"If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together" -Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Activist

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! I'm home at last, staying with mom and dad. It's really strange to be back here...in many ways it feels like no time has passed at all, in other ways it feels like I've been gone forever. One thing's for sure; when you visit home after being in the Peace Corps, your parents and friends will spoil you like crazy (this has been confirmed by other volunteers).

Back in Guatemala I didn't really believe the other volunteers who told me how hard it is to come back after going home to the States. I do now. It's going to be hard. Something about being back here, seeing my friends and family, just makes me realize what I'm missing when I'm out in my site, washing clothes in my pila or reading books in my hammock. I think in-country I'm forced to convince myself that I'm not missing anything. But being back here everything I miss most is right there in front of me, and I find it's harder to enjoy it knowing that I'll be leaving again so soon. The things I miss most that I don't/can't have in Guatemala:

1. My social life. Having friends, people to hang out with, shoot the shit...that's something I don't expect I'll ever have with Guatemalans. There's just too much in the way.

2. My family.

3. Live music shows and hot yoga classes.

4. Living in Chicago, despite the despicable cold.

The other stuff I really can do without...and that's a good thing to know about myself. Eating pizza, taking hot showers and wearing nice clothes is great, I'll admit it, but nothing I can't live without. And what's with all the iPhones, hm? I got off the plane in Houston and all I saw were iPhones. And Starbucks cups.

But it's the holidays, so I'm going to aprovechar of the little time I do have to soak up as much of these four things as I can. Because like it or not it's gonna have to tide me over for another 19 months.

On a side note, it's been surprisingly hard to readjust to the habit of flushing the toilet paper. I keep looking for the toilet paper basket to throw it in, and then I realize where I am. Habits die hard, I guess.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Home for the Holidays

December has flown by. It's gotten surprisingly chilly here in Alta Verapaz, but only because there's 1) no indoor heating and 2) no way to close my windows. After the sun goes down, the cold air chills my house to a brisk 50 or 60 degrees. So here I sit, at 8pm, in bed, wool sweater, wool socks, wool blanket, and a hot water bottle (i.e. a canning jar filled with boiling water) under my legs. It's cozy, until I have to get up.

In two days I'll be back in the States, after 8 whole months of being here in Guatemala. It's amazing to think that all that time's passed since I left to come here. People in Campur are very excited about my trip, too. Many of them still can't comprehend how I could spend all of this time living so far away from my family. So they're very excited for me to be spending the holidays at home. So am I...my bags are packed, fridge is empty...I'm ready.

In other news, the Guatemalan military has just declared a State of Seige in Alta Verapaz for the next 30 days in order to combat Mexican drug operations. There's a curfew in place, and I've been advised to carry identification on me at all times. I haven't been out of site since the siege was put into place (my aldea remains unaffected), so I'm anxious to see what it's like when I head to the airport tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Beach beach beach


I don't know why I love the beach so much. I grew up in Chicago, for God's sake. But there's something about lying in hot sand with the suns cancer-rays beating down on my skin that just does it for me. So for Thanksgiving weekend I spend 13 hours on a bus (one way, mind you) to do just that--bake in the sun on a beach. My guidebooks tell me that Monterrico is Guatemala's best beach, located way down on the south coast, on the Pacific. There's still not a whole lot to the town of Monterrico, just a few tourist hostels, some bars, and of course miles of black sand beaches. There's also a sea turtle hatchery where sea-turtles (now very much endangered due to egg poaching, net fishing, and pollution) are bred and released into the sea. Other than that, it's just like any other little Guatemalan town. And that was fine with me. I spent my weekend on the beach, lying in a hammock with a book, and enjoying ice-cold fruit licuados. It was delightful. And that I'm definitely thankful for.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Four ducks, a cheesecake, and a toaster oven

I've always liked Thankgiving. Like many modern holidays, Thanksgiving doesn't take itself too seriously. There are relatively few Thanksgiving decorations, songs, and greeting cards, at least compared to the other biggies like Christmas and Valentine's Day. Yes, it's a day where Americans stuff their faces with immoderate doses of factory-farmed turkeys and canned pumpkin. And yes, it's historical origins are rather debatable. But Thanksgiving is great in it's simplicity. It's just a day to get together with friends and family to eat, socialize, and give thanks. There's no build-up, and it's over as quick as it started. It's always on a Thursday (i.e. four-day weekend!). There's something about the constancy of Thanksgiving that I've really grown to love.

This year was only the second Thanksgiving in my life that I've spent away from home. My very ambitious sitemate decided to host a big volunteer Thanksgiving get-together here in our village. The cooking began on Monday. The menu was extensive, but best of all involved buying, killing, and roasting four ducks. Free-range, organic, campo-raised ducks, have you. I was there for the buying part, but kept my distance for the rest. Instead I busied myself with roasting yams and preparing my green-bean casserole. There was, however, one fly in the ointment. This meal was to be prepared in my sitemate's slightly oversized toaster oven. But after slaving away for nearly 48 hours straight, he got dinner on the table around 10pm on Thanksgiving night. We all feasted on the much awaited fare, and all was well. I even roped my two HCN (host-country nationals…another gem of a PC acronym, if you ask me) friends into joining us. Over dessert (a homemade pumpkin cheesecake), we decided to go around and share, in typical Thanksgiving fashion, one thing we were thankful for. To strike true Peace Corps balance to the whole thing, we also shared one thing we were unthankful for. I was initially turned off by this twist--why bring unthankfulness into the mix at all? But then it turned out to be a lot more honest that way. All of our thanks were bigger than our unthanks, and cynicism aside, I guess that's what matters.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cantaloupe and things


Cantaloupe season is here! Mandarine season is at it's end, and now cantaloupes are everywhere. I'm not even the biggest fan of melons, but these are SO juicy and tasty. I've really come to understand and enjoy seasonal eating…you eat SO much of one thing for a few months, then by the time the cosecha (harvest) is over, you're okay with not having it until next year. I've definitely eaten enough mandarines in the past 2 months to tide me over until next October. And I'm sure in these next few weeks I'll eat enough cantaloupe to tide me over as well. It's more exciting this way…instead of having such a wide variety of food available on a day-to-day basis like in a U.S. supermarket, you enjoy a higher quality and cheaper variety month-by-month, season-by-season. The climate here of course helps…I don't think cantaloupe would grow in a Chicago winter.

Today was my last day of a three-day girl's camp I led at the local school. I was a bit hesitant to do a camp at all since I was warned that nobody would show up (during school vacation they all go to work in the fields). But I figured I'd give it a shot and offer a day camp to the girls at my biggest school. They seemed interested, so I jumped at the chance. I did everything I could…sent an authorized letter home to their parents, had an official sign-up sheet the last week of classes, talked to their teachers, the director, paid for all the materials myself…and the night before I called and text-messaged about 30 girls reminding them to show up. So there I was Monday at 2pm, waiting outside the school gates with one girl (the camp was supposed to start at 1pm). Eventually they started trickling in, and I've had a solid show of 14 girls (I ended up working out a small bribe that would earn them extra points on their social science exam for attending my camp all three days). It was fun…we did some leadership workshops, watched Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (I picked it for Alice's strong female character), baked banana bread, and played a LOT of fútbol. I'm happy with it. It would be nice next year to get some of the local teachers involved. But that's next year. Small victories.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Back home

Finally back in site after a rather long and exhausting week of volunteer reconnect. It was definitely nice to see my fellow PCVs (many of whom I haven't seen since training) and spend a bit of time in Antigua, but I was definitely ready to come back. Traveled home with a few tourists from the U.S. and Ireland and had a good chat with them. I've really enjoyed meeting all the travelers in Antigua this past week…so many amazing stories to hear. At first it makes me a bit jealous that I can't be a bit more mobile and jump around all of Latin America, but they've made me also see how lucky I am to be able to live here and work at the ground level. There's always time to travel, and I'm more sure than ever that I want to do a lot more of it in my lifetime. There's just so much out there to do and see and learn. But then I think back to my community: my neighbors and the women who sell me my vegetables, and they won't ever have that kind of opportunity to see the world the way I already have. And I guess, in a way, that's why I'm here. I'm sort of bringing a different part of the world to them, showing them a completely different culture without them having to travel anywhere to see it. I guess that's part of the big idea of being out here. I just have to remember that on those days when I'm sick and tired of being the resident Gringo.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Welcome to Antigua!

After arriving Sunday night I headed straight to Toko, this amazing falafel restaurant near the hostel where I was staying. The owner is this Dutch guy who loves PC volunteers (we are some of his best customers). Once my friends and I were seated and had ordered he brought us over some colored plastic tupperware cups (the kind toddlers drink apple juice out of) and a bottle of rum, on the house. To celebrate, he said. Every time I came close to finishing my cup, he topped it off with more rum. So there we sat, eating, listening to the owner's travel stories, and drinking rum out of children's cups. Lots of rum. By the time we left to walk home, I was drunk. I've barely touched a drop since getting here in April, so that rum went straight to my head. Made for a very fun Monday morning of volunteer meetings. Welcome to Antigua!

Dear Grandma

Dear Grandma Kay,

I just received your lovely letter...it's always so nice to get mail. I'm so happy to hear that you're doing well. It sounds like Dad is really keepng up with getting you hard copies of my blogs--I'm so glad you enjoy reading them! I also very much like this new life choice you 've made for yourself--I personally think 39 is a much more appropriate age for you. If nothing else, there aren't a whole lot of 91 year olds out there that use the word "blog" in their regular vocabulary...

