Treat Yo’ Self

Treat yo’ self is part of the motto of our bak’tun, so staying true to my Bak’tun I did just that…

Photos of the first day I met this cute little creature 🙂

One the way home from our Valentines Day/week hike the kids were filled with energy. I don’t know it if was the sugar from the ice cream or the fact that I agreed to let them watch a movie in my room upon our return (I like to hold out on them because otherwise I could never have my wine and movie nights), but they were going nuts on the micro.

Thankfully it only takes about 30 minutes to get from Nebaj to my site, so the grueling screaming/energy-filled children came to a stop as soon as they dropped us off at the top of my street. We all raced into the home to let everyone know of our arrival and the fact that we had successfully completed the 2 hour hike (I’m sure the kids were more into their ice cream, but due to me not understanding Ixil I have to go with the things I told the family). It was when I turned the corner I met what would be my future bestest friend ever.

The moment I peered into the kitchen I noticed everyone’s attention focused on a black blob. When I focused myself on the object I saw the most joyous thing ever: a Beagle puppy. Man was I in for some trouble. I quickly and without much hesitating questioned my host dad about this cute little monster running around the house. Who’s is it? No one’s, it’s for sale. Where did it come from? A man in town. How old is it? 3 months. How much? 500 Quetzales.

In no time my host dad was talking up the little chuchito (“chucho” being the Guatemalan slang for street dog and “ito” the ending they put anything to make it sound like it’s cute). He was telling me the dog could sleep upstairs on our patio, that I could bring her with me places, that she could stay in the garden and play with the other dogs. Little by little this man was convincing me… not that I really needed convincing. I left that conversation with a “I want her but I don’t know if I’ll get her” to my host dad and prepared myself for some very difficult decision-making.

I returned to my room to find the kiddos already waiting for me to put on the movie and asking if I could make some popcorn. I went downstairs to make a quick run to the store for some Pepsi to accompany the fresh stove-top popcorn all the while debating with myself. And texting everyone humanly possible for their input.

The pros of keeping the dog: She’s cute. I mean a beagle puppy? Come onnnnn. She’s cheap. Q500 is a lot of Q, especially for a volunteer, but from previous research I knew that dogs de rasa (race) like this cost a near Q1500 so this was a steal. I would have a reason to not leave site and focus more on my work. Guatemala is huge and most of my friends are in places hours away from me, meaning I would have to do a whole lot of traveling to get any good companionship… unless I get the dog. I would be less tempted to binge-watch the television series I stole from my other volunteer friends because the dog would give me reason to leave my room and wander about. I could probably be healthier overall because the dog would force me to do more exercising. I had already told myself I’d be getting a dog during service later on and this would be much more convenient.

The cons of keeping the dog: I’m down Q500. Since I had just spent a good chunk of my remaining monthly allowance on the boat party and my weekend trips to Antigua, getting her would make a major dent in the Q700 that I had remaining in my bank account. The dog is female, meaning I would have to get her fixed so she doesn’t get pregnant from the millions of male dogs roaming the streets. And getting a dog fixed here is pretty expensive. I wouldn’t be able to leave site, at least, not for long. Which is a stinker because sometimes you do just need to escape your town for a day away from your site frustrations. Technically speaking I would be breaking the Peace Corps rule of waiting until I reached 6 months in site to adopt a pet (it had only been 3 thus far). I’d be responsible for her. While people here in Guatemala don’t really care what a dog does in it’s free time, it is customary in the states to worry about your pets like they were your own children. With the dog being a beagle mix there is no telling where her nose will take her. And there’s also the inevitable problem of fleas.

Some of the views from our hike to Rio Azul

To make things easier on myself, I did my very best to distance myself from her cuteness during this whole process. Unfortunately my family was no help in this matter. They invited me to eat with them that night (Sometimes when I do something nice and inclusive for the fam they return the favor) and taunted me some more with the dog. They already knew my love for animals due to the time they tried to gift me one of the puppies from my host dad’s land and they played on this like crazy. The whole time during dinner the little pup ran around our feet and played with their other dog. I couldn’t do anything but soak up the cuteness. My mind was still not made up though.

After dinner I went and had myself a shower when I did some more thinking and listened to the pup cry. The family left to go do some errands (or mandatos as they say here) and left the poor pup tied to a tree outside the kitchen. She howled and howled and the sound was making me that much sadder, so I took it upon myself to show her some love. I brought down my iPad (photo op) as well as a stuffed animal I had bought for a gift exchange that never happened in an effort to play with the dog. For the next two hours or so I cuddled, petted, and took pictures with the pup. I also was able to teach the kiddos how to play skipbo and Heads Up! (but in Spanish). The dog stopped barking when people were around it, so we spent much of the night playing with the dog and with my iPad.

When my host parents finally returned home they questioned me again about the pup. I asked for a few more days to think it over, but I also asked for permission to bring her into my room for the night. While they were worried she would poop and pee everywhere, I wasn’t too concerned. I figured if the dog was going to be mine she’d learn eventually, but I just wanted to see if she had the potential to bond with me.

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Immediately upon stepping foot in my room she headed for my makeshift couch and started to play with my stuffed duck toy. The host family stopped by to check on how she was doing and found this hilarious. My host dad even got out of bed in solely his underwear to take peak, to which the daughters laughed and tried to hide his bare legs with his body, more embarrassed for him than anyone else was. In no time the dog tired out and fell fast asleep on the couch. Me being me, I doused myself in bug spray (because fleas) and carried the little cutie to my bed. I secured her a spot outside of my covers and away from my skin as an extra layer of precaution, but from that moment on she didn’t move a muscle.

The next day I awoke early to head to Nebaj for a hike with two other fellow volunteers and left the dog at home with my host family. Surprisingly the dog didn’t have any accidents but I was still on the fence about her. This Saturday we decided to mix it up and do a 4 hour hike from Nebaj to Cocop to Rio Azul instead of the 2 hour hike to Acul (we both had done it many times and figured we could take advantage of the nice weather). It also allowed me to hash out my concerns about the dog, and service, with some other volunteers. By the end of the hike I was leaning more towards not keeping the dog. I had gone and bought her some dog food but still wasn’t completely committed. I knew my host family had taken the dog somewhere that day and resolved that if she wasn’t at home I wasn’t going to ask about her.

When I arrived home I found that the dog was not present. While a bit heartbroken I was also relieved. Having to see the pup tied up outside again would’ve pulled at my heartstrings and I would not have had the man-power to say no. The last time my host family took the other puppies on a trip they never returned, so I secretly hoped for the same fate of this one. However, my relief was short-lived. While I was making my dinner the pup showed up once again, invoking my inner-debate once again. Already a bit more accustomed to me, the dog perked up when I came downstairs to play with her, and once again I asked to let her sleep with me for the night.

The dog must’ve known or sensed my hesitation in keeping her though because that night she bypassed the covers and snuggled herself right next to me, her head resting on my arm while she slept. And just like that I was hooked. Sure I debated another day what to do with her, but that Monday morning I marched myself to the bank, exchanged my reserve USD and went ahead and adopted Sky.

I can happily report that life since the adoption has been great! While the first two weeks she had a few accidents in my room, she is now completely house-trained. I am also no longer waking up in the middle of the night to take her out as she sleeps the whole night without accidents. Talk about a proud mom! She has also learned her name as well as the commands come (in English and Spanish), Sit and is in the process of learning stay and lay down.

Above and Below: photos from the first hike I got to do with Sky and some other fellow volunteers in Cotzal

The first few weeks I tried keeping her closed off in my room, but I quickly learned that she needed more room and exercise. Little by little she is expanding her circle, first from the patio outside my room to the yard to the street. She learned the hard way what happens when you approach a bigger, territorial dog on one of her adventures and now doesn’t go to that area. I’m still having some problems with her wandering off to the neighbors’ homes, to which my host mom tells me to tie her up with the leash, but I’ve learned that if I take her for an hour or two hour was each morning she is too tired to do any wandering on her own. In the case that she does wander off and I can’t find her I can normally whistle a few times and throw in her name and returns home, tail wagging, happy as ever to see me.

