Monday, September 2, 2013

First week in site!!!

Aves de Paradiso

As a part of the final week of training, we each prepared short ‘commitment to serve’ presentations.  I was interested in what some of the volunteers would come up with because we have some very creative and artistic people in our group.  I think that most of us cried throughout the majority of our presentations.  Emotions were running rampant that week and I think the presentations were a much needed, cathartic release of energy. 
Here is a written version of my ‘commitment to serve’ presentation.  This is hopefully a bit more eloquent and understandable than the version I spoke in my presentation considering that I began to cry the moment I stood up.  

The eloquent version of my story:
I believe everything on this earth happens for a reason.  I don’t believe in coincidences.  This is a bird of paradise flower, an ave de paradiso. I remember immediately falling in love with the flower the first time I saw it.  The intense orange and blue petals provide a sharp contrast against the broad leaves of the shrubby plant.  It’s asymmetrical and sharp frame make it both beautiful and somehow masculine at the same time; I find the contrast fascinating.  The flower is generally used as a symbol for joy.  It is tattooed on the top of my foot to remind me to find joy in the everyday happenings of life. 
 I have only seen birds of paradise in three places.  I know they exist in other places, but I have only seen them in three.  The first time I saw a bird of paradise flower was during my study abroad in South Africa.  Some of my favorite memories of South Africa include our service project in the Townships and our intense discussions of health issues among the country’s poorest populations.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but these ethical debates were laying the foundation for my passion for public health.  
The second time I saw bird of paradise flowers was during my two years at USF for grad school.  Yes, they were scattered across the Tampa Bay region, but most significantly, they were planted in abundance in  front of the main entrance to the College of Public Health. 
Guatemala is the third place in my life that I have seen bird of paradise flowers, and they are everywhere here.  My host mom in training had a bird of paradise plant on her roof. 
Again, I don’t believe in coincidences.  
Aves de Paradiso en Guatemala

I should add that the day after I told my host mom this story, I walked into my room to find a bouquet of bird of paradise flowers on my desk.  

Is this real life? 

Well, I’ve been at site for about a week now.  Yup.  I really don’t have any complaints, other than the fact that this is probably the most stressed I have been in a VERY long time. However, I don’t want to use this space as an area to vent that stress, so I am going to focus on the good!

Mi sitio:
I’m located in northern Totonicapán, about two hours from the capital of Quetzaltenango/Xela (One hour if you are traveling by car instead of bus).  I’m located in a fairly medium sized site.  My city itself has about 3,000 people and the population of the municipality (the city plus the surrounding aldeas) is about 18,600 people. The municipality has 13 aldeas or villages.  These aldeas are VERY poor with high rates of maternal and child death.  66% of the children in the municipality are malnourished.  Most of the population in the town center speak Spanish as their primary language.  The populations in the aldeas are Maya K’iche’ and speak primarily in K’iche’, although many speak Spanish as well. 
View from one of the aldeas near my site

Helped measure and weigh babies in an aldea my first day at site!!

The road to my site was paved within the last year and streets within the town center are either paved or cobblestone.  The roads to and within the aldeas are dirt and are often inaccessible for short periods of time due to landslides and deep mud. 
My elevation is about 2,370 meters or 1.47 miles.  At this elevation, I’m actually down in a valley, so fortunately I’m blocked from the worst of the cold weather.  Right now, during Guatemala’s winter, I don’t think it gets too far above 60 during the day time—and that’s when it’s sunny.  During Guatemala’s summer (from Novermber-ish through April-ish) it gets down to near freezing at night.  I’m looking forward to my next Xela trip so I can buy a coat! Hahaha! 

I will be working at a CAP or a Centro de Atención Permanente.  The centro is a 24-hour health center that is the head of the entire municipality (I think).  My counterpart is the TSR for this municipality and she is AWESOME! The TSR or tecnico en salud rural basically does anything and everything public health for the municipality, including environmental health, maternal and child health and even pet vaccinations.  She is extremely busy but I think that once the ball gets moving (and I get over my shell shock) we can accomplish a lot together.  

¡Qué rico son los baños!

