Monday, August 10, 2009

H is for Hogar

August 8, 2009

I find it hard to believe that I haven’t written a post since the fair. The time has certainly flown by, but in a way it seems like that happened ages ago. Part of the problem is that I have, as usual, been very busy. However, it is also because I have moved out of everything-is-so-new-and-different-I-can’t-wait-to-share-this mode and into this-is-normal-life-why-would-I-write-about-this mode. In fact, I’m writing this as I am sitting on my back patio sipping a mocha and nibbling on garlic sea salt bagels. Before you start writing your congressmen and women about the financial crisis and the cushy lives of Peace Corps volunteers, I would like to clarify. I made the bagels myself (with the help of an early-Christmas kitchen present from Aunt Jeanette XO) and the mocha is a concoction of powdered milk, cheap cocoa powder, instant coffee, and sugar. I would be happy to share the recipe for either, but I think that for most of the people reading this a trip down the street to Breuger’s Bagels would be much more convenient ;). However, for those adventurous individuals who want a taste of the Peace Corps (Morgan style) here they are: (just for fun I’m also throwing in a salsa recipe that I winged for a party last night)

Moca Mix (Thank you, Lourdes!)

In an averaged size mug (not one of those Giant Gulps from the gas station that hold enough coffee to surely cause some sort of caffeine poisoning):
3 Tablespoons Powdered Milk (you may have to go to the Piggly Wiggly for this one)
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (the cheaper the better)
1 Tablespoon instant coffee (again, the cheaper the bitter.. I mean better)
2 Tablespoons sugar
Fill mug with hot water to an inch from the top and stir well. Serve with beans and huevos rancheros.

Bagels (Thank you, Travis!)

4.5 Cups Flour
2 Tablespoons Dry Yeast
1.5 Cups Warm Water
4 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Salt
Mix the flour and yeast. In a separate bowl, mix the water, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and salt. Pour this over the flour mixture. Beat together for 3-4 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl. Turn it onto a floured board and knead for 6-8 minutes. Add more flour or water as necessary to form dough. Cut the dough into 12 portions and form into balls. Punch a hole in the center of each one, pulling gently to form a larger hole in the center. Place on a greased baking sheet and let rise for 20 minutes. Boil a pot of water with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Put 4-5 bagels in the water at a time and boil for 7 minutes. DRAIN THE BAGELS WELL. Bake for about 30 min at 350F. To add a topping like cinnamon and sugar, sesame, or sea salt, sprinkle on the bagels before baking. These also work in a Peace Corps oven (known to the rest of the world as a Dutch oven). Feel free to mix your own fun ingredients into the dough as well, and let me know what turns out well! NOTE: For real Peace Corps flavor, cream cheese and butter are allowed nowhere near these bagels.

Pineapple Salsa Dip (This one is my own and estimated in a big way, use at your own risk.)

2 Tablespoons Sunflower Seed Oil (or other oil that has a high burning point)
2 Cloves of Garlic Finely Chopped (4 if it’s the small garlic bought in the markets in Guatemala)
1 Large White Onion Finely Chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper Finely Chopped
2 Jalapeño Peppers Finely Chopped (seeded, unless you’re brave… which I’m not)
1 Small Pineapple Finely Chopped
½ Cup of Sugar
1 Tablespoon Salt
1 Block of Cream Cheese (I know, I know… this throws the bagel rule out the window, but I looked all over and made a special exception for this recipe)
1 Bag of Mucho Nacho Tortilla Chips (Sorry, for all you people in the states, you’ll have to find a knock-off brand. ;))
In a large pan over low heat, cook the garlic, onion, and peppers in the oil until onions are clear and peppers are well cooked. Add the pineapple, salt, and sugar (and chili powder to taste if you want an extra kick). Stir occasionally and cook until most of the water from the pineapple has evaporated. Allow the mixture to cool. Place the block of cream cheese in a serving bowl and pour the pineapple mixture over the top. Serve with tortilla chips or saltine crackers.

