonding involved (or so I’m told), but lately I get invited for meals immediately after I’ve eaten my own (cue tonight) and then can’t say no because they get offended so I end up eating two of every meal.  Good luck guate butt with your shrinking plan.  My site partner and I did start running this past week and have done every day for 7 days (and counting) with the intention of preparing ourselves for the 10k race in September in our neighboring town, but generally only make it about 15 minutes before our lungs collapse (blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-a-altitude).

Anyways, on a strictly non-gastronomical note, we officially started work this week.  The first week living here was Semana Santa, so we did things like take two hour naps after lunch and go to the pools with my family (nearly drowning ourselves trying to tote my three sisters into the deep end with far too many people while they thrashed and screamed, yet continued to make us bring them deeper to the waterfall at the farthest end of the pool).  I also chose to celebrate Easter Sunday by going to church with my family.  They’re evangelical and I had never been to a service before so I thought it’d be interesting and confianza building and all that jazz.  I must say I preferred it to the, although shorter, catholic service.  While the latter consisted of singing for essentially the entire service (and Guatemalans are not all the most in tune with being in tune) the evangelical service is mostly just the pastor talking and he was remarkably easier to understand.  This service also didn’t consist of being choked by massive amounts of incense.

I thought I’d try to blend in a little – I mostly just wanted to see the service and didn’t want to attract a bunch of curious eyes, unfortunately this desire was smothered when we arrived 20 minutes late and walked through the entire congregation to sit front and center (and let me point out that at my fairly average by U.S. standards 5’7 I stand a good head and a half above the average Guatemalan), and then had to get up twice to walk my sisters to their classes.  Then about ¾ of the way through the service the pastor approaches me to ask me my name and proceeds to introduce me in front of the entire congregation. Probably a good thing, getting introduced to the community and all, although I wasn´t exactly prepared and turned beet red.  As we left the Pastor came up to say goodbye with repeated verses of ¨we hope to see you next week, we´ll be waiting for you here,¨ which was incredibly awkward considering I have no intention of returning next week, though they may have just guilt tripped me into it.

We also got sort of sucked in to joining an evangelical weekly prayer group, and while I will try to be culturally sensitive right now, I can´t hide the fact that I was slightly terrified.  It was just really intense, and there was a lot of mumble praying and people crying and blessing people and really emotional singing and it was just a little much for me to handle.  If you would like a non culturally sensitive view, email me and I will delve into all the details, but I tried to take it with a grain of salt when I was there.  As I said, our friend promised us avocadoes (and has already delivered) so it was vale la pena.

This week we started visiting the schools that we’re going to be working with for the next 2 (gasp) years (okay, 2 years minus one week…yay first week complete!).  It’s reminded me that I am, in fact, in Peace Corps, and similar to what I’ve read from most previous volunteers experience the first few months are more or less figuring out what the heck you’re going to be doing the next two years.  I’m trying to take it all with a grain of salt and not get too antsy when I arrive home from work at noon and don’t know what to do with myself (hard life, right?).

The difference with our program in contrast with most others is that the aims are very clear and specific and we know what we’re supposed to be achieving throughout the next two years, so I feel like we should be getting started right away but then it takes time to build confianza with the people we’ll be working with and to actually have them understand what the heck we’re doing here.  So our first few visits are mostly just to introduce ourselves and hang out, chatting with the teachers, playing games that we don’t understand with the students, and inevitably getting offered massive amounts of cookies, bread, and chips from the greasy little fingers of the 6 year olds, and in this country it is completely unheard of to EVER refuse food.  It is the one thing people are always on time for and is basically saying ¨I disapprove of you, your culture, and all of your offspring¨ by refusing it. This week we were treated to probably the most disgusting concoction of atoll (a warm, rice based drink) and beans that I’ve probably ever experienced in my life.  I usually try to take all the food here with an open mind, and actually like most of them (see above) but this was just too much, and even though I insisted on muy poco, that phrase really doesn’t exist in Spanish vocabulary so I spent the remainder of recess trying to choke it down until a small boy spilt all of his and we rushed at the opportunity to wash all of our dishes together.

Anyways, I just realized how rediculously long this post has gotten.  Apologies, lots of free time on my hands, I will try and take more pictures in future posts but for now here they are:

The route to one of our schools

Vacaville from afar

Um, apologies, I fail at taking pictures, but see my sitemate’s blog pigeonpose.blogspot.com for more pictures.

we have to go learn Kaqkchiquel now (a Mayan indigenous language) so must be off, have a great week and we´ll see if i get around to this again next week!

13 going back on 22

the Pastores crew with our ex-spanish teacher Chepe at swear-in

So, its official, we’re finally volunteers.  We can cook for ourselves, stay out after dark (ish), and no longer have to call the second we leave our doorstep for somewhere other than Peace Corps headquarters.  I don’t even know what to do with all my freedom!
Swear in weekend was our two days of pretending we were tourists, dancing and consuming massive amounts of overpriced ethnic food, before retiring to our lives of isolation and chocolate abstinence (its just too darn expensive).

So, here I am in Vacaville, my home for the next two years.  I must say that arriving here was quite the unexpected adventure.  I brought entirely too much stuff, and despite my beliefs that I had already brought most of it when we did site visits 2 weeks ago I seem to have accumulated twice as much.  I love entertaining Guatemalans on the bus as I struggle to lug four suitcases onto an overflowing camioneta then profusely sweat as I awkwardly stand vigilantly staring at my bags to make sure no one steals anything and giving dirty looks to the man completely obscuring my view of my bags probably with the intention of having his friend swipe something, and I’m sure they love me twice as much as they watch me thinking I’m being vigilant and an excellent traveler while they are simultaneously unzipping my pants pocket and swiping my wallet with my bank card and over 2000 quetzales (roughly 250 dollars) without me acknowledging even the slightest touch.  Yea I love the bus rides in Guate.

