Friday, April 29, 2011

Palomas de Paz Entre Batallas de Chinas

The entire week prior to Easter is really big here as I am sure it is in all of Latin America. There are huge markets, processions, festivals, crucifixions, alformbras (carpets made out of flowers and colorful sawdust placed into beautiful designs made for the processions to march on), people in gorgeous traje/traditional clothing, tourists from all over and well you get the idea. Up until the Friday of Semana Santa I had been working in the park, basically doing manual labor which I have become accustomed to, but luckily Thursday two of my buddies came down from their sites to visit. Brandon from the department of San Marcos and Ben from Quetzaltenango came down to the lake to hang out and watch the Toronjeada which is a tradition in my town. I’m not sure how the Toronjeada was started but it basically consists of two teams (young males), that stand in the middle of the plaza in town, have bags filled with oranges, and two large mounds of oranges on each side….and basically throw big ass oranges at each other for an hour and a half. I asked my host family why they do this and the response I got was something along the lines of: to inflict pain/suffering on other people similar to the way Christ had suffered. The three of us were not formally invited to this event but sometime late Thursday night we just decided that we would show up and participate. Yes, we decided this over some casual drinks and we were all talking about how the battle would go down, it would be like the movie Patton with Willem Dafoe at the end in super slow motion and dramatic, arms up in the air taking multiple bullets to the back and CLEARLY he should’ve been dead by that point but still holding on for dear life. Ha. We imagined diving to take an orange in the chest to save one of your buddies and after crawling on the ground trying to get to safety or reaching/crying out for help to have someone drag you off the field. That night we made a pact to do it. Friday after noon came, and the day couldn’t have seemed gloomier than it was. The entire week had been foggy, cold and wet so this day was no different. We start our walk to the plaza in town around 3 o’clock; we were all really nervous and were questioning our decision to go. We stayed strong. The majority of town came to see the battle and was lining the entire square 3 or 4 deep, but they were far enough away to avoid any ballistic oranges to the face. The market which stands 2 stories or so tall was covered with many black tarps to avoid damaging the people/stores that are located inside, through the spaces in the tarps you could see little round Chapin faces eager to see the fight.  So here we go walking into the arena, all eyes are on us, we are surrounded by my townspeople, and it’s cloudy as hell and dead silent. We walk in the municipal building in town and find in a little room the mayor, all my coworkers in the muni, a bunch of elderly men in traje who just looked like some wise council, the news channel (Guatevision),twenty or so young/angry looking Guatemalans some of which already had fucked up faces or black eyes coming into it and us three. The mayor was talking about the rules and how important this tradition was for the community he then continued to pour mixed drinks for the warriors of the fight. The drinks tasted like rubbing alcohol with a splash of 7-up. After the speech, we were all drinking and smiling but you could tell some of the guys couldn’t wait to fuck us up. Guatevision interviewed us, then we drank our drinks and made our ammunition bags, strapped them over our shoulders, filled them with oranges and headed out to the battle field. We walk on and choose our team, and slowly but surely oranges start to take to the air…delicately at first but then lasers aimed at the face. As soon as we started, it started to downpour…the conditions were perfect. IT WAS A FIREFIGHT!! (Guess the movie).The fight lasted an hour and a half, we all took our fair share of hits but we were able to land a few against the other team. Brandon was a crowd favorite and got them hootin’ and hollerin’ a few times with his dance moves and his 1 on 1 battle with a crazy Chapin. Fearless. Ben too, sin miedo and went head to head with Jerrett the volunteer of 2 years and blasted a veteran orange thrower in the face that made him think twice about participating next year. I can’t throw, but I was fortunate to land a few…but I did however get blasted in the back (see fb pic) and made it out with 3 less significant bruises. In the mist of it all the muni was giving shout outs to us. The fight ended and we were soaked and sore but we all had huge grins on our faces. Vale la Pena. The two teams joined in the middle and we gave props to one another, there were no grudges held. We went inside to have another drink, (a guy fell and hit his head/unconscious and bleeding he was simply moved out of the way) and to shake hands with all the superiors and tell them we’d be back the following year. Exhausted we returned to my house and the walk there was awesome too, we felt like celebrities and as if people were “ooooing” and “aaaahing” it just seemed like they had mad respect. Haha. So, yeah that was the Toronjeada.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What does it mean to be a Volunteer?

