"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

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Dear Friends and Family,

The rain has stopped! I've never experienced such a long period of intense rainfall. It's amazing that there weren't any landslides or major issues in my town...we lost power last night, and still don't have running water (the water tanks are pumped electrically). But the rain has stopped, which I'm taking as a very good sign. I've heard that damage is pretty bad in other parts of the country, although it's been hard to find reliable news sources. The Peace Corps has us on a 72-hour alert to be safe, although I hope this is the end.

Because of the power outage, my host family and I ate dinner by candlelight last night. It was actually kind of nice...we ate boiled platanos and peanut-butter toast (the peanut-butter courtesy of my personal stash) with Atole de trigo (my favorite type of atole...it's basically cream-of-wheat in a mug) and told adivinanzas, or riddles, to pass the time. It was the first time that we all just hung out together after dinner, no dishes, no tv, just adivinanzas by candlelight. I went to bed early (for lack of anything better to do) and awoke this morning to the beautiful sound of silence--it was the first time in over 48 hours that I didn't hear the rain beating away at my tin roof. I really hope it lasts.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Dear Everyone

Dear Friends and Family,

I've already received some worried emails, and just wanted to say that I'm okay! Safe and sound. Yesterday Volcan Pacaya erupted, a volcano right outside of Antigua (so pretty close to me...and Guatemala city...apparently there's ash everywhere). All schools in my district were canceled today, and a reporter was killed by a falling burning rock (the only reported death so far); thousands have been evacuated, and many have lost their homes.

It's kind of crazy to live in a place where volcanic eruptions and tremors are commonplace...it's really nothing I've ever experienced being from the good-ole Midwest. It just amazes me that two of Guatemala's largest cities are bordered by an active volcano.

Will update--


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Just one of those days

I've always had a tendency to bottle things up inside until I reach a breaking point. And yesterday I reached that point. Training is really hard. So many small difficulties, frustrations, and doubts can really add up and create a generally stressful experience. I lost it yesterday at the training center, just totally lost it. I immediately felt better after my cry, and although embarrassed, knew that it was bound to happen. I finally got home after riding 2 chicken buses in the rain, and as usual, was bombarded by my 3-year old host nephew, who immediately barged into my room and started rummaging through my wet backpack. Today of all days, I really just wanted to be able to put my stuff down and have some alone time--by this point, clearly an impossibility. Too mentally exhausted to try to communicate my need for space to a 3-year old, I thought to myself, "What can I do with this bored kid?" So I turned on the Beatles on my laptop, turned the volume up, and started dancing. Without exchanging any words, Mario caught on and joined my dance party. And so we danced in my room to the Beatles. It was actually kind of fun.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"How much did that cost?"

...I'm SO tired of having to answer that question. Guatemalans LOVE this question. And Americans, especially this one, hate answering it. I understand that there's a cultural difference at work, but to me it's an intrusion of privacy and a great way to create an unnecessarily uncomfortable situation. But here, it's perfectly acceptable, and seemingly common to ask somebody how much they paid for something.

I face so many cultural differences on a daily basis, and for some reason, it's this question that really rubs me the wrong way. How much did I paid for the earrings I brought back from my day trip to Antigua? How much did it cost for me to fly here? How much money in dollars do my parents earn? How much did my computer cost? I have to practice so much self control to not scream back "It's none of your business!" I feel attacked by this question, mostly because of the stereotype of the rich gringos (Peace Corps volunteers, contrary to local belief, earn Quetzales, the local currency (NOT dollars), and make a VERY modest living...we are volunteers, after all). I realize that I come from a very privileged country and that here, the dollar goes a long way. But I don't need a daily reminder of this, especially when I'm here trying to do something good.

