Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
I kissed Baby Jesus Thursday night. The event was of huge significance in my Guatemalan life given the fact that I have been to Church about 7 times in my entire life (this includes weddings and funerals). It was no random Thursday night, it was Christmas Eve, or as we call it here la ``Noche Buena.`` La Noche Buena is a very big ordeal, and far more important than Christmas day here.
I was fortunate enough to spend my very first Guatemalan Christmas with my previous host family and got the chance to partake in typical Guatemalan customs. My 2009 Christmas timeline began on the 24th, with the construction of none other than a highly complex nativity scene. What began as a simple baby Jesus manger table turned into a sophisticated bamboo rooftop house for little baby Jesus. Four hours later, we all gathered together to have the traditional Noche Buena dinner: Tamales. Tamales are a typical Guatemalan staple food that are made of corn mush, a tiny piece of meat, and a salsa-like saucy paste. I know it kind of sounds gross, but they are actually quite tasty, especially after they are wrapped in palm leaves and cooked over open fire. Later on, we also got to roast marshmallows over the open fire, which made me quite confused as to where I was exactly.
Lucky for me, my old host family is not really religious, which meant that I got to skip 10 o`clock mass. But going to church is of utmost high importance even for the least religious and so we made our way to church just before midnight to pay our respects. The apex scene of this blog entry goes a little like this: the church is full, mass has just finished, as we take our place in an endless line just at the outskirts of the church. I am not quite sure what we are waiting for, and I let the awkwardness in me fade away as we slowly make our way up. But then just as I start getting serious, thinking about my family, my future, my service…. I see him…. I see large baby Jesus, the target goal, and what everyone has been waiting in line to do: to kiss him. I turn to the other volunteer behind me and whisper… ``what do we do???``… We decide that whatever my host sister does, we will dutifully follow as well. Lucky for us, she kisses him. I am next: the person next to me has already kissed him. I have a minor freak out as everyone stares at the only two blonde twins in the church… I know it sounds like it should be simple, but in a few split seconds, thoughts run through my head: ``Oh god, I`ve never done this before….How do I do it? What if I don`t do it right?? I hope I don`t offend anyone?... Where do I kiss it?? Looks like the foot might be a good option…. Ok here it goes…`` I inhale it and I do it. I look back at the other volunteer and I can tell the same thoughts are going through her head. Apparently she decides the foot is a good option too. We scurry out of there, whispering about our awkwardness until we realize we sped walk so fast out of there that we left my host family behind.
We wait outside the entrance for my host family, and are reunited by their laughter and banter at our exit strategy. We are quickly reunited outside by the midnight bells, the celebration of baby Jesus, and a trillion spectacle of fireworks. And by trillion, I am not exaggerating… Fireworks are shooting from 3 different spots behind the church, two behind the muni building, at least 5 other spots in different points of the village, as many others shoot smaller fireworks out on the streets around the park. It is a shower of fireworks, the best show I have ever seen.
Christmas here is about baby jesus, but also about fireworks. Guatemalans are fireworks fanatics, especially around Christmas; and all around Guatemala at this time, every family crowds and runs the streets with their different favorite fireworks, whether the volcan, cuetes, and other names I can`t quite remember. It`s a science really that kids begin to learn earlier than they even learn how to say the word ¨bomba.¨
The rest of the Christmas weekend was spent relaxing, destressing about stuff I am not supposed to stress about, playing soccer, and painting away. Painting is a hobby I have recently taken up, thanks to the help of my host sister who is a great painter… She even got me a paint set for Christmas! I was truly grateful, especially since it is not a typical Guatemalan tradition to give gifts on Christmas.
I suppose the universality of Christmas is that of a time to be grateful anywhere one might be in the world. I will end then on that note: I am especially grateful for the creativity that this experience has allowed me to develop. I am grateful for my host family, and for the people that for some reason or another just keep returning to the meetings I have for them. I am grateful for the familiar faces I now call family, and familiar mountains I now call mine. I am grateful for my own family and friends at home who think that what I am doing is great, although I think it`s actually quite ordinary and frustrating at times. So thank you life, thank you world, thank you Guatemala. Oh yea and thanks for reading this.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
As you can tell, Alex is an amazing photographer, which I must say did not surprise me much since he spends his 24-7 on details and beauty that most of us never even bother to notice. The photo above takes place at my feria, my town`s annual celebration of its patron saint. It is a week`s full of madness, street vendors, fried food, drunks, mass, fireworks, concerts, marimbas, street dogs and strangers who think I`m a stranger in my own town. The man in the picture is part of a company of masked dancers from a nearby town, hired to dance drunkenly out of rhythm. San Andres is known for its factory of musicians and so our feria turned into a monton of concerts, accompanied by these comical and somewhat drunk dancers sweeping away our main plaza (and yes the one in the background is in a disguise I believe made to resemble Osama Bin Laden – it`s ok really… cultural sensitivity doesn`t translate well here sometimes, so don`t take it personally). Anyway, I plan on buying Alex a disposable camera soon, and who knows, if he actually really takes a liking and proves to be responsible with it, maybe I`ll opt to fundraise to get him a digital camera.
I also met a new Peace Corps volunteer, well a returned PCV who had served in the 1970s in Guatemala. I was lucky enough to meet him and discuss how his experience had been so different from what we have today. Today, we have easy internet access, dependency on cell phones, printers, memory sticks, laptops and this blog. It makes you wonder really how technology has just completely changed what it means to be a Peace Corps volunteer… for better or for worse. The good news is that due to technology, you get to read this, but as volunteers we also tend to stray away from our communities more than we ought to because we have the United States on our cell phones and computer screens (I`m not judging, I`m guilty too.)
But enough about that, now for the juicy work stuff: while one of my youth groups is still holding up strong, I`m starting to have some trouble trying to keep the other one alive in my aldea, whose kids keep wanting to just learn about music and painting, and not about the goodies of HIV, domestic violence, et al (can you blame them really??) Speaking of domestic violence, I spent the last week giving charlas on the topic to mothers of family. While it was all well and rewarding, the problem is still evident: how can we educate the husbands???? For one part, I`m trying to get a hold of the different professional associations comprised of men in my town (they are big weavers and painters here) and capacitaring them. And I am also trying to plan out a monthly attendance requirement for husbands of families receiving money from the government with my health center educators.
