Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wild Rabid Rampage!!!

I've been debating all day whether to write this or not, and finally decided that I can no longer control myself. Plenty of strange, curious, and crazy things have happened to me here in this country. It's just a part of the job. I've been halted by men with machetes while trying to cross through a protest on Central America's main highway. I've seen a drunk man put himself inside of a giant metal cow that was covered in powerful fireworks as he was mentally preparing to literally ignite the town festival by trouncing through the street in front of the municipality building and through a crowd of 500 innocent men, women, and children (it's called a torito, very popular at rodeos, unusual in crowded streets). I've seen ferris wheels that I swore were held together with duct tape (and then bought a ticket to ride for some strange reason). I've been forbidden to bathe after dinner. I've been on old American school buses that have gone through quasi versions of MTV's Pimp My Ride, packed full with 80 people as it cruised along the Pan-American, taking curves with probably only two wheels touching the ground. I've opened my door to reveal that the persuasive knocker was just a bored chicken. I've been evacuated from my site because of flooding, and today I was quarantined to my house, which I can now add to the list of memorable occurrences.

Here's the story: At approximately 8:45 this morning, I was getting ready to walk out the door and head to one of my favorite schools when I received a phone call from my counterpart.
"Buenos dias, David. Disculpe," she almost whispered, "have you spoken with your host mom this morning?"
"No, not yet. Why, what's going on?"
"Well, I've been hearing a lot of news about a pretty dangerous situation." She explained that it may be better if I stayed at home, and, to describe the situation, she used a word that I have never heard before and wasn't in my Spanish dictionary. "You better go speak with your host mom."

Dona Cecilia, who is literally 9 months pregnant, was not out in front of the house like she normally is. Immediately, I thought that something must have happened in the middle of the night with her and her baby. Slightly panicked, I asked the first kids that I saw, who were all under the age of 4, where there mother was. I got an almost intelligible answer from all the kids at the same time, but thankfully one of them pointed and I could see my host mom around the other side of their house.
I walked over and was greeted with a smile and enthusiastic, "Buenos dias, Don David!"
"Buenos dias," I said, "How are you doing?"
"I'm doing great! How are you?"
"I'm good. So, everything is okay?"
"Oh yes, everything is fine. Where are you going today?"
"Just over to the school in Calvario 2, and then I'm coming back here to work on tanks."
"Great, you're leaving now?"
"Yes," I paused a bit thinking she might open up with some news, but she had nothing else to tell me, "we'll talk later."
"Ok, have a great day!"

I strolled back into my house more confused than I was when I went looking for my host mom, and then I received another call from my counterpart.
"Hola David, I think that you should stay home from work today. You shouldn't leave your house at all. There are two men in the communities who are lost with rabies."
"What? Rabies? Like rabies, rabies?"
"Yes, there are search parties out looking for the men. No one knows where they may be."
"So, I need to stay in my house?"
"Yes, please. I would prefer if you did not go anywhere today. I'm going to call Peace Corps and let them know what is happening."
"Wait, so two men have rabies, and are on the loose in the communities?"
"Yes, stay safe and be careful, and please don't leave your house."
I went straight to my computer and got the internet running so I could do some research. From Wikipedia, I learned that rabies has an incubation period of sometimes months and the first symptoms are usually that of the flu. My forehead was a bit warm, but I have a sunburn. My body a bit sore, but yesterday I went on a lunch hike to a nearby summit for a couple of hours between the school and the group. My stomach has been feeling a bit funny lately, but those symptoms seem much more likely to be giardia (beaver fever) contracted from contaminated water. So, I apparently was rabies free. Not just rabies free, but I remembered having a series of three pre-exposure injections during training. Rabies can be contracted by any warm blooded animal. It will cause swelling of the brain, excess salivation, the appearance of foam from the mouth, and mania before it leads to a coma and death in almost 100% of the cases. After doing a bit more research, I received another call, this time from my Peace Corps Project Specialist.
"Good morning, Barrett."
"Good morning."
"I received a call from your counter part this morning. She thinks that it is best if you don't leave your house today."
"I heard, and I'm a little confused about what's going on."
"Well, she has talked to several people, and apparently the word is that two men have contracted rabies and are lost somewhere, possibly in your area."
"I see."
"We are going to go with her recommendation and have decided that you should not go out to the communities today. So, just stay put, try to move around as little as possible."
"Can I at least go to the tienda (small local store)?"
"Well, yes, but don't go too far from your house and try to just stay home."
"Okay then, thanks for calling."
"Stay safe, have a good day."
I went back to talk to my host mom. She had indeed heard a few rumors of men on the loose with rabies. A women had been bitten by a rabid dog and died from the virus (almost 55,000 people a year die from rabies throughout the world, usually from bites and bats). Before she died, she passed it on to her entire family, who are currently in the hospital (very sad, because chances are that none of them will survive). However, two of the men that also contracted the virus disappeared and have not been seen. I talked to another man that lives nearby. He had heard the same thing, but said it was nothing to worry about. Later in the day, I spoke with another man who said the family was from Aguacatan, a larger town down the mountain, and probably a full day hike away.

Now, don't get me wrong, rabies is a serious virus. Having said that, I felt the concern for MY well being (me, being the only person around with the pre-exposure series) a bit laughable. In fact, it probably qualified me for being the first torch in the search mob. It seemed I had entered into some sort of B level zombie movie actually. As if while walking down a secluded road, a pair a rabid monsters would leap out from behind the bushes, and commence suckling on my juicy brains. As I got on my bike this afternoon to head to the tienda, I wondered if I should wrap a string of garlic around my neck, pull out the old silver bullets, or strap a wooden stake to my belt. I did not. Instead, I went along about my business like everyone else from the community, feeling a bit foolish for having stayed around my house all day, and a bit amused from having yet another strange occurrence to add to the memory bank. Just another day in the Peace Corps.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Other Side

Though the title may insinuate this post is about the other side (as in "I live here, in Guatemala, where you can see the other side of life"), it is really about the other side of my life as a volunteer. Somehow I have failed to mention what a large portion of my volunteer life is all about... me. I know that sounds bad, but really, it's easy to become self absorbed from the hours of 5ish until I fall asleep. So, my purpose here is to give you a peek through that window.

