"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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

These are a few of my favorite things

-I love picking through my beans before soaking them.  I love the sound they make against the blue bowl I put them in, and I love the feeling of running my fingers through their smooth shells.  Each little pebble, dirt clump, or piece of grass I find and remove is a small victory.

-I love just barely beating the rain home, then snuggling up in my hammock with a book and a hot mug of tea while the rain pours down on my tin roof. 

-I love understanding what people are saying about me in Q'eqchi' and then giving them that look that says "I totally just understood what you said, dude."  And then the Q'eqchi' laughter that ensues.

-I love those few moments when I'm in front of a classroom of kids and I can see that something just totally clicked.  Something I did or said worked and I got through to them.

-I love that even after a year, the Q'eqchi' women still totally kick my ass on the hike up to Tzibal.  This is despite the fact that they are 65 years old, carrying 15 pounds of vegetables on their heads, a baby on their back, and are wearing flimsy rubber sandals, while I carry nothing and have on hiking boots.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

3 days in the life

Recently I listened to a Volunteer Voices podcast called "A Typical Day," in which Kimberly Ross details a typical day in her life as an English-teaching volunteer in Guinea, West Africa.  I really enjoyed hearing about her life and routine and comparing it to my own experience here.  So I wanted to do my own "typical day," but thought that one day didn't quite paint the picture.  A week, however, is too long.  So here you have it, three days in the life.  Maybe somebody out there will find it interesting.

I wake up sans alarm clock around 6:30am.  I get up and put on a pot of water to boil for my oatmeal and coffee.  I make my bed and check my email.  I prepare my breakfast and bring in the clean dishes from the day before.  Over breakfast, I look over my lesson plans for my English class and finish grading last week's quizzes.  I finish, get dressed, then head down to the pila to brush my teeth and wash my face.  I return and get my school bag together.  I take the long way to the school so I can pass by Edgar's shop and pay him 2 quetzales to print off the lyrics I downloaded and translated for my kids.  I also pass by the librería where I make copies for each student.  At 9am I start my English class with the Sexto Primario kids.  They are my favorite class.  We review last week's lesson, and then I give them their new vocab words, which they copy into their notebooks from the board.  Then I hook up my iPod to the portable speakers I brought with me and play "Hello Goodbye" by The Beatles.  I pass out the lyrics in English and Spanish.  We listen four times, and the kids still want to hear it a fifth.  I play it again, and they sing along in broken English.  I wrap up class and leave when Seño Bertha returns from her break.  By 10:30am I'm back at home where I do some dishes and wash a few shirts to hang out in the sun.  I review my afternoon lesson plans and get in my hammock and read for a while.  Around 12:30 I cross the road and buy two tayuyos from Liliana's mother.  I bring them home and eat them with an avocado.  After lunch I write a few emails then repack my school costal and head back to the Institute where I give a charla to Primero A on "Economía para el éxito".  After my class I stop my Nelyda's office and say hi, and also stop by the Intecap cooking class, where they're making chinese-style orange chicken.  I finally head home, where I change into my comfy clothes and do a Rodney Yee yoga video that I play on my Macbook.  It starts raining so I bring in my laundry and dishes.  After yoga I take a cold shower and around 7pm heat up a small pot of the green-bean lentil stew I made on Sunday.  I'll be eating this each night for dinner until Sunday, when I'll make another huge pot of something (probably black beans and rice) to last me through the next week.  After dinner I get in bed with my book and a mug of decaf chai, and read until I fall asleep. 

I wake up around 7am, and it's rainy.  I make coffee and change, and make a list of what I need to buy at the market.  Around 8:30am I head over to the market and buy a pound of black beans, two pounds of apples, twelve bananas, ten eggs, and three fresh tayuyos.  I bring my purchases home, where I wash the apples and eggs in the pila.  I pick through my beans as well, and put them aside until the weekend.  Dilan, Olga's four-year old son, comes up and wants to color.  I give him crayons and his Transformers coloring book (that my mom brought from the States) and help him color a picture of a Transformer.  Dilan goes home, I play guitar for a bit, then read in my hammock for a while before I fall asleep for a nice rainy-day nap.  I wake up a little after noon, heat up a tayuyo, pack my bag, and head to the school in the rain for my 1pm charla.  Three students show up around 1:05.  The other twenty or so students don't bother showing up until after 1:30.  Because of the rain, they say.  Seño Bertha shows up to teach her 1:30 class.  I briefly lecture the class for not showing up on time, remind them of class tomorrow, and leave.  I mosey over to the kitchen where the Intecap teacher is waiting to start the afternoon cooking class (Intecap is a Guatemalan NGO that provides free educational opportunities for people in rural areas. Following my teacher friends' suggestion, I signed up for the Wednesday afternoon pastry class).  I know that the other students won't show until 2:30, so I go in to keep the teacher company until then.  We chat about her son who went to live in Pennsylvania for a few years before getting deported.  I also translate my black bean brownie recipe for her.  The other women students show up around 2:45, and we get to cooking that day's lesson: braided bread filled with cheese and meat.  As we're kneading our dough, the women all poke fun at me for forgetting to take off my rings.  As our bread is baking, the teacher dictates the recipe so that we can all copy it down in our notebooks.  I translate to myself as she dictates and write the recipe down in English.  When we're done copying, the women all gather around my notebook, as usual, to scrutinize my English version of the recipe.  Much giggling ensues.  Our bread is finished and we cut it, put it in plastic bags, then walk around town selling it to make back the money the teacher spent on the ingredients.  Around 6pm I walk home with one of the other women from the cooking class.  I heat up some lentils, and check my email/facebook/blogger.  After doing some dishes, I'm in bed with my tea and an episode of How I Met Your Mother that I have saved on my external hard-drive.