So, along with spending lots of time in the kitchen I have also been nestling into my wonderful little house. I finally made a trip to the “lumber yard” and bought a few 8’ boards to make a long block-and-board shelf in my room. This means that my clothes and books are no longer in piles on my floor. Small project, big difference. I’m also figuring out how to make hanging pots out of plastic balls that the kids buy at the stores here for around 3 Quetzales. For less than 50 cents, they don’t last terribly long as balls. I’ll be sure to post pictures when I have some herbs growing. I’m also working on finding some old tires to make some little vegetable gardens. Again, when I have them figured out I will be sure to post pictures.

While I have certainly been settling into my home, I haven’t spent all of my time in my house. The past month I have been working with the Municipality on a campaign to get people to put their inorganic garbage in plastic bottles. Right now we are focusing on 6th grade and kindergarten students. Two weeks ago we held a workshop for 6th grade teachers (between 20 and 30 showed up) and this past Friday we held a workshop for kindergarten teachers (around 50 showed up). At each of the workshops I gave a presentation on non-formal and environmental education and we handed out a manual that I had written (all based on Peace Corps training, I just put it on paper in Spanish). Then, the municipality introduced a competition between the classrooms to see who could collect the most plastic bottles filled with inorganic garbage. The top three classrooms in 6th grade will win 100 lunches from the Municipality for their graduation ceremony. The top three classrooms in Kindergarten will get piñatas from the municipality for children’s’ day. The teachers have to sign up with the Municipality in order to be part of the competition and each of the children in the classroom and the teacher sign and “agreement” with the municipality saying that they take responsibility for their part in taking care of our environment.

After they are signed up, each classroom gets a bin in which to keep their full bottles, t-shirts, baseball caps, stickers, and tri-folds about the environment. So, as a part of that I have also been going around to classrooms to talk to the kids about what we are doing and to help hand out the materials that they get for signing up to be a part of the competition. I have been absolutely amazed at the initiative that the teachers and students (as well as the Municipality) have taken! Almost every classroom we visited already had dozens of bottles filled with inorganic garbage! I put the information down on paper, and threw out a few ideas to get the ball rolling, but SO much of this has come from the Municipality and the community, and I am just tickled pink! To me, small projects that will continue in the community long after I am gone are a much bigger accomplishment than any big thing I might be able to do on my own. I don’t have words to describe how proud I am to be able to share time and experiences with such a wonderful community of people.

For those of you wondering why in the world we are encouraging people to put garbage in bottles (and spending a good chunk of time stuffing garbage in bottles myself), you should take a look at the website We aren’t working directly with this organization, but the website is a wonderful example of just what can be accomplished with trash. Currently, Long Way Home (another US organization) is working on building a school with the bottles we are collecting, and in the near future we hope to be building our tourism office and artisan market from bottles filled with the trash that is currently littering the streets and streams. It’s a big project, and a big problem, but there are numerous benefits. I am hoping to share this technique with individuals in the states when I get back. While it may not be used there to build houses or schools, it could be used for sheds, chicken coups, planters, benches, or whatever you can dream up!

I tell the kids here all the time that they have a lot more power than they know. What they do and model affects what their friends and family do, and what happens here affects the whole world. Conversely, the choices you make in your home affect Guatemala. We’re all in this together, and I am proud to have such excellent company!

Go well, give of yourself, god(ess) bless.

Friday, July 10, 2009

How to Eat a Tortilla

June 25, 2009

For the first time in quite a while, I have a chunk of time where I am able to curl up in bed and write a blog post. This is partially due to hours upon hours of dancing yesterday, getting to bed at two in the morning, food poisoning, and an almost unbearably hot morning turning into a surprisingly cold and very rainy afternoon. To begin at the beginning (of yesterday), the 24th of June is the feria in my site. It’s pretty much like a county fair except that there are lots of religious activities as well. I’m not Guatemalan, and I’m not Catholic, I think it is centered around their patron saint, but don’t take my word for it. What it meant for me was a great opportunity to get to know more about my site and the people in it.