If I were a hypothetical Peace Corps recruiter, and after I told you all about the work, the people, the culture, the language, the bouts of illness, and so on, I told you that you would potentially be all by your lonesome every single day for up to 6 hours, what would your internal response be? If someone would have mentioned that to me before I came, I know the hesitation meter would have shot up a bit more than it did. However, after a little accompaniment atrophy, my lonesome night life has been a blessing in disguise. I can't really say if it's doing any wonders for my social skills, but having to constantly entertain myself is something that I now look forward too. I just purchased a set of acrylic paint in tubes. I'm so excited to paint something, or anything, anywhere in my house. I just finished my first oil painting.
It's on the wall by my door, and I can't help but look at it all the time. I bought the paint down in Huehuetenango from a semi-obscure store that was filled with painting supplies. I'm pretty sure it's some sort of furniture paint, but I used it anyway. It's a nice desert scene, complete with orange sky, sunset, hopeless clouds, and a silhouetted plateau and giant cactus that sprung accidental and unrelenting runners towards the floor. I artistically concluded the the running black paint was a search for life in a dreary desolate void. Perhaps I made a subconscious statement about the difficult journey of a deeply impoverished cumbre man that takes you through a Mexico that is hostile to Guatemalans, a desert cross that is hostile to any living organism, into a country that can have hostile tendencies towards immigrants, so that his family might be able to get itself up on at least one leg some day, but really, it's just a bunch a paint on a wall that didn't turn out at all how I imagined due to my complete lack of skill as an oil painter. The point of it all was to entertain myself. So I buy cool shirts that I would never wear for Q1 (12 cents) at the PACA (Guatemala's version of goodwill), and nail them up on my wall. I watch TV shows on my computer that I never would have watched otherwise. (Sidenote: If anyone is a prospective PCV on their way to Guatemala, invest in an external hard drive.) I draw silly or serious sketches. I write. I play my guitar. I record time capsules for myself with my webcam. I read, but not enough. I Google Talk to friends. I make stencil art with spray paint. I build unstable bookshelves. I cook experimental meals with strange combinations of ingredients. I stare at maps. I think about doing push-ups, which may actually happen once every couple of weeks. I pontificate my glorious return to the States, and my assuredly painful realization that it won't be as glorious as I imagine (they all say the re-adjustment is the hardest part). I watch excruciatingly slow feeds of ESPN Gamecast to keep up with my Mavs, Rangers, and Cowboys. I Wikipediate. I swing imaginary ninja weapons around my body, preparing myself for the inevitable action movie scene where I encounter a group of 50 black belts who attack me one-at-a-time. I pretend to be Cliff Lee pitching hacky sacks at my cinder block wall against A-Rod. If I want to, I just lay down on my foam bed and stare at my nylon covered ceiling. The last couple of things, I know, are a bit childish, but that's just what happens to a person with too much free time. I look at it as finding my inner child, and more importantly keeping sane. Never in my life have I had this much free time, and yes, I do use some of that time to work on charlas, or activities to do with my groups and schools, but for the most part, it's my time to be me. There isn't a Peace Corps Volunteer on this planet that hasn't found just as many ways to entertain themselves, at least I imagine so. It's one of the things I feel I will miss when it's all said and done.

It's strange, but having this other side to Peace Corps life is somewhat of a perfect and unusual balance. We spend our days teaching, hiking to teach, trying to figure out ways to make a difference, talking to people about real issues, serious problems, and local gossip, giving ourselves and what we can give, and our nights (not all of us, but many) are spent alone in a self absorbed seclusion. It's just another part of the experience that will change us all forever. I hope my abundant free time now doesn't transform me into a future hermit, but I'm sure after another year of this (did I mention that I'm officially half-way through my service which means I have almost exactly one year remaining?), I'll really come to appreciate having company too.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

So That's The World...

Joe and I have recently been working on painting our first world map at a local school. (Quick sidenote: Joe is finishing his work in the cumbre this coming week. He's been an absolute pleasure to work with, and I have to say he will be greatly missed. Joe is moving on to Tactic to work on another project, replacing the existing insufficient 4 latrines with a modern bathroom complex at a school of over 600 students. He is still short on funds, but determined to finish the bathrooms, even if it has to come out of his already tired pockets (unlike me, he earns no paycheck for his work here). Please visit his blog - - every little bit helps.)

Anywho, not to brag or anything, but I feel like its quite possibly the best world map that has ever been painted. You'll have to take my word on that of course, but we were painstakingly accurate. We carefully graphed out our map of the world, did a little math to accurately increase its size for the wall, and tediously drew in the countries grid by grid, 336 grids in total. Then we returned to paint the countries and the oceans, putting on two coats in most places, and spent another 4 hours scribing on the country names. I have been eager to paint a school map, somewhat for the change in my work pace, and also because it's just the kind of thing that I really enjoy doing. However the satisfaction that I have now after its completion is ten times what I thought it would be. That's because I came to find out that virtually none of the children or their parents had ever seen a map of the world before. As Joe and I were finishing up our country outlines, a local community leader and parent came up to us and asked, "What is that?" My eyes grew large and I looked at Joe and back towards the man and replied, "This is a map of the world." Having never seen a map before, this aroused his curiosity even more. "Where is Guatemala?" he asked. Joe chimed in, "Guatemala is this little country here. And here are the States, Spain, Russia, China, this is Africa, and here is the greatest country in the world, Ireland."I can't imagine how it must have felt to see a map of the world for the first time nearing the age of 40.

The next day, a group of men huddled around us
as we were painting the individual countries. I heard one man ask, "Where are we?" Just as I was about to break the silence when no one seemed to be able to answer, one man pointed at the map and said, "We're this little green one." As we were adding the second layer, we could here the men debating our color choices. "Why is China the same color as New Zealand?" Another man suggested that it was because they spoke the same language, and that all of the similar colored countries shared languages. Then they came to the logic that it was only to differentiate, either because every Central American country was a different color, or someone figured that there must have been more than just 7 languages in the world. As the people around me were looking at the world for the first time, a solution fell into my lap. The problem is that our school gardens are almost all harvested for the year, and I have been searching for some sort of work that I really want to do with the kids when there is no more planting, weeding, fertilizing, and harvesting. Eureka, Geography! I wasn't too excited about the prospect of teaching more English classes anyways.

For these kids, the world has always been this tiny little bubble up in the Western Highlands, although, I believe every child grows up in their own little bubble. Now that they have a map to look at, I want to show them what it's all about. I have always believed that education is among the greatest problems in the cumbre, even with the level of malnutrition and poverty. I feel like an educated person would have the tools at hand to help alleviate some of the other problems here. Most of the people here who are considered educated can only read, write, and solve the simplest of math problems. Geography may be something that we take for granted back home. I can't remember a time when I didn't know what a map of the world looked like, or the location of continents and influential countries. To know about other places in the world is a big part of a solid education. It opens doors to new ideas, cultures, and can help a person better understand their surroundings. It can spark the imagination, and boost curiosity. I think that the kids will have a genuine interest in learning about the world, and an unparalleled enthusiasm for exploring, at least in their daydreams, the mysteries of the world around them. I may be a dreamer myself, but if I can help spark more of a global interest in these cumbre kids, it might end up being what I look back on as the most valuable service I provided in my time here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Don David

The only word I've heard my 16 month old host sister say is, "David." This makes me feel all cozy inside since it is the name I go by in Spanish. I'm sure it wasn't her first word and that she probably speaks many others with her family, but I will admit it feels pretty nice. Today, I played my guitar for all the kids for the first time. Something I have been admittedly avoiding since my last host family constantly requested my lyrically butchered version of "La Bamba" (which I indeed had to play three times in a row today). They absolutely loved it.