I'm in Antigua for the week catching up with other volunteers from my training class. Got to take the most wonderful HOT shower last night at my hostel . Can't wait to see you for the holidays!

Que te cuides--

Love,
Hannah

Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Friday

Went up to my women's group meeting today. The women were a bit late showing up (it was raining) so I hung out in Estella's house for a while, choking down Guatemalan coffee and chit-chatting. I was amused by this: Estella said that a man from the village went mojado to the States for a while and recently came back. He told her that in the U.S. he saw health clinics just for dogs and cats where they treat and operate on animals. She of course didn't believe him, and told him that she was going to check with me, the resident Gringa. I of course corroborated his story, explaining that Americans consider their animals as part of their family, and that I had taken my cats to such clinics in the past. She was incredulous, to say the least. She asked why we operated on our animals, and I tried to explain animal population control and neutering/spaying…I think my point was lost however. I think she was just upset that she couldn't prove him wrong.

Off to Coban tomorrow for more Q'eqchi' class and then Sunday off to Antigua for a week of Reconnect. I'm looking forward to seeing the other volunteers from my training class and having a nice week of hot showers, gringo food, gringo bars, etc.

Also, officially booked to come home for the Holidays! It's going to be so nice to see everybody for Christmas...can't wait.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lovely Weekend


The girls just left my site this morning after a lovely Halloween/Todos Santos weekend. We spent Saturday and Sunday nights in a rustic hostel in Semuc, right near the Semuc Champey reserve. Semuc Champey is Q'eqchi' for "Water that comes from beneath the rocks," and refers to the natural spring pools that are one of the park's biggest attractions. The river flows down into the rocks, which filter and clean the water and push it back up into pristine blue pools. We hiked up through the jungle to get a birds-eye view of the pools…absolutely beautiful. We spent the morning swimming through all the pools, but on one dive I snapped my newly-fixed glasses in half, losing one half to the pool, and had to hike the rest of the day with a monocle. Our guide was highly amused by this, and called me "one-glass" for the rest of the day.

We spent the afternoon in the Las Marias Caves, on a candlelight tour. Now from the information we gathered from the hostel, this so-called "Candlelight Cave Tour" would be a nice, relaxed walk/wade through the caves' shallow waters to see the caves, bats, etc. Wrong. This tour would probably rank about a 7 out of 10 on the "most treacherous amateur nature trek" scale. Before the tour we each received a candle, and those of us wearing flip-flops received a piece of twine tied around each ankle to keep the flip-flops secure to our feet. No consent forms, no briefing, just candles and twine. So into the pitch-black caves we went with our Guatemalan cave guide, a 4-foot 8-inch man with swim trunks and a headlamp, whose only real guidance involved proudly showing us a particularly phallic stalagmite and exclaiming "penis" in English. We soon found out that the better part of the caves are filled with very deep water, thus requiring us to swim through the small caves' cold and pitch-black waters, one-handed (our burning candles/only light source being in the other), in the dark, with bats swirling above, dodging the jagged stalagmites and stalactites as we went. About midway in we had to scale a waterfall on a slippery wrought-iron ladder that had been tied to some rocks over head, shimmy through crevices, swim some more…you get the idea. It was amazing and a total blast, however terrifying. And something we could never do in the States. Just thinking of the paperwork that kind of cave tour would elicit back home gives me a headache. And luckily, our whole group made it through relatively unscathed, although I fell and banged up my knee pretty bad on the way in and had a golf-ball sized goose egg by the time we got back out into daylight…I blame it on my lack of depth-perception caused by the monocle, which I proudly managed to keep on my face for the entirety of the trek. Once we were out, we all had a well-deserved warm can of Guatemalan beer to celebrate our survival. All in all it was totally worth it…I'd do it again for sure. Probably won't bring Mom and Dad, though.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy Halloween!

This week has flown by. Aside from all the graduation ceremonies, graduation church services, graduation lunches, etc, I've been running around all week trying to piece together the last bits of data for my Reconnect report, which has been a real pain in the ass, to put it bluntly. Guatemalans really love ceremony and formalities, so graduation ceremonies often run about 4 hours long, with a luncheon afterwords. They take graduating really seriously, as they should…it's a really big deal for some of these students to get to where they've gotten.

I'm taking a nice weekend getaway with my volunteer friends from training. It's been 4 whole months since I've seen these girls, so it's going to be a treat to spend the weekend with them. We're heading to Semuc Champey, which is an eco-tourism reserve about 2 hours from my site. There's candelight cave-swimming, tubing, waterfalls…I'm just crossing my fingers that we have good weather. I have a double Q'eqchi class this afternoon and tomorrow morning in Coban, and then we're off.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Coming home

Just getting home after an extra-long micro ride back from Coban. Caught the last one out, so standing-room only the whole hour and a half. Not fun, but definitely a good arm work-out holding onto the ceiling bar for dear life. But as we finally pulled into Campur, I realized that the relief I felt wasn't only being able to get off the cramped, stuffy bus, but because I felt like I was coming home…the smell of burning garbage, the rocky roads, the tone-deaf singing at the evangelical church, the sticky air…the campo officially feels like home to me.

Went into Carchá yesterday to visit a fellow volunteer and avoid having to leave at 5am today to get to my Q'eqchi' lesson on time. It was quite lovely…made a yummy mushroom pasta dish, garlic bread, and we even splurged for a bottle of wine. It wasn't until we got it back to the house, though, that we realized: no cork screw. Oops. But as true Peace Corps volunteers, we were resourceful, and ended up hacking the cork out in pieces with a pocket knife (this is after we tried banging the bottom of the bottle against the wall for 5 minutes…apparently the pressure is supposed to push the cork out gradually…not as easy as it sounds). All in all, a lovely night of venting and good food. This morning I got up early and met with Liliana, my new private Q'eqchi' teacher. She's great, and really pushes me…it's exactly what I need to really start getting the language down. It is quite an experience learning a third language via my second…but I'm quickly learning that Q'eqchi' grammar is a lot English verb tenses, without all those pesky irregulars.

Back home with a fresh list of vocal words to learn. Settling in for the night with a big bowl of cereal and a book. Goodnight all.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Crazy week

When it rains here, it pours. And I mean that literally and figuratively. I've been in site for 3 months now, during which I was in a constant battle to have enough to do. And now, one week away from the end of the academic year, you'd think that the directors of my schools just now realized that I'm here to work. In the next week I have 2 (possibly 3) teacher meetings to run, 2 parent meetings, a vacation camp to plan for November, and a library project to get up and running. On top of that, I have the flu. Wonderful. I have to be honest, it's getting to me. The fact that scheduling anything, ever, is a complete impossibility here is really hard. It makes getting anything done almost as impossible. Before coming here, the idea of a culture where scheduling and strict timelines didn't rule the land seemed a bit romantic, I've got to admit. But now that I'm not only living in one, but working in one, I realize that it's not so idyllic. Instead, the smallest of tasks become a headache. Planning anything ahead of time is unheard of. And last minute cancellations are the norm. It's really a test to my patience when I walk 2 hours to my most rural school only to find out that the parent meeting isn't happening…the parent meeting, mind you, that I had confirmed the day before.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

6 Months!

I've been in country 6 months. It's hard to believe. I bought myself a ridiculously overpriced package of Oreos in Coban to celebrate.

Classes finished this week at my schools, next week is exams, and then vacation. I actually have a lot of work to do...big teacher workshop to lead next week, and planning my summer camp for early November. Also need to make some final arrangements for the house I want to move into. It's weird, because I remember when I thought I'd never be busy here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dear Beth

Dear Beth,

I just wanted to write and thank you again for your message, your pending care package (so excited!), and your wonderful words of support and encouragement.

You have always been so great at being there and cheering me up when I really need it. You know just how to put things in perspective for me.

Like you said, I need to make sure not to measure my success (or happiness) on things I can't control. And I know now that I need to continue surrounding myself with those people who have really been there to support me through this…and they've made themselves known.

You've come so far, Beth…you're gonna be a lawyer! You even write like one, now. Can't wait to hear more about what's going on in your life these days. Keep doin what you're doin.

Talk soon,
Hannah

Hay sol

The sun came out today for the first time in over a week. I felt like doing a little dance. Instead, I washed clothes for 2 hours. Gotta take full advantage of sunny drying time in case it's the only sun I'll see for another 10 days.

Dear Liz

Dear Lizzy,

Thanks again for your lovely letter. I won't lie though, I was slightly disappointed that this one didn't include a coloring book page.

Glad to hear your job is going well…once upon a time I used to be that girl in the office asking my coworkers for projects. Beware….pretty soon you could be getting everybody's crap work. I feel like that here, sometimes…like I'm begging people to work for them…for free. Please, Mr./Mrs. Guatemalan, I'm a lonely bored Gringa who needs to feel useful. Might you need help with organizing this classroom/typing that grant/shucking those beans? I didn't realize you were planning on doing grad school next year…will you be able to keep your job (or is it just a year-long thing)? What schools are you looking at?

I'm really have a hard time imagining you being bat-shit crazy. But I'll take your word for it? Thanks for trying to cheer me up…I know everything you told me is right, it's just hard to see that right now.

I do know (and am quite fond of) the Yeah Yeah Yeah's, and I will definitely check out the Good Life. Just gotta wait until I have a good enough internet connection to download some songs.

On a side note, you guys are into Watchmen, right? I've tried to watch that movie 4 times now…just can't get through it. It's too bizarre. Maybe it's one of those that you have to have read the comic first?

