After two and a half long months of training I have recieved my site assignment from the Peace Corps. Idealy, this is where I will be for the next two years. I am working on cultural tourism in a city in the department of Chimaltenango, and I am on my first full day here. I met my counterpart (my host country national half) the day before yesterday and arrived here yesterday afternoon. I have a week here in the city to find a place to live, meet local authorities, get to know the place where I will be working, conduct an analysis of current tourism conditions, meet my other counterparts, and generally get my ¨site legs.¨ Then, for a week I go back to the Peace Corps training center to review my site visit, learn some Kaqchikel (the Mayan language that is spoken here), and swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer!
Having blonde hair, blue eyes, and a mysterious inability to tan, I have always been and always will be a Gringa. Where I live doesn´t change that. The difference is that living and working in Guatemala I am noticed for it. When I turned in my application for the Peace Corps I knew that I wasn´t going undercover. The differences, I thought, would be one of the greatest parts of the adventure. People, I was sure, would see me and inevitably wonder what I was doing, where I was from, and how I got to where I am. It would give me a chance to share my story and be a wonderful oportunity to learn theirs. As it turns out, I got it half right. I have no doubt that people wonder who I am and what I´m doing here, but rarely does it turn into a cozy conversation.
At first I thought that peoples´reactions, though not what I had expected, were quaint. Little kids stroked and tugged at my pigtales while I was teaching a class, locals looked a little shocked when I greeted them in Spanish, people at the bus stop would flag the busses for me (which is more difficult than those of us accustomed to designated bus stops might anticipate). Unfortunately, it hasn´t taken long for the novelty to wear off. There have been times that I have wanted to stop people and tell them (and myself), "My name is Morgan. I work here... I live here." It´s not that it´s offensive, or even particularly difficult. In fact, most of the time it still makes me giggle, but each times it happens it reminds me sharply that being a part of a community here is going to be a job.
Today the bus almost flew past my stop (with me stuck on board) because the bus driver assumed I was headed to Antigua (a favorite spot for tourists). Today the barista stared at me, open mouthed, for the better part of the hour that I was sitting reading my paper (in Spanish). Today someone shouted "Gringa" at me in the parking lot of the shoping center. Today the gringos were out en mass. Today I realized that we gringos stare at each other with the same wide-eyed, open-mouthed look we get from most other people here. We are just as eager to know what that person is doing here and where they are from, and we are just as reluctant to ask.