Thursday, January 26, 2012

I Don't Want To Spoil The Party, So I'll Go

Plato Tipico (A Haiku)
Scrambled eggs and beans.
I'd argue any day it's
better than gourmet.

If Peace Corps has taught me nothing else, it has certainly given me the chance to experience the true meaning of the expression "just like that". Just like that, your bus is caught in traffic due to a public demonstration. Just like that, the northern region of Guatemala is under a state of siege. Just like that, after months of no luck, you find yourself a house. And, just like that, your world gets turned upside down.

The latter of these "just like that" moments came last week, when we received an email from administration notifying us that, due to growing safety and security concerns, certain regions (including the Oriente) would be evacuated, and any volunteers placed in those areas would be given a site relocation or the option of early Close of Service. All of a sudden, every single plan I had for my life in the next year was suspended. I thought I had a year left in my dear little pueblo, a year left to work with the Women's Office, a year left to work on my degree project, a year left to prepare for my return to the states. It was a complete shock.

I am not someone who likes to quit (really, who is?). And, despite my family's best efforts to convince me otherwise and the complete support of my fellow PCV's, I do still feel that by choosing an early COS I am sort of quitting. But I also cannot imagine moving across the country to start all over again, and I don't feel like I could be a very productive volunteer with just seven months in a site. So, even though it is completely unexpected, I've chosen to finish my service where I started it, in San Juan Ermita, and come home to the states.

It's a disappointing ending, but I won't let it overshadow all of the amazing experiences I was lucky enough to have. How many people can say they have set a baby turtle free into the ocean, taken a group of women on their first trip outside their small rural village, learned to "tortillar" and make tamales, co-habitated with bats, tarantulas, and all sorts of other creepy crawlies, and spent so many hours on chicken busses with strange babies on their lap that they don't even think twice about it anymore?

So, what does this all mean? Well, the short answer is: I have no idea. First, I'll spend the next week wrapping up here. Packing, saying goodbyes, doing paperwork. I should be home in Seattle in just a couple weeks. After that... well, there's not really room in my head to think about that yet. Whatever happens, though, I will always be extremely grateful for this incredible time in my life, and will most certainly carry it with me into whatever the future holds.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

But in the end the only steps that matter are the ones you take all by yourself

The Upside (A Haiku)
Back to site again.
Bakery lady tells me:
“You’re back! We missed you.”

Can you believe it’s 2012?? I certainly can’t. I remember when I thought graduating in 2009 seemed far away.

Well, for me, 2011 ended with what I’m pretty sure was the best Christmas vacation in the history of the world. Not only did I get to spend two whole weeks cuddled up on the couch with my mama and crazy auntie, I also got the perfect Christmas surprise when 3 of the very best friends a girl could ask for showed up in Seattle.

It was such a perfect vacation, in fact, that I was pretty devastated when the 29th rolled around and I had to board that plane back to Guatemala. Even a fabulous New Year’s weekend with the Oriente girls in Antigua couldn’t really bring me out of my funk. When I got back to site last night, I climbed in bed and cried at sappy movies. It’s the best therapy.

But, it’s 2012 now. CODEFEM is, apparently, officially gone, and I have literally a completely clean, fresh slate to do whatever I want with. So, today I spent pretty much the whole day in bed watching shows and eating junk food (we all need a lounging day every once in a while, right?). Tomorrow I’ll unpack, go grocery shopping, and clean up my life. And Thursday I’ll start figuring out what the heck to do with the rest of this year. I’ve already started a list. Easy ones: get a hammock, fix up the back patio. Big tasks: figure out that whole degree project thing, do a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) camp.

It’s one of those things that, once I get up off my ass and get moving on it all, I’m sure everything will seem much better. So I’m planning to take this day of lazy moping, and then get moving. I figure maybe if I put it here for the world to see (okay, for the, like, ten or so people that actually read this thing to see), I’ll feel more obligated to stick to it. Consider that my New Year’s resolution.

