"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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dear Mike

Dear Mike,

Nerves nerves nerves. At 8am tomorrow morning we find out our site placements...the place I'll be spending the next two years of my life. I don't know if I'll be able to sleep at all tonight. It's like Christmas when I was young...the anticipation is wrenching. Wish me luck...will post tomorrow and let you know where I'm going.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dreary Days

Ever since I got back from my site visit, it's been super dreary here in San Bartolo. Cold, rainy, and windy…apparently there's another storm passing through. I get homesick when it rains here. It rains everyday, of course, but I mean when it really rains, like all day and night, cloudy-gray-full-of-rain-day rain. Those are the days I find myself missing the comforts of home.

So nervous about my site placement I could scream. 8 am Thursday morning Gonzalo is going to come into our town to hand out our assignments. The nervous energy is palpable. I visited Gonzalo at the office today to express a few last-minute concerns, and he finally gave me the piece of mind that my site is a hot one (I had basically begged him not to place me in a cold mountain region…I don't do well in the cold especially where indoor heating doesn't exist.) So that's all I know. My site is warm. The rest of the details I'll just have to wait until Thursday.

On another note, we had our out-of-site activity yesterday; we were all dreading it, and agreed that if it wasn't a requirement, we wouldn't have done anything. We have no place here in our training community; we're barely here between classes and travels, and we definitely haven't earned the "confianza" of the students or teachers in the school in the few short weeks we've been here working. Thus organizing an out-of-school activity for the youth seemed pretty futile, and honestly quite forced. Nevertheless we decided to have a free showing of Pixar's Wall-E, and ask that the guests pick-up and bring 5 pieces of litter from the streets (a bit of an environmental theme.) Garbage is a real problem here; culturally it's completely acceptable to throw trash in the streets or dump it off the side of the highways. Public garbage cans, where they exist, aren't used. Recycling is basically obsolete unless in larger cities. So we liked the idea of spreading a positive environmental message.

But alas, the day of the showing came and we were pretty worried that nobody would show up. We had talked previously to the mayor, who had agreed to lend us a room in the municipal building, as well as the muni's projector and screen to play the DVD. We hung some flyers in the school hoping that kids would jump at the chance to see a movie on their day off from school. When 3pm rolled around and not a soul had come, we started getting worried. That's when the muni police saved the day. The muni police, whose post is right next door to the room we were patiently waiting with our movie and snacks, must have taken pity on us, because they agreed to make a town-wide announcement (they have a loudspeaker that basically blares announcements to the entire town from time to time) summoning people to come see our "family-friendly" movie, and then proceeded to stand outside ushering passerby kids into our showing. Midway through the film, we had filled the room. It was in no way the policemen's responsibility to help us out, and we of course thanked them dearly. I guess it just shows that you never know who's going to come out of the woodwork to help out a poor gringo trying to do some good. We're going to bake a batch of brownies to thank them for their efforts.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dear Mike

Dear Mike,

Just got back yesterday from my site visit to Amanda's aldea (she's the volunteer who I might be replacing). It's only about a 2-hour bus trip from where I'm living now, but it's amazing the difference. The climate is totally different (she's at a much lower altitude so it's super warm), the people are mostly indigenous (they still wear traditional Mayan dress and speak in a Mayan dialect), and it's a lot less developed. If it does end up that I'm assigned to her site (in which case I'll be totally elated), she's already got some great projects up and running that I'd be able to come in and continue to build upon…she's got this great women's group that I met on Wednesday night that are really interested in the possibility of exporting some of their hand-made weaving to the U.S., and of course she already has relationships with 3 local schools where I would be working and teaching the Youth Development curriculum.

These last 4 days have really been the best part of training for me…I really got a sense of what I'll be doing for the next 2 years, what sorts of projects I'd like to pursue, what kind of image I want to portray in my site. We've visited several volunteer-sites now, but upon visiting Amanda's I immediately knew that I wanted to live there. There was this vibe that I immediately sensed and felt like "Ok, this is what I want my Peace Corps Guatemala experience to be like." And so now I just wait until Thursday to get my site assignment. I hate to get my hopes up too high, but honestly I can't help it. This past week all I've been thinking about and dreaming about is my site placement. It's a pretty big deal to let somebody else determine where I'll be spending the next 2 years of my life, with whom I'll be spending them with, and what kind of work opportunities I'll have. I don't now whether I'm more excited or nervous at this point. All I know is that Thursday seems light-years away.

