"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, April 29, 2011

Cartas de lejos to me

I stopped by the post office today on my way to Q'echqi' class, and to my delight found three letters in my P.O. box.  Grandma Mary, Grandma Kay, and Lizzy...you guys definitely deserve this shout-out.  Thank you!

You've collectively made my day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dear Ashley


Happy happy birthday, and congrats on getting through another year of dental school...only like 7 more to go, yeah?  :)

Miss you lots, hope you enjoy your big day!


Wednesday, April 27, 2011


 What's left of the cake I made to celebrate. Banana cake with cooked cocoa frosting.

One year ago today I got off the plane and saw Guatemala for the first time.

Fancy that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ch'ina us li po'ot

I love the women's group.  And they love it when I wear traje, the traditional dress.  "Ch'ina us li po'ot, Seño Ana," they say, giggling.  How pretty your huipil, Miss Ana.  Last week, donned in corte, I hiked up to Tzibal for our celebration/meeting of the pila project, sweating in my ten pounds of thick corte.   With the funding in place, a group of five of the women, the "buying committee," went that day to negotiate and put a deposit on the pilas.  They wouldn't let me come this time; they said that if the owner of the store saw me, he'd assume that we came with lots of money and try to sell us the materials at the "Gringo price."  So I stayed home and met them later to celebrate.  When I arrived they were already waiting for me, and had prepared me a refacción of cold omelet-with-hotdogs-and-chicken.  Quite unpalatable, but I gobbled it down like a true chapina.  Then a few of the women stood and gave me formal thank you speeches, most of which were far too long and drawn out for me to follow in Q'eqchi', but that melted my heart anyway. 

After a nice hiking-outing to Semac on Thursday, I spent the rest of Holy Week in Campur, enjoying the downtime, the continuous smell of Frankincense that filled my house, and the four or five daily procesiones in which a giant Jesus or Virgin Mary figurine was marched past my house by a few dozen purple-clad men, women, and children.

Today on my way back from morning English class during which I elaborated on the Easter Bunny and other Godless/capitalistic aspects of an American Easter, I stopped by one of my favorite street vendors to buy a bean-stuffed tortilla (tayuyo) for my lunch.  "¿Solamente el tayuyito, Seño Ana?"  The ever frequent use of the diminutive still makes me chuckle.  That, and the Guatemalan tendency to make a verb out of absolutely anything.  Tayuyar, perhaps?

 Hiking in Semac with Christina

 Easter Sunday procession

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

5,000, 219, 4, and 1

Walking to Tzibal for our pila celebration
Cartas de Lejos has officially reached 5,000 total page views!  Sure, that might pale in comparison to some of the big fish out there in the blogger pool, but it makes me feel pretty special.  Blogging can be a daunting endeavor--why should anybody care to read what I have to say?  Over the past year, however, Cartas de Lejos has really been a great source of catharsis for me, as well as a great way to stay in contact with friends and family back home.  The fact that you are all out there reading this, keeping up with my life and work here in Guatemala--it really keeps me going, and helps fulfill the third goal.  If nothing else, I hope that I have helped to spread the beauty and culture that is everything Guatemalan, and the good, bad, and ugly of Peace Corps service.

219, 4
Thanks to friends, family, friends of friends and friends of family, we raised $219 in under 4 days.  I'm amazed, and so thankful to everybody who came together to get the job done!  The women and I went today to the store and made a deposit on 38 pilas, 38 bags of cement, and 114 sheets of lamina.  Then I went back to the market and bought 7 loaves of fresh bread and 1 old tequila bottle full of fresh Semana Santa honey.  Time to celebrate!

1 week from today, I will have been here in Guatemala 1 year.  Sometimes it feels like I've been here forever, and other days I wonder how all this time has already passed.  One thing is for sure, I've made it a year.  I'm out of the woods.  The hardest parts of service--training, integration, adjustment--over and done with.  Sure, integration is an ongoing battle, and other challenges will surely come up to replace the old ones.  But I'm here, I'm doing this, and frankly, I'm going to kick year two's ass.

