Saturday, October 24, 2009

Oh So Close!

Yesterday I recieved some good news! I had my final Spanish Language interview and I am officially an Intermediate Medio speaker, which is the level you have to achieve to be sworn in! I visited my site a week ago, I now understand what the meant about Scotland and the moon. It definately looks like Scotland or Ireland, very green, tons of grass and sheep, not many trees, crazy rocks sticking up out of the ground everywhere, very beautiful. The moon has to do with the climate, very cold at night, but when the sun is out in the middle of the day, very hot. The sun is very intense, but when the clouds roll in it gets cold in a hurry. Always wear plenty of layers and plan to remove and add layers with frequency as is necessary. I have my own house with two rooms, one to sleep in, one to cook in. I have a plancha (wood stove), and a propane stove as well. I will have electricity but no running water. The llano is known as "La Cumbre" and the people there are very friendly (muy amable), but very poor. My host family has a house next to mine that is also a two room house. They have nine children and all of the family shares one bedroom at night. It is sad to see the poverty that you only read about in books or see on the TV, and the reality of it never really sinks in until you are there. At the same time I am amazed by the people and their attitudes and outlooks on life. They all wear smiles on their faces and seem so eager to learn. I will have plenty of work to do and am excited to get started.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Site for Sore Eyes

If you were coming to Guatemala, would you pack a coat, long-johns, wool socks, scarves, and beanies? Well, I would if I were coming to visit me! I got assigned this week! For security purposes, I am more or less prohibited from giving away my exact whereabouts on the interweb for all of the world to possibly Google, but a few minor details won’t hurt. I am going to an area of Guatemala known as Huehuetenango, (pronounced: Way-way-teh-non-go). West in the highlands, Huehue, as it is commonly referred to in the cool circles, actually borders Mexico. The population is of Mayan decent, specifically Mam (there are 22 different Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala), but where I’m going the language was unfortunately lost generations ago, which is fortunate for me because my Spanish still has a ways to go and I don’t think I could handle anymore languages at the time being. My site is around 10,500 ft in elevation, and has been described to me as a mixture between Scotland and the moon… I’m sure I’ll understand what they’re talking about when I go there for my site visit next week. They did tell me that I’ll be able to see basically all of Guatemala, a truly breathtaking view, and not because of the altitude, although I have a feeling that it may be a contributing factor. I’ll have electricity, access to a community water faucet (where I can fetch my bath water and any other water I may need (besides pure drinking water which I will buy in bulk elsewhere)), and I’ll be renting a room with a family that will share a kitchen (stove and sink), and bathroom (latrine) with me. There will be one volunteer within a thirty minute walk working on the same projects as me, and we are both replacing volunteers from the same general area, which means we will already have some sort of established groups and projects to jump into. In fact we are following up about ten years of Peace Corps service in the same area. We will be working with women’s groups, expanding compost production, introducing new vegetables and medicinal plants into family gardens, creating reforestation nurseries, and teaching health and nutrition. I’m very exciting to begin my service as a volunteer, it’s a surreal feeling all over again and it’s hard to believe that the time is already here. Training has flown by. I am going to miss my current host family, they have been absolutely wonderful, but I am ready for the next step and the challenges it will bring.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Light at the End of the Training Tunnel

Well, four weeks from today I'll be officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, granted I pass my final Spanish interview and complete the reswt of my technical training. Time is really flying by, and I've always got something to do. Too much has happened since I last posted. I've seen Mayan Ruins, zip-lined across mountains in Jalapa, been lost in El Tejar (which Jared and I mistook for Chimaltenango), been to my first real Guatemalan wedding, and hiked to Santa Domingo Xenaco on Independence Day. I've vaccinated chickens, built a coop, made chicken feed from scratch, fixed homemade strawberry jam, taught a group of men how to make worm compost, dug my hands in cow manure for the sake of agriculture, and made contour lines on the side of a mountain. I've helped teach local school children english, showed another group of kids how to make tire gardens (only to see them mysteriously sabotaged later on), and taught a womens' group about high blood pressure. I've been happy, sad, sick, well, up, down, excited, confused, eager, curious, and sick. Everything I just mentioned has a story behind it, and as much as a hate to leave everyone hanging, I just don't have that sort of time.