So, what am I up to this week? Doing a radio show and workshops with my youth groups on HIV-AIDS, in honor of international AIDS day Dec. 1st, and preparing for my first health promoters group next week. I am a little nervous to see who, if anyone shows up, because I`ve put a lot of effort in advertising and getting my muni involved during the midst of feria, which has been extremely difficult. But as we say in Guatemala - saber! What will be, will be….
Since the last time we met, I also found out that my counterpart will be leaving the health center due to budget cuts, which as you can imagine, really sucks. But I`m not giving up on her yet, and will naively do everything I can to save her job. Good news is that I nominated her to be recognized by Peace Corps for her work with HIV-AIDS education and she got it! Current status: trying to get through to the boss man in the area de salud.
Talking of reproductive health… Congratulation to Amber and her little Aidan, whose birth made me actually want to be back in the States real bad (well just for a moment).
And on a final note, one of my goals here in Peace Corps was to write a book, as talentless as my words might be, and well I`ve finally started. It turns out it`s not about Guatemala at all, as I had planned it to be, but about my family. Cheesy, I know, but distance and alienation has a twisted sick way of making you reflect.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Sometimes a great work day in Guatemala is to do nothing and simply listen; simply listen to the things you can learn on a daily basis just from being quiet and really paying attention to the people and environment around you. I often hear talks of contemporary issues, inappropriateness, personal struggles, ironies and daily frustrations of a developing nation all fit to be part of an Allende, Marquez book I will inevitably never write. These conversations pass on every day, and I murmur on, telling myself to write them down but, as you may have guessed, they are instead always forgotten and inevitably turned into wondering, vague thoughts in my head… Therefore as a meak attempt to contradict my last statement, the conversation Iremember today takes place at lunch time at my health centro between two of my educators: ``I then asked the señora if her husband was drunk when he beat her, and she responded… `No seño, my husband doesn`t drink, he`s a preacher, we`re evangelicals.``
I suppose the phrase is more tragically ironic within Guatemalan borders but these statements are not uncommon here and domestic violence unfortunately is a huge problem in my pueblo. Guatemala, like many societies, is traditionally conservative, where men`s say is often the only way. Although many just accept the spousal abuse as maybe God`s will, others who may no longer tolerate it, have no idea as to how to even get out of it. After all, there are at least five children to look after, what would it matter what Mama feels? It is neither a topic that is even discussed in the town, let alone confronted by the local or national government. The sad part is that many neighbors just turn a deaf ear to sudden screams or noises. To fight domestic violence here simply begins by encouraging neighbors to report any incidents or suspicion, which may sound easy, but hard when impunity characterizes the judicial system here. Good news is that I have a contact with an NGO that specifically deals with domestic violence in Xela and have been thinking about collaborating with them, even do a march with the NGO and another nearby volunteer in April for women`s month.
Time here flies and I`m finding myself busy even for the holiday and feria season, trying to pull off two vacation youth groups in my urban center and in one of my aldeas. If I can actually get kids to attend, the group would meet on a weekly basis to focus on activities and charlas on health, gender, selfesteem, vices, and eco-friendly topics… The plan is to have at least the groups in my aldea culminate the activities into a large eco mural final project at the school (garbage is a huge problem there, and perhaps a mural might give more of an incentive for these kids to keep the community, their playground clean!)
I also plan to start my health promoter groups in my aldea and urban center within the next two months and need to start promoting, and soliciting space and money from my muni. I have began working extensively with all of the midwife groups in my aldeas and am looking forward to developing a stronger relationship with them and with the help of my oh so awesome midwife mom in the States. I`m even thinking about arranging a Toto midwifery conference as a long term goal for these groups by the end of my service. I`m also beginning to train health vigilantes in the aldeas run by my NGO and am excited to get things moving along with them as well… I plan to have them help me do home visits and diagnostics that I simply have not had the time to do and hopefully if there is time, to help me with construction projects in these communities…. Anyway, in conclusion, I AM BUSY! Which I use as an excuse for the consistent bad grammar in these entries...
I`ve also moved into my apartment and have never been happier about it, although it is pretty much empty at this point in time…. Moving-in day was quite a frenzied saga, Spindler stlye… I of course did not start moving in until 7PM at night, under steady rain… I had planned to use the health centro`s pick up, but surprise, surprise, it wasn`t there and instead, I began lugging some of my things to my house, until I realized that my spaztic hands could not open my gate….Leaving my stuff to soak under the rain, I go back to the health center to see if the pick-up was back, only to realize that a knife I had left at the center (to use for tire gardens I will be doing) had disappeared… Those who know me well may have guessed that I had grown quite frustrated and irritated with the situation at this point, which inevitably turned into an oh so dramatic, tearful, quasi-nervous breakdown… As I kept interrogating over-night workers about my knife, the pick up and its humble driver finally came pulling in (after all this was a favor he was doing for me), to which I am sure that he was sure I had gone mad, almost crying over a knife. All judgment aside, he still agreed to help me, and as we reached my old headquarters, surprise, surprise all the lights were out once again in that sector in our town…. Long story short, we moved all of my things in the dark, tripping and bumping over everything but completing the moving-in mission succesfully with a lot of built up anxiety and nerves. And for the record, I did find the knife the next day, hidden between posters as I had last left it…. Oops…
On a Guatelaman note, today is San Simon day, the controversial indigenous patron saint of booze, cigars and cigarettes…. Our town has our own special altar and as a result, the town is partying and it looks like I won`t get to sleep too soon with the bands and fireworks still raging on… Good news is that the feria stands are up and I can get my oh soooo yummy fix of churros… Oh gracias San Simon…
If not, you will be happy to hear that peer pressure follows everywhere because all over Guatemala right now volunteers are still trying to figure out their Halloween plans… As for me? Staying in site. Yep that`s right, after all I didn`t plan to have Halloween follow me all the way to Guatemala.
And on a foot note… I managed to royally screw up my foot, walking down the steps of my Mercado and now it looks like I won`t be able to run the marathon I was supposed to do next weekend in Antigua… Total bummer and my foot looks like a blown up eggplant.
Off to the cemetery now, it`s Dia de los Muertos and I`m out integrate, AKA stalking Guatemalans in the cemetery adorning and taking care of tombstones.
Saludos pumpkin heads.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Since being back, everything has sort of fallen into place and work has piled up; I`ve started working a lot with my health NGO that covers most of my aldeas. The initial contact comes to you as an awkward story: I had been trying to get ahold of this NGO for quite some time now, and when I received an invitation to one of their meetings in Xela, I was super stoked; unfortunately the invitation giver was not going to be there and so I just showed up to the meeting unannounced, to no one`s knowledge at the headquarters and you can imagine the welcome party was well, non-existent. The health educators would barely look at me and I forced myself to stay, pretending to work on a poster until I finally received an invitation to help with a hygiene charla the next week.