Recently, I feel like I have been making tiny breakthroughs almost daily with my host family. My Spanish is getting better, which has led to me talking to them more, which has been improving my Spanish. A never-ending cycle if you will. We have grown very comfortable with each other, and for the first time since my first host-family, I am starting to feel like I "belong." My host-mom, Cecilia, is 5 1/2 months pregnant with child number 10. At 36, she has already had four boys and five girls. She assured me that this would be her last child, and although it breaks my heart to see my family struggle to put food on their table, and despite the fact that the machismo here is overwhelmingly dominant, I am very excited to welcome a new member to the family.

We have had a few difficulties since my arrival, especially in the first few months. I feel obliged not to go into details here, out of their respect. I am more focused on moving forward, but I will say that I was afraid I'd never be able to cross a few barriers. I credit my host-mom for the turn around. She might possibly be the sweetest person I've ever met. She is always wearing an enormous genuine smile. She is always happy to see me, and she worries about me like my own mother would. "Oh, Don David, be careful on your bike." "You should go rest now, or your cold will get worse." Like a mother, she compliments me too much, "Don David, what wonderful work your doing." "You're handsome, Don David." She tries to embarrass me in front of my friends. "I just love it when Don David's friends come to visit, it makes him happy." I unabashedly admit that she is right. She has taken me in as one of her own, not because I pay rent, or because once every couple of weeks I meet with her group, but because she really cares. Every day when I come home, I look for Dona Cecilia, if even just to say good afternoon after a long day. Any day dreams I had before of finding my own place, with more space and privacy, perhaps running water, and a shorter commute, have all vanished. I am falling in love with my family here: my host-mom, my sweet sisters, my diligent brothers, and my rapidly spoken host-dad (I say rapidly spoken because not only does he speak the fastest Cumbre Spanish I have yet heard, but he is always straight to the point, which I rather appreciate at the end of the day in this long-winded country).

Tomorrow morning, I will put the finishing touches on my rabbit cages, with Joe's help (he's been a great volunteer and friend, check his blog too and make a donation to his bathroom project, he's still short and 600+ kids are really looking forward to it). These rabbit cages I am splitting with the family. They already had one and a half cages so we have turned it into three. They currently have one rabbit and next week I am going to find it's mate. I consider it the gift that keeps on giving, and believe that this will make our bond stronger, which I have felt is long overdue. I am excited about the coming months, the progress that is seeming to pick up speed (with my family and my work (some days)), and preparing to welcome a new member to the family, which brings us to a large baker's dozen when you add in the freshly welcomed, Don David.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

One Year In!!!

Tomorrow is a milestone for me, and I'm sure for any Peace Corps Volunteer. I've made it a full 365 days in Guatemala. I've had my fair share of ups and downs. There were times when I felt on top of the world, and other times when the world knocked me on my butt. So far I've managed to dust myself off pretty well, sometimes with a little help from my friends. Overall, it's been a great experience, one that I wouldn't trade for anything. In my time here, I've learned way more than I could ever hope to teach, and taught things I've never dreamed of teaching.

I feel like this is a good time to revisit the reasons I came in the first place. I truly believe the statement, "All men are created equal." However, something has always bothered me about that idea. It's the instant after we are created that does it to me. The reason I filled out my application to join the Peace Corps is because I found that my world was infinitely big, yet surprisingly small. I was born to exceptional parents, raised in a wonderful environment, and handed many opportunities that would be considered a luxury to a huge majority of the world. I was fresh out of college and I had come to a fork in the road. Down one path of paved roads and rest stops was the heart of America, the land of opportunity. A place where dreams could come true, and anything was possible if I put my mind to it. A place where the world was my oyster. Down the other path, the roads were rocky and rough. There lied barriers and obstructions. There were limits to where I could go and what I could do. Where dreams could just as easily become nightmares. However, in this place, the world was literally at my fingertips. I chose the second path because I could have just as easily been born right here in La Cumbre. In fact, with the birth rates here, and in most other places in the undeveloped world, I'd say I was unbelievably lucky to have been dealt the hand I was. Yes, we are all created equal, but in that moment that follows, to suggest an equilibrium is outrageous. This is something that I thought I knew before, but have definitely learned by now. Still yet, there is a duality to the equality concept, and I'd say this is what really pushed me forward when I was considering joining. There is, I believe, one existing equilibrium in every person. It trumps everything else. That equality rests in the decisions that each we make, and it is the foundation of humanity, which is such a contrived word. Within it are suggestions of unity, that we are all human, but the real power in humanity lies on an individual basis. Thus, our decisions are key. People can debate right and wrong how ever much they like to, and I suppose that much of the time we are all right in our own minds, although it may take some self-convincing, but we all have the ability to do the right thing. There are so many negative things in this world to burden us. Many people are fueled by hatred, anger, ignorance, greed, or pride, to do whatever might benefit their own interests. Too often, people forget the simplest of philosophies, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We can all fall victim to selfishness, many times without even realizing it. On the other hand, we all have the same ability to love, smile, laugh, and hope. We can help each other, we can work together, and in doing so, we can help ourselves. There is always a fire that burns in the darkness. To some it may be a dim flicker in the wind. To others it may be enough to warm cold hands, but the fact is that we can all feed the flames and that fire can grow. As our surroundings are illuminated, we will suddenly be able to see what was once dark. I came to Peace Corps to help those who are disadvantaged and less fortunate, because I realized that their struggles were mine as well. Sometimes, I forget that. It begins to turn into just another job. I forget about the here and now, and find myself thinking about the then and where. As I spend the next days reflecting on my Peace Corps service, thus far, the year long journey that I have embarked on, I will focus on what I did right, but more importantly what I could have done better. With 15 months left of my service, I will work more on adding to the flames and lighting up the darkness.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Got a sec? Let's Clean the Cumbre!

As I mentioned in my last blog post, we currently have a volunteer working for our foundation from Ireland. His working situation is slightly different form ours in Peace Corps. His contract is for six months as opposed to 27. He isn't funded by the government or his organization. He doesn't deal with any of the beuracracy that we do, but he has to pay for everything out of his own pocket. Joe Mclean is making a sacrifice that is far greater he would admit. I receive a monthly paycheck that is sufficient to live on and then some. In terms of dollars and the American mindset, it's nothing (roughly $300 a month), but here my monthly salary is more than many families earn (and I only need to provide for myself).