Also on my visit I almost saw a cow give birth! Amanda rents a room from a family in the aldea, and the family have several chickens and a cow. Now this cow was SUPER pregnant when we got there on Wednesday night, and we were hoping that she'd give birth sometime that night or the next day so we could witness it. But she gave birth sometime during the day on Friday but she was up in the field where they take her to graze and we weren't around. But the family brought them back so we could meet the new-born, who was the sweetest thing. So so gentle. Did you know cows had 9-month long pregnancies just like humans? I had no idea.

I miss you every day. Hope life is good. Lytm.


Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

Mario loved his Cubs hat. Still don't think he understands what baseball is, but to him that's beside the point. He wore it around all night; refused to take it off for dinner, and apparently (my host mother told me this at breakfast), refused to go to bed until his mother cleared a special spot in the closet for him to put it. He also loved the markers…especially that they were scented. He wanted to smell every one of the 100 markers in that pack, hence the marker all over his face in this picture.
Have a good week at work, talk soon.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Nice talking to you guys on Sunday. I hope you're enjoying the start of summer. I leave tomorrow morning for a site visit to a volunteer living in Estancia de la Virgen, a small aldea outside of Chimaltenango (it's about a 2 hour bus trip from where I'm living now.) I'll be staying with her and shadowing her until Saturday, so I won't be updating until then. Just didn't want you to worry.

Also, I received your packages today! Thank you SO much. I've already eaten about half that bag of M&M's...what a wonderful wonderful treat. Is the Cubs hat for Mario? He'll love it. Dad just loves sending Cubs paraphanalia to all ends of the world, doesn't he (one could argue that's propoganda...just saying).

Thanks again and enjoy your week, and if I don't talk to you, happy birthday on Friday!! I'll be thinking of my old ma. :)


Monday, June 21, 2010

Good quote

"The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling." --Keroac's The Dharma Bums, my current read

Una boda Guatemalteca

Somehow I had made it up until now without attending a Guatemalan wedding...but this one just couldn't have fallen on a better day.

Saturday morning we left at 7am to go do more restoration work in Ciudad Vieja, where the mudslide destroyed Eduardo's house. I worked all morning in one of his neighbor's homes, breaking up and shoveling wheelbarrows of mud out of what used to be a bedroom (now filled with a 5-ft solid wall of compacted mud). After an exhausting morning of shoveling and blisters, I scarfed down the reveultos and tortillas the local church group made for the volunteer workers, and headed back to San Bartolome, mud-covered, exhausted, and looking forward to a shower and a nice long nap. When I opened the gate to my host family's house, though, I walked straight into the neighbor boy's birthday party, and despite my mud-covered appearance, was immediately ushered to take a seat at the table and eat the food quickly thrusted in front of me. After my second lunch, I watched the birthday piñata…which was particularly painful because Christian, the birthday-boy, was turning one, which means that his young invitees doing the piñata-ing were little more than nudging the thing with the stick (and Guatemalan's make their piñatas STURDY). So it took about 45 minutes for the blessed thing to break (thanks to the only older cousin in the crowd). After that was cake, and finally I excused myself and went into my house. But before I made it to my bedroom, my host mother found me and asked me to accompany her to a wedding in an hour. She said I had plenty of time to shower and look nice. With no real excuse, I couldn't possibly say no. So I made myself presentable and off we went to the church.

