Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Letting Out a Little Humo

Volcano Fuego, one of the four currently active in Guatemala, is clearly viewable directly to the left of my bedroom door. Each day or so it releases humo (smoke), releasing clouds of gray varying in size and height. Being involved in an eco-focused project, I have begun to learn various aspects about the environment, poco a poco. Living in a town with two other Masters International grad students, who have spent years studying geology, helps in the learning process as well. Simply put, Bri and Patty explained that these gradual releases of smoke and lava release energy from Fuego, making it extremely less likely a large eruption will occur. Likewise, with time one of the many things I have learned is releasing feelings and thoughts of your own, in a constructive manner, can be an extremely healthy practice and negate "eruptions" of emotion (Yes, so corny!).

My close friends know where I stand on religion and its place in the world. Despite this fact, this is something I try to not impose upon others. Diversity, freedom of beliefs, and choice are all things I strongly advocate in all aspects of life. Taking away this aspect is FAR from my purpose or intention in being here as a volunteer. After all, removing religion here is like taking away football, beer, and greasy wings from Americans (It's not going to happen). It is an intriguing and historical part of the culture and an area I am willing to put an effort into witnessing. Despite the barriers denominations can cause here, misa is a great time for the community to get together and for me to gain confianza with those in it.

Embracing differences in beliefs, interests, and choices can become difficult when you may see it negatively impacting a person or a group. Religious views, especially here, can often be fatalistic. People feel they have little to no impact on their lives and see things as god's plan. Individuals with little to no money often invest the little they do have into the church, money which could directly fund the purchase of nutritional foods, clean clothes and pure water. This is in a country with the 4th highest rate of malnutrition in the world. Nearly half of Guatemalan ninos under five are malnourished; 70% in predominately indigenous areas. A tough pill to swallow.

As taking away football is more than likely unattainable or desired, the best option is to show that eating celery and fresh juice is the healthier option to those Monday Night Football snacks. Education and implementation of simple healthy practices; washing hands, boiling water, treating basic illness, nutrition, exercise, recycling, can make a world of difference. Additionally, demonstrating that playing football (doing), rather than being just an observer (hoping) yields a healthier and better self. The hope of the people is admirable, but they may very well be overlooking the tangible help which lies within people themselves. Regardless of god, no god, denomination, fear of condemnation, or plea to not knowing, we as people have so much potential solely in ourselves within our energy, strength, and ability to live healthy and fulfilling lives through one another... possibly the initial message of religion lost in translation.

As the little volcano that I am puffs his thoughts, above you see the gorgeous view of Fuego with some humo of it's own. Directly next to Fuego is a piece of land owned by the muni, also known as our park. Throughout our two remaining months, when the four of us are not in language/technical/medical trainings we will be working to construct a playground out of recycled materials.  As of now we have a proposed gazebo, swings(shaped like animals), teeter-totter, and tire pyramid/swing. We have been working with the director of the OMMA (Oficina Municipal Medio Ambiente), or the environmental branch. Our project also includes working with the local artesanas to design a layout for their potential marketplace in the park. Research into security, advertising, water and sanitation are also tasks we face. We have already constructed a FODA analysis (the Spanish SWOT Analysis), Plan of Action and a MATRIZ to layout the business venture and its potential/drawbacks/necessities/etc.

My Spanish is coming along. Puchica! This is the equivalent to WOW in English. I have been able to communicate more and more, especially with my host family and siblings. This past week we took a trip to a current volunteer's sight at volcano Pacaya, which brings in nearly 2.5 million Q a year for the community. The site was gorgeous and he expressed the importance of focusing on improving our language skills to ensure a successful two years. As I head to bed before an early rise and trip to Santa Lucia, I'll share a few things which might make you laugh, because I know they made me laugh:

- Patty laughed so hard when we were in the center of town that she had a pee accident

-Winfrey didn't initially realize he had left his things at my house, which led to a delayed reaction in getting of the bus at my stop. The back exit (you know the fire exit in the back of the bus we used to have drills out of) wouldn't open at first and by the time he jumped out the bus was moving. This resulted in a fault on the landing, or more accurately Winfrey rolling down the street.

-I stepped in horse caca (the kids enjoyed this)

- Today on the camioneta or "chicken bus" Damion (around 6'7), I and an older Guatemalan man were sitting in one seat (that order with Damien by the window).  This alone is a site to  see. A few minutes before arriving in Guatemala City the man puked infront/on the woman in front of him. Interesting situation to say the least

-My siblings Andrea and Christian pretend to be pigs and run around the kitchen on all fours. I say " Yo quiero jamon" and chase them around as they scream and laugh. This happens a lot

Overall I am super busy, but will try to more diligently update this blog. I plan on posting picture/video/informational entries on the experience that is the camioneta, mi familia and the kids, the park/project progress and a possible tour of town. Let me know what you'd like to see to get a glimpse into my day to day life.

P.S. I hear the coffee of the week at Starbuck's is Guatemalan Coffee, which is made right here at the local fincas! Go out and buy an overpiced venti to support local farmers, jajaja

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mellizas (Tweens!)