Alot of the reasoning behind me starting this blog was to bring the Guatemalan culture to a new audience, but somehow cultural differences here are becoming less and less obvious to me. Many of the differences I still notice have to do with the educational level of the people here (which you really notice when your sick). I found out that I can't bathe after dinner or I'll have stomach problems. When you are sick, you absolutely cannot bathe, because there could be serious consequences. I can't eat eggs, avocados, or cheese when I'm sad. When I have stomach pain I must drink a variety of teas that I'm pretty sure only make things worse. None of the people here really understand the science behing agriculture and nutricion, so if you start talking about the pH level of the soil, nitrogen deficiencies, the essientails of vitamins, or the biological processes of compost, you get a bunch of very bored people with blank stares. It really makes you look at the world differently to describe plants and chickens as being sad, or to explain how cow poop is like chocolate cake for worms. However, the biggest cultural difference has to do with the amount of gratitude and patience these people have for everything. Thank you's almost require schedule changes. Introductuions can also be very gratuitious and quite long-winded. You can run into someone on the street, no matter if you are walking with a purpose, and easily have a ten minute exchange and possibly an invitation to somewhere or something where afterwards you really have no idea what you just agreed to do. Everyone is extremely polite, respectful, interested, and always ready for a conversation. The best way to become an effective volunteer is to indulge in gratitude and patience as much as possible, always with a smile of interest and a joke at yourself.

So here I am, 2/3rds of the way through with my training, soon to be tossed out into the still largely unknown. Not to put down the training, it really is top-notch, but more than anything it teaches you how to react to certain situations. Every site in Guatemala is a little bit different, every area of the country is like its own country in a way, and every town has its quirks. Some places here are entirely indigenous (some of us will be learning new languages other than Spanish). Some areas are completely ladino. Some places are hot, others are cold. Some places are in moutains, some are in valleys. The thing to keep in mind going into your site is that your Peace Corps service is what you make of it. You might not have electricity, you might not have a hot shower, you might not have running water, you might not speak the language well, but you can be positive, work hard, and give it all you got. With a positive attitude, flexibility, and enthusiasm, you can make your site the perfect place to serve.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Un Mes Mark

Today, I've reached the one month mark... Only 26 more months to go... I have officially completeled 1/27th of my service abroad... It's been everything I could have hoped for! In fact, everything has exceeded my expectations. For example, the food has been 90% awesome. My host-mom/sister is a great cook. I lucked out with my host-family in general. They never seize to amaze me, and I'm sure I probably return the favor. The quirky rituals and traditions exceeded my expectations as well. Guatemala, believe it or not, is a very loud place. One of my fellow trainees has a saying, "Night time is the right time in Guatemala." My addendum would be, "for dogs, roosters, firecrackers, parades, camioneta horns, eardrum busting evangelical music, and churchbells." It's all in good fun, the people here know how to laugh at themselves and, in my opinion, from what I've encountered thus far, have a great sense of humor. My health has exceeded my expectations. Only minor digestion issues. The Peace Corps staff has exceeded my expectations. I figured they would be great, but I am blown away by how wonderful everyone has been. My training class, from what I understand, is probably the best one that has ever come through Santa Lucia (although I may have a bias). Last but not least, the difficulty of the transition and adaptation of everything you thought you might know has exceeded my expectations. This is no cake walk and, even though I'm only one month in, I would have to agree with the old Peace Corps slogan, "The toughest job you'll ever love." I have learned that a positive attitude can carry you through hard times, to never forget where I came from and why I am here, to always keep a smile on my face, to roll with the punches, and did I mention the positive attitude. It has been a wild, difficult, exciting ride so far and I'm loving every minute of it, even the tough ones... Well I've got to wrap this post up but before I go, I promised some pictures, and since pictures tell a thousand words anyways, this post should be more than sufficient to satisfy my readers needs... Oh by the way, my Spanish name is David, because Barrett, as it turns out, is virtually impossible for people to pronounce...

This is yours truely, fresh in Guatemala at the PC headquarters... As you can see, we have top notch security.

This is my messy room (I was in the process of unpacking, I really keep it pretty clean).

Another angle.

Santa Maria Cauque, my training community.

Found it!!!

My Spanish class.

Outdoors action.

Amy and Jared (Javier).

La Merced in Antigua, muy bonita.

Religious festivities, seems like something similar to this is going on in a different place every weekend, I haven't quite got it pegged yet.

My host dad, Don Juan, and I on a hike (Don is how you say Mr.).

Jared, Charlie (Carlos), and Don Juan in the cave.