This wedding (a Catholic one, of course) started with a mass at 4pm, but we just showed up around 7 for the after-party in the adjoining church hall. They had a professional marimba band playing, and we all toasted the newlyweds with painfully sweet champaign, ate pepian (it's a traditional wedding food….basically like barbecue beef with tortillas and rice), and watched the newlyweds dance their first dance. It was lovely, and I was stuffed, but no cake!! No wedding cake?! At that point I don't think I could have even eaten it, but a big wedding and no cake? I guess they choose here…you have a cake to serve everybody, or you have a big marimba band and pepian. I can imagine that these parties are extremely costly, especially since you're expected to invite the entire town. But I'm glad I went, and I when I finally got home around 9, full-bellied, I fell straight into bed, where I slept like a baby.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dear Emma

Dear Emma,

Happy 21st birthday, sister! I sent you a real live card in the mail, but I can't say when it will actually arrive there. Hope you are enjoying your day, and that you'll have fun but stay safe!

Thought you'd like this story: Last night I watched my host mother eat chicken feet. Like straight off the chicken, boiled, salted chicken feet. She gnawed off every piece of meat until only the bones and feet joints remained on the plate. It kind of mesmerizes me to watch people eat meat here. All the hard work is done for us beforehand in the States...boneless chicken strips, nuggets, breasts, burgers, etc. But here they really work for their meat. And they definitely waste not. Every spec of skin, fat, and meat is consumed. It's pretty fascinating. But as I was watching her eat the feet, I thought of what your face would look like if you had been sitting at that table with me. And it made my laugh.

Speaking of food, I visited an organic Macadamia nut farm today outside of Antigua this morning and ate the most amazing Macadamia nut pancakes with Macadamia nut-butter and Blueberry compote. When you come visit, I will take you there for a belated birthday pancake breakfast, mk?

Feliz cumple!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


We went to Ciudad Vieja this morning to help out with Eduardo's house (Eduardo is one of the Peace Corps faculty members). We had already been told about how his house was devastated by a landslide caused by Agatha, but it wasn't until we were there, shoveling and hauling buckets of mud, that the devastation was really put into perspective for me. Literally 7 feet-plus of mud had filled the inside of his house, and the entirety of his surrounding property. I don't think I've ever seen so much mud. It was exhausting work, and not necessarily work that my small-framed self is very capable of. But I did what I could, and it was nice to see all the other volunteer workers doing the same.

It was such frustrating work at times; hauling bucket upon bucket and wheelbarrow upon wheelbarrow of mud out of his house and into the street (where big trucks were hauling it away), but seeing no progress, only more and more mud.

It made me think back to a Mother Teresa quote that seems to be circulating a lot in our training: "What we are trying to do may be just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." Each bucket (HEAVY bucket) of mud that we got out of there today made a dent, even if the naked eye couldn't see it...but it sure was an exhausting process to make even that small dent.

On another note, still biding my time and trying to remain patient as training comes to an end. Next week we'll go on site visits to current volunteers and the next we'll do our final teacher workshop and community activity (which should prove interesting after today's meeting with the Mayoress).
One day at a time.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My own personal fan club

I've made a habit of going to the square to read on the afternoons it's not raining (which are getting fewer and fewer), and I've come to notice that I only get through about a chapter before I'm surrounded by 10 or 15 youngsters, staring curiously (and quite blatantly...staring here isn't rude like it is the U.S.) at me for a few minutes, then finally a brave one amongst the crew speaks up and asks me how to say something in English, if my hair color is real, where I'm from, etc. Once the brave one has broken the ice, then I'm flooded with questions and the book goes back into my backpack. It's kind of fun to just sit back and humor the kids...and it's kind of nice company. I imagine this is what's it's like to be a B-list star in the States...people stare, some are ballsy enough to talk to you, and kids LOVE asking you questions. Oh, stardom...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Back in San Bartolome

...and the dreams have begun. Just like during college finals, when I'd have the recurring nightmare about showing up to a final exam only to realize that I never attended the class, I'm starting to have dreams about my site placement. I'm getting so anxious about where I'm going to spend these next two years, and it doesn't help that it's completely out of my hands. July 1st is the designated day that we all find out our placements, and I just hope I don't go nuts waiting until then.

Yesterday we got back from Field-Based Training (FBT)...we spent the past week in the Western Highlands visiting current volunteers and giving charlas (talks/workshops) at their schools. It was an incredibly exhausting week. I slept through dinner last night and breakfast this morning...my host mother was pretty concerned. I had a bit of a fever on the way back, but feeling better now after a good night's rest. The hotel we stayed at in Salcaha was FREEZING, so it made sleeping through the night pretty difficult.

