"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

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Midservice, an anniversary

The 16th of July marked one year since I swore in as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala.  I am officially at mid-service and have just 12 months left here.  In terms of my PC service, it's the beginning of the end.

Another week in Antigua.  Midservice meds are done and I am happily cavity, TB, and intestinal parasite-free.  One final day of midservice technical conference and I'm returning to the campo where I am anxious to jump back into work.  Four nights of hot showers, sushi dinners, beer on tap, and time with some lovely friends, and here I sit, on the side of the Carchá highway, waiting for the road to Campur to open.  The longer I've been here, the less of a jolt it is going between the American comforts of Antigua and the total lack thereof in Alta Verapaz.  I've actually come to much prefer the latter, except for hot water.  I could live here for a decade and I'd never become inured to the cold showers of Alta.  Nevertheless, the incoming smell of Alta Verapaz dusk and dinnertime wood-fires comforts me.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see a Guatemalan couple sitting a few meters away on the curb.  The woman, who I recognize from Campur but can't quite place, is gesturing conspicuously in my direction, clearly instructing her husband to go investigate the Gringa.  A few moments later he passively moseys over and takes a seat uncomfortably close to me.  Despite the fact that I sit here scribbling intently in my journal, ipod earbuds in place, he strikes up this Qeqspañol conversation, one that I've had a million times since arriving last year.

-Where are you going?
-Campur (I put down my notebook and remove my earbuds, trying to hide my annoyance)
-Where are you coming from?
-Antigua, I was there for a few days doing work, now I'm returning to Campur where I live.
-You live in Campur?
-Yes, I live and work there.
-Oh (pause).  Were you born here?
-No, I'm from the United States.  I'm just here on a two-year work contract as a volunteer.  I rent a house in Campur.
-Oh (longer pause). And your parents are in Campur?
-No, they live in the United States.
-Oh (pause). You're here all alone?
-Yes, all alone.  Do you live in Campur?  I've seen your wife over there around the center.
-Yes, I live in Campur, but 2 hours by foot from there in another village, do you work in Santa Domingo?
-No, I only work in three villages (I list them).
-Oh.  You speak Q'eqchi'?
-A little, I respond in Q'eqchi'.
-What's your name?
-Jana, what's yours?
-Nice to meet you.
-(Pause).  Excuse me. (Satisfied with the information he's gathered, he returns to his wife to give his report, and I return to my journal).

It's been 10 hours traveling so far, and according to the bus driver, and the dynamite blasts I hear further up the road, it will be at least 2 hours waiting here before the road will open to traffic.  But I don't really mind.  After finishing the lukewarm tamale I bought from a passerby Señora, I'll make my way back to the big yellow school bus where I'll curl up and nap until we start moving again.  I'll get home eventually.  A year here has at least taught me that.  And unlike Francisco, I won't have to walk two hours in the dark to get to my house.  The school bus will drop me off right at my front door, where I can crawl into bed and sleep the day off.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lynchings and bedbugs

There have now been two lynchings in my village since I arrived a year ago.  Luckily I've been out-of-site both times and was thus spared having to witness any of the events or aftermath thereof.  This past Thursday, six people were violently lynched up in a neighboring village.  The 5 men and 1 woman were apparently caught (or accused of) stealing peppercorn crops and Q3,000 in cash from a local's home.  A mob of 2,000 villagers went after the accused, tied them up, stoned and beat them, then shot them to death and threw them down a mountainside.  Word to the wise: don't go stealing other people's pepper crops in Guatemala.

These lynchings demonstrate perfectly that self-policing is still an integral part of rural Guatemalan culture and living.  Without a police force or other authority to help control crime (due to past issues with corrupt police forces, people here don't trust law enforcement officers), villagers are left to solve their own problems, and lynchings are a surefire way of issuing a public message that criminal behavior will not be tolerated.  In everyday village life I see this same kind of self-policing on a much smaller (and nonviolent) level: women from the women's group like to look at the attendance list and publicly denounce those women who have been consistently missing meetings; schoolchildren are able to solve conflicts between themselves without the involvement of the teacher or other school authority; in business transactions people always wait to pay until the product is in their hands, and at school teachers announce students' test and homework grades to the rest of the class.  In a country where people don't have insurance, can't afford lawyers, and often go unpaid for months despite working under contract, you can't expect them to trust the system to take care of them.  In America we sue each other; in Guatemala they fight it out with each other.  Considering the amount of persecution that the indigenous people of Guatemala have experienced in the (recent) past, particularly at the hands of the military and police forces, I can't say I blame them for taking matters into their own hands.  In a country where "machete" is both a noun and a verb, civilian violence of this nature is only to be expected.  It's just a bit ironic that all of this happened the week before I begin a life-skills unit on "Violence" at the local school. 

In other news, for the past 4-5 months I've been waking up with itchy welts all over my body.  At first I thought mosquitoes, so I re-installed my mosquito net to make it extra mosquito-proof and no change.  Then I moved houses, with no change.  Bedbugs were always at the back of my mind, but due to a combination of denial, busyness, and apathy, I never did any investigating to prove that hunch either way.  Due to a major storm yesterday, the village's power was out (again) and by 7:30pm I resolved to turn in for the night, cuddling up in bed with a book and my headlamp.  Bedbugs usually strike in the dead of the night (2-4am), when it's the darkest and their victims are in the deepest stages of sleep.  The power outage and resulting pitch-darkness must have thrown their little nocturnal timers off, because at around 9pm I started itching all over.  I put my book down and shifted my headlamp to investigate and quickly found several bedbugs crawling for cover between my sheets, already engorged with my blood.  I grabbed some toilet paper and started smashing them, each time causing them to explode and leave a nice little polka dot of (my) blood at the kill site.  I soon found more underneath my pillows and crawling up the sides of my mattress.  Full-blown bedbug infestation.  Awesome.  I slept on the floor last night, although have not yet developed a long-term plan.  I'm going to pay a neighbor to boil my bedding (my pots aren't big enough) and hopefully get a hold of some plastic sheeting to seal off my mattress.  Because honestly, if it weren't for the fact that they are sucking my blood nightly and causing me to live in a perpetual state of itchiness, I'd let the buggers just hang out.  But I refuse to be their nightly meal, and will therefore begin my fight.  I'm going to "go to the mattresses" Godfather-style, literally.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

As I write this I sit upstairs in an Antigua hostel, on a sheetless bed, listening to the hostel owner scold his reticent child for making noise during their movie.  I am the only patron at this hostel, and it's nice.  Thursday, Friday, and Saturday this week I spent in Antigua with somewhere in the range of 200-250 fellow PCV's, who flocked to the Old City for the annual All-Volunteer Conference and Fourth of July Party--the only Peace Corps condoned all-volunteer events of the year.  Thus these few days were abnormally social, a bit overwhelming at times, not to mention full of yummy American food (grilled veggie burgers--I almost cried), overpriced beer, and drunken Gringos dancing.  Needless to say, also exhausting, so yesterday I stowed happily away to Monterrico to spend my 4th of July holiday on the beach with some close friends.  Despite being slightly overcast (afterall it is winter/the rainy season) the beach was wonderful, and even though I won't be watching any fireworks tonight, I spent my holiday jogging barefoot on the beach, laying poolside chatting with Lizzy and Kyle (two of my all-time favorite people, I will add), and slurping down banana licuados while watching the waves.  Not too shabby, if you ask me.

Tomorrow I'm off and back to site where I'll be jumping right back into work and scrambling to get things done before the end of the month when I'll be returning to Antigua for Mid-Service Conference shortly followed by a 10-day visit by Mom, Aunt Cass, and Emma--my very first visitors!!