I wake up a little before 7am.  I boil water for my coffee and Dilan shows up.  I give him a banana and his coloring book/crayons and go and take a cold shower.  Over coffee I check my email and get my bag ready.  A little after 8am Dilan and I leave my house and I hike up to Tzibal for the "8:00" meeting with the women.  I arrive in Tzibal, drenched in sweat, around 8:45, and am the first one there.  The women saw me coming up the main road, so within ten minutes about twenty women have gathered with me at the school.  I have the construction worker explain the bottle-wall process to the women in Q'eqchi', and they get to work putting in the bottle walls.  I take photos and help some of the women sort out which bottles still need to be stuffed with trash.  Around 10:45 snack arrives and we all stop our work to drink our steaming-hot atol.  Estela gifts me a shupito, a tamale filled with whole black beans.  I eat it, and she gives me another.  I stow this one in my bag and finish my atol.  Estela and I chat about my recent family visit.  She also proposes an idea she had about buying solar panels for the houses in the village.  I tell her that's it a good idea, but that we need to take it one project at a time.  I take a few more photos, talk briefly with Seño Susana, say my goodbyes to the women, and head back down the mountain to Campur.  I stop briefly at my house around 11:45 to drop off my camera and pick up my schoolbag.  I stop at the pila and splash cool water on my face.  It's especially hot today.  As I leave my house again I'm stopped by Liliana's mother who gifts me two shupitos.  It must be shupito day or something.  I thank her and stow them in my bag before continuing on my way.  I walk through the center, stopping at Edgar's to print off the exam I'll be giving today at Birmania.  He's eating lunch so I wait 15 minutes before he gets around to printing it off.  I also stop and have copies made.  I walk the 20-minute hike to Birmania quickly and get there around 1:15, where the other professor is waiting for me.  I give my English/Youth Development exam to the Segundo class first, then the Primero class.  I watch them like hawks and catch quite a few students cheating.  I mark their exams and tell them that I'm going to deduct points.  They look so ashamed.  After the last of the Primero students finish their exams I pack up and head out, despediring the other professor on my way.  I get home around 3, eat an apple and one of the shupitos from my bag.  I take a short nap in my hammock.  Around 5:30 I repack my bag, double-check my lesson plan, and head to the local school for my 6pm charla.  Upon getting downstairs, however, it begins to downpour.  Olga, the store owner, tells me, in more or less words, that I'm not going anywhere in the heavy rain.  So instead I sit with her in her store and we eat frozen choco-bananas and sour mandarines while chatting about boys and the weather, throwing our green mandarine peels into the muddy river that is flowing where the road normally is.  I'll make up the charla next week.  A little after 7 I head upstairs and Olga closes up shop.  Too full from our snacks, I get into bed and plan for the next day.

Monday, August 15, 2011


It's funny, but these days, when I wake up and see that it's a nice sunny day (which are few and far between this rainy season) I don't think, "look at this great sunny day, I should go hang out in it."  Instead I think, "I should wash my clothes today." 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dear Liz

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, mi amiga! Te extraño mucho!

This is my second happy birthday blog post to you which means two things:
1. We are getting old.
2. I've been here a really long time.

Wish I could be there to celebrate with you! Enjoy your day ix Lizzy...tatinra.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Grim Girls Do Guatemala

Lunch with the women in Tzibal
"I don't think this is the right way," I tell my mom and sister Emma moments before a pack of a dozen barking, snapping wild dogs bound around the corner and head straight for us.