Joe is working in construction here in the cumbre, and has been helping the foundation build our eggshell water tanks. He has another project which is seperate from the work of the foundation called Proyectos Sanitarios (Sanitary Projects). He is raising funds from Ireland through his blog, but is short on what he needs to commence the project. Let me pull at your heart strings for a second. I have talked about the differences in life in the cumbre and life back in the States, but I can't stress enough the need for latrines and bathrooms. Many of the families in the cumbre who cannot afford the materials to build these necessities are left with only one option. The unsanitary and (to my friends from the States) unimaginable option of going to the bathroom in the open air.

This is a beautiful project, and with the limitations I have with my work in the Peace Corps, this kind of project is an impossibility for me at the moment. I encourage you all to visit - - and assure you that the smallest of donations to Joe's project can make a tremendous difference here in the cumbre (trust me, the exchange rate is in your favor). If you want to help, it's as simple as a few clicks (Look below the map for the "Donate" button).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Things I Should Build and Then Some...

I guess you could say I'm in a bit of a building mood these days. I've been working on building water tanks in my village the past several weeks and it's been great to see a finished project. There is a volunteer from Ireland that is working with my organization. He uploaded a video explaining our tank project, so check out to see what it's all about... I was going to upload it too, but I'm not what you would call computer savvy. I have friends who are, so really, what's the point? (I appreciate all of my tech equipped friends by the way.) Enough sidebar, I've got things to build.

Thing one: I've worked out my plans to rebuild my family's rabbit cages. The idea is to repair the existing cage and add two more. I'm going to use their lonely rabbit to breed with mine (once I get them), and the offspring will be split down the middle to be sold or (cover your ears children) eaten. Rabbit meat is more nutritious than most others, and delicious to boot. Their reproductive prowess is common knowledge, and they are relatively cheap to care for. Hopefully it will catch on. The downer is that I only have time to work on this during weekends, which would have to be next weekend or sometime next month, and I need the money to buy the materials. It really isn't that expensive for me to build the rabbit cages, but things two, three, and four have upped the budget.

Thing two: A new latrine door. I have been having some stomach trouble lately. The kind that is not bad enough to call the nurses, but that tends to linger for a couple of weeks (pretty common in Peace Corps). During a rather unpleasant instance, a strong blown wind had forced the rain inside of the latrine, soaking it completely. Suddenly it was time to go, but the forces that be were temporarily delayed for a frantic cleaning (that frankly was not effective). I'm not going to give further details, but needless to say, I have decided to replace the consistently worthless and frequently flapping nylon costal with a brand new wooden door.

Things three and four: With the added materials that I buy for the door, there will also be enough wood to build a dresser and kitchen shelves. I've been needing those for a while, but thought I could get by without. Why not?

Thing five: Chicken coops. Unfortunately, I don't have the funding for this, so we're going to have to be creative. Chickens have been my main focus for the past couple of months, and with each meeting, I realize more and more that it should be my focus for some time to come. Chicken coops just don't exist, and an environment where chickens are free to roam and mingle during the day is unhealthy for, not only the chickens, but for people. They are frequent guests in the family kitchen here. The result of all of this freedom is that many chickens die from diseases that could be prevented fairly simply. This costs the families meat, eggs, and money, which is a tough blow in a malnourished, underdeveloped, and overly impoverished area. The ideal chicken coop has a boundary large enough to give the chickens free space to do their thing. It has water and food troughs. It needs to be cleaned and sterilized. There must be a perch, a dry zone, and a sunny zone. Ash piles are great chicken baths. Also, ash is recommended by the entrance to sterilize your feet when you enter and exit. None of those things exist here, and the people are fairly uneducated when it comes to chickens. Even if all of these coops were up to par, I would still give them vaccinations. Many diseases can be prevented by using other precautions, but viruses have no cure and the only way to prevent them is with vaccinations. I am having some difficulty getting a vaccination campaign together. I have made all of the plans for five campaigns, running throughout the course of the next 15 months with all of the women's groups, but it is a touchy subject with my counterpart director, and I have yet to receive the approval to proceed. She has good reason to be skeptical. Sick chickens that are vaccinated will always die soon after, and once she participated in a vaccination gone wrong where all of the chickens died. She is afraid that I will have the same results, especially since many of the chickens have been dying recently, and that the women's groups will not continue to work with us if I do indeed kill all of the chickens. Although I understand her reasoning, I disagree that we should skip the vaccinations. Without the proper coops, it is the only possible way to stop more chickens from dying from some of the most common preventable diseases. I have been trained in chicken vaccinations and know what to look for, but I will have to do much more convincing to get my project through. So, for the moment, I'm left with one option: alternative methods of preventing disease that frankly aren't as effective. I have a few medicinal recipes, a homemade chicken feed, and the knowledge on how to construct better coops. Long story short, I've got to build some coops. I'll be starting at my house with my host family, then spreading out into other surrounding communities. Now if we just had something to build it with...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Good Vibrations

