Friday, December 25, 2009

Sugar Plums..or Lack Thereof

Merry Christmas!

You know you've got the fever when, Christmas Eve, you've got visions of Peace Corps dancing through your head instead of those rascally sugar plums...

Pretty unbelievable how quickly the time is suddenly passing. It's Christmas day. December, and the year, are nearly over. Our staging date, is poignantly set just as the new year is upon us. How fitting, another page of life is turned as I embark on to my next adventure. Hm, any ideas for resolutions? How about, enjoy being in one place for longer than a field season!! My life is a culmination of bits and pieces- I really have felt never fully in one place, always just settling in right as I find that it's time to leave. Twenty seven months I'll be in Guatemala. Seems like a long time but the more I think about it, it doesn't seem like long at all.

Each year that you add to your existence makes the next one a little shorter, a smaller fraction of the whole amount time you've been a conscious critter (at least this time around) on this earth of ours.

It's scary, if a year flies by this quickly at the age of twenty six, what will it feel like when I'm fifty..sixty? Nonetheless, if I make it for the entire term as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I just want to make sure to take it all in before it all slips through my fingers. Meanwhile I'm taking in my last bits of life here with my family before I go. I'm so use to leaving and I know they'll visit...I have these parents that like to take advantage of the fact that their daughter has found some fantastic parts of the U.S. and beyond to spend time in, one or both have made it to most of my remote wanderings.

So after we unwrapped our presents I ran upstairs and locked myself in my room and a literal tornado hit. Clothes, art supplies, toiletries, electronics, journals, books, 50% off Chacos (yes Peace Corps discount!!), host family gifts, all swirled about until somehow I managed to reign everything into my backpacking pack and my daypack. It weighed out to around 60lbs (their limit is 80lbs)..I still need to get a few things but nothing too massive. Anyways, this was my means to figure if I'm going to be able to carry everything and if I need to rethink what I'm bringing. With ten days left, this is the kind of thing that I get embarassing amounts of enjoyment out of. Not to mention that I am constantly making and revising packing lists in my head and have been for about two months now. It's an issue, I'm dealing with it.

Anyways, the time is creeping closer and I'm, so ready. The unknown is so enticing! I have ideas, sure, but the possibilities that await are what capture my imagination and fill me with excitement and anticipation. I have an empty journal that's just aching to be filled with all that is to come!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Girl Woodcarver

So I decided, in order to distract myself from that constant buzz in my head otherwise known as Guatemala, that I'd treat myself to a week-long class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. Among the choices that included knitting, enameling, woodturning, cooking and blacksmithing (to name a few), I chose woodcarving. I figured that, in addition to being wildly appealing to learn how to hand carve a figure out of wood, this would be a practical skill to learn and use in Guatemala since the tools required are few and portable as well! Who knows, maybe I could even have teach a woodcarving class in my community there in Guatemala!

Well, it turns out the class was a bit advanced (which I of course realized after I signed up) and required "recent woodcarving experience". Hm. They didn't mention how much experience though, so I was, technically, in luck! On my drive south, I took the Blue Ridge Parkway because who could resist rolling smoky mountain scenery? At one of the overlooks, I pulled over and sat with a knife and a piece of black walnut wood that I'd dug out of a dusty box out of the basement. The tools belonged to my Grandmother and I was pleased to be able to put them to use across generations along the family tree. So there I sat shyly scraping away flakes of the hardened wood. I got as far as roughing out a nose and eye depressions. There! Recent woodcarving experience: check and check!

No one even asked, but I definitely was the greenest one in class. I sat on my stool and looked to either side as older men and women silently pulled out their materials, unrolling a leather satchel with many thin long pockets, each revealing the sharpened head of a differently shaped tool- knives of all sizes, gouges and who even knows what the rest were. On my other side, a confident looking man pulled out this huge lazy susan with about three times as many tools as the first guy and not only that, he gets out this professional looking leather apron (not kidding) and special carving gloves and finger bootie to protect from gouging himself (I was way too cool for such things, no comment on the fact that I may have rushed to the bathroom cupping the result of a gloveless hand while carving). I took out my little knife and put it on the table in front of me, looked around and rummaged for another kind of knife that I didn't even know the purpose of and placed it next to the first. Looked around again while the others looked busy with actual tasks and took out my piece of walnut and poked at it til the teacher started with the introductions.