Definitely the best Valentine’s day/week gift I’ve ever gotten, even if I did get it for myself. Stay tuned for more adventures of myself and Sky!

Abrazos y besos a todos 🙂

P.S. Here are some photos I forgot to upload from the last post about Carnaval/Valentines day

Valentine’s Week

I left the blogging world just before Early In-Service Training (EIST) in late January. Fortunately not too much had happened before that, but I was able to start giving classes with the students of the NUFED.

As part of our “job” here in YiD (Youth in Development), we are given manuals that help guide us in the teaching of life skills, drug and alcohol abuse, sex ed. and gender education. *There are MANY more manuals but these are the ones i’ve opened thus far.* In the start of the Life Skills, or Habilidades para la Vida manual we have a few things we like to call PACA tools. PACA has two meanings to us volunteers. One being Participatory Assessment for Community Action (I think?) tools, the other being the common name for thrift stores (I definitely spend equal amounts of time utilizing both definitions of PACA – no shame). As much as I would like paca stores to be relevant in classrooms, they aren’t. So I’ll elaborate a little bit more on the PACA that has to do with what I’m doing here.

Students of the NUFED in Primero and Segundo doing a PACA tool 🙂

Participatory Assessment for Community Action is exactly what it says it is. We use dinámicas, or activities, to extract information from the intended audience to better understand what the community is looking for. In this short time before I left for EIST I was able to complete two PACA tools. One asked the students to get together to make a calendar of their school year, including holidays, fiestas/ferias, descansos and seasons. The second PACA tool had students rating their knowledge on the topics I have been asked to teach. From there I was able to 1) create a rough draft of lesson planning topics for the year and 2) get to know how much time I actually get with the students throughout the year.

Unlike in the states, students here in Guatemala either go to school in the morning (7:30-11ish) or the afternoon (1-5:30ish). I’ve also determined that *ish* is actually a very accurate description of time too because my students tend to show up anywhere between 5 minutes early to 20 minutes late. With no repercussions. In addition to the cut in hours, students also have classes cancelled for “demonstrations.” Demonstrations mean a number of things, from field trips, to culture days where students perform in front of their colleagues, to Kermesse (dancing, movies, and futbol put on by the school in an effort to raise money. They invite surrounding schools as well and charge for admissions, foods and activities), to just cancellations due to teachers not showing up. Almost every week since being here in my site I’ve had at least one class cut short, if not cancelled all together. While I am elated that I don’t have to stand in front of a room of 25-30 kids for 2 hours on days like this, I am equally frustrated. Education is a wonderful thing and to see it taken away without any protest from parents, teachers or students baffles me to the very core.

Some of the results from me testing to see where the grades are at on each subject. Each grade has their own symbol on the charts.

But lets rewind a bit back to EIST. For almost an entire month, I had to leave my site to go through yet another training. Let me just say this: I hate training. While I enjoy the company of my fellow volunteers and the fact that I was able to spend most of my days speaking in my mother tongue, it was not my cup of tea. To start, I live very, very far away from the Peace Corps office. To travel to the office I must first catch a 30 min/Q5 micro (mini-bus) from my site to Nebaj, then a 2-2.5 hour/Q25 micro or camioneta (school bus) to Quiché, followed by a 60 min/Q15 camioneta ride to Los Encuentros. From Los Encuentros I take the afternoon Peace Corps shuttle for another 2.5ish hours to the Peace Corps office. All in all, my first time doing the trek via public transportation, it came out to about 9 hours of travel time if you add in the waiting. A very long day, indeed. And due to the fact that it takes that much longer to arrive at the office, I had to leave a whole day ahead of the majority of volunteers. Fortunately the view is gorgeous, unfortunately a man peed on me at one point while I was getting off the bus. Win some, lose some. This was not the worst thing to happen to me during EIST, although I wish it was.

Photos of the hotel we stayed at during our YiD retreat.

Upon everyone else’s arrival to the office the following day, we were provided a delicious lunch of chiles rellenos (stuffed chiles). The chiles did not like me as much as I liked them though. for the next three days I encountered my second case of food poisoning. I was forced to excuse myself from most of the activities for the first few days and found myself off to a very bitter start for EIST.

From what I can remember, EIST was very much like PST (pre-service training). While some of us have worked with youth on topics like life skills, drug and alcohol abuse, decision making, etc., there is a good chunk of YiD volunteers that are new to working with youth. Because of this much of our trainings are focused on a general knowledge level. And for this reason I find them boring. At times useful, but mostly boring.

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YAY THE YID CREW FOR BAK’TUN 8!!

To get myself through EIST I thought about the upcoming vacation planned for my class of volunteers in Panajachel. Panajachel, or Pana for short because Peace Corps is all about shortening everything, is wonderful. First off, it is H – O – T! Well, at least compared to my site in the mountains. Pana is also home to a very beautiful lake overlooking the volcanoes. Luckily for me, volunteers had planned a boat party on the lake for a few hours and I was able to enjoy my first real day-off from Peace Corps. Drinking (in moderation), dancing and meeting new volunteers from other projects and sites was a great way to end training.

Pictured above: Antigua, Guatemala, the volcanoes near the office, YiD during their first day of EIST and the surprise baby shower we threw for our training manager.

Below: Photos from my wonderful time in Pana! Unfortunately my phone/camera broke while in Antigua so not too many photos from here on out.

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That brings us up to February and onto March. When I finally arrived back in site it was the week of Valentines Day. I had spent a majority of my Sunday and Monday morning planning my classes for the NUFED, only to find that Tuesday we would be having a gift exchange in order to celebrate Día del Cariño. The teachers at the NUFED had put my name into the draw, so early that Tuesday morning instead of preparing my materials for a class that was cancelled, I went gift hunting. And when I arrived at school I found myself face to face with one of the most unorganized gift exchanges ever.

Every student, all 85 of them, were called onto stage one by one, and asked to give a hug in exchange for their gift. While this seems quite simple, they were asking the middle schoolers to do two things that middle schools fear most: pubic speaking and show affection to someone, possibly of the opposite gender, publicly. The awkwardness and uncomfortableness was quite entertaining, and I found myself laughing with one of the other female teachers at some very awkward moments. After everyone had received their gifts, the classes split up into their classrooms where they had a refa. I was assigned segundo básico and was put on display in the front of the classroom for all to watch me struggle through some of the spiciest tacos I have ever had the pleasure of consuming.

Photos of the school trip to Sacapulas for Valentine’s Day! (Above and Below)

After refa, the students went in their different directions to either play soccer, play volleyball, take photos or go to the dance. In no time I found myself being tugged in every which way. After a short game of soccer, I found myself crowded into a cement wall room with trash bags covering the windows and sand as a dance floor. In typical middle school fashion, the students lined up along the walls with their respective genders or, on a rare occasion, with their significant other, and watched the 6 or so people dance. And when I say dance I’m referring to the Guatemalan version which can be best described as an upbeat shuffle with the same rhythm being repeated for songs on end. To give the kiddos a bit of a show, I joined in with the director for a song before trying to drag a few students out on the dance floor with me. All in all it was a great day and I got to learn a lot about many of my students through observation.

By the time I finally got home I was exhausted from all the stimulation and prepped myself for an early night bedtime. While I was prepping I was informed by host sister, who is also one of my students at the telesecundaria, that Wednesday we would be going on a viaje with the students to celebrate Día del Cariño. At 7:30 am. Upon hearing this I grunted and cheered. I was excited for another fun day of activities with my other students, but 7:30am?! Why was this necessary?! I promptly texted my director for more information, set an alarm for 6:30am and dozed off. When I awoke the next morning I put together a little bag of items and made myself some breakfast while I waited for Manuela, my host sister, to get ready. Around 6:50 I received a call from my director apologizing for the late notice – he didn’t have any saldo when I texted him – and told me I would need a bathing suit, lunch and to be ready to board the bus at 7:30.

