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.