What can I say it was one of the most awkward moments of my life, but much of the work here is forced and while I hated every minute of that meeting, it is always worth your time at the end of the day, especially when you are trying to establish relationships and work. Long story short, I ended up showing up to the charla the next week well-equipped with a gigantic toothbrush, mouth poster, and huge paper candies. The charla was a hit, and while I had to leave the next day for the States, the NGO asked me to leave the materials for them to use in the following days.
And so now a week after being back from the States, I find myself in great status with both the NGO and the Centro, both of whom have a hint of rivalry toward one another. I believe the slight animosity stems from a serious lack of staff within the NGO, all of whom work in the poorest of places (we are talking only 3 educators, 1 doctor, and a hipodermist for thousands of people), it also doesn`t help that the NGO funding is always at threat of being cut.
Anywho, peace corps here is much like showing up to work one day saying you got the job, although they were never even having interviews, or well, they were never looking for anyone at all…. Moral of the story: Being forced out of your comfort zone is always worth it (well so far).
Malnutrition has been buzzin` about Guatemala`s ears, and most recently I got personal with it. Most of the worst has hit the East, which is on the other side of me, but my municipio is not that better off. Last Friday, I was introduced to a 13 pound 1 year and 10 month old baby, and was told to give them a consultation by my NGO. I did the best I could to give this woman and her drunk husband the best advice I could, what type of alimentos to give, how many times a day, et al, but blank stares were all that were reciprocated. It was clear that the baby needed to go to the hospital, the kid was barely alert, let alone walk. I convinced them to meet me at the health center this week, only to be told by my boss doctor that the kid would not be accepted into the hospital because beds are super limited and his case was not acute enough to be admitted…. The area nutritionist did recommend to go to another government office where the baby could at least get a medicinal milk that would inject his body with carbs and at least help him to start eat again. Unfortunately, that office only advised me that the milk is only being given now to 3 month olds or younger, and that older ones should instead take vitacereal (supplemental cereal provided by the govnt), which is great advice really, given that my municipio has been out of vitacereal for almost two months now.
I spent the entire day running around with this family to drop them off empty-handed. The only thing I can do now is to follow up with weekly home visits, but the whole experience has taught me a lot about the way that bureaucracy works around here and has me thinking about reworking my work to fill in this empty vacuum for these family that have no access to health education and whose kids are only deteriorating away, waiting to be accepted in the hospital on their death bed. The challenge is just incredibly overwhelming, and it`s not something that I can just do on my own obviously. But it`s making me think and plan.
And it all makes you wonder really, billions of foreign dollars are flowing into the country in order to help with the malnutrition crisis, but where is this money going? Keep throwing it in E.U.
I know this is a really charged entry, but as I said earlier a lot has been happening, and while overwhelmed with the fact that there are oh so many needs and that I am only one body, I feel ready to refocus my work in my aldeas and confront it… poco a poco.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Today, I write this at my health center, pretending to work on super important things so I don`t have to help my educators work on bureaucratic paperwork madness they have to do many times of month for their Mi Familia Progresa program… You might think that it`s a pretty bitchy thing for me to do, but people are still trying to figure out where and with whom I fit in here and so I spend a lot of time here trying to define my role in the health center, and it`s therefore important for me to hint (in a non-direct Guatemalan type of manner) that I am not part of the Mi Familia Progresa program nor here to fill out massive amounts of paperwork, although I am here to support them…. I really do love my health center staff and I am pretty convinced, after talking to other volunteers, that they are the craziest bunch here, which suits me just fine because I am not the most normal of people either…. As I`ve said before, we are supposed to build shovels full of confianza here within the first few months, which turns out you can achieve with many things taken for granted in the States. Exhibit A: technology- my camera is the newest phenomenon of the health center, and my computer memory drive is filling up with innumerous America`s next top model shoots at the center, in the garden, in the office, out on the field, by the church, well you get the point….
There are also other non-convential ways to bond…. For instance in the last two weeks, I`ve gone to the beach and a water park with health center staff…. These are activities that are organized by the centers every year, and so yea, it was important for me to be there… (no matter what you`re thinking, yes this is work!) For instance, people started realizing that Americans can have a sense of humor after I started responding to inquiring ride attendants that I was the Guatemalan and that my center compañeros were my visiting American friends…. I didn`t think it was that funny, but they couln`t stop laughing and talking about it for the rest of the day…Some people were also impressed by my skills to navigate the park, when the rest of them (who had been there many times) could just not figure out where they were… And then came the inquiring questions about my tattoo, which was impossible to hide with a bathing suit… Tatoos are associated with gangs here and it was a topic I was sort of stressing about, and after explaining and reexplaining why I had gotten it, people seemed to take it quite well (although I had pre-emptively devised a post-apocalyptic story about the US government branding their citizens abroad in case the world was ever at threat of extinction)… So, yes, it was work, and it was bonding and I gained major confianza…. If not, you will be happy to hear that waterparks in Guatemala still smell like chlorinated French fries and are filled with groups of frolicking preteens and bored, probably sleeping under-payed lifeguards…. Some things are just damned universal.
On the site work-front, since we last spoke, my non-working status with my counterpart has not changed, although I am taking more of an initiative to make the relationship work … I`m continuing to work with my educators and my reproductive health worker, and had the opportunity to participate in a forum with another volunteer I invited, Michelle, to speak on vices and drugs to middle-schoolers. The activity was really fun, but I think what impacted everyone the most was when I spontaneously shared my story about the death of a close friend. It was my first time really talking about what had happened in public and although it was hard not to get emotional, I think it really made an impact on these kids. Sometimes cultural barriers make it hard for people to really listen to you and I think sharing personal stories makes them understand the common humanity of it all… I also got the chance to do a taller, with two other volunteers I invited, on self-esteem to University students studying to be teachers in Xela. The taller was also heaps of fun and received great responses to it, some people told me it was even the best of the day! I`m always very nervous going into these talleres but the end result is always worth it. I always love the fact that we are creating an open comfortable environment for participants to talk about things they often do not talk about in other circumstances and I always walk away learning something from the people and the activities…
We also had our town parade we organized in order to commemorate the winners from last month`s ``breast milk`` pageant … The whole town woke up and watched the 500 women marching through town with breast milk and reproductive health signs…. Quite a beaut! Among other things, I´ve made a few home visits to talk about diarrheatical diseases and flies as pugnant fecal diseased carrier and taught women how to make fly catchers from a soda bottle... One of the things I love about Peace Corps is creativity and arts and craft put to use!