So forgive me, this is a kind of intense blog…just something I needed to get off my chest.

Take a minute and ask yourself what you think the typical Peace Corps volunteer is like. Do you imagine a well rounded person, who works hard, is respectable, has high values, and possibly a tree hugging hippy who is trying to save the fucking world? Something like that, right? However you may think of them I’m sure we would agree and just say that they are good people. There are definitely those types of people in PC but sadly there are those that make me wonder, what the hell are you doing here? For instance, in our training group the week before swearing in a trainee was kicked out for writing an EXTREMELY offensive blog. I won’t even mention what he wrote about, but if you read it you would be like who is this jackass?? I remember some of his cohorts feeling bad for him and saying he would have been a good volunteer…WTF you want that douche working with kids?!! I don’t know which is worse; people doing stupid things or those that feel sorry for the people that do stupid things. Whatever, his ass got what he deserved.

Now just into our third week of being actual volunteers, every weekend I have heard stories of others getting together and just acting like fools. Maybe it’s just the excitement of finally having some of our freedom back, or just needing to not give a damn for a while, I get it. I have witnessed it in person, I have heard it through the grape-vine how they behave, and it’s just really disappointing. You would think that it was college part deaux, or just anything other than the PC. There are those who seem not to be able to let go of there American lives and every weekend is just an excuse to over do it. Maybe it will calm down but I doubt it, since the veteran volunteers seem worse than the noobs.

Yeah, I realize that Guatemala is an intense country with problems on its own and it could be incredibly stressful living here. Some volunteers definitely have it worse than others (no water, electricity, latrines…etc) but we are only here for 2 years. Two years. A short amount of time. It’s funny to see volunteers paying hundreds of dollars to bring extra food into the country like Guatemala doesn’t have ANY or receiving multiple packages from home weekly with NECESSITIES that they just absolutely cannot live without (purses, shoes,…bullshit stuff). Not to mention the volunteers who have better living situations have nicer places now than they probably would have in the states and of course decked out with modern shit You wouldn’t even believe that they live in a third world country. It must be a rough life. TWO YEARS. Think about all the shit the people in this country have to deal with DAILY and you are still living better then most of them, you can’t struggle? Not even for a little while? We came here to be self-less and try and do some fucking good here. So do it.

Bottom line is…yeah it’s hard but at least we all get to return to our “normal lives” in the states, and be successful or travel or whatever the hell you do when you are done. But if you join the Peace Corps to live out more of your forgotten college years or just live life like you would have in the states…what the fuck is the point? GO HOME.

I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but I just think people should be better down here and not do stupid shit. But in someway seeing and hearing these stories could really help someone realize what not to fall into or realize that they want a better PC experience for themselves. Now I know what I want for my time here, I know how I want to walk away from this experience. That’s all I got to say about that. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Swearing In

Ok, I suck at blogging…SORRY!! But anyway from here on out I should be a better blogger I promise. So I’m finally sitting here in Sta. Clara la Laguna in my new pink home with my new family (for the next 3 months) all my shit is “unpacked” and sitting around my pink room in a neat manner. Training is over and I am an official Peace Corps Volunteer. The stress from PST and being under the all seeing eye of PC is finally some what over…to a point.

The past few weeks have been building up to our “anti-climactic swearing in ceremony”-unknown PC volunteer, but nevertheless we made it. Our ceremony coincided with the 50th anniversary of the PC so we celebrated in the Capital at the Ambassadors sweet house.  It only lasted a few hours and didn’t seem to be centered on the new volunteers but rather just giving shout outs to the volunteers who are about to leave the country…whatever. I think it’s safe to say all of us noobs were just ready to let loose and celebrate in Antigua. That evening began to unravel as usual with casual drinking and some good food, but as expected there were those who over did it before the night ended. The blow out weekend for me was a dud and just left me tired and ready to leave to my new home.