The morning started with a stroll through a market that was even bigger than the market that we usually have (which is impressive), and a look at all the things there were to see. I still haven’t tried the traditional sweets here (which are infamous), but a good friend promised me we are going to sample some this weekend. I am normally not a sweets person, but I can’t wait! After looking around all I could without becoming the odd gringa just wandering the market, I ran into a coworker from the muni who told me that there would be soccer games starting at the soccer field at 9. After a quick stop home to get my sunhat, I walked over to the field only to find that five minutes after the game was supposed to start, there was still almost no one there. People slowly trickled in and the athletics director pointed me in the direction of the tent that was set up for the municipal workers. The women’s team played first, and started at 10. The team has been practicing together for just a few months now and played the national women’s champions from Chimaltenango. They held their own, and they seemed like a great group of women, which is great, because I start practice with them this Sunday. I won’t be able to compete with them because I don’t have cleats and shin guards (you can’t find them in my size in Guatemala), but the practices will give me a great chance to meet other women my age!

After the men’s game, I was beat from the heat and it was time for lunch so I headed back into the center of town to find something to eat. Despite Peace Corps recommendations, I indulged in some Guatemalan fair food. It was yummy, but is probably contributing to my being at home in bed at the moment. After that it was back home to freshen up and rest up for the dance! I don’t think I would have gone, except that I got in free because I work in the muni. Working with the government anywhere can be difficult and daunting at times, but it certainly does have its perks. Like the early bird I am, I was one of the first people there at 8. They had two stages with two bands alternating, so the bands got a break but the people dancing didn’t. Despite my showing up to the dance alone, I think I sat out five songs all evening. Two of them I just about had to beg for. When I finally left with a group of friends at one, I was exhausted. My head hit the pillow at two, but due to aforementioned food poisoning, I didn’t end up sleeping much.

One of the bands that played was a large multi-tasking marimba band (they played a little bit of everything). I already felt obvious and a little awkward being the towering, slightly oddly dressed individual that I was. I really enjoyed watching the bands while dancing, and then a couple of the guys from this band started making faces and waving at me. This may give you an idea of just how conspicuous I was, because this dance was held in an auditorium about the size of a gymnasium with a balcony over the back third. Both levels were packed with people shoulder-to-shoulder, and you could spot me at a glance from almost anywhere thanks to both hair color and height (which high heels didn’t help). I would dance one or two dances with one guy and then excuse myself and walk to a different part of the room. On one of my trips I ran into (almost literally) one of the men from the band on their break. He asked me, in English, what my name was and where I was from. We chatted for a minute since it’s a nice break for me to speak in English, and most of the time people appreciate being able to practice. During their next set the dedicated a song to “Morgan from Minnesota in the United States (but in Spanish).” Since I was the only gringa there, it was pretty obvious who they were talking about, and it felt like everyone turned to look at me (although that probably wasn’t the case). I felt my face turn bright red and had quite a struggle trying not to laugh out loud (out of surprise and nervousness). I was so caught off guard that I missed a couple of steps and caused the man I was dancing with to step on my foot. Oh my.

Needless to say, I slept in very late this morning. I finally took a couple of Pepto and headed out to face the day sometime just before noon because I had a meeting with a student from one of the Universities in the capital. He is majoring in business administration and he is using my site for the subject of his thesis. I have to say I was a little bemused as to why he was looking for information with the one person in my site who probably knows the least about it. Oh well, I was able to give him a little bit of information on the projects that I am working on personally. On my way to meeting with him, I ran into the alcalde who invited me to a lunch to celebrate teachers’ day. I couldn’t turn that down.

I felt a little odd taking advantage of the free lunch since I am not a teacher, and I didn’t want to crash their party. However, with being sick, I really didn’t have the energy to make my own lunch today, and I can’t seem to stop losing weight (not that I am complaining or deprived by any means). I have never been so deeply grateful for a well-balanced meal. In the course of my life I have been thankful for food, or felt guilty about it, when I saw the Christian Children’s ads on TV or when we were having something I was particularly fond of for dinner. However, it was a more of a “Good bread, good meat, good God let’s eat” type of thankfulness, and life and dinner continued without much more thought. Today, it didn’t matter so much what the food was in front of me. It was simple, it was clean, and it was balanced and healthy for my body that is not feeling so healthy today. It was humbling.

