First of all, this is much safer than it sounds. I felt my first earthquake today! It wasn´t really an earthquake (terrimoto) so much as a tremor (temblor). It wasn´t even enough to rattle the cupboards, but we were definitely able to feel it. I was sitting on a bench at the time, and it felt like someone was shaking the bench back and forth rather slowly. Actually, I think we all felt a little dizzy and really excited about it. There is one person in our group of four from California, but I am fairly sure that this was something new for the rest of us. We´re easily amused and very well informed about earthquake safety.
Today being a Sunday all of the Peace Corps volunteers had the day off (with the exception of mass most Sundays), and one of the volunteers was wonderful enough to coordinate a group expidition to Pacaya. Pacaya is a volcano that was dormant for over 100 years prior to 1965. It erupted violently that year and has been fairly active since. We hiked up to and on the lava flows today and even roasted marshmallows and warmed our hands over the vents. 

Our morning started at 5 this morning with getting up and getting ready for a big day of hiking. My group met around 6 to head into Antigua where we met the rest of the group at 7. We had hired a minibus to drive the 40 minutes or so to Pacaya, which was much more comfortable than riding in a crouded camioneta. The hike was intense since we were some 8,000 feet above sea level. The terain is also rather dusty, and I ended up having some problems breathing about half way up. However, I did make it all the way to the lava flows (which were not flowing today), and all the way back down safely, though I think I will be talking to the medical office in Santa Lucia during training tomorrow. They warned me during my medical intake interview that asthma may be a problem here due to the air quality and altitude, but they have an amazing staff here and are able to accomodate a variety of respiratory issues. 

Most of the walk was through forest type terrain, though the pitch was sufficiently steep. It was well worth it ´vale la pena´and the lava flows themselves were amazing. We were able to see for miles and miles! I have pictures of cities and lakes miles away that I will be posting soon. We could also feel a lot of heat from the vents and siting on the ´cooled´lava was only possible for 15 minutes or so and then it got a little too toasty. While we are working extremely hard here on new Spanish vocablulary and technical abilities, Sundays give us the chance to get to know other parts of the country. We are strongly encouraged by the Peace Corps to take trips with our families to get to know all we can about Guatemala, and there is plenty to keep us busy for two years of weekends. For how small the country is it offers an amazing variety of landscapes and cultures. I am sure that Pacaya, in all its glory, was only the beginning.

Vaya bien,
Bienvenidos from Guatemala! I apologize for the giant size of this blog and the lack of pictures. There is lots to write about, and I promise that I will be sending pictures soon. Since there have been so many things going on I´m going to try to break it down by days since I last wrote. For those of you who don´t have a whole lot of time you can read a day at a time and make it last longer :).

JANUARY 15: I am beginning to learn the Rosary in Spanish fairly well. Many afternoons when I get home from class the whole family is in the common room just outside my bedroom doing the Rosary. It does give me time to write. Being in the Peace Corps is a little bit like being in a tame warp. Most of the time I feel like I have so much time on my hands, but when it gets to the end of the day I look back and it has gone so quickly. An average day so far has been waking up at 5 when the buses start running and enjoying the warmth of my bed until 6 when I get up to take a shower. I go into the kitchen to talk to Doña Eva and eat my breakfast around 6:30, and then pack my bag for the day and head out for class, training or work between 7 and 8. If we are close enough I came home for an hour to have lunch and then it´s back for four more hours of class, training, or work. I get back about an hour before dinner and work on something in my room while the family is in the common room. I gets dark around 6 and dinner is usually at 7, so that´s the end of the day for me. I am happy to go to bed early because I know that tomorrow will always be a busy day.

JANUARY 16: Today was, overall, a good day. My shower this morning was pretty cold, which was a bit of a let down after the other night´s hot shower. I was early for Spanish class which gave me a chance to pal around with Kelly, the other female volunteer in my group. We are working on the preterit/imperfect which is still a bit difficult for me. Lunch was quick and then the whole group was off to the municipality in San Lucas Milpas Altas to meet with Don Roberto, the director of the park where we are working. We interviewed him about the attributes and pitfalls of the park, it was fun and he is very willing to work with us, but all we really learned is that he doesn´t really see the park as having any pitfalls. That may be a little interesting. He also invited us back to San Lucas for their patron saint day in October. After the interview the four of us stopped at a little cantina so the boys could have a beer. It was great to sit and get to know my group better and relax a little.

JANUARY 17: Today in Spanish class we watched a movie called Voces Inocentes about the war in El Salvador during the 80s. It was one of the saddest movies I have ever seen. I was shocked that something like that was going on while I was growing up, and I don´t remember hearing anything about it. I guess I was busy being a kid, and it certainly made me realize how grateful I am for the childhood that I had. After the movie we hiked up to the park (which is a 20 minute hike up a forty or fifty degree incline). This time we actually got to walk around the trails in the park, and it is more amazing than I imagined! There are rope bridges and tree swings that swing out over cliffs. Of course, we all had to try those out. Again, I will be sending plenty of pictures soon. I really don´t even have the words to describe what an adventure this park is. When we got back to San Bartolomè Doña Eva brought me over to her sister-in-law´s house to make real tortillas over a fire. I love spending time with the women here.

