Wednesday, October 6, 2010

La Importancia de los Viajes del Campo en Aprendizaje

Muchos estudiantes les gustan los viajes del campo como una día libre de escuela. Los viajes son algo differente en que pueden escapar los escritorios y vean algo diferente. Sin embargo, estos "vacaciones" son relacionado a sus estudios y ofrecen una opurtunidad para ver algo real, en lugar de una foto en sus libros. De hecho, los viajes del campo resultan en una experiencia mas llena de aprendizaje y producen estudiantes mas lista para la vida actual.

A la ventaja de los estudiantes, los viajes del campo les llegan a lugares relacionado a las temas en sus estudios universidades. Un ejemplo es visitar una parque nacional con una clase de biología para ver los bosques y los relaciones entre la vida silvestre y los plantas y arboles. Para ver en realidad los cosas de que hablaron en clase, pueden entender mejor con estos ejemplos actuales y recordar mejor con sus memorias.

Otros ventajas incluyen oportunidades que los estudiantes nunca han tenido. Muchas jovenes de la ciudades nunca han visto los bosques alredador sus hogares. Es una probabilidad que el viaje a qualquier lugar es el primero vez por muchos de los estudiantes. Estos oportunidades dan una vista mas grande por los estudiantes de la vida que van a entrar.

Muchas veces, las lecturas en las clases causan los alumnos perdir interés, no importa la tema. Si la misma tema es estudiado por un viaje del campo, es probable que los estudiantes van a tener mas interes y, tal ves, encontrar mucho fascinación en esta tema. Si los estudiantes vean los arboles que están muriendo por la pollución y insectos exóticos en vida actual, tal vez, van a recordar esta viaje cuando estan en carreras en que tienen abilidades influyentes para afectar legislación. ¿Quien sabe?

Sin embargo, los viajes del campo tienen muchos aspectos beneficiales para mejorar la experiencia universidad. Esto es algo que cada universidad debe tener en cada facultad. La futura depende en los jovenes y cada experiencia va a anadir a su vista de la vida. Es importante que las maestros tomar la oportunidad para dar una vista mas llena para la futura de todos.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Porch of an Old Farmhouse

The creak of the porch swing caused the girl to look up from where she sat in the adjacent field. She'd been picking soybeans for the afternoon after showing up at the front step of that porch earlier that morning. The woman who'd answered had dust in her hair and sadness in her eyes. Lana was just glad she didn't ask any questions. The woman retreated back into the depths of the house after agreeing to pay the girl in meals for some work. She didn't need the help, the field was obviously left abandoned, but Lana didn't feel the need to ask questions either. The peeling white paint of the swing fluttered to the ground as the wind gently rocked it. The familiar creaking of the old chain brought the woman to the window and Lana saw her peer down toward the porch from above. The woman brushed at her cheek and turned back to face the cluttered room, filled with wooden toys and half filled boxes, all covered in a film of dust.

The soybeans were cooked with dinner that evening and girl and woman sat at the large table in silence. The girl slowly ate, her only belongings in a small bag on the floor beside her chair. It was quiet in the house and the girl stole glances at the shadows which were all that were left of a happier, bustling life. The woman appeared to live alone, although there was evidence otherwise. A large canvas jacket still hung from the hook by the back screen door and she noticed picture of a man at work out in the cow pasture down the east slope from the house. He sat on a tractor and held a young boy in his lap who's head barely showed above the wheel. The story told itself most devastatingly so, through the pain in the gray eyes of the woman left behind.

When the woman got up from the table, Lana thought about the pain she'd felt in her life and felt quietly connected to this woman with the dust still in her hair and a defeated gaze. Setting a full glass of milk next to Lana's plate, the woman's foot grazed the bag on the floor, tipping it. On to the linoleum rolled a faded wooden red truck that matched the set in the room upstairs, now packed away in cardboard. The woman sucked in her breath and held it, aghast at what she saw.

"That's my son's. What are you doing with his toy in your belongings?" her voice was cold.

The girl sat frozen, cringing, "No I wasn't going to take it, ma'am. Please. I found it out in the field."

The woman looked like she could hit Lana. The girl didn't know how to explain. She'd wanted to keep it. She had been fighting with herself all afternoon about what she was going to do with the faded thing that had caused her heart to stop when she saw it.

"I'm sorry, I only wanted to hold it for awhile."