My relationship with food is all together different here. There is no stocked pantry to go to when I feel like a snack, and snack foods are mostly imported and expensive. Foods are bought raw in the market when and as they are needed, and I am much closer to the life and death of my food. Meat doesn’t come in Styrofoam and plastic. The cows are walked down the street in front of my house when they are moved from grazing area to grazing area, and the meat I buy is hanging on hooks and cut in front of me. I know what raw meat smells like now, and the vegetarian in me doesn’t like it. But, it also occurs to me that we, as humans, are omnivorous and this how the cycle of life functions. The cows here are grass fed and raised in small herds by farmers who sell them to local butchers. This is the kind of contact and relationship that some of our grandparents had with their food, and these generations are missing that opportunity. We are the only carnivores on the planet that do not see our food die, and the only herbivores on the planet that do not smell the dirt in which our food grows.

I am sure that between Barbra Kingsolver and In Defense of Food someone has already written volumes about what I am thinking, but I firmly believe that it is something we should take a closer look at. I know that a few of my vegetarian and urban friends will have an “ew gross” reaction to part of it (as do I occasionally). I also think that contact with, knowledge of, and participation in where our food comes from is a good dose of humanity and humility, and we could all use a little of that.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Just let it be found.

As some of you have seen in my album, I found a new house. I thoroughly enjoy where I am living now, but with all of the differences and challenges that I encounter as a part of my work, I find myself wanting sufficient space to dig in and reflect at the end of the day. I was very fortunate to find the place that I did; it is a space with amazing light and peace. I can also have a dog there, which is a big bonus since Lexi (a rescue dog I found at Animal Aware) has already snuggled her way into my heart. I have been moving a few things in here and there since it is available and I hate moving everything all at once. I was there last night waiting for a delivery and I had to call Jeanette because it took my breath away. There is a large garden in the back with avocado trees, peach trees, rose bushes and day lilies. I had never been there at night and I was enchanted to find that the whole garden was twinkling with lightning bugs!

Along the lines of healing, I have been able to download podcasts to an SD card on my computer, and Speaking of Faith has been a great companion in the evenings cooking dinner and watching the sun go down. I was listening to an episode recently that was entitled "The Novelist as God." The woman being interviewed said, at one point, that maybe we should all own up to being agnostics since none of us can claim to know the infinite nature of god. How true I am finding this to be.

At the moment, I am sitting in a coffee shop called Rainbow Café in Antigua and enjoying the free cup of coffee that came with my purchase of a copy of the Popol Vuh. The Popol Vuh could be described as the Mayan Bible, if you could squeeze the Mayan religion into Western terms. Despite the fact that a vast majority of people in my site are Catholic, over ninety percent of them are indigenous and carry the influence of the Mayan language and traditions. Nearly everyone I have met there (with the exception of the non-indigenous individuals or Ladinos) are bilingual and speak both Spanish and Kaqchiquel, the regional Mayan language. Kaqchiquel is proving to be very difficult for me, but I am fascinated by the Popol Vuh, and I hope to find some insight there into myself and the culture I am living in. Very near the beginning of the Popol Vuh the Grandmother and Grandfather, as they are called, say as they set out the days:

Just let it be found, just let it be discovered,
say it, our ear is listening,
may you talk, may you speak,
just find the wood for the carving and sculpting
by the builder, sculptor.
Is this to be the provider, the nurturer
when it comes to the planting, the dawning?
You corn kernels, you coral seeds,
you days, you lots:
may you succeed, may you be accurate.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Your Garbage Can Kill You, and Other Exciting News

Phew, my meeting meter is ramping up. On Saturday, as usual, I had my INTECAP class in the capital. Sunday I went to check out one of the only animal rescues in Guatemala. Monday I headed back to the capital for a meeting with INGUAT, and today I had a presentation on solid waste management. I am certainly glad that I have my laptop here! It has made it so much easier to continue getting work done (not to mention keeping up with all of you lovely people) while running around to all of these different events.