To be honest, I had a pretty rough time last week. It could have been partially due to my return from the land of plenty, but mostly because I had my first negative encounter with my Guatemalan counterpart. For the first time since I've been here, at least since my difficult first few weeks, I had to ask myself if I would really make it through the end of my service. That is a very dangerous question to ask yourself here. It's not like the Army, we are volunteers who have the right to leave whenever we want for whatever reason. So, after coming back from home and seeing all the friends, family, people, places, and things, I'll just sum it up by saying it was a tough week. I made it through the week, however, and ended things on a good note. Then came Saturday and a return of vicious conspicuous Guatemalan micro-organisms who reeked havoc on my body all night long. This continued into Sunday and my only thoughts were about how terrible this week was going to be. Monday came, and suddenly all was well. It has turned out to be a great week, and couldn't have happened at a better time. I've been getting my hands dirty in the school gardens, teaching the kids about fungus, insects, and the importance of thinning crops and fertilizing. I've been talking with women's groups, and I really think that I've finally found some consistent work that seems to excite everyone. I'm going to be working with their chickens, helping control diseases and improve their coops. I've spent more time with my counterpart and we are making great progress improving our communication and just getting to know one another better. I've also gotten my bike back in good running condition, and seem to have rid myself of some annoying mice. I relearned this week that its all about being positive. There were a few things that happened that could have ruined my week if I hadn't kept my head up. Yesterday, I woke up at 6:00 so I could run down the mountain and try to catch an early bus to get me to Cajalinquia. This is the place that volunteers have referred to as the Peace Corps Triathlon, and with reason. On a normal day, it's an hour and a half bike ride through the mountains, crossing a stream, and then hiking straight up hill for half an hour, to do it all again on the way back, tacking on an extra half hour for a few more uphills. This is why I chose to catch the early bus. However, it was pouring rain when I left my house, already a bit behind schedule. As I'm biking down the steepest hill, the hood on my raincoat falls down into my face and covers my eyes, blinding me to any obstacles in the road I might need to dodge. I lifted the hood off of my face only to find it was the obstacles just off the road that should be concerning me, as I was heading straight for a group of boulders. I caught a rock that was flush with the ground on my side, and it literally acted as a bike ramp, catapulting me into the air. I came crashing down, but somehow managed to dodge the boulders, making it back on the road before I was able to come to a stop. I was proud of myself for keeping my balance and not skidding down the hill, and also thankful that no one had seen my comical stunt, but in the process, I had taken the chain off the gears and lodged it securely in between the pedal and the frame. I repaired the chain, which was interrupted by a call from Roberto wondering where I was, and got back on the road. In all of the excitement, I failed to notice that I had slammed my kneecap into the frame of my bike while regaining control. I arrived at Roberto's house and told him what had happened and he asked my if anything was hurting. "Just my knee, but it's not bad," I said, lifting my pants to reveal that it was already starting to swell. Since I had arrived a little late, Roberto decided it was best if he go alone on his motorcycle, and that I go to the school in Nuevo Pinal with another volunteer from Ireland, Joe. We hiked the 40 minutes to the school and then back. My knee did not take the hike well and I had to return that afternoon to the same community alone, so I decided to take my bike. This didn't agree with my knee either, and after the hour long ride back to my house, my knee had doubled in size. I rested last night and when I awoke this morning, my knee was feeling much improved. Off to work I went, and by noon I could barely move my right leg. Now, I'm back at my house, resting my legs, taking pain medicine, testing out a homemade anti-inflammatory pomade, and writing about how it's all about a positive attitude. I could look at my purple knee and cuss at every step I take, but its not my knee that preoccupies my thoughts right now. Yesterday, I saw a school garden that was in the best shape out of all the school gardens. The kids have really been working hard and it's showing. I wanted to teach them about fungus, insects, how to thin, how to clean, but standing in their garden all I could say was, "Great Job." So I discussed the possibility of making organic fertilizers and encouraged them to keep up the good work. At the women's group, I had an open discussion about their chickens and what we can do about the problems they are having. They all seemed really eager to work on improving their coops and next week we are going to make the chicken feed that I have already done with some of the groups. I'll admit that the chicken feed hasn't taken off like I hoped it would, but I'm really pushing it with the groups that have already made it and I think that my persuasion is beginning to take effect. Today, I spent the morning with a local pre-school, and can say with enthusiasm that I respect the teachers that work with small children. It was quite the learning experience, but it turned out to be great. Then the week culminated in the completion of my first eggshell water tank! These tanks are amazing. Without all the resources we are accustomed to in the States, it's really ingenious at how the tanks come into fruition. We mix all the cement by hand with freshly sifted sand into a concrete volcano of sorts which allows us to add water as needed. Then it's into the giant hole, which was hand dug and requires a ladder to enter and exit for the pasting of the dirt walls. After a few layers in the hole, a dome is constructed with a wooden floor and an impressive amount of sawdust, which is all covered by nylon sacks and chicken wire. The dome is reinforced with shredded nylon and chicken wire, mixed into the layers of concrete. It will catch rainwater off of the roof and fill up before the dry season, at which time a makeshift PVC pipe hand-pump will allow for the removal of water. Roberto, Joe, and I have been working on this tank for two weeks and this afternoon we put the final layers of concrete on the dome. In a Peace Corps world, one rarely gets the chance to see a finished product of such importance. This tank can hold up to 10,000 gallons of water, and it will support the family's water needs during the dry season. Seeing the actual tank being finished was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had so far. We, along with the family, made our marks in the wet concrete with smiles on our faces after a light-hearted but hard-worked day, and although my knee was killing me the whole time, it was the last thing on my mind. I finished something today, along with my co-workers and a Guatemalan family, that I could come back and see in twenty, thirty, or forty years from now. I'll be able to reach down and touch my weathered initials as I visit with Don Catalino about how his family is doing, who married who, where they are now, the harvest of last year's crop, and how we can't believe this tank has lasted all this time. It's the day's like today that keep me going, and I know it's been one of those weeks that I'll be able to look back on someday and say, "That was the time of my life."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Weird... I Thought This Would Be Weirder...

I am back in the land of chicken buses and latrines after a quick trip to Texas. I admit, I was a little nervous flying in. I was expecting some sort of culture shock being around all those iPhones, new cars, restaurants, hot water heaters, and flat screen TVs. I was expecting to have lost some common ground with old friends, thinking maybe my time here had changed me a little and that I wouldn't be able to relate to anyone anymore. Generally, I was expecting everything to just be really weird. As my plane flew into Texas, I looked out my window and thought about how long it had been since I'd seen U.S. soil, my family, and my friends. I started telling myself things like, "Don't make a scene in the airport," or "Hold it together. You've got this." Then the plane landed at DFW. It was almost instantly not weird at all... Suddenly, all those months that I had been gone felt like nothing. Everything that I had been missing sooo much, all the small things, again felt small. I did appreciate things more, but not quite like I was expecting. This all worried me a little bit, but I talked to an RPCV while I was home who told me that it really takes a couple of weeks for the weirdness to settle in. Overall, I had a great trip. It was busy, hectic at times, but it was great to see everyone. Thanks to Grey and Jessica, I was able to see friends from high school and college that I may not have gotten to see otherwise. After my nine days back home, I felt like I had just about seen everyone I could have possibly seen and done just about everything I could have done. In the blink of an eye, it was time to come back. Coincidentally, the day after I flew out Guatemala was hit with a slurry of natural disasters. Volcanoes, earthquakes, Tropical Storm Agatha, and (the most newsworthy in the States) the sinkhole in Guatemala City. I'd just like to mention here that the media in the States really disappointed me, not because there wasn't enough coverage of the things that were going on in Guatemala (I understand that we live in a big world), but the fact that the most newsworthy incident back home seemed to be the sinkhole (which did kill one person, but had absolutely no comparison to the devastation on Agatha). Anyways, I was unsure of what I might have been coming back too. On top of it all, I was more worried about the culture shock of coming back after being in the States, and what kind of effects that would have on me. The last thing I wanted was a post-vacation depression. My plane landed in Guatemala, and I was pleased to find that it was almost instantly not weird at all. I made a couple of new friends getting off the plane as I was trying to find out about micros to Antigua. Speaking Spanish after a nine day hiatus felt pretty good. Even the airport here has a uniquely Guatemalan feel to it that I didn't realize until I got back. I wish I could describe it better, but I think its one of those things that you just have to experience yourself. I guess it would be kind of like when I used to go on Christmas break during college. The drive back onto 19th Street in Lubbock always felt kind of relieving. Now I'm back here in Huehuetenango, talking to neighbors about the crazy weather, settling back in from a long trip, and it somehow feels like I never left... Weird... I want to say thanks to everyone I saw back in the States, it was great to see everyone! I also wanted to say "Next time!" to everyone I missed. I'm still a little tired from the journey, but I feel like my batteries did get a recharge in many ways. I'm looking forward to this week especially, and have a feeling that I'll hit the ground running tomorrow. This week's agenda: Rabbit Cages and Fungicides!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Believe, Believe