I must say, though, as shaky a beginning as it was and as uncertain I was at the idea of 7 hours of carving a day for 5 days straight (would I get bored? hate it?), the week was over in a flash and I was exhilerated with my new found love! And I produced some halfway decent results! But seriously, woodcarving is a beautiful thing. I seriously would find myself grinning in anticipation at the little face as it slowly emerged out of the basswood block in my hands. By the end of the week I completed a little full-bodied pudge of a santa and two heads of woodsy woodsmen with beards and fun hats and I felt like a whole different carver than that girl up on the, now that I've started, the possibilities are endless! Anyways, a great way to get my mind off of the wild anticipation for and obsession with Guatemala and, now that I'm home..holy crap I'm leaving in less than three weeeeeeeeeeeeks!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

And so it is..

Well, on Wednesday October 14th, I planned on getting out on the road early to head south to Asheville, NC to see my lovely ol' roomie from college, Ms. Alison Karr get married to Mr. James Smoke. So I woke up early, had a good jog, a shower, loaded up the cooler and packed up my car and, minutes before starting on my road trip south, I got online to check some directions when I saw an email in my inbox: "Peace Corps has updated your Application Status account. Log in to your toolkit to see the latest information." Achugugerlishkgrugack!!! Gack! Gah, ugh, holy mother of frickfrack!! I madly clicked away and got onto my online account and whuddyaknow, it said: "congratulations you have been invited to become a peace corps volunteer, your invitation was sent oct. 13"...HOLY MOLY!!!! But, but, where are they sending me? When do I depart!? Wha, whu..what do I do? I was just about to head south and now I know that there's a letter with my future sealed inside floating it's way to Matt's apartment in DC where I have all my Peace Corps mail sent. Will it get there today? I can't leave when I know it's so close, there's no way I can wait til I get back and I sure as hell want to hold that letter in my hands!! Will it arrive today willit arrivetoday?? Well, the status said the letter was sent the day before and they're based just outside of DC so it just HAS to arrive today, it HAS TO!!! Ohman, I called everyone..Mom, Dad, Matt, and NO ONE ANSWERED!!! Finally I got my Megan and she was there for me, so excited, so supportive, but aw she was sick and groggy but man she was just what I needed to intercept some of this insania! I'd just talked to her yesterday saying who knows when I'll know, poor me and suddenly it's in the mail! Woohoo! So I called Matt about three thousand times (it was about 10am at that point) and got him as he got up from dead sleep to go to the loo. I had to know "what time does your mail arrive??" Well he said it varied and I told him I'd head to DC to see if it came today, basically my life is flexible at the moment and I told Birdman Andrew that I was passing through his area and he invited me to stay tonight on my way to Asheville and Alison's wedding (which wasn't til saturday, 17th). Well I called and told him I might be a bit late, waiting for this letter that had BETTER BE IN THE MAIL THIS VERY INSTANT and I headed to DC. On my way I decided to stop for coffee and swung through an outdoor store since I didn't expect the mail to arrive til later in the afternoon. Well as I moseyed back to the car I got a call from Matt after reading 2 texts that said he was up and about (I was thinking I was giving him time to sleep in!) and when he heard I was in Rockville he was like "what the hell are you doing still so far away! I didn't want to tell you but the letter is here so get your butt down here!!!" craaaaaaap!! I dove back into the car and sped up the pike singing along to music blaring as I tried to drive not as recklessly as I so freakin wanted to. My wild energy went into my singing and yelling at slow cars and traffic and road work and pedestrians as I crept from one red light to another on Georgia Ave into DC. Gaaah!! I finally got to O st and was greeted by my smiling brother. We walked up to his apartment and I jiggered through the door over to the counter and there it was: a big white envelope. Uhguh..uh. I decided to go to the bathroom. And there I sat, thinking, "no matter what it says, this will be amazing, get ready for a whole new step in this wild unpredictable ride of life...and if it's Somoa (where they recently had earthquakes and tsunamis to which I imagine they'll want to route Peace Corps volunteers to help) I won't be sad, even if it means I won't learn spanish." Okay! So back to business! I took the package and Matt and I ripped it open, ahhhh! A big blue envelope that held my future "Peace Corps invites you to serve". I opened it and lifted out the letter in the front, shaking, Dear Stacey..blah blah, Guatemala, blah...wha..I'M GOING TO GUUUUAATEMAAALAAAA!!!!" I screeched it bouncing into my brothers arms!!! The feeling, the future, the wonder, pulled from my very depths, I couldn't believe it!!! Oh, it was unreal. I can't believe it. I don't know anything about Guatemala other than it's Central America, I'll not be too horribly far away for friends and family to come and visit, I'll be in the tropics, I'll learn spanish, there will be beautiful birds, oh my god. So back to the invitation packet: it had some other goodies as well..."Your Assignment; Country: Guatemala; Program: Sustainable Community Tourism; Job Title: Community Tourism Facilitator; Orientation Dates 1/04/09
Yes!! Jaaaanuaaarrry!!! I'll be home for Christmas! Parents will be so happy! Matt was so happy! And what the hell is sustainable community tourism?? So now we settled in to look over this fun explained the project: The overall purpose of the Sustainable Community Tourism Project is to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of participating families, through the establishment of sustainable community tourism projects (nature tourism, cultural tourism, and agro-tourism) which also help to conserve the environment and expand understanding and support of Guatemala's cultures and agriculture" "The goals of the Sustainable Community Tourism Project are: 1. Communities will identifu and develop sustainable environmental projects to generate income (eg. tour services, crafts, recycled material, timber and non-timber products) and increase practices of sustainability principles. 2. The members of the community associations, education community (schools) and youth groups will carry out environmental conservation practices in tourist site and community. Activities can include (wait til you read this..)