Bathing suit? I was confused but obliged. Unfortunately, due to the early morning grogginess and the complete and utter negligence on my part, I didn’t think to pack sunscreen. In my panic of thinking what I could make for lunch in the next 30 mins I forgot one of the most important things for someone as white as myself. Not the first, and most definitely not the last though.

Día del Cariño festivities with the gang!

After a lot of stopping and waiting, we finally made it to the pools of Sacapulas about and hour away. Although greenish and a bit bug-infested, I seized the moment and dove straight in. The majority of the rest of my day was spent in the water teaching the kids how to swim properly, do handstands underwater and dive without bellyflopping on the surface. It was another great day and I felt I had made up for the lost time away from them during EIST.

The rest of the week I spent my time with the director planning the themes for each grade, and Friday when I showed up to school I was allowed to go home because classes were cancelled! When I arrived home I found my host siblings, some neighbors and a cousin playing and was able to convince them to go on their first ever hike! Considering they live in one of the most well known areas for hiking in all of Central America, I thought it would be a good idea to give them a taste of what they had been missing so far and upon our arrival in Nebaj I treated them all to a little ice cream at the local Sarita as a late Día del Cariño gift.

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Little did I know that upon my arrival home I would encounter something that would change the rest of my Peace Corps Service immensely…

To be Continued 😉

Futbol or Bust

It’s amazing how fast time flies when you’re having fun. While a good chunk of this month was dedicated to finishing season 6 of Desperate Housewives, the rest of it was spent doing what Peace Corps imagined; integrating. Over the last few weeks I’ve learned that there are far more opportunities here in my quaint little aldea, and I am finally beginning to recognize the little ways I can try to make a difference over the next 23 months.

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Because walking your pig is more common than walking your dog.

Growing up in the states, my life always revolved around soccer. School, social life, family time, vacation time, almost everything, revolved around practice and game times. As I got older, not much changed. While working midnights much of my “social” life amounted from weeknights and weekends playing and coaching soccer. Not surprisingly, the sport is still making a big difference for me here in Guatemala. At the start of the month my team and I found ourselves in the semi-finals. After an unfortunate but unsurprising loss to the favored tournament champions we were able to secure a 3rd place finish in the finals. The finals, however, were a whole other ball game.

Pictured above are the shoot out (left) of the jovenes and the ceremony before the girls’ game (right). Check out the crowds though!!

Most nights in the aldea you can find a nice-sized gathering of people in the futsala at the entrance of town (futsol being the sport, sala meaning room. Pretty clever name if you ask me). The night of the finals was no different. Fortunately for me, my host family knew what was up and took it upon themselves to dress me up in traje. Due to the sudden need to dress me in traje, we ended up being a little late for the girls game (40 mins) which meant we were actually right on time. Because everything here runs on la hora chapina (Chapín is a term for Guatemalan) the games ended up being about an hour behind.

Photo of the girls playing are on the far left. The other two are photos of the ceremony before the final men’s match where they tossed balls to a bunch of kids (see them wrestling for their own prizes).

Upon our arrival I was shocked by the crowd. It was almost entirely standing room only, and people were even crowded into the street trying to peer into the salon. Luckily we had someone saving us some sitting room, so my host mother did the bet thing she could think of to split the crowd – sent the gringa in first. For once the fishbowl effect was a good thing, and most people parted when they saw the tall, blonde girl coming their way. In no time we had our front row seats and found ourselves watching a nail biting double-overtime into shootout final match between the jovenes of my town and the jovenes of a neighboring town (apparently a big rivalry if you were to ask my new aunt). While our jovenes were able to come back and keep things interesting with the double OT, they were unable to win out in the shootout, and took second place to their rival. The next game was more of a washout, with the team that beat us winning by more than 5 goals. Before starting with the final match between hombres, the two remaining teams participated in a short ceremony for the children in the audience. After a grueling first half, the game was finished off in the second half with one team pulling ahead by 3 goals and we moved onto the awards ceremony.

Photos from our 2-hour hike (left) and our arrival to one of the cheese farms (right)! Below is a picture of the restaurant part of where we ate.

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Earlier that day, I had agreed to meet up with some other volunteers in the Quiche department/state and participate in my first hike. Luckily for me, I was placed in an area with many hiking trails and beautiful scenery. Even more luckily, my town was the one with the infamous cheese farms, so on this particular day we took the two hour hike from Nebaj to my new hometown.

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The view of the cheese farm as well as my entire aldea from our lovely lunch.

However, due to the hike, I was extremely exhausted. So when the time came for awards I didn’t have much patience or energy to listen and translate to everything everyone was saying. Luckily our team received the third place trophy, and while much of the girls protested, I was able to drag one of the girls up on stage with me to receive it. All flustered, we returned to the group and shared it amongst the rest of team. After some shuffling around about where we should take a picture with everyone, the team and myself found ourselves face to face with another bolo.

Due to my exhaustion, I blew right past him not really thinking about how he might communicate with the girls. As I tried to walk past the girls yelled back to me trying to translate from Ixil what the man was saying. After asking what he wanted, the girls translated that the man wanted to apologize for being drunk (very odd, I know). And with that I rolled my eyes and told the girls that he was drunk and that we were better off ignoring him and returning our attention to the ceremony. It was during that little that I missed the women’s MVP (goledaor) award. Fortunately I was quickly informed that it was my name being called and that I was needed on stage again. Awkwardly, and pink-faced as all get out, I made my way to the stage and accepted my award as they described who I was and where I was from to the entire salon. Shortly after I was congratulated by many players and spectators as well as asked to take photos with a million different strangers. It wasn’t until this point I realized how tall, or pale, I am in comparison to the general population. After many flashes, cheers and even a few good luck rubs of my hair the day finally ended…

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Like with all major (and non-major) events, the kids are setting off fireworks or “bombas” in the salon to celebrate the end of the matches (above).

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Pictured here are my host sister, Manuela, who invited me to the team with our trophies – 3rd place and MVP (left). And of course a selfie with my trophy (right).

But the soccer didn’t. During one of the photos ops I was invited to play with the female champions in a Chamusca (scrimmage) in Nebaj on Monday. Excitedly, I agreed to the match and waited for Sunday to come to get more information.

Sunday, unfortunately, lived up to its reputation of embarrassment when I was called upon in church to give a speech. While I tried to say no, my tienda-friend urged me on stage and so I went. Not knowing what to say, the pastor made a few jokes before asking me about where I came from and such. Due to my immense stage fright and unpreparedness, I kept my palabras short and sweet by thanking everyone for inviting me into the community and running off stage like an escaped convict. Thankfully there were no birthdays that day either so I was able to get out without much harm to my self-esteem.

Upon returning home, I took to washing the dirty dishes from earlier, only to find myself in another interesting commitment. As any nosey neighbor would do, I took a break from my dishwashing to peer into the street to see who my host father was talking to. Unlike most nosey neighbors, I was caught mid-act and found myself conversing with the local cheese-farmer, Hugo. From there he congratulated me on my award and invited me to play in the salon with he and his friends during the week.

Monday finally came and it turned out to be quite busy. The week before I was informed that school inscriptions had started so, since I hadn’t been contacted by any of my socios, I decided to take a field trip to my schools. I learned that both the Telesecundaria and NUFEDE were within a very short walking distance from my home, and that both were facing their own challenges with the incoming school year.

