The contents of the blog are mine personally and do not reflect any positions of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges

3 days, 50 students, 8 teachers, 3 volunteers, a huge success . After several months of planning and run around a couple of us youth development volunteers hosted a 3 day intercultural exchange between students from 2 distinct communities. The idea for the diversity camp, intercultural exchange was to unite students from different ethnic backgrounds and have them learn and share about their similarities and differences.  

It was a great opportunity for students who have never had the opportunity to leave their small towns or villages to see a new part of the country and make new friends. I enjoyed bonding with the students from my site and getting to know the students from Nebaj. This was definitely the highlight of my service. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Celebrating World AIDS Day

PCV's in Santa Cruz 

On December 1st all around the world people united in the fight against HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS have claimed the life of millions of men, women and children and as volunteers in Guatemala along with our local communities and counterpart agencies, we have joined the fight to stop the spread of HIV and discrimination of people living with the virus. 

Human Ribbon
In the department of Quiché, we commemorated World AIDS Day with a parade with students, health staff, hospital interns, volunteers and kids working with the office for human rights, the parade ended in the central park with some basic education about transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS and how to live along side people living with HIV/AIDS. It was a great success and several people participated. Aside from that activity, I also had an activity planned here in site with the youth. We had a parade on the main road leading to the soccer field where we formed a human ribbon and later hosted an HIV and Soccer workshop, which was developed last year by volunteers. We tried to have a soccer tournament but there was no referee and since I know nothing about soccer, we had to postpone the tournament to a later date. 
Kids showing off their skills during the HIV and Soccer Workshop

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Giving Thanks

Sharing Tradition
 Thanksgiving is probably one of my favorite holidays. Its something about the autumn leaves, the smell of spices coming from the kitchen and gathering the whole family together to share things that we are thankful for. Times like these are tough being away from home but nonetheless these are the moments I will be thankful for next Thanksgiving.

In the middle of working on several different projects and not having the time to travel between filling out grant applications and conversations with the mayor, I decided to make Thanksgiving happen here in my site, thanks to my mom. She sent me a Thanksgiving care package packed with all the necessities to make an international Thanksgiving dinner, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, apple cider, pumpkin puree and a box of pumpkin cake mix.

Making Mac and Cheese
I invited my host family, friends, local counterpart and some families that I have become close to during my service to share this American holiday.  With the help of some little helpers we whipped up some Thanksgiving magic. We cooked green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potato salad, macaroni and cheese, stuffing and what’s Thanksgiving dinner without cranberry sauce. The only thing that was missing was the…turkey. It’s ok because we enjoyed our vegetarian thanksgiving and had plenty of food to share. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

One, Two, Buckle my Shoe....

As volunteers we have two ‘projects’: our primary, which is our assigned project or program, and our secondary, which is where we can apply our creative liberties in what we are passionate about. Through out my service, I have experimented with different secondary projects. I worked with a small group of girls doing arts and crafts and baking, it wasn’t long until drama ensued at school and the group of besties was no more, leaving the seño (miss) to eat all the cookies by herself.  I then started teaching English, which was not bad but it is easier to speak English then it is to teach it. Especially when the only interest in learning English is to send sweet text messages to your sweetie and translate lyrics of Miley Cyrus songs (no, thank you).  I even tried a school garden, but I have the opposite of a green thumb, everything I touch turns brown.

Even as the HIV committee representative for the department, I just considered it another job, one more thing to report on. It wasn’t until a conversation with a Guatemalan woman, who had only heard rumors about this disease that you can contract simply through eye contact with an infected person (myth). It was then that I knew that for the remainder of my service I would do what I could to spread the word about the reality of HIV/AIDS. 

In the last week of November, the nationwide promotion of HIV testing “Hazte la prueba” (take the test). I assembled a group of city hall employees to get tested, some were more willing than others and it was a great opportunity to share the importance of being tested. 17 people were tested that day, some for the first time. I probably looked and sounded like a crazy person walking down the street telling people to get tested for HIV, but it worked. Later that night, around 9, I hear a knock on my door and it’s a friend who heard me talking about the HIV test. She came in and we talked, she asked a lot of questions and had a lot of concerns. She was over 30 years old and had never seen or used a condom with her partner, who she suspected of creeping around. It was shocking to me, so I used that opportunity to show her a condom demonstration. Yes it was awkward, doing a condom demonstration at my kitchen table at 10 pm but as a woman she has the right to know how to use a condom and protect herself.  I spent a good amount of time thinking about how many other women who have been told they have no business using condoms.

It was at that moment, I decided to dedicate the rest of my service to HIV/AIDS education, one condom demonstration at a time. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Camioneta Chronicles II: The 7 People You Meet on the Camioneta

1. The Ayudante

  Your camioneta experience is invalid if there is no interaction with the ayudante. The Ayudante helps with your belongings (if he is nice) and collects your bus fare aka pasaje. Common phrases will include, "(insert destination name said rapidly multiple times)", "Pasaje por fa", "Corrense por atras", "Donde caben dos, caben tres", and "Servidos". Ayudates may be occasionally responsible for the musical selection on the camioneta, with musical choices ranging from 80’s and 90’s hits, bachata and duranguense.