"What did you think you were going to do with it!? It's mine, it obviously belongs in this house, it my arms..he belongs in my arms" her voice cracked and she simply fell apart, staggering back to her side of the table and slumping into her seat, tears falling.
Lana picked up the truck, staring at it before tearing her eyes away to look at the woman with the grey eyes.

"My father built one for my brother," she whispered, "It just looked so much like this one, laying there in the dirt. I knew that you needed it because it was his, but I almost was able to believe that it belonged to another young boy and that I'd be able to once again hold him in my arms."

Later, after the sun had fallen below the green hills, Lana came out of the guest room for a glass of water. She heard the creaking again and followed the sound out onto the porch. The fading light only just illuminated the woman where she sat. She held a large cardboard box in her lap, it's flaps open revealing trucks and cars and carved wooden animals. Her grey eyes met Lana's.

"You can keep it"


This was just a little exercise, I found a site that helped you create a setting for a creative writing piece. You choose numbers and each number gives you one of the options for a.Character, b.Setting, c.Time, d.Challenge/Situation. So with my random choice of four numbers I came out with:
character: homeless child
setting: porch of an old farmhouse
time: after a fight
challenge: someone accused another of something wrong

I used a bit of artistic license, because I didn't follow exactly my topics but they at least got me rolling on an idea and I had a good time with it! Hope you enjoyed it.


Her pace quickened as she moved down the grassy slope. Three ducks flew low over the water, their wings beat fast to hold their weighty bodies aloft. Her eyes flicked, taking in the scene with only a quick glance. She went back to watching her feet as they padded down the hill, toward the water. Who was she to think that she could keep up with this world? The fast pace of it all, the bustle of the busy sidewalks swarming with people dressed in crisp suits and hair all done up. Is this life? To make money and wear it around town and out to clubs? How could you spend days, weeks, months, without touching your soles to earth? How can people live like that? For her, peace was in the woods when she wandered alone. Where do you find peace in a city that buzzes night and day? She approached the lapping shallows and dropped her clothes where the grass ended. Sliding into the water, she escaped the world, escaped norms and expectations. She welcomed the release and closed her eyes, sinking. A kingfisher rattled a long cry, dropping off his branch to fly across the wide river.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bring on the Laughing Gas

This morning I was getting ready to drive myself to my dentist appointment when I started sensing that old familiar feeling bubbling up in my brain!

I was looking in the mirror when I started to noticed the sparkly scribbles obscuring part of my peripheral vision. This folks, is my classic warning to get ready for some nasueating, skull-boring pain starting out piercing and ending blinding! I've had enough migraines in the past to yield full recognition and immediate action with now only a defeated sigh or a muttered explicative. The first time it happened, however, warranted a trip to the emergency room back when I was in middle school. My mom thought it was a stroke when her daughter started slurring her words and couldn't coherently read the newspaper comics out loud. Today though I calmly rifled through through the clutter of my room seeking out the migraine pill stash that I prayed hadn't been a figment of my imagination. I found them and popped two amphetamine-jacked green and white gel tabs and amused myself for a moment as I tried to catch my eye up with the spot of shimmering nothing-ness that jumped around my field of view, always just out of reach. The pain hadn't hit yet but my digestive tract was beginning to regret my morning yogurt and granola. I calculated the amount of time I had until I needed to drive my mom's stick shift to my appointment and decided that the blindness should be ending within the next twenty minutes and the onslaught of pain should be dampered, though slightly, enough to allow me to drive with my faculties more or less functioning. I made it without a hitch but was soon cursing myself as I laid in the dentist chair listening to, for a good ten minutes of blinding migraine agony, what a bad decision it is to not following a regular flossing regime. Lady, I could not giving a damn about what I might be allowing to proliferate in the dark crevices between my teeth and the shame of it all, now either hit me over the head unconscious with that blaring light you have penetrating my brain and igniting the depths of this excruciating pain rising up within me or bring on the laughing gas, stat.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Graffiti on Trees

If I follow my mind's path, it will take me into oblivion. I'm following it now because I can't sleep. Writing shall be my outlet. When you're walking through the forest, passing birch trees with their smooth trunks marred by engraved initials encircled by hearts, what can you do but wonder? When you lay down to sleep and can't stop the endless whir of thoughts passing across your consciousness, what can you do but get up, run downstairs, grab your computer, grab some pretzels and start loudly crunching while tapping away? I can already feel my eyes drying out, the dull ache through my temples from staring at the screen. Where will writing get me? Who knows but I really just spent the past half hour trying to draw a beech tree trunk. I didn't even get to the graffiti yet and I'm already disgusted with it. Okay, well another hour and a half later and I sorta got what I was going for. So here it is...