My site is about 1km from thermal baths.  I went for the first time with another volunteer in site and then I went again the next day with my host family.  The walk down to the baños is beautiful.  It’s a completely different side to Guate that I had yet to see.  The road dips and curves through lush pine forests, and the air at this time of year is thick and humid despite the cold.  You can watch the dense misty clouds roll across the tree tops and down below further in the valley.  The only way I can think to describe the atmosphere around my site is to ask you imagine the classic tropical rainforest that you would see in movies, with air so humid and thick that you can see the condensation in the air.  Now drop the temperature by about 50 degrees and replace the tropical vines and palm trees with a gigantic pine forest and you have my city in Toto.
The 12km road to my site was paved with the last year and the 1km road to the baños was finished within the last six months.  Small landsides are very common on the road in and out of both my site and the baños.  When making the short trek, the other volunteer and I had to skirt around an area that was covered in mud from a recent landslide.  I get the impression that the landslides were much worse before the road was paved. 

As you get closer and closer the baños, the sound of rushing water drifts up from ravine below.  You can’t see the rushing river until you make the final turn into the baños.  (The river, at the moment, is very muddy because of all of the rain.)  There is a fairly large paved parking lot in front of the baños entrance.  This lot is filled with tuk-tuks, micros and fletes either dropping people off or picking them up.  A small gate blocks the entrance and there is a middle-aged woman there collecting donations.  Normally, entrance is Q1 for residents, Q2 for visitors and Q10 for a private baño.  As of right now, there is no entrance charge because of muni issues (more about that later) so people are collecting donations—I’m not sure what the donations are for…

Inside the gate are several vendors selling fried food, snacks, guacals (small plastic bowls), soap, shampoo and body sponges.  There are changing rooms with green wooden-slatted doors and cement benches to rest your clothes on while you bathe.  I think there are four cement baños which are about 15ft x 15ft x 3ft, one larger baño about a third of the size of a lap pool and then a pool which is about 2/3 the size of a lap pool. The two larger baños look just like cement in-ground pools.  The largest pool is emptied on Mondays and Saturdays to refill it with the hot water.  The smaller baños are constantly refilled with steaming water, and for as much as you would like to climb into the baño as it is being filled, I would recommend against it unless you want to be caldo (a type of soup).  There are also maybe 10 private baños the size of a hot tub.  We used one of these when I returned with my host family.

Generally women wear either a very large bathing gown or shorts and a tank top to bath while the men wear either loose shorts or underwear.  Everyone sits on the raised cement ledge of the baño about a foot of the ground and you use a guacal to ladle bowlfuls of water onto yourself.  It takes a bit of technique to learn not to splash soapy water back into the baño.  Women fold their tops down to bathe and you try not to look your neighbor in the eye as he/she is soaping and rinsing his/her privates.  After you are clean, you turn around and slide into the steamy water for a soak.  The entire experience is very intimate yet very social at the same time.  I’ve learned that this is where the town gossip spreads. 

The other volunteer introduced me to several people as we made our way around.  Every time that we explained that it was my first time to the baños we got the same response: ¡Qué rico son los baños! (How rich/good are the baths!!)

A change in perspective

I tried to come into Peace Corps with no expectations;  I didn’t want to be disappointed by anything and I knew that everyone has a different PC experience.  Most of the advertisements you see of PCV’s and their homes feature adobe houses with thatched roofs, latrines or pit toilets and a hammock for a bed.  Our Safety and Security Coordinator’s response to those pictures was literally “Haha! Not in Guatemala.” Due to the frequent number of earthquakes, we are not allowed to live in adobe houses, we have to live with a host family and we have to have doors that lock.  If we live on the first floor, there must be bars on our windows.  Guatemala has the highest theft rate against volunteers of any PC country.  (We were only recently surpassed in this achievement by Samoa? (I think) but they only have something like 17 volunteers, so percentage wise, that’s not saying much…  In my home, I have electricity (most of the time) and running water (most of the time). When the electricity goes out, the pump that runs water to the second floor also goes out.  

I also REALLY got lucky with my host family assignment; I already had a bed/sheets/comforter in my room along with a dresser/closet.  My host family is also letting me pay a bit extra to share meals with them and eventually, when I want to start cooking for myself, I have permission to use their kitchen and kitchen utensils.  Other volunteers in Guate have arrived in their families with nothing but four walls. 

