About Me

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Welcome to my adventure in Guatemala! Feel free to comment, positive or negative, and share your stories as well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Inaugurations and Events Guatemalan Style!

During our time as volunteers we were privileged to witness and participate in many inaugurations and other fun uniquely Guatemalan activities. Guatemala activities are different from American activities in almost every way.

First, no ceremony is complete without the necessary decorations: pine needles spread under the tables and chairs, crepe paper streamers strung from every beam in sight and of course, balloons, dozens and dozens of balloons hanging in clusters from light fixtures, from chairs, from electrical wires...From experience, I can tell you that decorating can take up to 3 hours!

 Papa Tere at my goodbye party  wearing the pinata. Always the jokester :)
And of course decorating is not all work.

And the finished product is lovely! (more pics from thee 2010 goodbye party my host family threw)

A wedding at the local church the host family and I attended.
The pine needles that are used for major holidays and events like weddings, school events and local beauty pageants. They add a unique fragrance and are a constant fixture at ceremonies of all kinds.
And you wouldn't be in Guatemala if there weren't at least one ginormous, delicious looking "cold" cake. Guatemalans love their cake on the squishy side. From moderately juicy to dripping with juice, you never taste the same cake twice. When it comes to celebrations, the chapines (the name Guatemalans use for themselves) spare no expense on quality cake.

Then of course there’s the music. Now, I love the choice and free will that Americans exhibit in choosing music for special occasions. But there is something to be said for consistency. Every occasion (with the possible exception of a wedding here and there) will play the traditional instrument The Marimba. To be honest, a lot of volunteers hate the marimba. But being the weirdo that I am, it was one of the few who adored its cheerful rhythms. What’s not to love about Marimba music? (yes it gets a capital M) It's lively, upbeat, cheerful and perfect waiting music. And everyone needs a little cheer when waiting for upt to an hour and a half for the event to start--it's always nice to be happy while you wait!

A pretty fancy Marimba at the 50th Peace Corps Anniversary.

So there you have it. If you ever find yourelf in Guatemala, now you'll know what to expect when attending a celebration, party or inauguration! I will surely miss the predictability and comforting Marimba music of these events.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Feeling Extra Sentimental

So my sitemate and dear friend Michelle set off for the states Monday. I couldn't explain why but I cried. Another dear friend, Daneen, just wrote her last update from Uganda where she is working as a missionary. I cried after I read that update too. What's the deal? Why all the tears? I wasn't sure so I do like my mama does when she has problems she can't explain: I laid myself down on my therapists couch and got to work grilling myself and searching the deep recesses of my mind.

I came to several conclusions. Although I have 10 months left, I'm already mentally preparing to leave. Applications to grad school and thoughts of finding an apartment and adjusting to life back in that States have been on my mind a lot lately. At the same time, however, I'm trying to remain here...in the present as a Peace Corps volunteer in Olintepeque Quetzaltenango who has neighbors and friends and a support network and a house and a dog.

I've always been a planner. I can't help it. Finishing up an outline and draft two weeks before a deadline is already too late for me. I've realized that this carries over to my experiences as well. I've already begun to prepare my wrap up--planning a goodbye party, thinking about what I'll take home, applying for grad school....and of course getting extra helpings of things I cant' get in the States like atol and handmade corn tortillas hot off the comal.

I can't really find a word to explain how I feel about going home...excited to start school again, that's for sure. But relieved or full of anticipation don't really capture the feeling. I'll miss Guatemala, there's NO doubt about that, but part of me is ready to go back to a place where my lust for order, structure and efficiency can be satiated and I can have a conversation where I don't have to grope for words or use hand gestures to express myself. It's, as they say, so very bittersweet, being a Peace Corps volunteer. Especially in the Health Schools Program, I can see how my work is impacting the community. In the long-run, however, I will return to a far more comfortable life in the US and leave all of this behind like a well-enjoyed meal or something. It's unsettling really. Even considering I hope to live and work abroad.

Like any volunteer, I hope to leave my legacy here with my neighbors and at my 21 schools. It doesn't really matter what they say about me. Honestly, it will probably be nice mixture of truth and fairytale. Whatever they say, I hope they say it fondly.