Minor negative thing this month: my keys were stolen from my health center, but the good news is that I got leave approved to go to NY to see my family in the first week of October…. Although I had no intentions in even returning to the States in the next two years, life has a funny way of making you do unexpected things… I`m excited to see my brothers and my half brothers who I haven`t seen since I was last in Brazil 6 years ago!
On a personal note, I`ve also decided not to drink for the next two years while here in Guatemala… I`m in an area infested with other great, outgoing volunteers and as a result, it`s really easy to sort of lose track of why you came and what you`re here for… So I`m sober sally for the next two years to completely immerse myself in what I came here to do (whatever it is) and I feel absolutely great about it!
I could write on and on and on, as you probably know, but I`ll stop here, I`m getting bothered by one of the workers to look at the 1,000,000,1 pictures on my computer and I need to finish preparing my awesome new exciting charla on Menopause... oh yeaaaaaaaaaaaa
I will leave you with my latest obsession: Bruce Lee who once said: The key to immortality is to live a life worth remembering…. Or something like that…
RIP - BRUCE LEE
Monday, August 24, 2009
Because nothing in Guatemala is quite ever in order, it makes sense to begin the week off with a….
Wednesday, August 12 , 09
Begin the day with a 6AM Basketball practice with a few of the Centro`s nurses. Women here are really into their basket, and who knew? I am too… It turns out that 5`4`` is quite a height and skill advantage here and my former benchwarming skills are now Alist moves. Unfortunately, no one here really seems to quite grasp the concept of travel or doubledrible, and it can get quite aggrevating as it turns into a free for all… Another anecdote about Basket: it turns normally very passive, docile Guatemalan women into ferocious beasts… I`ve gotten nails, elbows, trips and this morning, I had to stop playing and cool down after I was blatantly pushed… This morning, a health educator and I had to run an errand in the department capital to request gifts and materials from a Cooperative for this massive pageant we are putting together next week for `Breast milk` month. Pageants are really big here in Guatemala, think Miss America, but no plastics, rather culture, mayan traditional dance, language, and of course questions. Our pageant has 13 candidates , women elected from different zones of my pueblo and two other aldeas who are part of Mi Familia Progresa, who will compete and answer questions such as `What is the proper breast feeding position?` Anyway I think the idea is pretty clever and the women are super pumped about it… Come back for lunch and head to Adrians to enjoy the US and Mexico game, and ate massive amounts of what was intended to be pizza but turned more into veggie dough stew…. Alright at the time but we were all supersick today… Fall asleep to BBC`s Atlas of The World `Spirits of the Jaguar` episode about trippy geographic central american history........ The time is 830PM….
Thursday,August 13, 09
8AM Head to the centro; go to the municipality with my Reproductive Health worker to request help from the mayor for next week`s upcoming event, the secretary is cold as usual and surprise, surprise, the mayor does not see anyone on Thursdays… From what I understand the relationship between the health centro and the muni is pretty much non-existent and I hope to try to bridge the gap by the time I leave here… Come back to the centro rejected, head to a radio station in one of the aldeas to do a weekly segment on menopause and guess who did her own 45 mn segment on it? This girl did…. Most of the population in the aldeas only understand Ki`che, and so my compañera translated everything for me… Come back, have lunch at the Centro, I spend the rest of the afternoon translating some articles for one of the young doctors at the centro and give a casual english lesson to these two kids that randomly pop up in the center when they want to learn random english words… Go for a run afterward, trying to beat the rain, hike the hill back up only to be locked out in the rain…. Walk down to Adrians, call the host dad and hike back up before he leaves for 7pm mass… Finally home, getting ready to write this entry, and boom, my light`s out… And so in a dark eery, probably very fleey guatemalan room, I write this, under the shadows of pictures from home and boxes of memories; in 15 seconds I`ll open up `Travels with Charley` by John Steinbeck, struggle with the flashlight, and plunge into dreams I`ll soon forget… the time is 810pm.
Friday, August 14,09
Since I spent most of my night on the toilet puking from what I believe was Wednesday`s Doughy Veggie Stew, I slept in till a whole 7AM (although the rooster usually begins his sweet serenades outside my window at about 5AM). Tummy still grumbly, the morning was spent with my health center educators to give a charla on breastfeeding and how to bake a cake in an oven made out of chicken wire and aluminum foil… Later on, the sitemates and I had an appointment with none other than the…. US ambassador, aka the boss of our boss… We spent the next few hours showing him around the town and a school, where both my sitemates working in the Healthy Schools program. The ambassador, his wife and the entourage were all quite friendly and very much interested in the work of Peace Corps in general, which was a great boost to a Friday afternoon. After the appointment I returned to the health center where I kept working on a gigantic breastfeeding poster to use as a mantel piece for next week`s `breast milk` beauty pageant… After work, I headed to the town next over where two other volunteers live to stuff my face with homemade bread and hummus…. What a tough life for a volunteer on a Friday night….. the time is 916pm
Saturday, August 15, 09
Kate and I headed to our second Ki`che class in one of her aldeas and learned tons of really interesting things, like how to say `Mankaitaj Chom Tot` or `Stop staring at me you fat hermit crab`. The hospitality here never ceases to amaze me, a Ki`Che` lesson turned into hours of conversation, an invitation to atole that tasted like blended up tortillas, then tea, and later lunch, and before we knew it, it was 2 oclock, time to head home bellies full, throats bleeding from trying to scratch out the Ki`che` sounds but nevertheless satiisfied walking home through the beautiful countryside…. The next part of my day was spent on laundry (situation was quite tragic) soaking my wardrobe in soap and antiflea stuff overday and night. Next head to the town next over to see Kate and try out a, can you believe it…. A Wifi place!!!! Headed back over to my town once the power went out and kept Adrian company and waited for the power to come back on and for my homemade pizza for dinner…. Yes, turns out my sitemate is also my personal cook…. Tough life, huh… Still no light in my room, still struggling with my flashlight, and still traveling with Charlie and John Steinbeck…. The time is 1005PM.
