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I'm living Guatemala for 2 years to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. This blog is to stay in touch with family and friends about my adventures. It does not reflect the beliefs of the United States government, Peace Corps, nor the people or government of Guatemala.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Worst Blogger Ever

So I really dropped the ball recently. Even my photo a day challenge couldn't keep my blogging. I stopped after 4 days, so much for self-starter huh? Anyway things have been busy and I just haven't had the time to blog. That's a pretty lame excuse I know but I guess I'll go with the update. November was fun with Shirley's visit. We were able to spend some time together and see the awesome kites so it was a nice trip. Then came Thanksgiving. Year 2 at the beach. I have to say Thanksgiving is fun normally but super fun unconventionally. Staying at the beach, swimming with friends and eating a hodge-podge Turkey... I mean chicken feast complete with spagetti is pretty great. We were also able to release baby sea turtles into the ocean. It was a fun trip, and no sunburns to be found.

Then came December the longest month ever because I was waiting to go home for the first time in 2 years! I couldn't believe that much time had passed. There was a birthday celebration in there and lots of things to break up the 19 day long wait but going home was so wonderful I can't even put it into words. I was able to spend sometime with friends and family that was so much needed it made coming back too hard! I ate at my favorite restaurants, went to a real gym, the mall, and just hung out at home with the dogs, cats, and everyone in between. It was really hard to come back to Guatemala even though I only had 3 months left. After being so comfortable and happy to be home, it was not fun to come back. However, as soon as I was "home" again in Guate, things fell back into place. I was looking forward to our end of service conference (close of service-COS) which was canceled due to the visit of the Washington head Director of Peace Corps Aaron Williams. He came to represent the US government at the inauguration of the new Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina.

That combined with a changing state in Guatemala has really made the past few weeks a roller coaster. With the increased danger in the northern triangle region of Central America (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala) Peace Corps has decided to completely restructure the programs in these countries. Honduras volunteers were completely evacuated by mid-January for the first time since 1963 and Guatemala and El Salvador are severely lowering their numbers. The good news is that programs are still going to be run in these countries, they are just being changed. Volunteers are being moved to new sites or being asked to leave early. Every volunteer in Guatemala has the opportunity for an "Early COS" which means they can leave and will receive the benefits of serving for 2 years. For my group this means finishing our service one month early; February 25, my 25th birthday. Honestly the last month of service is full of goodbyes and reflection so I am ok with this decision. I have spent two years here and had plenty of experiences both good and bad. I'm ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. I feel anxious about the future for Guatemala and for my fellow volunteers but I know after 2 years here that downsizing is a good thing. It is cause for a lot of difficult conversations, a lot of hard feelings, and a lot of discontent.

I think that volunteers here don't realize exactly what we go through daily and how rare it is. At a recent meeting the regional director for Latin America and the Pacific spoke about how he met with a volunteer who was shot in a bus robbery in Honduras in December. She stated " I did everything I was taught[while the robbery was happening] I ducked, leaned in, used the seat and my bag as protection..." but before she could finish he interrupted "Wait, they are training you to avoid being shot?" This is not ok. Many volunteers have said that they are willing to assume that risk. I for one am not and think that is a naive perspective. We came to a country to serve and help people but when you step off of the plane you have no idea what you are getting into. We forget that getting trained how not to be shot isn't really normal. I feel that this situation is difficult to swallow because volunteers form a bond with their country, their towns, and their friends, we don't want to have to leave but we aren't always thinking clearly. I know that my perspective isn't a common one because I'm finishing my service completely and fully and other volunteers aren't getting that chance. The truth is your experiences here will shape you for the rest of your life and we can't risk bad things happening to volunteers every day. The goal to reduce numbers in the northern triangle started when my group came into country and is finally be put into effect 2 years later. That's a long time and a lot of danger. I feel that Peace Corps as an organization has to do the right thing for its volunteers in the big picture and that makes it harder for us down here actually doing the leg work but it doesn't make it right or wrong. As I'm finishing up my service I'm trying to make the best of it and it's almost as hard as it was at the beginning. I still feel committed to the ideals of Peace Corps and will stand by their decision because at the end of the day it's my safety and my friends safety that is important. The work we do here is important and life-changing but we can't do it if we're dead. Sorry for the negativity but I feel that it needs to be said. There are many things to do in the world and many people need help but I didn't sign up to die for that ideal. I came here to learn and grow which definitely happened. I know that my experience here will shape how I live my life from now on. That may not be exactly what Peace Corps advertises as their goal but I think that's what usually happens. So I'm going to get off my soap box and enjoy my last few weeks here with people I love, conditions I sometimes hate, and extra tortillas, beans, and eggs because soon it will be over and I've got to make the best of it whether I like it or not. I volunteered to work for the United States government and serve as a US ambassador thus I must understand that like any other government agency there is bureaucracy that I cannot change, all I can do is learn from it and make the best of it. Pretty good life lesson.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 4: Something Green