I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression; that every day is a good one, that it’s easy being positive or optimistic all the time, or that everyone here is thrilled with my presence. Peace Corps is not an easy job sometimes. That might be due to the fact that it is a 24/7 gig. I’m doing Peace Corps when I get on a microbus that seats 15, but apparently can fit up to 28 (in my experience thus far). I’m doing Peace Corps when a 7 year old shoeless girl comes up to me on the street selling bracelets and scarves so she can get a hot meal, when she should be in a school somewhere. I’m doing Peace Corps when a man cuts in front of me at the window of a tienda (store), or when a woman pushes past me in the market to get her tomatoes. I'm doing Peace Corps when I'm too sick to go farther than 50 feet from my latrine. I'm doing Peace Corps when I'm homesick. To be honest, from time to time, you can get a little Peace Corps’d out. Some days and some moments will always stick out in a negative way. Occasionally, the difference you are trying to make can feel miniscule. I heard a story when I first came in about a couple of guys who did Peace Corps decades ago. They eventually returned to their old site to visit years later, and although by the end of their service the difference that they felt was made seemed small, they found that, with time, their impact had grown exponentially. I think the town had even named a bank or the main street after them. Peace Corps tries to prepare you for instances of low morale. To remember this lesson; that change can be a long slow process, or that after two years your difference may be immeasurable, but eventually can become something great, is really important in the day to day. I’ve been telling myself this when things get tough, and it’s been helping me keep things in perspective. I’ve really started to believe this too. If I can make a positive impact on one person, that impact can be shared with others. If I can change the tiniest of things for the better, that can create a domino effect. I may not see the difference when I leave, or even 5 to 10 years from now, but I’m sure that someday I will be able to see great changes taking place, and that my contribution helped. It’s a generational thing, I really believe that. The other thing I have learned is that, if you don’t believe this, you will drive yourself absolutely crazy... I'm doing just fine.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Goodbye Dust, Hello Mud...

Well, the rains have decided to grace us with its presence here in Guatemala once again, and let me tell you buddy, when it rains, it pours. This is really my first rainy season, although, when I arrived in country it was "technically" rainy season. The last one was a little peculiar, only raining once or twice a week as opposed to every day. This year, the rainy season began as I was leaving a women's group that was a 45 minute hike from my destination. At first, only a sprinkle. I thought, "This will be over soon." Then, little by little, the sprinkle turned into a torrential downpour. My site mate, Amy, was with me, along with her parents who were visiting from the States, and also were the only ones who thought to wear rain gear and bring umbrellas. Amy shared an umbrella with me, which proved almost completely useless below the midsection, for the hike down the mountain. At one point I looked over at Amy's Dad and said, "It's about 30 more minutes from here." To which, being of a Peace Corps background himself, he replied, "Only 30 minutes?" We lucked out 10 minutes later and caught a ride on a chance bus with 35 wide eyed Guatemalan men. When we got off, I left a puddle behind in my seat. The reason I was not decked out in rain gear on this day was because the rains came early this year. I believe mid-May is the appropriate time for the rains the check in, and this happened during the first week of April. It's been raining ever since. Not every day, but pretty frequently. I for one, welcomed the rains. My village, as I have mentioned, has one faucet to serve everyone. During March, the faucet became less and less reliable to the point of not giving more that a slow drip for two weeks. My family has a decent sized water tank that also was running on fumes. So, for the sake of my empty pila and pile of dirty dishes, the rains were great to see. Also, the dust had been relentless up to that point. There is still a layer caked on miscellaneous rarely used items in my house. This time of year is referred to as "invierno" (winter), although it isn't nearly as cold (no ice). It will last for roughly 6 months, with at least one break of 15 or more days in June (typically). I will soon begin planting vegetable gardens with all of my women's groups and schools, utilizing the compost we have been working on for the past three months. Amy and I will be working separately, combining different aspects of our program that compliment each other. I will be working with the gardens, chickens, and compost, while Amy will be teaching the women and children about nutrition (balanced diet, vitamins, minerals), and how to use the vegetables in the kitchen. With the coming of the rains, I can finally work towards fulfilling my projects goals, and I look forward to leaving my house every day (rain coat on my back and mud boots on my feet) to teach what I can to those who are willing to learn.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Oh Yeah, I Remember This!

It's funny how you can become accostumed to certain things. I've been sick for around a month straight now, which I feel is finally turning around. I suddenly have endless energy and motivation. I feel like running, jumping, flailing my arms about, and washing my dishes (which have piled up lately). I had forgotten what it felt like to feel normal, and now that I am almost there, normal is feeling so so good. I hope this trend continues! My "To Do List" can't take it anymore.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hanging On

Life isn't always fun. Things aren't always fair. I can't always breath... At least as of lately. I've been quite ill. Bronchitis I believe, still not sure. For a spell, I thought it might have been pneumonia, and for a bit just an average cold. Nonetheless, I've been hacking up unholy globs of disgustingness for around three weeks, and combined with the wind, dust, pollution, and altitude, it's been taking quite the toll on my ability to transport myself up the slightest of inclines. This is fairly unfortunate because I happen to live near the top of one of these inclinations. I lose my breath pretty quickly, and so I breath faster and harder, which loosens a lot of things in my chest, which brings on a cough, which is like stirring the oxygen tanks in Apollo 13, which, if you remember, ruins the mission to the moon with a crippling explosion that leaves the crew struggling to breath. Only the crew of Apollo 13 had a team of brilliant MIT PhD's putting square pegs into round holes, building world class air filters out of tube socks and paper clips, and I am in Guatemala. I've got nurses I can call 24/7, who are one micro, one city bus, and three crowded chicken buses, that seat 36 but jam in 70, (6-7 hours) away from me. The trouble of getting to them would probably make things worse. Now, I don't want to worry anyone out there, I'm feeling better now and am confident that I'll be back in true form in the coming days. I just wanted to say, it's been a little rough lately. I can't even get excited about getting groceries. It's been nearly impossible to work because, 9 out of 10 times, that requires hiking and biking, which completely drains and destroys me. I feel like my counterpart, who has been understanding and supportive during this gripe fuerte (very strong cold), is beginning to get frustrated with me... That brings me to today.