Sunday, August 15, 09
In honor of lazy Sundays, I`ll keep it short and sweet: the day is started with a visit by Kate, which turned into a funfilled morning of Yoga, breakfast, chats, interpretive dancing, broadway belching, irish step dancing, zumba, all at my sitemate`s house… The afternoon was spent hanging out at a zoopark with my fellow bandmate writing out and coming up with some new tunes… the time is 9pm, I still haven`t washed my laundry and a little stressed about next week`s flurry of events at the centro…
Monday, August 17, 09
6AM date with my hands, washing half the laundry I deflead over the weekend… In the morning two educators and I went to a nearby aldea to do this month`s charla on breastfeeding and the homemade oven-cake. The women there are superpilas and are even more excited about tomorrow`s breast milk pageant which was really great to see… After the charla we were invited to two different homes for lunch and as a result had to take both offers and eat two lunches, which not surprisingly were the same: chicken and rice… You may be wondering how my newly vegetarian diet is doing here, well let`s just say I`m eating chicken… People here in Guatemala offer all that they can give to strangers, and often times it`s a homemade lunch and honestly, the thought of offending anyone is graver than getting sick from eating a bit of meat once in a while… After the two lunches, we headed back to the centro and went to rehearsal for tomorrow`s pageant at the Muni… While there, I took the opportunity to sweet talk the secretary and got myself an appointment to see the mayor at 3! Which was great, except for the fact that I was the last person to be seen…. At 5:15… Patience is worth everything here, because I not only got the chance to personally introduce myself and my program to the mayor but I scored an invitation to the next COMODE meeting this Thursday with all the assistant mayors. So two hours of waiting got my foot in the door to what hopefully can open up a relationship between the centro and the muni... Ended the day with Yoga at Samra`s… Week is packed as I spend the rest of my night, making a photo collage of the educators and women from Mi Familia Progresa to use as decoration for the Pageant mañana.. A laughing gaggle of children are out playing late tonight and are providing a semisweet playground-like soundtrack to the rest of my night. The time is 845PM
Tuesday, August 18, 09
Part 2 of my 6AM handwashing date today and spent the rest of the morning prepping for the pageant event in the afternoon. Flashback to yesterday: it was probably a really great thing that I had two lunches because we were so busy decorating and prepping the salon today that I didn`t even have time to eat. The crowd rolled in around 2ish and pretty soon the salón filled up with over 500 women and their children resulting in absolute mayhem; people were overflowing into the outdoor halls, balcony, peeking in through the window, so much so that they covered the runway that the contestants were supposed to pass through. Long story short the event was a huge success! Besides the usual traje tipico and dance that they have to do the women all had messages to give about the importance of breast milk and family planning; some were even brave enough to show how to properly breastfeed with their babies right there in a crowd of 500! The head of the Area de Salud in all of Toto came to be one of the judges and seemed to be quite impressed. Although it was one heck of a day and we had a lot to clean up, I was superproud of our team and went home exhausted but even more happy with the day. Spending the night still with no light and thinking about my charla for mañana for a forum on vices and addictions. The time is 831PM…
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Let's face it you're last blog entry was quite depressing and probably scared off ure loyal followers (aka your mom, brothers and maybe one friend)... For the next entry, I suggest you write about the 10 greatest things about Guatemala:
1. Every chicken bus is a moving altar to Jesus.. Seriously who needs church when you have your own movable icons and live sermons while being transported!
2. Having a volcano you'll surely hike soon in plain view from your window
3. Great nearby volunteers and sitemates- one of whom is cooking for your lazy bum as we speak
4. Guatemalan health educators and their nonsense, craziness, and pervertness
5. Getting used to making up words and forgetting english, ie: see bullet #4
6. Guatemala time- sure it can be aggravating always waiting around, but hey the NY 9-5er stress is worse
7. Inspiration to write and.... get writer's block....
8. Having the creativity and freedom to decide what, when and how I want to work and not the other way around
9. The spontaneous, unplanned and random incidents and conversations of the day
10. Seeing the horizon from the top of a windy but yet breathtaking mountain and thinking "this is where I work"
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Unfortunately, it's alot different on the ground work and on my third week in, I'm dealing with semiperverted centro staff and a counterpart who has been MIA for a few days, and could probably care less to work with me... But why would he? From the Guate point of view, what would a gringa know about their culture and how to improve their standard of living?? And so for the first time in her life, little esther is wondering what to do next, no plan, sitting in the backseat she stares out the window and ponders....
But the good news is that every single volunteer goes through this and this is all probably stressed due to the fact that I've decided to spend the week in one of my aldeas, to live within the community and with the people I will be working with... Again, very idealized right?? But it's sort of trying to learn how to walk all over again, in addition to no running water, a graveled-like cement latrine with feces and toilet paper surrounding it, and puesto staff who have nothing for you to do and are wondering what you do... And while the humility of the people is awe aspiring, it somehow doesn't compensate the sadness I see from a people who have been so ignored and impoverished.... Where do you start changing centuries of these conditions?? How can one gringo do that???
The mental state probably isn't helped by my witnessing a crazy camioneta accident aftermath last week, in which a bus crushed a mother and her baby into a wall after the breaks went out coming down the mountain from my aldea... Brain splatter, blood, cadaver and all left me a little shook up...
Ok so it's been rough but this is what we signed up for, to be challenged and to try to overcome it; so we´ll be lost, but it's the only way we will find ourselves right??? So heads up for now, I'm surrounded by a really great group of other volunteers and hey, I have two years to get my crap together in the land of eternal spring.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
What to do, what to write.... I know it`s been a while, and some of you are probably wondering if I`m even alive. The answer is obviously.. YES! The last few weeks have been a mayhem of finishing our activities, visiting our new sites, rush of emotions, saying goodbyes, meeting new people, and being absolutely ecstatic with the end of training!! I wish I ¨could put into words how amazing my experience up to now has been, and how unexpectedly amazing all these volunteers really are.... We all have different stories, different backgrounds, but somehow all crazy and passionate enough to be here... We realize that we may not change Guatemala in a split second, but we can certainly try to change a live or two along the way. It`s all about development sustainability here folks, and basic education along the way... So on that note, i`ll share below a dialogue I wrote and shared with the rest of the group as part of my commitment show speech for the next two years (part of it is in originally spanish, but it`s been changed for you damn English readers):
Two fishermen stranded on a boat in the depth of the ocean staring into the infinite darkness ..... One begins to desperately cry and breaks the silence.....
Fisherman 1 `Here I am at alone at world`s end and Irealize that I don`t know who I am and can`t understand what I`ve done with my life..`
Fisherman 2. `What are you saying? Do you think that you haven`t lived until now? Me, I have my memories... The light of the sun falling onto the night, and the emotions I have lived through every person, every experience.