My host family is in the upper percentile of wealth in this community.  They own one of the three bus lines that run in and out of the community, several micros and tuk-tuks, a corner store, several apartments above the corner store, and a hair salon.  They invited me to move into the apartments above the corner store whenever I feel like it…I’m thinking in the future I may like to do so, but I have to see how that will float over with PC security.  My host mom is 31 and my host dad is 42.  They have three sons who are twelve, nine and eight.  The twelve year-old is only home on the weekends as he attends school in Xela.  Their home has four bedrooms, one bathroom with a shower, and the family has a maid, which they call a muchacha.  I’m still not sure how to field some of these expectations.  I don’t feel comfortable treating her as the family does and I’m not sure how the family expects me to treat her.  I don’t expect her to do my laundry or clean up after me, but I don’t want to insult her and I don’t want to insult my family by doing these things for myself.  I’m still working on this one……
View out of my window (note the futbol/basketball cancha!)

Another view of my site from my window!

View out the front window of my host family's buses (and some wicked cool clouds!)

The muni and some political issues in my site

OK. Maybe a bit about the Guatemalan governmental structure first…Sorry if this is boring, but it may be helpful in the explanation of what’s going on in my site.  From the top, you have the country of Guatemala.  The country is divided into 22 departments, somewhat like states in the US.  Each department is then broken up into municipalities; Totonicapán has eight.  Each municipality has its own mayor.  Each municipality has a ‘town center’ and then surrounding aldeas or villages.  The aldeas are not suburbs of the town center.  Some of the aldeas are clumped together and others are kilometers apart. It’s actually fairly arbitrary where the lines of the municipality are drawn and there is a lot of internal conflict about which aldeas fall under which municipality.   There are also two groups of people, the COMUDE (at the municipality level) and the COCODE (an elected group at the community level).  Every community project and law within the muni needs the stamp of approval from the mayor, the COMUDE and the COCODE.   

Okie dokie, now that that’s done, here’s what’s happening in my muni.  There is some sort of disagreement between the mayor and the COCODE.  I have no idea what the disagreement is/was but now the mayor is being audited.  About three weeks ago, the people started protesting against the muni and basically took over the mayor’s office.  The muni has been shut down ever since.  Every person who works for the muni has not been working for the past three weeks or so.  This also means that every service provided by the muni (including garbage collection) has not happened for three weeks.
At this moment, this conflict doesn’t really affect me or my work because the Centro de Salud is not governed directly be the muni. The issue lies in how this conflict will be resolved.  So far, the people in my municipality have been adamant that everything be resolved peacefully, otherwise, I would not have been sent to my site last week and the other two volunteers currently here would have been pulled out.  The municipal building is immediately next to the health center.  I have not seen any demonstrators yet, but I have to be extremely cognizant of whether or not I’m walking into a protest as I walk to the centro.  I have to be ready to leave at the drop of a hat just in case something does happen at the muni. 

Planes, trains and automobiles. 

I’m not sure what percentage of people in the western highlands own some sort of transportation, but I’m pretty sure it’s a very low percentage.  One of the top questions I get asked by nationals is whether or not I know how to drive.  My answer is always the same, “yes, but only automatics and I’m not allowed to drive in Guatemala”. I don’t think many women here know how to drive.  

 The main forms of transportation for Guatemalans, (and PCVs) are camionettas, microbuses, tuk-tuks, fletes and good old-fashioned feet. Tuk-tuks are little three-wheeled golf carts, usually with curtains on the sides to protect its passengers from rain.  The tuk-tuks gain a lot of speed whipping down the mountain roads and they look like they’re flying as the black curtains flare out the sides!  Fletes are pick-up trucks; pile as many people as you can in the back and take off! (Look in my older posts for a description of camionettas and micros!)

PC-Guatemala is one of only PC countries that has a shuttle system for its volunteers.  We are not permitted to travel on the interamerican highway, the main highway that stretches from east to west across the country, in any form of transportation except for private vehicles/shuttles and the PC shuttle.  There is a shuttle that travels back and forth between Xela and Antigua twice a day to help PCVs get around. 

