"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, September 23, 2011

Every last drop

Getting ready to sign the Acta
To say that life lately has been a whirlwind would be a gross understatement.  Maybe it has to do with the school year winding down, maybe it's because Peace Corps hasn't pulled me out of site lately for another worthless three-day workshop, or maybe it has nothing to do with anything at all--but for once in my service I feel like I'm on some kind of roll--things are moving, and happening, and being planned like never before.  And I am exhausted.  I'm so exhausted, in fact, that my blog has gone untended to, my laundry has piled up to a point where I've been alternating the same two skirts for the past two weeks (what is it about long skirts that they never seem to get smelly like pants do?), and my diet has boiled down to coffee, granola bars, and beans.  This exhaustion, however, is not necessarily the kind of exhaustion from which I want respite.  It's more of an exhilarating exhaustion, like that feeling in my legs after taking a really long walk or run.  It's an exhaustion that counts for something. 

Yesterday I had a meeting up in Tzibal with the Superintendent of the school district so that he could write an "Acta" to jump-start the process of certifying the school as a "Healthy School."  (After 4 years of working with Peace Corps volunteers, the school has adopted the necessary changes to reach this certification--the students' wash their hands before snack, brush their teeth after, have clean drinking water and clean well-kept latrines, the school itself is kept clean, etc.)  Before writing this Acta*, the Superintendent, Profe Alfonso, gave the compulsory speech in which he talked about all the hard work that the school has done, how the teachers have put in extra time and effort, and how the presence of Peace Corps has been paramount in reaching these goals.  He then said something that caught my ear--he said "Seño Hannah is here to represent Peace Corps, which has helped us a lot in the past. Like the other volunteers she's only here for a short time so we must take advantage and use her to the fullest now, while she's here.  Just like when we make orange juice, we want to squeeze every last drop out of her before she goes.  Every last drop."  All the teachers at the meeting nodded in assent, prepared to do just that--juice me into a pulpy oblivion.  Perhaps I could (or should) have taken issue with this--but I liked hearing it.  As a Peace Corps volunteer I've found there is a fine line between being used as a resource and being taken advantage of.  I've taken care to devote my time and energy to those communities, people, etc., who've made it clear that they're doing the former--that they understand that I'm a human resource to be used over two years, rather than a rich Gringa here to make some handouts, write some checks, and turn on her heels and leave.  One of my greater challenges in the beginning of my service was that nobody seemed to know how to use me--I was stuck here, in a foreign village, filled with foreign people, no schedule, no agenda, nothing.  Now, however, I'm suddenly in high demand.  People aren't afraid to ask me for help anymore.  And while sure, I have those days when I wish I could time travel back to month two, lay in my bed all day reading, and make market-day lists rather than to-do lists, most of the time I'm happy to be busy.  I'm happy to be exhausted, and I hope beyond all hopes that this roll I'm on keeps on rolling until July. 

*An Acta is a peculiar Guatemalan way of making something, usually a meeting of some sort, official and a matter of public record. The highest authority at said meeting hand-writes an unnecessarily wordy document, in the official Acta log, stating the business at hand, etc., then everybody present signs the document and/or stamps their thumbprint on it)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Full Circle

Remember this?

Today I took advantage of a lull in the rain and went for a run.  I don't know if it was the cool weather, the new mix I had blasting on my iPod, or my currently fuming frustration with my semesterly Peace Corps report, but I was really in it.  I charged up the hills I usually struggle with, dodging puddles and chuchos all the way.  As I approached the large boulder that marks my halfway-point, I got a sudden jolt of energy and bounded up to my rock, so happy to be alive and free, running in the Guatemalan campo.  Little did I know then, but a nearby family had tied up one of their pigs to the back of my rock.  So along I came, reaching my rock at full speed, grabbing on and swinging around to the side of the boulder where I usually stretch.

And the pig?  I scared the living daylights out of this poor animal.  Here came my big gringa self, bounding without warning right into his little off-road territory.  I'm not sure if pigs can normally jump, but this pig leapt back in fright, and immediately sprinted away from me, seemingly forgetting his tethered condition.  As Pig's rope-leash caught he ricocheted back towards me, squealing horribly all the way.  Meanwhile I just stood there, frozen is disbelief, panting from my uphill sprint, watching this poor poor pig burrow his little hooves into the muddy ground in his futile attempt at escape.  As I clicked my iPod off I realized that two children across the road had seen the whole thing, and were delighted with the situation.  I immediately lost it, and doubled over laughing, as the pig's energy quickly depleted along with his unavailing struggle.  I crossed the road to give Pig some space, regained my composure, and started my return run, highly amused with myself.

