"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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Love it, hate it

One thing I love about my life in Campur: Sometimes when 7 o'clock rolls around and I'm feeling lazy and don't feel like cooking for myself (or I don't feel like eating my dinner alone, standing over the stovetop, eating straight from the pot) I can grab my flashlight and walk the five minutes to Doña Ines' house, where not only do I know I will get a nice big plate of beans and eggs, tortillas, and a lukewarm mug of overly sweetened Nescafe, but I will also eat with at least five or six members of her very large, and very friendly, family. It's one of the few things that I can really count on here, and I love it. Family dinners are nice once in a while, even if the conversations are, in typical Guatemalan fashion, painfully circular (eg "Seño Hannah, so you can speak Q'eqchi' now, right?" "No, I really haven't mastered the language since you saw me last week." "So you're teaching at the school again this year?" "Yes, I'm still teaching at the school this year, which is why I saw you there earlier today.") When it comes to appeasing my appetite--for good Guatemalan fare or for the comforts of a family--Doña Ines' house is my favorite.

One thing I hate about my life in Guatemala: Transportation. It's one of the few things that continue to remind me that I live in a third-world nation. I've been here in Guatemala long enough now that it is harder and harder to phase me. I'm used to the languages, the smells, the weird cultural do's and don'ts...less and less of Guatemalan culture is novel to me anymore. But one thing that continues to challenge my patience, my tolerance, and my comfort level is Guatemalan public transport. Little did I know that when I was stuck on the Chicago Blue Line in rush hour, I was traveling like royalty. It just never ceases to amaze me how Guatemalans continue to travel under such awful conditions. No time-lines, schedules, consistency. On some days there will be five outgoing buses waiting to fill up. Other days, nothing. Some days there are roadblocks. Some days there are lots of stops. But what I can almost always count on is being crammed, sweating, legs cramping, in a bus with a capacity of maybe 35 passengers with at least 60 (people will sometimes literally sit on top of you), jerking down a dusty dirt road for the thirty minutes it takes to cover the seven kilometers between the highway and my home. All the while with, no doubt, a god-awful Guatemalan radio song blaring over the bus's speakers. I hate it. I hate it so so much. And unfortunately, there's no way to avoid it. It's just part of life here.

I guess it's like they say.. You win some, you lose some.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dear Grandma

Dear Grandma Mary,

Thanks so much for my birthday card! It got here safe and sound! Your gift was very generous. I'm planning on using it towards a trip to see some of the Mayan ruins in Northern Guatemala/Mexico.

I hope things are treating you well in San Antonio. I'm definitely due for a trip out there to visit. Maybe during this coming year?

Thanks again, and hope to hear from you soon. Send my love to Cass.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Beauty queens, Feria, worskhops, and Campur has a guest

Primary school student in the Feria parade

Finally made it back to Coban last night after a two-week frenzy of in-site activities, travel, and Peace Corps workshops. Last week in Campur was the yearly Feria, which is a Guatemalan-version of an American town fair. Carnival games, food, vendors...Feria is a big deal out in the campo. The actual fair took place over the weekend, but all week long there were anticipatory activities and events leading up to the big event. On Wednesday night there was the all-important "Eleccion de la Señorita de Campur," which, horrifyingly enough, is a Guatemalan Miss America pageant.

My good friend was a contestant in the pageant, so I found myself roped into helping with a lot of the preparations. There were three contestants, and they would compete in formal-wear, bathing suit, and summer-wear contests, along with a short speech and question and answer portion. To prevent the girls from having to walk around bikini-clad at the actual pageant, a photo shoot (of which I was unknowingly elected creative director) took place the day before with the girls in their tiny bikinis, and a powerpoint of the shots was played at the event the following night. I can't help but find this sad. Guatemalans try so hard to mimic certain aspects of American culture. And as an American, it can be a frustrating and disheartening experience to see some of these cultural aspects mirrored back at me. Especially in an indigenous Mayan community where I find their culture to be so beautiful and rich. But frustrations aside, the pageant came and went, and the new Miss Campur walked in the Feria parade Friday morning. The parade was definitely my favorite event of the week. Every school from each of the surrounding villages marched in the parade, many with drumlines, others with cultural demonstrations, others with clowns. The Tzibal students even constructed a mini-model of the bottle-school they are building with my site-mate that they carried in the parade. It was a fun event, and luckily the daily rain held off until the afternoon.

Last week my traveler friend Brien also came to visit, which worked out nicely with all of the Feria events happening. It was really cool to be able to see Campur through an outsider's eyes...a lot about life in the campo has become so commonplace to me that I forget to appreciate a lot of its beauty. Campur got some pretty good press on his traveler's blog.

This past week I was back in Antigua (I can't seem to stay away from that place, as hard as I try..) for a Curriculum Implementation workshop organized by the head of my Youth Development program. I was fortunate enough to have one counterpart from each of my three schools attend the workshop. There are many frustrations that come with my technical program, but probably the largest challenge is getting the directors of our schools to take our YD curriculum seriously enough to implement it in their classrooms as required teaching. It's one thing when I am teaching the classes myself (therefore giving the Guatemalan teacher a break), but it's an entirely different battle trying to get my Guatemalan teachers to teach the classes themselves. All in all the workshop went well. One of the central themes of the 2 days was this: "No vamos a hacer cambio haciendo las mismas cosas" ("We won't make change doing the same things"). This is a particularly important concept for Guatemalans working in development. Because like it or not, this culture can be extremely resistant to change. The information presented at the workshop was all old news to me and my fellow YD volunteers, but it was really all about driving home the central goals of our program to our Guatemalan counterparts. As a result of the workshop, I drafted three separate work plans with each of my schools for this upcoming year. It will no doubt be like pulling teeth making sure my schools actually follow their work plans, but that's part of the process. One day at a time. Or as they say here, "timil timil."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Campo Cooking

Last week at my women's group the women requested another cooking class while we wait for the rest of the pila project funding to come in. I wanted to veer away from breads and try an entree, so we decided on Black Bean Burgers (a personal favorite to make out here). The ingredients are all easy to find at market day, and it's a healthy and economical alternative to a meat patty.