Normally my class on Saturday is a time for me to learn and to hang out with people who have very quickly become my friends. We seem to understand each other well most of the time. However, this past Saturday had a bit of a communication glitch. We were talking about the goals of INTECAP. They train people not just to make better cakes or to take better care of their cars; they train people to start businesses in the field in which INTECAP has trained them. Some of my classmates raised issues of government support, recommending that the government give people the building and materials to start their own business since many of them do not have to resources to do so on their own. I suggested, though apparently not terribly clearly, that as facilitators and teachers one of the amazing opportunities that we have is to tell people about the power that they have to make things happen. This is not going to solve the world's problems, and it is nowhere near as easy to do as it is to say. However, in the few teaching experiences I have had here I have noticed that in many cases no one has ever told these students that they have a power to change things. They may only have the power currently to change very small things, but I saw light bulbs go off when I told a group of 14-year-olds that they have power with their friends. They can set a good example by not littering, and by asking their friends not to littler. This is not a giant step, but it had never even occurred to some of them that they could have an influence with other people. This power to choose and create with our own two hands is one of the few things that is uniquely ours and cannot be taken away from us. When we as teachers, facilitators, or people with some level of authority do something for someone instead of guiding them through the processes, or when we give someone something instead of helping them acquire it for themselves, we rob them of that power. When we ask that something be given to us or done for us, we willingly hand over that power to someone else. Unfortunately, I think it came across as an opposition to assistance, and one of the other students responded (summarized) that I was an American with lots of opportunities and couldn't understand.

That was probably one of the most difficult moments I have had so far in my Peace Corps service, partially because the stereotype of "spoiled American" is something I have been working so hard to combat. That, and the idea of handouts or pity. There seems to be both an expectation and a resentment of the organizations that come, build or donate, and then leave. However, as with anything, it all depends on the person to whom you are speaking. Again, it all comes down to enabling people and working together. As I discover my own beliefs about development work, and the feelings of others about the work being done here, I am more and more proud to be serving the Peace Corps.

Sunday was an amazing, happy day. Chase and I went with Jimmy and Ingrid to Animal Aware, one of the only animal rescues in Guatemala. Jimmy and Ingrid are looking for a dog, and I have been considering one. I went along with them to learn more about the rescue and thinking that I might come back another time to look seriously at getting a dog. However, as fate would have it, I fell in love with a little girl that is between 3-6 months old. She is a complete mutt, but looks a little lab. She is a spitfire! When she first came in, she had such a terrible skin condition that the workers gave her the name Scratchy. As charming as that is she will be getting the name Lexi when I go to pick her up on Sunday. She will be staying in Antigua for a month with Chase until I move into my new (very own) house. It has a very big yard where she will have lots and lots of room to run around! I am very excited about the house as it is absolutely beautiful. The only catch is that it has absolutely nothing in it, so I am starting from square one buying furniture. First things on the list are a bed and a stove. From there I will be digging through lots of Pacas looking for various things to organize the place. Thank goodness we have such a huge market here where I can buy plates and pans much cheaper than buying them in the store. Still, it feels like about the time I am settled it will be time to move out again. Fortunately, there is no one there right now and I have access to the key, so I am free to come and go to get the house ready in the month before I move in.

Yesterday I headed back to the capital for a meeting with at INGUAT, the national tourism organization. Since my counterpart here is one of the heads of the Mesa de Turismo Comunitario de Guatemala (Table of Community Tourism), I am acting as the Peace Corps representatives to the Mesa. It is an interesting experience since there are people from all different projects, areas, and backgrounds working in this group.