I think I'll be able to sleep now...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Maestra Estacey


So I had my first day of teaching English! It was quite an primero vez teaching in a classroom and I was lucky to have a partner in crime. Cristobal de Carolina de Nor arrived on Monday, a volunteer from the States who heard about Loma Linda and came to lend a hand for a week. And just in time! My first class was with a room FULL of ninos, probably about 40 kids between the ages 4-8 and I had them for two hours of “How-are-you?” “I-am-good” “Good-morning” “Welcome” again and again and again. Just a handful of sentences repeated and repeated, taking turns between me and them or one side of the class to another, pointing at each other on the “YOU” and at themselves for the “I”. Two hours of this. Two hours. If I didn’t have Chris there to help keep everybody in line (he took the title of Crowd Control), I think I might have just run screaming for the hills. Aside from the fact that their yelling in unison sometimes melded together into “How are GOOD!” and “I am YOU!”, I know they left having learned at least something because the next day I had many “Buenas dias, Stacey!”s. So what did we learned? Two hours is way too long for a room full 45 very small children and the differences between the ages is vast enough that a lot of the youngsters got lost in the bustle. Our solution: Break the class up into two one-hour classes, the younger youngsters first and the olders second. When we finished, we both completely collapsed. Pascual and Rosa were there too and now and then Pascual lent a hand in wrangling back their attention as well. Never would I have been able to do that alone..maybe in the future but not the first time having ever done something like this every before in my life! Whew! I was kind of nervous for the afternoon class with the adults and older students but man, those two hours went so smooth and it was a fantastic group! Several members of ASODILL, Pascual and two of his daughters, a handful of teachers and a good group of teenagers who already had a good base knowledge. We spent some time on greetings and, while it felt patronizing to have them repeat and repeat and repeat,but they were wonderful and we joked and laughed and it was so laid back and we aNUNciated (wowweeerrrr) and I made all kinds of silly faces in the process repeating the sounds of the letters..R and T being some of the more difficult for them..and I found I really used my whole body in the process, to emphasize with hands waving and bouncing my knees on each syllable. It was great! We did the whole alphabet together, one letter at a time and it really was fun! I’d say the letter and they’d repeat it back, we’d do that 4 or five times and for the harder letters I walked to each desk and had every student repeat it back to me. I have no idea where all the energy came from because I did NOT sleep the night before (anxious girl not able to turn her brain off, nervous for her first day of being a teacher..) but man, I felt exuberant at the end of it, absolutely ecstatic! And I pretty much did it all by myself! I really felt proud of myself as we walked back up the street under a light drizzle and we just had to stop and gaze at the mountains, draped in clouds. It was a perfect vista to end a grand adventure of a day. Oh, I almost forgot! Rosa made us a celebratory “congrats on your first day of teaching” banana bread cake for dessert and yes, it was heaven on earth.
Sunday: Today I took Cristobal up to the wall waterfall and it has really amped up since last week with all the rain we’ve had! The walk to it is so lush and gorgeous, Chris is as in love with this place as I am and as all the other volunteers are who have had the luck of finding this beautiful haven tucked away up in the mountains. Sundays are my days off and oh what a day! Fruit filled: papaya for breakfast, bought some mangos to die for from the tienda up the street that we snacked on at the waterfall, that afternoon were each gifted a bolsa-full of bananas that afternoon courtesy of Conrado. I went for my first jog (Oh, so long awaited. I love my exercise and have so far not been brave enough to set out, as jogging isn’t a common thing, but as I’m getting to know the community, I figure they already think I’m strange enough so so what if this ups the anty?). I trekked up the steep hill and was managed to keep a steady pace despite the rough incline. I got up to the cancha de futbol (soccer field) and made 10 turns around the field to the giggles and banter of some local teenage boys goofing off around the far goal. As I finished up, some girls were arriving to play futbol and I asked if I could join. They were really nice and a couple were my English class students who chose me to play on their team (aw!) though I told them they actually really didn’t want me on their team. But I held my own, my offense is a disaster (I have no idea how to dribble) but I run fast and am aggressive enough that I was able to snag the ball a couple of times on defense and I even made a goal! Sure, I also fell flat on my side and got a punt right between the eyes (third golpe in four months on these glasses and they’re still in one piece!) but it was a blast! I skipped down the trail in wonderful spirits and joined Chris who was sitting on the steps of the deck of the albergue (volunteer hotel). We talked for about five minutes before a group of little boys came up and we kidded around with them a bit (they’re rascals, totally whisper and giggle and when you ask their name they’ll say some word or another, trying to keep a straight face and you know they’re trying to get you to say something you might rather not if you even knew what it meant!). A teenage girl walked up to us with two bags full of something and said her uncle Conrado sent her to deliver us bananas(!!!). This was a dream come true and so well timed as just that morning we were discussing our desire for bananas. Pascual had tons about a month ago but we finally finished them and his next harvest hasn’t ripened yet. We were beside ourselves and trying to express our gratitude when she added further to this to ask if we wanted to come up to the house to try “morados”, or purple bananas. So we went up to the house and found Conrado (on of my favorite ASODILL members, he’s younger and just the most smiling, genuine, thoughtful, intelligent guy that it’s just an absolute pleasure to be friends with, I’m being gushy but he’s just so freaking nice!). He introduced us around his house and we sat and talked with his abuelos for awhile and then he offered to take us to meet the rest of his family who all live in a line of houses up on the ridge. They were all great and we sat and talked with everyone, one house after another, explaining why we were here and raving about Loma Linda and its inhabitants. This was great for me, to get meeting more of the community and they were all so genuinely thankful for our presence, for our desire to be there to help. Each house welcomed us in and we talked the afternoon away, overlooking the beautiful vista, drinking café con leche and getting to know better this beautiful community. What could be better?

