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).