There are several areas of the country that we not allowed to travel in as volunteers because of security issues.  Most of these restrictions have to do with trafficking.  As volunteers, when we travel to other countries for vacations, we must abide by the travel and security rules in that country.  In Guate, we have such a complicated transportation policy that other volunteers are prohibited from traveling here.  CRAZY! But it makes me feel safer! 
View of Lake Atitlan, Solola

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Field based training

Field Based Training
The Guatemalan countryside is like nothing I have ever witnessed before.  I want to say ‘rolling hills’ but I think the more appropriate term would be ‘rolling mountains’ spread out as far as I could see.  Everything below the horizon was green and the sky a brilliant blue with puffy white clouds that appear before your eyes.  I have felt the sensation of walking in a cloud before: foggy mornings and humid Florida air will do that, but I have never before stood on a mountainside and watched as a cloud moved at eye level directly into my path.
I have traveled through the twisting mountain roads of the Appalachians and Southern Rockies, but I’m finding it hard to make comparisons between those mountain ranges and the never ending maze of switchbacks, steep cliffs and teeth-clenching curves that are the Guatemalan Western Highlands.  I realized that bridges through the mountains are almost non-existent; if there is a ravine, the road navigates around it.  There are no gradual inclines and very few dynamite-carved paths through the volcanic rock, just switchbacks that make you rock in your seat and hope that you don’t tear a hole in the bus’s brown pleather seats with your white-knuckle grip. 
Field Based Training, or FBT, gave us the opportunity to see how current volunteers are living.  We started off the long weekend by visiting the Areas de Salud in both Xela (Quetzaltenango) and Totonicapán.  An Area de Salud is the equivalent of a State Health Department in the US, so we were very privileged to be given tours.  We also met with JICA, the Japanese version of the Peace Corps.  It got me really pumped up to see some of our potential counterparts!
I spent the rest of the weekend living with another volunteer in one of the furthest, most rural sites.  It. Was. Amazing.   This was one of the areas that had experienced genocide during the civil war.  The ‘cortes’, or traditional Mayan skirts, that the women wear in this area are red in honor of the blood that was spilt during the war.   
Travel to and from this site was a story in and of itself. (Oh, I should clarify here that I can’t post names of specific sites on the internet.  There have been problems with people internet stalking PC volunteers, calling their homes in the US and pretending that they kidnapped volunteers.  Not fun, hence the lack of specific site names…) Anyways, it was about a 1.5 hour ride in the Peace Corps van to get from Totonicapán to the capital of Quiche.  From there it was another 2.5 hour ride in a microbus or ‘micro’ to another city where I changed micros again for another half hour ride to my final destination.  Dramamine was my best friend. 
I need to give a short description of these micros.  They are what I would normally call a ‘church van’; those vans that can safely fit eleven or twelve people.  Well, not in Guatemala.  My entire concept of ‘fitting’ has changed since I have lived here.  ‘Fitting’ means we are going to squeeze 20ish people (25 if you put people on top) into a micro—the door may or may not be closed in order to achieve this phenomenon.  During one of these exercises in human contortion, my micro whizzed past another sardine stuffed micro as we were barreling through the steep mountain cliffs.  The ayudante, the guy that gymnastics through the micro to collect everyone’s fare, leans out the window and shouts “MUY TRANQUILLO!!” to the driver of the other micro.  I just about lost it!
OK, so back to FBT.  I was amazed by how well this volunteer had integrated herself into her community.  She stopped and introduced us every couple of feet in the pueblo to the people she knew.  I’ve seen now just how outgoing I need to be in order to successfully get myself into the community.  I have my work cut out for me, but it’s doable!
I went with two other PCTs and a handful of other volunteers to hike up to a waterfall.  I think it took us three micro rides to get to the pueblo near the waterfall.  As we walked to the trail head, a man came out of his tienda and asked us if we were going up to the waterfall.  After confirming his suspicions, he told us that we needed to pay him Q5 each to walk up to the waterfall.  We asked if he had identification to prove that he wasn’t just trying to rip us off and he couldn’t prove that he had a legitimate right to ask us for money.  We explained to him that we were volunteers living in the country; we were not tourists and explained that when some of the volunteers went a few weeks earlier, they didn’t have to pay.  Realizing that we weren’t going to be duped, he let us continue on our way…interesting experience and I’m glad the current volunteers were there to help us navigate through it!
The path to the waterfall wound through the Guatemalan forest and was often traversed by families toting horses laden with crops and branches, men with heavy packs on their backs and women balancing giant baskets and buckets of food on their heads.  I was amazed by how sloppy and uncoordinated I felt struggling to hop from rock to rock without falling into the ankle deep mud when these women traveled this path, probably daily, in sandals with 50 pound weights balanced on top of the heads. 
I could hear the rushing stream and waterfall before I could see it.  The path turned around the mountain bend, and like a misty curtain, the waterfall appeared between the trees.  It only took a few minutes of standing near its base to become completely drenched by the cool water vapor.  After getting our fill of the base of the water fall, we traversed back up the side of the mountain to dry off in the sun (and some of the volunteers went swimming).
 I need to add in a quick quip about my amazing ability to laugh at myself.  I know I have the worst balance ever.  I love hiking/climbing/outdoor adventure stuff, I’m just really, really bad at it.  I literally ate dirt on this hike.  When hiking down hill, it is not that uncommon to fall.  Most people fall backwards onto their butt.  Being conscious of the camera that was in my butt pocket, I turned mid-fall and landed on my face in the foliage.  Yes, I am that person.   
On the return trip from the waterfall I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life.  Four of us were going back to the same site and needed to change micros at a crossroads.  As we stood waiting at the country crossroad, one of the volunteers ran into the tienda and bought us bags of water for 50 centavos each and mango suckers.  We waited for a good 10 minutes and a micro had yet to arrive.  At one point, a pickup truck stopped.  The passenger in the truck was from the same pueblo as the volunteer I was staying with, so we jumped into the bed of the pickup. 
I leaned up against the cab of the truck and looked out across the rolling milpas fields.  The sun warmed my skin and I enjoyed my mango dulce and bag of water.  The four of us sat facing each other with our muddy legs tangled, laughing and sharing stories.  It was something out of a movie.  In the grand scheme of things, that 20 minute ride didn’t really mean much, but for some reason, it made me realize that I can survive the next two years.  Even amongst the chatter from my friends, the wind whipping around the cab and the struggling chug of the engine, I distinctly heard God telling me that I can do this. This is where I am meant to be right now. 