On a lighter note, I spent yesterday in Antigua with Elizabeth, a fellow trainee. It was really nice to get away from our training site for the day and enjoy the simple pleasures...cafe con leche, pay de mango a la mode, and falafel. The city is quite beautiful, and the Spanish influence is very apparent. The remains of the cathedrals and convents that were ruined in the earthquake of 1773 are really quite beautiful, as are the empty boulevards and well-kept central park. I was surprised how different Antigua seems from the rest of Guatemala (at least the Guatemala that I've experienced in the past month). It's quite touristy, therefore very few Guatemalans can afford to live there. Thus it's heavily populated with Gringos from the U.S., Germany, etc., and the prices of goods reflect that. I'm glad I got to experience it, though, and it will definitely be a great spot to get away and enjoy a few American pleasures. The nearby volcan de agua is a must-see, as well.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dear Greg

Dear Greg Mortenson,

This week I've been reading your wonderful book "Three Cups of Tea," and I wanted to thank you for sharing your story and your message. I'm finding so many parallels between your personal discoveries during your time working in Korphe and beyond to my experience here in Guatemala. In chapter 12, you wrote:

"We Americans thing you have to accomplish everything quickly. We're the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills...Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with that I could ever hope to imagine."

In so many ways I'm finding it quite difficult to break out of my American habits and comfort zone and find the patience and flexibility I need to make my time here worthwhile. What you experienced in Korphe is exactly what the Peace Corps is all about--forming relationships and facilitating change, as slow as that change may seem. Reading about your struggles has really put everything here in perspective, and for that, I thank you!


Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Today we took a trip to Magdalena, a village outside of Santa Lucia (where the PC training center is located) to learn how to make fresh jalea, or jam. It really brought me back to when we used to jar jams together--it's such a process but the results are definitely worth it--and in my opinion, it's quite therapeutic. We made strawberry jam from 8 lbs of beautifully ripe strawberries (on a wood-burning stove no less!)...we only had to add a small amount of sugar. Between the preparation, stirring the cooking berries for 2 hours, sterilizing the jars, and finally canning the finished product, it took the entire morning. But it was SO worth it.

I'm really enjoying the work that goes into the food here...nothing is quick, and that's okay by me. Beans are made from dried beans (versus opening a can), juice is made from fresh fruit, and tortillas are made fresh daily next door (my Dona doesn't normally "tortear" herself, but she knows how and I can't wait to learn how!)

It's all making me excited about cooking for myself and learning the Guatemalan ways of making things. And when you come visit, we'll make jam together!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Guicoy bread

Today was Sunday, always a great day because it's our only day off...no classes or planned training activities. It's really been a struggle for me to go from living a fairly independent lifestyle to having no independence whatsoever. So Sundays are nice. I got up early, took a run up the mountain, and after breakfast took the short bus trip into San Lucas to go to the supermercado, where I bought a few things I can't buy here in my village (baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, measuring cups). I enjoyed a Cortado at a European-style cafe before riding the bus back home.

After attending a baby shower in the afternoon, I went about making Guicoy bread with my host sister Flor. A traditional Mayan vegetable, I recently discovered Guicoy is simply weirdly-shaped zucchini. So I got the idea to make zucchini bread for my host family, using Guicoy instead. Their oven doesn't work (which they didn't tell me until after I had made the dough, of course) so I had to use their tiny toaster oven. It took forever, but my loaves rose and cooked through, and they tasted like home! We had eaten late at the baby shower, so Dona Eva, Flor and I ate Guicoy Bread and hot milk for dinner. It was delightful. I already have requests for Banana Bread and Carrot Cake.

Once in my site, I'd really like to start up some kind of baking collective. I think it would be a great way to bring people (especially local women) together.

All in all, today was a good day. Hope that the relative freedom I had today will last me out this week.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dear Liz

Dear Liz,

Thought I'd answer your question personally. It's hard to say exactly what I'll be doing quite yet. The basis of my project, Youth Development, is working with 13-15 year olds and their teachers and teaching about topics that don't get talked about in schools here (sex ed, HIV/Aids prevention, self-esteem, communication, relationships, career planning, etc.). The two volunteers that I've gotten a chance to speak with say that the curriculum is really effective, and the kids are really benefiting from it. Besides this main project, however, it falls on me to develop my own side projects (which will also depend a lot on the actual needs of the community I'm placed in). So I guess I can't say what I'll be doing.

How are you guys doing out there in Indy? I miss you chica!!

