Travel Bugs 09/07/2010
 
Perhaps we have replaced vacations with stay-cations recently, or maybe posh get-aways to top-end sites have been traded in for a family trip to a more “rustic” location.  More sites than ever are advertizing eco, green and sustainable tourism.  The reliability of those claims aside, we often overlook the impact that our trips have on out hosts (both willing and unwilling).  Here are a few rules of thumb anyone can use to be a better guest when visiting our global neighbors:

Keep an open heart and an open mind. We are, among other things, an infrastructure spoiled country, and we tend to want to travel without leaving the comforts of home.  From my own personal experience, getting a little dirt on your hiking boots will not hurt you and neither will a tepid shower.  The infrastructure in developing areas is often times lacking.  The ability not to judge a book by its cover is important here.  You may have to get past initial impressions of poor waste management or disorganization to meet some amazing people and learn about parts of the world that you would not have otherwise known.  Letting go of the idea that you cannot survive without a latte in the morning will open up a whole world of possibilities and adventures.

Along with being patient with places, try to be patient with people.  I have been guilty of thinking of my relationships as networking opportunities, but you miss many stories that way.  Treat everyone from your bus driver to the woman in the market as someone with whom you want to become friends.

Think local. While I cannot speak for the whole world, I do know that in many places in Guatemala there are well-trained and underappreciated local guides.  These men and women know the ins and outs of their community, and they can tell you anything from fun stories about the places and people you are seeing to the best place to have a local lunch.  In Guatemala, there are whole groups that have received training at a national technical center studying methodology, birding, cultural tourism and sometimes English.  Spend a little time researching off-the-beaten-path destinations, and ask about local guide associations.  In Guatemala, you can get information about trained guides through INGUAT (http://www.visitguatemala.com/web/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=254&Itemid=519).  Not only will you get a unique service, you will be helping to support community development.

Buy direct. Anywhere you travel, it is easy to find knick-knacks to buy.  Here in Guatemala, there are large artisan markets in any tourist destination.  However, the people selling there are usually intermediaries, and more than once, I have found items in these markets that were factory made being sold as hand-made items.  I encourage you to get off the beaten path, look around and buy directly from the groups or individuals who are making these products.  What’s more, ask them to show you how they make them.  You will likely get a better product at a lower price, and you will have some wonderful memories to take home with you.

Watch your waste. Waste treatment in developing countries is not what it is in the states.  Not littering is not enough.  When you throw your can or bottle in a trash can not only does it not get recycled, it is often thrown into a river basin.  Sanitary landfills and water treatment plants are sorely lacking.  Think about the products and packaging that you are buying and try to avoid disposable items while traveling to developed areas.  If you do need to buy items with packaging, consider stuffing old plastic materials into a dry, clean plastic bottle that can be used for construction (http://puravidaatitlan.org/ecoblock_en.html).

Volunteer. In almost any part of the world, you can find organizations that are looking for an extra hand.  While you will have to look carefully at the project goals, and its sustainability, volunteering can be a rewarding experience to add to your scrapbook.
 
 
January 7th, 2010 marked exactly one year since I set foot on Guatemalan soil for the first time and started my adventure as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  This past year has been the most challenging and rewarding year of my life.  I have grown tremendously and in ways that I never expected, and I thought that I would share a few of the lessons I have learned in the past 365 days.

1. Learning a language is a long and difficult process, but it is well worth every mistake, and you will make lots of mistakes.  My Spanish has understandably improved in leaps and bounds in the year that I have been using it almost 24/7.  I still manage to embarrass myself now and then, but laughing with people about my mistakes is another way to make friends.  A language represents another way of approaching the world, and people's perspective of me changes when they realize that I can express myself and understand them in their language (or, many times, their second language since many Guatemalans where I work speak Kaqchikel as their first language).  As a child, learning English opened doors to a universe of relationships and knowledge.  Learning a second language is equally rewarding.

2. Where you are is never as important as who you are with.  I know that this expression is common -place, but it has been a poignant phrase for me this past year.  There are two sides to this.  First, there is nothing that I miss as much as my family. While it is more fun to complain about the lack of hot showers or cheese, when I have a hard day water temperature and dairy don't matter.  I am very blessed with a diverse, growing and nurturing family and there is no replacement or filler.  On the other side are all of the wonderful people that I have met here.  Everywhere I have gone I have met caring and inspired people.  Sometimes it has taken searching and humility on my part, but I know that anywhere I may go there will be someone who has a lesson to teach me.

3. Planning is important, haste makes waste, and sometimes you just have to keep pushing forward.  There is no doubt about it, I am a planner.  Anyone who was in speech with me knows how important I think highlighters are.  There is no replacement for a solid action plan, especially when working on community projects.  It can also be a useful personal tool.  A mission statement is a solid reminder of direction for individuals and groups.  A well thought-out and elaborated plan makes sure that things get done on time, and that a group is working towards a common goal.  However, on days when the members of the planning committee have gone to their corners or are nowhere to be found, on days when the materials don't show up or didn't get ordered, on the days when all that planning temporarily falls apart, it can sometimes be just as important to keep moving.  Brainstorming a list of supplementary projects, entering data, filing papers, stuffing garbage in bottles, cutting up old tires to make gardens and washing your laundry by hand may not change the world, but it sure feels good!

4. Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it also would have made him or her a darn good traveler.  My pride often gets the best of me here.  I am reluctant to look like an ignorant gringa, so I often nod my head and go along.  It took a visit from my aunt over the holidays to help me realize how much I am missing when I do this.  There are plenty of foods (mainly fruits) here I had no idea how to eat, and traditions I couldn't explain.  Speaking one of the languages spoken here opens up plenty of doors, but not nearly as many if I don't use it.  I am never going to look like anything but a gringa, but  appearing ignorant and being ignorant are two very different things.

5. Some manners matter.  In classes throughout high school and college I was taught which fork to use for my salad, how to pass salt and pepper properly (always as a pair), and to put my napkin on my lap.  I won't say here that those manners aren't important, and you won't find me drinking soup directly from the bowl at a business lunch.  However, I will say that there is something missing there.  The manners that matter are the gestures that we make to other people as a show of respect.  Saying good morning to coworkers on your way to your desk, asking permission to enter a room or a home, always saying please and thank you, much more than table manners, can form images and relationships.

6. Dance... in public if possible.  I don't mean in clubs.  They have their place, but the light is too dim and sporadic to really see people's faces and the music is far too loud to hear what they are saying.  I mean dance.  Dance swing, waltzes, salsa, jazz, tango, foxtrot or chachacha.  I have not yet been to a wedding here where I didn't spend hours dancing to marimba music with a partner.  As a result, I have learned a lot about people and my community at weddings (something that never happened in a club).  I have also squeezed in a salsa lesson or two during vacations, and it is challenging both mentally and physically.  Practicing new salsa steps in my room in the evening is also pretty fun and therapeutic.  Bring back ballroom dancing!

To all of you, I wish you a very happy and satisfying new year filled with good lessons, good people, new discoveries and plenty of dancing.
 
 
"I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas (or holiday of choice) from the bottom of my heart."  Now that I have left you with that tidbit of musical insanity looping in your head from the rest of the day...

This holiday season has been full of adventure and learning, although that isn't limited to the holiday season here.  However, there were some special treats for me this holiday season.  My aunt Jeanette came down for a visit over Christmas.  Although actually getting her here turned out to be more complicated than I ever imagined, it was worth every minute that I spent at the airport (and traveling to and from the airport).  

Originally, Jeanette would have gotten here on December 22nd around mid-day.  However, the universe had other plans in mind and, after missing her connecting flight in Atlanta and being flown through both Mexico and El Salvador, she arrived on December 23rd around 4:30 in the afternoon.  Fortunately, we'd left things pretty open so it was easy to rearrange schedules, but it made for a very short trip.

Her first night in we stayed in a hostel that I really like in Antigua.  $10 for two people for a quiet room with hot water isn't too bad.  That left us more to spend on other things, namely food.  We ate our way around town during her entire visit, and found some treasures.  Our favorite find of the week was Fernando's Kaffee, which has the best coffee and chocolate I have ever had.  This is coming from someone who adores coffee and usually doesn't care for chocolate.  The food is also amazing, and it will undoubtedly be a stop for anyone who comes to visit.

After a lovely breakfast at Fernando's on the morning of the 24th (a wonderful way to start the day), we headed back to my site to celebrate Christmas with my Guatemalan friends.  The tradition here is to stay up until midnight and set off fireworks.  While we spent some time with Estela's family and ate plenty (yet again) we neither made it to midnight nor set off fireworks.  For my part, I slept so soundly that I didn't even hear them.  

On the 25th we broke out the traditions.  Jeanette brought lots of Christmas lights and decorations with her and Uncle David did an awesome and painstaking job of burning DVDs for me.  So we had lights and movies while we baked cookies with some very precious Ghirardelli chocolate chips (which I have since also used in a pancake or two).

On the 26th we took a trip on the bus (which Jeanette can now tell you is very entertaining) up to the ruins at Iximche.  It was a nice day trip and the first time, shockingly, that I have seen Mayan ruins since I have been in Guatemala.  It was a neat experience, and I got a few pictures out of the deal as well.

On the 27th we headed back to Antigua to see a few more of the sights there and continue our fantastic food frenzy.  We went to the Capuchinas ruins where I translated despite my lack of Catholic vocabulary in both English and Spanish.  It was a very interesting tour, and one that I would recommend.  We browsed Casa de los Gigantes, which is a wonderful store full of creative things made by artisan or womens groups in Guatemala.  We had dinner at Welten (the best gnocci I have ever had), and called it a day.  I looked for some salsa dancing, but with the holidays everything was closed.

On the 28th we had breakfast at Fernando's again, and then it was off to the airport.  It was difficult for me to say goodbye, but it helped to have new friends waiting for me in Antigua and a Salsa lesson scheduled for the afternoon. (I have to take advantage of my vacation days.)