Whew! So I’m halfway through my first day teaching Environmental Education. I did two one-hour long classes this morning with segundo y tercero basico (between 5 and 7 years-ish) and I literally winged it since I didn’t really have any good lesson plans to work off of and since it is the first day I really just wanted to get an idea of what the kids already know. Well, I first went into describing what the terms nature and environment meant and then I described the difference between domestic and wild animals. I had them give me examples of each and tell me what kinds of animals they’ve seen out in the hills surrounding community. They were all very gung ho to pipe up whatever animal came to mind and I felt secure knowing I once again had my crowd control Cristobal there for back-up but, luckily, since it was an actual school day the level of chaos was minimal in comparison to the weekend English lesson. So anyways, I had imagined that this discussion/lesson plan I’d created was going to take a lot longer than it actually did (in contrast with the English classes where you can repeat the same thing back and forth for what seems like ever!) so I suddenly found I had to improvise on what to finish out the second half of the class with. I decided to dive into the food web. This was fun because I had them call out ideas and I’d draw the different groups up on the board, which they got a kick out of: first with plants/fruit/flowers/trees/leaves; then various critters that feed on the flora; followed by birds and mammals that eat the insects and critters; and finally the carnivores that eat the birds and smaller animals…and then I turned it into a web, pointing out that birds and mammals also eat the fruits and plants, etc. and then I asked them if they could think of one animal that is found in just about all corners of the world and that feeds upon all of the various groups in the web..a kind of animal that live in cities, wears clothes…a few more hints and then there was a lightbulb-Humans! So I drew us in and had arrows going to all the appropriate spots, always asking the kids if they remembered what the arrows between the groups symbolized. The kids really got into it and I felt like I left them with a better idea of how we are all connected and that all parts of nature depend on each other..if you cut down all the forests you cut out a part of the web and those that depend on the lost part will die and this is why we have to share the environment, we can’t just use it all up ourselves and why it is important to set aside protected areas for wildlife to live. The second class went even better than the first and I finished my second hour with great feelings of success all around! It was fun, I actually might even kind of sort of like this new “profession” I’ve stumbled into. It also gives me a whole new respect for the actual professionals who do this every day, all day. Kudos, kudos, kudos. Two hours in a row is just about all I think I can handle, thank you very very much! Luckily I have from 10am til 4pm to recoup before I have to step into the secondary school and teach a class of thirteen/fourteen year olds. I’m quite a bit more nervous since this is getting into more of a difficult age where you can’t charm them with cute drawings on the board. We’ll just have to see how it goes, stay tuned!