Write soon,

85 books

Today we rode out to San Martin to visit a current Youth Development volunteer working in a small rural village outside of Estancia de la Virgen. It was really great to see how a real-life volunteer lives and spends her days. She's near the end of her service, so one of us will be replacing her in late July. Unlike most volunteers, she chose to stay living with her host family for the entirety of her service, although she has her own space with a kitchenette and such. She works at 3 different middle schools in the area (all about 30-45 minute walks from her house) and leads some smaller local projects (English classes and a Women's Circle). She walked us through a week in her life, and while she has a set schedule, she does still have quite a bit of free time, especially based on American standards. She's read 85 books, written a book, and done a lot of "self-reflection."

Honestly, though, I think I could really do well in her shoes. I'm okay with the idea of having some time to myself, especially seeing that for the rest of my adult life, I'll most likely be working 40 hour weeks. And they emphasize a lot here that the human relationships that you form during service are really significant, sometimes more so than the work you do. Being a bit of an invert, this will be a challenge for me--a welcome challenge, however.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

200 books

During a training session yesterday, our training officer told us about a volunteer whom he had recently met at a COS (Close of Service) conference. Apparently the volunteer claimed that his biggest accomplishment during his service was reading 200 books, front to back. Apparently this guy spent his days in a hammock in his house, reading. The training director used this as an example of why volunteers must display a certain amount of initiative in order to have a worthwhile term of service. I guess it just struck me that in a few weeks, I'll be placed somewhere out there in rural Guatemala with no schedule, nobody looking over my shoulder, nothing. If I wanted to lay in a hammock all day and read John Grisham novels, I guess I could. Training is so structured and organized...we're told when to be where, what to study, who to live with, what to eat, etc. But service is going to be so different. Part of me is very excited about the freedom I'll have, but another part of me is terrified that I won't be able to put forth enough initiative to really make use of my time in country. Working in such an unstructured environment is going to be a big learning opportunity for me. Like everything else here, I'll just have to take it day by day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dear Domini

Dear Domini,

I ate some chicken.

I thought that of all people, you would want to hear this news.

My family doesn't eat much meat, and I already told them that I've been a vegetarian for some years. But chicken pops up now and again, as it did at dinner the other night. And I decided that at least while I'm living with host families, I'll do my best to eat what they give me.

But I seriously did NOT know how to eat this chicken. I think it was a leg, or part of one. Definitely dark meat. And it had been boiled. I watched the others at the table (usually I only get a spoon or a fork at meals...no knife) to see what to do. They all kind of gnawed away at the chicken, and so I tried to do the same. To much ado. I could NOT eat this chicken. I couldn't get through the layer of fat to the meat, and I eventually stopped trying. I felt quite stupid, honestly. Maybe next time my host mom will cut it off the bone for me (something that she doesn't even need to do for the 1 year old). Because there it sat on my plate, slightly chewed at, but none eaten. Very sad. I am a failed carnivore.

Decide on grad school yet?


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mothers Day

Dear Mom, Grandma Mary, and Grandma Kay,

Happy Mother's Day!!
Wish I could be there celebrating with all of you!

Here, Mother's Day is always the 10th, and it's quite the occasion for celebration. There have been parties going on since Friday. I made cards for my host mom and my host sister (since she's a mom, as well!).

I hope you'll accept this blog post in place of a card.
I hope you have time to garden, relax, and enjoy your day! I miss and love you all.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

San Bartolome

Today was Saturday, so we were done with Spanish training by noon. After lunch, I decided to hike up to the park in our town...it's a breathtaking view of San Bartolome from up there. As I was laying up there in the sun, watching the kids play futbol and looking out into the mountains, it finally hit me that I'm HERE, in Guatemala, doing PEACE CORPS. Something about that moment really struck me. I'm never going to stop missing home. But I also know that I'm extremely fortunate to have this place to call home for the next 26 months.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dear Emily

E He!!

Thanks for your email! I have a feeling that the Guatemala I'm experiencing now during training is verrry different from the Guatemala you experienced last summer. PC keeps us on a pretty tight leash during training, both because training is so intensive and time-consuming, as well as for safety reasons. So traveling to the big cities and bar-going are pretty much out of the question for me until I've gotten through these next 11 weeks of training. We've been instructed to strictly avoid all street food (they say it's quite unsanitary), but I'll take your word for it and give some a try once I get a chance. Can't travel somewhere and not eat the street food, right?

