"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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Week 1

Yesterday I arrived in Grace's village outside of Chimaltenango. It was long overdue that I get out of Antigua (despite laundry service, falafel restaurants, and wifi, Antigua gets old), and I'm so glad that I did. Immediately I realized how much I've missed seeing women in traje, speaking in Spanish, buying veggies at the market, or being served questionable food (today I got pico de gallo…a mixture of tomato, onion, and raw beef…drenched in lemon juice which supposedly "cooks" the beef). As much as it makes me miss Campur, it's the best I can do for now to maintain some semblance of my PC life.

Generally speaking though, things are looking up. An unexpected turn of events over this weekend plus some time spent hashing things over with Grace (one of those undeniably glass-half-full kind of people) have allowed me to see this whole situation in a bit of a new light. While it's still hard to have my service (and life) interrupted by these uncontrollable events, I think the hardest part of this experience has grown out of a fear of change. As easy as it is to believe otherwise, change can be good. No matter what happens from all of this, I have the potential of diving head first into yet another brand new experience. I am still hoping beyond hope that I can go back to my life in Campur. I'm slowing realizing however that if I can't return, some other path will open up and lead the way to the Next Thing. I'm just going to have to trust that it will be a path I was meant to take.

Friday, January 28, 2011


While my finger swelling has subsided, emotions still run high. I've decided to take the "work plan" route and wait it out. It's really my only feasible option at this point. I'm completely uninterested in a site change, and I'm too stubborn to give up completely and go home (yet). So I'll wait out these 3 more weeks and see what happens. In the meantime I'll continue in my traveling vagabond fashion, and try to keep it together. It's been harder than I ever could imagine. Peace Corps volunteers become their service, and having that taken away all at once is jarring, to say the least. Luckily I have my awesome fellow volunteers to rely on...this experience, if nothing else, has brought me really close to my fellow Verapacers. We're in this together, for better or worse. So I'm finishing out this weekend in Antigua, then Sunday I'm off to stay with PCV friend Grace, where I'll be helping her lead art classes at her village's school. It'll be nice to get back out to the campo and do some semblance of work. Next weekend I have plans to climb Volcan Tajamulco, the highest peak in Central America. I figured if nothing else, I should bring in my 24th year with a bang.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This sucks.

Woke up today and my middle finger on my right hand had swollen to twice its normal size. The Peace Corps doctor think it's a reaction to a bug bite of some sort, so I'm on Benadryl hoping the swelling and pain will go away. It's ironic though, that at all times for this to happen, it's just when I am at the point of flipping the bird to everybody and anybody.

I'm at a breaking point. I don't know what I'm going to do. I've been here fighting for almost 10 months to make this experience my own. I've fought so hard to convince myself to love this country and make the best of it, and now that I have a proverbial "Get out of jail free card" I'm realizing that I'm not ready to leave. I have a village that's become my home. And I have a group of people who were relying on my 2 years of service. I don't want to change sites. I don't want to start another 27 months of service somewhere else. I don't want to go home. I'm not done with Peace Corps. Because I'm only 10 months into my service, doing an abbreviated Response program is out of the question. So that's it: change sites, or go home. Or best of all, wait 3 more weeks to hear that I can't go back anyway, and then have to decide all over again.

I am a good volunteer, and I deserve better than this. Most of all, the people in Campur deserve better than this.

This sucks.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Now what?

And the Peace Corps Roller-coaster continues. I've had an inexplicable intuition ever since I got here to Guatemala that for some reason out of my control, I wasn't going to finish my 2 years of service. I am now staring that intuition in the face.