The tree in the central park of Tecpan. HUGE and Beautiful. Central meeting place for lots of people and a nice place to sit on a warm day in town.

Photo Day 3 : Clouds

Shirley, Bill and I went to Casa de Sion, an NGO located on the lake that works with a local elementary school to improve children's nutrition and education. It was a beautiful day and a very interesting organization. They provide healthy lunches, clothing donations, formula donations, and more education for the children as well as their mothers. We met the sweetest little 5 year old boy with Down's Syndrome during our visit. It was so sweet, made me miss Clay like crazy. He loved getting a little bit of attention and it was interesting to see how others reacted to him. His mother didn't know what was wrong with him just that he was slower than other children( of which she had 5). Also another mother came up curious about what was going on. Although it was sad that they didn't know exactly what was wrong. It was nice to see that they felt comfortable enough to talk to each other about him. It was sweet.

http://www.safehomesforchildren.org/ - link to the Casa de Sion for more information

We also met a group of young people volunteering their on a missions trip that takes them around the world. Going to 11 countries in 11 months volunteering for one month in each. It was very interesting. http://theworldrace.org/

Anywho as for my picture. I took a picture of the clouds in the garden at the Casa de Sion.

Photo Day 2

What I wore Today. The topics for this photo challenge could probably be addressed more artistically but I think they can offer some insight into my daily life here. Sadly my outfits are pretty boring and there isn't much variation. I usually wear something comfortable but not necessarily flattering. It is amazing how much a nice outfit can make you feel good. I do throw in a few things that remind me of how I used to dress at home and that makes me feel connected to my old life haha but enough rambling.

What I wore:

Gender and Development T-Shirt: GAD is a PC committee focused on creating awareness with Host Country Nationals about gender, women's activism, HIV/AIDS prevention and topics of that nature. The shirt is super comfy and made in Guatemala (Aunt Shirley checked). Also money spent on these items helps support this committee within the PC community.

Jeans: Pants I found at the PACA (used clothing store). They were about 6 inches too long so I took them to a tailor to get hemmed for 5q. They don't have butt pockets....

Scarf: Dad gave me this scarf from Cambodia. I love it. I love scarves. When I wear one I feel a little bit connected to life at home. Also I love scarf weather.

Sunglasses: These cost 20q from the Market in Antigua. And everyone comments on how I wear them all the time. Luckily they haven't broken yet and I hope they last.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Todos Santos- Photo a Day Challenge

Alright, so I'm getting into the home stretch. Things are going well but just winding down a bit. I've decided for the Month of November to participate in a photo a day challenge. I found it online and each day has specific goals for photos and we'll just see how it goes. Today was a great day to start the challenge because it was Todos Santos and Aunt Shirley and Bill are visiting. We had an awesome Guatemala Fall day where we went to a town near by to see their Kite Festival to celebrate today. Last year I went to the horse race in Huehuetenango and this year was kites. Such a cool day. The kites were huge and the whole field was set up like a fair. People everywhere and so many kites. KITES ARE BEAUTIFUL. We enjoyed watching them try to launch these giant beauties into the sky as well as enjoy the beautiful day. After riding a crowded bus we got home and had delicious Chicken Curry made by Aunt Shirley. YUM! It was so good and my mouth is watering again just thinking about it. It's been nice to catch up with Aunt Shirley and fun to think about how some of my Peace Corps friends will be in my life for as long as they have in my parents. Here are some fun pictures of the kites and my photo for the day!

KITES!


HUGE KITES


Kite in the Sky


Can't get enough


Me and Aunt Shirley


Photo Challenge-
Self Portrait
Me, Aunt Shirley and Bill on the Bus

Also this past weekend there was a Halloween Party. I was part of group Clue Costume. It was pretty fun. More Pictures!