I'm hoping to get to Antigua soon to see the city (and buy a cell phone!) and eat some good food. I've only been to the capitol on a short day trip, so I didn't see much. I've heard pretty scary things about how dangerous it can be, though.

Where exactly were you staying when you were here? How was your family? Mine is quite amable, although the 3-year-old can be a handful at times.

I'd love to hear suggestions for travel, and if you do end up visiting, we should travel somewhere together! Once I'm an official volunteer in July, I'd love to get to see more of this beautiful country!

Say hi to the big apple for me.

Ciao chica,

A new friend

I made a friend! I was feeling much better yesterday so I decided to go sit in el centro after class, on the stone steps in front of the basketball courts. As I was sitting there reading my book, Cynthia, my new friend, approached me and asked me why I was wearing such ugly sandals (not in those words, of course, but I'm quickly learning how to translate the Guatemalan tendency towards indirectness). She asked me about the book I was reading and told me a little bit about her family. I gave her some of my Gatorade (or Gator, here).
...Cynthia is four years old. My only friend is a four-year-old.
Teenagers (younger ones especially) laugh at me in the streets--I don't really take offense to it but it is a bit strange to be so clearly funny-looking. Adults generally avoid me unless they're relatives of my host family (which luckily is quite likely in this town). Only four-year-olds have the curiosity plus the lack of inhibition to approach the gringa with the weird sandals. But hey, poco a poco...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sick day

Dear Mom,

Why is it that even though I'm 23 years old, whenever I get sick away from home all I want is my Mommy? Haha. Welll, sunday night, after getting back from Guatemala City with my host sister and co., I got sick. Realll sick. Diarrhea and GI issues are number 1 on the Peace Corps' list of volunteer medical problems, so I guess I can't be that surprised. But damn, I can't remember a stomach flu or food poisoning that measured up to this. I was up all night, and on Monday morning called the Peace Corps medical staff. They talked to my host mom, too, who's apparently a nurse. She gave me a shot of Dramamine in my rear...wasn't fun, but made me feel better and let me sleep through most of the day. I'm still on a toast/boiled potato diet and am pushing the Gatorade to avoid serious dehydration. I'm sure this won't be the last time either. Food/water contamination here is an everyday reality. Here they have something called "La mala de mayo," since during May the rains begin, and wash down all sorts of contamination from farms, etc., into the living areas. So during the month of May particularly there's a much higher risk of water/food contamination, and people get sick.

I'm still quite weak, and my senora is quite concerned with how "delgadita," or thin I am. But poco a poco I'm feeling better and hoping to be back to my normal self soon.

Love you,


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Day by Day

...This has become my personal motto and mantra. It’s sometimes so hard to remove myself from the big scary calendar of this all and look critically at my experience as it’s happening now. Training is mentally exhausting; the past few days have been filled with meeting after meeting about cultural norms, dress code, conduct code, medical precautions, safety precautions, etc. And through all of it, Peace Corps directors keep telling us to question ourselves if we’re here for the right reasons, if we really want to be here, if we can commit ourselves completely to service…it’s overwhelming to say the least.
It’s just so refreshing when I leave the training center and return to my family’s house. I think it’s because they are the ONLY people here that send me the message that yes, I should be here, that I’m doing something good, and that this will prove to be great experience.

Dear Randall

Dear Randall,

Thanks for your chat in Atlanta…I was pretty messed up that night. Staging has been my least favorite part of this experience thus far...when I arrived here I talked to a current volunteer who told me that staging is often quite stressful because Washington (who’s in charge of staging) has very outdated information and has a tendency to freak volunteers out before getting on the plane to come here (nice, huh). Hence my nervous breakdown in Atlanta. Since arriving it’s been a lot better, although I miss everybody back home a lot. I expect these next few months to fly by though; the training schedule basically has us busy for 44 hours a week for the next 11 weeks, in Spanish/Mayan language training classes, working in my community’s school (I haven’t started this yet but I am very excited to get started!), and taking trips to visit current volunteers at their sites. I hope all is well in Chicago…keep in touch, friend!


