Friday, September 7, 2007

Hurricane Felix & crazy bus trips :)

I am discovering how bad I am at keeping up this blog. So, due to guilt over having not updated the blog for 5 weeks--I will share the latest of my Guatemalan life.

We recently had 2 hurricanes threaten Guatemala, Hurricane Dean and Hurricane Felix. Both resulted in Peace Corps consolidating us to regional checkpoints, where we stayed in nice 4 star hotels, some nicer than others...I stayed in Antigua...and it was heaven!! Swimming pool, gym, sauna, all you can eat buffet, wireless Internet, soft comfortable beds, cable TV...need I say more?! For Hurricane Dean, I actually didn't get consolidated for because it mainly affected W. Guatemala, but I was consolidated for Felix for a 2 night stay in Antigua. Both hurricanes brought lots of rain, but minimal damage overall. Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize were much more affected.
So, no, the river did not sweep me away--as my Guatemalan friends like to tease me :)

I have been in site now since the 20th of July. So, about 6 weeks or so. That time has really flown by. The days certainly go alot faster now that I am out of training and am an "official" volunteer. Because I am in Eastern Guatemala, the weather tends to be warmer out here, but not as hot as I thought it would be, either. Rainy season really saves us here because it keeps the weather very temperate. My biggest complaint is the abundance of mosquitos and constantly having bites which swell, itch, and leave scars. I am discovering the importance of sleeping with a mosquito net, wearing long pants, a jacket, and shoes with socks from early evening on.

Everybody in my town is very friendly & I was the talk of the town there for awhile (and still am to an extent) It is not everyday a blond haired, fair skinned American girl comes to live :)
To further emphasize my point, I have a rather funny antidote from yesterday I thought I would share.
On my way back from consolidation in Antigua, I took a pullman from Guatemala City to my site (about a 2 hour ride). Typically, I take a chicken bus, however, it is always so crowded. You see, the chicken buses here are old US yellow school buses that are used for public transport. When they get full, people sit 3 across each seat, plus are standing in aisles. That means the person closest to the aisles is always "half on" the seat and hanging on for their life when the bus takes sharp curves at a way-too-fast speed. I have gotten pretty used to this, however for long trips, I just can't stand it. I always arrive irritated and last time I swore I would take a pullman for future trips. Pullmans cost a little bit more, but they are much more spacious & make for a much more PLEASANT trip.
So, yesterday, I was enjoying my first pullman ride to my site. I could see that we were getting close to my site, however, my ability to see where we were at exactly was slightly hindered--so I kept craning my neck b/c I didn't want the bus to fly by my stop. When, suddenly, I saw my stop and the bus just zoomed past (about 50 mph). Startled that I missed my stop, I started saying "I get off here! This is my stop! El Molino! (the name of my stop)" So, being the only foreigner on the bus, and a gringa (American girl) at that, I created quite the commotion. Immediately, the other passengers started to tell me that El Molino was further up, and that there was no worries. All I could think was, well, what they call El Molino and what my stop actually is, must be a ways apart. So, I was still thinking I had missed my stop. I accepted the fact that my stop was now a good mile behind us & I would simply have to take another bus back to my stop.
I have my arms/back FULL of stuff from traveling to Antigua for the past 2 days for consolidation with the hurricane, plus, I went shopping on the way back through Guatemala City. This left me with a HUGE hiking backpack full of stuff, plus several bags in my arms. This presents a space issue in a bus, which now had people standing in the aisles. Fellow Guatemalans are trying to help me as I am floundering around the aisles, trying not to fall into people's laps, and balancing all of my stuff (I swear, I am going to start to pack less on future trips!) The "ayudante" on the bus, which collects the money from the people & coordinates all of the stops with the driver was nicely telling me that it wasn't his fault that I missed my stop, that I had told him "El Molino". I said, I understood, that it was my fault, that I would take a bus back....various Guatemalans at this point are interjecting & explaining how to get I am flailing down the aisle with my backpack & arms full, saying "excuse me" to each person as I unavoidably smack them with the backpack on my back with each step towards the front of the bus.
Soooo....I get off the bus, people still talking at me, and I realize THIS IS MY STOP. I was COMPLETELY confused & I hadn't missed my stop after all. I laugh at myself & all of the drama I unwittingly created on the bus & I walk over to where I will catch the last leg of my trip. A little van (my ride) comes along, STUFFED full of people, fellow passengers offer to hold my bags, and I take my half seat which it the only available "seat" left. I am literally bracing myself against whatever possible to not fall out the open sliding door (which is left open during transit so the "ayudante" can hop on and off quickly to let more people on/off). Then, the lady sitting next to me starts to ask me about "Dona Anita" which is a good friend of mine in my site, who runs a comedor (small restaurant). I then realize that she knows who I am, that she lives in the same town as me. A group of about 6 or 7 out of the 15 crammed in the van all start to talk about me & where I am living, etc. When we approach my site, they all chime in to tell the driver which stop I need (I wasn't asking for the help, but it was readily offered). I told them all it was nice to meet them & they wished me a good day.....I then began to realize how many more people in my town know who I am than I realize....they know where I live, who I am friends with, where I work, etc. Which on one hand, leaves me feeling very "on display", yet, on the other, makes me feel very well-cared for. So, although I might be still limping along getting from point A to B via public transportation, the Guatemalans, whether they know me or not, go out of their way to help me out. "Otra aventura" (another adventure) is what my Guatemalan friends always tell me when I come home with my crazy stories :) And many more to come...