CLUE


Wilson and Heidi from Home Improvement


Black Swan, Mrs. Peacock and Heidi

Friday, October 7, 2011

What a difference a border makes

Well my trip to Mexico came and went and I'll say it was more eventful than I thought it would be. I know many were nervous with reason about a trip to Mexico due to all of the crazy things that happen there but We managed a quick and relatively uneventful trip in San Cristobal de Las Casas Mexico. What a beautiful city. It felt like Europe with all the restaurants, tourists, and clean streets. It was very well organized and we stayed at a very nice hostel that was clean,had hot showers and breakfast included YUM! Our diet consisted of mainly tacos and XX beer which I had no problem with. We only found Corona once the whole time even though it is advertised everywhere. We also had a pizza and sushi meal(random) but all the food settled well on our Guatemalan stomachs. The trip started off Monday morning leaving from Huehuetengango, we were only about 2 hours from the border. Then going through immigration was pretty easy, this was the first time I had done it on my own (meaning not included with a shuttle; which is what I have taken to El Salvador and Honduras). Changing money to the peso proved to be confusing, amazingly the quetzal fares a little better so that was a nice relief. (11 pesos= 1$USD) Then we boarded public transport, where we had to purchase a ticket! Mind blowing to have paper proof of a seat. Then when the micro had sold all the seats, we left. Everyone had a seat and we traveled about 2 hours to Comitan, Chiapas, Mexico. It was so nice and such a change from Guatemala. Although the camioneta feels normal now, sitting in our own seat on an air conditioned bus felt amazing! In viewing the countryside, I noticed little trash and things just seemed a little more organized and clean. I was so surprised. We changed buses in Comitan and headed another 2 hours towards San Cristobal. There we found our hostal and then ate some delish tacos, nachos and beer. We booked a tour for the next morning to go to Palenque (Mayan ruins that are located nearby.) So Monday night we had a few margaritas, which were not as delicious as we expected, and then hit the hay to get up early for our tour on Tuesday.

Welcome to Mexico

Tuesday morning was off to a rough start as we overslept because there is a time change between Guatemala and Mexico. That was not the way we wanted to start the day, running out of the hostel at 6:30... 30 minutes late. Our driver was not pleased. Then we spent what felt like an eternity in a car to get to Aguas Azules, the first stop of the trip. In the non rainy season this place is supposed to be a beautiful scenic waterfall area where you can swim and relax. Lucky for us in rainy season it floods over with brown water and was actually hilarious to tour. As we walked through flooded paths to the top of the cascades all of the nearby restaurants were closed due to flooding and we couldn't swim because the water was too dirty and dangerous. We had also spent about 4 hours in a micro at that point... a little disappointing but adding to our adventure. After about an hour there we boarded the bus to head to another waterfall. Misol Ha is huge, the biggest I've ever seen. There Betty and Mary braved the water to swim and we just enjoyed the majestic beauty of the waterfall. Then back in the car to head to Palenque. Palenque ruins were delayed for an enchilada lunch and then we walked around this huge ruin area. It was really neat. These ruins were much larger than those of Copan, Honduras but equally as interesting. After about 2 hours we boarded the micro again, hoping to get to San Cris by 9 pm for a late dinner and early night as we had booked another tour for the next day.


Girls at Agua Azul


Me and the agua azul


Misol Ha Waterfall

After an hour and a half of driving we come to dead stopped traffic. Our driver stops the car and tells us people are protesting but the passage should open at 8 pm. It was 6:30. Annoyed that we had to wait an hour and a half before we even continued on our 3 more hours of journey, we sat in the car. Walked around a bit, and were entertained by our one year old friend who was also on this tour with his parents. At 8pm our driver comes by and says, well now the passage won't be opening until 11... Ok Now we won't be returning to San Cristobal until 1 am but there is nothing we can do. A house nearby was selling coffee and tamalitos, so we went and spent a few pesos on now "dinner". At around 11pm, the traffic jam has no sign of letting up and our driver informs us that there probably will not be passage until 8am the next day. Yes we are going to have to spend the night in a micro. Surprisingly we all took it well and just planned to sleep in the bus. Locals walked by selling bread and coffee. We turned off the van lights and fell asleep. Luckily our driver was watching our bus and he told us to stay inside, a little alarming but we all remained calm. Then at 1:30am, the passage opened and we were taken home. We arrived back in San Cristobal at 4:30 in the morning exhausted having spent almost 24 hours on a tour. Getting back to the hostel we zombie walked to bed and slept amazingly.