Today I gave a presentation to the COMUDE, which is a group with representatives from all the important community groups for the municipality, on solid waste management. I was really nervous before I started, but once I started I felt very comfortable. One of the trainers at the Peace Corps was kind enough to take time to go through the presentation with me last week. He gave me lots of information to use and interpreted the presentation for me to make sure that I understood everything (since I was not the one who originally put it together, though I did clean it up a bit). There were one or two people here and there that might have been sleeping a little bit (there were many people presenting at this meeting), but I think that overall I had a good impact. After that presentation, the process is out of my hands, but at least they have the information and hopefully a bit of motivation. With no waste management to speak of tourism is going to be a tough project to bring to fruition. I think it helped that the top two leading causes of death (on a national level) in Guatemala are respiratory illness and diarrhea. A lack of proper waste management (mainly the burning of garbage and the use of riverbeds as landfills) directly contributes to both causes of death.

This evening, just before writing this, I went to look at my new house for the first time. My camera battery had died, so I don't have any pictures YET. However, like I said, I do have access to the key, so I will be going back to take pictures soon. You can also bet that there will be lots and lots of pictures of Lexi up next week!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Well, Microsoft isn’t quite so evil…

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I discovered, quite accidentally, that in Microsoft Word 2007 when you create a new document you can choose between a document and a blog post. With the blog posts, I can connect word to my blog site and automatically publish them when I connect to the internet. This is just one less barrier between my adoring public and me, or between the few people who read my blog and the obnoxiousness that is constant blog posting. ;) The only issue with this is that my blog cannot tell the difference between when I am writing my blog and when I am posting my blog, so I will try to remember to put a date in here somewhere or other to keep everyone on some semblance of a timeline. I have to say that when I am not fighting it tooth and nail, I love technology.

The other big news in my little world is that I have started taking classes with INTECAP in Guatemala City. INTECAP is a national organization that is a little bit like a technical school in that they offer courses in various tracks like pastry chef, mechanic, and hotel receptionist. It is a much-needed service here, and I personally think that they are doing a wonderful job. It seems to have a great impact. In addition to these tracks, they also do continued education for professionals in things like management. They also do training of trainers, and send individuals out into rural areas to teach classes like basic computation to groups of 15-20 students who are willing and able to pay the several hundred quetzals class fee. The class I am taking is a certification of trainers, and the process that they use to certify teachers in this class was ISO9001 certified in 2002 and recertified in 2006. I am not going to go into ISO certification here, but I recommend that those of you who don't know what it is look it up on Google because it is a pretty awesome detail of my class. I am taking the class to certify myself as a trainer with INTECAP so that the English classes that I will be teaching for the guides will count towards their hours of class to keep their guide certification with INTECAP. This is all ending up sounding rather diluted and complicated, so you may just have to take my word for it that this is a neat opportunity for the guides to whom I will be teaching English and me.

So, aside from all the wonderful benefits of being certified, the classes themselves are amazing! The classroom has huge windows and it is in the capitol where I feel like if I just kept walking South I could end up in Uptown. The instructors are all careful to ask me if they are talking too fast or if I need any help (since I am the only non-Guatemalan in the class), but they have asked me during a break and not in front of the whole class. My classmates are people from all different professions. In the class, there are; a veterinarian who works with dairy cattle, a teacher, a mechanic, a man who teaches English for INTECAP, someone from corporate Dominoes, and a woman who works for a chain of water parks. Saturdays feel like life in the states. I have made many friends in class, and I hope to keep in touch with them throughout my service. I chat with them as I would chat with many of my friends in the states. We go to McDonalds for lunch or bring our own, and we sit on the benches at the end of the hallway near the windows and look out at the city.

I have dedicated this morning to homework, keeping in touch, and relaxing after nine hours of class yesterday. Since I had to be out of my hostel at 10:00 I went to the market and then over to a friend's house where I used my newly purchased pancake mix to make strawberry crêpes. This can be done by following the recipe on your favorite box of pancake mix (NOT the add water only kind) but adding twice the eggs called for. Then, put the mix in the blender with a cup(ish) or two of chopped strawberries (or other soft fruit) and blend as desired. Put butter in a hot pan and spread evenly, then add a dollop of the modified pancake mix to the middle of the pan and swirl the pan until the mix forms a thin layer over the entire bottom of the pan. Bubbles will form on the top. When they have popped and the top of the pancake/crêpe is spongy, it is ready to turn over. You only need to cook it briefly on the second side. The whole process is much easier on low heat. I like to put the rest of my batter in a Tupperware in the refrigerator so I can make one quickly in the morning. Now there is just the matter of the toaster oven I would like to get my hands on and I may actually be on my way to some semblance of cooking. I will have to be careful or I may recoup the 30 pounds I have lost since getting here.