As I wrote to congratulate my friend about completing her time in Uganda, this quote By Maya Angelou popped into my mind:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Sitting in a meeting this morning, the teachers started to go around and thank me for encouraging them and for helping to make their ideas, which had initially seemed so far off, a reality.

The principals call me “una chispa”, or a spark. I think this is so fitting. What I actually DO here in Guatemala will soon be forgotten. The words I use to try and encourage my schools to be the change they want to see will probably not remain with a single one of them. But what I hope does stick with them is the way I made them feel-like they have the power to change what they don’t like about their world. My mantra to them has become, “If not us, who? And if not now, when?

It’s a concept that is still very foreign to Guatemalans.

Maybe I’m feeling extra sentimental lately because I realize that time is running out and I’m not so sure that by the time I go, the footprint I hope to leave will be deep enough. In any case, at least I’ve crystallized for myself what my aspirations are before I leave and accepted the fact that in a few short months, I will be leaving. All I can do now is hope that my legacy remains in empowering people to believe that the power is in their hands to change what they don’t like.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Black History Month Celebration-Guatemalan Style

So in February almost all the Black folk in Peace Corps Guatemala got together to celebrate Black History Month. It was a wonderful time of celebration, education and mutual edification and time just to let our hair down and be BLACK! Topics ranged from using the Black card inappropriately to inter-racial dating to Black professional organizations to volunteerism and what the African American community really needs of us both now and when we return.
Quotes by or about Black people.

Breakfast! Oh it was GOOD.

Group discussion-and of course there are always SNACKS!

Deep in debate.

After the Black trivia game. My team won, of course!

There was a projector for the trivia game and everything. Xani did a great job setting the whole event up!

There was of course a dance off.

And the best soul train outfit.

Here I am with my pimp. I shoulda won that contest. I mean, I have a braided headband (with my own hair) for crying out loud!

Bringing back the 70's and 80's.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How I Got Humped

So I though this was something interesting that would never happen in the states. Maybe it will make you laugh as well! Of course it has to do with...my dog Pia lol

Who thinks she's the Queen of Sheba. She likes to sleep in extremely awkward positions.

But she's just SO darn cute no matter how she's sprawled out. Look at those curled feet : )

Dogs in heat are not an uncommon sight here in Guatemala and can bring much entertainment-at times up to 7 dogs are following around some poor chucha (a female street dog). Sometimes she'll get feisty and bark at her (literally) drooling suitors to back off. Depending on how brava (aggresive) she is, she might continue weak attempts to go about her business as usual or start a brawl, viciously attacking one of more of the relentlessly persistent dogs in the "heat pack".

It also just might happen that by some phenomenon in science that I can't explain, whoever happens to win the male dog brawls and actually gets his go with the poor chucha-might just end up stuck to her...for a least 15 minutes. I'm still un certain as to how it all works-I'm pretty sure I would be judged harshely if I stooped down to examine how the dog parts got stuck together in the city's central park-all I know is that the two end up butt to butt, unable to separate. It's an interesting sight.

As you can imagine, my baby girl is not allowed in the streets much-it's no place for a lady-so when she was in heat she was especially not allowed outside. However, it didn't stop AAAAAAALL the neighborhood dogs from miles around from coming to congregrate in front of my door step.

Usually this would not be problematic. It should work out something like this: the female dog in heat is inside and I, the human exit the house and walk without incident to work. However...THIS fellow

couldn't seem to get it right.

Poor little guy, he's just a big puppy. He followed me from my house (whining this horrible little whine) for miles sometimes. It never ceased to make me giggle but every day while Pia was in heat, as soon I walked out of my house the humping would begin. Now I'm far too tall and don't at all smell or look like a dog, but apparently the smell of my dog on me was enough to send him into a tizzy.

My neighbors tried to help me by chasing him with brooms and throwing rocks and kicking him...but to no avail.

During the period I experienced many "firsts": I was humped in the central park, I beat a dog with a pineapple, I slapped a dog in the face, I pelted a dog with large, sharp rocks, I threw buckets of water in a dog's face, I holed up in my house for fear of being called a witch or something for being chased and humped by a dog, I publicly (loudly) chastised a dog and hit it with a large stick....the list goes on and on....