Palenque


Palenque

I awoke early to go to the travel agency to cancel our tour for Wednesday and got us almost a full refund. Some tears were shed and I had to make two trips but the cheapskate in me won out over the desire for sleep. I asked the travel guy if this was normal and he said that people protest in order to get a response from the government. He said sadly this is how they have to act in order to seek justice for petty crimes or to gain benefits for their small towns. These actions are common occurrences in the state of Chiapas Mexico. Wednesday all the local agencies had to cancel all of their tours to Palenque because the road block was still going on. Also, when I say roadblock, the townspeople had organized almost 30 dump trucks to block the road. So there really was no way to pass. And they stayed all through the night and the next day. Passage was only opened for about an hour and luckily we scooted by. I really felt bad for our driver who not only had to do the same trip as us but he had to stay awake the whole time. He did his job so efficiently and got us home safely.

Wednesday was spent walking around, eating more tacos and some market shopping. We had some great chats and our delish sushi dinner. At dinner I was shorted out of change which was disappointing and kind of put a damper on our last night. Although I know the waiter could probably use the 30 pesos more than me (i mean it's 3 dollars) it was just the principal but I guess that's what it's all about. Being here has made me realize that I'm learning a lot about life and living on a lower level. But luckily for me, I'll be able to go home to the states and have lots of opportunities and hopefully live on a higher level than I do now. I just try to remember this at those times I get frustrated when I get cheated because really I'm lucky to have this experience and be able to spare a few pesos, or quetzales for those who really have less than I.

Thursday was departure day and we headed home around lunchtime and were back in the Guate by late afternoon. The trip was a whirlwind and I can't believe it came and went. I really would like to go back to Mexico as it is rich with Culture and even after traveling as much as we did on that trip, I hardly scratched the surface of what there is to see there. And although they are more developed than Guatemala and have more advanced systems in transport, tourism, environmental care, I didn't feel the same way I do in Guatemala. Immediately back on a camioneta I felt comfortable, even though it was loud and crowded, I felt home. The people in Guatemala are so friendly and willing to have a conversation with a gringo; it's nice. With this trip and the recent departure of friends I've been able to realize how much I love Guate and care about it. It feels like home even when I'm not in Tecpan. Being able to leave makes me appreciate what I have here and I'm sure I'll carry these memories and feelings with me for a long time.


Home again

Friday, September 16, 2011

September

Well things are going well. It feels like the big September events have already come and gone. This past weekend was the election for all local authorities and the president. Although the presidential election is going to be decided in a run off in November, the local elections went off pretty well. Although we were put on PC lock down in our sites, all turned out well. Don Pedro had been working on a campaign for a man for mayor and he won. So hopefully next year DP will have a job working in the mayor's office. There were some tensions on the rise on Monday morning just because they weren't exactly sure who won (the decision came down to like 100 votes) but luckily dp's guy pulled though. We just stayed clear of all the hubub and cooked lots of delicious meals. I think the one I'm most proud of is the Homemade Falafel, Hummus and Pita bread. I think we are getting some skills. We also made sweet potato black bean burritos, baked potato casserole and of course chocolate chip banana pancakes. There was also some fort building and a lot of daily show watching. Man do I miss the daily show. Jon Stewart is so entertaining.

Kata in the Fort


Manchitas watching the Daily Show


Pita bread and Falafel

Also this week was Guatemala's Independence day ( along with Mom's Birthday). 190 years! It was fun. Such a gorgeous day and we spent the morning watching the local parade with Don Pedro. The local high schools did some awesome performances including the 80s classic I've had the time of my life. They were actually pretty good and it was entertaining.

Now this weekend it's time to say goodbye to one of my friends who is leaving at the end of this month. Amanda Baker is one of my closest friends here and I'm really sad to see her go but so excited for this new chapter in her life to start. I wish her the best of luck and know we'll meet again. She came to country the group before me and I've really enjoyed our time together.

Amanda and Me

In order to get over this sadness I planned a short trip to Mexico with three of my other friends. I'm really excited to jump out of the country for a bit and think that it will be a much needed break. Anywho, that's the update for now. Stay safe and I'll let you know about Mexico.

Love love love.