Beautiful Seattle view from the Westin hotel =)
The three best Christmas presents ever!
Xmas with the familyyy
A glittery New Year's Eve with the Oriente girls.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Picture Post

Happy Midservice Conference to us! Halfway there, and celebrating with a "Guatemalan Faces" picture.

In Tecpan with some of our women for the close of CODEFEM's project.

More Tecpan

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It won't all go the way it should, but I know the heart of life is good

Guatemalan Things I'm Thankful For (A Haiku)
Fellow volunteers,
Saludar-ing everyone,
mangoes, and hammocks.

I have this book. It's kind of like an art journal, I guess. It's my Thankful Book, and I've had it since high school. Every once in a while, a make a new page about something else that I'm thankful for. When I went away to college, I left it at home, and a couple months later I asked my mom to send it to me. When I went into the Peace Corps, I left it at home, and a couple months later I asked my mom to send it to me. It's such a simple thing, but it's probably one of my most treasured possessions. Not only do I love being able to paste another thing I'm thankful for into that book, it's also one of the most comforting things to look at when things start to go wrong.

This Thanksgiving was probably one of my favorite weekends I've had in Guatemala. It probably helped that I was coming directly from a pretty disastrous CODEFEM meeting, so anything would have automatically had a leg up in comparison, but it was also a really great weekend.

Three of my fellow vegetarian volunteers and I decided to have a turkey-less Thanksgiving at Carmen's house. Well, not completely turkey-less, because Carmen made a turkey piñata to substitute for the one we wouldn't be eating.

We slept in late on Thursday and, after watching a couple Thanksgiving themed episodes of How I Met Your Mother, started cooking away. Brynna made pumpkin pie, I made Daddy Greg's famous vegetarian gravy and mashed potatoes, Carmen made stuffing and broccoli salad. Britini came later with a delicious Guatemalan style green bean casserole with, of course, Tortrix on top. We beat up poor Thomas the Turkey with the neighborhood kids (who then ran around the yard with the piñata pieces pretending to be turkeys themselves), told each other a silly and a serious thing we were thankful for about each other, played cards, and rang in the Christmas season falling asleep to Love Actually. Friday we enjoyed Starbucks, a movie, AND the Guatemalan circus. Bible joke telling clowns, and all.

Then, during my five hour bus ride home, while packed seven to a seat on a chicken bus that broke down no fewer than four times during the trip, I made a mental list of everything I'm thankful for. I tried to pick something out that I could put into my book, but it was hard to choose. I wanted to be thankful for Thanksgiving, but isn't that redundant? I decided I didn't care, and made my Thankful Book a Thanksgiving page, turkey piñata and all (and, of course, a little note recognizing my redundancy).

The way I see it, that Thanksgiving page includes all the things I'm thankful for on the holiday, like (insert sappy plug about all the things I'm thankful for in life here): my family, my friends, all of the opportunities I've had in my life, lazy Guatemala weekends, Google Translate, libraries, my lime green VW Bug, full seasons of Boy Meets World on DVD, my little toaster oven, and so, so much more.

While we're on the theme of thanks, a big thank you to everyone that has supported me over the past year-and-then-some while I've been busy riding chicken busses and the roller coaster that is the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer. Near and far, I love you all SO much, and could not have survived it all without you!

Monday, October 31, 2011

five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

Swinging (A Haiku)
I have learned this year
the beauty of a hammock;
it can heal all wounds.

One year ago today I arrived in San Juan Ermita. After a typical problem-ridden Guatemalan bus ride that had forced a sleepover in Chiquimula with pizza and a Julia Roberts movie (poor me), I sat in my stuffy little room and wondered...what the hell do I do now? I find it incredibly...well, incredible. I sat in my house today and thought, 'it doesn't feel like a year.' Yes, I think about home and it seems like forever since I've been there. I think about how long it's been since I sat in a classroom or had to do homework. My life in Seattle feels like a lifetime ago.