It wasn’t so bad! In fact, it was really pretty great. I went more in depth on the theme of medio ambiente and all that it consists of-both living and non-living elements. The kids were taking notes and some of them were really on the ball, answering my questions and really thinking about the answers. I decided to keep the drawings and the kids really enjoyed them, it was a hit! I felt a lot more comfortable, on par with the age group (between 13 and 16) and they were totally patient and helpful with my Spanish although I actually felt pretty fluid throughout the entire class and to have the teacher to pitch in with some key words (“red trofico”-trophic web, or food web). Oh and to top it off, despite the teacher, I ran totally solo! Chris decided he didn’t really need to be there since even with the a.m. classes he didn’t really have to help much at all and, though I so appreciated his help, I felt great that I could walk in there and run a truly one-girl-show! I had a lot more notes prepared to make sure that I had enough to keep rolling along through the whole hour and it ended up I had more than enough and suddenly the hour was over and I still had more to say! Nonetheless, I was able to cut it short with style and the round of applause brought it to a close. Walking up the street with the onset of a cloud shrouded evening among a crowd of kids in their crisp uniforms and bantering back and forth phrases in English, I was happy to have made it through the day having completed another experience along this winding road that has so many surprises around every bend.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cool Things

So I have reached my Happy One Month Anniversary of Peace Corps Volunteerdom! The saying is that the days go by slow and the weeks fly, and I have to say, I am totally de acuerdo. Sometimes I’m thinking, how in the heck is it still buenas dias and not buenas tardes?! And next thing I know, another week has flown by. Well, since I last wrote, I managed to survive a lovely case of Giardia..couldn’t go the hour on the camioneta into town to get my medicine. I suffered an additional day’s (suffering) wait after a failed attempt to get one of the ayudantes (the wingman that helps the bus drivers) to pick up my meds from the farmacia (I didn’t give him enough money, it was more expensive than we’d thought). Finally we sent Claudio, my counterpart to get it and it was worth paying extra to support his lost day of work because I felt like crapola and was ready to be better. So that over with, I am not into my first week of scheduled work..and it’s keeping me busy indeed. Unfortunately, there are always deviations to the best laid plan…Mondays are suppose to be my aviturismo days where I’ll take the guides out, one or a few at a time, and we go birdwatching! Basically I’ll teaching them to spot and identify birds, learn the names in English and how to find them in the bird books, etc. So anyways, this Monday, I’d intended to start by taking out Pascual but instead I learned that there was a package arrived for me and I had to go to El Palmar to pick it up. Can’t say I was too disappointed though, knowing I had goodies waiting for me, sent by a certain loving maternal relation. So early that morning I hopped onto the camioneta and rode the hour down to Cuatro Caminos where I switched buses to bring me to the entrance to El Palmar (some 25min) where I hailed a microbus to bring me 10min into the small town. I get off at the post office and find that I have to wait an hour because it was way too early for it to even think of being open and I hadn’t even considered the possibility til I walked up to the dark building. So I sat and read in the park (Mansfield Park, this being the book I was reading, not the park I was sitting in…Jane Austen) til 8:30 and still the place showed no signs of life. I asked some ladies sitting in the park and they told me it wouldn’t be opened til 9am. Sigh. So I walked around town and found a tienda where I bought some cookies and placticar-ed (chatted) with the man behind the counter, Gregorio, who told me about his time living in the states before he got deported. He showed me some really cute white kittens for sale in a wooden crate. I went back to see if the PO was open and still no. The women told me it’d be better if I just went to Dona Mirian’s house, the postmaster. So following their directions, I found myself back at the store and got additional directions from Gregorio and found I’d gone too far when I asked some other ladies, one of which was so kind as to walk me to the street I’d missed. I knocked on the door and her husband answered and informed me Mirian goes into Xela every Monday. But I was in luck because for some reason my package was there in the house! He knew who I was and what I was there for pretty much right off the bat. I wondered why my package was there instead of the post office..I felt better thinking special extra secure treatment for the blundering gringa. Without asking questions, I signed a form, showed my Peace Corps ID and got my chocolate.
Today, Tuesday is scheduled to be my day in the escuela teaching Environmental Education to the students. I’ll teach in the mornings in the Escuela Primario and in the afternoons to students in Secondario. Each week I’ll teach different grades for a cycle that repeats every three weeks. I’m in charge of the content of the course and I’ll adjust the complexity of each week’s theme to cater accordingly to the different age levels. This is kind of a big deal for me..I’m actually pretty nervous. I’m a nature girl, at home in the work has all been with birds, quietly studying them out in whatever wonderfully remote field location I’ve shipped myself off to. I’ve never been a teacher! So today I went to work out the details with the teachers and I walk into the schoolyard and suddenly I’ve got thirty little bitties surrounding me yelling out their names and asking if I remembered them and asking how to say things in English. I was charmed by the bitties, they are darn cute and I think I can have some good fun teaching them about nature. Nonetheless, I’m still anxious! How to begin (where do you begin?? There is so much information!), how to keep their attention, how to deal with the difficult students, how to decide how in-depth to go, how to get the message across..?!? Not to mention it’s all in Spanish. This is not my first language, people. But this is Peace Corps. You get thrown into something and you do all you can to keep afloat. I love nature. I love birds and I want to share my passion and create awareness, open minds to our surroundings and how we affect them, share how we should treat this mother earth of ours in order to ensure a better future. It’s all just a matter of how eloquently I can get all this across, all with a fair share (this I’m sure) of stumbling along the way.