Okay, and pardon my rant but are you really telling me that you can't eat ONE veg meal a WEEK? You guys eat meat every single night?? Do you know what's in that meat? Where it came from? Now I don't want to lecture you, but I would highly recommend you read either Michael Pollen's "Food Rules" or Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals" and watch the documentary "Food, Inc." To put it lightly, the American meat industry is crazy messed up, Liz. I'm talking bleak. If you were eating normal unadulterated meat, you wouldn't' be able to afford to eat meat nightly. Very few people would. If you'd like, I'll give you some good (and hardy) meatless dinner recipes. Yeah? Yeah? Okay I made my spiel…just had to give it a shot.

Anyways, I hope you guys enjoy staying put for a while…talk soon!

Te extraño,
Hannah

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Some news

I received this message today from our country director:

Dear Volunteers,

You have probably by now heard in today’s news the tragic discovery involving medical testing conducted by U.S. physicians in Guatemala in the 1940s, in which Guatemalans were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases without their knowledge or consent, in order to look for new ways to prevent infections. Like all US citizens, those of us working in Guatemala are horrified that this took place. We want to ensure that all of you are informed about this and direct you to the link below:

US apologizes for infecting Guatemalans with STDs in the 1940s - CNN.com

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gloom

Another rainy, gray day. I can't remember the last time I saw the sun. Thus another dinner of Cup of Noodles con Hard-Boiled Egg. With the rain, haven't gone to the market in a week. Hence no food in the house. Nothing like MSG-soaked noodles to warm up to.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mandarines!


Mandarine harvest is in full swing…I fear I might develop an ulcer. Fresh mandarines are SO SO good. I've never tasted anything like it. They're so fresh…right off the tree…literally. And because I'm the resident Gringa, everybody gifts them to me. I'm averaging between 5-10 a day. It's great. Weird, though...mandarines are green here. Oranges, too. Some of them get a little bit yellow, but they never turn orange. This crazy Gringo guy I met in a Pais (Guatemalan Wal-Mart) told me that the only reason oranges in the States are orange is because we use chemicals and paint to alter their color. Don't know if I believe him, but it is a bit weird...

Went on my normal run today, although today I was ambushed by a bunch of 9-year olds who desperately wanted to know the English translations to their names. They don't quite get that not all Guatemalan names transfer over. My personal favorite is Queen (Reina). I think Queen Latifah is the only one who can pull it off. Then they decided to run with me, the whole 5k. They did a surprisingly good job at keeping up, too. Leave it to a bunch of 9-year olds to make me feel out of shape.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rainy Day

Rainy days are the worst. Another tropical storm passing through…Peace Corps announced a StandFast (we can't leave our sites or travel) so I'm in bed, under a wool blanket, and will probably stay here until tomorrow. It's so utterly gray and rainy…and COLD. I could actually see my breath this morning. I guess I'll take this as a chance to catch up on some reading.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stone-ground wheat

Went up to see my women's group this morning…they decided that they wanted to write/dictate a letter to the church in the U.S. who might be donating some money to help with our pila project. They took this letter very seriously, and it took the better part of the morning for them to dictate it in Q'eqchi', Estella to translate it to Spanish, and me to write it down in Spanish and English. But the finished product is quite nice, actually. They also decided that each week at our meetings each woman would donate Q2 for the project. With so many women, I decided to develop a roster to keep track of who was showing up to our meetings and who was giving money. When I took out the roster yesterday, they were ALL about it. Immediately they began self-policing…"Well, Maria didn't come the last two week and hasn't brought her money either. Cross her off the list miss Ana!" It's good to see them taking their pila project so seriously, but I had to intervene and tell them that I would keep track of the list, and that when we get further into developing the project, I will consider eliminating some names from the list.

After the meeting I stuck around Estella's house so she could teach me how to stone-grind my wheat (I wanted to make whole-wheat flour to make bread with). Two or three of the women stayed back with me, and immediately realized that if they left it to me to grind the wheat, I'd probably be there until nightfall. So they took over, showing me the proper techniques, and laughing at how tired I got, and how quickly. Estella also had a hand-cranked grinder that we used as well (also completely exhausting to use), as had about 5 cups of freshly ground whole-wheat flour in under an hour. It amazes me how strong these women are. My bread turned out great…the fresh wheat definitely has a stronger flavor than store-bought flour in the States did. A bit nuttier, perhaps. It is, however, a complete pain in the ass to grind my own wheat. Guess I'll just have to get used to it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Chucho dilemma

Stray dogs, aka Chuchos, are a really big problem in this country. There isn't a pet culture here--when people raise animals, it's for food or income. There simply aren't the resources to own, feed, and care for domestic pets. Understandable. What I can't understand, however, is the treatment of stray dogs. Yes, they are wild, and sometimes dangerous (if they're rabid and bite), and they are always scrounging and begging for food. They multiply like crazy. They get hit and killed by microbuses, they get into noisy fights at night…people hate chuchos. Kids throw rocks at them, adults kick them…I think the word Chucho might come from the ch-ch sound people make to shoo the dogs away. But with all these problems, there's no sort of movement in place to stray/neuter or impound these strays…the problem just continues. On more than one occasion I've come across a starving, dying dog in the road. It's heartbreaking.
The other morning I was walking over towards the market and passed by two dead dogs, both sprawled on the road with blood coming out of their mouths. I figured they had been hit by a car or been in a dog fight, but after talking to a volunteer friend yesterday, I have another theory. Apparently in an attempt to control the stray population, an extermination effort has been put into place in which drivers pass through areas in the middle of the night throwing poisoned bread into the streets. The hungry dogs eat the bread, and the truck passes through again in the early morning to pick up the bodies. I'm pretty sure that's what had happened to those two dogs I saw.

Now I understand that in developing countries such as this one, human lives must be put before animal welfare, but this is an atrocity. So many things could go wrong with this…other animals could eat the poison…children could get their hands on it. And in the long run, extermination in this manner isn't going to solve the problem. These dogs breed too quickly. Unfortunately, I don't have a better answer. There aren't the resources to impound the strays, and nobody wants to take responsibility for these animals. I'm afraid of most chuchos and know a few volunteers who have already been attacked and bit (luckily we were all vaccinated against rabies). But it's just so sad.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Carrot cake and gossip

Since I ditched out on my women's group Friday, I went up this morning. Not surprisingly, the word I sent hadn't spread and none of the women were there when I showed up at 9:20. So I went to Estella's house, where she was hanging out with 2 other mothers and their kids. I explained what happened on Friday, they all theorized for about 10 minutes about what it was that I ate that made me sick, and then they decided it would be better if we just met on Friday like usual. I had brought all the ingredients for carrot cake, so I offered to make it for them, so they could teach the rest of the group on Friday. It was a big success, and while it baked, we gossiped…it was honestly a lot nicer than when all 30 or 40 women show up…a lot more relaxed.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday

Woke up with some pretty ugly stomach issues so I didn't go up to see my women's group. I saw one of the women later that day and was able to reschedule for Monday. Not easy in Q'eqchi', let me tell you. The language barrier is really starting to wear on me…I'm going to try to take a course in Coban over school vacation…I really think learning in a more formal atmosphere might give me the push I need. Our pila project is on a bit of a standstill until I can find where to get the money from…I'm hoping to find an NGO or something that will at least assist us in the fundraising. In the meantime, we're just meeting and baking…Monday is carrot-cake. No cream-cheese frosting, unfortunately. But everything else I found right in the market.

Today's the hottest it's been for a while…as I type this I'm laying in my hammock in the shade…and drenched in sweat. I had to shower and change my clothes after my morning chores. I'm sure the heat will break and it'll rain a ton tonight…it always seems that the hotter the day, the rainier the night. On the plus side, all my laundry dried out on the line…although I have some pretty nasty blisters from washing my clothes in the pila. My body takes a lot of wear-and-tear here. I guess I never realized how delicate all the washing machines and dishwashers and paved roads made me. After this I'll be callused as hell and tough as steel. Yesss.

It's funny, but with all the time on my hands, I've become a lot less structured. I take a longer time to do everything…I take my time. And I have so much time to think. I don't think there's ever been a time in my life that I've been this truly alone, and had this much time to think. But the days go by…I've now been in-site for 2 months, 5 days. I don't feel as though I've accomplished much, but hopefully that will change. New goals every day. New projects and ideas. I'm scattered, I'll admit it. But how can't I be when my life lacks any semblance of the structure that it used to have?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gringa in a traje


Today was the big Independence Day party at the local school, so I decided to dress up in typical "traje" that I borrowed from Olga, my friend who owns the store below my house. People really loved it…I got compliments all day on how lovely I looked. Honestly I couldn't wait to get the thing off at the end of the day…wearing a skirt made out of about 10 yards of heavy fabric that is wrapped a million times tightly around your waist (to prevent it from falling off) is not as easy as these local women make it seem. But it was fun, and the festivities at the school went well…there was dancing, lots of food--tamales, elote (corn-on-the-cob), banana empanadas, churrasco), a raffle, a parade, and the crowning of the "princess." The party went until late, and classes were cancelled for Thursday and Friday.