Cloud sweeping in!

Making Vida Cereal at a Club de Embarazadas

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Half way through PCT

No soy bandita!
We were walking around the city with our language/culture facilitator when suddenly a little girl pops out from an alley.  She shrieks, and runs back to hide behind her mother’s legs.  As we pass, she starts crying, saying “Ellas van a llevarme!!” or “They are going to take me away!”. 
Lesson of the day: Guatemalan mothers tell their children that if they don’t behave, the gringos are going to come and take them away.  Soy Americana.  Soy gringa. Soy boogyman. 

Chuchos, chuchos everywhere!
Chucho is the term used for street dogs in Guatemala and they are everywhere! Many are flea-infested and mangy, with skin clinging to their bones.  The streets are fairly dirty because dog poop is all over (adding to the copious amounts of cow poop and horse poop).
Many Guatemaltecos have dogs, but they are not seen the same way as pets are in the US.  The dogs here are usually tied up outside of homes for protection against thieves.  My first host family had a dog named Spike.  Spike got loose and killed three chickens while I was there!
My current host family has a dog named Bobby (pronounced “Buawby”).  Bobby is some sort of cocker spaniel mix and is eleven years old with bad hips.  This dog is SO adorable.  If he isn’t barking at chuchos through the door, he is usually sitting outside the kitchen or underneath the stairwell.  They call it Bobby’s cave.   Bobby enjoys eating the family’s leftovers.  He doesn’t like picante. I asked…
Spanglish: The Official Language of Peace Corps Guatemala
So, learning Spanish has produced some pretty hilarious mix-ups.  I know there have been a ton more, but these are the few that I can remember from class and my own daily living:
“Embarrasada” is not ‘embarrassed’ but ‘pregnant’.
‘Caballos’= horses, ‘cebollas’= onions, and ‘caballeros’=men
‘Manos’=hands and ‘monos’=monkeys
“muerden”=they bite, “mueren”=they die
“mascota” does mean ‘mascot’, but also means ‘pet’
“huevos” means ‘eggs’ and ‘testicles’.  If you go into a store and ask “Tiene huevos?” Do you have eggs? The tienda owner will say, “Si, tengo dos!” Yes, I have two!
“chuchos”=street dogs, “chuchito”= a type of tamale, “chapines”=slang for  ‘guatemaltecos’  
“Esconder”=to hide, “Encontrar”= to find (you don’t want to know how often I have asked “Did you hide what you were looking for?”)