Monday, July 16, 2007

T minus 3 days

We all swear-in in three days. Finally!! I'm definitely ready to get to my site & start living on my own & establishing a routine. I will be living in Eastern Guatemala, where the climate will be alot warmer than where I am living now, in W. Guatemala. Although there are a couple of hours there in the afternoon where you just want to sit inside & not move, the mornings and nights are gorgeous. The plants and trees are also very tropical. I will be very close to the El Salvadorian border and only about an hour and a half from beautiful beaches with great warm water! I went out to my site about 2 weeks ago to arrange things, and I have an apt. all ready that I will be moving into. It will be nice to be living out of more than one room, where I have been staying with a host family for the past 2 1/2 months. I will be able to prepare my own food, as well. Another luxury I am looking forward to :)
We just did Spanish level tests today, which they tape recorded! Not so fun, but I did jump a level in Spanish. Other than that, we are just finalizing things before our move out to site. We will be moving there the day after swearing-in. If anybody wants to know the specific town where I will be living, they can email me & I will tell you so you can look it up on the map. I am not listing it here b/c this is a publicly accessible blog.
Miss you all very much. Please send emails! Also, I would love it if somebody could send me some People or US Weekly or other gossipy mags :)
My mailing address:
8 calle, 6-55 Zona 9
Guatemala, Guatemala

Just put my name at the top, followed by PCV and then the address.

More info later when I arrive at site!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

More pics...

This is a picture of the view from Cantel, where we taught classes. The picture doesn´t do it justice, as you can imagine.

We visited a women´s association that is involved with small agriculture and some animals. They let us dress up in ¨traditional dress¨and we had a blast. Here we are pictured with many of them women in the association and their children.

Little kids at the association putting on a skit/dance for us. Adorable!!

This is a very common way for indigenous women to carry their babies, wrapped in this cloth around their bodies.

Picture perfect! She walked around & handed us all a fresh plum. The women´s association went to great effort to make us feel welcome.

This is a picture of one of the current volunteer´s houses. To the right, is my Spanish teacher, Jorge.

From left to right, Carlos (small business technical trainer), Michael (youth development trainee), Jorge (my Spanish teacher), Mosiah (youth development trainee). These were the guys on our trip, the girls definitely had them outnumbered :)

Almost there..

Well, next Wednesday June 27th we find out our site assignments, where we will be living and working for the next 2 years. Man, training really has been alot of hoops to jump through, but it is nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel. After we find out our site assignments, the following week, we visit our site for about four days to decide where we want to live & familiarize ourselves with everything. We are required to live with another family for our first three months in site before we can live by ourselves, unfortunately. This is a requirement because it is thought to help us integrate into the community. I know most of us are very ready for some independence & time living alone, especially since we will have already lived with a host family for the three months of training. In any case, just being in our final site will be exciting, it is so hard to picture what life for 2 years will be like when we are still in training just because it is so different.

One of the more recent training activities that we have done is spend a week in the Western highlands of Guatemala, in Quezaltenango, also known as Xela. There, the small business development adults as well as youth development training groups taught 2 hour classes for 5 days to 6th graders about business fundamentals. It was a very long week, it seemed, but enjoyable at the same time. The scenery in this part of Guate is particularly gorgeous. The microclimates within Guate vary so much, that is is nice when we visit other parts so we can see that difference.