2. The Beggar/ The Preacher
  The beggar/preacher can be found at any major bus stop or terminal. The beggar can range from having a sad unfortunate tale to a disfiguring ailment that prevents the individual from actual gainful employment. The preacher is usually an older evangelical man carrying a black briefcase with pamphlets on one of two causes why you should give to him, the orphaned children that need food and clothes or help the church because if you don't you will spend an eternal life in hell. 

3. The Vendor
  The vendor can quench your thirst, alleviate your hunger, heal your pain, cure your diabetes and provide you with the latest music and movies on the market. Some times you can find some good deals on household items, including tools and kitchen utensils. Some of my favorites include fruit in a bag, caramelized peanuts and coconut cream.

4. The Baby
  This little human being is usually being carried on their mothers back; some will be cute and irresistible. Be cautious when making funny faces not to make the child cry because it will be likely they will not stop. They are most irritating while crying.

5. The Drunk aka Bolo
  It is highly advised to stay away from this person. A bolo can be young or old, alone or accompanied by other bolo friends. There are two distinct types of bolos: the street bolo is usually soiled and beaten up; the party bolo is most likely accompanied by others and more belligerent than the street bolo. Bolos can be heard rambling or crying from sorrow and heartbreak. If they are too out of control they are likely to be thrown off the bus at any given moment.

6. The Good Citizen
  This can be a generous man or woman who can share a simple kind word, a piece of their fruit during a long ride or treat you to a gelatina (Jell-o) or ice cream. You can talk to this person the whole way or have short random conversations on the way to your destination about everything from where your from, what you do, how you like or don’t like living in Guatemala and why your not married. Their intentions are genuine; there are no ulterior motives or creepy vibes.  These people are hard to come by, but when they do they brighten up your day. 

7. The Pickpocket
    There is no general description of a pickpocket. He/she can be a man, woman, child, or a team of pickpockets. Some are better skilled than others. A word of advice learned early on is to spread it all around. Items commonly confiscated are wallets, loose bills and cell phones. A stupid pickpocket will answer the stolen phone and tell you that you should not expect to see it again. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Chuchos, Tortillas, Trash....One of These Do Not Belong

There is one thing there is no shortage of in Guatemala…trash (and tortillas). Unfortunately, trash is a common problem in developing countries. In Guatemala, trash can be seen on every roadside and mountainside. The common thing to do with trash is burn it, everything from chip bags, baby diapers, plastic bottles and tires are burnt. There are even designated days and times to burn trash. 

This school year I felt like a gave a million charlas on everything from self-esteem and sex ed to recycling and environmental awareness. Students learned the importance of properly disposing of trash and the deadly effects of improper elimination, students were also taught how to make Eco-Ladrillos (filling plastic bottles with inorganic trash) and the possible uses for the bricks.  I worked with all of my schools on the topic of environmental awareness and recycling, but one school took the initiative to do something more. They organized trash pick up days and as the school year went on the science teacher required each student to bring in 20 eco-ladrillos each semester and the graduating tercero students were going to make a bench.

With over 1,000 bottles collected and funds collected from each student and the help of the local municipality. A class of 19 tercero students built a school bench. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Camioneta Chronicles

I have a love/hate relationship with transportation in Guatemala, everything from waiting for the bus, the mechanics of the bus, passengers, road conditions and the drivers and ayudantes.  All these things make the camioneta experience what it is. I had my share of traveling in September, it was nothing short of spectacular and eventful. So eventful that I have decided to write a series of entries on the amazingness of camionetas.

An average bus rides for me can range from 2.5 hours to the East and 3.5 to 6 hours to the West depending on my destination. The roads are extremely unpredictable, especially during rain season, making the ride that much more fun.  Potholes have become normal to me, its almost as though the drivers are laying frogger so be sure to hold on tight as they bob and weave on the road to avoid the pot holes bigger than your head. Every once in a while there are kids filling holes with dirt asking for a Quetzal from drivers for their hard work, I often wonder why some of these kids who appear to be as young as 7, are not in school learning instead of shoveling dirt into potholes. After days and nights of heavy rains it is very likely to hear of or see landslides and deteriorating roads, some can be fixed quickly and others take some time causing major detours through the back roads that are not used to being dominated by big buses all day long. 

I usually anticipate my travels pretty well and get to my destination in a timely manner, especially when I leave my site at 5:30am. The last few occasions have been particularly extraordinary. The first trip, the bus broke down about 30 minutes after leaving resulting in all the passengers getting off and hopping on the back of a pick up truck at 6AM for an hour and a half ride into the nearest town to catch another bus.
       Picture this: 15 men, women and children, a basket of chickens and a tire on the back of a pick up truck winding around a graveled mountainside dodging potholes, chuchos, chickens and cows through early morning fog. I give props to those who do this frequently; my tailbone was sore for a good two days or more.

After I caught the second bus I thought I was home free and the little set back was nothing, I was wrong. A short trip turned into a three and a half hour ordeal, you see the bus I got on was only going half way, ayudantes have a lovely way of collecting your money and then tell you when they get to their last stop that this is as far as they go and give you your change.  So, I had to get on another bus and then wait in traffic for almost two hours because a cement truck drove off the mountainside the night before. Amazingly the driver was fine and somehow someone managed to drive the truck away, only in Guatemala.

In the end a trip that on a normal day takes me 6 hours, took me 9 hours. Expect the unexpected when traveling.

Hasta la Próxima!