The Telesecundaria, unlike the years prior, found themselves with a much smaller incoming class than in previous years. This year the total amount of students in primero basico was a mere 25, when just last year it was somewhere in the 40s. This combined with the parents who came in to get their childrens’ transcripts because they were done with school (mostly because they had failed out) shed some real light on the reasons Peace Corps is here. In addition to those, I found out that much of their material is very outdated. The idea of Telesecundaria comes from the education system of Mexico. In a perfect world, classes were to be taught via movies or presentations that were made by the Department of Education with teachers acting as facilitators who answered questions and doubts that students may have. In the real world, the videos and books that they have are from the 90s and severely outdated. The power in the town goes out quite often and many of the classrooms don’t have enough material or even televisions for the students to learn. Each teacher is assigned a grade (primero basico, segundo basico or tercero basico) and they teach all of the subjects to that grade. While I’m still learning what type of subjects those are, I know there are about 12-16 to be taught, with kids only attending school from 1pm-5pm every day. So with a total enrollment near 80 students and a total of 5 staff (principal, 2 teachers, custodian and myself) it was easy to see how important the role of a Youth in Development volunteer is in this setting.

And then there’s the NUFEDE. As if things couldn’t get more complicated, upon my arrival at the NUFEDE I found that they too were stuck in a bit of a pickle resource-wise. With about 90 kids inscribed for the incoming year, more than 30 of them in primero as well, they only had two staff members (1 teacher and the principal). Unlike the Telesecundaria, the NUFEDE divides the teachers work by specialty with the students moving around between staff members. The director has asked for more help from the CTA (superintendent) in Nebaj, however they haven’t heard an answer yet. What this means is, come next week, I will be teaching 6 hours of classes. Of what, I’m not quite sure, but until a teacher comes I’ll get to spend my Mondays and Tuesdays trying to control a classroom of 30ish middleschoolers that speak a different language.

After meeting with both of my directores (principals) I received that fated call to play soccer with the girls. Later that afternoon I found myself and the other 5 girls on our way to Nebaj for a friendly. Upon our arrival, I learned it was not as friendly as I had thought. We ended up winning 10-4, but at the cost of a goalie and my bruised legs. While I enjoyed playing soccer, I also enjoyed the time I got talking to some of the family that came to watch. After a few minutes of conversation, I was asked what I was doing here. Like most people, they think I’m here to teach English. It’s only when I explain what Juventud en Desarollo is do they begin to understand the purpose of the Peace Corps project. And in this particular moment, I began to have one of these conversations. Luckily for me, I gained a great wealth of knowledge. While sharing my sentiments (with very limited vocabulary) about how sports can help teach a lot of life skills, and how I hope to help start a GrassRoots program in Acul (see internet for details on GrassRoots Soccer) I began to learn a little more about my aldea. I was told that while a majority of the youth and adults here love sports, particularly soccer, the other half of the population finds drugs and alcohol to be much more appealing. It’s hard to see in town, but many of the kids continue to try drugs and alcohol behind closed doors. This, while a small bit of information, opens up a world of possibilities in regards to decision making, goal setting and communication lessons that make up much of the Life Skills handbook I am here to share.

My host dad and sister working on my stove area because someone from the PC office is planning to visit and they want to impress (right). Me in typical traje – not most flattering but my host family loves it when I wear it (left).

In addition to this information, I also learned of an organization of youth for youth that works out of Nebaj and travels to other aldeas to assist communities in the organization of activities and such. Once again, soccer had not only been a source of exercise, but it had acted as a way of networking with people who I may have otherwise never talked to.

Now, as I walk around town, I see new faces that say hi. Faces that, like before, don’t think I’m just a tourist traveling through looking to buy guipiles or cheese. Sometimes they approach me and ask where I’m going or when my next soccer game is. Sometimes they ask me to help with their English or tell me about the family they have back in the states or to invite me to a birthday celebration. With just a little bit of soccer and a whole lot of open-mindedness I’ve learned so much about my new home and my new neighbors and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

 

Another Year, Another Opportunity.

It’s official. I’m sick of vacation. They weren’t kidding when they said there’d be a lot of free time on my hands. While I have plenty of work to do for when EIST (Early In-service Training) comes around, there certainly isn’t much for me to actually do besides play soccer, celebrate holidays, play with the kids and watch the first four seasons of Friends that I downloaded before my internet became sub-par. And of course the weekly game of soccer.

Sunset from my house (left). The kids playing with my hammock on the right, one of their favorite things to do (right). img_2052

Christmas Eve we found ourselves playing the same team that landed me that nasty bruise in my first ever Guatemalan game of futsol. Due to our previous empatia (tie) we were stuck playing them to determine our seed in the finals. Unfortunately, we were not as lucky as the last time and came out with a 7-3 loss. Even more unfortunate was the fact that we were scheduled to play them again for our first game of the quarterfinals. Thankfully, due to the spirit of Christmas, the emphasis switched from our loss to the gift exchange the girls and I had agreed to participate. One of the girls invited everyone back to her house for the exchange, but I ended up getting caught up with the adults.

Immediately upon my arrival at her house I was shuffled into the kitchen to meet parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and other family members. Being the new resident “gringa” brings all sorts of surprises, and this particular night meant learning to make ponche and sharing some tamales. One woman in particular was very adamant that I not spend Christmas alone and made sure to keep me close to the fire. Had I known the gift exchange invitation would turn into a family meal I definitely would’ve stopped home to change into pants, but it wouldn’t be the Peace Corps if plans ever went according to their original plan.

 

After a long time of sitting quietly wondering what everyone was saying (because the community speaks Ixil as opposed to Spanish… even in my presence) someone caught on I was cold and tired and finally offered to walk me home. Not only was I thankful for the out, but I was also glad I didn’t have to try to find my way back in the dark from a somewhere wayyyy off the daily beaten path I was used to. If I was feeling the littlest bit homesick that sure didn’t last long for a few hours later I was on my way to another type of sickness.

A few shorts hours after I fell asleep I was awakened by two things: fireworks and stomach cramps. Unable to keep anything in my system, I spent much of the next day in bed. To my dismay, it was also a Sunday so the rest I wanted to get was postponed until after the 4 hour-long church service ended. While it was by far one of my worst days, it also turned out to be one of my favorite. Most of the time I leave my door open in the morning and wait for the kids to enter but on this particular day when they came knocking I had to explain that I was sick. Slowly but surely word spread through the house and the visitors piled on. I ended up having to spend an absurd amount of time explaining to my host family that I was fine and that they shouldn’t worry (especially when standing up to talk made me so nauseous I had to sprint to the bathroom mid-conversation) because it would pass. I even had the pleasure of one of the little boys stopping by with his mother to drop off a caldo (soup) especially for me because they heard I was feeling sick. Even though I ended up having to throw the whole thing off my balcony for the dogs to eat when no one was looking because I couldn’t stomach it, I was extremely thankful for the thought.

Funny enough, the night before everyone was concerned about me spending the holidays away from family and feeling sad. I spent much of that night being surrounded by people but still feeling lonely because I couldn’t understand a single thing anyone was saying. The real feeling of family came the next day when, for the first time, when I got to experience firsthand how much everyone cared for me. So in a way, if I hadn’t been sick, I may not have been given the chance to feel like I was surrounded by family for the holidays. Funny how things work out.

One of my favorite areas to go and relax is the cemetery (dead people don’t try to bother you). The right is also a memorial for all of the missing people from the civil war in the 80s.

As if Christmas wasn’t hard enough, I was also given the opportunity to experience my first bolo (aka drunk) during these last few weeks. After a long day in Nebaj, I found my way onto the crowded micro a few minutes before its departure, the only seat left being a makeshift stool that sat in the second-to-last aisle. Unfortunately this was only an aisle away from the living nightmare. Due to my apparent albino-ness (see last blog), I was not surprised to have someone trying to speak to me in broken English. The only catch is that 90 percent of the time, when someone is speaking to me in English it is because they are drunk. This was not an exception. For the first few moments I humored the guy, making polite conversation and asking that he speak to me in Spanish instead of English. I figured if he was going to annoy me I might as well get the rest of the bus to commiserate with me and that would be better done in Spanish than English. The conversation started, like most, with a state. Carolina del Norte. O Sur. He couldn’t really remember which Carolina he was in but he was adamant about sharing with me where he was. I told him I was from Alaska and that I didn’t know anything about the Carolina he was trying to tell me about. In all honesty I could’ve told him I was from Mars and he probably would’ve thought it was just another weird state. Either way this conversation had the exact opposite effect that I wanted it to. And when I figured out that this man was not going to stop until he got off, I politely took out my headphones, put them in my ears, and pretended they were attached to some really interesting music.

