Tuesday, November 3, 2009

All good things must come to an end...

After having spent two years living and working in San Martin Jilotepeque, Chimaltenango, Guatemala, I now call it home. It has been a tremendous two years, many things, good and bad, have happened! I have experienced numerous things I never thought I would get to do but I have also experienced difficulties. Through it all I have been extremely content with my life, it has been full of friendship, love, laughter, heartache and pain but realizing that my life can be full and rich with no more than a cinder block house, a cement floor, running water for an hour a day and less than $300 a month was the ultimate experience.

As I say good bye to the place and the people that have become my home and family, I am reflecting on what I have learned, how I have changed and what I have experienced. The following are some of things I have learned…
Genuine Generosity
Needs vs. Wants
Coffee grows on a tree
Friendships transcend cultural differences
I love doing laundry by hand
A love of fresh fruits and vegetables
Nothing is ever as it seems
To relax (most of the time)
I am not always right (hehe)

Some things I have done…
Hiked a volcano and felt the heat of flowing lava
Ran a marathon
Picked, processed, roasted and ground coffee
Hike for three days in the mountains of Guatemala
Went to Panama and Honduras
Scaled ancient Mayan temples at Tikal
Burned my feet on the black volcanic sand of the Guatemalan beaches
Pooped my pants
Built 15 improved wood burning stoves (with the help of family and friends)
Formed some amazing friendship (with both volunteers and Guatemalans)

How have I changed:
This may come as a surprise but I have become much more laid back…I can go with the flow more often than not! I have realized that you live one life and you should do the things you want to do. Family and friends are the most important thing in life and nothing should stand in the way of that! Simplicity has given me a rare gift, the gift of being content. Over the last two years there have been very few things that I have desired or lusted after. Although my shower wasn’t always hot, at least I had a shower. Although my toilet didn’t always flush at least it wasn’t a latrine. Although my clothes were always damp and musty during the rainy season at least they were clean. There are a lot more “althoughs” so I guess what I am trying to say is that I have learned the difference between a want and a need. I want a hot shower or I want a flushable toilet but I need other things more. I am a different person than when I came but I wonder how this different person will fit into life in the States!

There are a number of things I am going to miss:
Tortillas – the intoxicating sound of women making tortillas
The kids I have watched learn to walk and talk
Drunk guy on the corner by my house
Market days
Fijase que – expression used to prefaces something bad
Saber – Who knows
Puliki (sp?) – the best food in the world
My brother, sisters, and my host mom and dad- they are amazing, loving and generous people
Someone driving me everywhere – aka the bus drivers
My volunteer friends who remain, Candy, Rachel and Kate – you have been amazing friends Thank you
All of the women who became my friends and confidants- to you I am truly grateful
The parties everyone throws for anything and everything
Running on the dirt roads outside of town

What I have to learn again:
How to use utensils – a tortilla is not longer going to be my fork, spoon and knife
Chu chu is not an except able form of communication
I cannot wag my finger at someone to tell them NO
No longer can I go three days without a shower
To throw toliet paper in the toliet
I must wear clothes that do not have holes in them
I can no longer speak Spanglish
I cannot talk in circles until someone understands my point
I can no longer be an hour late and still be early
No longer is reading a book in my hammock an expectable form of work

The lists can go on and on but this gives you some idea of what has happened over the last two years. Thank you to all who have read my blog, written me emails, facebooked me or have kept me in your thoughts, it means more to me than I can express.

I hope that you all have learned something about Guatemala and Peace Corps through my blogs. Although many of my entries have been uninspired I hope that each of you find your own way to contribute to the great global good, through service within your own community or in other communities across the nation and world.

I remember people telling me that when you leave you will feel like you have gained more than you have done…I always wondered if that was going to be true for me but it is! I have received more kindness, love, friendship and knowledge than I could have ever hoped to give. It is truly amazing how someplace so different can become so right, a place to call home.