We did however end up on the front page of the Prensa Libre (newspaper in Guate) with super awkward photos of us all…and I mean super awkward…my face looks like I should be laying in a coffin…it’s painful to look at…but don’t worry Mom I saved you a copy.

Sunday morning came and people from eco started to trickle outward to their own sites throughout the country. This day sucked, the frustrations from the 2 days prior were stuck in my head, my friends from the past 3 months were leaving, and I had received an email from home that made me miss being around my favorite people in CO. The email told how all the crew went out for Stews 24th birfday, and I just wished I could have been there to celebrate…I definitely teared up and did that thing I do when I try and hold emotions back. After reading this, I had to board the microbus and head out.

And now it’s Monday at 5:45 and I’m sitting here relaxing in my room, studying Spanish, playing guitar, writing this damn blog, getting bomb food from Doña Alida who hooked it up this morning with CHOCOLATE PANCAKES!! Things finally seems calm and control of my life is slowly returning…but I still feel emotional, like a wall of tears is filling up a well but just as it’s about to over flow the well gets just a little bigger. I’m missing everyone back home.

That basically brings me up to date, these next few days will probably include traveling around the lake exploring my new surroundings…

FBT and Sites

Field Based Training in a Nutshell

Our FBT pretty much consisted of us traveling through the country side and getting our hands dirty. We sat through many presentations daily, but did some cool things in the process such as: make trails/signs, go zip-lining, go on cultural tours, make camp fires, play hacky sack, visiting the lake and getting stranded in the tropical part of the country due to strikes. In reality we did much more but these are just the highlights for me. 

Mi Hogar

So we finally received our site assignments!! This is one of the most important days for a volunteer since it is the day you find out where you will be living the remainder of your 2 years and what type of work/projects you could potentially be doing. The day could not have come any sooner and the feeling of finding out our homes was incredible. We were all placed in the western highlands in the departments of: Huehuetenango (way the fuck out there), San Marcos, Quiché, Quetzaltenango, Totonicapán and my beautiful Sololá. Each department offers something unique so there is always something to look forward to wherever you end up. After getting to know each person in the ecogroup it kind of sucks to get so close to everyone only to be split up after our swearing in. But I am sure we will all being doing great things in our sites. Which brings me back to my site, the beautiful Santa Clara La Laguna in Sololá which we had visited during our FBT, the aldea (small town) itself is located 20 minutes from one of the “most beautiful” lakes in the world. Lago Atitlán is a world renowned place to visit and is either the first or second most visited site in Guatemala I can’t remember. The actual town I have not visited but Tuesday the 15th I will be going to my site for a few days to check it out and get to know the place. Sta. Clara has a population of about 9,500 people with the majority speaking Quiché but Spanish is also common. My main project will be working in the Parque Chuirraxamoló (it sounds something like this Chewy-raw-shaw-malow, hopefully that helps) training employees, providing environmental education to local schools, municipal trash management, and helping out with the municipal tree nursery. The Chui Park itself consists of 2 zip-lines, rappel, interpretive trails, great hiking trails, hell maybe even some horses and the potential for mountain biking. Sounds too good to be true right? Well it is. This place needs a lot of work with infrastructure, maintenance, employees and well the list could go on and on but I’ll save the obstacles to write about as I take them on. Currently, the site has another volunteer by the name of Jarrett who has had a rough time working in the park during his past 2 years there and has pretty much moved on to other secondary projects such as municipal trash management. Other things that could potentially be shitty:Lago Atitlán is undeniably stunning from a far, but when you are at the shores you a lot of trash. The lake is treated like a dump basically, trash coming in from above from those who just toss it wherever they want, and raw sewage being pumped into it from beneath from the 10 or so communities that surround it (including mine). Also the Lake attracts many dirty hippies which hang around places like Panajachel. Nevertheless there is no other place I would rather be and I can’t wait to start this journey.