This did not help. Instead, he decided to touch me. The first few times I turned around, resting bitch face on point, and told more than asked him not to touch me. To this he responded “you’re beautiful.” For the next 15 minutes or so I endured incessant tapping and weird sayings such as “I want you to kiss my babies”. Not even the nice neighbor who tried to get him to stop touching me was successful in his attempts. Bolos will be bolos.

After the man finally started to give it a rest, we stopped to pick up a pair of kids who had been working in the field. Now, when I say working in the field, I mean that they were covered in dirt and sweat and smelled of urine and a week’s worth of B.O. Unfortunately for them, it was standing room only at this point. Unfortunately for me, they didn’t get that memo. Before the doors even shut I found myself with a young sweat/urine drenched, dirt-encrusted Guatemalan boy sitting on my lap. And by the time the door closed, the Guatemalan found himself pinned against the seat in-front of him with an angry, fed-up American woman holding him in place.

Surprisingly enough, this went over very well with everyone else on the bus. Or at least that’s what I thought. Within a few seconds the entire bus was laughing at me. Or maybe the situation. The way everyone up front was turning around to look at me and then the boys suggested me more than the situation though. It was at this moment I decided I needed to jump on my Ixil game fast and start to learn what exactly people were saying about me.

Fortunately, this was not the most entertaining part of the ride. After a few good stares and laughs, someone in the back began to signal for the driver to stop by tapping on the micro. I steadied myself as I got out to let the bolo out and not make contact with the two smelly boys again. Thankfully it was a (somewhat) quick and painless transaction and we were all back in the micro. That is, of course, except for the bolo. He ended up ON it. As we pulled away from the stop the bolo ran, or rather drunkenly stumbled at a steady pace, towards the micro and made a half-jump onto the ladder on the back. Despite his lack of coordination and the micro man trying to pull him off, the bolo remained ON the bus. What was once MY problem was now EVERYONE’s problem. Finally God was punishing the Guatemalan’s and their conflict avoidance approach to handling these types of situations.

For the next 10 minutes until we arrived in my town, the bolo signaled the driver to stop about 5 times. Each time he faked that he was leaving only to chase after the micro and laugh himself onto the ladder again and again. At one point he even got the bus to stop to get the backpack he left inside AND to take a bathroom break on the side of the road. I had to hand it to this man – he had perseverance. Once we finally arrived, the bolo fled to the nearest pile of rocks to relieve himself again and the rest of us took a big sigh of relief as we drove up the hill towards the rest of the stops. And as if it couldn’t get any better, the chauffeur’s final words to me were: “Cómo molesta!” (How annoying)

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Another view from my house before the rain started. I love the way the clouds looked!

 

It’s hard to follow up a story like this one, but fortunately my life here in Guatemala likes to keep me on my toes…

Since my arrival the kids had been asking me to make a cake. My first day here I had thought they were inviting me to make one with them only to realize that they are actually inviting me to make them a cake. In order to lessen the level of disappointment I agreed that we could make a cake for New Years. I figured this would give me enough time to search for the cake mixes as well as gather up all the ingredients and utensils I needed.

Finally New Years Eve arrived and the kids showed up on my doorstep bright and early. We brought everything we needed, including the funfetti cake mix I discovered in one of the stores of Nebaj, down to the kitchen. I let the kids do most of the mixing while I greased the pan and preheated the oven. Unfortunately the “pan” that Kendra had left behind was actually just sprinkles, and the oven did not have real temperatures. Only low, medium-low, medium, medium-high and high. Once the batter was ready we loaded it into the “pan” and into the oven. then the real struggle began.

The last time I was in the store I was unable to find the icing that I had seen previously, so I figured we could buy the ingredients the day of and make it then. Bad decision on my part. Every store we went to, which happened to be about 10 of them, did not have “crema para un pastel.” With this we took our loses and returned home to a smell of something burning. When we arrived I opened the oven to find that the cake was still gooey and not charred at all. We were all perplexed. Shortly thereafter we checked on it again and found that the sides of the cake that were in contact with the “pan” were the cause of the smells.

 

 

One of the things that is very common here is for someone to give you helpful information after the fact. For example, when I figured out that the cake’s outer layer was burning my host sister then decided to tell me that that happens when people make cakes here. Thanks for the notice, sis. This was not the only problem we faced with the cake. While waiting for the cake to cool to carve off the burnt crust another sister informed us that Hacienda Mil Amores, a restaurant/tourist attraction about a ten minute walk down the road, normally has crema para pasteles. When the kids complained about the exercise they were going to have to get if we walked I agreed to take a tuk-tuk (mini taxi that is the real life version of maria-kart). The way our luck was going, this was going to be interesting.

Once we FINALLY got to mil amores, I approached the counter, with four children in tow, and asked about crema para pasteles. The response? We’re closed. And just like that any hope I had for the restoration of the cake vanished. I went home, made lunch and enjoyed some peace and quiet and Desperate Housewives until the kids came knocking again.

Having given up on the cake, we attempted to make a chocolate sauce which just made the cake look like a big pile of poo. Appropriate for how the day was going though. After this we all quit and decided to play soccer in the street. For the next three hours the kids and I played out our frustrations with some healthy competition until our field was blocked by the pastor of our church. And that’s when I learned we would be going to church that night.

From 6 to 11 I endured, once again, an interesting service. The majority of the service I spent trying to keep warm with my scarf. I had washed my jacket and it was still wet so I didn’t think to bring it. Now I was really kicking myself. With about an hour to spare, all of a sudden every got up and started to put up the chairs. Soon enough I caught on that we were forming  big circle (thanks for the pantomiming of my host family), so I took my awkwardly tall, blonde self and moved to the furthest point from attention behind the masses. While I was standing I started to take a look around. Because I couldn’t understand anything that was being said I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. But I was certain that I didn’t want to know. Within a matter of minutes the entire church was screaming, yelling, shaking, crying, convulsing and even fainting. As the pastor walked around touching everyone, and as everyone dropped to the floor or started to cry intensely, I did what any other confused person would do – look to the children. Thankfully the kids seemed just as confused as I was in this moment. One of them was so uninterested that he decided to go into the center of the circle and act like a dog, crawling around on all fours and wagging his tongue. This was one way to end a new year.

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Photo from the fire after the church service. We all huddled around it to keep warm. Me taking this picture caused some laughter, but oh well (above). Some of the fireworks from the intense show (below).

 

 

Thankfully everyone came to their senses and we continued with a different tradition. They handed out slips of blank paper for all of us to write down our bendiciones, or blessings, for the new year. Once they were all written, everyone gathered around a fire outside and took turns putting theirs into the fire while the pastor gave a small speech (just don’t ask me what he said). After we all gathered inside and they handed out sweet bread and ponche (basically warm fruit punch) to everyone. I spoke a little bit with my host grandmother as well as some other people from the church. Not surprisingly the conversation was around soccer. Apparently word had traveled that I had joined a team and everyone wanted to come support us in the finals. With some curt goodbyes we made our way home and I immediately set to making some hot chocolate and popcorn for the fireworks. Like most days in my household, I got lost in translation and missed that there was more celebrating to do. When my host family saw me in my sweats they immediately assumed I was going to bed, so I was left alone to enjoy my hot chocolate and popcorn as well as digest all that just happened during church.

The fireworks were amazing! Instead of just one show, everyone was setting off their own sets and I was able to go upstairs to watch them all take place. Every direction I turned there were sets of fireworks lighting up the sky. Because our town is located in a valley and surrounded by mountains, the spoke became captured and every moment a firework went off the smoke lit up, accentuating the skyline of the mountains. No picture or video could ever do it justice. For about 18 minutes I found myself standing and turning in circles watching it all in awe. Without a doubt one of the coolest ways to ring in the new year.