So in all, that's 12 straight days of class cancelled because of Independence Day. 12 days. Classes will resume this coming week, but exams start first thing in October, and school is out for the year by week 2. If I have one major complaint about the school system here in Guatemala, it's that the kids are hardy ever in class. I understand that it's important to celebrate national holidays, but often classes are cancelled just because…because of the rain, because the lights went out, because the teacher didn't show… And with 35-minute class periods (often they have each subject only once per week), I can't imagine how much material actually gets covered. It will be interesting to see how much of the youth development curriculum we'll be able to get through next academic year.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Antorcha


The antorchas, or torch runs, were cancelled across the country this year because of the "state of calamity" that was declared a week or so ago due to the extreme weather conditions and the subsequent road damage, mudslides, and accidents. Luckily up here in Alta Verapaz we didn't see much of the severe weather that they did in the West. So we decided to go ahead and do our torch run, but cut it short to be safe. Normally the tercero (8th graders) class is elected to run the antorcha, but this year the segundo class got to go for good behavior. In past years, they travel to Salamá (about 4 hours from here) and run back (which takes about 13 hours). This year we decided to go to an aldea of San Pedro Carcha, only about a 2-hour drive from here. We rented a truck (they have these giant pick-up trucks that they build A-frames onto so they can load about 60 people, standing-room only, in the back. There were only about 50 of us, so luckily there was sufficient truck-bed space to sit. We left in the morning, had lunch and took pictures in Chamelco, then the torch was ceremoniously lit, and off we went. It took about 6 and a half hours to get back, with us running in teams of four for 10-minute shifts. Once it got dark (it gets really dark here), the girls were no longer allowed to run for safety reasons, so the guys brought us home. When we arrived back in our aldea, people were lined up waiting to welcome us and the torch back home. We all gathered at the school for speeches, a prayer, and some well-deserved churrasco (grilled steak) for dinner. I actually really enjoyed myself. I was exhausted by the time we got back, but it was a really great opportunity to get to know some of my students outside of the classroom, and see first-hand a very valued tradition here. Throughout the whole trip back the kids were singing and chanting their national pride; things like "¡Viva Guatemala, ¡Viva la Independencia!" (Long-live Guatemala, long-live independence!) and "Dame un G…Dame un U…Dame un A, etc" (Give me a G, Give me a U, Give me an A-T-E-M-A-L-A") You just don't see American kids running around on the 4th of July shouting about Independence. But here, their independence is new enough that they still seem to know what they're celebrating on their independence day; they still remember what they went through to get here. And if anything, that was what struck me the most about the antorcha. These kids view running the antorcha as a great privilege, and they take it very seriously. Of course there was a lot of goofing around, a water-fight, and some scraped knees, but when we all finally ran through our town together, at 9pm, carrying 45 lit torches (the kids build the torches themselves prior to the run out of chair legs, coffee cans and gasoline-soaked rags), and the whole town was there to greet us, hug us, and feed us, it was pretty moving.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Concursos

Next week is Guatemala's Independence Day, September 15, so naturally the festivities started early this week and will continue on until the end of next. All the local schools cancel classes and instead hold school-wide "concursos," or contests, each day a different theme/talent. So far, I've judged 2 drawing contests, one yesterday at a local elementary school, and one today at the local básico school. I also attended the 3-hour long poetry concurso this afternoon. So far the concursos, in typical Guatemalan fashion, are both ill-planned and painfully drawn-out, full of unnecessarily long speeches and a whole lot of waiting around. This is the running theme of the week. On the bright side, however, the contests do showcase the Guatemalans' love for art and creativity; and the level of national pride is quite inspiring. Next week I'll be going on the antorcha, or torch-run. Basically a group of students and teachers drive down to Salamá (about a 4-5 hour bus trip from here), stay the night, and get up at the crack of dawn the following day and run back to the aldea carrying the symbolic torch. Two or three students run at a time, followed by the bus, which trails behind. The trip averages about 13 hours. The town welcomes the torch runners when they finally arrive at about 9pm the next night. Can't wait...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

New Address (again)

Having some issues with the P.O. box in Coban (I'm still receiving mail there, for those who have already sent things) so for those of you sending things my way, here's my new improved address:

Hannah Gdalman
Tienda Villa Linda
Barrio Chajsaquil
San Pedro Carcha
Alta Verapaz, 16001
Guatemala, Centro America.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dear Grandma

Dear Grandma Mary,

Thank you so much for the package! It made my day...and I've been really in need of a pick-me-up this week. I just picked it up today from the post office...haven't opened it yet, but I'm sure it's filled with wonderful things. Mom says that you've been following my blog...it's nice to know that I have loyal readers out there!

I hope all is well in San Antonio...I'll try to send some of this Guatemalan rain your way. Take care, send Cassie my love, and thanks again for your support!

Love,
Hannah

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pan de banano



I had another women's group meeting this morning. Got to tell them the good news that our pila project was approved by my director, and that the next steps can be taken…they seem excited, and at least I know that they'll be patient. If one thing is for sure, Guatemalans are patient people.

Today I had them all bring ingredients to make banana bread, which ended up being a huge hit…I think Rice Krispy Treats were just a little too strange for them. Banana bread is great because all of the ingredients (minus the baking powder which I provided) can easily be acquired out here in the campo, for cheap. I was a bit nervous about making bread over an open-fire (I'm lucky that I have a toaster oven to do my baking), but I followed the "Peace Corps Oven" technique, and it worked surprisingly well. For those of you out there that ever want to bake bread on an open fire (or a stove-top), here's how:

How to make a Peace Corps Oven
Supplies:
1 large metal pot with lid. (It needs to be big enough for a bread pan to fit inside with room to spare)
1 empty tin can, label removed (empty tuna or cat food cans work the best)

Place the pot on your stove-top/fire. Fill the empty tin can ½ with water and place in the center of the pot. Balance your baking pan on top of tin can. Cover the pot with the lid, being sure not to knock your baking pan over. Cook over medium heat. Avoid removing the lid too often to keep the baking heat inside the pot. This oven is best for cakes, breads and pizzas. Cookies do not bake well because there is no top heat.

The women loved the recipe; I demonstrated with the first loaf, and they made the second loaf all on their own. When the first loaf came out of the "oven," they all touched it and said "puro tamale!" I guess I never would have made the connection between the consistency of banana bread and a corn tamale, but I can see where they're coming from. They've all requested that on my next trip to the city I pick them up baking powder and aluminum bread pans so they can start baking the breads themselves. I was relieved that it went over well…poco a poco I feel like I'm earning their trust. It's still very formal, and they won't stop calling me "Seño Ana" even after I've insisted they just call me Ana. But relationships take time here, and there's quite a lot of them, and only one of me. Let alone the language barrier. They have this habit of looking at me and speaking in pure Q'eqchi', none of which I can understand. So I've started responding with full sentences in English, which they really get a kick out of. It is frustrating having to communicate through a translator. I'm getting impatient with myself…I want to learn Q'eqchi' faster! But as always here, I just gotta keep studying and stay patient. Estella (my unofficial translator) and I get along well, though…she's invited me to come to her house this weekend to help her kill and cook her 2 rabbits. Yay. The women also collectively decided that they want to dress me up in traje (typical dress) for the 15th of September (their Independence Day…it's a big, BIG deal here), so that should be fun.

No classes this afternoon, so I'm going to go for a run and settle in early with a book. Gotta be at the market tomorrow by 7 if I wanna beat the rush and get the good cabbage.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Patience is a virtue

I am a patient person. This is something that I've been told all my life by friends, teachers, colleagues, whoever. And I take pride in my ability to entertain myself, spend long periods of time alone, and deal with children and difficult people. But my God. They really know how to test me here. Their 15-minute-long National Anthem is a wonderful example of how Guatemalans love to draw things out. Give a Guatemalan a microphone, we say among volunteers, and be ready for a 30-minute speech about nothing at all. Formalities are so prevalent in the culture here that nobody seems to notice how much time is actually consumed by these niceties. Don't take me wrong, I'm not culture bashing. But being an American, from the land of time-savers and getter-doners, I still find myself amazed on a daily basis at how much time is wasted here with simple formalities. Just thrown on down the toilet.

I'm just getting back from a teacher's meeting at the local school. I was there teaching my segundo class, when the director invited me to sit in on a meeting to plan the Independence Day festivities. Easy enough, right? Plan 3 days of activities, make a schedule, batta bing batta boom. No no no. Silly Hannah. The meeting that was planned for 4pm started at 5pm, with the director welcoming everybody, commenting on the weather, and, 20 minutes later, getting down to business. 7pm, and all we've decided is that there will be a drawing competition one day, and a poetry competition another day. And maybe a beauty pageant. I wanted to scream. I was hungry, tired, and knew that we weren't getting anywhere fast. Then it started to rain. "It's raining too hard for you all to leave anyway so we may as well continue the meeting," said the director. I thought about leaving, but didn't want to offend anybody. At 8pm, she wrapped it up. By then we had kind-of-sort-of decided on a drawing competition (of which I am one of the judges), a singing competition (solo and groups), a poetry competition, and a beauty pageant, with dates and teachers assigned to each. Now, we did what we needed to do. But in my American mind, we could have accomplished that much in about 15 minutes. Or a series of emails. Not a 3-hour long meeting.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

APCD Visit

Today my APCD (my program director) came out for an initial site-visit, to check my house, visit my schools and meet my directors, and discuss any project ideas. Good news; he was very supportive of my women's group pila project. One fly in the ointment, however. When introducing water to a community, the issue of waste water is often overlooked (it didn't even occur to me). The way outdoor pilas function is that the waste water (filled with dish soap, laundry detergent, etc.) simply runs off the bottom into the land below, eventually risking ground water contamination. So to prevent problems, a filtration ditch must be put in place before the pila is installed. The design is simple enough; a ditch is dug and is filled with layers of rock, carbon (charcoal), sand, pebbles, and more rock. The waste water filters through and is clean by the time it reaches the ground. So 40 pilas means 40 filtration ditches, as well. The cost of the carbon, rocks, sand, and manpower will also have to be taken into consideration. It's going to require a bit more time and funding than I had anticipated, but I'm more than willing than taking on the challenge, and I hope these women will stick with me.