Cool things-Saw a hummingbird attach himself to a rock wall to bathe in a gentle section of one of our beautiful waterfalls. And common bush tanagers hopping around in some viny growth that clung to the same wall and I watched as they shook and squirmed under the water drops that rained down on them in a natural shower. We had a visit at the house from a Morelet´s Tree Frog that hopped into the pila on a dark, thunderstormy night.

Sorry for the lack of photography. I will make up for it soon!

Friday, April 23, 2010

How Goes April

Week of Sunday 5th of April:
Life has been busy here in my mountain ridge-top community. I’ve gotten to work with Eduardo in the lombricompost operation where I played with worms for half a day. Red coquettes, they’re called and we shoveled the fruit pulp (the discarded skins of the coffee beans from this year’s harvest) to the pileras (big troughs) to mix with the worms, presenting them their feast. After a week, you stir; this is making sure the upper layer is incorporated down below so the worms get at every bit of the fruit waste in order to convert it to pure fertilizer, abono. The worms like to stay below where it is moist and comfy, so this ensures all of the waste gets processed. They eat the pulp and poop out rich, homogenized abono..pure dirt full of nutrients that we then bagged in costales (large nylon bags) that are then sold for 25 or 30 quetzales to the community. The coffee production cooperative is divided into the families that decided to go conventional and those that decided to produce purely organic coffee, using chemicals in neither their fertilizer nor their forms of pest control. The fertilizer they buy is what we are producing here with our worms and their pest control are bottles with one side cut out and, inside, hangs a smaller bottle of aguardiente (alcohol) with a strong sweet smell. The big bottle was painted red and that, along with the sweet odor, attracts the brocas, the coffee pests. They fly into the bottle and when they are inside, looking for the source of the smell, they fall to the bottom where lies a bit of water with soap that they then drown in. Pretty nifty device, and I’m told it traps countless brocas, which burrow into the coffee berries and feast on the granitas, or coffee beans.
Been having various meetings and lots of talk with Rosa, Pascual and the rest of the gang on ideas for what I will be doing to keep busy for the next two years. So far we are boiling up some ideas including that one day a week I’ll go out with a different tour guide and we’ll go birding for the day. The guides, Claudio, Keller, Eduardo, are in the very beginning stages of being capable of hosting bird tours. They know only a handful of the species found here and know them only by their local names. The problem is that all they have are 2 pair of practically useless secondhand binoculars and not a bird guide(or any nature guides, for that matter) to speak of (yes this would be me unabashedly hinting: donations are much appreciated! Or if anyone has any connections or suggestions to a means of obtaining this much-needed equipment..). For now though, my job is to teach them how to find and identify species and how to go about conducting a successful bird tour. Another of my duties will be to work with my counterpart Claudio on constructing interperative materials for the trails, signs that identify the trails and give interesting and useful information as well as informative pamphlets , what species visitors should encounter on their hike. I’m going to be working very in-depth on finding and obtaining grants with Pascual, to which one day each week will be dedicated. We don’t have the best access to internet at the moment, despite the newly raised internet “cafe”..the reception here on our ridge is quite lacking. Sin embargo, we (being the association) are working on installing a different device that has proven to work and we are hoping to be affordable. Vamos a ver. Another duty of mine will be..English classes! Pascual has the idea of me teaching 0-7yr olds (hopefully more on the 7yr side than the 0yr side..!) since that’s when the brain is most accommodating in learning a language, once you reach 7 years, the brain is full, as declared Pascual, after proclaiming himself a psychologist. I am de acuerdo that teaching youngsters yields better result but I think we can be more flexible on the range. So far that’s what we have for filling my weeks, I think another day will be dedicated to working with the tour guide group on projects they’ve devised but that will depend on what time they have since every day working for ASODILL is a day lost of working their parcels which they depend on for income. This is why we are working so hard at this, though, to provide this community with another source of income.