Fourteen months later, and it's me scaring the crap out of the Guatemalan pig.   If that's not karma, I don't know what is.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Elections, evacuations, and cross-dressing Mayans

The standfast/evacuation was officially lifted Tuesday morning, so I said my goodbyes to my wonderful Zaragoza hosts and headed back to site.  I wasn't happy about being pulled out of site (again), but I've gotten to the point where I know that complaining will get me nowhere.  Sure enough, no major violence or unrest broke out in Campur (nor our municipality, San Pedro Carcha), and life went on as usual.  It's a funny thing in Guatemalan culture--there's often so much build-up, so much planning and talk--that once whatever it is happens and is over with, I'm always surprised at how quickly everything goes right back to normal.  It's like how I remember Christmas as a child.  So many months of writing letters to Santa, seeing lights on the houses, singing songs, wearing red, imagining what presents I would be getting--that come the day after Christmas, when all the wrapping paper had been bagged, the presents opened and set aside, the turkey eaten, the relatives gone, I couldn't help but feel utter disappointment that it was all over, just like that.  It's the same here--schools will strike for two months, political candidates will campaign for half a year, town leaders will meet for a month to plan la Feria--and then, one day, it's all over--it's like it never even happened.  So much of Guatemalan culture revolves around pure ceremony, that I find myself expecting a "Now things will go back to normal" ceremony.  But alas, the elections happened, a President was not elected, and things went immediately back to normal.  Just long enough, that is, to go right back up in arms over Independence Day. 
Crowning the winners. Don't they looked thrilled?
If there is ever a ceremony to beat all ceremonies, it's Guatemalan independence day.  One day (September 15th) turns into 10 days of contests, beauty pageants, parades, fireworks, celebrations, and, of course, tradition.  While I missed most of the build-up this year due to the election-evacuation, I couldn't miss the Tzibal festivities which were held on the night of the 14th (to avoid missing the big celebration that happens in Campur on the 15th).  I was the honorary guest and photographer, and arrived early to help the primary students dress in their traditional costumes for the beauty pageant.  The pageant was a typically long and painfully overdrawn event, but two winners were chosen, who I had the honor of "sashing" as the queens (no crowns, to my dismay).  I remember thinking, as I sat at the judges/honorary invitees table, how Guatemalan events like these beauty pageants make me think of how a child would put on a beauty pageant, if asked.  I mean no disrespect to Guatemalans--this is the way they are, and have been, for years and years.  This is all they know.  But I couldn't help but think back to my babysitting days, when my kids would put on these painfully long and unrehearsed shows for me--there was never any purpose to these shows--they were showy for showiness' sake.  I can remember myself as a child and how I spent hours and hours on tasks with invented importance--lining all my toys up in a row on the windowsill, coloring in my coloring books just so, matching my socks to my shirts--it's these fickle habits that Guatemalans never seem to outgrow.  What I now would deem as silly, time-wasting formalities remain a central part of Guatemalan culture.  An unrehearsed beauty pageant that lasts four hours is how it's done.  So I sit, smile, and do everything in my power to keep from sitting there thinking how I could put on a better beauty pageant in a half hour (but let's be honest, I wouldn't even put on the beauty pageant in the first place). 
Laughing with my costumed skit partners.
The highlight of the night, however, came after I crowned the Señorita Reinas.  Profe Erick gave me and the women's group a slot in the "program" to put on some sort of group performance.  My original idea was to teach the women the Electric Slide and perform it in front of the community.  When we met to rehearse, though, they claimed the dance was too hard for them, and decided that we should do a skit instead.  The skit, in Q'eqchi', revolved around a story of courtship.  I acted the part of the single daughter of a family who is paid a visit by another family who would like to marry me with their son.  The skit was way too long (and made me flash back to skits my sister and I would perform as kids), but again, I kept my mouth shut except to say my two lines.  Come show-night, while I sat up at the judges' table ready to take the stage, I was surprised to see that most of the women were missing from the audience.  Sure enough, this skit wasn't so much a skit as a big joke on me--as the women filed in to perform, half of them were cross-dressed as their husbands!  One thing about indigenous Mayan women is that you never, ever see them wearing anything but their traditional dress.  I remember back in the beginning of my service my indigenous friend Olga came over late at night to drop off something.  She was wearing her laundry washing clothes--cut off jean shorts and a Mickey Mouse t-shirt--and it was like seeing a dog in a suit and tie walk on two feet.  When you've only seen a person in one style of clothing day after day, it's surprisingly jarring to see them in anything else.  So when the women filed in, not only in Western clothes, but MALE Western clothes, I lost it.  I managed to choke out my line, and the community LOVED the skit--we were the comic hit of the night.  A gringa in indigenous dress acting alongside cross-dressed Mayan women.  Go figure.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Stormy weather

I'm drafting this post by candlelight.  Now there's some irony.

I've had a bit of blogger's block this week.  Will update soon.