Sunday, April 8, 2012

Semuc Champey, Tikal and Livingston

Finishing service was pretty wild. I don´t know that it has really hit me yet that I´m not a Peace Corps volunteer anymore. I think that maybe it will feel more real once I´m back in the States again. After spending a relaxing couple of days in Antigua with some other RPCV friends, I headed back to Quiche to translate for the Canadian organization, Hearts and Hands. It was sad to say goodbye at the end of the week because we´ve worked together a bunch of times and there are a good number of people that come every time. I worked with a stove building team for the first day and then spent the rest of the week translating for a dental team that was doing extractions, fillings, and cleanings for one of the aldeas of Uspantan.
My friend Hilary worked as an tourism volunteer in Uspantan and helped develop Laj Chimel, the birthplace of Rigoberta Menchu, as a place for Tourism. Unfortunatly not many tourists make it to Uspantan, but it is a really good experience and definitely worth the visit for people who are willing to go off the beaten track. It was a bit over an hour bumpy ride to Laj Chimel, and there they show you where they hid in the woods when the army came through, killing community members because Guerrillas had used the forest near the village to camp out. We also had lunch in a woman´s house who hid out in the mountains for 18 months and was finally captured by the military. It was very sad to hear her story but also good to get a better understanding of her personal experience of the war. It´s not often that anyone will open up about what happened during the war, it´s still a very sensitive subject.
Sunday a week ago I started on my vacationing, taking the back road from Uspantan to Coban, which I would never recommend to anyone. It was very bumpy, dusty and a bit frightening. From Coban it was a two hour bus ride to Semuc Champey, a series of natural limestone pools and some gorgeous caves (that I didn´t work up the nerve to go in...). I got there mid afternoon, checked into the hostel and read in a hammock until my friends got in from Antigua. Monday and Tuesday we went to the pools and Wednesday my friend Rachel and I carried on to Flores.
Flores is an hour from Tikal, which is the best known and cared for Mayan ruins in Guatemala. It was an incredible experience, hiking up and looking all over the jungle and imagining people living and building there over 2,000 years ago. It was so hot that I think I sweated out several liters. I drank two while I was walking around and three when we got back to the hotel in Flores and were hanging out on the dock. It was Semana Santa all this past week, so we got to see people participating in processions and decorating the outsides of their houses. There were lots of Guatemalans on vacation in Flores since many people had all week off work for the celebrations.
Rachel and I got to Livingston yesterday and spent Easter hiking and eating seafood. I could not be happier. Tomorrow we leave for Belize, and if its not too, too expensive, will be getting our scuba certifications. There are supposed to be whale sharks coming to the part of Belize we´ll be in, which I suppose is a good thing because the guy who told us about it sounded excited for us to see it while scuba diving. Then Mexico, to see Frida and Diego´s work and eat some mole!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Aguacatan adventures

This past weekend I went with a coworker to her hometown, Aguacatan in Huehuetenango. We went swimming at the pools, spent the night at her Mom's house, and went in the temascal, which is like a sauna, which is how most people in the aldeas bathe. We also found my traje! Photo below! The picture with the view of the mountains and the valley is me walking down for the last time from Llano Grande. The other picture is my health promoters giving a health talk!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

saying goodbye

All 84 stoves are built. We had a big celebration this past monday, the mayor showed up and paid for a live marimba band. I was a little sad that no one would dance, because in Cunen there is always dancing if there is marimba, but the community where we built the stoves doesn't dance because it's prohibited by their church. Other than that, it was a fun party. I wore traje (the traditional clothes worn by K'iche' people) and gave a little speech and there were lots of presentations and speeches by different leaders. They made a sign for "Iglesia St. James" and I tried to get a picture but it was made with shiny material so it was hard to get a good shot of it. They had me cut the ribbon on the "inagural" stove along with the mayor. It felt a little cheesy, but fun.

Tonight Nicole organized a surpise goodbye dinner for Melissa and me. We were totally surprised, but, as we are still in Guatemala, although we showed up half an hour after Nicole told people to arrive, we were still some of the first people to show up. Oh dear. It was a really lovely evening; my host family was there, as well as a few friends from work and the new volunteers that are taking over our work.

Tomorrow is my last visit to Llano Grande (where the stoves were built). I'll be doing a workshop with the health promoters in that community, introducing the new volunteers, and doing some final house visits and interviews. I am pretty sad about all the goodbyes, but so excited for everything coming up in the next couple of months. I'll be visiting Belize and Mexico with my friends Rachel and Nicole, and then Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia with Melissa. She and I will be parting ways in Bogota. She'll be going on to Panama and eventually making her way back up to Guatemala, and I'll be home in time to see Billy graduate high school.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

