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."
"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."
"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.