As I board the plane tomorrow I know I will be excited but right now it feels like I am leaving my home, San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Running, Running, Running

I completed one of my life goals two weeks ago…I ran a marathon. I really ran it, no walking, not say I didn’t want to! The marathon was in Panama City, Panama. It was hot and humid even at the 5 am start. It was not a very big marathon but it was a great first marathon. There were a lot of international runners, including some Peace Corps volunteers from Costa Rica. My friend Rachel, who convinced me to run in the first place, started out together but got separated for most of the race which was a bummer. The first 30 km or 18 miles were ok, I felt good and kept a pretty good pace. Mile 19 I hit what they call the Wall, it was about 9 am and the temperature was rising, the roads were not blocked off that well so I was dodging cars, buses, all the rush hour traffic you would expect in a big city. There were few people along the last 6 miles so it was hard to keep going. Even though there were water stops every km I was so dehydrated that my joints started to hurt. I have never been so glad to finish anything in my life….but I have to say I cannot wait to do it again. It is addicting, wanting to know if you can beat your time, what is another course like, etc.!

There was a surprise waiting my friend and I at the end of the race…we placed 9th for international women! YAY! Now that will be hard to beat!

Panama City, is like no other place in Central America. It has the feeling of a major city in the United States, high rises, lots of cars, major shopping malls, and you can drink water from the tap along with flushing your toilet paper, weird!

I trained for 4 months, running almost everyday! I am known in my town as the gringa that runs. I have numerous people who come up to me and ask me if I am going to run today or why I run. It is one of the most difficult things to explain to Guatemalans, that I like to run for fun because most of think I am nuts! It is funny though because I feel like I know the people along my running routes even though we only exchange good mornings or adios!

The last couple of months have been crazy…my cooperative final became legal, I went to the Bay Islands Honduras, my parents visited and I am down to about two months left, WOW, time flies! I am going to try to update my blog as best as I can from the last few months.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Carolyn's Visit

Last week I welcomed one of my best friends, Carolyn, to Guatemala! It is amazing what friendships can endure. We had not seen each other for almost 22 months but once she got here it seemed like we had never been apart or that our lives had not dramatically changed over the last two years.

We did the normal tour of Guatemala, the lake, Antigua, my site…but it never ceases to amaze me how each person sees the same things so differently. Each person has things that fascinate them or are more perceptive of certain things. I felt at times like a bad host because things seem so normal to me that I forget to explain to my guest what is going on or what to do. For example I just assume everyone knows how a chicken bus works. You get on, sit down and wait for the guy to pass by so you can pay him. Or how do you know which buses to take. But I rationalize that it is just like moving to a new city, you figure it out and that is that, the only difference is the language.

We had a great time sightseeing, hanging out and catching up. Although I have loved my time in the Peace Corps and would never change my decision for anything, I am ready to get back to the United States so that I am able to have my family and friends back in my life on a regular basis. Thanks for coming Carolyn, it meant a lot to be able to share my experience with you!


One of the many advantages of serving in Guatemala is the amazing opportunities that we have to see so much of this amazing country. Recently a group of us set out on one of the most amazing hikes I have ever done. We hike the 25 miles between Todo Santos, Huehuetenango and Nebaj, Quiche. The hike took two days and took us through some very remote parts of northwestern Guatemala. We began our hike in an area called the Cumbre, or the peak. It looks like Ireland, or at least what the pictures of Ireland look like. Gently rolling green hills, stone walls, and roaming sheep stretch for as far as the eye can see. The difference is that there is no running water here so you see women carrying loads of water on their heads while their children trail behind with buckets in each hand.

As we wander along the path we came upon little kids who scammered away with looks of terror on their faces and herds of sheep grazing from green patch to green patch. It continues to amazing that in this tiny country, no bigger than Tennessee there can be such a wide variety of landscape and culture. The first day hike entails hiking down one side of a mountain and up the other side. I am not exaggerating when I say mountain, it was a two and half hour hike straight up and by the end I did not think my legs would take me any farther. At the top of the mountain we encountered the weirdest landscape I have ever seen. I would imagine this to be what the world would look like in a sci-fi movie where the world has been deserted for hundreds of years. It was covered with odd rock formations and sporadic trees, giving it an eerie feeling. We hiked for about three hours without passing another human. Knowing you are all alone is a strange feeling, one I don’t think I have ever experienced before!