I also had the good luck of bumping into the CORP (Culture of Reading Program) director today at the local school (he coordinates the Co-Ed textbook program but also has contacts with the woman who runs CORP.) I mentioned to him that I was interested in starting a reading program in my schools to build critical-thinking skills and creativity, and he said he'd be happy to send me along the CORP application. CORP is a reading program founded by an American school principal who, after traveling to Guatemala and seeing the need for such a program in the schools, left her job and now works here full-time with Co-Ed as a teacher and teacher-trainer. CORP trains primary school teachers in the reading program curriculum, which uses short children's stories along with theater and creative writing to enhance interest in reading. I would just have to come by the storybooks, and the CORP people would come in and do the rest. I still need to talk to the schools' directors to see if they'd support such a program, but my hopes are high.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bottle School



I took a trip to Baja Verapaz today to attend the opening ceremony for a fellow volunteer's bottle school project. He teamed up with a local school and built an additional 2-classroom building using the "Eco-ladrillo" (Eco-brick) technique. Basically what you do is collect empty soda and water bottles, clean and dry them, and pack them full of cleaned, dried trash (plastic chip bags, plastic bags, etc.). The trash makes the bottles heavy and durable, so they can act as the foundation of the walls of a building (in this case, a school). The building cost is therefore greatly reduced, and it helps to clean up the local area of trash. The idea was created by a returned Peace Corps volunteer, and is quickly spreading across Peace Corps Guatemala. My site-mate currently has a bottle-school project underway in the aldea where I work with the women's group. It's moving along more slowly than planned (still in the bottle-collection phase), so I will most likely be the one responsible for finishing the project after he leaves.

On the way back to site from Baja, we stopped off at Casa D'Acuna, a swanky hotel/restaurant in Coban. And for a mere 20 quetzals (more money than I normally spend on food for two days), I had the best chocolate cheesecake I've ever tasted. It was so good, in fact, that I almost didn't feel guilty about spending all that money.


At the opening ceremony I also met a women selling jewelry that her women's group makes out of recycled trash. They use plastic bags, bottles, and pop tabs to make earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, which they sell and make a pretty profit. I bought a pair of bar-code earrings, and talked to the woman about the possibility of her coming out and teaching my women's group how to make the jewelry. I think it would be a really great way to fundraise for our pila project.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Food revelations/the housing hunt

Since I live on the second floor of a building, I often go down to the bottom of my front stairs to beat the heat, hang out, drink my morning coffee, or chat with Olga the store owner. Today I bought a big bag of ejote (green beans) at the market, so I took them down to my stoop to sort and snap the ends off of them. It must have something to do with the fact that I was preparing a common local food, because almost immediately local women started coming over to me (a rarity, to say the least). And not just to say the customary "good afternoon, see you soon," but to hang out and to chat with me. I couldn't have been out there for 5 minutes and suddenly I had two indigenous friends, average age of 90, speaking Q'eqchi' at me. Despite the language barrier, the women sat down next to me and started helping me with my bean prep…they were a lot better at snapping the ends off than I am. They also showed me how to remove the beans from the shell to eat them that way. I just smiled and nodded, unable to say anything to them. They gestured upstairs to my house and asked me something in Q'eqchi', and I was able to say "Ehe, ochoch" ("Yes, home") in response. That was the extent of our conversation. They left and other women stopped by…apparently a Gringa girl with a bowl full of green beans is a lot more welcoming than a Gringa just sitting alone on her stoop. Who knows. Another volunteer told me that a great way to get "in" with the local women is to watch the popular soap operas and bring them up in casual conversation. I can't stand the soap operas here. So maybe my ticket in is food. I will definitely make a point of doing more food preparation out front…maybe tomorrow I'll peel potatoes. Or shell peanuts. See if today was a fluke, or if I'm really on to something.

On the topic of food, this week I've made a point at being more creative with the local food…those first few weeks I was basically living on beans, eggs, bananas, mosh (oatmeal), and powered milk. They are, after all, super cheap and very available at my market. But I got bored. So this week I made my own peanut-butter (I had to shell and roast 2 lbs of peanuts…took me 3 hours), and today I made a cold green-bean potato salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil (green beans were especially cheap at the market) and a quart of homemade chunky cinnamon applesauce (apples were also cheap today, but grainy…made for great applesauce, though!). Tomorrow I'm going to make an attempt at homemade pasta sauce…we'll see how that goes.

After the market this morning, I headed out to my Wednesday school to observe and teach. The school is newer, so there is only one class of about 25 students, and 2 teachers (excluding me). It's more rural, so a lot of the students have already lost a lot of their Spanish, and the teacher often has to translate more complicated directions into Q'eqchi' for me. But the students are great, and every single week they give me a gift…last week it was a huge bag of bananas, the week before it was plantains. This week I got a stack of freshly-made tayuyos (tortillas stuffed with spicy black beans…one of my favorites). I don't think they know it, but their gifts always make my day. They're so meaningful because they're from their homes…bananas are hard to find in the market since everybody has their own banana trees. I, however, am not so lucky. So when I get a big bag from a students' mother, it's the best.

I've been starting to ask around town about finding another house to rent…I like the place I'm at now, but I have my heart set on finding a place with a bit more land, where I can have a garden and a chicken or two. So today on my way back from the school I stopped at a roadside tienda (store) to ask the owner. I told the woman that I was looking for a place to rent for 2 years. Immediately she called in her mother and daughter to discuss my possibilities. She then told me that as long as I already had my own bed, I could move in with them. She thought that I didn't have a place to stay at all, and that I was looking for somewhere to stay immediately. Just like that she would have taken me into her own house. I just can't imagine that turn of events happening in the States. After I explained that I had housing until October, she had her daughter walk me into town to meet another women who had a spare bedroom in her house. She, as well, immediately welcomed me in and said I could live there. While I value my privacy and space, it's somewhat touching to me that these families would so readily open their doors to a complete stranger. I'm going to keep on looking, though…my Guatemalan dream house is out there somewhere, chickens and all.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Happy Friday

Heard from the director of the NGO from Wednesday; apparently our graduation speeches were a huge hit. I'm being asked to speak at two more ceremonies in the next few months. Who knew…

Had my first real women's group meeting this morning, and after the town-hall meeting fiasco last week, I was a bit hesitant going up there today. But it turned out to be really productive. We all met at the church at 9 (aka 9:30)…about 25 women showed up! I didn't bring much of a plan because I wanted to keep it pretty unstructured. After about 20 minutes of initial awkwardness (them speaking to one another in Q'eqchi', me helplessly trying to figure out what was going on), they started grilling me: what is the U.S. like, do I have a husband, do I have children, why in the world don't I have a husband or children, what do I think about Guatemala, if I will marry a Guatemalan, etc. They also loved my caites, these little rubber jelly-sandals that all the women here wear (I bought a pair at the market…they've proven to hold up well on the rocky roads). I felt like I was making some progress with the group; earning their trust. And sure enough, after a little chatting, they decided to get down to business. They said they'd been discussing possible projects for the group, and decided that what they wanted most were pilas, one for each of the women in the group. I was baffled…I thought everybody here had a pila. A pila is basically a three-compartment water cistern/utility sink. The water is collected in the middle (about 10 gallons) and then the two side compartments are used for washing dishes and clothes, by scooping the water out of the middle with a comal, or a dipping bowl. Without pilas, the women explained, all washing has to be done with "piedra y tabla". I was having trouble understanding what they meant, so they decided to take me to one of their houses to show me. With no running water, they have to collect rain water in these big plastic vats, and when they need to wash clothes, they use a stone and what looks like a big wooden door that's been laid flat across a horse. Using the door (tabla) as the surface, they pour water and soap over the clothes, using a stone (piedra) as a scrubber against the wood. I was amazed. As a joke they handed me some clothes to wash, so I went along with it and went to work on a shirt. And oh did they get a kick out of watching me struggle. The home visit turned into 25 Q'eqchi'-speaking Guatemalan women teaching me the proper way to wash a shirt using a door, a stone, and rainwater. I got it down, though.

I told them I would help them with their project, but made sure to explain that we would have to earn the money to buy the pilas together, and that it might take a while. I'm going to look into resources for getting some funds for the pilas. Because really, they're not asking for much.

They also decided that next week they'd also teach me how to make tortillas, since a girl who can't wash a shirt surely can't make a good tortilla (which I can't). And I'm going to show them how to make rice-crispy treats. I hope I can keep this group going, it could be a really good thing. After just one morning in their village I feel more accepted by these women than anybody here in Campur. One of the women even invited me to her son's birthday party tomorrow. That's the first invite I've gotten since getting to site.

Tomorrow I'm heading out to Coban for my welcome party. The rest of the volunteers in Alta/Baja Verapaz are throwing us newbies a party in San Cristobal. I'm excited to meet the rest of the volunteers from this area and have a night to relax and speak in English for a while. It'll also be really nice to have a beer or two since it's impossible for me to drink in-site--if I was seen buying alcohol, which I would be if I bought any, I could ruin my reputation here…women don't drink in this culture, and the Evangelicals don't, either. It's really hasn't been a problem, but I do miss the freedom of having a glass of wine with dinner. Anyways, it'll be nice to get away this weekend, get some good Coban grub, and meet some fellow PCV's.

