Monday, September 30, 2013

The Lost Posts, Part 1 "Re-Adjusting Sucks"

I revisited the old blog today. It's been a while since I've read through many of my posts and all sorts of lost memories and snapshots in time are rushing back. Among the lost memories in my blog, I've found several unpublished posts, that for some reason or another never made the cut at the time. So I bring to my dwindled audience a lost post that shows another snapshot in time, my re-adjustment to life in the States. One never becomes fully re-adjusted of course, but as I approach the two year anniversary of closing my service, I found this post to be especially poignant, as I have become your standard Peace Corps definition of re-adjusted.  Still able to hold on to much, but not nearly enough. The following was written on December 10, 2011, less than one month after returning home.

"Yesterday I got into a Ford Pickup truck, in the backseat by myself, parents in the front. We stopped at Sonic and ordered a cherry-limeade and cheese sticks for the road. We enjoyed conversation and Sirius Satellite Radio at a reasonable volume. We were on our way, a calm relaxing drive to the center of chaos, the DFW Metroplex. It's that crazy time of year here in the States, right between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every year, it seems to get worse and worse. I don't know if that's because I'm coming to that age where I notice it more and more or not, or if it has a lot to do with technology being closer and closer to our fingertips, but it seems to be everywhere. Part of me feels like I've been locked up in a time capsule. My parents had to teach me how to work an iPhone. They came out before I left, I think, but I had only seen a few. My old phone was fairly new then. Flip-phone with a camera. It is completely obsolete. My old clothes still hung in the closet, although they were out of style before I left (if they were ever in style). Now I will donate them and maybe some lucky Guatemalan will be able to pick them up for a dime. I walk into a Target and there is a Starbucks and Pizza Hut by the registers. The aisles are full of things I swear I have never seen: 28 versions of a coffee maker, 12 version of the Foreman grill, a cosmetics section that was half the size of my Chiantla grocery store, sports, entertainment, gifts for babies, frozen food, deli meats, bakery, bathroom, fire extinguishers, socks, undies, entire aisles dedicated to potato chips, cereal, soup, crackers, and sauces, Christmas decor. TV shows about less than average people just being themselves play on, sell magazines, and people watch from leather sofas as they enjoy their Venti, or whatever that size is, Double Mocha Frappe Latte, or whatever that drink is. One day, I walked into a convenient store and was completely baffled by my choices for an afternoon snack. The lady at the register asked me if I needed help and then said, "You just look confused or lost or something." I am... I can't even go into a gas station without completely shutting down, not just inwardly, but visibly to the point of needing assistance from strangers. I am confused, I am lost, I am completely overloaded."

"This is where I would normally talk about my last month in country and reflect on my service. Where I would talk about how I have had the experience of a lifetime (and I certainly have). Where I would bring this blog, this adventure, and this story to an end, and bring all the loose ends together, but I can't right now. I just started to feel a tiny dose of readjustment kicking in, and I am fighting..."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Last Thoughts on Guatemala

I've tried to write this final blog post a few times. "What I Won't Miss About Guatemala" was my first attempt, which was intended on being the first of a two part series that would have ended in a sentimental post-service reflection titled something to the tune of "What I Definitely Miss About Guatemala." The things I won't miss list turned into a pages long venting of frustrations which, while funny when shared with a few close Peace Corps friends, would have been misunderstood and frankly insensitive to the people and actual complexities that make this place what it is. Another attempt started off pretty solid but quickly transformed into a quagmire of unorganized free-associative thought that read like the end of a bad amphetamine-induced Kerouac writing binge. I have been completely unable to collect my thoughts, perhaps because there are so many. Tomorrow marks three months since I closed my service, and today I hopped on my last bus from Xela back to the tourist hub of Antigua in preparation to leave behind "The Land of Eternal Spring" for at least a long while. As the mountainsides and trees glided past my window, I was inspired by something my good friend, Stephen Oliver, wrote. To paraphrase, he talked about the Guatemala he got to know in his service, and how its so different and so much deeper than it seems. While you can look up and see wondrous monuments and ruins, look down and see the trash, poverty, and violence, it takes a real vision (or a couple of years in Peace Corps) to see what's in the middle. When you finally see beneath the surface, it's... Well, to steal from Bob Dylan, it's like what you find "in the Grand Canyon at sundown". On the bus today thinking about the middle, my thoughts poured out of me, and I want to share my last thoughts on Guatemala here:

