Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quince AGAIN

Wow. I really feel like Peace Corps service is FLYING by. I can't believe another Quince has come and gone. For you non-Guatemalans or Non- PCV Guatemalans the 15th of September is Guatemala's Independence Day. We look at it as a time when schools are taking huge amounts of study time out to work on their dance routines to techno music, a time where fireworks are frequent, and a time where everybody uses it as an excuse to get out of work. With that said, it is actually a great holiday. This year I went to Xela as it is the fair there this time of year. It was really fun. I went with some PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers), some Guatemalan friends, my friend Evelyne who lives here in Tecpan, and her 2 friends from Canada. We went to some beautiful hot springs, the fair, and a futbol (soccer) game in Xela. It was a great weekend and I felt pura Guatemalteca due to the extremely Guatemalan things we did. I think my highlight was going to the soccer game. It was really fun, everybody was representing their Xela colors (which are actually the United States colors), singing, dancing, yelling, etc. On the day of the 15th I went to one of my good friend Dana's schools to watch some pinata breaking and listen to some live Marimba (the country's typical music). Then we had snacks on the grass at our friend's farm. It was a really great day. Today is a day of rest due to the festivities so all schools are closed. . . Hence my blog update.

Work is going OK. It's really hard right now because early on in this cycle we visited the CTAs (Superintendents) that actually wanted the project in their municipalities. Right now we're visiting the CTAs that really don't care. We have to CONSTANTLY call them to confirm. We get canceled on REPEATEDLY. And when we get there they often have not chosen their schools. We have 3 left to visit, 1 appointment for tomorrow, and something tells me the other 2 have completely blocked us from their lives. No worries, we'll start visiting the good ones again and work will pick up! We have a training next week with our boss. .. He's going to be training the CTAs on Project Design and Management which means how to design and manage small project like hand washing stations, letrines, and kitchens. We don't really have a role in the training, we're mostly going to support and learn. I think it will be interesting. We hope to take advantage of the fact that all of our counterparts will be together so we can train them on how to conduct a Baseline Survey, make a Plan of Action, etc. but I'm not sure if we'll have the time. I'm realizing more and more that making a HUGE difference this year will be difficult but at least we can be as organized as possible and set things up for the volunteers that will replace us. We also hope to do another big training at the end of this year or the beginning of next year to explain about all aspects of Healthy Schools including health classes, healthy , habits, etc.

I still love my English student Michelle. I haven't done a class in a while but we're picking back up today. We went over things in the kitchen last class so I think this class we'll make banana bread so she can use her new vocabulary. . .

All is well in my house. Except for the mold smell. But that will be gone in the dry season hopefully!

Ok, I'm out of ideas! I hope to update again soon!

Ah, other current challenges. SAFETY. I actually feel MUCH better now than I did a few weeks ago. One of my good friends in Peace Corps was on a bus that was held up at gunpoint. Since travel is an integral part of my job, I was nervous for a while. Also, some guy grabbed me on the street. Gross. I will never get used to lacks of respect like that. But, I will say that I have a thicker skin than I used to! It's a shame that such a gorgeous country with such great people and so much need also has abusive people that yell at women on the street, rob buses at gunpoint, and touch women close to their homes. But, maybe the small improvements that each volunteer and NGO is making will all add up to contribute to a huge change here in Guatemala eventually.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cultural Awakening

I'm sitting in my little "living room" which is my front room that overlooks my little garden. The furniture includes a cloth mattress on the floor, a plastic table, and a plastic chair. There is a beautiful bay window from which I can see my grass, a huge freesia plant, and the other flora of my mini garden. This is my favorite place to sit in the morning and enjoy my oatmeal and tea. This morning I am remembering a time about 3 hours ago when I was awoken by a cultural event. . . I was sleeping soundly, dreaming my crazy malaria prevention pill dreams, when I heard LOUD music, drums, and fireworks. That's right, 4am on a Saturday morning and there was a parade going on. I just wish somebody would have warned me. Apparently it's Tecpan's birthday. Well, Happy Birthday Tecpan! I also get frequent window shaking music from the church next door. Between that, car horns, busses, etc. , there is a lot of noise pollution here to say the least.