Since arriving in country, as Peace Corps Volunteers we have to take Malaria pills once a week to...well....prevent malaria...damn. VIVID dreams are a side affect and basically my dreams have started to get pretty damn vivid, I mean they were vivid in the beginning and kind of cool but now they are starting to freak me out a bit. The other morning somewhere in between being awake and sleeping I woke up holding my breath and went back and forth between these states of being breathing erratically and couldn’t really snap out of it (I don’t even really know if I am explaining it well). I must be losing my mind.


Duma the cat recently gave birth to 3 sweet kittens, I don’t know what I bothered mentioning it her but I guess since I had never really seen a kitten 1 day after being born I thought it was pretty cool.

The next time I write I should be getting back from a few days spent in my future home of Sta. Clara and getting ready to swear in as a volunteer. The 25th of March is when we will officially become Peace Corps Volunteers. Luckily for our group the swearing in ceremony will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and well that just makes it a more epic and bittersweet moment, if you want to get in touch I recommend the day before or the day after. Missing everyone back in the States.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Random stuff

Hmm, so this time I’m just going to jot down some observations/things I’ve been up to since I last left off. It may seem like I’m rambling about random things but I just don’t feel like being very creative and adding fluff.

Here there is a joke that goes something like: “how many Guatemaltecos can you fit inside a camioneta?” The response: always three more. Probably not very funny for those that have never been packed like sardines on a bus but you can kind of get the idea. Take your average bus give it a sweet paint job, add a tacky grill and either a flat screen inside that doesn’t function or stereo that plays Tina Turner and you got yourself a Camioneta.Where seats not quite comfortably sit 2 there are 3, where people aren’t usually supposed to stand they are standing and when you think another human body couldn’t possibly fit on the fucking bus at least 5 people get on. The ayudantes (guys who collect the fare) some how move through with ease and by ease I mean climbing over the backs of other people while I constantly struggle to get out from the middle of the bus window seat. You know those few seats on the bus with less leg space from the rear tires? Some how I usually get stuck there…and getting out is emotionally draining because I constantly have to decide whether I want to give the persons next to me the crotch or the ass when I try and move by. This is especially enjoyable when I can catch a glimpse of another volunteer’s eye and we laugh and shake our heads like what the hell is going on. I can’t decide if the buses here are brilliant or insane, they will literally scrape by one another on the narrow streets…If I wanted to I could poke somebody in eye on the other bus or ask them for a piece of gum. They will fly around corners and you will feel like you are pulling 3 g’s. Holding on is absolutely necessary, but if you are lucky it is packed as shit and the abundance of bodies helps keep you in place. The one time I was by the chofer (driver), door wide open I decided to check the speed just for shits and giggles…it was non functional I would have guessed 60mph though, haha. It wasn’t really surprising at that point but that’s about all I got to say about that.

I have had 1 hot shower since I have been living in Guatemala. This wasn’t your ordinary hot shower since I had to make a fire, boil water, drag it to the shower area and use a bucket to wash myself. Needless to say it was awesome, but I am far too lazy to do this daily so now I am getting more accustomed to taking cold showers. Have you ever gotten stuck in the shower where the water went cold…horrible right? I am proud to say that this is something I have been getting used to and today for the first time I stood under a stream of cold water and could tolerate it which is awesome since before I had been putting one limb at a time to minimize those weird body spasms due to cold water. I’m definitely taking this as a small victory.

Cold Play
My host brother Fernando has been trying to learn to play “Yellow” by Coldplay on guitar and that has been pretty cool. Never played a guitar in his life and he is determined to play for his classmates for a little talent show. He is making progress everyday and is really into it…unfortunately I’ll be at my field based training while the show will be going on. It is nice to hear Yellow about 20 times every night.

