Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vacation and Visitors

In the middle of July I took off from my site yet again for a frolic with some quality friends from my years working at a summer camp in Montana.  This was my first vacation time in the nearly year I had spent in Guatemala, and I savored every moment.  We wandered Antigua, took some tours, hiked Volcano Pacaya, and stayed at an incredible spot on Lake Atitlán.  After that we went to Honduras for a week to enjoy the Copan Ruins, the beach up near Tela, and to spend some time at our friend’s volunteer site where she is spending a year in Honduras working as a nurse at a children’s home and clinic.  Just as important as our itinerary, we ate well, did lots of laughing and talking, earned a few ridiculous travel stories, and despite many, many hours on buses, we managed to strike a balance between being adventuresome and actually relaxing as well.

All in all, “Worth it!”

Checking out the market at Chichicastenango
Enjoying the view of three other volcanoes from the side of Pacaya
Watching a storm roll over Lake Atitlan
Who doesn't love a smoothie?
Kayaking.  Yes.
The four of us in Copan
Copan Ruinas
Checking out the menacing jellyfish.
We did a little snorkeling anyway... in the shallows.
Boat ride across the ocean to a park on a penninsula

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Digs, Again.

The day I got back to the Cooperative after the 4th of July festivities, my about-to-be-Host Dad asked me when I was going to move into my new room.  It had been about finished before I left town, but the cement was still letting out a bit of moisture and I figured rent would be easier if I just moved in at the beginning of a new month.  I said, oh, give me two day to get my stuff reorganized and ready.  He said, but I already have men lined up to help tomorrow. 

So, I moved the next day.

It amounted to a parade through town of all of my possessions in the arms or strapped to the backs of four cheerful men.  They were game to take every load by themselves, including my stove and refrigerator.  This was down a steep rocky slope, along a road, and then 100 yards down a narrow path with coffee bushes crowding the way.  The one thing they broke down and shared the load on was my dresser.  All four ended up pairing up and carrying it with each person shouldering a corner, and they even walked the long way around to avoid taking the steep path. 

I have to say, that I have always hated moving (I know, join the club).  This was bar none the easiest moving experience I have had.  It’s enough to make me rethink the do-it-yourself mentality I usually have when approaching big projects.  Admittedly, I didn’t have to pay these men – my host family thanked them with a snack, and they may or not have been given some cash by the cooperative.  But, I’m really thinking that hiring movers may be the way to go to make my life a lot easier next time I have to transplant myself and my belongings.  Stateside, that is.

My new home is a large room built onto the end of my host family’s existing house.  I have my own entrance and two windows.  The ceiling covers ¾ of the room, leaving me a space to put things up in the loft for storage.  I have all my kitchen stuff with me, but am eating all my meals with the host family for the time being.  It’s a little less space than the last place I was, but doesn’t feel overcrowded at all.  The family built me my own latrine, and the cooperative loaned us a black water tank to capture rain water for my use.  We share the pila, but I only do laundry about once a week so we haven’t had much waiting on one another to get access. 

With the windows open.  Note my bright yellow mud boots on the left.  I get great comments on those.  

The door is open... the wall on the right continues until it hits the far end.

The gate is a huge help in keeping out small animals, and small children...
while still letting in a bit of daylight!
My own brand new private latrine.
 It's a curious feeling breaking one in for the first time...
and knowing that if it smells there is no one to blame but myself.

The water tank in the foreground, my bathing stall in the background.
Plus, a sidewalk from my door to the bathing stall!
Apparently they didn't want me getting muddy on my way back from the bath.  I'm so spoiled.

The family's water deposit.  

The older two kids at the door to the kitchen.
You can see part of the firewood stash and some drying laundry off to the left.  

Home Sweet Home. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Alta Verapaz Family

The first weekend in June, I had to choose my destiny for where to live in my aldea. After visiting the two options available to me, I settled on one and we arranged for them to build a new room on the end of their house where I could live. The Peace Corps fronted the money for the construction, and I will deduct that for my rent until the loan is paid back. That’s not a very common solution, but in the case of my site there are no homes with extra rooms that meet the requirements for the Peace Corps, and the families don’t tend to have enough capital to construct a room on their own.

Once I had settled on my future host family, I began going to their house to eat breakfast and dinner. Cooking often would have been difficult with my belongings scattered across the cooperative, mostly still in boxes. Plus, I saw this as an opportunity to start getting to know the family right away.
My new “host father,” Mariano, is a little younger than me. He turned 26 at the end of July, and is a kind, shy man, who does speak Spanish but lacks confidence and uses confusing grammar. Still, he is good natured about it and we make it work, chuckling and giggling when we run out of ways to explain things and get lost in our own conversations.

My “host mother,” Clementina, is 23. She is extremely quiet and speaks no Spanish, but has a sweet smile and a talent for cooking tasty things with a pretty limited range of ingredients. She makes the best tortillas (and nearly the biggest ones) I’ve encountered in Guatemala.

I have three host siblings: Freddie, 6; Heidi, 4; and Gladys, 2. They didn’t have much of a shy period, and moved into play with me pretty quickly. While I was still commuting to eat with them I would become a human drum set before and after meals. What started as my attempts at patty-cake turned into simply banging on me in various places to see what sounds I made. At the time they spoke no Spanish and I spoke no Q’eqchi’, so basic smiling and patting one another was enough to build a friendship.