This afternoon, there was supposed to be a meeting with the group in Los Angeles, i.e. my house. It was scheduled by Amy, who had to leave today for a training session at headquarters. I was supposed to take over, but my counterpart called me this morning and informed me that it had been cancelled, and that WE were going to another group, Nuevo Comunidad, close to my house, to make chicken feed from scratch. After that, I rested some more, and prepared myself by reading over all of my chicken stuff from training. I got to the group about a half hour late, still ahead of 90% of the women and Roberto. Its just plain bad integration to be on time anywhere in this country. After another half hour, however, all of the women had arrived and were ready, but still no Roberto. So I called him to see if he was close by. The conversation went a little something like this:

"Where are you?"
"I'm in Nuevo Pinal, there's a new group here."
"Really, so then it's just me here all by myself?"
"So what should I do?"
"Give a charla."
"I don't have a charla ready today, and all of the women brought ingredients for your chicken feed."
"Then make the chicken feed."
"Ok, I have a recipe here, tell me if it's the same: Corn, Beans, Bones, Eggshells, Salt, and Ash."
"No, it's different: Potatoes, Beans, Bones, Eggshells, Salt, Water, and Chicken Poop."
"Chicken poop?"
"Yes, week old chicken poop."
"Wait, wait, I'm confused, did you say chicken poop?"
"Yes, you mix it in."
"Well, how much of each ingredient should we use?"
"All of everything they brought."
"All of it?"
"Yes, all of it."
"Schedule the next meeting for 15 days (2 weeks, 8 days means one week here too, don't ask me why), and call me if you need help."
"That's Semana Santa, we have to wait another week"
"Ok, make it the week after."
"Ok, talk to you later."
"Good, take it easy."
"Thanks, you too."
"Bye, then."
"Take care"
"You too, bye."

So I gathered the women around, who were just listening to the entire conversation. I explained that my recipe was a little different, so this was new for me, but similar enough to work. I had them add all the ingredients together, most of which have been ground down to powder, except the potatoes, which I had them hand mash. I explained to them what each ingredient was for as they added in in. "The potatoes," I said, "are for energy. The eggshells, bones, and ash are for the formation of minerals and rich in calcium. The beans are for muscle growth and strong eggs. The salt is for the nervous system. And, throw the chicken poop in your compost pile. I have no idea what that's for, but it can't be good." All of the women laughed and joked, they were all a little confused by it too, and suddenly the group was full of energy. We decided to leave the water out of the recipe too, and went outside to test it. The chickens had all roamed away to an empty pasture across some rock walls and the women began a chorus of chirps and random bird calls to lure in the unsuspecting hens. I threw a handful of our creation on the ground and the birds all walked past. Then one of the women did the same and after a minute or so the chickens all dove in. Thirty seconds later, they all backed off, rubbing their beaks on the ground and leaving much of the feed behind. The women laughed again as I explained why the chickens didn't like the feed. "You have to portion out all of the ingredients. It needs less bone and eggshell and more salt. We should have done that before, but Roberto did not have portion sizes in his recipe and in all the confusion, I forgot too." I gave them the proper portion sizes for each ingredient, and then I asked them how their chickens had been doing. "Not good," one woman said, "my chickens are dying. They have diarrhea and some have colds." I asked if their chickens had trouble "para hacer huevos" (which I thought meant making eggs, but it turns out means "to grow a pair" which got blushing giggles). "Si," they said, "para poner huevos es dificil a veces." I told them that I could vaccinate their chickens fairly cheap, but then I asked to see a chicken coop. "It's right there." I turned around to see a large wooden doll house on stilts with a makeshift chicken ladder leading to the door. There was no coop. In fact, it's like that almost everywhere in the cumbre. All of the chickens roam wild and free during the day, and perch in these tiny houses on stilts (and in at least one house I've visited, only in the trees) at night. This goes against everything we were taught during training. So today, amidst all the confusion, poor planning, and impromptu mayhem, a light bulb went off in my head. Amy is at headquarters taking classes on how to solicit funds and plan extensive projects. The people here can't afford to build proper chicken coops, and as a result have high mortality rates with their populations, basically losing money for not having it. Why not plan a project?!

So, with this new revelation, I'm going full steam ahead. I've got plenty of time and need a project to occupy it. Somehow, three lousy weeks and a potentially disastrous meeting turned into one of the better meetings I've had since I've been here, on top of maybe finding a project that is worthwhile for the long term. Something that could really help. Worry not my friends. Life isn't always fun. Things aren't always fair. And I may not be able to breath so well, but things are looking up just around the bend. I may have fallen off of one wave, but I can always catch another.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Honey, I'm Home!

Well, tomorrow will mark my 6 month anniversary of arriving in Guatemala. I will head off to Reconnect to meet with my entire training class in Santa Lucia so we can have more technical training, Spanish classes, and discuss our first 3 months in site. It's sort of a Peace Corps milestone, and to talk about a recent milestone of my own, I must first backtrack a tad. On August 12th, my plane left American soil for Guatemala. Nerve racking enough as the plane ride was for me, being only a world traveler through encyclopedias, having rarely left the ground, and having never left the country, I was still optimistic (scared half to death with a smile on my face). I kept a journal almost obsessively at first, and it just so happens that I passed the time on my flight by writing. I will momentarily delve into the private sanctuary which is my journal with an excerpt from the flight.

"After Staging, Alex, Jared, Stephen, Micheal, and I went out for some classic American food (instead of Thai like most of the others) for our last meal at a place called Stan's. Among the items ordered were jalapeno poppers, cheese sticks, chili, burgers and fries, and fish that smelled overwhelmingly but apparently was delicious. Afterwards, I went back to my room and caught a couple hours of sleep before waking up for our 1:30 AM checkout. Peace Corps has a 4-hours-early-to-the-airport policy. We arrived two hours before it was even open. The bright side is that we got to mingle and bond. I've only been with these people for 24 hours and I already feel like I know some of them very well. I am excited and anxious about the next few days, but I am most of all confident that things will work out well for me, which is a great feeling. I was even able to carry my guitar on all three flights! Right now I am going from Miami to Guatemala City, running on a few lousy hours of sleep, but too excited to get anymore..."