I weigh about 149 pounds now; I came to Guatemala at 160. It’s kind of sad since it’s close to what I weighed in high school, but I eat plenty everyday but sometimes the food is not as enjoyable as I would like. I think the weight loss is due to being more active, the Sta. Catarina and San Antonio groups have started playing soccer weekly which is a lot of fun. This past Sunday we played 3 on 3 against some local guys and got our asses handed to us…but it was a lot of fun especially since we had some sweet goals ourselves. I look forward to getting better and playing as much as possible.

This part could go on and on, but I’m just going to paraphrase and say training is frustrating, we are treated like children, the people we are supposed to be working with don’t take things seriously, language training is tough and there is always increasing pressure to be like other impressive volunteers. Sometimes I feel like what the hell am I doing here or this isn’t what I thought Peace Corps would be like. In moments like these it’s nice to be surrounded by so many other awesome volunteers who really get me through these frustrating times, they also help me see the beautiful everyday things that are here in country which reinforce my reasons for being here. 

I really have never hated on a religion but goddamn, the Evangelical church down my street is driving me fucking insane. The music is deafening, the instruments have never been tuned, people are chanting and this is followed by 30 minutes of sobbing. I just don’t understand it.

Field Based Training
Tomorrow I will be heading off the map for a week of training around the country with my buddies in the tourism group. This is going to be awesome since we get to road trip to 3 different places, see some beautiful scenery, do some incredible work and go zip lining! I’m super stoked and should have an interesting blog to write when I get back in addition to some awesome pictures. I’ll have my phone so if anyone needs to get a hold of me, feel free to call me in the evenings.

So i couldn´t put this blog up before i left for training...oops. But i´m back and should be posting another blog shortly! Adios

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Guatemala and Santa Catarina Barahona

So here it is blog number 2!! I have only been living in Guatemala for 6 days and already so much has happened. I arrived in D.C. Wednesday afternoon and met up with a few other volunteers.  We made it to our posh hotel literally 3 or so blocks from the White House and found ourselves in the company of more volunteers. D.C was great since I was able to meet a lot of cool people and go sight seeing…the Monument, Congress and the White House (which I thought was a lot bigger).

Now fast forward to getting off the plane, I’m walking through the terminal kind of freaking out and overwhelmed with emotions. I felt as though there were a camera focusing on me and as if I were walking in slow motion with some badass music playing in the background. Truly a nostalgic and beautiful feeling. Soon after landing we were taken to the Peace Corps office located in Santa Lucía Milpas Altas and after a quick meeting we were then taken to our host families where we would be spending the next 3 days. I was placed near a few other volunteers and my host family was very nice and took good care of me.

On our third day we were split into groups and sent off to our training sites for the next 11 weeks. Graciela, Julianna, Adán, Anna y Yo (ahora Justiniano) were sent to live in Santa Catarina Barahona which is a warm and beautiful place. We are located between three volcanoes which are spectacular, especially since Volcán de Fuego puts ash into the air on a regular basis. The days are warm and the nights are chilly and the Evangelica chuch down the street blasts music into all hours of the day. While here, we will be working on improving our language/technical skills while also immersing ourselves into this rich culture.

On Saturday I moved in with a great family which consists of Doña Marina y Don Arturo my brothers Fernando y Otto,  mi hermana Marí, dos perros Fifi y Dupee, una gata Dumaa, un gallo which we named Loki y finalmente una gallina. Luckily for us volunteers, the town was having an event and we were able to attend. The event was for the completion of a new building here in town and many people came out to celebrate. My host mother had a beer stand and my brothers showed me around town for a bit. We went up to the roof of the new municipal building and were able to see the town from above…needless to say it was a great way to arrive to a new place.

While on my way here I was worried about not liking my host family or them not liking me, but that is totally not the case. Besides trying to engordarme (make me fat) there is always a friendly face eager to speak with me. My brothers are very cool and enjoy talking about music and just hanging out, it’s cool to learn Guatemalan culture from a younger generation’s perspective. Mari y Doña Marina are intent on teaching me the common dances here in Guatemala. Y Don Arturo is just a badass, hardworking and truly amable. The other day I learned how to tortillar (make tortillas) and with a little practice I could open up my own shop soon! Nah, but it was definitely something fun to learn since I always see women on the street making tortillas. Oh and by the way, hand made corn tortillas are the BOMB baby!!

