Thursday, January 26, 2012

An Early Invitation to Leave

Ironically, the name of my first blog post created in late 2009 was entitled “An Early Invitation to Serve.”   After being in a country I have grown to love for two years, we are being forced to leave a month early.  The current security situation in Guatemala is not good- one employee explained it as “a very dark time for Peace Corps Guatemala.”  The entire country will be consolidated to serve in one area of the country.  Having served my two years in Alta Verapaz, the hardest part of this news is accepting that the department with the highest average birthrate in the country-11, some of the most severe malnutrition, and greatest need will no longer be receiving support.  Losing my last month in site was a tough pill to swallow, but I have come to terms with it.  During the 2-month state of siege, fellow volunteers who left had two hours to return to their homes, gather their things, and leave, making this deadline not seem so harsh.  The next month will allow me to finish my large project with the school, hold final meetings with my cooperative and the tourism alliance, attend despedidas or “goodbye parties” and spend a last few nights with my original host family.
Having to leave has subconsciously forced me to commence reflecting on my time here.  From a work standpoint, I have encountered many successes.  These have included promotion with the tourism alliance, Viviente Verpapaz; an alliance catalog, banner, website, tourism fair.  Nearly doubling the amount of tourists on the Chirrepec Cooperative in a year of a two-month drug siege, while also implementing better business practices, bilingual tour accommodations, tour feedback, and overseeing new promotional materials- new brochures, posters, etc.  Teachers have been trained in environmental education and disaster management.  Signage for three small community tours has been carved with the router.  TEFL, computer, nutrition, and health lessons have kept minds of local youth thinking and informed.  Over 600 students have been capacitated on the importance of proper dental health and proper brushing and flossing techniques.  Latrines have been constructed in two rural communities through USAID.  I was able to experience over forty families receiving solar panels through great investment, in turn giving them light for the first time in their lives.  I have assisted with the construction of two schools made of recycled bottles and translated a handful of medical missions. The list goes on.
A rollercoaster of emotion, in reflection my time seems worthwhile.  At the end of the day, or two years I suppose, the human experiences are the most memorable.  I now have a godson who I am sure I will be in contact with for years to come.  I helped a neighbor escape an abusive husband and start a new life.  I have broken stereotypes by making tortillas with the women in the kitchen, but also broken ankles on the basketball court.  My crossover isn’t actually that good, I just thought it was funny.  I’ve explained how the gay man in the community was not a threat, but just an equal.  Irony.  I can now have a complete conversation with just local hand signals. The human experiences that have stuck with me have by no means always been feliz.  I was able to spend Christmas Eve with a welcoming family, only to find out it was the eldest son’s birthday. Due to financial hardship, they had to ignore the fact, unable to afford a present or cake at the time.    In response to translating to a woman at a medical jornada- from English, to Spanish, to Q’eqchi- that she had an extremely severe form of thyroid cancer, she replied “What is cancer?”  One of my best local friends told me she wished she had followed her dreams as I had recommended. Instead she was “too scared, got pregnant, and is now stuck.”   I have undeniably grown as a person through these and many similar experiences.
It is interesting that the month remaining- a time period that seemed like decades when I first arrived- now seems so short.  This week I started my Peace Corps Partnership Project, consisting of two weeks of trainings with the students and the construction of a recycled playground.  The day I was told I have to leave early, I was also informed by my bank that my credit card had been cloned and half the project money had been stolen.  An official case has been claimed with the bank and the money should be returned in the coming weeks.  Despite this fact, I am leaving in the coming weeks and needed to proceed with the project now.  In writing this I realize I have learned to better roll with the punches as well.  We are cutting corners on the project, but the teachers are still implementing the lesson plans they had previously learned.  During my site-mate Kamille’s service, new roofing was put into the same local school.  Yesterday morning, while going through some of the old metal, we were able to use a few of the old roof beams to construct the teeter-totters.  In the end we are further embracing recycling, being creative, and allowing another project to be partially funded. (Pictures of the project to come)
Just the other day, I came across an old bucket list I had made a few years back.  One of the goals was to live in a foreign country for a year.  26 months later I suppose that is a double check. Speak another language- Check.  Make a positive impact in the world-Check. Which check is next?  Travel Asia or get a tattoo?  I am excited to find out.

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