As you can see....it was an interesting time. Luckily, Pia's heat didn't last tooooooo long (two weeks) but MAN I was glad when it was all over!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Inauguration of the new SINKS!!

So we had an inauguration party for one of our schools and the new sinks and multi-faucet washing station they built so their students can practice washing their hands and brushing their teeth daily. Here are the 3 free standing sinks.

The girls were getting ready for the celebration by cleaning up the handwashing station. Red is the school's color. Whenever there's a parade or school wide event, everyone wears red traje (or the traditional skirts, called corte, and the lacy, embroidered tops, called huipiles)

Anyone important in town usually gets an invitation to local events. We're not sure why but the kids seemed to be especially fond of this particular police officer.

Every important Guatemalan event has a a DJ, at least 4 GIANT speakers and a nice mixture of reggaetone and marimba songs blaring from the stage.
Here come the flags!
And absolutely NO ceremony is complete without some child or random adult milling around ON STANGE or a group of 3 kids playing hand-games on the front row or...a child swing repeatedly around a metal post to puntcuate the speaker's main points : )
And don't the random chucho (street dog) sunning himself next to the stage. At least he's not accompanying the new beauty queen down the runway to receive her crown like the last ceremony we went to!
Whether you want to or not, as an invited guest, one must always be prepared with "words" for the crowd. It's always nice to throw in some jokes and wild hand gestures as well.
The kindergartners did a dance to Twist and Shout. It was pretty cute!
Some older students performed a traditional dance in traditional traje.
Other students sang a song with their teacher.

A little blond girl recited a poem.
A finally....The RIBBON CUTTING! Cristina got to cut the ribbon with the mayor, districtt superintendent and other members of the local government. It's tradition to give a little piece of the ribbon to special invited guests.
Cristina with the mayor. He's an incredible mayor because he actually uses the mnicipality's money to do infrastructure projects in the schools, help communities get new wells or pay trucks to pick up trash free of charge in the small outlying pueblos of his municipality. THAT is almost unheard of. We applaud you Miguel González Gómez.
And don't forget the unveiling of the plaque!
And of course, gotta get that face time with the mayor and his officials in front of the mural for a pic. They all have their official walking sticks and cowboy hats!
After a wonderful lunch here we are with the superintendent (left) and the school's principal.

It was a great inauguration party!

I forgot to mention how upset we were at first when we found out that the hand-washing station-which slopes down to accomodate both older and younger students had the drain on the taller side. Not knowing much about installing the tubing and faucets and cement work, Cristina and I were none the less frustrated (I'll be honest, appalled) at the lack of foresight in putting the drain on the wrong side. Strangely enough the water somehow flippantly disregards the laws of physics and gravity (and other complex theories that say it should flow down) and flows back UP to the drain on the higher side.

Our panic and frustration were transformed into awe and relief (that we hadn't funded a failed project after all)!

And that's the story!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

More FBT

So here are a few more pictures of our adventures during FBT (Field Based Training) where we had 9 trainees come visit us to see just what life as a Healthy Schools volunteer is like!

Cristina and I started out with an explanation of what Healthy Schools is using this house to represnt the aspects of the program.
The foundation was made of a drop of water, a picture of chorros (water faucets) and a toothbrush. These elements are absolutely fundamental to the program and no one can be healthy without them. We explained that our job is help the communities get water and faucets in the schools so the kids can practice healthy habits such as handwashing and teeth brushing. Their job as parents is to provide the toothbrushes and paste and towels and other items one needs to practice these habits.

The walls of the house were made of health lessons. If the students don't really understand what parasites are or how one can get diarrhea, they won't see the importance of the health habits.

Finally the roof is made of the healthy habits in the house and at school. Many parents themselves don't have healthy habits and therefore don't insist that their kids do. Encouraging parents to wash their hands with their kids, send them to school clean and buy them the items they need to practice healthy habits is all part of their responsibilities as parents.

This group of trainees did a skit using a fresh egg and an egg that had been soaked in a cup of coca-cola. This demonstrates the harm that sugary things do to our teeth.