The highways are littered with garbage.
The sides of the mountains are littered with towns.
The cities are littered with people and sounds,
All the noise, all the howls.
The dogs are quenched up to their bones.
They wander the streets cause they ain't got a home.
As they hunt for their meals, they'll catch a few stones,
Just one step behind the bolos,
Who wake on the sidewalk again,
And stumble around as they look for old friends,
And when the bottle is empty they lay down their heads,
In front of the Muni on their concrete beds,
Where the mayor goes in for the day,
And make sure his people shoe bolos away,
And opens his pockets when it's time to get paid,
And says, "Thanks for the milk money,"
Like a bully who roams through the halls,
But in the small classroom there's no one to rob,
At least if they never get chances at all.
Because there's no books, only busted soccer balls,
But they play their games anyway.
They flick their marbles, they spin their tops,
Who else but the teacher could ask them to stop,
It certainly isn't the cops,
Who sit on their bums in their cars.
Keep driving all day, and don't care where they are,
And don't really have power they only bear arms,
So they're deaf, dumb, and blind to alarms
That sound when the shooting is done.
Where bodies are scattered like nobodies, no ones,
Where gangs traded love for money and guns,
And shot them all off just for fun,

At the people that live in between,
The temples and mountains and rivers that bleed,
With gray soapy garbage and smell like latrines.
That work 'til the harvest and pray for the rains,
That won't be too heavy and won't be too lame,
So they can buy kernels on market day.
They know how it feels, but not what to say.
To the city freaks and bolos in the street,
To the mayor on top, the man in his seat,
To the teachers who care and the teachers who don't,
To the maras, politicians, and police who won't
Even try to pretend like they understand,
Like they've seen exactly where these people have been,
'Cause they've never had to work like a slave
To the rock laden fields for a dollar a day,
And put food on the table for a family of eight,
Who split it all up on their small plastic plates,
Who forgot all about their bellies that ache,
'Cause just like today, tomorrow's the same.
They go to the fields and shepherd the sheep,
'Til a sister, or brother, or daughter relieve,
So they can fetch water from a dribbling spring,
And carry it home on their heads as they dream
Of heading up north to the land of the free
That doesn't want them to be in it's dream,
But as they head home for tortillas and beans,
All these things happen that only they see,
That only they feel, they only they know,
That only they give, that only they show.
They send out their smiles and salutate
To make sure their aunts and their uncles are great.
They give all their friends and their families their time,
'Cause as long as they're there, they're all the same kind.
They'll give you some coffee and last piece of bread,
A pillow, a blanket, last sliver of bed.
They'll split up their beans, and make sure you're fed,
If you'll lend them an ear and return them a smile,
If you sit down to talk and stay for a while,
If you give them a hand to harvest their wheat,
And you keep on going when the work's got you beat,
And you'll toss and you'll turn and you'll roll in your sleep,
And you'll wonder, "How could they possibly be so sweet?"
And you start to give and it feels like a bunch,
But soon you'll realize it's not nearly enough.

Because they've given you something they don't give out that often.
Not because they don't want to, they just don't know yet
That they have a secret that you wouldn't get.
The hardest truths to find may be those which are small,
They haven't got much, but they've got it all.
They've got each other, they've got a friend,
They've got a world that's only for them.

They are the artists of life,
Who can take nothing and make it beautiful.