For the next 3 months my schedule will be something like this: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday will be dedicated to improving our Spanish. Tuesdays we make a trip back to the PC office for our technical training. There is always something going on and I basically feel like I’m in college again. There is always a tarea due or things to read and learn everyday. At this point, I am starting to really miss the people I care about back home, and when I think of how long I’m in this for I start to feel a little discouraged. Although I have these feeling of doubt they are always covered by a feeling of excitement especially when we have our technical training sessions. Sustainable Community Tourism is what I’ll be working on and literally everyone says that this is one of the coolest sectors that the PC has to offer.

Another cool thing PC Guatemala is doing is giving all volunteers phones (free volunteer to volunteer use) which we were supposed to get this past Tuesday but now nobody is really sure when we will be getting them. Hopefully by next Tuesday (Jan 18) I’ll have it and have my number out. I’m missing everyone back home and sending my love. Hasta la proxima vez!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pre Departure

Ok, so this is my first attempt at blogging…ever. I’m not really sure how to start so I will just jump in. Eight days from now I will be on my way to Washington D.C (another first) where I will spend a day and a half getting to know other volunteers (55) from all over the country and other Peace Corps stuff. Oh yeah, did I mention this blog is an effort to document my life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala for the next 2 years?? Well it is. At this point, I think the one word that can best describe how I feel about this whole thing is…ready.  Peace Corps for me has been a long time coming, I just had to finish school and now that it is actually here…I just feel ready. I’m more concerned with liking the other volunteers I will be around for the next two years, since I dislike 95 percent of the people I meet on a day to day basis. Supposedly, these are going to be my life long friends and yada yada. Other than that right now I am working on my packing list, which I will include at the end of this. Ok, I think that’s all for this one and for future reference I will try my hardest not to be pretentious or self-righteous bastard when I write (unlike many of the other PC blogs I have read) so hopefully you can enjoy reading what I will eventually be writing, shit I don’t even know if anyone will fucking read this? Haha but yeah I keeps it real…and hey if you are considering going into the PC and have stumbled upon this blog. The best advice I could offer is, if the PC is something you really want to do then you will do it, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise…

Packing list:

·         65 liter backpack
·         Day pack
·         Rolling suitcase
·         7/8 classical guitar
·         Camera and charger
·         Ipod and charger
·         Rechargeable batteries
·         External hard drive
·         Flash drive
·         Beard trimmer
·         Head lamp
·         Lap top with charger
·         Calculator
·          Surge protector
·         Travel sack
·         Travel pillow
·         Travel towel
·         3 jeans
·         1 pair of shorts
·         1 dress pants
·         1 work pants
·         3 dress shirts and 3 ties
·         Chucks, tennis shoes, flip flops and dress shoes
·         Climbing shoes (there are places to top rope)
·         Resistance bands
·         Swimming trunks
·         Rain coat
·         1 pair of sweats
·         2 weeks worth of socks and underwear
·         A-shirts (pre shirt)
·         5 casual shirts
·         5 button up casual shirts
·         2 fleece
·         2 belts
·         1 beanie
·         1 fedora
·         1 bandana
·         Money belt
·         3 books
·         Glasses/contacts and solution
·         Watch
·         Combination lock
·         Needle and thread
·         Canker sore medicine
·         Guitar music
·         Cards
·         Gifts for host family
·         Toothbrush/paste
·         Conditioner/shampoo to get started
·         Body wash and DO
·         Nail clippers and q tips

I’ve looked at many lists and came up with this one, some lists you’ll find are kind of ridiculous, just keep in mind you will be burdened with your excess things. These are essential for me and anything else I can go without or find it in Guatemala.