Then the plane landed on the tarmac. Suddenly there was a buzz about the air, a very unfamiliar buzz. Everyone stood up and began rapidly firing off Spanish. I immediately came to the harsh realization that I couldn't speak a word. Even my fellow trainee two seats away from me stood up and joined in on the conversations. I first thought to myself, "She knows Spanish?" My next thought was, "What have I got myself into?" The next three days were a complete blur. Six months later, almost to the day, I hit a milestone. I, yes I, gave a series of relatively complicated directions to a far away lake, in Spanish, to a Guatemalteco and his family. "Stay on this road. You will go through 4 curves and then you will drive straight for another minute or two. When you see a yellow house on the left, take a left, and then your first right. Follow this road until there is another right and take it. This road will take you to a sign that says "Laguna Magdalena 15km" and you will take a left there. That is as far as I know." Granted I have no idea whether that family made it to the lake that day, but regardless, I was proud of my directions. Especially in a country where you can ask four people for directions until you end up back where you started. The best feeling about it all, however, was that I finally felt like I was home. Not my home in the sense of home, because nothing can replace that feeling of walking into the house you grew up in, to your family, dogs, photos, or that familiar smell, but a different kind of home. I live here now! I've been here for three months, I've got 21 left, and this is now my home. My little two room, cinder block, tin roofed, uninsulated home. When I ride my bike through the mountains, people yell, "David" instead of "Gringo." Well, I still get gringo calls, but I am hearing more and more David's these days. I've been invited to birthday parties, celebrated Christmas in a small room with 40 strangers (who accepted me as one of their own for the holidays), and have seen simple "Good afternoons" turn into hour long conversations until "I have to go before the sun sets." I can't promise that things will always be this good, or that I will always be positive or happy here. I will, though, heed the advice of the volunteer I replaced. He told me to, "Ride the wave." That is what I'm going to do. Hang-ten.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Star-Spangled Banner

So I was walking through the mountains with my counterpart, Roberto, today. He asked me if I had learned the Guatemalan national anthem yet, which I hadn't. He began to teach me, which didn't take well. Then he asked me to sing the States anthem. I started in on The Star-Spangled Banner, and halfway through, he interrupted me and kindly requested a translation. I obliged. The translation went a little something like this: "Hey, can you see the time of the morning when the sun first rises, it's very early in the morning. What we happily, like if you had a son and he just scored a goal in a soccer game, showed at the stars final light. It had grand stripes and bright stars in the hard fight and we watched something like a river without water going through the sky. And the missles red light, also there were explosions in the air that gave evidence in the night that our flag was still there. Still is the star-spangled banner waving for the land of the free and the house of the brave!" He wants me to translate it again next year when my Spanish is better... I agreed, I can't do Francis Scott Key like that... unacceptable. Good news though, in two weeks I'll be recieving more top notch Spanish classes, courtesy or the Peace Corps, when I head back to Santa Lucia for Reconnect! Already Feburary, boy how the time flies...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Strange World

So, I actually have internet in my site now, albeit very slow internet, but amazing to have. It's a strange world we live in. I have a cell phone and everywhere I go I seem to have service, except for a few places further back in the mountains. I have wireless internet that is about the speed of dial-up or less. My village here in the cumbre (which means summit, pronounced coombray (try to roll the "r" the slightest bit)) has one churro (water faucet, really roll the "r" here, I still can't do it right) that is shared by everyone. In fact, that is the case with almost all of the communities here. I heard a story during training about a volunteer that couldn't get any of his womens' groups to meet. After a period of frustration, he made a 24-hour calendar and asked some women to describe their day by the hour on the calendar. He pregunted (spanglish), "What time do you wake up in the morning?" They replied, "Usually around 3:00." This baffled the volunteer and when he asked the women why, they told him that they had to fetch water. Turns out that the clusters of villages and communities had only one churro for everyone in the area. The women would spend the entire morning, sometimes in to the afternoon, fetching water for their families. Then they returned home, prepared lunch for their husbands and children, spent the afternoon doing all the rest of the household chores, hence leaving them no time for their group meetings before having to get started on dinner. Now, this story, I'm sure, has been told for years here in the Peace Corps, and don't quote me on anything as I'm not one to be spreading fallacious rumors, is supposedly about the first volunteer sent to the cumbre somewhere around 12 years ago, who now is the president of my counter-part, Seeds of Help Foundation. At the time, there was no electricity to most of the area, and hardly a road... also hearsay, but you have to understand that in Guatemala, most credible information comes in the form of hearsay. Saber (who knows)? None the less, here I am, 12 years later, in that very place. Now every community has a churro, some more than others. The cumbre has electricity, and cell phone towers. With the technology boom of the past half century or so, we have finally come to a point where I can call home on a cell phone from one of the poorest parts of a developing country, where I can communicate with friends on the internet, and where I can keep up with the latest news worldwide. So here in this strange world, where I have all of these things without running water, I have to think that I am living in one of the most interesting times and places. A place where technology has surpassed indoor plumbing, and is currently running laps around it mercilessly. The strangest thing about it is, everyone seems to do just fine without the running water, even yours truely. Of course there was an adjustment process, but really it didn't phase me at all. I use a latrine, one that I have to admit is beginning to feel like my throne, which I never thought would happen without the involvment of porcelain. I use a pila (sort of like a gigantic outdoor sink made from concrete, I think I've been through this before) that holds plenty of water so that I can wash my dishes and clothes if I need. Really the only nuisance is my bathing situation, which is an hour long process of collecting and heating water, standing in a bucket the size of a hold-your-arms-out-into-a-human-basketball-hoop, pouring as little water as possible to get myself clean (about 2 1/2 gallons or so), trying to keep as much of it as I can in that bucket that I was talking about, drying off, then sweeping the remaining water out of my kitchen door. Needless to say, we cumbre volunteers have a smelly reputation... I couldn't be more happy right now. The people here are amazing and I'm constanly reminded of it. My groups are all oustanding in their own way. I wasn't expecting such a variety of experiences while giving the same high blood pressure charlas, or the same banana pancakes recipes, but sure enough everyday is still different. I get a good amount of daily excersise, biking and hiking everywhere I go, sometimes for upwards of ten to fifteen miles a day through the mountains (I've dropped at least twenty pounds or more, but don't worry, I'm eating well). I have a well established couterpart with a director that is muy pilas (very smart and hardworking). I get to experience all the seasons of the year within one day. When I wake up, it is very much like winter. The ground is completely white having frosted over during the night. I know what you may be thinking, I realize that I am in Guatemala, but those temperatures come with the elevation (10,500 ft). I sleep in a 30 degree bag with three wool blankets on top of that to keep me warm at night. Around 10:00 it starts to feel awefully springish outside, with a full on spring by lunch. After lunch, I strip off all of my layers and bake in the close cumbre sun. I like to call it summer. Then an hour before the sun sets, it suddenly rolls into fall, which will last until bedtime. Then comes the long cumbre winter once again. I have a fairly close proximity to Huehuetenango, a city which allows me the luxury of markets, food, people, noise, and less people that have never seen a gringo, all while living in a place that is a secluded 45 minute hike from the highway that takes me there for an hour. Here, it is extremely tranquil, almost excrusiatingly so at times, but mostly of the therapeutic nature. I keep myself entertained with books, my guitar, a plentiful amount of music, and more bootlegged dvd's then you can imagine. What can I say, with 22 months to go, I love it here. I can only hope that the rest of my service is as wonderful as these first 5 months have been.

P.S. To anyone who reads this thing, I know its been a while since the last post, but I will try to keep it updated now that I have the power of internet. Que le vaya bien (take it easy).