A little bit about my neighbors. As you all know I moved in April. I LOVE my new house and my new neighbors. They are all sisters in the houses surrounding mine. My neighbors that share my back wall (Dona Rosa and Family) have the most adorable daughter who I give English classes to once or twice a week, depending on my work schedule. She's 9-years-old and is named Michelle. She is so adorable, so sweet, and so smart. Next to them is another sister who has 2 adorable sons (and more children, but I interact mostly with the little kids) names Chiqui and Jorge. Chiqui is called that because that's an abbreviation of the Spanish word for tiny (Chiquito). Jorge is about 10 and always comes over asking random questions like doing interviews for a class, selling raffle tickets, or bringing over the lyrics to "Beat It" by Michael Jackson and asking me to help him with pronounciation. In front of my house is Dona Mercedes, the happy, nearly jolly, owner of the store in front of my house. Her children are a bit older and all go to school and work in the store except Victoria who is a little younger and so sweet. She also works in the store from time to time and I believe she's 10 or 11 as well. Dona Mercedes sells the BEST tostadas with avocado, makes tortillas, and sells basics like eggs, flour, snacks, etc. One of my favorite parts of coming home in the afternoon is greeting them.

June was a tough month for work. The Ministry of Education suspended classes country-wide for 2 1/2 weeks. 1 week was for H1N1, 1 for Teacher's Day, and 1/2 for a holiday. So, as you can imagine, we had to rework the schedule and lost some valuable time. However, this month we are hitting our stride again and have had a few successful visits. Some have been less successful. The first training we gave about Phase III of the project, 7 superintendents missed the meeting. The second makeup training 5 missed the meeting. So, we've been going to them to explain the new pilot project. Right now in our visits we are visiting the proposed schools of each superintendent (which are 2 or more). Each has to pick 2 schools to run the Healthy Schools Project in. We go, make sure the schools are excited and fill out a set or requirements that our us, our boss, and personell from the Ministry of Education developed for the pilot project. If the superintendent has difficulty choosing between 3 or 4 possible schools, we help them make the decision based on the animation of the teachers, need for the program, and the adequacy for the program. We've had some great visits and some mediocre ones, but so far it is going well. At times we find ourselves saying T.I.G. because somebody doesn't show up, there is no transportation, etc, but overall everything is going well. Soon we want to do a training on how to do a baseline survey on the school, how to present the results, and how to make a plan of action to set small goals to eventually accomplish the certification of the school according to the Profile of a Healthy School. This week SueEllen (my partner) is in Spain, so I will be visiting 3 superintendents on my own or with other volunteers in those areas.

Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer definitely has its ups and downs in work, culture, living situations, and personal lives. Work is on an up right now because we've got a good pace set and everything is flowing nicely (most of the time). Culture is great. I love living in Tecpan even though the guys in the street are extremely disrespectful at times. My personal life is great. I'm working on getting in better shape, have great neighbors, a great home, and great friends. There are actually some other volunteers in Tecpan right now, 2 from Spain and 1 from French Canada so we have a great time cooking together, hanging out, etc. Being with people from different places, cultures, and languages is an experience that I never want to be without. Living situation: this is pretty funny. Everything is great on that front except I'm dirt poor. This month started with the 4th of July. This involved spending 3 nights in Antigua, spending money on food, nighttime activities, a hostal, etc. We also had to put down a deposit on a house we're renting for Thanksgiving in El Salvador as well as pay for some T-Shirts we ordered earlier in the year. You can imagine how much all this affects a volunteer on our salary. For the last couple of days I've been eating oatmeal, pasta, and the occasional piece of fruit of vegetable but pay day can't come soon enough. It's all a part of being a volunteer though, and part of it's exciting. I'll never go hungry, but the quality of food is a little low right now.

Something I forgot to include earlier: Teacher's Day. It happened in June and we got to participate in a ton of activities including going to a department wide awards ceremony with a lunch and dancing to a live band after, going to Santa Apolonia's celebration (our old stomping ground), and going with a group of teachers from Santa Apolonia to El Salvador for a Teacher's Day trip. It was really fun, tons of interaction with our counterparts and teachers, and I'm really going to miss this time of year when I'm back in the States.