FBT was meant to introduce us to life as a volunteer, as well as get us practicing in the schools. We did a student charla on decision making in Cantel, a teacher workshop on participatory learning and learning styles in San Pedro, a parent charla on family roles and communication outside of Totonicapan, and an HIV/Aids charla at a rural middle school in San Vicente. Each talk was a bit easier than the one before, but I definitely enjoyed working with the students and parents the most. They were so enthusiastic and interested in what we had to say and the activities that we wanted to do with them--it was so refreshing. By far, the HIV workshop was the most rewarding...I walked out of there feeling like we had really made some small impact on those kids' lives. It was particularly daunting walking into a classroom of indigenous segundo (more or less U.S. 7th grade) students and bringing up topics related to sex and HIV/Aids prevention. Getting participation is always a challenge at first (especially with the girls), but by the time we got to the condom-banana demonstration, they were all able to push aside their embarrassment and involve themselves in some pretty great discussions. After the charla, two of the girls from the class came up to me while I was gathering my supplies, and told me that it was a "charla muy bonita" (a beautifully done talk) and that they enjoyed it greatly. At the end of the day, that was all I needed to hear.

Another great part of FBT week was meeting all the different volunteers and seeing how differently they all live. One female volunteer in a semi-rural area lived in this beautiful house--nicer than ones I've lived in back in the States. Apparently Peace Corps lingo would designate her living arrangement as "Posh Corps"--when volunteers live well beyond the average standard of living in-country and possibly that of U.S. Don't get me wrong--I have nothing against this "Posh Corps" lifestyle--I just know that personally I'd rather take advantage of these 2 years to challenge myself and live within the means of my PC budget.
It really goes to show that the Peace Corps stereotype of some dread-locked dude sleeping underneath a banana leaf on a beach somewhere is, quite frankly, a load of hooey. Each volunteer is so different from the next, and it really depends on the volunteer to create his/her own experience. I found this to be quite inspiring, honestly--and it makes me ever more impatient to get out to my site, wherever it may be, to start constructing my own experience. ...One day at a time.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Dear CeCe


It feels as though its been forever since I saw you in D.C. I hope you are well! You must be getting pretty excited about your London adventure, yes? I wish I could come visit you!

I stumbled into an art gallery in Antigua today and ran across some paintings by this Puerto Rican artist Patrick McGrath, and I immediately thought of you. I thought you might find them amusing. They reminded me of a lot of the art we saw in Europe...although clearly with some modern humor attached. I think you would really love Antigua...it really reminds me of Spain, like Sevilla or one of the smaller cities we toured through. Cobble stone roads, old churches, cute little cafes and restuarants. Its so Spanish, and so different from the rest of Guatemala, it shocks me every time I go. But I find it quite pleasant especially on those days that I really need to sit in a cafe and relive my Europe days.

I miss you and hope all is well in St. Louis. Keep me updated!


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dear Liz

Dear Liz,

Congratulations! Your letter was officially the first piece of mail I've received here in country. It totally made my day, chica! I agree with what you said; old-fashioned snail mail is way underrated these days. Thank you for your lovely coloring page, too--very creative.

Your letter was waiting for me in my mailbox when I got to the training center yesterday. We all met to debrief about the events of this past weekend--2 earthquakes, a volcanic eruption, tropical storm Agatha, and now a giant sinkhole in the capitol...pretty crazy, to say the least. When our training director began to cry, it really became clear how sad this all really is. My community was so lucky that we didn't suffer any major damage. So many people in other areas have been displaced, have lost their homes, their crops, everything. Guatemala is such a disaster-prone country and unfortunately most people don't have the physical resources to properly protect themselves and their homes from such disasters. But the good news is that it wasn't as bad as it could have been, and they will pull through.

It was really nice to hear from you; you seem to be doing really well! Tell Nick I say hi, and I would LOVE for you two to come visit me. Start saving now! I'll write you a proper email reply soon (and when I find a post office, I'll definitely send some snail mail your way).

Love ya,