winner takes the turkey

Last night was the health commission’s fundraiser for reducing maternal and infant mortality. Have you ever been to an event where the raffle prizes were: first prize- a prepaid cell phone, second prize- a live turkey, third prize- a tea set? Only in Guatemala. Melissa and I bought some tickets for the raffle. We were really hoping for the turkey. And we decided that if we won the cell phone, we’d convince the turkey-winner that they wanted to swap it for the phone. Unfortunately, we didn’t win anything, and I ended up giving a very hurried thank-you and goodnight to all the people that attended since they started running out en-mass after the raffle winners were announced. It was good that they started leaving, I don’t think I was in any condition to give a proper speech since I’d been there for about five hours, the windows don’t have glass yet so I was chilled to the bone, and I was so tired I was starting to panic that it was never going to end. But, disregarding the prolonged nature of the event, it was an enjoyable evening. There was a comedy routine that involved 13-15 year old kids dressed up as street people spitting water in each others’ faces. It was hilarious, if not completely on-message with the health and hygiene focus of the event. The other events were the usual dances, some lip-synched reggaetone, and some funny contests for prizes in between acts.
This week is the last week of building for the stoves project. On Friday I went to the mayor’s office to ask for a marimba band for the inauguration event. I think he’s going to give us one. He spent more time talking about whether I would stay and teach him English and eventually become first-lady of Cunen. I said I wasn’t really thinking marriage at this point. Plus I know he hits on Melissa when she goes in on business. He speaks pretty decent English, but I guess he didn’t pick up on the no-sexual harassment in the workplace thing while he was in the states. Oh well. I only have three weeks left in Cunen and I’m spending half of next week at the Peace Corps office to do my close of service medical evaluations and a few other errands.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

building and winding down

It has been a pretty incredible two weeks. Two weeks ago the materials hadn't been delived yet and the SPA funding hadn't been deposited. Now, all the SPA money (and all other funds) has been spent, all the matierals delivered, and almost all the stoves are built. All 84 should be done by the end of the day next Tuesday.
Tonight I went to dinner with my host family and we were talking about when I'll be back. My host mom, Maru, said I should come back for Maria Isabel's quincinera, which I would like to do, but it made me sad and a little freaked-out just thinking about it. Time moves too quickly. I only have four weeks left in Cunen. It's sad, but I'm also extremely excited about seeing Tikal, relaxing on the beach, exploring Mexico City and all the other great places I'll be headed in about a month!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Four days in!

Its been as crazy as could be expected, perhaps even more so. On Monday the whole community gathered, and we waited together for the trucks to start rolling in. Of course they were a little late, but that was a shock to no one. There are some great pictures of everyone getting involved, from grandmothers to small children. Things went relatively smoothly, with lots of phone calls back and forth with the hardware store. Monday afternoon I left the health promotors in charge while I traveled to El Quiche to fix things at the bank. I took every possible form of identification and all of my bank documents, but, unbeknownst to me, you must have an electricity bill or they will not make any changes to the account. I nearly wept; it was less than an hour until closing time and there was no way I could make it back to Quiche anytime this week. I called all the people who might have been able to fax it to me and no one was picking up. Finally I got through to my landlord's neice who lives next door and, crazily enough, she was in Quiche a short tuk-tuk ride away with a copy of the electric bill. Dispite the setbacks and times where I felt pending disaster, things always have a way of working out, usually by getting the right person on the phone. It doesn't come very naturally to call people up and ask for help, but when I do I am always surprised at how willing people are to go out of their way to help. It's a good reminder that "sticking it out" isn't always the most effective way to get things done, even though it feels like the stronger thing to do.
Since then we've all been working hard and getting stoves built. I've kept my health promotors extremely busy visiting houses and making sure the families are working side by side with the professional builders to get maximum learing and also keep up their end of the deal with the community contribution. With the majority of families we don't even need to remind them because they're so excited the stoves are here that they want to pitch in and get the stoves built.
The top left picture is the first stove nearing completion, top right is what we're replacing-- for this woman it was an open fire on an adobe platform, for many families it's an open fire on the floor. Then there are the community members moving materials and laying down the stove's foundation.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Nebaj and Cunen

Last night I spent the night for the first, and most likely only time in an aldea. In Guatemala the country is divided up into departments, which are similar to states. The next subdivision is municipalities (like counties) and then after that are aldeas. I am pretty sure that although I've done a decent amount of traveling here in Guatemala and have visited other volunteers, I have always stayed in the main town where the municipal building is located. It was a very cool experience and I was a little bit jealous to see what a strong connection the volunteer I visited has with her community.
I have good friendships here in Cunen but it is a totally different for volunteers that live by themselves in a very small town. They are more isolated and naturally turn to the people living near them for support and friendship. It must be a harder adjustment but it was really cool to see how much everyone in the aldea connected to her and are so sad to see her preparing to leave.
I was not jealous of the micro ride, which was on a bumpy, muddy dirt road for about forty minutes. I also came to appreciate living in the Muni for the consistent running water we get here. An hour or two after arriving in Xix, where this volunteer lives, the water went out and didn't come back at all the rest of the visit. However, this morning we traveled back to the Muni, Nebaj, which is a tourist attraction for its rich history and unique language, and because it attracts tourists it has certain luxuries that Cunen doesn't offer. We stopped in El Descanso, a restaurant started by a former Peace Corps Volunteer that has pretty amazing chicken barbeque quesadillas. There is also a restaurant run by an American that has grilled cheese, french toast and other U.S. comfort food. It's nice to have those things in Nebaj, since it's only an hour away but I've only been there a handful of times throughout service.
Tomorrow is the big day! I'll be up and out early to meet with the community members, work out last minute details and oversee the distribution of materials. Send positive vibes my way, because things have a way of not going as planned here!

The first couple pictures are of Xix, and then the girls are my host sisters and there is a picture of the sunrise view from my porch.