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!