But, at the same time, my life here feels like it's just starting. I'm just getting going, creating a routine, finding all the possibilities. I didn't understand how I could think both ways at once. It seems pretty impossible to feel like I've been gone forever and here for just a bit. I guess I've spent the last year in a sort of limbo. I'm good at adjusting, and I never imagined it would take a whole year to settle in here, but it really has. I have spent a lot of time feeling unproductive, but looking back, I'm pretty sure every little thing (no matter how frustrating or seemingly useless) was part of the process. And, I won't lie, it's been hard. Feeling unproductive and useless is one of the worst feelings there is.

A couple months ago, when this day started appearing on the horizon, I didn't really like thinking about being one year into my service. It made me a bit panicky to think that I was going to be half way done- didn't that mean I should have already gotten half of my work done? If that was true, I wasn't going to accomplish much in my service. I'm surprised to find, though, that now that this milestone has arrived, I am spending much more energy focused on my excitement for the future than worrying about the time already passed. I'm ready to start being pushy and take charge and make things happen.

In the mean time, I'll just keep "settling in". Every time the neighborhood kids knock on my door ("Hola, Doris!" they say each time. "My name is Alexandra," I tell them, always laughing. "We know, but we like to call you Doris Alexandra!" they giggle. I still haven't figured out why), or someone in town calls my name when I pass, or I need something and know exactly where to find it and how to get it, I know it's all the product of this past year. And, hopefully, it's all just been getting me ready for an exciting and fulfilling second year of service. Wish me luck~

"Bon Dieu! may I some day do something truly great. amen.” -E.E. Cummings

Picture Post

I know I've been awful about posting lately. Here are a few photos from the past month (and then some...)
mashing up berries for homemade wine

kayaking on lake atitlan

some of our training group at the lake

homemade apple pie during a visit from brynna

Monday, September 12, 2011

But we can learn, like the trees, how to bend, how to sway

The Ride From Hell (and I really had to pee) (A Haiku)
Four hour bus ride turns
eight hour bus ride due to crash
on the road ahead.

There's been a request for me to do a post on elections, which were this past sunday (yes, they have elections on sunday here, weird, right?). Guatemala has elections once every four years, where citizens vote for pretty much everything. They receive 5 ballots: president, mayor, and their versions of senate/congress. Because of the high illiteracy rate in Guatemala, all ballots have pictures of the party symbols for each candidate. While Guatemala's government is set up a lot like ours in the US, a big difference is that there are twenty-some political parties here in Guatemala, each with its own set of candidates. These political parties often have strong rivalries with their opponents, and as a result fights, riots, and (occasionally) murders can occur.

I'm not quite sure what else to say about the whole thing, except that it got me evacuated from my site for the weekend. Because of the tendency for riots at voting centers, Peace Corps evacuated certain volunteers from their sites for the weekend (including all of us out in the East, since the machista residents on our side of the country tend to be pretty trigger-happy), just as a precaution. So, I spent five days with Wilson and the rest of the Guatemalan fam, and fellow PCV's Brynna and Carmen. While it was kind of a hassle dropping everything last minute in my site and relocating for a few days, it was nice to see the whole family (I hadn't seen them since May!), and for us volunteers it was kind of like a little vacation. We passed the time lying in bed watching E! TV (quite the treat, since none of us have televisions in site) and teaching ourselves how to juggle (be on the look out for upcoming tour dates of our dazzling juggling group "Check Out These Balls").

Juggling Practice
Wilson showing off his new soccer cleats
Election Night! So Exciting!
Luckily, my site's elections were apparently calm and I returned safe and sound to my little house VERY late (see haiku above) last night. Instead of trying to explain everything involved in the political scene here, I've found a couple articles that give a pretty good overview. Read if you like:

A good summary of the state of elections here

A bit about the candidates, and history

Women and politics in Guatemala

PS- Please, please, DON'T worry about my safety. While these articles do a pretty good job of explaining the violence and security problems in Guatemala, my little town is extremely calm and, unless I somehow get involved in drugs or try to run for office (neither of which I'm planning on), the only real crime I'm at risk for is being pick-pocketed. Of course, I'll knock on wood after saying that ;)