“cervesa” = beer, “servilleta”=napkin
“madera”=wood, “mareada”= dizzy
“bomberos”= firefighters, “bombas”=fireworks
Oh the weird looks we get when we talk about hands in the forest and the firefighters exploding in the sky…..
The sounds of Guate
Bombas crack open the sky every morning for birthday celebrations.  Once you get over the urge to roll out of bed and hit the deck every morning, it actually becomes a fairly good wake-up call.  If the bombas don’t wake you up at 5:30, around 6:00am the propane gas truck rolls through town.  This truck channels the blues mobile with its white loudspeakers strapped to the roof.  Every morning and evening we are serenaded with a continuous pattern of a loud horn blast follow by “Zeta GAAAAAAAASS!” and then the theme song “Zeta! Zeta! Zeta Gas!”  It took us a while to figure out what the truck was saying.  One volunteer comically thought it was shouting “get uuuppppp!” every morning. 
Occasionally the egg truck also rolls through town.  It too has large speakers attached to its roof lacks the catchy theme song.  Instead, we hear “Huevos! Huevos! Quince huevos por diez quetzals!” Not a bad price….
One of my favorite sounds is the kids playing futbol in the allies and streets!  Coming from a world where video games rule all, it is actually refreshing to hear kids playing sports outside. 
Another sound that I find extremely comical—family conversations with the grandparents.  As far as I can tell, hearing aids are pretty much nonexistent so when the abuelos come over, every conversation is a screaming match.  I had all I could do to respectfully listen to my host mom explaining how the tortilla cloth my abuela brought over was not my aunt’s, but rather my mom’s.  “ESO ES MIO! NO ES DE ELLA! YO LO COMPRE!!” THIS IS MINE! IT’S NOT HERS! I BOUGHT IT!
Creepy Crawlies
Not so bad right now….knock on ‘madera’….
I did kill an enormous spider in my room—some spindly looking daddy-long-legs creepy thing that was a little bigger than a half-dollar.  And several other volunteers have reported cockroaches in the bathrooms.
And I have fleas. My host mom says that they’re mosquito bites.  I feel bad, because I think she thought that I was inferring that I got the bites while I was in her house, but I probably got them just from walking down the street with all of the chuchos…
Chicken bus: eventful story #1
I have officially ridden the infamous chicken buses! The PCTs all went to Antigua to visit a finca de café (a coffee farm).  The four of us from my training site went with our language instructor from the training site to another city where we transferred to the Antigua chicken bus.  We round the corner to the Antigua bus stop and immediately here choruses of “Corre! Corre!” (Run! Run!).  So we run, but not to the front of the bus—we jump up into the back of the bus through the emergency exit.  I’m not sure the door was even closed before we took off!
Every seat had at least three people, some four if they had kids.  We squished onto a seat—one cheek in the isle, one on the seat, which meant that every time the bus whipped around the corner of the mountainous road, you ended up doing a squat in the isle.  As one volunteer said, the two people sitting next to here were passionately swapping spit and were sitting very close so she had a bit more room….
We arrived in Antigua and needed to exit the bus.  Three of us, plus our instructor, started working our way to the front of the bus but one volunteer got stuck in the back.  We got off the bus and I turned around to find the other volunteer.  I started to panic because the bus pulled away and I didn’t see her right away. Turns out she jumped out of the emergency exit in the back!
We switched buses again to get to the finca, and while this bus was less crowded, it was just as humorous.  I need to describe the interior of this bus to give the appropriate image of Guatemalan public transportation.  Most of these buses are discarded school buses from the US.  Most have LED running lights around the windshield and some sort of sticker theme happening on the inside: spiderman, Disney’s Cars, transformers, etc. This particular bus lacked the stickers, but had a giant holographic image of Jesus, a teddy bear chilling in a hammock and a stuffed monkey peering out of one of the luggage racks.  The ayudante—the guy who walks through the bus collecting the fare—was wearing a shirt that said (in English) “This is what the world’s greatest mom looks like”. 
I’m not being sarcastic when I say that this was truly one of the most fun things I have ever done! 
 Coffee Finca, hubo muchas mariposas!