JANUARY 18: I got to sleep in a little today since mass doesn´t start until 9. However, sleeping in here really just means staying in my nice warm bed since only the dead can sleep through the busses honking their horns down the street :). After mass was the most fun I have had since I have been here (with the possible exception of swinging over cliffs yesterday). Doña Eva and her sister-in-law (a different one) Doña Marzia (who lives next door) took me to see the ruins of San Fransico cathedral in Antigua, and then we went to the market in San Felipe which is an aldea outside of Antigua. Doña Eva bought me this amazing woven purse that I haven´t put down since, and then we had atols (which are any thick hot drink and very popular here) in the open market. Doña Marzia´s daughter Christina came with us and Christina´s three sons who are 11, 9, and 6. The boys were a ton of fun to joke and run around with. My atol was arroz con leche, which is a lot like a runny rice pudding and reminds me a lot of home. Doña Eva also invited me to help with dinner when we got home, which is a first. I´m starting to really feel like a part of the family.

JANUARY 19: Today was exhausting. It was my third big day in a row. After having so many things to do I keep thinking that the next day must be boring, but it never is. Eventually it will sink in that every day is an adventure here. Toady's big trip was to Guatemala City which is the capital of Guatemala. With the exception of group trips, specialized medical needs, lab tests, and trips to the embassy it is off limits to Peace Corps trainees and volunteers. To be completely honest, I don´t really mind. The city can be best described as any large American city with subtitles. On the upside, I did get another fantastic cup of coffee (which always makes my day) and a book in Spanish. I am sure it will take me forever to read, but it will help with my Spanish. Not to mention that the longer it lasts the better because books are a little hard to come by here.

JANUARY 20: I´m sure that today was a big day for everyone. I hope that you all had a chance to watch the inauguration, so I won´t bother filling you in on that. They rearranged our class schedule so that the whole group was able to watch Obama´s speech at the Peace Corps headquarters. What an amazing place to be for such an astounding event!

JANUARY 21: Today was Doña Rosa´s birthday. Doña Rosa is Kelly´s host mom, and she is an amazingly sweet lady. She made lunch for some of the neighbors, our group of four Peace Corps volunteers and our teacher. It was a beautiful day out, and after lunch Kelly, Enrique (one of the neighbor boys), and I played with the poi that I brought. Kelly and I then headed to the Internet with every intention of working, only to be sidetracked by a game of basketball that turned into an afternoon of basketball. Sadly, all good things must come to an end and (exhausted) I headed home for dinner. As we were finishing dinner, someone came to the door asking for Doña Eva who is a type of community nurse. I haven´t quite figured out what she does or what organization she is working with, but we have a family health organization sign outside our door, and people frequently come to the house for shots or medical questions. On this occasion she needed to leave the house and asked me if I wanted to come with her. We ended up riding in someones pickup further out in San Bartolomé than I have ever been to a small house. The room we entered was almost entirely occupied by a bed, and in the bed was a woman almost lost in blankets. She was the same woman about whom the municipality had been making announcements all day. She is in need of surgery and since the family did not have the money to pay for it the municipal building made an announcement over the loud speaker asking people to donate at the office until the need was met. I can´t yet understand or explain all the feelings that I encountered being in that room. There is an amazing sense of community and family here that is, at times, overwhelming.

JANUARY 22: Phew, after yesterday this is short. We had technical training this morning and met our mentor who is a current volunteer at a sight that does volcano tours. This afternoon was Spanish class as usual, except that we convinced Jesse to give us a brief ukulele performance before we all went our separate ways.

Briefly, I want to also let you all know that I know that these e-mails are getting a bit long. In the interest of saving everyone´s inbox, I am thinking of moving all future e-mails to a protected blog. In other words, instead of e-mailing everyone I will simply post to a website that I will grant access to. If really important or awesome things come up I will certainly still sent out e-mails. I will also be able to post pictures to the blog. I will let you know as soon as I get it set up.