I entitled this short blog entry mallizas (twins) because today Winfrey and I were able to hold his host sister's twins. In the states, Jessica and I often say tweens, filling in words/songs/rhymes/etc. with the word tweens. We also happened to find my Australian tween at the airport in Florida. As a quick update, today and tomorrow there is a festival/fair in town in celebration of the Virgin Mary. For the celebration the town has set up rides, food stands, games and has a parade. Firecrackers are set off every .34 seconds as well, likewise with any other holiday or event in the culture. The men in town also dress up like traditional grandmothers and dance in the streets (Abuelitas Chismosas). I met with the director of tourism for the muni the past few days, including a formal introduction in Spanish. Through him we have been networked to the local artisans. Throughout the fair today we spent time getting to know these artisans of different crafts and specialties, trying to build confianza within the community. This links to my training project of three months, which I will explain in more detail in a post sometime in the next week or so. I'm excited about the project and what we can accomplish. Here are a few updated pictures and videos. This blog represents my thoughts and opinions alone and do not represent the US government or the Cuerpo de Paz.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Out of the Ordeñary

I apologize for the lack of updates (Mom, and calling for that matter). I've been extremely busy and haven't had access to phone or internet, which is actually a deep breath of fresh air. Many of you know in the States I was less than reliable with answering my phone anyways. I'm writing this summary post, incapable of explaining all, hopeful I will recount some of the better events thus far. No later than 4:45, my parents and I took the long five minute haul to Hancock Airport (Thanks Garett,chiste!). Upon arrival I made un amigo nuevo and we took the shuttle to the hotel. Staging lasted a solid seven hours and reminded me a lot of RA training from college, but with more passionate liberals. There are so many interesting individuals in our group of 45. People from all across the states have studied and done research in a plethora of areas, both topic wise and world locations. Following staging, a group of 6 of us (MA, TX, CA, ID, CT) went out for Ethiopian food (Perfect last meal in America right?) Either way it was delicious.

The first three day staging period took place in Santa Lucia, Milpas Altas, a town outside of Antigua with a beautiful view of the volcanoes, including the currently active volcano Fuego. My host family in Santa Lucia M.A. consisted of a grandma (abuelita), a married couple, and their three kids. Directly off the main road my host mother and her two siblings each own houses in close proximity (off the same driveway). I was able to spend time with all three families, including un concierto in which we sang a number of songs including "When the Saints Go marching In" in both Spanish and English. Inevitably sounding cliche, they were as welcoming as I could have imagined and really became a second family during the short stay. With minimal education in the Spanish language, being here is similar to being thrown in the deep end. Luckily my experience has at least built a vocab base, more of a floatie on my left arm keeping me afloat.

My roommate, Joe (Chepe) and I (Evanito de Polonia) would spend our time following dinner with our host family, specifically the father Samuel, yellow Spanish-English dictionaries in hand. Learning went both ways, although the eldest daughter probably knows more English than I do Spanish. One specific word which came up was chata, meaning bedpan. Samuel assured ( I'm sure our pronunciation was off) that his wife had a chata on her nose. We all eventually burst into a long hard laughter when it was explained she was said to have a container one uses to poo and pee on on her face. Ordenar is to order in Spanish. By addiding a tilda on the n you can completely change the meaning of a word, similar to the way not having a fridge can change the way you live. The verb ordeñar is 'to milk a cow' and is something I was able to do in the mornings. Breakfast consisted of cereal with hot milk, pancackes, tea, and fresh fruits.

Other highlights from my short stay included my first bucket bath, jenga, (piedra, papel, tijeras) rock-paper-scissors, and a hike partway up the mountain. On our hike Samuel made a flute out of a plant reed and also climbed different trees to pick fruit for Laura, Chepe, and I. Fresh fruits included mangos, limes, passion fruit, oranges, and a delicious fruit called an anona (I recommend looking into this one!) Despite my major language barrier, I was reminded that laughter is universal. Before a minimal improvement in understanding, I was able to use laughter to make the family open-up and feel more comfortable. By the end of the three day period the children were calling me gordito "fatty" (similar to my name locito in the States), which was very endearing they felt comfortable enough to joke around. They were joking right? jaja

I've been assigned with my host-family for the next three months of training. I am living in a town directly next to the active volcano Fuego. I live upstairs and can see the smoke/fire during the day and night respectively from standing in my doorway. My family has a very nice house, including a hot shower downstairs and a fridge! It is crazy how my perspective of well-off has changed in such a short period. The family consists of Aura, Jime, and the children (Christian-6 and Andrea 2.5). Grandpa rides over on his horse fairly often as well. I am the sixth volunteer the family has hosted, which is helpful in terms of expectations and pushing me to speak the language.

The other three volunteers staying in my muni; Winfrey, Patty, Breanna, are with various members of the same family throughout town. The cousin owns a finca in town where they harvest coffee. Our language classes will take place at their house. On my first visit we were given some amazingly fresh coffee and bread.  I hope there will be more cafe during my 8 hour language sessions. As I hear dogs barking and Alvin and the Chipmunks in Spanish blasting from across the way, it is time for bed. It is in fact 9:15pm! Hope all is well and I would love comments :-)