 Trumpet Flowers

 Papaya Tree

 Aves de Paradiso, of course!
Something to think about.
Many of our clothes in the US are made in Guatemala.  We wear these clothes for a while and then donate them to charities. Charities bundle up these clothes in large “Pacas” and then sell them at very cheap prices to countries around the world.  The Paca clothes end up back on the store shelves of the people who made the clothes in the first place.  Try explaining this to your host dad…
Doing laundry
Generally, my host mom does my laundry, but on the occasion when my clothes are really dirty or when I have to wash my ropa interior, this is how it’s done. 
1)      Fill up the round circular bin with water and a bit of detergent, then dump your clothes inside.  Let your clothes soak for a good 15 minutes. 
2)      Eat breakfast/lunch while clothes are soaking. 
3)      Take one piece of clothing (let’s say a sock) and place it in the clothes lavadora side of the pila.  Using one hand to hold the top edge of the sock, enjabonar (put soap on) on the sock and then scrub the sock back and forth across the corrugated cement sink floor.  Flip the sock over, repeat. Turn the sock inside out and repeat. 
4)      Rinse out sock with pila water and put into a clean bucket.  After washing all of your laundry, bring it up to the roof and hang it on the clothes line by wedging the corners of your clothes between the braided strands of line. 
5)      Hope that it doesn’t rain.  If it does rain, shrug and just believe that your clothes are getting an extra rinse. 
Being sick…doesn’t matter where you are, it’s still horrible!
Without going into too much detail on the internet, I spent two nights in Guatemala City in the hospital.  I know I wasn’t feeling well, but I think PC went a bit overboard with the number of tests I had done! Every time I went into a test I got the same question, (either in broken English or Spanish) “Who are you? Why are you getting all of these tests? And who is paying for this?”
The exam rooms (Xray, ultrasound,CT, etc) were the only rooms that had air conditioning.  My room had two fans hanging on the wall and an open window.  But interestingly enough, my doctor in the hospital is the only doctor in Guate qualified to attend to the US president if he ever needed medical attention while in country. 
More interesting than my actual stay in the hospital was my return home.  Still not feeling 100% my host mom and family refused to serve me ‘cold’ foods.  Any type of pasta (be it hot or cold), salad, or fruit was out the window for the next few days.  My host dad constantly teased me because a few days before my hospital stint I had helped with some of the family chores by washing and cutting up a mountain of guicoyitos.  He kept saying that they gave me too much work to do and I was stressed! Hahaha!
The feria. AKA the entire town is really cranky from lack of sleep…
BANG! Pop! Pop! Pop! All night every night for the past week or so. Bombas—fireworks and firecrackers.  I had previously gotten used to waking up early every morning  to the sweet sounds of bombas for birthday celebrations, but now that it is the final weekend of the Feria, the joyful sounds of celebration continue on ALL NIGHT!!  Music, bombas and borachos. Halfway through the night, I lost one of my ear plugs so every time I rolled over I had to switch ears. 
The interesting thing about this Feria is that it is put on by the Catholic church in my town.  My host-family is evangelical and therefore their church does not allow them to attend.  (They are not permitted to dance or sing).  I tried testing the waters to see if my host family would suggest that I stop by at night to check out the Feria, and if I were to ask, I’m pretty sure I would get a resounding “NO!”.  
 Two of my PCT site mates (and me)!

 The e;ntrance to the Puesto de Salud where three other trainees and I are going to host a health fair!

 Vendors for the Feria
 Are you brave enough to ride?

 The "Muni" or municipalidad where most city functions are held
 Your average tienda...this one tends to over charge us because we are gringas!

So I spent a significant amount of time listening to Salsa music and the Spanish radio station in Tampa in order to prepare for Guate.  Turns out, the major music preference is Marimba, not salsa.  Today at the Feria seven different Marimba bands joined together on stage to form a 50-member band.  The town had spent a great deal of time assembling a large stage with a giant red canvas tent in the middle of the market.  It started raining…well, down pouring, and the Marimba band just kept playing on! Everyone huddled underneath the canvas and under covers of the food vendors and I lamented the fact that my laundry was getting a second rinse. 
After the rain let up, the crowed spread back out, the Marimba continued, and people started dancing.  I think the most adorable couple was this 70 year old gringo couple who were tearing down the house! The other volunteers and I all agreed that we hope we have that same vivacity for life 50 years down the road from now! 

