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.