As part of their section on dental health, the trainees had the moms use homemade toothbrushes and homemade toothepaste (that they made during the meeting) to brush the egg/tooth. Everyone could see the difference brushing made and how if resources are low, one can use items found around the house to make toothpaste and toothbrushes! Having interactive health lessons with parents is an important part of the Healthy Schools program. Otherwise, the students will only practice the habits at school and continue with poor health habits at home.

This group was responsible for talking to the moms about a homemade rehydration solution made of salt, sugar and water and most importantly explaining why it's important to make sure your child is taking in fluids when they are sick. (some people believe that a child shouldn't eat or drink when sick.) It was a cute demonstration because they used a bag of water as the child. It had a face and body parts etc. The child becomes sick and start vomiting and having diarrhea and crying etc. The trainees poked holes in the bag at the child's mouth and eyes and butt (the moms thought it was hilarious!) to represent how the child loses fluids. If the child continues losing fluids without the mom replenishing the supply, the moms noted that the child will die. It was a messy but fun way to illustrate health concepts to moms who have probably never though of illness affecting their children in that way.
We had a great time!
Cristina and I were lucky enough to have "Field Based Training" come visit us for an entire week.

....Ok so we begged since the moment we arrived at site to have the trainees lol but we got our wish and had 9 trainees come to Olintepeque to see just what it's like when theory and training meet real life in Guatemala. It was an exhausting (and I do mean exhausting) week full of workshops, trainings and meetings with parents, schools already certified in our program and schools still working to acheive certification.

The workshop started out with the teachers doing a short skit about things their students do that drive them crazy. As you can see here, this student is standing on their desk throwing papers at his classmates. Although it was a dramatization, it was certainly not an exaggeration.

We designed this workshop, entitled "Classroom Management", to teach teachers how to manage their students and activities so as to maximize the 4 hours the students spend in school (from 8-12:30 -minus the half hour lost when students arrive at 8:30 - with about 45 minutes to an hour for snack and recess ).

The teachers did a great job on their skits and it was a great way to start the day with something fun and show why the workshop was necessary.

As "practice what you preach or model what you teach", we treated the teachers like they were our students in our classroom. One way to track good behavior was by putting candy or marbles (the little boys LOVE marbles) in a jar for every person who participated or had a great comment or did an activity well and according to the rules (for example without talking). We also removed candies or marblees from teachers who arrived late from snack, who were chatting or if a cell phone rang.

As another way to illustrate how one can develop a discipline system (as in the vast majority of classrooms the teach will say empty threats that they have no intention of carryin out)-we used a volunteer from Cantel's soccer "yellow card, red card" system. If someone was talking to their neighbor, or answered a cell phone, or left to answer a cell phone, or was reading a magazine (it's hard for us to imagine that someone would wip out a newspaper and start reading during a workshop but it happens regularly!)---they would get a yellow card. Another offense warrented another yellow card and finally a red card, after which disciplinary action was taken (for teachers in the form of not receiving their diploma).

Here's a picture of my work partner, Cristina, and I in front of a few posters the trainees made to help them facilite their part of the workshop.

Due to a series of events that lead to the taller we had planned for our 260 teachers falling apart just days before the training events, we gave the presentation to the teachers of "magesterio". Magesterio is the school that aspiring teachers must attend to get their liscense/certification to teach. It was great because we were teaching teachers of teachers! They could either use the classroom management directly in their classes or present the info they recived to their students. They staff of this particular magesterio were extremely participatory and well behaved! We enjoyed working with them and will continue to do so in the future.

After the final session, the teachers broke into groups and played Jeopardy for a prize. They were extremely "pilas" or they knew their stuff!! They didnt' talk when we were presenting and took some notes and made plenty of comments! (sometimes with less "pilas" teachers it's hard to get them to comment or say that they disagree or that they have other ideas that compliment the ideas presented.)

Here's a picture of the diplomas that they received for participating in the workshop.Diplomas are of the utmost importance here. One makes their resume by compiling diplomas to show what they have done in their career.
Finally, to celebrate being doing with a stressful workshop that took waaaaaay too much planning : 0), we went out for Indian food. It was AMAZING!!