Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Peace Corps of Mind

          I am elated to officially state that the USAID Latrine Project has been completed.  Fourteen families have now been capacitated and have successfully constructed new latrines in an effort to improve community health and water sanitation.   I am now well underway with my upcoming Peace Corps Partnership Project (see below) and will be involved to some capacity with a solar lighting project in a rural community about an hour outside of Coban.  The community, called Sanimtaka, is located in a cloud forest and does not have access to any electricity.   I should have more details about my involvement with the project in the coming weeks after I meet with my Program Director. 
          One roadblock I encountered with a particular family throughout the latrine project was a struggle with fulfilling deadlines and the ability to enact a sense of accountability within each participant.  Having taken over the project from a returned volunteer who left during the two month state of the siege, it was a bit more difficult as I had no previous relationship with the local government or the project recipients.  Nonetheless, we were able to establish ground rules and hold each participating family accountable for their materials and deadlines through the completion of the project. Consequences helped in this specific case.
          Time and time again key words have com e up—accountability, sustainability, investment, consequences.  Being here has shown me firsthand how important these ‘things’ are not only in international development, but within any type of efficient and fluid society.   Whether it be a kindergarten class or the United States government, consequences and accountability are essential.  I recently visited my Aunt Michele and her family in Palm Coast, Florida.  While having an early Thanksgiving dinner she asked me what I missed the most about the states.  I’m not sure if it was being on the verge of a food coma or the few Octoberfest Blue Moons I had drank (highly recommended for all those stateside!), but I was hard pressed to come up with a significant answer at the time.  I mentioned something about a social life and the sarcasm of my friends back home and that was that.
          On my flight back to Guatemala I ran into a fellow volunteer from my training group.  Her Guatemalan boyfriend was picking her up and kindly offered to bring me to my bus station.  After picking up my luggage, I put my passport and the majority of my money into my money belt and headed to his car.  During the ride he mentioned that had been robbed of his Blackberry and some money while she was away.  We talked a bit about how one becomes accustomed to always having your guard up; it becomes second nature.  We equally noted how nice it was to not be concerned about being robbed or hiding our valuables while home.
  I hopped on the 1pm Monja Blanca bus up to Coban, expecting to arrive around 5:30.  Unfortunately, a Dole truck carrying bananas had flipped causing the road to be blocked.  This resulted in a three hour delay of standstill traffic.  It began to get dark, and there I was with my new computer, passport, i-pod, and other valuables on a bus unable to go anywhere.  Primetime vulnerable victims- have I been watching too much Law and Order?  The cherry on the sundae was the lack of cellphone coverage at the particular spot.   Having just returned from being stateside, I was more aware in the moment of not only the vulnerability the situation posed, but the difference between our two worlds. 
            To make the traffic situation worse, rather than wait in the extensive two lane backup on each side, drivers decided to fill all four lines.  All four lanes of a two-lane highway filled with cars in one direction- a truck in the middle- resulting in neither side able to pass once the wreckage was indeed cleared.  This reinforced for me the lack of consequences in Guatemala.  There is little to no chance people will get ticketed for filling lanes meant for the opposite directions- so why not try and cut?  Ultimately, the cars were able to file back into their two appropriate lanes and we began moving again.  The initial lack of patience just extended the delay.  I arrived in Coban around ten pm, concluding a bus trip three times as long as the flight.  Lucky for me, my site-mate was moving the next day and her boyfriend was able to pick me up in their rental truck upon my safe arrival.
     Within my first ten hours back in country I was quickly able to answer my aunt’s question: safety, security, accountability, consequences. Peace of Mind.  In a month where the focus is on being thankful, we tend to focus on thing we can often times take for granted.  Family, friends, health, access to food.  Being away has extended this list for me to include the aforementioned forgotten items as well.  Not wearing a money belt.  Taking transport without the thought of a robbery.  Traveling at night.

Each Thanksgiving all eighteen cousins write down what we are thankful for in my grandmother’s notebook.  This year, not only am I thankful for family, friends, and my health- but for this peace of mind I took for granted back home and this unique opportunity which has allowed me to realize it exists.

My good friend Jessica’s brother also crashed a banana truck a few years back in Central New York.  For this reason- and that I miss her- this post is dedicated to her. 
P.S.  Jess,
I had a dream which included you & me, a morning walk, and turkey bacon last night.  It was lovely. 


  1. Great post, Ev. We definitely take things for granted sometimes! I'll remember this for Turkey Day. Skype soon? Miss your face.

    PS - in addition to the skinny mirror, do you also miss my bedroom door? You know, with all the great DRAWINGS on it? I definitely do.

  2. Thank you, Evan, for reminding me of what is truly valuable in life here in the States, and in the value of living/traveling elsewhere. Be safe--we all need you to bring your wisdom home to benefit us all!