Tonight, however, it'll just be me, my hammock, a big bowl of stove-top popcorn, and a good book.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pomp and Circumstance

Today my volunteer friend Sabiha came out to Campur with the director of an NGO she works with. He told her that they were going to have a meeting with the Campur branch, and that I was formally invited, being the volunteer here. Happy to have something to fill my schedule with, I met with them early this morning at the Catholic church, where our "meeting" would take place. He took us on a tour of the NGO, which is a computer-literacy program that certifies students in computer skills like Microsoft Office and typing. He also introduced us to several teachers and the director of the program. After the tour he led us to the church, where the mass was beginning. On our way in, he handed us the "program." Turns out that the mass was just the beginning of the graduation ceremony for the '09-10 computer training class. And Sabiha and I, believe it or not, were masters of ceremony. Not only were we listed on the program as speakers, but we were also handing out diplomas. So there we sat, up on the stage, with the Priest, the director of the NGO, and the Superintendent of the schools. I gave my speech (which I had scribbled down on scrap paper during the hour-long mass…thank God…literally), and then struggled through my batch of diplomas. By the time the ceremony was coming to a close, it was 1 o'clock…and then they brought out the food. I had to leave…I had a charla to give at one of my schools at 2, and I refuse to be late (and I was ready to get outta there). So I said my apologies to the director and left. It's a big, BIG disrespect to turn down food here. But I really didn't have much of a choice…it's not like I could take the turkey soup to go. The steaming hot turkey soup, mind you, that they were serving to a sweating crowd of people inside a church that was about 120 degrees. And hey, if they're going to give me 5 minutes warning of my premier as the Gringa-guest-of-honor at their ceremony, then I'm going to skip out on lunch. Sometimes it's just impossible to be culturally sensitive ALL of the time. It's impossible to please everyone.

On a side note, I heard the Guatemalan national anthem for the first time at the ceremony today. It is the longest national anthem ever. Seriously it's at least 10 minutes long, at least.

Dear Liz

Happy Birthday, Lizzy!

You know at birthday parties here they sing the birthday song in English? It's really funny. Appy beerthday to you, appy beerthday to you…

Love you!
Hannah

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dear Mike

Dear Mike,

I'm bored. So so bored. Classes weren't in session last week due to exams, and they won't be back in session until Wednesday. So I haven't had anything to do. Nothing. And I don't have any friends. So nobody to talk to. Nobody. Just me, myself, and I. I read the Joy of Cooking. I borrowed it from my sitemate. You know how many pages that thing is? Like 850. I read it…cover to cover. Even the recipes for brain.
I just keep telling myself that I'm lucky to have all this time on my hands. Like you said, right? At least I don't have any term papers to write..
I miss writing term papers.
I miss you.

Lytm,
Hannah

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mail

I've had some of you ask about sending me mail; I have a P.O. box now near my site, so now you can send mail directly to me:

Hannah Gdalman
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 66
Coban, Alta Verapaz 16001
Guatemala, Centro America

Send me letters!!!

And for those of you who wanna send me packages (please don't feel obligated), here is a short list of things I would love from the States..just no FedEx/DHL/UPS please, they'll charge me a ton in taxes when I claim it.

Hannah's Wishlist (in no particular order):

1. Almond butter!
2. DVD's (anything and everything…crappy American TV shows will be appreciated…as will Yoga DVD's, movies, etc.)
3. Dark Chocolate Peanut M&M's
4. Cliff Bars/Luna Bars
5. Trader Joe's Honey Sesame Almonds
6. Used Books/Magazines
7. Good inky pens

And if you really wanna be awesome, I can always use prizes for my students: pencils, pens, notebooks, little notepads, index cards, books/magazines in Spanish, easy books/magazines in English.

xoxo,
Hannah

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dear Mike

Dear Mike,

Happy Birthday!

xoxo,
Hannah

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Another Wednesday

Market day again. I'm beginning to dread market days. I can't avoid them, since it's the only chance I get to buy my food for the week. And it's a good time to run into people in the community. But it's overwhelming, to say the least. The "Gringa," and "Cancha" ("blondey", "whitey") comments increase exponentially on Market Days since so many people from neighboring communities come in to buy and sell things. On a normal day, I can walk down my street and most people know who I am and what I'm doing here…probably also my name, where I live, my favorite color… But on market days I'm not always recognized. And therefore I create a bit of a scene.

So I've made it a habit of trying to buy all of my essentials quickly, and then get out. One plus of market day: street food vendors. On the way home I always stop and lunch on my favorite: Tayuyos and Empanadas de banano…tortillas stuffed with spicy black beans, fresh off the griddle, and banana-bread-balls, deep-fried, coated in sugar (kinda like banana donuts). Mm.

This afternoon I hiked up to Tzibol for my first women's group meeting. I got there about 5 before 1pm, the time our meeting was supposed to start. But this is Guatemala. I got to the church to find it locked up, nobody in sight. Luckily I managed to track down one of the few women who can speak Spanish, and who magically had the key to the church. She let me in, and then left, telling me that she'd be right back with everybody. Twenty minutes later, she was back, telling me we're meeting everybody at the school, instead. So we walk to the school. Which was locked. She left again, and returned with a few teachers (many of whom aren't women, either). They decide that it would be best to go back to the church to have the meeting. So we go back, sit down, and in about 20 minutes all but few of the adults from the town have convened, town-meeting style in the church. The leader of the cocode (basically the representative of the village) showed up too, got up and formally introduces me, explains my role, and then gives me the floor. Luckily one of the female teachers from the school speaks both Spanish and Q'eqchi' fluently, and translated for me. Apparently the women were under the impression that I was there to give them classes and training on certain topics, and were skeptical about how much time it would take, what would be expected of them, etc. When I tried to explain that it was really up to them what we did with our time, that I just wanted to hang out basically, maybe share some recipes, they seemed a lot more at ease. We managed to nail down a time for our women's group meetings (since apparently we hadn't done that yet), and that was that. But then the cocode got down to real business. Apparently he decided that since the whole town was convened, anyways, he might as well address some issues. In Q'eqchi'. For 2 hours. During which it rained. On my clothes, which have been now hanging out on the line for 3 days.

But home at last, in dry clothes. Tonight's menu: Bean Chili and Cornbread muffins. Thank GOD for my pressure cooker, or I would never eat. I never realized how much of a luxury it was to open a can of beans, a can of tomatoes, and throw it all in a pot. I'm not complaining…cooking has been a great thing…it's not like I don't have the time, it just takes a lot more preparation and foresight to get dinner on the table.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Poco a poco

Life is moving along here. My schedule is slowly but surely picking up…I'm teaching/observing every afternoon, and I'm going to be teaching English at 2 of my schools, twice a week. The director of the local institute also asked me to help put together the library; the previous volunteer managed to get a bunch of books donated and dropped off, which are now just sitting in piles in a locked room. So I'll be the librarian a few mornings a week. I've started running most mornings, too, which has been really nice. My knee is holding up well, despite the rough terrain.

Today I taught my very first charla ("talk") all by myself…I've been given Berta's Primero class due to scheduling problems (honestly I think she lied about her sudden schedule change so I'd have no choice but to take her class…I only let it happen because I'm desperate for something to do). It still throws me for a loop the way students are trained to learn here. I wanted to get to know the class better, so I brought them all an index card, and asked them to list some basic information: their names, gender, age, number of people in their family (living with them), favorite hobby, future plans, and a question for me. I even drew an example index card on the board, listing each piece of information I wanted. It took these kids 20 of the 35 minutes in our class period to finish what I planned would take less than 5. And it wasn't that they weren't on task. It just took them forever to consider each question and come up with the answer. It was frustrating, because at first I thought it was my fault, that I had written something in bad Spanish or hadn't explained it properly. But it wasn't that. They are fed everything by their teachers; learning is by rote, they are told what to write down in their notebooks word for word. So when I come in and ask them to write their own answers, it's difficult. They can do it (they all eventually turned in completed cards), it just takes them a lot more to do it. Definitely something I'll be keeping in mind when planning my lessons.

Teacher workshop tomorrow. My site mate invited me to attend the workshop he'd planned if I'd agree to do a few dinamicas with the teachers to keep the energy up (it's like a 6 hour workshop). He's also giving me some time in the schedule to give a short talk about starting a local women's group (basically I'm going to beg for friends haha). Can't believe it's already the end of the week…it's Feria in Coban this weekend so I'll probably spend the day there on Saturday. Then Sunday it's soccer with the teachers. Next week there's no class due to exams, so I'll have a week to twiddle my thumbs. I'll use the time to work on my Q'eqchi'.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dear Mike

Dear Mike,

Good day today. Enjoying the simple things. Took the trip into Coban today to go shopping with Sabiha and Jenia. It's a long trip. Especially for groceries. And internet. On the ride home, though, I saw the most beautiful rainbow I've ever seen. It looked fake, to be honest. A huge arch, touching the ground on both sides, vidid colors…amazing. I came home and, thanks to my shopping trip, made myself a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, on wheat sandwich bread, cut down the middle diagonally. It was the best pbj I've had in a long, long time. The little things, you know? Even if it's just for peanut-butter, yogurt, and Facebook, I'll keep making that trip. It'll get easier.

Enjoy the studio.