With the new year comes new work (and puppies, of course… see photos below). After what seems like ages, schools are finally starting to get ready for their classes that start next week, and kids are getting excited to go back to learning. Just yesterday my host siblings ask me to “play school” with them and we ended up having a math class and art class where we practiced multiplication and division and drew houses, flowers and dogs. While being called out in church to sing happy birthday to someone for their quinciñera (sweet 15) and burning cakes and twisting ankles playing tag with kids is all very fun, I am even more excited to finally being my real work as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Like they said in the last church service, “Un año más, una oportunidad más.”

Another year, another opportunity.

Happy New Year all!!

There are a total of 4 pups but for time’s sake I could only upload these photos. The other night when I saw them my host dad offered to give me one…

#newyearnewpuppy

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“…and (she) sent us an Albino… Amen.”

While it’s only been a few weeks since my last blog post, it seems like tons of things have happened. In such a short time I a gone from celebrating yet another birthday in a foreign country, to receiving my site assignment, to actually swearing in to our communities and arriving in our communities. It seems as though I blinked and training was over, and now my dream of being a volunteer has finally come to pass.

I have always been very fond of Thanksgiving Day. A day full of great food, great friends, great family, great drinks and for me, great gifts. This year wasn’t any different as we received our site assignments early that morning. We were each handed our site descriptions/folders face down and were told to flip them on the count of three. While a good deal of us had been stressing over this moment for much of training, I found myself filled with two emotions: excitement, as I had been waiting for this moment since the second week in, and fear. I’ve found during my time here that it takes me awhile to really acclimate and develop emotions about things. While many people tried their best to get out as much information as possible from our LCFs (language and cultural facilitators) and project managers, I found that I wasn’t really all that interested in knowing. I figured that all that I would learn from living in my community over the next two years could not be answered in a series of questions or cryptic clues, so when I found myself in meeting with people asking me what my final questions were I truly didn’t have any. After going through the ringer with my initial Swaziland application/assignment I was just happy to finally be “doing it”… except, of course, for those stomach-dropping 5 seconds before I flipped my folder to see my future.

While I can’t really tell you where I am due to security reasons, I can say this: I am in a very small aldea about 30 minutes outside of Nebaj in Northern Quiche. From reading my folder I learned that I was replacing a volunteer, Kendra, who had COSed (Closing of Service) in September and that I would be living in a somewhat touristy area due to it’s well-known cheese farm. Immediately upon receiving my site I learned that the area I would be living in for the next two years is gorgeous and that I am very lucky to have been assigned this post. I also learned that I would be living with a family of 6 (2 adults and 4 children between 9-16 years old) as well as a set of grandparents, a dog and a chicken.

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Group YiD photo from Swearing in – aren’t we gorgeous?!

 

After receiving my site only there were only two things left to do before heading out: say goodbye to my host family and get through work-partner day with my socios. While I was full of emotions about moving ahead with the project and “real” work, I was also dreading saying goodbye to my host family. To make it a bit sweeter I ended up making a chocolate cake and chocolate icing from scratch and surprising them with a bit of vanilla ice cream to top it off. My host mom had also been bugging me since week two to teach her how to make some granola, so I surprised her that morning with a little cooking lesson! Like a boss, Doña Olga helped my walk my belongings down to the park with one of my heavy bags on her head and we said a quick, almost painless goodbye before heading to our 3-day work partner training.

Luckily for me, my work partners had already been well-prepped to work with volunteers due to Kendra, and I had actually already met one of my socios during a project training session earlier in training. I spent some time during lunch catching up with both Juana, a teacher at one of my schools, and Leonel, the principal of the school and we were almost immediately put to work by PC staff. Unfortunately, Leonel received a call later on during training that someone in his family had suddenly passed away and that he needed to return home to help take care of the arrangements and would not be going through the rest of training with us. While sad, I completely understood and told him I would catch up with him once in site – he had been through plenty of trainings so I knew that it wouldn’t be a problem working with him in the future.

 

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Candle lighting ceremony with the future work partners and all of the volunteers before we got shipped out (above). Photo of my work partners and I presenting my new town to the rest of the YiD group (below).

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Photo with a past counterpart that helped run the work partner days! She lives in Nebaj and is super sweet (above)! Photo someone snipped of me working on a problem with another socio during work partner day (below). img_1710

 

The rest of training went by in a blur, with my roommates and I spending the last night watching Beyoncé’s Lemonade film and reminiscing on the good ol’ times of training. When 11:00 hit on Tuesday we were sent on our way to our sites with our socios without any hesitation. About 3-4 hours into our drive I happened to peer back into our micro to look at our suitcases to find that another volunteer’s luggage had been placed into our micro. This particular volunteer was headed the most-north a volunteer could get, and in a few short calls on some dying Peace Corps phone we were able to arrange a drop-off for the misplaced luggage. It wouldn’t had been a road-trip if something hadn’t gone wrong!

 

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Part of the view on our long journey to our new sites – not bad!

 

Around 5/5:30 I arrived in Santa Maria, Nebaj with my socio, Juana. After a few moments we were quickly joined by two other teachers of my future schools. While it took about an hour for my ride to pick me up to bring me home, I really appreciated the fact that some of my future fellow teachers were so excited to meet me! Little by little my apprehension about moving to a new site lessened and I became more at ease. Eventually, my micro arrived to take me to my town to meet my family, and after a very bumpy, loud and dark ride to the aldea I was dropped off at my new home with my host family.

As everyone knows, first impressions are everything, and the next few hours were full of awkwardness and love. My site is placed into what is referred to as the Ixil (pronounced Ishil) triangle, with a population of about 2700 people that is 95% indigenous. One of the smallest Mayan populations, the Ixil region is made up of Santa Maria Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal and San Gaspar Chajul. It is an exclusively small region of the country and the only area that contains an Ixil population, hence it being known as the triangle. Within the triangle most people speak Ixil and Spanish, but as you head out of the main towns and into the aldeas there is much more Ixil spoken than Spanish. I was almost immediately aware of this the moment I stepped foot into my new home.

 

My host sister, Elena, and cousin, Kevin, and I playing around with Snapchat the first few nights in site! We spent a lot of time watching movies and playing with the camera.

 

I quickly learned that my host grandmother, Doña Macaria, spoke hardly any Spanish and communicating with her could only be done through the help of my host parents and siblings. While in my new room, I found myself stuck in my first Ixil pickle. The entire family was speaking in Ixil instead of Spanish!! While I was prepared for this to happen, I was also very surprised to have to face it so soon.  Poco a poco we were all able to talk and I was able to unpack the necessities. We were all up until about 10pm and I politely declined the invitation to go to the terreno (terrain/land plot) at 6am instead opting to sleep in and catch a break.

The next morning was mostly spent unpacking, rearranging and decorating my space. I have to say I’m pretty lucky with what I was given for a living space. While I don’t have my own bathroom, I do have two healthy sized rooms (one for sleeping and one for cooking/working out) as well as a balcony that looks into the street. I almost feel guilty knowing that my host family is all snuggled up into one single room next door to mine, but that is very common in Guatemala and I am paying a pretty price for rent. Anyway, after figuring out that I am blessed with hot water in the shower (WOOHOO!) I walked around the house until I got my surroundings. For a good few hours I couldn’t find anyone and thought I was locked in my own house. Fortunately, I found out a few short hours later that the house doesn’t actually lock and that I could’ve left to explore without any problems (lol whoops).