Charlie on a hike.

Our first garden!

An average days work, carrying banana leaves through the streets while locals stare and shake their heads.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cuerpo de Paz

Well, I've been in Guatemala for 21 days now! It's just about impossible to describe in a blog what it is really like here. The experience thus far has been amazing, eye-opening, humbling, and probably already life-changing. The past three weeks have been busy, busy, busy, but definately fun and completely worth it. My routine day (which is nice to be able to say that I now have somewhat of a routine) is basically 4-6 hours of Spanish class, which is coming along nicely, and 2-4 hours of technical training and getting my hands dirty. Once per week, all of the trainees come in to headquarters for group sessions of health, safety and security, and cultural training. I will have more posts coming in the next several weeks, but I am a little crunched for time at the moment, so this post will have to serve as a teaser for future posts that I'm sure will be full of interesting stories, profound realizations, amazing pictures, and quirky observances.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Coming Up Fast!

I've got a little over three weeks until my departure. Summer has flown by so far, as I knew it would. There's still so many things I have to do before I go, but I am getting there. I've been getting things checked off of my packing list gradually, working on Rosetta Stone for hours on end, and doing alot of reading and re-reading (Welcome Books, Handbooks, Manuals). I just received a staging kit (I think, I was expecting something in the mail but so far I've just gotten everything through e-mail). I did find out the address I can be reached at for the next three months!

PCT Barrett Bumpas
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 66
Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepequez, 03001
Guatemala, Centro America

Send me something!!! If you send me something right now there's a good chance I'll arrive before it will! The PC recommends sending letters and padded envelopes, but nothing to much larger than that because I would likely have to pay a hefty fee at customs for a large package. Due to a less reliable postal system, it is also recommend that each correspondence is numbered (so that if I received letters 1,2,3, and 5, I would know I was missing 4). I'll also have access to a telephone, probably even have a cell phone Guatemalen style, and I'll have occasional access to e-mail. I'll probably save most of the telephone calls for home, but letters would be awesome and e-mail is probably the best way to get a hold of me -
Anywho, I'll be leaving from DFW and flying to D.C. on August 10th. I'm going one day early, which will be awesome because I've never been anywhere close to D.C. before, and I won't have to rush or worry about being late to my orientation. That will be on August 11th. The Peace Corps is putting us up in the Washington Plaza for the night of the 11th, briefly, check-out is scheduled @ 1:30 am of the 12th. After a quick connecting flight through Miami, I should be in Guatemala City that day just in time for lunch!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

So I made a blog...

I can't say for sure how much I'll use this thing.  This isn't for me as much as it is for you, the reader.  One, I don't know how much computer access I'll have during my service, but my guess is here and there.  Two, this isn't really a journal, although I'll be keeping one for myself.  This is, however, the sort of medium that will let me share interesting stories from my service, let me voice an opinion from time to time, and keep in touch with everybody back home (Love you Mom).  The Peace Corps Mission Statement contains three goals: to help the people of interested countries in meeting their needs for trained men and women; to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served; and to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.  So I made a blog, in the hope that I can do my part to fulfill that mission.  
I have accepted an assignment with the Peace Corps to serve in Guatemala.  I'll be working through the Sustainable Agriculture Program as a Food Security Facilitator.  That's my official job title.  Basically, I'll be establishing school and family gardens with sustainable farming practices and environmental conservation, providing training for backyard poultry management, and educating families and communities on nutritional contents and the preparation of home-grown vegetables and other agricultural products, all in conjunction with local counterparts.  The term of service is 24 months, after the three months of in-country training of course.  I won't officially become a Volunteer until Halloweenish (feel free to dress up as your favorite Peace Corps Voluneteer).  

The departure date is not written in stone quite yet, but August 10, 2009, is when I leave for staging, somewhere in the the States, for a couple of days, before we depart to Guatemala City as a well oriented group.  I will then participate in a 12-week training program, consisting of Spanish, cross-cultural studies, and technical orientation.  The training program is hands-on, and I'm sure I'll probably mention it here and there when the time comes.  

For now, I have about two and a half months to prepare myself for my service.  I'm taking Rosetta Stone, reading and re-reading manuals and handbooks, and working on getting in somewhat better shape, as I expect to be walking/hiking everywhere I go.  In the next several weeks I'll receive more information, i.e. staging location, dates, and reporting instructions.  To be continued...