It's nice to have the numbers on my side.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


And another pesky fly gets stuck in the ointment.  As of last week, after over 6 longs months of project planning, proposal writing, fund-raising, and waiting waiting waiting, the women's group pila project was fully funded by a few very generous donors back home (a BIG thanks goes out to them).  This week I had the check in my hands and called a meeting with the women to spread the good news and organize a buying committee.  Their project is really happening, and they couldn't seem prouder.

Yesterday, however, my project specialist called me with some not-so-good news.  The Dollar-Quetzal exchange rate has changed since we originally submitted our proposal to Washington, thus the amount raised in dollars produced a little over Q1000 less then what we originally had requested (Q1000 will buy three pilas).   Luckily, the Washington desk agreed to re-post the project to raise the missing funds.

So here's the deal: we still need to raise $219.65.  So all of you great people out there reading this--now is your chance to help!  Please please donate!  Donate $5, $10, whatever you can.  A donation of $40 will buy one new pila.  A donation of $20 will buy one women two "laminas," or metal roofing sheets, to act as a lean-to rainguard for her pila.  Every little bit helps.

Help empower the women of Tzibal.  Bring them pilas.

To read the project summary and make your donation online, click here.

The Tzibal women's group outside of our meeting place.

A Guatemalan woman washing clothes at a community pila.

A Guatemalan woman and her pila.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Strikes, couchsurfers, and ex-first ladies

And another week winds down.  It's been almost 7 weeks since I got back to site after the evacuation.  And things are going well.  Sure I have my bad days (see previous entry), but when I look back at this past week as a whole, I have no real complaints.  Notes on the week:

Jareau and I had our first couchsurfer, a traveler from Holland.  He was very tall and dutch looking so the locals had lots of questions. 

It's hot, like 2-cold-bucket-baths-a-day-hot.  It's the dry season, so everything is hot and dusty.  By the time I show up to my schools, I'm completely covered in sweat and dust.  It's like being tarred and feathered.  Once you're sweaty, there's no fighting the dust. 

The women's group is officially in the manejo (literally 'to drive') phase of our pila project, and if all goes according to plan (which it most likely will not), I'll start making house visits next month to check that the families have installed and are happy with their new pilas.

The primary schools are still on strike (they're hoping to resume classes after Holy Week, as long as the government meets their demands), so I've been taking advantage and going to the Institute each morning to meet with the school's director, who with no classes or students to attend to, has no excuse not to meet with me and work on developing some smaller projects at the school that have until now been neglected.  It's been interesting to see what a school strike is like here.  I'd almost qualify it as more of a "sit-in" than a strike…the parents and teachers congregate on the school grounds each morning where they play loud music, sell and eat food, play pick-up soccer games, and sit around socializing.  Yesterday they put up a large "Vive el magisterio" ('Long live the teachers') banner, adorned with the famous "Guerrillero Heroico."  Pulling out all the stops, I guess.  I would too if I hadn't been paid in months.

Today around noon I noticed droves of people walking past my house in the direction of the local school.  I finished hanging out my laundry and followed, and soon found out that Sandra Torres de Colom, the ex-first lady (she divorced her husband so she could run in this year's election) had helicoptered in and was giving a campaign speech on the plantation next to the school.  I stayed long enough to snap a few pictures, buy a mango, and then headed back to the homestead.  It's generally not a good idea for us to associate ourselves with any political parties, especially during this election year.  It's still pretty nuts that she decided to show up here, of all places.

No classes today nor next week due to Holy Week.  I still have activities planned with the women's group, and hope to get some good GRE studying in.

Truckin along. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One of those days

Every once in a while, I have one of those days (i.e. today) where I realize how incredibly and awfully frustrating my job is.   It's one of those days when I have a really hard time believing that I'm going to make a difference in my two years here.  One of those days that I can't help but focus on all the time I've already lost--all of those canceled classes, rescheduled workshops, 2-hour long meetings during which nothing gets accomplished--it's enough to make me want to stay in bed all day and eat my weight in crappy Guatemalan chocolate.