My biggest hope right now is that whoever opens it up and exults at their recent pot of gold also sees the Peace Corps ID and feels really really incredibly guilty for robbing someone who isn’t just an arrogant tourist of their entire monthly income.

So after cursing Chimaltenango (where essentially every Peace Corps volunteer gets robbed at least once in their two years) and all the folks on my bus who probably knew what was happening and did nothing to help me, I started to count my blessings.  They only got my wallet, it’s only money, and no one did anything to hurt me or threaten my security.  I also called Peace Corps to report it and was informed that they can reimburse me the majority of what was stolen.  So really, there’s nothing to be upset about except for a little inconvenience.  I feel so lucky, no matter how we live here, no matter how little we make or how many of our favorite foods we give up, we never truly live in poverty because we always have the security of Mr. Obama backing us up if anything goes severely wrong.  The little blessings in life, eh?

So anyways, now we’re in our lovely town and have somewhat settled in, although procrastinating putting things away is perhaps my biggest vice and my room is covered with all the stuff we acquired from the previous volunteer who lived in our town along with my clothes strewn about in every direction, sorry mom.  I’m living in a room in a house with a family, but it’s big enough that I can fit a mini kitchen in it too and Amber (my site mate) and I already christened it making curry Sunday afternoon.  I have three host sisters who are incredibly cute and all have ridiculous bangs, but am finding it hard to adjust to all the benefits of having younger siblings (constantly wanting to play, being in your space all the time, sometimes just staring at you and watching you as you do seemingly mundane things) and am starting to realize why I was probably not my brother’s favorite person when I was younger.  Last night they were banging on my wall trying to get me to respond for about an hour while I was trying to sleep.  My mother’s sweet but she’s also very overbearing and very sensitive of the girls bothering me so she yells at them a lot more when I’m around and I feel guilty.  I feel bad because I know everything she’s trying to do is just out of trying to help me but it gets suffocating.  She also insists on everyone in the house calling me “seño” which is the name students use for teachers out of respect, but it sets up a very awkward dynamic in the house, and even I asked her that everyone called me Abby she said no because they had to show me respect.

Anyways, the best part about the house is we have five cows and they are awesome.  Yesterday morning I got up early to try and milk them with my host father Manuel but unfortunately the cow I went for doesn’t usually like having women pulling on her udders so she got agitated and then didn’t give as much milk as she usually does.  From the two cows they milk they get roughly two big buckets of milk a day (maybe like 4 gallons?) and sell it all to neighbors, many of which come at 6:30 in the morning to get it fresh out of the teet and foaming.  We’ve been instructed by our medical officers not to drink any milk that’s unpasteurized unless we first bring it to a boil three times (which simulates pasteurizing).  Unfortunately when I went out to milk they also insisted on me taking a big glass of the frothing warm liquid, and despite my insistance that I wanted to save it for later they made me drink it right then because apparently it tastes different and not wanting to offend my new family on the first day I was there I humored them and took a few sips.  Now we’re just awaiting the possibility of intestinal worms, no big deal.

Other than that life on the homefront has been pretty tranquila.  This week we have off because of Semana Santa, and we have plans to do household shopping in Chimalt this afternoon.  My mom’s going to show me how to make Semana Santa bread tomorrow and on Wednesday we’re planning on having all the newly arrived Chimalt volunteers over for a potluck.  I’m so relieved to be able to cook for myself again it’s ridiculous, although this is slightly hampered by the fact that I have no food in my house besides a loaf of bread and peanut butter.

Here’s some pics to keep you updated on my ever growing guate butt.  We may start running this week so hopefully it will get no bigger.

Me with some of the kids from Cerro Niño, the school we worked in during training

Me with the second grade class I worked in

Me and my host mother from Pastores

 

Me and site partner Amber

MOO

My host sister with her vacita

Creating a secret identity…

So, as I recently learned, according to Peace Corps guidelines I am not allowed to put the name of my new home town on my blog.  Reasons?  Creepers could discover your local and go to the town and ask for the gringa and people would be easily able to point you out and then bad things could happen.  Seems slightly overcautious to me, but I have to abide by Mr. Obama´s rules I guess.  So, from here on out I will be living in a town we will name ¨Vacaville¨ Chimaltenango.  I thought about changing my name as well, but that may be taking it to an extreme.

So quick update.  After spending a week in Vacaville, I am now very excited about the next two years.  I decided to live with a family (Peace Corps rules) which is frustrating because I really want my own house, but I will still be cooking for myself and having a separate room and all so it´s okay.  There are three little girls who live there with ridiculous bangs and they all seem nice and the mother is extremely bouncy and motherly.  The best part is they have cows and they get fresh milk from them.  Plus, they have a fairly spacious front yard in which I can have my veggie plots and herb pots, and I am thinking of getting an animal or two but this will be a surprise because I don´t want to disappoint you all if my plans fall through…

Other than that, nothing´s new.  We met our Superintendent and visited a few schools, made ourselves known in the muni, oriented ourselves with the tri-weekly market, cooked some delicious things, watched way to many movies, and met some of the current volunteers contacts and friends in the town.  It´s going to be a good two years!

Now we just have three days at the center and then SWEAR IN where we become actual human beings again.  WHAT WHAT!

Much love to all, and come visit me in Vacaville if you get the chance!

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