Well, adventure calls. We are heading out on a quick hike to work of the wonderful breakfast that we ate. Then we may be heading back to the market to buy some of the beautiful avocadoes they have there. Guacamole is on the menu for a light lunch. In my album of My Life as a PCV, I have pictures posted of my most recent hilarious attempts at cooking. If you have yummy, easy, and cheap toaster oven recipes they would certainly make the purchase of a toaster oven well worth my while.

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…

Thursday, May 21, 2009

While I haven't seen huge changes in Guatemala in the four-and-a-half months that I have been here, I have noticed big changes in myself. I could have told you when I was packing my bags that I wasn't going to save the world by joining the Peace Corps, I just hoped to make a small difference in people. What I couldn't have told you is that it really has nothing to do with me. I am still happy to be here, and I feel productive and I can see that I have an impact in the friendships I am forming here and the information that people seek. I am not discouraged or disappointed. My goals haven't changed, much. How I want to reach my goals has changed, and I realize that I have too. When I got here, I was focused on my list of things to accomplish, on things I could say "I" have done. Being me, I will always be conscious of results, but now it seems to me to be a much bigger accomplishment to have someone ask me for information so they can accomplish something. I guess that is what is at the heart of the Peace Corps.

Many people have expressed their admiration for what I am doing, or mentioned that they are living vicariously through me. I am proud to have such wonderful people who are proud of me, but there is so much that needs to be done that that one person can't possibly even find the beginning alone. One of the most apparent causes of many problems here, and in many countries, is a lack of family planning. Fortunately, there are other organizations doing wonderful work in this field. Alas, or Wings in English, is a group that works in education and funding for family planning in Guatemala.

Another problem that I come literally face to face with many times a day here is the number of "wild" dogs, and the general treatment of animals. This is a very difficult problem for me since I know that there is no way to address the treatment of farm animals especially, with a community that is struggling to feed their children. When people are unable to provide for their families (family planning comes in here again) the humane treatment of animals and conserving natural resources is a luxury. However, I do believe that education in this area would go a very, very long way, and rescue shelters and adoptions agencies are too far and few between. I am very lucky to live within bussing distance of a no-kill shelter, and one of the only shelters I have found in Guatemala. They also work to educate children about the humane treatment of animals, and have a spay-and-neuter clinic.

I have posted a general notice on my blog that the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. I would hope that the websites I have posted here are not controversial, since they are working tirelessly to promote education and opportunity. However, it is worth saying yet again that these views are mine and mine alone. Working for the Peace Corps has given me a chance to travel and live outside of the United States, and it has given me the opportunity to obtain a unique view of the world that is uniquely my own. Please take the time to visit these websites and see some of the wonderful work that is being done here, and what wonderful work still remains to be done.

God(dess) bless, Go well, Give of yourself

Sunday, May 17, 2009

April 28th – Still Catching Up!

So, despite the continuing frustration of being unable to get my computer to connect to the internet (although I now think is a problem with the internet and not my computer), the last several days have been very rewarding. On Friday we had our first big rain of the season, complete with hail. It decided to start while I was visiting the new Despensa Familiar (a WalMart owned grocery store chain). Before you hit me or congratulate me on my visit (depending on your individual view on WalMart) I would like to be very clear that I will not be going back. I only went to see if I could find peanut butter or instant hot chocolate which are the two things I miss most that cannot be found in the local market alongside pineapples and carrots. They had neither. WalMart is back to being completely useless and a giant eyesore. However, I did get to try out the awesome lime green lace-up rain boots that I bought at the market in Antigua. They make all the rain completely worth it.

