"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, 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 fĂștbol. 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--


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.