Just got back from a meeting about the Alta Verapaz situation. In a nutshell, the siege is scheduled to continue until at least midnight on February 17th. We've been under "relocation" for 45 days now, which forces Peace Corps Washington to evaluate the situation, choose a course of action, and offer us options accordingly. My options are as follows:

1. Site change. Allow my project coordinator to choose a brand new site for me in another part of Guatemala. I would be a first generation YD volunteer (the first volunteer in that village/town), which means I'd be starting from scratch. My COS date wouldn't change unless I chose to extend past the two-year mark.
2. Interrupted Service. This would allow me to leave service here in Guatemala penalty-free. I would then be able to re-apply (with preferential treatment) for an alternative Peace Corps post elsewhere if I so choose.
3. Wait. I can continue waiting, living out of my bag until the 18th, when the decision may be made for me to return to site. There's no guarantee, however.

They want a decision by Thursday. And honestly, I'm pretty lost. If I continue to play the waiting game, there's a good chance I won't be able to go back to site anyway. Or that I'll get to go back and shortly thereafter be removed one again due to related security issues involving the drug cartels, or perhaps more likely, social unrest caused by the upcoming elections. In the meantime, I'd be wasting time I could be spending working on a site transfer or a new assignment in another country. On the other hand, starting from scratch in a brand new site is extremely unappealing to me. I loved my site, and after 6 months there, I felt that I was just starting to crack the surface and make some change (ironically I just got word that the pila project proposal has made it through to Washington). I just don't know if I can go through the integration battle all over again.

Consequently today alone I've eaten an Oreo-M&M McFlurry and an entire bag of Sour Cream and Onion Ruffles. This relocation is actually clogging my soon-to-be-24-year-old arteries.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"I don't have a home, but I have two cell phones"

The siege continues. I've been back in country for almost two weeks, and still haven't been able to go back to site due to the situation in Alta Verapaz. So I've been living out of a bag, volunteer-hopping around the country with Sabiha, a fellow Alta Verapaz refugee. It's really hard at times, and I'm nervous about all the work I'm missing being out of site so long. But Sabiha helps me stay positive, and we decided to aprovechar of this evacuation as free vacation time to roam the country. So we ventured out West, hitting Panajachel on Lago Atitlan (gorgeous little town), Solola, Totonicapan, Quetzaltenango, and finally Xela, where we went to the welome party for the newest group of sworn-in volunteers. The West is beautiful (albeit cold cold cold), and it was nice to be able to visit so many other volunteers in their sites. I have a new found respect for those PCVs living in cold mountain sites...when there's no central heat, cold is definitely a hardship that you can't escape.

After Xela we stopped through Grace's site in Chimaltenango, and today I'm back to Antigua to do laundry and regroup. We heard the news yesterday that the siege (that was supposed to end today) is being extended for another 30 days by the Guatemalan governent. Peace Corps can't give us too much information at this point; we have another meeting this coming Monday to discuss possible "alternatives" for the "short and longer term." I'm nervous, and I have my suspicions that we may be evacuated for good. I'm trying my hardest to stay positive though, and patiently wait for updates from PC headquarters. I'm trying not to get ahead of myself and think about what might happen in the event of a permanent evacuation.

...One day at a time.

Dear CeCe

Dear CeCe,

Happy happy birthday!! I hope you enjoyed a fabulous London birthday.

I miss you tons, chica!!



Throughout my travels here, I've come across a good number of expats who came to Guatemala years ago and never left--and they are consistently a little bizarre. What is it about Guatemala that attracts the slightly eccentric?

While in the super-bodega today buying contact solution, I met a real gem. I'll call him Al. Al cornered Sabiha and I in the supermarket after overhearing our conversation in English (we were discussing which flavor of ramon noodles to buy). Tall lanky guy, beard, cargo shorts and a tech vest, holding a shopping basket full of cheese resting in a cardboard box in a way so I couldn't tell if he was a maxi-bodega employee stocking cheese or just a lone Gringo buying a lot of cheese. I might have asked him if I had been able to get a word in edgewise, but alas I could not. For ten minutes he ranted about Guatemala and his travels and his extensive knowledge of the Guatemalan people. Once he figured out we were Peace Corps volunteers working in education, he started on another rant about how Guatemalan people don't listen because they were never trained to listen, and that we as volunteers should train them to be better listeners just like Bill Clinton was trained to remember people's names.