-Barrett Bumpas

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Project Status: Completed; Peace Corps Status: Goodbye

The following is a final report letter that I just submitted to Water Charity. Normally, I believe these reports are a bit more concise and I probably should have apologized for my long winds, but as my blog readers should very well know, it's only my style, hence only appropriate to post here too. Besides, if I told the story here in fresh words it would sound virtually identical anyways. Without further adieu, I present my project story.

The appropoate techologies project for the Calvario Dos School in
Guatemala is completed! The process of how it came to pass is quite a
story as well, one that taught me a multitude about develoment work and project management.

In the beginning, my host country counterpart had recieved a
solicitation from this particular school to build a water deposit. I
talked with my director and informed her that it would be possible to
receive funding for a project through Water Charity. After a couple of
months of discussing logistics, I took action and applied for the
project. The next day it was decided we would change the design, which
originally would have fallen within the Water Charity budget, to
another design that the Foundation had built before, which was a
little more expensive, but the Foundation was willing to supply the
extra materials for.

I believed it to be a 10,000 square tank, but what was built in the past were larger ferro cement tanks. Because of my impending Closure of Service Conference, we decided to wait until the end of August to proceed, at which point we had an all staff meeting to discuss the project design. In this meeting, I learned that the blueprints had been lost. All we had for the tank design were several pictures that skipped series of steps in the construction. Roberto, my working counterpart who was to build the tank with myself and the community, also did not have the experience in building such a tank. I panicked for a few hours and then took some deep breaths. I began contacting fellow volunteers for advice and instruction and that led me to contacting another Non-Governmental Organization, Agua para la Salud.

Agua para la Salud works with Peace Corps' Healthy Schools Program here in Guatemala to build appropriate technologies projects. They have a plethora of different designs for whatever need a particular school or community may have, so I solicited the organization for a tank design that we could build. After corresponding back and forth through e-mail, they offered to send the Foundation an experienced mason at no charge to facilitate the project and train my counterpart, Roberto, and members from the community in the construction of such a tank, from which they may continue to build these tanks in the future.
Agua para la Salud works with Peace Corps' Healthy Schools Program here in Guatemala to build appropriate technologies projects. They have a plethora of different designs for whatever need a particular school or community may have, so I solicited the organization for a tank design that we could build. After corresponding back and forth through e-mail, they offered to send the Foundation an experienced mason at no charge to facilitate the project and train my counterpart, Roberto, and members from the community in the construction of such a tank, from which they may continue to build these tanks in the future.

What we ended up deciding on was a 5,500 liter ferro cement water tank and rain catchment system. We waited until the local festival, national elections, and Independence Day were all over, in total three weeks of further delays due to these events' consecutive nature. With only a slight hiccup due to funding, we were able to significantly decrease the project budget so that it was within the Foundations range and purchase the materials. At this point, it had been more than a month since the project had been approved, and the roller coaster of obstacles and triumphs in getting the ball rolling was beginning to take a toll. We got all the materials delivered and I was still crossing my fingers that this would actually work out.
Then the mason, Diego, and Lynn, the director of Agua para la Salud, met with me the Tuesday morning we began construction. After a breakfast, we visited the school, surveyed the materials, and decided the best methods for proceeding. Within no time, we were all
inaccordance, and Lynn left us to our work.

Originally it was thought the construction would take about two weeks. Many members from the community came to help, and with their hard work, combined with the instruction from our experienced mason, at the end of the first day we were already three days ahead of schedule. The mason pulled me aside and suggested that if he stay and work through the weekend, that the project would be completed by Monday. So we did just that. Everyone showed up, even on Saturday and Sunday, despite the construction falling in the middle of a harvest, to complete the project.

Whatwe ended up building was a 5,000 liter tank, with a rain water catchment system. The school had absolutely no water, so members of the community were bringing it from far and wide to mix with the concrete. Originally, I had intended on building a hand washing station, but for now, just for the school to have a water source is a significant step forward for the entire community. A hand washing station will likely be built in the month following my departure by Roberto and my volunteer replacement, utilizing extra materials purchased for the tank.