Other great news: I'm going home for a visit in a little under 2 weeks! I'm going home for Brittany's wedding (One of my best friends, we've been friends for over 10 years now)! I can't wait to see my family, my friends, and of course my dog Maggie. So, email me if you'd like to get together, I'll be home August 5th- 18th. Also, the great thing about working in a pair is that we won't lose time in our work because SueEllen will be able to visit communities while I'm gone just as I'm doing while she's on vacation now. I'm also watching her dog Nala which is SO fun. Nala is adorable and hilarious to watch, although she has been digging in my garden.

I realize this is a super long post. I'm probably forgetting a ton but let me know if you have any questions!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

This. Is. Guatemala. T.I.G.

As you all know, I'm in Guatemala. So, the title of this post may seem a little silly. But, T.I.G. is a saying that we have. . . Things work a little differently here. For example, here you can hike right up to a flowing river of lava, toast marshmallows over hot lava, swim in whatever pool you want in a semi-protected area, ride in the back of a pick -up truck, etc. When people seem surprised by these things, the automatic mental response is, "Well, T.I.G." But, it can also be slightly negative. We take everything with 10,000 grains of salt. For example, a lady on the bus is throwing up in a bag next to us .. . That kind of thing doesn't even disturb me anymore. . . I just go back to staring into space. . . Maybe something will flash through my head like: "I hope she doesn't get any on me." Or, when we get street food in the park and a lady sneezes directly into her hand and then continues to prepare the food. . I said something like, "Well, at least the food is hot." All of those things make life more adventurous. . But this week we have experienced some T.I.G.s that have been less than pleasant. First, we had this huge important meeting/ training set for yesterday. . It was going to be the first presentation to the CTAs about the new project that we'll be working with them on. We were so excited and nervous. . . Not to mention anxious to begin working on the new project. . . Can you guess what happened? It's rescheduled for next Friday. . Which is actually a blessing because our APCD can participate as well as a counterpart of ours. But we worked pretty hard last week to be ready for Friday and the change happened. T.I.G. . . Everything worked out ok, and actually better. . . Well yesterday we were informed that there was a change of CTAs in our department again. . . So we're wondering now if our meeting will change again. . . Time will tell. The thing is that the CTAs just changed last month, which is why we have had such a delayed start. Oh well, This. Is. Guatemala. Here you learn to take everything in stride. When I get back to the States, whenever that may be, I will be a lot more flexible and patient, that is FOR SURE.

I had an AMAZING weekend last weekend. SueEllen, Dana, Katie, and I went to Semuc Champey in Alta Verapaz. It was a 9.5-10 hour ride to get there but it was so worth it. It was gorgeous. Semuc Champey is a natural set of small waterfalls and pools that you can play around in/swim in that is in the jungle. . . It was formed in some way that I'm not sure of that involves a rushing river going underground and has resulted in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. We went to Semuc in the morning and had the area to ourselves! We were the only people there for about an hour until people started rolling in. We splashed around in the pools all morning. .. In one of them there were these tickly fish that had us rolling with laughter. We took a break late morning and went to get some fresh mangoes and delicious homemade chocolate with cardamom. . . After than we went to see where the river goes underground. . . That part is extremely impressive. I'm going to try and post pictures of it. Then we did about a 30 minute hike STRAIGHT UPHILL.There are staircases that feel like ladders to get up to see the view of all of the pools.It was totally worth the walk. The view of the site is striking. We had Guatemalan kids use my camara to take pictures and meanwhile the other people standing by took pictures of us with their phones. I think we're all used to that by now, although it's always at least a little annoying. After the mirador we walked down and found an empty lagoon to play around in. We found a vine to swing on haha. Anyways, our deserted lagoon involved two Guatemalan kids watching us from behind some grass and a walkway above us where everyone entering Semuc passes. People would stop on the walkway and take pictures as well. Sometimes we feel like celebrities. . Not. After a while swimming around we decided to pack up and leave. Then, the sky opened up and started raining really hard. We had no umbrellas or anything so we just walked in the rain back to where we were staying. It was actually really fun. We bought a cacao fruit from a woman on the way and ate it in the rain. . . If you have the opportunity to try it you should. It was dilicious, so tart and sweet at the same time. The rest of that day we just hung out.

On Day 2 we did this incredible cave tour of the Kanba Caves. You wear a bathing suit and shorts and are given a candle. Then you enter the caves. It's a combination of wading in ankle to waist deep water, swimming with one hand holding the candle in the other, climbing ropes, climbing ladders, jumping off of a rock inside, and shooting down a chute. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done. Our guide was the 16 year old son of the man who discovered the caves. After the cave trip we went to jump off of a really high swing into the river, then tubed for a little bit, jumped off of a bridge into the river again, then finally landed back at the hostal. It was fantastic. The rest of the day we relaxed by the river. .