Vaya bien,
Bienveniedos! I found an internet cafe in San Bartolome where I am working, so I will be able to send e-mails more often, but this keyboard is pretty sticky and tricky so it is currently taking me a long time to type. This has been a wonderful week, and the more time that I spend here the more I know that this is where I am supposed to be. Earlier this week my group was introduced to Senderos de Alux, the park where we will be working. I haven't had a chance to take picture of it yet, but it is a beautiful forest with a cliff overlooking dowtown Guatemala city. The whole project i absolutely breathtaking. I am a little sad that it is my training project and I will only be there for the first few months. After that it is most likely off to the backwaters of Guatemala. However, I am sure that I will be just in love with whatever part of the country I end up in. The first few days with my host family were a little rough as my host family is very reserved and my Spanish is currently less than stellar (but improving rapidly). There were a few days that saw a loss of apetite and an increase in sleep, but yesterday was absolutely amazing and marked a new chapter with my family. First, when the group had finished with our daily 4-5 hours of Spanish class we decided to take the afternoon off and take a bus into Antigua (the Gringo city). I wasn´t terribly impressed with the city itself, but it was a good chance to see what it was like, get to know my coworkers a little better, and blow off some steam. San Bartolome is fairly small and as an American woman there are always people watching to see what you are doing. We didn´t actually act any different in Antigua, but not having to worry about it for a little while was a relief. Also, knowing that we could navigate the busses by ourselves was empowering. Maybe best of all, I got an amazing cup of coffee while in the city. In San Bartolo if I have coffee with breakfast it is instant coffee, and any milk is powdered milk. When I got home the trip to Antigua provided plenty of conversation that was within the limits of my vocabulary. With so much class it is easy to run out of conversation material fairly quickly. Another downfall is that as trainees we are hand fed, and my family is very careful not to ask much of me. I occationally have to sneek in to do the dishes or I am scolded off. However, last night after dinner Doña Eva began tortillando (making tortillas, litterally torilla-ing), and I expressed an interest. I am anxious to learn local trades like making tortillas and weaving. Not only did she teach me to shape a mean tortilla, we made chuchos together. Chuchos are like small tomalles. You flatten a round of dough (like you are making a tortilla) and place a cube of chicken in the middle (bones included, apparently people like to chew on them). Over the chicken you spread some tomato sauce and then close the dough. That is placed in a corn husk and covered with a little more tomato sauce. Then the corn husk is folded closed and tied with a string of corn husk. Chuchos may be my new favorite lunch! Incidentally, it also happens to be the word for the stray dogs that are so prevalent here. After that I was in need of a shower. As you might have guessed, a shower here is an adventure. We are fortunate to be in a moderately sized city with running water (no bucket baths for us), but there are VERY few places in the country where there is hot water. Instead showers are equipped with ´calentadores´ which are electrical heaters attached between the pipe and the shower head. At first, it looks like one would have to be crazy or suicidal since it is usually a mass of water pipes and electrical wiring, but I am told that they are very safe, and I have yet to have a shock. Since the calentador can only heat so much water at a time, the trick is to turn the water down until it is warm enough to shower (the water doesn´t really get hot here, it just gets less cold). Days when a shower fogs up the mirror are good days. Last night I was actually able to turn the water down low enough to get a HOT shower! I am getting to be a fairly heavy sleeper. My bedroom shares a wall with an evangelical church (here you are either evangelical or Catholic... I've opted for Catholic), and on the nights that I go to bed before 9 (which is all of them) I fall asleep to loud and slightly off-key Spanish Christian rock. It is also common practice here to set off fire crackers outside someones door on their birthday, and it´s usually done around 5 in the morning. I woke up in a cold sweat the first couple of times, now it just makes me smile. I may have to move in next to a fire station when I get back to the states ;). Well, that´s about it. I do want to say that reading over what I´ve written I have chosen not to change anything, but there are things that could be taken negatively. Please know that I adore each and every one of these experiences, and I wouldn´t change a thing! I am very fond of all of the people here, and they are bending over backwards to make me comfortble. Each of the challenges I have mentioned are things that I think about and smile. I hope that they will do the same for you. Vaya bien, Morgan
I really wish that I had the time to e-mail each of you individually, but the computers at the Peace Corps headquarters are in high demand. I'll try to include enough detail to satisfy your curiosty while staying breif enough to bring any of the waiting voluteers to tears. If you can think of anyone that I have missed on the mailing list, please forward this to them and send me a quick e-mail so I know to include them in the future. Our first day here was really a blur. We checked out of our hotel in Washington DC at 1:30 in the morning on Wednesday and spent the first part of the flying and waiting in airports. It was a good chance to get to know the rest of the (tierd) volunteers. Getting into Guatemala was much easier than I had expected. We gave all of our forms to one of the individuals from the Peace Corps office and passed through customs without pause. We loaded our luggage into vans and hopped on a bus to Santa Lucia Milpas Altas where the Peace Corps Headquarters is located. It is a beautiful compound, and very secure. We spent the night in pairs with host families. I am with another girl in the Community Tourism group, and I could not have asked for a better family for my first few days in Guatemala. They have two children; an eight year old girl and a three year old boy. Their home is beautiful and cozy. I'm sleeping in a lovely bed, and there is a bathroom with a shower attached to the room. The water isn't always reliable, and the showers are usually luke warm, but I am in love with Guatemala already. Yesterday was filled with lots of rules and regulations. In between all of that we had interviews in Spanish. So far, that has been the most nerve-wracking part. I must have done better than I thought because I ended up in a high intermediate group. We are divided into four person groups according to our Spanish level, and tomorrow our groups will be sent out to our training site where we will work with a language instructor on our Spanish, and work as a group on a small assignment to help the community. I have been assigned to a project in San Bartolome Milpas Altas (a 20 min. bus ride from Santa Lucia) working with a park to develop promotion materials. REMEMBER this is just the project that I will be working on during training in my group of four. I am still a very long way from knowing what my permanent project will be. I haven't taken many pictures yet, and I don't have my connection with me. However, we will be coming back to the training center from our training communities on Mondays, and one of these weeks I will be sure to send quite a few pictures for all of you. Salud!!! Morgan