For me this was an invaluable experience. It taught me so much about
managing a project and coordinating with others. When all was said and
done, 6 distinct factions came together for the project to come to
fruition: Peace Corps, Water Charity, Seeds of Help Foundation, Agua
para la Salud, Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta Calvario Dos, and the
Comite de Padres (parents and leaders from the community). If any one
of these collaborators would have been excluded from the equation,
this entire project would not have been possible. I am extremely
gracious to have been given the opportunity to help this often
neglected yet spirited community, and can pass on the gratitude of the
people there only as good as words on a page can do. I'll say that the
majority of people back home cannot even imagine what this means to
them by saying the following; while I have an idea of it's
significance myself, even I, who have been living in the Cumbre for
two years, working, eating, and sleeping next door, can not fully look
into the encompassing hearts of the people. I receive their thanks,
their handshakes, their laughs and smiles, their hugs, more thanks,
and their tears, however, in the end, what they have given me far
exceeds anything I could possibly give to them. They have changed my
life, and will go with me everywhere.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

40 Days & 40 Nights

If I were Noah, and my Peace Corps service the Ark, I would be gathering up the last of the paired animals. The storm is coming. The time I've been preparing for has arrived. I'm down to 40 days left in my service.

When the storm is over, and the post return to the States flood subsides, perhaps a bird will bring back to me a leaf (news of a job) and I will be able to move on the next step smoothly. Until the flood subsides, I probably also wont be able to process this experience as a whole also.

I had a plan to make a list of "Things I Won't Miss" in Guatemala and post it here. That could still happen in the coming 40 days, but I want to say this first. The things that I will miss are going to be the things that deeply impact my life from here on out. Of course, I'm not going to write "Things I Am Missing" until I realize what they are after I've been away for a bit. I want to include the unexpected.

Anyways, I have been a busy bee here lately and wanted to post my project website once again for you all to see - - I wanted to post my project website so that I could also solicit funding from all of you wonderful people. Please, if you can, make a small donation. It would be greatly appreciated (by an entire community) and I promise it will be put towards the completion of this project or others. Help a friend weather the storm.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Who's Bored Now?

It's been a little hectic lately. Closing your Peace Corps service isn't something you can just do in a couple of days. My group had our Close of Service (COS) Conference last month. It's a three day event where PC puts us up in a posh villa to talk about our experiences, feelings, and mainly to tell us all the things we have to do before we can leave. There's the medical checkout, three days of getting pricked and prodded, physicals, stool samples (officially a pro at leaving these), and dental checkup (Just finished up last week, no tuberculosis, no cavities, and parasite free). I have a Language Proficiency Interview that will tell just how awful my Spanish still is after two years (it really isn't that bad I guess). Then the plethora of paperwork: COS Report (10-15 pages, single-spaced, English and Spanish), Description of Service (DOS) Report, the bi-annual VRF Report, updating resumes and job applications, reference letters, press releases, closing bank accounts, turning in supplies and equipment, and getting the signature of virtually everyone on the Peace Corps Staff. That all happens on top of despedidas (going away parties) in site, with host families, women's groups, and schools, and with other volunteers, who are all leaving at different times. My site mate and I will likely be replaced, so we also have to prepare a smoothish transition for the new volunteers and plan their site visit. Guatemala also just had their first round of countrywide elections for the year (President, Representatives, Mayors, etc.) which brought everything to a halt for a few days, followed by tomorrow being Independence Day (one of the biggest celebrations of the year). Chiantla, my municipality, just finished their week-plus long festival last week as well.