Everything is going really well here. Despite the delays in the new job I'm confident we'll be able to give these people some valuable knowledge and really help the Healthy Schools Project be more sustainable and succeed. We are actually more or less helping out Ministry of Education with pre-implementing a public policy that our boss has been working on with the Guatemalan government. So, hopefully we'll give our department the boost they need to really succeed with the implementation of HS in every school. There is a large need for this project in this country and I feel like we will have an integral part in meeting this need. Also, I really want to pursue a MPP (Masters in Public Policy), so this is really interesting to me and right up my alley.

Aside from work and travel, my personal life is also great. I'm so content in my new house. I'm enjoying oatmeal with banana and walnuts (walnuts were this week's splurge) and a green tea. . The rainy season is just beginning so it's a little foggy out. I feel like I have a good niche here. I have good friends, a good job, a great house, and a great network within Peace Corps. . .

I really miss all of you in the States :) I appreciate emails for responses! I want to know what everyone's up to!

Ok I tried to add pictures and it didn't work so email me if you want to see them and I can send some out!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jungle Hike :)

Hey guys! Sorry for the delay. . busy busy. . A few things to talk about. .

1. New job! Last year my partner SueEllen and I were responsible for implementing and coordinating health and hygiene programs in 25 rural schools, every school in our district. That was going great, we had 8 schools that we wanted to certify this year, give or take. . .We were really impressed by many schools and disappointed by a few. . Now we're responsible for all of the superintendents (CTAs) in our department (Guatemala's version of a state), 23 in all! This is another pilot project in which each CTA will pick 2 schools to work in and implement the program, so we'll be in 46 schools. We're trying to make the program more and more sustainable so we're teaching the people higher up in the system how to make Healthy Schools work. . . It's a great opportunity! We're going to be responsible for training, workshops, helping pick schools, monitoring and evaluation, development of materials, technical assistance, and much more. We'll be traveling 3 days a week and have office hours in the Minstry of Education office in our department. . . It's so exciting! So, I had to move from my small town to a much bigger one because 2 girls replaced Sue and I. We are now living in Tecpan which is really close to Santa Apolonia, so we'll still keep in contact with the families and friends from Santa.

2. Semana Santa! Over Holy Week 5 friends and I took some vacation days to hike to a really cool ruins site in the jungle (Peten). It was a great hike on which we say lots of monkeys, scorpions, tucan like birds, iguanas, wild turkeys, a peacock, and some other birds etc. The first and last day were somewhere around 23 km and the 2nd and 4th were about 28km.. Lots of walking but it was so beautiful, so secluded, and so fun. The ruins site is great because It's not totally excavated but you can see where the ancient Mayans really lived and went about their daily lives. It's a preclassic and classic site, a lot of the preclassic stuff was built over when a new generation came later. Why they left El Mirador is still a mystery.

Also. . . On the last night we got to the last camp and the vigilante or like guard had gone fishing on a horse 2 hours from camp and came back with some unidentified fish and some catfish (called pesgato and pez means fist and gato cat which I thought was funny). They never get mean or fresh things like that. . . They started cooking. . . making tortillas which I had never seen men do. . . anyways they made fish soup and gave us all bowls! Which is crazy because they have so little yet they shared what little they had with us. .. So we were eating bowls of broth w/ onions and WHOLE cooked fish. . . It was a beautiful thing although now easy to do. . . Grant, a vegetarian in our group, ate it our of gratitude and politeness which I thuoght was cool. It was actually really good, although a little different from usual. We were just struck by the kindness of those people. .