a. facilitate the conservation and management of natural protected areas or reserves

b. gather info on the local flora and fauna species and attractions

c. train park guards on flora and fauna management

d. facilitate the implementation of community ecotourism projects based on local cultural, natural and social characteristics

e. train ecotourism associations on how to start, implement and organize ecotourism as an income generation and conservation activity; and how to prepare and implement quality standards for ecotourism and handicrafts

f. train local people and park guards in activities/services related to ecotourism such as: guiding tourists, human relations, orientation, security, information, lodging, meals, transportation, etc. also, train forest rangers, guides and local schoolteachers in the successful development of interpretive tours for students in nature reserves or ecotourism sites

g. train women/men's groups in small business

h. prepare pamphlets, posters or websites to promote ecotourism sites or regional routes. provide updated information for international publications such as the Loney Planet books.

i. organizeand train ecological youth groups on best environmental practices, leadership, self esteem, arts, hiv prevention in collaboration with counterparts

j. prepare with counterparts eco-camps for youth ecological groups based on their needs

k. train organized groups to write effective conservation proposals for national and international donors

l. help community groups establish annual work goals, activities, and indicators. Also, participate in planning, coordination and training meetings convened by their Host Agency, community groups and Peace Corps

m. take photographs and videos of ecotourism and income-generating projects (trails, attractions, crafts, etc) for monitoring and evaluation.

n. train and assist counterparts and work groups on markets and feasibility studies of ecotourism and income generation projects

o. carry out visits, demonstrations, popular theater and skits with tourism associations, tourist host families, guides and forest rangers and ecotourism services (preparing food, basic lodging, hygine and security)

p. make demonstrations and support the community, tourist host families and forest rangers in the practice of the 4 Rs with examples such as compost pits, art with recycled materials, etc.

q. train the education community on the creation and implementation of community or school emergency plans depending on local vulnerability

r. facilitate and train community leaders, associations, community development committees and teachers on small environmental projects and lesson plans

s. organize or facilitate community or school events related to environmental protection in the celebration of earth day, etc

t. collect info and keep records of changes observed in organized groups on environmental actions

u. write reports and submit them periodically to agencies and PC indicating participants by gender and progress mad in ecotourism or income-generating projects

...these things are all amazing sounding and what's more, they're things I was hoping to do in my free time but turns out, it'll be MY JOB!!!! Good grief good grief. I was so glad my brother was there, he made me coffee and I bounced around some more, looking up pictures of guatemala on the computer and maps and stuff and then back over to him and we looked at the assignment book and all the different handbooks, that for the volunteer as well as one for the family. So now I have 10 days to look over it all and decide that I definitely want to do it, haha. I'll be calling them momentarily..but seriously they like you to look over it all-no surprises. Nevertheless, I need to start heading southward. So I bid my loving brother goodbye and I drove of out DC into hideous traffic and 8 hours of pouring rain. Lovely!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Maybe We're Dreaming