Throughout it all, I've been coordinating an appropriate technologies project for a local school. I solicited funding from Water Charity, and in collaboration with my Counterpart NGO (Seeds of Help Foundation), Agua para la Salud (who gave us the design and is sending a skilled mason), and the Committee of Parents (basically a PTA), the project is finally coming to fruition. Materials were purchased yesterday and construction is scheduled to begin this coming Tuesday. We will be building a cement above ground water deposit that will hold 5,500 liters of water, which will be used for washing hands, dishes, cleaning floors, and, with the use of a water filter that was donated to all of our schools through my site mate, clean drinking water. Water Charity provides funding to projects instantly, and receives donations later, which it filters to its various ongoing projects across the world. The maximum amount of money they can contribute to a single project is $555. My project budget was actually more than this allotment, but Seeds is helping cover the rest. Please visit my project page - - to make a donation. Even $5 would be a huge help. I can say that I would greatly appreciate it, but in speaking for the community, I couldn't begin to describe their gratitude and appreciation for your help.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Guest Bloggers!!!

My parents came for a visit a while back and I asked if they would like to write a post about their trip. Complete with pictures, which I've never really figured out how to do (but may retrospectively add some if I can), here is another perspective from my favorite (and only) visitors (would have been my favorites even if I would have had others).

Guatemala Rubbed Off On Us!

We went on a trip over “spring break,” to visit Barrett, our son who is a Peace Corp Volunteer. Well, I guess Guate got into our blood… to prove that, this blog is a little late in the coming! Barrett planned the trip from beginning to end. All we had to do was get on a plane. I did an extreme amount of talking to myself before getting on that plane. I said things like, “Don’t scream if you see
a spider, bug, etc.," and “Eat whatever is put before you, or least smile as you move the food around on the plate.” Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised that none of my concerns ever really came to fruition. We were amazed with the beauty of the country, even though we were taken back by all the trash on the countryside and the political paintings on rocks and boulders.

The first morning we awoke to the most beautiful scenery on the lake looking out at a couple of volcanoes. It was just breathtaking. One of the highlights of the trip was meeting Barrett’s friends. After almost two years of keeping up with blogs and facebook posts, and listening to stories from Barrett, we felt as though we already knew them. We really appreciate all the kindness they showed us and how they made us feel so welcome. Meeting Betty was a special treat and we really enjoyed kicking around with Barrett and his “LOVE!” (I had to embarrass you a little!) We will cherish the memories of this trip forever: the stays at the lake, shopping in the markets, traveling (with Bryan driving) through the treacherous roads, seeing a couple of ruins, catapulting out of the underground parking lot at a 45 degree angle onto the street in Huehue, the visits to the women’s meetings and schools with which Barrett works, walking to the “store” (a hole in the side of a house,) the visit to the Peace Corps Headquarters, the “chicken bus” ride, a dinner party at Barrett’s co-worker’s house, and all the other sights too numerous to even mention. Meeting Amy, Barrett’s site-mate, warmed our hearts, as she has literally spent two years in a close relationship with our son. Roberto, Barrett’s closest co-worker, was just as Barrett had described him and a very friendly guy who showered us with gifts he’d made.

Barrett’s host family, the family he rents from, pulled at our heartstrings by cleaning the compound dirt with brush, making boiled potatoes for our breakfast, and genuinely loving our son during his stay in Guatemala. Visiting the place Barrett has called home for the last couple of years was one of the best parts of the trip and allowed us to get a real taste of what life has been like for him. Even so, I can’t imagine living without running water for two whole years or having to climb that wall to get to the latrine in pouring rain, especially if you have an upset stomach. And, I’m thankful Barrett didn’t expect us to hike to all the places he goes!

Visiting Guatemala was not on our list of places to visit, but will most likely remain the greatest adventure we’ve ever experienced. This trip will forever be in our hearts, as we are extremely proud of our son and the man he has become.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Can't Make This Up...

This is a must read article that was recently published in The New Yorker about the murder of Rodrigo Rosenberg. Living in Guatemala for the past 2o months has led me to a point where it is almost impossible to shock or surprise me. This story began shortly before my arrival and unfolded gradually during the course of my service, but never really came to life until I read this article, which puts it all together so perfectly. This kind of stuff just can't be made up... I give you, Rodrigo Rosenberg at his finest...

Note: It's a bit long, but you will not regret it.