We spent our first night in a tiny village which consisted of about 10 houses. The nearest road or form of transport was a four hour walk away. The thoughts that kept running through my head were; what if something happens how do they get medical attention, how do they get food all the way out here, I can barely carry my basket of food a half a mile from the market to my house and what do you do for fun. I have to say that I have been in some pretty poor homes but the house where we ate dinner has to the poorest I have ever seen. Even after almost two years of working and living here it still amazes me how people endure.

The second day began with breakfast atop a beautiful lookout over the mountains and valleys that surrounded us. As we descended from our beautiful out look the landscape and environment changed dramatically. No longer were we in the barren waste land but surrounded by lush vegetation and wildlife. As came to the bottom and observed where we had come from I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment. For me this has been a rare feeling over the last year. Although I know I have accomplished something here the fact that the work is never done makes it hard to feel like you have accomplished something. I hope that in the end I can look back say that I feel like I did something!

At the end of the hike there is a wonderful little hotel that makes its own cheese so we settled in for a lovely leisure lunch. As you know I had to buy a pound of this amazing cheese because if there is one thing I truly miss is great cheese!

What you could miss....

I think last month was the first time in 22 months that I have been here that I did not make a post. I want to think that I have good reason but in all honesty I don’t. So here is the update…

Winter is in full swing here. Yes, you geography buffs don´t start to question your knowledge, Guatemala is in the northern hemisphere but we only have two seasons, rainy and dry, instead of the glorious four you find in most of the United States. The rainy season, or winter, came about a month early this year. To relate this to terms most might understand it is like it snowing in early October in the Midwest, ahhh. I normally do not like the rainy season but this last dry season was so dry that by the end I was suffocating on the dust.

This past month was rather busy with work and pleasure. I finished more stoves, went on a 25 mile hike through the mountains of Huehuetenango and Quiche, had the first General Assembly of the cooperative and had one of my best friends visit from the States. Throughout the next few blogs I will catch you up with all of my activities.

Finishing the stoves was a great feeling. All the women who I am close with now have brand new, smoke free kitchens which leaves me feeling elated. I came here thinking I was going to help change the world but soon realized that it was impossible to change the world but it was possible to make a difference in a few lives Through these stoves, with the help you, my family and friends, I have been able to make a difference in a few families lives. I believe that the helping of another person brings one of the purest forms of happiness known in this world. Learning to give myself for the benefit of another is something that has truly had an impact on the way I view the world and myself. Realizing that no matter how much education one has or how much knowledge one has acquired the experience of putting yourself in another shoes is more valuable than anything a book or classroom can teach you. Open yourself up to what the world has to offer because if you don’t you might just miss something that can change your life!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This is life...

It seems to be getting harder and harder to find something to talk about in my blog. I have a few theories on this, first my life is utterly non-interesting and I have nothing to talk about. Second, my life feels normal so I cannot distinguish the things that I think my family and friends would find interest. And third, I don’t think that people would be interested in my realizations about life. Of course that is exactly what I am going to talk about, kind of!

All in all life has been good. The board of directors I have been working with are really starting to come around. They are starting to understand the ideas and concepts that are going to make them successful. And they have finally realized that I do know what I am talking about and not just pulling ideas out of thin air. For example, we had a meeting with the NGO that is helping us legalize the cooperative and half way through the meeting one the guys raised his hand and told the dude giving the presentation that they already had covered this and discussed it with me and that they would like to move on to something else. It almost keeled over I was in such shock.