Friday night I had a candle-light meeting with our tourism committee (CAT which is made up of representatives of many different tourism and artisan organizations that we have here). Not many people showed up, but we were productive none-the-less, and I feel like I have some really concrete steps I can take to keep moving forward. I was also told, by the president of the committee, to take a weekend vacation outside of my site to have a breather, which makes me feel like my work and need for downtime is recognized. It won't happen for several weeks, and it will be filled with errands and work, but I do have a weekend away on the books.

Saturday I honestly have no idea what I did, but on Sunday morning I got up early to go out and observe a school that we have here that is held only on Sundays. The woman with whom I share an office (who has been a godsend in navigating the municipality) is a volunteer math teacher there. It is really amazing; different members of the community volunteer their time on Sundays from 8-12 to teach subjects like natural sciences, math, typing, and Spanish in an old building on the edge of town. She invited me knowing that I was working on environmental education. Before Sunday morning I really had no idea what they did there and I was just planning on observing to see what type of education the community was already offering. Instead, I ended up teaching an hour-long natural science class to 25 14-year-olds. Not to pat myself on the back, but I think it was really empowering for everyone involved. We did an interactive activity that illustrated the interconnectedness of everything in our environment. They are not at all used to interactive activities since nearly all the classes here are lectures, so they were taken aback at first and very shy. However, by the end of the class several of the students were asking me about global warming and what the environment is like in the United States. We also talked about the power that they have in their homes and with their friends. I can only hope that some wheels may start turning about the little changes that they can make that can have a BIG impact here.

Sunday afternoon Chase came to visit me, and since we didn't have a whole lot of time we just wandered around the city and chatted. However, we did find a restaurant that has really good burgers and even better French fries (they were almost like fries in the states). Also, he brought me another blanket which will be much needed now that the rainy season has started and it is a little chillier at night. I have certainly slept better the last couple of nights.

Yesterday I went to work for just a few hours in the morning, and spent the rest of the day sleeping. Thank goodness I haven't gotten seriously sick yet (no giardia), but there have been a few days here and there where I have no energy and just feel generally shaky and blah. So far I have just let myself sleep when I feel like that, and maybe that is the reason I haven't gotten anything worse. Haha! I have such good little white blood cells.

Today was back to action. I got into the office really early and got some writing done on my manual for the teachers on non-formal and environmental education. Then, for the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon, I went to a meeting of all of the groups of the municipality. We had presentations on electrical and water development projects, reforestation projects, HIV and AIDS education projects, presentations from the municipal firefighters and many, many others. The alcalde (mayor) also presented me to the whole group. However, sitting with me through the whole meeting (in my lap) was a little baby bird that just about literally fell into my lap while I was waiting for the meeting to start.

Baby, as of yet, does not have a name. I looked and looked for a nest, but all of them were far too high up in the ceiling to reach, and leaving him/her was out of the question with all of the big feet and wild dogs running around. I think it is some sort of sparrow or chickadee, but I am not quite sure. I have sent pictures out to several people to help me identify the species so we can find out what baby's favorite foods are. So far I have been using a syringe to feed a watery corn mixture, and it has eaten a few fruit flies that I so skillfully managed to catch. At the moment, baby is curled up with its head under its wing in a towel between two old pop bottles filled with hot water inside a box next to my bed. Poor little thing has had a really big day and is downright exhausted. I didn't really plan on having a pet here, but I guess one has found me. Anyone have suggestions for names?

Well, it is about time for me to put my head under my wing as well. Tomorrow is lots more work and more meetings. One of the other volunteers has a workshop here in my site tomorrow and Thursday so I will have company here tomorrow night. It is pretty exciting having another volunteer here to get to know and it will be nice to have someone to visit with since the woman who owns the house I am living in is in Norway for three weeks. Her brother and the house keeper are here sporadically, but we don't visit quite so much. Okay, my battery is almost gone and the power just went out so it is time to sign off for now. Vaya bien!