Dear Mike

Dear Mike,

I miss you!

Today my host sister and husband are taking me and the kids to the zoo in Guate City.

And guess who I met? Remember when I was telling you about the plastic bottle-school project? The girl who started that program, Laura, is still here working as a third-year volunteer. She came to the training center on Thursday to greet us. She’s a Youth Development Volunteer, like I will be, so she will be working closely with my training group in the next couple of weeks. I really hope to get to talk with her more and find out how I might get involved with the bottle-school project.

I miss you too much.



Dear Emma

Dear Emma,

Greetings from San Bartolome, Guatemala! I thought of you yesterday… I was watching TV at my host family’s relatives’ house (my “cousins” house) and an informercial came on in Spanish for the EasyWave oven (or whatever it's called). You should definitely consider making those 2 easy payments of $19.99.

Also thought you’d like to know, you won’t have to worry about being the pale sister this Thanksgiving. There are only two seasons in Guatemala, invierno, or winter (the rainy season) and verano, or summer, the dry season. Winter starts in June and runs through October, and then it’s summer for the rest of the year. So right now we get a few hours of sunlight, and then it rains. Everyday. And gets freakin’ cold at night (especially since I’m so far up in the mountains). Once training is over and I am allowed to travel, I plan on hopefully going to the coast to find a beach or two. Thought you’d be happy to hear that.



Dear Mom and Dad

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m here in Guatemala, safe and sound. I moved into my training host family (I’ll be here until I swear in towards the end of July and the 2-year clock starts). My family is extremely kind. I live with an older widow, Evangelina (or Eva) and her 26-year-old daughter Flores, Flores’ husband Mario, and their two young children Mario (3 years old) and a baby girl who will soon be turning 1.

Like the general Guatemalan population, my family is very conservative Catholic family, although the daughter and her husband are of a more progressive generation. I address my host mother using the “usted” form, which is the more formal form of Spanish, and the way that children address their parents. Flores and her husband, however, told me today at breakfast that they like to use the more informal “tu” form, and that I was welcome to do the same. It’s amazing how open and welcoming these families are; Flores already addresses me as hermana, or sister, and her son calls me Tia, or Aunt Hannah.

Mario’s birthday is coming up, so today we are all going to the zoo in Guate City. We are taking a taxi for my benefit, since the Peace Corps requires that I never use public transport to the capitol (bus hijacks and robberies are quite common and thus dangerous…the locals still use the buses though).

It’s been only 4 days since I arrived in Guatemala, but it seems like it’s been much longer. I’ve had so much information thrown at me during PC training sessions, and so much to get used to…the food here is good, and like I was told, mostly vegetarian. Food is served in much smaller portions than I’m accustomed to seeing in the States, but being the “Gringa,” I have been receiving extra-large portions, and only purified water or juice.

I’ve been waking up with bites all over my body…I don’t know yet what’s biting me. The rainy season isn’t in full swing yet so there really aren’t many mosquitoes (although I’ve already begun my anti-malarial drugs as instructed by the PC Medical Staff). I’m thinking bed bugs, which is nothing I haven’t dealt with before. I’m lucky as my house has a more modern bathroom, with a flush toilet, a sink, and a cement shower (no hot water, but at least it’s a shower). My bedroom is also nicer than I expected…and the family gave me a lock so I could lock up my valuables out of reach from the little ones (this being an extremely collective society there are different norms when it comes to ownership and personal belongings…so kids especially don’t understand the boundaries of “this is mine” and “that is yours.”)

My Spanish is coming back very quickly, and I’m picking up new words and phrases everyday from my host family (Flores especially is great about correcting me). I showed the family photos of you all last night after dinner…they said I have a beautiful family. They all have a hard time believing me when I tell them that my family and boyfriend “allowed” me to come here and do this. Just as I’m amazed by the level of collectivism here, they have trouble understanding American individualism, and how families could live so separately. This is truly a beautiful country; I can’t wait for you to see it.