I have started two more stoves which is always fun because it means I actually have a full days work, I am a 9 to 5er now! Honestly it is the best thing I ever decided to do because you really get to know the women and their families in a way that you never can with a two hour meeting. When you are there all day you begin to see all of the petty things that make life, life. For example, the brother and sister who cannot be in the same room together without fighting, or the supportive husband who is always working during the meetings or how the young daughter’s husband ran off to the States never to be heard from again. It is amazing the conversations that while you are working. It is incredible, but things come up that are also hard to take.

I realized that they really enjoy working with me and like me but they also just see me as someone who can get things for them. I explained to the women that the stoves were only available for the women who attended the meetings on a regular basis and no one else. At lunch yesterday one of my women’s cousin had come to help, great, but then she proceeded to plead a case why he needed a stove too. I wanted to scream because I really thought we were over that stage of our relationship but obviously we never will be. It disheartens me to realize that as much as I think of them as friends we really aren’t and probably won’t be. That sucks, but life goes on….

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I cannot believe it...

It has been awhile since I updated my blog but it has been pretty boring here lately. Work has been slow and uneventful and well we all know my social life is non existent. But there has been a couple of “I cannot believe it” moments recently.

I have said it before but I cannot get over the wealth disparity here. I know it exists everywhere but it is just amazing clear here. For example, last week I was working in a new community and the women who showed up to the meeting were not wearing shoes. I mean I am not sure if they just didn’t wear shoes or they didn’t have any shoes to wear (I have learned to stop asking these sorts of questions because the answer is normally who knows or saber, as we say here). A couple of days later I am in Antigua at a procession where I see these 14 or 15 year old girls wearing $200 plus jeans standing next to people who have holes in their clothes. It blows me away that one day I am working with people who cannot even afford shoes and the next I am watching as the two worlds collide. CRAZY!

I have come a conclusion about development work, it is going to continue to be a long struggle until the education systems improve. In Guatemala the students are in school for only five hours a day, two of which is probably spent actually doing school work. The other three hours they are either having recess, cleaning, working on things for the big party they are having that month or just sitting in the classroom doing nothing while the teachers have meetings or talk on their cell phones (yes, the teachers here will answer their cell phones in the middle of teaching)! I love the work that I am doing but I have to say that the most frustrating thing is the lack of critical thinking skills. Many times unless I spell out exactly what I want to get across then it is lost on people. For example, I am currently trying to facilitate the development of the Cooperative that we are forming. I have been working on the procedure manual, when the meetings will be conducted, how long a president serves, what are the rights and obligations of the members and so forth. During these meetings I try to ask open ended questions to get them thinking about things but many times this does not work. They can’t seem to grasp the question unless it is a direct one with a clear answer so this has lead me to my conclusion that so much development work could be improved if the education systems were improved.

Another example is with my English class that I have started to teach. For homework I assigned five sentences in Spanish that they had to translate to English. They had all the information in their lessons, all the verb conjugations, the vocab and the articles that were needed to complete the homework. I got to class yesterday and none of them had done it because they couldn’t find the answers in the lesson. I explained to them that the sentences where not in the homework but that they had to use the knowledge and information in the lessons to translate the sentences. You would have thought I was speaking French because they just stared at me and told me they didn’t know how to do that. I almost fell out of my chair. Maybe I am being a little harsh but I really believe that until the education system improves it is going to be very hard for the development work to achieve its goal!

This past Sunday, Domingo de Ramas or Palm Sunday, marked the beginning of Semana Santa or Holy Week. This means that no one works, the kids do not have school and I have nothing to do. It also means that there are beautiful processions and delicious food. This past Sunday San Martin hosted a massive Youth festival for kids all over Chimaltenango and Solola, 10,000 people to be exact. All I have to say is that I was up at 5 am because of all the noise, I could barely get out of my house to go to the market and I have never felt so out of place in my life. My sitemante, Candy, and I decided to check out this massive festival which was held at the soccer stadium and let’s just say I never want to experience that again. Most people in San Martin have seen us and are use to us but the other 9,000 people gawked at us like we were aliens from another planet who showed up for the party! But what are you going to do but stare at the tall girl with curly hair and the blond, blue eyed chick, we are aliens!