My house consists of a three-level structure, a garden, a patio, a kitchen and shop space. The first level of the structure is a store where my host family sells “huipiles” and electric/lighting supplies (host dad is an electrician). Continuing to the back of the store is the kitchen and thermascal (to be described later) on the right side of the house. To left are the stairs that bring you to the second and third levels. The second level consists of a small patio, shower, bathroom, my rooms and my host family’s room. The third level is where my host grandparents live, and consists of their two rooms (kitchen and bedroom), bathroom and pila. I also use the pila on this level to wash and dry my clothes and dishes. Across from the kitchen on the first level is the garden as well as the shop space. My host family actually has another worker that lives in the shop space. I haven’t had much time to speak with him, but he’s a little bit older and really nice from what I can tell! He mostly helps out with maintaining my host dad’s terreno and they treat him like part of the family. All in all, the house is great and I feel very blessed to have been put into such a beautiful place with such a great family.

 

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View from my home!! Definitely doesn’t do it any justice. The town sits in a valley surrounded by mountains and the clouds seemingly pour down the mountains towards us. IT’S AWESOME!

 

When I arrived in my town, I found that one of the first things I would have to do is set up my kitchen so I can start cooking for myself. That being said, after unpacking and showering I jumped on the chance to go with my host mom, Doña Silvia, to start my search for a burner. Since I went with my host mother, I was also obligated to accompany her on her errands, the first one being a run to the bank. As we were leaving the house two of the children, Elena (9) and Macaria (11), jumped on the chance to hang out and joined us on my first of many packed micro rides. While at the bank, the three of us “kids” sat in the waiting area while Doña Silvia was in line. A few minutes later, a pair of women sat behind us and started speaking to the kids in Ixil. Luckily for me, there is no Ixil word for Estados Unidos, so when I heard this I took my chance to jump in on the conversation. Within a few short moments I learned that this woman had worked with volunteers in the past, but from a different project, and that her husband was working somewhere in Kentucky. From this little interaction I learned that my apparent gringa status, while making me stand out like a sore thumb, is also helping me to acclimate. Whether it’s someone trying to get to know where I’m from in the US to see how far their family member is from me, or to someone who just wants to touch my hair, every interaction is a step closer to getting to know the community.

 

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My kitchen/work out area. It only took me a week to get everything set up but it’s coming together! Take note of the Terrible Towel hanging up with my pictures (above). The second photo is of the rest of my kitchen leading out into my little balcony (below).

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My bedroom and dresser, handmade/gifted to me by my host dad (above). The view out of the balcony where the bathroom and shower room are. That little puppy is Lily and she is adorable but also very dirty (below).

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Later on that night with my new stove-top and a few cakes for tomorrow’s birthday party in tow, we made our way back to the aldea. Shortly there after I was introduced to the coolest thing ever – the thermascal. Basically Guatemala’s version of a sauna, the thermascal is a very, very hot room heated purely by fire, closed on all sides with the exception of a small opening (or extra-small because everyone here is so short) on one wall. There is a big pot full of water that is placed over the fire to create a steam bath that also helps to heat the room. Once in the thermascal, you take some of the extremely hot water and place it into another bucket full of cold water, using that mixture of water to bathe yourself (like a bucket bath). My host family does this about twice a week from what I can tell, it is one of my favorite things. In some homes the whole family bathes together, but due to its size no more than one person can fit in ours so I get the whole space to relax by myself.

Even though I have only been in site for a little over a week now, I have been able to put myself into some pretty awkward situations. One day I forgot to shut my door all the way and one of the 8 year old cousins, Kevin, wandered his way in while I was changing… luckily I still had the towel around me but never the less trying to react quickly in another language is very difficult. I also happened to find myself face-to-face with my host mother’s breasts when I went to enter the thermascal later that same night. Another day I found myself playing children’s games (Guatemalan versions of tag, hide-and-seek, etc.) and ended up twisting my ankle in a ditch while running away from the children. I also managed to get invited to play on my host sister’s futsol team over the weekend, which resulted in girls bouncing off of me like I was a trampoline when trying to go into a tackle because I’m a solid foot taller than most of them. To make matters worse the auditorium was full of boys who would go nuts every time one went down during a tackle. That game also led to huge ball shape bruise that has been on my leg for about 4 days now as well as me coaching a girls soccer team and joining another one. During another game the lights went out in the whole town and while waiting for them to come on a child thought it would be funny to sneak up behind me and slap my butt (that or he kicked the ball at it, too dark to tell). And last but not least, the 3-4 hour church service I attended.

 

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Pretty gnarly bruise from my first week of soccer.

 

During this service, I found myself playing peek-a-boo with a child a few rows ahead who could not stop staring at me. I also figured that at some points the pastors were speaking about me because the audience would turn to look at me, but in one particular instance I completely understood what was being said. A majority of the service was spoken in Ixil, as that is everyone’s first language here. Occasionally during the service people spoke in Spanish, and at one point they did so to address me. While speaking to the 150+ people during the service, the pastor began to talk about how lucky they were this particular to have a new guest (me) with them today. He spoke about how when Kendra, the last volunteer, left, they were all very saddened, and how she had sent an albino in her place. Yup. I’m an albino. At my first community event I was called out as being an albino. I don’t think anything can get more awkward than that though.

While there are awkward moments to every interaction I have, there are also the great moments I experience. From my awkward moments a number of things have happened; I became closer with the store owners who gifted me the canasto of agua pura (normally 70Q) and only had me pay for the water; I was asked to coach a girls’ team and join another two girls’ futsol teams; during a day of picnicking with a group of cousins/siblings/neighbors, one of the kids called me their best friend; spending nights watching/translating “the halloween movie” aka Hocus Pocus with the kids until they fall asleep watching it on my bed; the teammate who was telling me how at 21, she doesn’t see her friends very much anymore because they’re all married and have children now on our walk home; Justin Bieber “Sorry” jam-sessions. All of these and more make every day I’m here worth it, even the bad ones.

 

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The flowers were a gift from the kids during our picnic day at the park. The globe was also a gift form the kids when I first arrived in site (above). Photo of all the kids during our day picnic day (below).

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More photos from our day at the creek! they were having  blast with my hammock (above). Kevin and Elena and I coloring Christmas decorations after a day of playing kids’ games (below).

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Atol lotta Guatemala Cont’d (Photos)

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A photo of me from my Field-Based Training experience at the beach. This day was awesome and I got my first real one-on-one interaction with kids while being able to teach them how to swim!

 

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This is a photo of my first LCF and my two the language class compañeras. Interestingly enough we all spent time living in the DC/NOVA area before we left!

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A photo from our field-trip to Las Ruinas Mayas (Mayan Ruins) a few weeks back. We also were able to get our Mayan Calendar symbols/meanings (similar to a horoscope) and witness a Mayan ceremony.

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Beautiful ANTIGUA!!!! This was taken at a hostel during one of the few weekends we spent in town during PST.

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This was taken after our first short site visit (aka 3.5 hours each way) and a day full of activities.

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Another photo from the second day of Practicum. Here I am with my group in front of about 30 youth leaders sharing our topic, Conflict Resolution/Positive Communication, to teach tomorrow. img_0897A picture of the alter my host family had prepared in honor of my host dad’s parent son Dia de Los Santos (November, 1st). There were also cakes that were there but y host mom doesn’t like to leave bread out because it tends to bring cat into the house!!

img_1064One of my classmates and I during one of our last language classes! We made chiles rellenos and they were DELISH!!!!

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This is a choco banano, one of the many favorite snack of Peace Corps volunteers. I’m lucky enough to have them available every day in my house 🙂

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A photo of the San Antonio crew from Day One at one of the volunteers homes. Luckily the volcano was also erupting one this day so we got a good shot of it!

img_1310A nice view from the park on my Birthday!!

img_1061A beautiful Guatemalan sunset with the volcano in the background. Everything in the country is so beautiful!!

img_1066Our final product, Chiles Rellenos!

 

Atol (a whole) lotta Guatemala

It is amazing the amount of things that can happen over the course of a month. Even more amazing are the things a person can endure while under immense stress. Since arriving in Guatemala, I have experienced enough emotions to fill Pandora’s box and it continues to overflow. Happiness for finally realizing a long-term, childhood dream; frustration over language barriers; overwhelmed by the amount of new faces; ecstatic for new friendships; unadulterated joy over a McDonald’s McFlurry; anxiety over my future site placement; exhaustion due to an influx of training materials and the lovely almost disaster that was practicum. All of these emotions and more and I still feel grateful for everything that I have experienced thus far.