I showed up at the local school this morning to teach my weekly English class to the Sexto primario class.  Upon arrival, I saw that there were no students present, only parents and teachers, some playing soccer in the field, the others sitting in small groups around the school grounds, talking and eating sheets of what appeared to be paper with perfectly round holes punched out of it (like a connect-four board).  As usual, I seemed to be the only one to have missed the memo.  I found my landlord (also a teacher at the primary school) who explained that the parents and teachers were protesting, demanding more money from the government.  Unlike the middle school where the parents pay the teachers' salaries via their children's tuition, the primary school is funded by the government.  And those teachers on contract haven't been paid since the school year began in January.  Thus the protest.  Oh, and the edible connect-four boards?  Leftover communion wafers from the Catholic church that somebody had dropped off that morning.  The wafers had been punched out for communion, leaving the strange-looking sheets the parents and teachers were happily munching on.  I went and saw the Director, briefly discussed the library project that has yet to be started, the teacher workshop that I have yet to do, and the now canceled youth activity that was supposed to happen this Friday.  Then I walked home, resisting my urge to buy tienda candy along the way.

My project adviser loves repeating this in our workshops: "Piensa en grande, actúa en pequeño, pero ¡ahora! (Think big, act small, but do it now!).  It's great advice.  But as it often is with good advice, it's easier said than done.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dear Domini

Dear Dom,

Happy happy birthday!! Hope you enjoyed your big day!  I miss you a ton, and I'd love to hear how your life is going these days.  Keep in touch, chica!


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Juicing my mind grapes

So this Saturday I've been extra busy learning new things.  Here's what I learned today:

1. A pregnant woman's touch, in Guatemalan culture, can apparently cure wounds.  I was helping my local friend Naomi with her English homework (she's in her first year of university) and while we were working, a woman from the community approached, with her young son who had just burned his finger.  She wanted to buy burn cream, but Naomi's store didn't have any in stock.  Naomi, however, told the woman to go get toothpaste and have a pregnant woman rub the toothpaste on her son's burn.  That would do the trick, she explained, since everybody knows that pregnant women have a special touch.  The mother agreed and left to go find the toothpaste, and the pregnant woman.

2. I now can bone a chicken!  Jareau is making his very scrumptious chicken-dumpling soup tonight (which will certainly be featured on The Campur Cook) and had me come over to watch the process of preparing the chicken breast.  After I got over my initial squeamishness at handling the slippery carcass, I dove right in and boned my very first chicken!  I even held the chicken heart before throwing it into the stock pot. 
Maybe next time, I won't feel the need to scrub my hands with bleach afterwards. 

3. In a collectivist society, my front stoop is not my front stoop, but everybody's stoop.  It's always bothered me that people sit on my front stoop (blocking my exit) on market-days, and later leave their trash/cold tortillas behind.  Today, when I was leaving to run to the market, I open my front door to find that my stoop has been temporarily converted into a cement-mixing pile for the workers paving the pathway in front of the tienda next door.  Instead of mouthing off to the construction workers, I muttered my annoyances in English and managed, with difficulty, to circumnavigate the cement pit.  Upon later reflection, I decided that this is yet another one of those culture isms that I just need to get over.  In America we have such a strong culture of ownership: we freak out if the neighbor's dog even looks at our lawn.  But what for?  My front stoop is not inside of my house, and therefore it's fair game.  Everyday I find my "that's mine-this is yours" tendencies to be more and more embarrassing.  So I've resolved to get over it, suck it up, and from now on, walk around the cement pit, the seated strangers, or the sleeping chucho, resentment-free.  After all, it's everybody's stoop.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dear Amanda


I hope you have the best of birthdays!  I can only imagine that you and the Jessicas will be celebrating in style tonight.  Wish I could be there!

I miss you a ton, amiga.  Have a GREAT day, love you!