I have finished with my Spanish language classes, me and four other girls. They needed our teachers for those who are still at a lower level, and we are all considered Advanced in our Spanish level. We do still have one 2 hour a week Spanish class for any questions or things we would like to focus on in our language development.

I am attaching a few more photos. They are from when we went to Xela and taught at the schools and visited some other nearby associations. Next time, I will post pics of my new host family. Enjoy! Miss you all very much!!

This photo is of our ¨going away party¨from the school in Cantel, close to Queztaltenango in Western Guate. Nothing like finishing a dance party with the electric slide! :)

Some of the girls dress in ¨traditional¨clothing whereas others dress more modern. This is a highly indigenous area of Guate.

This is a pic of the girls in the two training groups for small business development: adults and youth development. We are visiting another Peace Corps Volunteer currently working in the Quezaltenango area.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Photos of Guate

One month in...

Well, I´ve been here four weeks and a few days so far. Things have been going fairly well, with definitely some ups and downs. I just changed host families and my new family seems like they are going to be perfect for me. They are very caring & the mom loves to talk!! I am living closer to the training center now, too, which will be very convenient.
Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to visit 3 current volunteers in their site. 2 of them I just visited for a couple of hours, and then this past weekend I spend 3 days with a volunteer in Eastern Guatemala, we were only a couple of hours from El Salvador, actually. Very tropical in Eastern Guate, with lots of lucious fruit trees, accompanied by warmer weather and humidity, of course :) Can´t ever have the best of both worlds, you know :)
I really enjoyed having that hands-on perspective of a current working volunteer, he is actually about to finish his service in a little over a month.
That sure seems a long ways away for me....2 years, yikes!!
I have been having fairly regular Spanish classes with two other girls, and our classes are about to end b-c they have decided we speak at an advanced level & they need to put our teacher with some new learners.
We have also been doing technical training for small business, training to train, basically. Such as giving business classes to adult entrepreneurs, some 12 year old kids, too. The reason for teaching business to the youth is because here the majority of kids end their schooling in 6th grade. So, we teach them business fundamentals and encourage them to continue their education at the same time.
Our training group is going to Quetzaltenango in a couple of weeks to work with several classrooms at a school. Myself and one other girl are assigned to teach a classroom of 26 for 2 hours a day for 5 days a week. This gives us the opportunity to have hands on experience teaching the business fundamentals in the classroom setting. Although our primary job will be to work with adults, we often have the chance to pick up secondary projects. The classroom setting would be one possibility.
I have included a few photos in my blog, finally!!! Sorry it took me so long, computer access isn´t always convenient. Feel free to email. Would love to hear from everybody!!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Here in Guatemala....

Hey all,
I have been in Guatemala for just under two weeks now. Hard to believe, because so much has happened and my friends & I are commenting on how it seems more like a month has passed. I am living with two other female volunteers in a small pueblo outside of Antigua. It is hard to access even simple daily things. For example, today we walked for a half an hour to take two buses and finally get to Antigua. We did some shopping for little food items we wanted i.e. chocolate, candy as well as other needs like shampoo, mirrors, etc. Alot of effort goes into accesing things that were definitely once taken for granted i.e. an easy trip to Target now becomes a half day plus excursion.
I have a beautiful view of the mountains from my house, and it is quite peaceful. I have language classes 5 days a weeks, and on Saturday mornings sometimes. I am finding the language part to be a fairly easy adaptation, since I am at a more advanced level. I am glad I have the language on my side, because the cultural adaptation itself is always a challenge anywhere a person goes.
I visited two other volunteers who have been here for about a year each. Our program directors took us so we could talk to them & ask them questions, etc. One lives in a very remote locale, but has an amazing house & beautiful view. The other lives in a larger town, or small city. Very different locations, but each was nice to see & begin to think about our preferences, because they do give us the option for input as to where we get placed after the next 2 and a half months. That next site we are placed in is where we will begin our work assignment and stay for the next 2 years. As many of you know, I will be doing small business development, often in Guatemala that assignment overlaps with Agricultural Marketing. There is a good chance I will be working with a co-op or some other kind of community organization.
The details on the job don´t really fall into place until we get our final assignment and each get to see our particular job that we are assigned to.
The weather where I am living now is on the cooler side, which is nice because I started to acclimate myself to the Oregon weather. The rainy season will be starting soon. I am in Western Guatemala, it is in the Eastern portion where the really hot weather is that everyone thinks of.
Well, my computer time is about to run out. Will write more later! Take care & send me emails!