Over the course of the last 8 weeks I have been blessed with all of what Guatemala has to offer. In early October I spent a solid week overcoming a cold brought on by the change in seasons, as well as the occasional mysterious mosquito/flea/spider bite that served as a tangible way of measuring my acclimation to Guate, each pica (bite) serving as a small reminder “wake me up” that this whole Peace Corps thing is really happening. October was also full of hiking miradors (lookouts), coffee and macadamia fields, volcano eruptions, school visits, occasional trips to Antigua and lots of lots of language classes. There is nothing more tiring than spending 8 hours in a language class and having to return home to continue to speak that language. While it is a great immersion technique, it is the reason I know where to buy all the good donuts, ice cream and Pringles.

Towards the end of October my language class switched profes (professors) and spent much of November digging into Guatemala and our actual work. During the first week in November I was able to experience my first Día de los Santos (November 1st) with my family and a few other volunteers. Día de Los Santos is a Catholic holiday that is (mostly) spent in the cemetery. Both my host parents ended up going to the grave of my host dad’s parents to pay tribute to them, and in the afternoon we gave offerings to his parents at our alter. My host parents explained that ideally money, meats, breads, candles, incense, fruit, soda, alcohol and more is placed on the alter but given most peoples’ economic state only some of these things are offered. What I found most interesting was the toast they made to their parents, where they poured some of the drink onto the ground as part of the offering. The day was beautiful all around, and after a hearty lunch of Pepian (the comida típica of the town) we took a nice nap before heading to the cemetery. Upon arriving at the cemetery, I ran into a few fellow volunteers and then walked around the cemetery. In respect to the families, I did not bring my camera to take pictures, but it was one of the coolest holidays I have ever experienced. While the day is mostly spent in the cemetery, what is normally a place of mourning and silence, there was not a single person who was not happy to be there. The tombs were colorfully painted and adorned with candles and flowers while family members sat around laughing, drinking and eating. Live music littered the air while handmade kites flown by children lit up the sky. Kids ran around playing games while others danced and laughed to the music. Unfortunately someone had stolen the candle from my host dad’s parents’ grave, so he had to spend some time searching for a place to buy a new one. All in all, it was a great night that ended with tacos at my host mom’s parents’ place in the neighboring town and some last minute packing for Field Based Training.

Field Based Training was awesome! I lucked out and ended up being sent to Sololá, a departamento in Guatemala that is known for its beautiful lake. While the original plan for the 4 days was to visit schools and observe classrooms, upon our arrival we learned that class for the afternoon had been cancelled (no one was expected to show up the day after a holiday anyway) and that we may not be having class for the next day. We spent the rest of the afternoon mingling with the volunteer and her host family and even got to have a test of some delicious chocolate churros. Later that night our host called her principal to see what was going on with class the next day and revealed to us that we would be going to a town close to the lake in Sololá for the despedida (going away party). The next morning we woke up and prepared ourselves for a chilly ride in the back of a pick-up truck. A short 10-20 minutes later we found ourselves packed into the back of a pickup with about 20 other teenagers on our way to an unknown despedida. An hour and many steep, windy turns later we stopped at the beach.

The week before I had joked about bringing a bathing suit on FBT but our host promptly shut down that thought because she didn’t think we had time for that. So here I am at a despedida with 20 teenagers, a beautiful cool lake, a very hot sun wearing jeans, a jacket, a long sleeve shirt and a scarf. Talk about poor planing… I hummed and hawed as to what to do next. I was in no way prepared to swim in my jeans as that would make for a very cold ride back up the mountain. My host had used her scarf and undershirt as a makeshift skirt, however my scarf had giant holes in it and was in no way long enough to act as a skirt. Eventually I was able to fashion a skirt out of my long-sleeved shirt and found myself teaching the girls how to float in the water. Everything about this day was perfect. I learned how flexible and accepting I have to be of Guatemalans and their last minute plans AND how friendly and curious youth can be. Only about two of the kids knew how to swim, and watching them I could honestly say that their swimming barely made it past the doggie-paddle level, but all of them were interested in learning. While bonding with jovenes while trying to keep them afloat may not have been the most conventional way to bond, it was most definitely effective. By the end of the day I found some of them asking when I would be coming to their site and I had to explain that the likelihood I would be assigned a site in Sololá was very slim, to which I received shock and disappointment. Many of them wished that I be sent to their site and it broke my heart having to say goodbye.

The rest of the trip went by in a blur, but we were finally able to see what it is like to be in a classroom and witness the bond our host had with her students. Unlike most of our other fellow trainees, we got to visit with someone who was at the end of her 2 year journey as a PC volunteer. As we have been told in the past, most volunteers hit a mid-service slump, so having someone who was past that point and heading into a end-or-service high was definitely a nice change of pace. Currently there are only 6 YiD (Youth in Development) volunteers, a very small number compared to the 14 trainees, most of whom have only just made it past the one year mark. Between the combination of our host’s bond with her host family and jovenes and the advice we got from a 2nd year volunteer, I felt more than ready to receive my site and finally get to work. But first, there was Practicum…

Practicum, while ideally is something very well-organized and prepared, was one heck of stressful experience. I was placed into a group with two other volunteers and our topic was Positive Communication and Resolution of Conflicts. Ironically, much of our preparation lacked communication and I had to resolve many of my conflicts by sucking it up and powering through it. The day our outline was due we came up with our entire presentation, tweeking it slightly during our final group meeting and then presenting it in full to the entire panel of volunteers and PC staff. The first day we received good feedback and were only told to speak louder and be more involved. The second day we presented to youth leaders who were then assigned to each group. We were assigned 5 jovenes who seemed to grasp our message and only wanted to spend time redoing some of our posters. The third day we awaited the arrival of120 youth, but unfortunately this is Guatemala and nothing is ever a sure thing, so we only found ourselves with about 25. While our Program Managers and Program Directors freaked out, we all signed a deep breathe knowing that instead of presenting 5 times to 120 youth, we now only had to present 2 times with 24 youth. I spoke with our youth leaders about how involved they wanted to be in the presentation and we agreed to have my fellow trainees and I lead the first one and then let the youth leaders handle the second. All in all it went great, and I was asked to exchange Facebook names with some of my jovenes!

Upon my arrival home, I was given my first atol de arroz. Atol could be best described as a warm, think, sweet drink that Guatemalans consume on a regular basis. Sometimes my host mother give me cereal with atol, the atol being warm milk. Sometimes I get an atol de avena, or soupy oatmeal. Sometimes I luck out and get atol de chocolate, basically a warm chocolate milk. There are many different types of atol, all of which I tend to like. Until I had atol de arroz. I would best describe atol de arroz as heated boxed corn bread mix, sprinkled with raw corn bits. And this is when I got the name for this post: Atol (a whole) lotta Guatemala.

Like the different types of atol, there are different types of experiences. Every volunteer we meet is a different type of atol: some are good, some are nasty, some are very sweet, and some are just outrageous. I’ve found that Guatemala is a country full of both beautiful and ugly things, and that every experience is unique (aka there’s a whole lotta Guatemala to talk about). As I am heading into my 9th week of training with only two days from receiving my site assignment I realize that, like atol, my service will consist of many different things. Some of these things may be normal like oatmeal atol, some might be different, but bearable such as warm milk atol with cereal, while others may be just gross, like corn atol. Either way it’s atol lotta Guatemala, and I am thankful for atol (all) of it.

p.s. atol lotta thanks for your patience with posts! Training is NUTS but there should be more to come soon 🙂 img_0789

A picture from the Mayan Ceremony we went to in October

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A picture of me in my element during day 3 of practicum

*insufficient wifi – more photos to come