F1 `Ah, all I ever wanted out of life was to bring home lots of fish, to make my family proud, build my wife a beautiful house and get the toys my children have always wanted.`
F2 And do you still think that the door to a beautiful house can show you the way to happiness? Brother, we have lived a long life, but a life just for fish. Yes, I have lived every corner of the world, and have realized that you and I like everyone else share the same water, the same earth, the same world.
-1 Sounds like I`ve lived my life all wrong.
2 - Friend, what is the point of living a life of fishing, when there is so much beauty and hope in the world? If we can`t help and live with one another and the people of our world, what is the point of humanity? The truth is that a Guatemalteco, just like a Gringo, need each other, like a flower needs its bee. What a shame that only stranded on this boat in front of death`s face, we are finally able to understand each other.
1 -I think it`s because we`ve forgotten to live and think outside of ourselves. Maybe we choose to fill our lives with artificial happiness because we fear the magnitude of the world.
2 Now you`re thinking friend, history has given different consequences for everyone and his land, but that is no excuse to turn a blind eye to the problems that affect our world.
1 Do you think that maybe perhaps if were started living for the lives of others and realized our co-dependency, we could then make it a better place to live?
2 There will always be ignorance and selfishness, but that doesn`t mean we should just ignore it. Yes, in this boat, we see the same stars, the same universe as the rest of the world.
1 True, we are just specs under the universe`s jacket.... But what a beauty would it be to live for mere strangers, for those born and burdened under history`s dark shadow. Yes! We are just specs, just creatures, the simple, same creatures, alike in blood and water. All these thoughts, all these feelings and all I want to do is swim home to tell my children, so they too can finally understand the meaning of life.
2 Sit down, sit down my friend, one day you will be able to tell them, but until then the only thing to do is wait....
The boat drifts afar into the ocean.... They disappear in the darkness...
I know a bit dramatic and abstract, but as I sit in bed, thinking about swearing in tomorrow, I repeat now what I said that day: that this isn`t just two years, it`s my life commitment.
ps... this was originally written a few days ago due to malakias internet service... i am now officially a peace corps volunteer yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
Monday, June 22, 2009
Talking of puke, I`m in a band and we`re called the leftover burps. Although a fellow bandmate classifies it as `Spanish punk`, I think it`s sounding more like an indie, hippie satire of livin life as a peace corps volunteer.... You may be wondering, what on earth is Esther doing? Yea, I`m writing tunes and playing a sick wind bird instrument. That`s right be jealous. Anyway the band is a super sweet outlet for some creative writing and music making and I think we`re debuting at the 4th of July fiesta. For those curious souls here is a snipit taste from one of our singles, the Chicken bus roller coaster:
The diarrhea is a`kickin, kickin, kacklin` at me
The bumps are vibrating me vicious, road is dusty
I can hardly see, Rain`s got me soaked and wet
Swamp a×× got me a hot mess
And I think the old senor just groped my chest
Guate.... Guate..... Guate.....
Pero sweet companys gotten me comfy
Yea, Ive got a front row seat., a Front row seat....
To the tongue wrestling match next to me.
The songs are mildly inappropriate, but it is a necessary comic relief. Other tunes include emo songs about not getting packages and of princess tigress, a mutt that follows me everywhere around town. Don`t worry I`m starting to write more serious stuff too....
On the work front, our health promotores started giving their own charlas in front of the group last week. And by start, I mean only one who was supposed to go that day showed up. And although it doesn`t seem that the promotores really get the participative teaching method we are trying to go for, at least they are trying and are even doing charlas about HIV and opening up conversation about STDs ranging from machismo, infidelity to discussing local rumors and myths about sitting on a hot rock to cure a sort of STD that if I got the conversation right, includes pubic lice? Well, you get the point. I`ve realized that much of the work and the methods of teaching we want them to use are things that they have never been taught and goes against everything they`ve learned their whole lives. So what they didn`t get the ciclo de aprendizaje right away? We can`t expect them to change overnight and hey at least they are able to talk together during our meeting about taboo topics they can´t talk about in their culture and at home. And if anything, I think the meetings are fun for them and they are able to let go of reservations, laugh, and I mean laugh a lot, and just be themselves.
In other good news! We were able to get the Mayor to provide us with refracciones (snacks) for our weekly meetings! Which is a huge deal, Guatemalans love their snacks and I think it will give a great boost to all the wonderful women that have been taking the time off from their busy schedule to come to our meetings. I`m pretty bummed we`ll be leaving them so soon.
As for self reflection: well I`ll be off to my permanent site in one month and I wish I could say I am fearless, but truth is I`m scared beyond comprehension.
Additional anecdote on some of my fav. quotes of the last few weeks:
-A fellow volunteers: I want to learn really cool s*** while I´m here, like how to weave and be a Mayan Priestess....
- A conversation between a volunteer and a local niña: -My cousins in the States are adopted Niña - Really? Where did they buy them?
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Peace Corps loves acronyms and in this case FBT is AKA Field based Training, in other words the halfway mark, the beginning of the final stretch to swearing in and shooting off to our sites. Field Based Training is a week of super intensive, peak brain absorbing training in which the trainees engage, support, and learn the activities of other current volunteers in different parts of Guate. Our program was split up into two groups of eight and went to the departments of Quetzaltenango (Xela as its popularly known in the indigenous community) and Quiche. Our first stop was off to Xela in which we settled in none other than a small town brothel. Yes, a brothel. After a few minutes in, our trainer got the hint from one of the little ninos in the place that the rooms downstairs were often `rented out` on sundays for hummmm couples. But that didn`t blow the whistle, we accepted our fate into brothels and about 10 mns. later our trainer came back telling us that we needed to leave due to security measures, nooo not because it was a brothel but because we couldn`t get keys to any of the rooms. Result: eight gringos rushing out with their luggage from a small town brothel trying not to piss off the owner, although the owner didn`t seem so pissed as amused since he was drunk and trying to take pictures of the gringos. In the end we got a very unique special treat and stayed in the second biggest city in Guate, and a magnet for bohemian backpackers and volunteers where I had the opportunity to bond with eccentric frenchies and lost elderly quebecois among other casts of characters.