Miss you.
xoxo
Hannah

One week down

One week down…I survived. Read a whole book, got my house together, and visited all my schools. I'm slowly learning the lay of the land…no friends yet, though. I've been hanging around Olga's shop downstairs a lot…she's fun to talk to. Otherwise, poco a poco. I'm just gonna have to be patient. And get used to some quality Hannah time.

This afternoon I went to observe again at the main institute in my aldea, and upon walking through the gates, saw 2 dozen or so students laying, covered in fake blood, on the basketball court, while other groups of students acted as rescue paramedics, issuing toilet-paper bandages and water-bottle IV drips. The rest of the student body huddled on the sidelines, uttering sobs of anguish. This was an earthquake drill. Where I come from, fire drills happened a handful of times a year, the alarm would sound, we would line up, file out, wait 10 minutes, return to class and resume the lesson. Not here. The earthquake drill was pre-planned for 3:05 pm, and the students had ample time to prepare costumes, fake blood…they even somehow had real firemen's vests and stretchers. The drill then lasted an entire hour, while the mourners mourned and the victims bled, and the paramedics assessed the damage. After an hour of this, the director of the school gathered everybody together and spoke for 20 minutes about how, being on a faultline, a major earthquake is always a risk. And that, shockingly enough, it wouldn't really happen like this drill. I guess that's one way to make kids pay attention to emergency drills.

After the drill, I went to observe Profe. Ronald's Tercero class. This was the third class I'd observed at this particular school, and so far I'm incredibly impressed. Not only have the teachers implemented our Youth Development curriculum into their schedule as a class period, but the teachers are teaching the curriculum themselves, without help from a volunteer. In Ronald's class today he taught a lesson on ways to say no to sexual pressure. He even incorporated me into the lesson, asking me to act as a judge for an activity they did. It was really incredibly inspiring to see a Guatemalan teacher take the reigns of the lesson and encourage an open dialogue about something as taboo as premarital sex, sexual pressure, gender roles, etc. It also made me start to worry about my role here. I'm second generation, so I'm supposed to be working more with the teachers and parents. But at this particular school, the teachers are already teaching our material, and doing so well, and parents, well, that will be a challenge. I guess I just need to take it one step at a time. I know my role will develop with time, and that the community needs to warm up to me first. But at the same time I'm anxious to get started and find some kind of purpose for being here. Otherwise I'm just on a really strange vacation.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday

Wednesday. What a day. Three days in site. Just like I suspected, days go by really slowly here. I like the pace of life here, though. It's relatively relaxed, and people are really social. My days start early with the sun, and end early. Wednesday is market day here, and so I walked down to get some much needed housewares and food. It's amazing how the aldea transforms on market day. There's all sorts of vendors and food carts all along the main road, and the market building itself is huge, and stocked with all sorts of things. I tried to chat with each of the vendors, although some were more willing to talk than others. The women I bought kitchen towels from, Erlinda, was particularly friendly, as was the woman selling bananas. With adults here, I get one of two reactions: recognition and friendliness (Oh! You're the new Kelsey! Where are you from?) or skepticism/confusion.

Example: I wanted to buy tortillas last night for my dinner of protemás (it's Guatemalan dehydrated tofu they sell everywhere…it's actually pretty good if you season the hell out of it) so I went across the road to a little vendor I thought might be able to tell me where to go. I walked in, and the owner women shot me this look of "What the hell are you doing here." I asked her if she sold tortillas or knew where I might find some. She said no, and went back to her conversation. As I turned to leave, her daughter asked me if I wanted the tortillas right then, and if I played soccer. I told her yes, to both things, and she kindly explained that 6 o clock is much to early for tortillas…they don't start torteando until closer to dinnertime (7 o clock). Duh. Then she invited me to play soccer with them on Sundays, and told her mom to go make me some tortillas. I told her she didn't have to, but the deal was done. Fifteen minutes later, 2 quetzals worth of fresh tortillas were dropped off at my door by the women's son.

It's the elders of this aldea that will be the hardest for me to warm up to. They just seem so skeptical. Could have to do with how weird I look to them, that I look German and Germans stole all of their land years ago and still own it all, or that they just don't trust me yet. Poco a poco. The kids, however, seem to love me. Enough to follow me around. And hang outside my apartment door. And yell things at me in Qeqchi then bust out laughing when I tell them I don't understand. Gotta love being the token foreigner in a town this small.

Went to my third school this afternoon, to observe the social studies class (they've incorporated the Peace Corps curriculum into their social studies). I'd called the director beforehand to let them know; so when I arrived, I was surprised to find out that I, in fact, was teaching the class! There must have been some sort of miscommunication on the phone earlier (phone Spanish is still hard for me…you can't read the person when you can't see them), because the teacher handed me the book and announced to the class that I was starting today! So there I was, sweaty from my 30 minute hike to the school, no books, no notes, no plans, and an hour to kill. So I pulled some ice-breakers out of my behind, and made them do an activity where they had to describe typical local dishes. It wasn't as horrible as it could have been, but it definitely was not the first impression I would have liked to make. Oh well. Then, on my walk back home, a pig chased me. I mean, I guess I shouldn't have run from a pig (can they bite?) but it came out of nowhere, and started trotting towards me, and I didn't know what to do. It ran behind me until I jumped up onto a log out of reach, while a group of kids across the road laughed their heads off at the crazy gringo on the log, running from a pig. Uy. What a Wednesday. No wonder I sleep so well here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Yo manejo, Dios me guia"

The driver of the Campur line today had that quote hanging on his rearview mirror, over a crucifix. "I drive, God guides me." Honestly, I can't think of anything more appropriate to be hanging from a Guatemalan micro driver's rearview mirror. Often on Chicken buses I see people cross themselves when they get on, and again when they get off at their destination. My host mother is a big advocate of this practice. I don't blame them. I don't think I've taken a road trip here in country during which I didn't feel close to death at least once. Road rules don't exist here. Passing blindly is commonplace, and chuchos act as orange cones that one is expected to dodge around obstacle-course style. Those yellow lane lines? Merely decoration, it seems. The fact that I'm alive does say something. While to me Guatemalans are the worst drivers in the entire world, they do somehow create order out of chaos. The majority continue to make it to their destinations alive. But man, "yo manejo, Dios me guia" pretty much says it all.

At the end of the tearful goodbyes with my host family this morning, I told my host mom that I would call her when I arrived in Campur. She responded, naturally, "Only if God wills it." Not "Okay, have a safe trip." But instead, "if you die en route and don't call me, it'll be because God willed it. Bye!" I drive, God guides me…can't put it much better than that.

But here I am, in one piece, safe and sound in my site. It was indeed an exhausting journey. The private shuttle bus driver was an hour late, and some hungover guy from Orange County was puking out the back window. Ugh. I understand the precautions that we have to take after the bus station bomb scare a few weeks ago, but it seems so ridiculous to me to pay more than double what the Monja Blanca coach bus would have cost to ride in a crappy, cramped, vomit-scented tourist shuttle.

Nevertheless, I'm here, and ready to start. This week I'm going to focus on getting my house together and visit each of my schools. Next week I'll hope to meet with my directors and nail down some kind of plan. Until market day on Wednesday, I have no food. It looks like I'll be eating at Dona Ines' comedor this week.

Goodnight all!
Hannah

Friday, July 16, 2010

I'm official!

Dear Mom and Dad,

I'm official! Today marks the end of an incredibly long and difficult application and training process. It's pretty surreal, actually. 18 months ago I submitted my Peace Corps application online. And today I stood in front of the U.S. Ambassador, raised my right hand, and took my oath. Today I start my service. Today the 2 year clock started ticking. There's just no way I'm not giving this my all. I owe it to myself.

It was a beautiful ceremony…my host mother came to watch, all dressed up in her Sunday best. I got a ton of compliments on my new dress, which I think made her really happy. I'm going back to the house on Sunday morning before I leave to say my final goodbyes, so no need for tearful farewells today.

In Antigua at the moment, celebrating our emancipation from training and our transition into real volunteer-dom. For the first time since getting here, I feel like a tourist…staying in a hostel, eating overpriced food…I guess I better enjoy it while it lasts, yeh? On Sunday morning I'm off to my site for good, to settle in, start working, and hope for the best. No doubt it will be a challenging first few weeks. Many volunteers I've met say the first 3 months can be hell. But once you get past that hump, it's uphill from there. So here I go..

Love,
Hannah

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Eve of Swear-in

Tomorrow is the big day. Life has been full of despedidas (good-bye parties), last minute paperwork, and many emotions. My host mother took me to Antigua today to pick up the dress she had picked out and bought for me to wear at the ceremony tomorrow. It's all too much.
I remember when I got here, how slowly time passed, and now it seems like it's flying. But when I look back on training, I've changed bastante.

In the last 3 months I've...

moved up 2 levels in Spanish

eaten chicken and beef (first time in over 11 years!)

lost 5 lbs

grown out my bangs

gotten a farmers' tan

made 4 really great friends, and many others

gotten the most sleep per night since summer vacation circa 7th grade

gotten used to riding on chicken buses

learned to tortear

been inspired by many wonderful people, volunteers, trainees, Guatemalans, family and friends.

...I want to thank you all back home for your continuing support through my training. I'm going to need it in these next few months. I love and miss you all.

Hannah


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Back to Bartolo

Just got back from my 4-day site visit…not as exhausted from the travel as expected. It's about 7 hours by bus between my site and my training town. It could be worse. And I won't really need to come bck here that often once I swear in next week (official swear-in countdown: 6 days).

