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.