Our first site visit was in a medium sized town outside of Xela. Some cool things: had a session with workers from a day care center and helped them create an `action plan` to help them tackle serious hygienic issues within the day care center among the kids. Many of these kids going to the day care are absolutely filthy, sick with amebas, covered in lice and as a result infect and spread germs and its friends to other healthier kids, seriously shitting up the day care center conditions. These workers, who are paid very little, feel very frustrated about the situation and feel hopeless, not knowing how to intervene and get the parents to improve the hygiene habits of their children and family. By the end of the session, we had helped these workers find possible solutions and interventions to the problem by basically empowering them and bringing out ideas that were already within them. Another cool anecdote: Giving a charla to 20 somewhat energetic midwives (mama must be proud) which went beautifully amazing! The point of the charla was to improve the hygiene and sterilization methods during labor and give them tips on how to use cheap, commonly found resources around them that can help the hygiene condition (ie making garbage bags into disposable gowns, how to disinfect a cuerda de castillo, used to tie and cut the umbilical cord). Most of the women only knew Mam and needed an interpreter (as many of these charlas do, there are 23 indigineous languages in Guate!), but as always, laughter is damnly universal, and had them engaged, and participating by being just silly goofy gringos. I also had the chance to pretend to be in labor and popping out Enrique, the local baby dummy (don`t worry there is a video floating around somewhere).
Other role plays I had to play this week: prentend to diarrhea and vomit my brains out in front of restaurant and meat owners in a charla about food preparation and being an abused housewife in a charla about domestic violence. Who knew the acting skills would blossom in peace corps?
One of the best things about the trip was just to finally get to travel and see more of the beautiful countryside. On our way to the second town, we had time to visit these hot springs perched in the middle of these amazing mountains and relaxed for an hour after days of hard work. The second town visited was in Quiche, much smaller and pleasantly propped in a valley with a recently cleaned out lagoon. Among a number of poppin` events, we gave a taller on HIV, gave handwashing charlas to school kids, another charla to food vendors, visited a filthy chicken slaughter house, a water treatment plant, soccer game, watched High School Music 3 in Spanish (yes, the highlight of our saturday night), became violently ill one day and shit the worst diarrhea I`ve had in my life. Wicked experience of the trip: Teaching women from a poor rural village high up in the mountains how to cook spaghetti with protemas, a much cheaper soy substitute for carne. The women and children were absolutely openhearted to us and as I sat there looking at the amazing view on top of the world I thought to myself holy crap, this is what I get to do for the next two years. So what the dollar signs are few, the only green I need lies here high upon the mountains.
And on the homefront, we arrived back just in time for my town`s feria celebrating SA`s patron saint, which are 5 days of the town turning into a fair ground, fireworks (ive been wide-eyed since 4am due to bombas), with drunks, concerts, games, live bull runs, a ferris wheel, funny and innapropriate songs such as `I like to move it, move it` and `dont want no short d×××× man.` Lots of fun right? But fun complicates work when the municipality is shut down and we are running around trying to find other groups for our HIV taller because school is out early due to the pig flu.
Long story short: Chaos- It`s just another day in Guate.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Our activities with our group of women is really kicking off and Kati and I are even petitioning the mayor and the munnicipality for some snacks and support for our weekly meetings.... I can honestly say that I really enjoy these meetings and feel extremely close to all of these women.... three new women showed up, one a teacher, one a university student studying to be a social worker, and the other a 17 year old!!! It`s amazing just to be talking and seeing women nodding and taking notes..... Kind of like holy crap!!! the Gringas are kinda damn cool.... Alot of the activities that we do consist of bonding activities, and it sort of feels we`re sort of building a women support team but with a health twist to it in the community.... The women are even meeting next week without us gringas (we will be on a site visit) and our tecnica is giving a charla on self esteem!!!! What a damn pila!!!
Other big news, Kati and I will be giving a large workshop to a middle school in two weeks.... this ain`t no small activity here folks, in the course of two days we will be giving the workshop to 160 kids, and will have to train the school`s teachers.... although this is a requirement of training that we are all doing, I`m pretty damn proud to have been able to arrange this, and although our trainer is really happy with our work, Im pretty freaked out about actually doing the workshop to the sea of antsy annoying preteens.... We`ll keep you updated on the hysteria....
Kati and I have taken to visit a local library that partakes in a sort of afterschool reading program for kids in our pueblo.... Its pretty amazing given the fact that vvery few guatemalans are readers, and am thinking that I will try to start the same sort of program at my site..... I think that books are one of the very few resources that these kids can use to dream, travel, and just philosophize!!!
In supernatural freaky news, anyone that mildly knows me that weird shit sometimes just happens to me.... that is no different here in Guatemala.... ie: doors opening, chocolate necklaces mysteriously opening, et al.... But just another day in the life of Esther.....
Talking of spirituality, the group was able to attend a Mayan ceremony last weekend, which was pretty amazing and left me really revitalized.... The Mayan had it right man, uno a uno con la naturaleza, spirituality, and our ancestors....
As far as for more of inner self reflection, well I guess you can say that I just feel alive finally, and realizing that all the things that have happened, all the fuck ups that is my life have all led me for me to be here, and to do this. Very dramatic I kknow (did you expect anything less?)
Thursday, May 28, 2009
If you´re wondering what I´m up to these days, well it´s split between spanish classes, groups activities (I´m even learning how to play ultimate frisbee with some other volunteers every tuesday), and working at the health center. Kati and I officially started working with our health promoters this week, and it seems that we have hit it off really well.... If you were to ask me a month ago whether I though I could train a group in health education, I would have said hummmmm NOOOO I´m still having problems showering regularly man! But I´ve learned that much of this ¨training¨ has to do with motivational speaking emphasizing ideas that are already engrained in these individuals and just teaching them how to apply them.... Our group of promotores are entirely women, ranging from a midwife to women who simply could not get through nursing school but have always been interested in health.... Out of about eight some have a good education, ie, finished high school, while others cannot write; as you can imagine it means that alot of the activities that we do rely on interaction, participation, drawing (yeaaaa college doodling skills), and a whole shit load of creativity..... One of the women even brings her cute two year old daughter to the sessions right along with her, who at the end of the session yesterday waltzed in the room with her older brother with none other than a huge pet rat on top of her head... The women were a little frenzied either screeching or joking around that the rat was gonna get us..... In sum, things are really looking up and our health puesto technico is even asking us to accompany her to do charlas (mostly now about the influenza) at schools on a weekly basis... YOu can imagine that the kids get a kick out of two overtop gringas acting out role plays....