Overall, it was a good site visit, although short. I feel like it was just a tiny taste of what my life will be like for the next 24 months. A few of the Alta Verapaz volunteers who I met at the 4th of July party told me that Alta is like a whole different country. I didn't really take that seriously until now. My journal entry from last night:

I'm at my site now, without power for the 4th night in a row. It's really hot here…like tropical hot. And it rains every day, for at least an hour or so. The rain is welcome, though, in this heat. The people have been really kind to me so far…I'm the third Peace Corps volunteer to be placed here, so they're more or less used to having a gringo roaming around the aldea...the kids especially are super curious, and aren't afraid to ask me all sorts of questions. Today was the first day that I didn't really have anything planned…I busied myself unpacking and cleaning my new place (which is nice, especially by local living standards). This afternoon a few women teachers I met the other night stopped by to ask me to play soccer with them. I went (they honestly could have asked me to go slaughter turkeys with them and I would have gone…I need all the invitations and all the friends I can get at this point) and we played a pick-up game in the rain. It was actually pretty fun. They speak in Kekchi about half of the time, and the other half in Spanish (sometimes they'll switch to Kekchi and talk about me...although there's no way to know yet).
Tonight was my first night alone in the apartment since my roomates went home for the weekend. Despite the rain and a lack of appetite, I went back to Dona Ines' comedor for some beans-n-eggs. I just really want to connect to a family here, and they seem really friendly. When I walked in they all said "Your first night alone! Come in! Eat!" They seem like really caring people...they really want me to learn Kekchi, and quickly. I'm going to do my best, but it's pretty daunting.

There's a moth the size of a bird on my wall. Definitely bigger than any moth I've ever seen. I'm going to ignore it and go to sleep...5:30 micro to catch in the a.m.!

Overall, I think I got a good feel of the community and my site. I'm going to try to be patient and open-minded in these few few months, because I know that it will take time to integrate and really get into my role as volunteer. It's particularly hard because it's like they all already know me. I'm the gringa volunteer named Hannah who lives in Kelsey's old apartment. And I'm hard to miss. But they are all new to me, they all dress the same, talk the same, look the same (to my gringo eyes, at least) and names are hard to remember. I just hope I don't make a fool of myself or piss anybody off in my first few weeks. That would be a disaster in a community that size.

It's weird to be back in my training town...it has a different feel now that I know my home is somewhere else now. The kids jumped all over me when I got back today. I'll feel bad leaving them next week. It's hard to explain to a 3-year-old why his "aunt" is leaving yet again.

Off to buy pastries and walk around town...gotta take advantage of good tienda pastries since there won't be any of that where I'm heading!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dear Mike

Dear Mike,

Just tried your cell, you must be busy. Hope you had a great 4th of July, sorry to hear that oaoa didn't get to play. How'd the t-shirts turn out?

Tomorrow I'm off to Alta Verapaz...I'm stressing as usual. It's funny, my "DailyOm" email today was entitled "Underneath the Noise: Hearing the Whisper." It talked about how underneath all the anxious chatter of our daily worries/anxieties, there's a whisper that tells us that everything will be okay, and that if we listen hard enough, we can find reassurance in it. I'm so caught up in my nerves (you know how I get), but if I just step back and realize that it will all be okay, maybe I'll prevent myself from totally losing it. We'll see. Right now I just need to focus on getting all my stuff to my site, learning my way around, and getting as much information as possible from Kelsey before she leaves for the States on Thursday. If I can just focus on these immediate things, then I think I'll get through this in one piece. When I start to look at the bigger picture of beginning my service and everything that goes with it, that's when I really start panicking.

Hope you have a good week...don't work too hard. I'll get in touch with you as soon as I get back to San Bartolome (or before if I can). I miss you a lot...wish you were here to help me through this.

Lytm,
Hannah

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

Yesterday was the all-volunteer 4th of July party at the training center in Santa Lucia. It was really great to be able to meet all the current volunteers, especially those I'll be living near in Alta Verapaz. There was live music, grilled food…all the typical American 4th-of-July fare. But I still can't help but miss home.

Today I've been busy packing up my things for Tuesday…I hate packing, but luckily this will be my last major move before my close-of-service in 2 years. I was really nervous about getting all of my stuff up north safely on the Chicken Buses (I've heard horror stories of volunteers getting all their luggage stolen off the tops of the buses), but because of the bus-station bomb scare last week, I'll be taking a private shuttle up to my site from Antigua. I'm going with my host family to the capitol this afternoon to celebrate my host sister Flor's 27th birthday. I hope to get a good family picture of all of us to give them as a going-away gift.

Tomorrow is Counterpart Day, when I'll meet my Guatemalan counterpart who I'll be working with for the length of my service. He'll also be the one who helps me move all my stuff tomorrow up to site. I'm quite anxious about finally getting to see my site and my new home...I really have no idea what to expect. Haven't slept well in days; I'm just so worked up about packing all of my stuff, moving to a whole different part of the country, starting my work...it's a lot to handle. I just gotta get myself through these next two weeks. One day at a time.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Está volando el tiempo

Dear Mike,

Time is flying.

My training group and I did our final teacher workshop at the Instituto this afternoon. Tomorrow is the annual 4th of July party, which Peace Corps Guatemala throws at the training center in Santa Lucia. Apparently it is THE social event of the year for the volunteers here. I'm particularly excited since I'll get to meet the volunteer I'll be replacing in Campur; I hope to get a lot of information from her and my future site-mate.

I just can't believe it's already the 4th of July. As slow as training seemed at times; it's now the Eve of our site-visits and I can't seem to figure out where time has gone. Two weeks from today I'll be sworn-in as a volunteer. And then I'm off to Alta Verapaz.

I've been a nervous wreck all week and I'm pretty sure it's in anticipation for Tuesday...I'm going to see for the first time my future home and place of work for the next two years. I have no idea what it's going to be like, what to expect...quite emotionally-charging, to say the least. I haven't been sleeping well lately, which is why this sinus infection is sticking around so long. Tonight I'm going to try to get myself together, meditate a bit, pop a Dramamine, and get a good night's sleep before tomorrow. Because next week is going to be a really big week.

Something that also hasn't hit me until recently is the fact that very soon I'll be leaving my host family. This morning at breakfast my host mother told me that it will be particularly hard to see me go, especially so far away, since I'm one of the few volunteers that she's had whom she feels particularly close to. She said that it's always hard for Mario Rodrigo (the three-year-old) to see volunteers leave, and I have noticed lately that he's been particularly clingy. It surprised me to hear her express these things, partly because Guatemalans aren't necessarily the most direct of communicators, and partly because I just never really considered that I would become attached to a family in three short months. But we have exchanged a lot of good conversations, and I have gotten used to having kids running around, as exhausting it can be at times. She also gave me a shot of anti-nausea medicine in my bum that one time, too. My own mother hasn't even done that.

The more I think about it, I am approaching a huge transition...new place, new people, new language...and most of all, I'll be alone this time around. Just like I did 10 weeks ago in the States, I'm once again about to leave behind a home, a family, friends, and pack my bags and take off. It definitely won't be as hard as the first time, but it's not going to be easy. But I'll keep it together, and just take things one day at a time.

I miss you, and I'll talk to you soon. Have a great show on the 4th; I wish I could be there...say hi to the guys for me.

Also, my host sister told me today that you look just like one of the Guatemalan soap-opera stars she watches on TV everyday. You, of course, look nothing like him, except for the beard. Beards are rare here. But I thought I'd let you know that you have a Guatemalan twin in show-business.

Lytm,
Hannah

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Drumroll, please

Just got my site assignment. I don't know why I was so nervous. I tossed and turned all night.

Here's the word: they're sending me to an aldea (which I will not name for security reasons) of San Pedro Carchá in Alta Verapaz. I'll be a second generation volunteer, which means that I'm replacing a volunteer who's finishing her two years now, Kelsey. I'll be going up there next week and meeting her and my counterparts, seeing the schools I'll be working at, and hopefully getting a feel for where I'll be living and working for the next two years. The first three months of my service I'll be living in an apartment with a few other local teachers, and then I'll have the choice of looking for other living arrangements or staying there. I'll be working at three different schools, one larger one with 181 students and 11 teachers, one with 91 students and 3 teachers, and a new school of 27 students and 3 teachers. According to the packet of information that Gonzalo gave me with my assignment, my site is a small rural aldea in the larger municipality of San Pedro Carchá. It's population is totally indigenous, of the ethnic group Kekchi, which is also the predominant spoken language (although they also speak Spanish…good news for me). It's inhabitants mostly work in agriculture, growing corn, coffee, cardamon, and beans.

That's basically all information I have thus far…it will be really exciting to go out there next Tuesday and see what it's like. I've heard through a few other volunteers that it's absolutely beautiful up there; it's super-hot (which I'm happy about) and "tranquilo" (calm). Since I'll be so far north (from what I've heard it's about 6-8 hours from where I'm living now near the training center) I'll be far away from most of my friends in my training class (who are mostly in the West); but visits are always possible, and I'll have a few volunteers close by who are working on other projects, who I have yet to meet.

It's pretty surreal…now I have my site, but I have very little idea of what it all means until I go up there and see for myself. Gonzalo told us this morning before handing out our sites that it is part of our job to develop our sites…in other words, our sites, and our volunteer experience, are what we make of them. I'm anxious to meet Kelsey and get some "insider" information about the aldea.
Vamos a ver...

[Dad, if you read this...you won't find my aldea on the Guatemala map...but San Pedro Carchá is to the East of Cobán...you can see a map here.]