I'll get right on that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

La situacion

Just got out of the informational meeting on the Verapaz situation--looks like I'll be homeless until the 19th. The PC has decided that they don't yet know enough about the situation to send us back before the siege is over.

This Wednesday the Guatemalan government will be holding an inauguration in Coban to announce important political changes resulting from the siege. The siege is scheduled to come to an end the following Wednesday, the 19th. However, a brand new police force of around 325 officers and 200 soldiers will remain behind in an effort to continuously monitor the drug trafficking in the Coban area. It is the hope of the Guatemalan government to take back control of the Verapaces and keep the drug carteles and related crime under control.

So I'm in Antigua at the moment, along with the other volunteers from the Verapaz area. I think I'll be taking advantage of the upcoming days and travel out West a bit. While it is nice to have this "free" vacation time to travel and visit volunteers, I am anxious to get back to site. I have a lot of prep work to do before classes begin in a couple of weeks, and I'm worried that my women's group will think I'm ditching out on them (I have no way of contacting them in the meantime). So fingers crossed that we'll get to go back next Wednesday.

On another note, I want to thank my WONDERFUL friends and family for making my stay in the U.S. all the more special. It was really great to be able to relax and catch up with the people I love, and it's given me the charge I needed to get through the next few months. I felt so spoiled, and I'm really grateful to know that I have people back home rooting for me. I love you guys!!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Welcome home

First day back in Guatemala; it feels a lot hotter here after being back home in Chicago. No complaints, though. The evacuation of the Verapaces is still in effect; we have an informational meeting on Monday to discuss the situation and find out when we can go back to site.

I stopped by the PC center yesterday on my way back from the airport, and the new training class was there, fresh off the boat. There are 54 new trainees, and rumor has it that two of them will be my new site-mates once Jareau leaves in March. I didn't stick around too long, but seeing all the new trainees with with that unmistakable deer-in-headlights look about them made me think back to training and thank the high heavens that I never have to go through that again.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Years/Feliz ano nuevo!

Happy 2011 to all!

Once again, life has proven to me that things have a way of working themselves out. If all had gone according to plan, I'd be back in Guatemala right now. Instead here I sit with Wally*, bags unpacked, with five more wonderful days to spend here at home with the people I love. Less importantly but equally thrilling, five more days of hot showers.

Due to the military siege of Alta Verapaz, all volunteers living in the region have been "temporarily relocated" until at least the 3rd of January to ensure our safety:

"A State of Siege allows the army to detain suspects and conduct searches without warrants, prohibit gun possession and public gatherings, and control the local news media. This suspension of civil rights may lead to abuse by elements brought into the Verapaz region. Under such a state, Peace Corps is unable to ensure a timely legal support to PCVs in the region if they would be detained."

The siege was scheduled to last 30 days, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we won't be able to go back to our sites until then...Peace Corps tends to err on the side of caution, and rightfully so.

So David (our amazing safety and security coordinator) gave me special authorization to stay in the States until the 7th due to the state of "emergency." And I couldn't be happier to have these five extra days; leaving today would have been a horrible rush...and I'd just go back and be stuck in Antigua anyway.

And here we are in 2011...I'm now one-third of the way into my service. It's hard to believe. And as hard as it's been to be back here where the grass is undeniably greener, I will go back this Friday all the more determined to make the remaining time worthwhile.

My 2011 PC resolutions:
1. Make more friends in my site.
2. Practice Q'eqchi' more often.
3. Study for and take the GRE and start thinking about my post-Peace Corps life.
4. Blog more often, even if that means blogging about the not-so-interesting stuff.
5. Yoga every day.

I'm just so thankful to have been able to come and spend this time with my friends and family...it was a break that I really needed...and it's not over! As hard as it's been to see all the things I'm missing here (possibly the understatement of 2010), it's seeing my WONDERFUL friends and family, receiving their encouragement, and hearing about all the great things that they're doing with their lives that gives me the boost I need to get myself through another year.

*Wally is my dog.