I translated the recipe to Q'eqchi' with the help of my Campur friend, and had the women each bring an ingredient. As all my cooking classes are, it was a bit chaotic and slow to start, but with the help of a few of the more eager women we churned out a few dozen patties. In all the hubbub I forgot to tell the women to strain the remaining bean water from the beans, so they didn't stick together in the pan as well as mine usually do. But they got the idea, and seemed to like the recipe (although it was a general consensus that the bean patties would be extra-good if one added meat. Kind of defeats the purpose, but oh well..).

On the same campo-cooking vein, my lovely site-mate Jareau decided to 1) extend his Peace Corps service by 3 months and 2) to embark on a campo food blog project in the meantime. He'll be experimenting with recipes using only things that we can buy in our village's market, and I will the honorary taster/commentator. So all you foodies out there, check his new blog out here!

Tortas re kenq'

Li xb'anol:

1 libra kenq' cha'aq
1 raix ik putzimbil
1 zanahor putzimbil
1 ceboll putzimbil
2-3 anx putzimbil
1-2 mol
½-1 sek' kaj kaxlin wa
atzam maalaj consume

Ke chi us li kenq' tun tokol ajwi'. Junaji riquin li kenq' chiqbil, verduras, saab rui, li mol, ut li kaj kaxlan wa. K'e chi tiekwoq li aceit sa li xarten. K'e kaman li wa li xa junaji ru ut kili y ru. 5 jun pakal ut 5 minuto li jun paqal chik.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Blogging fail

I blinked and a week went by. New posts coming soon. I promise.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday already?

Life in-site has been going by in a whirlwind. I remember back to when I first got to site, wondering if I'd ever be able to fill my days and not go crazy with boredom. I'm definitely filling my days. Most of the time, I'm not sure with what. But the time goes by, and I often find myself wondering how it got to be dinnertime.

Things have settled in nicely since getting back. My house is back in order, I'm back to showering every 4 days, and I'm eating all sorts of fresh market goodies (mangos, watermelon, avocados, and tomatoes are ALL in season). I'm also back to my campo schedule…in bed by 9, up at 6:30. Life is good.

It's exam week at my schools which means that my battle to get the YD curriculum back up-and-running is once again put on hold. In terms of my work, the two siege months definitely did the most damage to my primary project in the schools. Because I wasn't there at the beginning of the academic cycle in late January, I wasn't able to play a role in the scheduling and implementation of my youth development classes. So the fight continues. Meetings this afternoon.

My women's group, however, is going swimmingly. I was really worried that my absence was going to cause a complete loss of trust with them. But luckily I was wrong. If anything, it seems that my re-appearance has strengthened the women's trust in me. We met last Thursday for our first official meeting. I was able to give them very good news: our Partnership Program application had been approved by Peace Corps D.C., and our pila project is being fully funded by a very generous donation from the Flossmoor Community Church in the Chicago suburbs. The church has a long-time connection with the Q'eqchi' people of Guatemala and wanted to contribute to the project. With the funding on its way, our project should move forward very quickly. The women are very excited, to say the least. They are already proposing ideas for our "next" project. I told them that we'd better take it one step at a time. We've hit quite a few roadblocks with this first project, and the complicated part has yet to begin. But I guess if anything, it'll only get easier as the women gain confidence and project planning experience.

Also have my English class up-and-running on Tuesday mornings (it's like pulling teeth getting the teachers to teach YD, but when I offer to teach English and give them an hour-long break, things tend to fall into place very quickly). I'm also considering starting up a night class for English for my teachers and other students who might be interested.

Busy week ahead of me, but I'm looking forward to it. I have a visitor coming midweek who I met during my many travels, so I'm excited about that. It's refreshing to actually have things on my to-do list. Maybe all volunteers should be forced out of site for a month or two. Hmmm….

Friday, March 4, 2011


I don't know why I ever believe myself when I think "I won't need my book today." Here I sit, 25 minutes into an emergency parent-teacher meeting that's completely in Q'eqchi' (and by "emergency" it means it wasn't planned until about an hour ago, 5 minutes before my women's group meeting was to begin). So instead of reading my book (which I would love to be doing right now), I'm doodling and scribbling this blog entry on a scrap piece of paper, waiting for the meeting to finish so I can have the floor and start the women's meeting.

These past two months of travel have really left me out of shape in more way than one. I have blisters on my hands from sweeping the daily polvo (dust) out of my house and from wringing out my laundry. I have blisters on my feet from walking the rocky dirt paths up to my schools. I had to go back through the market twice last Wednesday because I kept forgetting things. I've forgotten almost all of my conversational Q'eqchi', and even though I've been waking up early, I can't seem to get back to my 9pm bedtime (and am therefore sleep-deprived). And this is now the third day in a row that I've found myself wishing I had brought the book that I didn't bring because I didn't think I'd have the free time to kill. But surely this readjustment will be ever so easy compared to the initial adjustment I went through when I first got here. I'll just have to suck it up, slap on some band-aids, bust out the Q'eqchi' flash cards, and get back on track.

And from now on, I'm bringing my book.