Drunk horses.
Like all scheduled events in Guatemala, the Feria’s horse parade started about 2 and a half hours later than it was supposed to.  This gave us an excellent opportunity to chat with the volunteers from our sister city and people watch.  Venders walked up and down the street with cowboy hats piled three feet high on top of their heads with shouts of “Sombreros! Sombreros! Sombritos por los ninos!”
We met another gringo and his family who moved to Guatemala a little over a year ago.  They built a school and now the father of the family facilitates the running of the school.  How cool!
Now back to this horse business… when the parade or “desfile” finally began, horses pranced sideways and backwards down the street.  With their feet clopping choppily they made their way down the street.  I began to notice that some of the horses were frothing at the mouth and not knowing much about horses, didn’t think too much of it.  That was until one of the smaller horses was stopped directly in front of us and a rather large cervesa (beer) was force fed directly into the horse’s mouth.  A little further down the parade route, we saw a horse eating pizza as well…  After I picked my chin up off the floor we surmised that this was how they got the horses to ‘dance’ down the street. 
I asked my host mom about it later, and her exact words were “La gente está loca!” (People are crazy).  She was watching from further down the street and saw that they were feeding beer to the horses right in front of us.  She said that they give beer to the horses every year before the parade but I got the impression that it was odd that they just happened to stop and do it in front of six American girls….

Chicken bus: eventful story #2
This particular bus had a small flat screen TV above the windshield.  For the entire 30 minute ride back from Antigua, we were serenaded with Latin music videos from the 90’s.
Check that one off the bucket list!
I rode a horse up a volcano. Yup! Sure did!
We arrived at the PC office bright and early with full water bottles, some banana bread and sliced sandía (watermelon).  We spit off into 3 minibuses and took off for Pacaya, one of the few active volcanos in Guate. (Pacaya’s last major eruption was three years ago!)
The paved winding roads leading up to Pacaya turned into dirt as we approached the base.  Children surrounded us as we climbed out of the vans asking if we would like to rent walking sticks for Q5.  After “subir-ing” for a good 20-30 minutes uphill on foot,  I caved in and rented a horse! Hahaha!
The horse took me to a point about 25 minutes from the top of the volcano and then it was on foot from there.  We walked upwards on paths carved through the sharp volcanic rock.  A fairly constant stream of white airy smoke puffed out of the mouth of Pacaya looking like nothing more than white clouds, but the occasional belch of black smoke and the steamy vents peaking out of the quagmire of rocks was just enough to remind us that we were indeed climbing up an active volcano. 
We spent a good 45 minutes at the top where I was fairly content to just sit back and take the whole experience in. The green  Lake Amatitlan was off to my right; the Volcán de Fuego, Volcán de Agua and Acatenango were to my left, surrounded by puffy white clouds; and the smoking Pacaya was directly behind me.  I’m not sure what more I could have asked for. 
We didn’t take exactly the same route to ‘bajar’ the volcano.  This new path involved what we called “snow-shoeing” down the side of the volcano on what was at least a 60 degree incline.  The volcanic rock was crumbled into round tiny pieces that varied in sizes from peas to grapes, and we ‘walked’ down it.  And by ‘walked’ I mean that we surfed, bounced, slid, skidded, jumped, rolled and just plain fell down the side of the volcano! Ha!
This fairly direct route took us about half way down.  After taking a minute to empty out our shoes, put band aids on our elbows and ankles, and complain about how our host moms were going to kill us for getting our socks dirty, we continued on!
We landed at the bottom of the volcano with a few scrapes, ashy faces and wobbly knees but overall, no worse for the wear.  However, I did crack up when I got home because when I blew my nose, everything that came out was grey!!  
“I’m on top of the world, hey! I’m on top of the world, hey!” 
 Vulcan de agua

“Been waiting on this for a while now! Been paying my dues to the dirt!”

“I’ve been waiting to smile, hey! I’ve been holding it in for a while, hey!”
 They grey rock is the lava from Pacaya's last major eruption, three years ago.

“I’ll take you with me if I can! I’m on top of the world!” 
 From left to right, Acatenango, Vulcan de Fuego and Vulcan de Agua


No more horse....

 Volcanic Vent
 Lake Amatitlan