So I'm sitting here and it's 2:20am. The thoughts running through my head are a stream that carries me ever toward the future. You never know what the water ahead will hold. I love this kind of life, ever plunging into new waters, rounding each turn with no idea of what lies ahead. Of course, I can't say that I've always been blissfully happy, in fact I've spent a fair amount of time in those dark depths where the water is stagnant and the banks steep. But despite it all, I look back upon the path that I've forged and followed, and I have no regrets. Part of what the great fun of this ride is not knowing what rapids lay ahead. Peace Corps is downstream and I'm rushing towards it, icy ripples of fear and uncertainty lap at the edges of the leaf I've caught this ride upon, but the excitement holds me afloat. I lean forward in my eagerness, attempting not to tip too far, knowing that a spill could happen at any moment. Well here I am now, caught up in the throes of anticipation and I feel like I'm at the top of the stairs of my childhood home, looking down and knowing that a huge christmas tree is splaying it's thick dark branches over mountains of wrapped presents. All I want to do is squeeze through the chairs set to keep us at bay and belly slide down the stairs in my footed p.j.'s to reach the gifts that bear my name and tuck in. I'm trying to keep my thoughts reigned in, not place expectations on where I may be sent or what experiences I may encounter. Every Peace Corps Volunteer follows a different path and there is no way to know what the future has in store for me. All I want is to know that I'll carry through, no matter what surprises, good or bad, await. It's sink or swim, that's life, and I love the challenges where you are tossed in and given just that chance-either flutter helplessly to the bottom or remain afloat, even if it takes every bit of energy, passion and hope that is inside of you. When given the choice, I'll put every effort towards remaining afloat. I love this idea of a challenge, I want to face whatever it is that awaits me. I want to take on life, to live and to be able to look back at what I've accomplished and feel glorious pride. But damn, there's always that creeping feeling of the unknown and what it may hold. But difficulty and pain, they're inevitable. I just never want to lose the wonder, that which stops you in your tracks in awe. Moments of wonder, awe and respect for the wild beauty make up the heartbeat of this earth, and these beats are what I live for.

Monday, January 19, 2009


I want to go to another place and enter it fully. I want to become part of a new community and not taint it with the essence of my own. My one fear of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer is that I don’t want to tempt others toward the evils of my own culture: greed, over-consumption, and more choices than we even can dream of and that we in no way need.

My life goal is to make up for the dent in the earth- the gash-that my life has made in it. I am an American and I want to live a life away from here because, as an American, I am spoiled, lavished in luxury while a baby halfway across the world is starving and crawling with flies. I am spoiled as we continue to drill deeper into the earth, sucking it dry of the precious resources so we can wear a sweater indoors on a sweltering day. I am ashamed of how we are put on this pedestal and how easy it is to forget that there are others around the world living a life that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy.

I know I can learn many lessons from non-americans and I know that it is my deepest passion to help direct them toward a life by learning from our mistakes. I want to learn how to help them but I don’t want them to think that I see myself as some all-mighty savior. I don’t want to offend them, but rather see if we can learn from each other and join together toward a better future.

As a field biologist, I’ve seen nature in its purest form and I know that very few Americans have encountered this. I am sorry for them and I feel very fortunate for my experiences. Through my work, I’ve gained a great skill in observation and a huge respect for the unfamiliar. The differences are what make culture culture and I don’t want to erase that-I want to help it persist.

Out of the Woodwork

The summer of ‘04 I worked at an eco-lodge in Costa Rica as the assistant to the head landscaper. His name was Wilbur and he spoke no English. I had taken Spanish in high school, three years prior and recalled despising that class. The teacher was more concerned with my disobedient and horribly rude classmates than making sure the rest of us had learned anything. I figured I had gained little from that class and thought nothing of it again until I was faced with Wilbur, this kind faced, hard working man who made quick work of a pineapple and presented it to me like a popsicle. At first I was shy to make my attempts at his language until his patience and kind laughter won me over. The language came out of me like mice out of the woodwork. I didn’t know it was there ‘til I shook things up a bit. With Wilbur and the rest of the Tican staff, I became good friends. I entered their world and their culture with enthusiasm, respect and curiosity. I played soccer with them, learned how they dance, folded banana leaves into beautiful forms, used their slang words, we tutored each other in our languages, we became family. I loved the excitement of leaving my home behind, learning how people lived worlds away from mine. I treasure the aspect of community that seems to be held in such higher esteem than it is in the states. I look forward to visiting more in the future.