My favorite moment during June with my host family has to be when Wendy and I goaded Mariano into trying to tortillar (shape the tortillas with his hands). He had been observing Wendy and my mediocre attempts at copying Clementina, and felt free to teasingly criticize our technique. When we realized he’d never done it in his life, we returned the teasing mercilessly until he crossed the gender divide to prove his mettle.

In some ways our triumph in getting him to try it was marred by the fact that he seems to have much more natural talent for it than either of us do.

Freddie got in on the fun, too.

Although living with a host family again after such a long amount of solitude in Sololá inevitably involves adjustment, I was and am pleased as punch that this is the new family I get to live with.

The three kiddos. Their mom is camera shy, so no picture of her for now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Celebrity in the House

My cat, Canchita, showed very little stress over our transition to Alta Verapaz. She rode on my lap in a carrier all the way in the truck on moving day, and was out exploring the cooperative immediately upon arrival. She quickly learned that she could enter and exit my room through the ceiling, and reigned over the rafters of the building in no time.

The community as a whole took a shine to her right away. Within days Site Mate Wendy and I were joking that she would get a bigger goodbye party than we would at the end of our time here. They certainly learned to pronounce her name long before they learned mine. Perhaps it was because it felt like a safe topic of conversation or perhaps because she is a pet and not just a rodent catcher, but just about every person I met asked about her. 

Everyone wanted to see my cat, they wanted to know what she ate, where she slept, and were convinced that I had brought her with me from the States. Over and over I had to explain that no, she is as Chapin (Guatemalan) as the rest of the animals in the community and that I was given her by another Guatemalan family. 

The next question was usually when she would have babies. When I explained I had had her fixed to prevent such things they looked at me like I had three heads. Never mind that litters of puppies and kittens are regularly born and die before making it to maturity here in my aldea. I think because she seems so healthy and is a good hunter, they all wanted my cat’s genes working to keep their own house rodent free. In their minds, her health seems to be totally unrelated to her having been vaccinated and being fed a diet of real cat food. 

Overall, I was thankful to have her along as an extra means to connect with the people coming through the co-op while I was living there in June. The only exception to this was the day I returned from travelling out of town and found myself locked out of the cooperative. My future host father had loaned me his key, but I was having no luck getting into the building. The instructions he had given me amounted to a secret handshake of some kind with turning the key all the way around a few times then pulling back on the door while doing a quarter turn the other way. 

I had made the mistake of calling to Canchita when I walked up the stairs. When I didn’t appear in the room right away, she made her way through the rafters to stand above me in the ceiling over the porch and mrooowl and miaaaht at me like I was an idiot for not understanding how to make the key and lock cooperate with one another. Eventually she found a hole in a knot in the wood and stuck her head down to peer at me and my doorway incompetence. 

I decided to cut my losses, take a picture of her looking ridiculous, and take a nap on the porch until someone with the knowhow to get the door open came by the coop. When someone finally did, his first question upon opening the door for me was, ”Ut lamis?” (And your cat?). It’s not so bad living in the shadow of a celebrity. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Call it Middling

On August 11, 2010, I left the US for Guatemala. One year ago.

We usually talk about the Peace Corps as a two year commitment, but really it is 27 months. So now that I have reached the one year mark, I feel a little strange. Like I´m going into halftime in a sporting event, or intermission at a theater. I´ve been counting up how many months I have been here each step of the way, and now I´ve been here a year, but have more than a year to go. In November I´ll head to my Mid Service Conference and I suppose my mental clock will start ticking back downward… only 11 months to go… 8…. 3…. Etc….

I don´t want to seem like I´m counting the days in any sort of ¨get me out of here¨ mentality, but because this experience has such a defined timeline, it´s hard not to note the passage of time. I hit six months in country and thought, huh, that went fast. I hit six months in my site in Sololà and thought, shoot, I haven´t made it very far. Now I´ve been in country a year and all expectations or benchmarks have been smashed, so I don´t know what to think.

In some ways these next three months are like the turn of the tide. I feel I am in stasis… things are not coming closer nor pulling farther away. Unlike intermission and half time, things will not be standing still in my site… indeed I am busy dawn to dusk and hope to make a lot of progress on some tangible projects as well as relationships, language skills, and the rest of intangible things that add up to be development work. Still, mentally, I think I am now going to disengage from counting down or counting up the months, weeks, and days. Here I am. I might as well be here. I think I´ll call this the Middling Season.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Week in San Marcos

After IST, Wendy and I headed back to site for just over a week, only to turn around and leave again.  During IST we had connected with a Food Security PCV one year ahead of us who has done a lot of work on estufas mejoradas (improved stoves), which is one of the projects that we are working to implement up in A.V. (replacing cooking over an open fire).  So, we arranged to spend a few more of our training days out in his site in San Marcos.  It took us two days to get there, we spent two days constructing two stoves, one day delivering construction materials, and then headed back to the PC Office again for the All Volunteer Conference and 4th of July festivities. 

One of the stoves we built, approaching the finish.

Dolled up for the 4th