Tuesday, December 29, 2009

And a Christmas picture please...

And since I know we are all obsessed with pictures.... Here is a host cousin taking part in a Guatemalan Christmas tradition... Roasting marshmallows?? Saber.....

Monday, December 28, 2009

Kissing Baby Jesus

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

the eyes of san andres

I know, don`t judge me, it`s been a while. But sometimes writing a simple blog entry can be overwhelming. Where do you start when days feel like a lifetime? My brother once suggested that I post a picture up on every blog entry, and just write about that. Well here goes nothing: The picture above was taken by Alex, a ´boy or perhaps a young man, with down syndrome. Alex is the only disabled boy I know in my town and in all of a Guatemala. Alex has never gone to school because there is no ``special education`` for him; his education lies within his eyes. He is the eyes of San Andres, watching, walking, spending his days and nights observing the happenings of the town. He, of course, has taken a liking in us Gringos and I often wonder if even he can understand the cultural differences between us.

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.