And for self reflection, well you can say that I´m learning to live with a mirror hanging in front of my head at all times... I´m realizing that I need to slow down my role and that my whole life I´ve been so used to excelling and being competitive, which are both completely useless here... Who am I competing with? my own charlas??? So that´s what I´m struggling with: how to not be bossy, relax, take my time and how to just take it.... poco a poco.... and just enjoy the ride man... It´s nice to know that there is someone behind that shell of humor, languages, random knowledge and stubborness.... There´s ME!
Side note of Daily habits: run every morning (I´m shooting for a 20K run in July), eat tortillas, read spanish, secretly listen to gringo music, buenos dias my entire pueblo, eat an ice cream or a chocolate raton, chatting about town rumors with my host mom, spanish class, health puesto, lesson plans for charla....
The good news is that it´s almost friday and I must conclude that yes, weekends are just as good in Guatemala as they are in the States.... I´m even still suffering from major sunburn from beach bumming last weekend!
Oh and send me stuff because I am getting oober jealous of all the other volunteers that are getting awesome supplies!!!
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Enjoy it, it takes alot of goddamn work with this internet de mierda!
In unrelated news, I started off ¨work¨ at my health puesto on Friday and it was quite the two and a half hours, much of it was spent talking to posters.... We haven´t met the head nurse yet and it seems as if the technician and the nurse aid don´t really get what we´re doing there (for those of you still confused it´s health education and workign with health promoter folks)... my theory was proven when the aide asked us (myself and my partner in crime Katy) if we had ever taken out stitches before, which I responded to NO! Thankfully we were not put to work, but we did have to sit in on the removal of stitches from some sort of displaced hernia... Pretty awkward moment.... The health puesto itself isn´t too busy because many of the folks here prefer to go to the big centro in neighboring Antigua instead... In sum, first impression, the workers are not enthused by us and we have alot of ¨confianza¨trust building to go... we are supposed to meet with our promoters on wednesday although I´m not sure that they do exist in our pueblo.... Well, as I stated to others, so my puesto kinda sucks but at least guatemala isn´t getting ravaged by human hungry zombies right?? gotta look for the optimism here folks...
We also got to visit other volunteers in pueblos by Chimaltenango in the highlands.... the site that I visited was absolutely breathtaking, perched among mountainous peaks.... Unfortunately, this is the population that is the poorest in guatemala and the conditions are pretty bad.... the volunteer there is at the end of her service and we got to see some of the projects she was doing in a nearby community that consisted of fundraising and installing cement floors in households... sounds meek right? No really, Respiratory disease is the number one cause of death in Guatemala, because of the sanitary conditions of many rural households... many do not have improved stoves, which causes households with dirt floors to become inundated with smoke, tar and infectious living conditions.... The trip really put me in a downward mood seing those conditions and feeling overwhelmed thinking that I could never do all these amazing things that this volunteer has done.... But that´s what everyone has thought before and if there is one really great thing about peace corps, it is that there is a really great support network... shit we´re all uncomfortably trying to live with our new selves!
I´m also reading Guatemala: Never again; a book published in the 1990s documenting the psychological impact and details of the civil war and atrocities, massacres committed by both sides, but especially by the military at the time... The history of Guatemala never ceases to amaze me and its people who in such short amount of time have alsmost unfazingly learned to live and coexist with one another... For instance, one section of the book detailed the massacre of 12 companeros in a nearby school of a pueblo, and as I read further, I realized that the place was actually the same pueblo and maybe even the same school that I had been in just the day before while visiting the volunteer by Chimaltenango.... It left me stupified.
Well that´s all for now kids, my computer neighbors next door are playing really weird Irish Guatemalan music over and over again.... Guatemalan'IrishNerds perhaps? apparently they do exist.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Where to begin... Well a week has felt like a lifetime and it seems that I just can´t really grasp the concept of my being here.... It´s a whirlwind that seems to never quite end.... Turns out that Peace Corps training is just like school, but they sort of give you the title before graduating. For instance, our group was told yesterday that we would soon be introduced to our pueblo´s health centers as ¨health experts¨ in hum.... two weeks??? Yea, we´re still working on the diarrhea talk here folks. I may be an expert at diarrhea but that sure doesn´t account for health as a whole.... Talking of diarrhea, I haven´t been cursed yet like some of my noble comrades, but I have had the privilege of welcoming a swarm of fleas on selected body parts.... Turns out we get vitamins though that make our blood taste kind of like spinach to pulgas. Life en mi pueblo is pretty good, I settled in a valley town surrounded by mountains and volcanoes (I was even covered in ashes after a morning run) and that is infested with really funny mutt dogs (thus the fleas). Mi familia is absolutely sweet and amazing and possibly even more obnoxious than I am. I really lucked out and am not quite sure what I will do in three months when I am dropped off in a middle of nowhere pueblo and told to work on health initiatives..... My Program, Rural Home Preventive Health, is new itself and we are only the second group of volunteers that will be sent off to the highlands (one of the most indigenous impoverished areas in Guatemala,largely affected by the Civil War that ended in 1996) This means that this is still a trial process, but we will have alot of creativity to work with; the program itself is about 70% health education and 30% construction (latrines, sinks, et al...) Since the program is new, we will all be going to sites where they have never had a volunteer...... Long story short, all of the volunteers are on major FREAK OUT mode.....But back to my town for the next three months, it is a crazy 20 mn. chicken bus ride away from Antigua.... Talking of Chicken buses.... no blogstalking or extended travels could have prepared me for these camienotas.... Exhibit A: After a day long session of training at the Peace Corps Center yesterday, Little Esther and her comrades are awaiting under the withering rain for el chicken bus; the bus of course is packed full of people, limbs hanging out the middle alley and windows style, and unfortunately the soaked gringos have to manage to fit in. Unfortunately, for me, I made an unwise purchase of formal like jelly shoes (adios flipflops) that were soaking in all the dirt and water on the road..... the result being that one of them happened to fall off my foot as I was rushed onto the bus by the fellow gringos and natives, to which I panicked of course... I proceeded to hop uncontrollably and bend trying to get my shoe, while waiving my umbrella dangerously close to fellow riders´ heads and soaking the 70 somewhat year old sitting in the front seat of the bus, who proceeded to give all of us dirty looks for the rest of the ride....good news though: i got my jelly back. Moral of the story here kids: I suppose it was on that bus ride, when I was sticking to the three persons seat, jamming out to the reggaton, smelling the major bo odors, having body parts (groins, butts, tails you name it) rubbed in my face that I dug into the two dirt beaches that were my jelly feet, looked out the window and realized... holy f&/("· I am in Guatemala.