The 2nd night Ashleigh, Kelsey, and I slept on top of the 2nd largest pyramid. .. It was windy! But had a great view. . . Then at 3am it began to rain and we had no tent so we had to climb down in the dark using one flashlight between the 3 of us. . . We had to use a rope to get down. . . needless to say it was an adventure. . . We saw some great sunsets on that trip as well. . . The rest of the trip went smoothly and I arrived not much worse for the wear . .. I arrived with a few tick friends, blister, and minus one toenail :)

I'm more than halfway through my service, although I'm really considering extending to finish out the school next year. . . I need to start studying for the GRE! Grad school apps aren't due any time soon but it's study time now. . .I've finally decided I think I want to get my Masters in Public Policy or something closely related. Down here we're working directly with a public policy and the process is so fascinating and appliccable to so many things . . . But we'll see. . . I have at least a year and maybe more to change my mind :)

3. My new house. It's amazing. It's bigger than my old one and we painted it amazing and bright colors. . . So buch light gets in and I have a tiny backyard with GRASS which is unheard of out here. . . I feel so refreshed living there and I love to go home, be at home, entertain, do my laundry in the pila, sweep, mop. . . anything in my house!

Anybody have good book reccommendations? I just read Papillon and a while ago read The Fountainhead which were both great. . .

Miss you guys! I'll be home in August for 2 weeks fro Britt's wedding!



Monday, January 5, 2009

Christmas Vacation

Amaaaazing. First: Thanks to those of you who have sent me Christmas packages. I really feel the love :) And I´m going to feel the extra 5 lbs. I'm going to gain from the delicious food. . . My parents came. . . We had one of the most amazing trips. . . We went to my site, Antigua, and Belice. We hiked an active volcano, ate delicious food, cruised the Carribean, etc. They really got the opportunity to see where I live and what I do as well as see how the country is. . . Also Ron and Jeanne English came, who are really good friends of the family. They vacationed with us a little as well. . . It was great to see so many familiar faces here! I think everybody had a great time, although I was a little overwhelmed at times being the tour guide. . .

We had the opportunity to lunch with my family in Pastores which was really fun. . . It was fun translating and having my family and Ron and Jeanne see where I lived during training. What else did we do? Well we had an adventurous bus-boat-bus-boat trip to Belize. . . We went fishing and snorkeling and generally enjoying ourselves on various Cayes in the Carribean. We chatted with some nice people, got some seafood, and walked the small peninsula of Placencia practically to death haha. My brother and I had some interesting creatures in our hotel room including a huge flying roach and a frog.

All in all the trip was great. I´m sure I'm missing something but I'm paying for internet time so. ..

I'm back in site now with a new school year to look forward to. True to form in thei country school will be starting at least a week late due to the fact that there aren't enough teachers signed up for the year. .. our huge training got postponed so we'll see what happens.

I really missed my other friends and family this holiday season. . . I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year and hope to hear from you all via email!



Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Pictures and an Update

Hey hey. I'm a blogging machine these days. So. . .went to Chuisac, the village outside of San Martin. We finished a stove, the one in the school. It was a lot of work but really fun. It felt good to see some final results. We also had a fire outside of Katie's house that night which was AMAZING. I love campfires. . . We ate some good food thanks to Dana's cooking, played a lot of Boggle, and just hung out. I'm attaching pictures at the bottom of this update. There will be some pictures of the first phase and the second.

Also, some random stuff. 1: Music that I heard on the chicken bus on ONE trip: Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion, and Bryan Adams. I laughed out loud. 2. I went to the market and got a bag of jalapenos, a pound of potatoes, a pound of tomatoes, a pound of blackberries, 6 zucchini-like things, a head of broccoli, and a cucumber for under 3$. Amazing. 3. It's freezing here. I go to bed with sweats, shirt, sweatshirt, socks, a scarf, and my hood up. Also my sleeping bag is on top of my bed for extra warmth. It's cold out, lots of wind, no insulation or heating in the houses. Brrr. ..

Here are the pictures I promised. . . there are some of my house and the others are of the various parts of the stove project.

my kitchen

My front room

pila, dish keeper, outside that's inside. . . generally where i do most work like dishes, laundry, etc. The stairs lead to my roof. .

Entryway, bookshelf. Looks almost like the states :)

Shower. Pepto Pink Bathroom. .

Bathroom again. . .

Girls from my Girls Group making earrings. . .

Mixing lye or lyme. . . burns the eyes and nose!

Mixing cement . .

You have to level EVERYTHING.

Making rebar cage to reinforce cement in base. . . With Debbie and some Guatemalan kids. . .

Leveling everything. .

Campfire. . . Love it. .

Girls hard ar work!

Finished product!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mas Fotos

More Pics from the Ruins. . .

I realize it's not the best pic of me but look at those ruins :)