New years was low-key for me.  I got a call from Victor's parents and from Dad's family.  Then, I tucked into bed at just about my normal hour.  Well-rested is a good way to ring in a fresh start.  On the first I had a wonderful lunch with the family of my friend Erika.  I enjoy living alone and having a quiet retreat when I need it, but a family lunch here is always a happy affair, and I love sitting in the kitchen with the women and pitching in when they will let me.  Here, the vast majority of the domestic work is still done by women, and there is a feeling of security and feminine power in the kitchen.  There is also the warmth of the stove to cut the chilly winds that are running around this time of year and, of course, there are many times children giggling or crying or playing.


Overall, it was a holiday of people.  And where there are friends and family there is joy.  May your new year bring you joy as well.

 
 
While neither Tom Selleck nor Ted Danson have made an appearance this week (nope, no Steve Guttenberg either), it has been a fun and action-filled time.  For those of you who are purely English-speakers, a despedida is a going-away party.  As you can imagine, then, there have been a few ups and downs.  Last week, a friend of mine from the capital headed off to Europe for two months.  I was able to get special permission from the Peace Corps to stay with his family in the capital for his last weekend in Guatemala.  What an interesting new view of Guatemala!  

On Friday the 4th I got into the capital and waited at the office while he finished work, which is interesting in and of itself.  Saturday was a tour of supermarkets, soccer games, and the going away party.  Sunday we salsa danced in the living room and had lunch with his family (including a very precious two-month-old niece).  Monday I headed back to my site and he went off to Europe.  I am keeping my fingers crossed for a post-card even though I have been terrible myself about sending them out to friends and family back home.

Fortunately I didn't have much time to think about goodbyes on Monday, because Monday evenings are my evenings with Liliana (an upbeat and outgoing Guatemalan friend of mine).  This Monday (the 7th) we just so happened to have plans to go to a choir concert here in my site.  When we arrived (a little late) it was a group of kids from the community singing Christmas songs while bundled up in scarves.  It was adorable and heart-warming.  Then, a group of four teenagers went up and sang a couple of songs.  Had it ended there it would have been an adorable community concert.  However, another choir came up and performed.  While I don't know where they were from, I can say that they were amazing.  It was an a capella group called Coro Victoria.  I had shivers watching them and hearing the tunes of some of my favorite songs that brought memories of home and family flooding in with the music.

The rest of last week was spent mostly at my desk working on translating a Project Plan for Peace Corps, writing English lessons and attending meetings.  On Friday night, however, I headed out to the edge of town where there is an organization of foreigners (including a few former Peace Corps Volunteers) who work in construction using recycled materials.  They frequently have volunteers coming and going.  Some stay for a few weeks and some stay for months.  Several of them are coming to the end of their time here so Friday night we cooked pizzas and chatted with people from all over the world.  There were people from my site as well as new friends from Australia, Holland, South Africa, and England.  One newly-arrived individual from LA knew a little bit of salsa, so we did some dancing as well.  While our coordination clearly marked us as gringos, we had lots of fun.

On Saturday morning I was up early and at the house of a friend of a friend watching parts of wedding preparations.  Since I didn't know the bride directly, I didn't really get a good grasp of what all was involved, but the vast majority of the traditions seemed parallel to wedding ceremonies in the states.  The one big exception is a procession through the streets with a band and all of the invitees.  Being at least a head taller than everyone else and the only person without black hair I tend to stick out during these types of events (more than I normally do), and one bus driver pointed out that the wedding had a mascota (which is the word for both house pet and mascot).  The reception involved both food and dancing, and I knew several people, so it was a wonderful time.  I still have bandaids on my feet from all the dancing.  I don't plan to stop dancing any time soon so bandages are likely going to be a common occurrence.  In my personal opinion, the marimba and salsa and cumbia that is played at weddings here is much more dance-able the hokie pokie or JLo's newest tune that gets used to punish wedding guests in the states.

After all that activity, I had planned to stay home on Sunday with mugs of warm milk and a book.  It didn't work out that way because Sunday was the festival of Guadalupe. There is a church on a hill just outside of the city where I live that is the Church of Guadalupe which gets used only once a year during this festival.  It is mostly a religious festival with many people attending mass at the church in the morning and visiting the figure of the Virgin of Guadalupe throughout the day.  However, there is also plenty of music (though no dancing) and food.  I spent the day with Liliana, Jordi (a friend from Holland), and the three Norwegians who are going to be living and working in my site until November of next year.  Who would have thought that a Peace Corps site in semi-rural Guatemala would be such a melting pot?  I'm just going to have to plan a backpacking trip through Europe in future years to visit all the new friends I am making here.

For those of you who are keeping count, I am still one despedida short.  Tonight I am going back outside of town to say fair well to a friend from the states who has been working with the construction organization since I have been here.  She has been a great sounding-board and a huge source of support and I will miss her very much, but I am sure that we will run into each other again and I am glad to have had the chance to cross paths here in Guatemala.


 
H is for Hogar 08/10/2009
 

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, 3tablespoons 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 6thgrade 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 www.puravidaatitlan.org. 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!

 
 
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.
 
 
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.
 
 
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!
 
 
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!
 
 
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. 


http://wingsguate.org/


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.


http://www.animalaware.org/


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