This was our third and last night at Lake Atitlan, where we were happily passing our days shopping in Panajachel, enjoying family-style dinners at la Iguana Perdida backpackers' lodge, and lounging poolside in Jaibalito. 
Walking around Antigua
This last day we had spent the day doing the latter, wading in Ven Aca's infinity pool, sipping Rosa de Jamaica Mojitos.  Not too shabby for the Peace Corps.  About an hour after we arrived at the restaurant/bar in lumbered Balto, the Iguana Perdida's huge Akita mix.  Apparently he had followed us from the hotel on our 3km hike to Jaibalito. 
Enjoying volcano-cooked S'mores
Worried that he might not find his way back alone, Mom, Emma and I decided to hike back with him, while Aunt Cass took the ferry boat back.  After we gobbled down the last trozos of our fantastic fish tacos, we headed up through the village of Jaibalito to find the hiking path back to our lodge in Santa Cruz.  We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere in the village proper because soon enough we were standing, frozen in fear, with a dozen wild dogs charging towards us and our new canine companion.  In my 15 months living here in Guatemala I have never been chased down by dogs like this.  Maybe it was Balto's foreign dog scent that threw them off, or maybe it was us, but these Jaibalito chuchos went crazy. 
Learning how to make Pachas, potato tamales
All I can remember thinking was "Oh my God, my mom and sister came all the way here to see me, and I'm going to get them attacked by wild dogs."  I quickly picked up some hefty rocks and started chucking them at the pack of chuchos, while instructing mom and Emma to turn around and walk quickly away.  Soon enough, the dogs scattered and backed off, and we were amazingly safe.  With the sound of dozens of dogs barking still ringing in our ears, we backtracked and soon found the (chucholess) path, down which an unfazed Balto led us safely back to the lodge.  Yet another Gdalman Girl Adventure to put in the books.  I'm just happy we're all still rabies-free.

Bottle school training
Rock-Paper-Scissors with Juan
The last two days of our trip I brought the girls into my village, where they were welcomed with open arms.  The women in Tzibal prepared the typical dish (Kak'ik, a traditional soup) for them, fresh tortillas and all.  They saw a bottle-school training session in which we put up the very first bottle-wall.  Down in Campur, my Segundo Basico students put on a 45-minute show during which they performed traditional Mayan dances, the traditional Mayan courtship ceremony (in which the family of a boy asks the family of a girl for her hand in marriage), and then had dinner with all of the teachers and the school director, Nelyda.  My village really pulled out all the stops for my family visitors, it really touched me to see how much they wanted to impress them and make them feel at home. 

Hanging out with the women's group
Nine days later I'm exhausted, but sad to see my family go.  Mom, Cass, and Emma--I can't thank you enough for your wonderful visit, your flexibility, and your patience on all the very long bus rides.  Also, of course, for my wonderful life-supply of protein bars, my bed-bug mattress protector and all the beautiful new rip-free, stain-free, un-sunbleached clothes.  I hope you will all look back on your Guatemalan adventure and remember the wonderful people of my village, and not that time when I almost got you mauled by rabid dogs.

Bottle School Update

OG volunteers sorting bottles

After many months of planning, collecting bottles, community meetings, and trainings, the bottle school is beginning to really take shape.  The excitement in Tzibal is palpable.

Two weeks ago Tzibal had the honor of a wonderful week-long visit from a group of volunteers from Operation Groundswell.  Operation Groundswell is a grassroots tourism organization whose primary goal is "backpacking with a purpose."  The 11 volunteers (Canadian and American University students/recent grads) stayed in the village with host families and worked at the school each day, classifying the 10,000 bottles (a horribly tedious task that I owe them big time for) hauling rocks, and playing with the village children.  I owe these guys a huge thanks for their time, dedication, and amazing enthusiasm for the bottle project and the Tzibal community at large.  The community could not have been prouder to host this lovely group of "kaxlan," and their stay will long be remembered by the families they stayed with and the children who will soon have a brand-new school.

Tying in the first row of bottles to the chicken wire

Yesterday, Chris and Juan Manual from Hug It Forward drove out to give me and the community a training session on how to properly assemble the bottle walls. The process itself isn't difficult, so the community will be doing it themselves as part of their contribution to the project.  This is how the bottle walls work:

The foundation and beaming is done in the traditional manner using rebarb and cement.  Then, in the empty wall spaces, a piece of chicken wire is stretched taut over the opening, against which bottles are stacked neck-to-neck, and closed in with a second sheet of chicken wire.  The bottles, or eco-bricks, act as the wall filling, thus rendering cement blocks unnecessary.  There you have it---a school made of trash-filled bottles.

Our completed bottle wall

With the bottle wall construction underway, we are hoping to finish the school and open it for business!  We are, however, still lacking funds to buy some of the final materials.  If you can, please donate to Hug It Forward by clicking here, and help the Tzibal community finish what it started!