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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 somuch 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?
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.
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.
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...