In other news, we’ve had another visitor: Luisa from Canada. She is a slightly older woman full of energy and love for this community. She originally met Pascual and Rosa through her work with EntreMundos, the NGO that promotes community development and human rights. After she left that organization, she lived here for 3 months and contributed a great deal of time and effort in obtaining money through grant applications. They were successful and much of that money went toward building the albergue (4 room hotel with a kitchen up by the church) where visiting volunteers stay. She came back and spent a week with us and we spent several nights going over the funds we still have and how they should be delegated. Additionally, we spent a day hiking up to the community reserve, a 35 hectare parcel of land owned by the community that is solely left for nature. The land is restricted for cultivation and we were interested in visiting it to get an idea of the terrain and see how it differs from the rest of the land which is all plantation. It was about a 3-4hr hike (turned 5hrs for our interest in the birds and plants along the way) to “la cruz” which marks the community limit. Well, I have to say, I was disappointed! As soon as we crossed into the boundry of the reserve, we discovered the entire understory to be packed with some wildly invasive species of bamboo. This was so disheartening because I had imagined primary growth forest and instead was wrestling my way through this monoculture landscape that was only peppered with a handful of larger trees. Now, we didn’t get around to view the entire 35 hectares so I can’t say it all was this way but I had to explain to Rosa and Pascual that night how this was not a natural landscape and that it would be necessary and difficult to remove. I don’t know what species of bamboo this is but I am sure it is an exotic species, not natural to Guatemala. The degree to which it was taking over the understory leaves no room for the native species to grow and create a diverse and natural habitat with a wide variety of sources of food for the birds and animals of the area. I told Rosa that I’d like to go back and explore more. I discussed the possibility of going up and spending a night there so I could explore early the next morning and get an idea of the surrounding birdlife (we arrived too late in the day so it was very quiet). This would also be my change to get an idea of the extent of growth of the bamboo. Oh but I was sad! This is the plot of land they are so proud to be protecting and they are initiating efforts in which to governmentally declare it a Protected Area and they had no idea of the predicament it is in! To their credit, it is a long way away and therefore rarely visited. I am now curious to identify the species of bamboo and get an idea of what kind of situation we are faced with. There are possibilities of using the bamboo, as we already have been offered by FUNDAP, a Guatemalan agency that supports small community in ecotourism development, classes in construction with bamboo. Well we have our ravenously renewable resource right there up on the mountain!
Other fun things I’ve done include an evening hike with Claudio and Luis to a nearby waterfall. This was my first visit to this particular falls and wow, what a treasure! It is basically a large wall of chipped, dark rock and while the falls at the moment are greatly reduced, a month from now that will all change with the beginning of the rainy season. We watched emerald toucanets and chased some frogs. Claudio caught one and I got some pictures. We were trying to find out what was about as Luisa has a great interest in amphibian life. The volcano, while out of site, was sending up cloud castles that were lovely in the evening light.
Another day I worked with Claudio behind the albergue digging out the mud that had compacted up against the back wall after the heavy rains. We dug a trench to direct the water away so as to keep the hotel safe and the kitchen from being inundated (again!). Three hours of lifting a heavy pickaxe to break up the encrusted dirt and I was spent! Had to drag myself home.
Spent an afternoon in a meeting with members of ASODILL to construct an ecotourism diagnostic which evaluates the “what we have and what we lack” in the program. I went through the form provided to me by Peace Corps and the group helped me fill in the blanks. It was a fun and interesting activity and I feel like I’m getting more comfortable with the members as I interact with them.
Week of 11th of April
This week will be forever known as “the constantly sitting in a microbus, never to escape as we travel on every last windy bumpy road of Guatemala to destinations unknown” week. Despite my aching back, it was a very interesting and fun experience and I learned a little more each day about Guatemalans themselves. So here’s how it all began. ASODILL, which is the Asociacion for Sustainable Development here in our little community. Rosa is the president, Pascual the coordinator and the idea is to provide the community with other means of income and employment since the coffee production they rely so heavily on isn’t sufficient nor sustainable. By starting an ecotourism program, they hope to better the economy here in an environmentally friendly way. So here comes FUNDAP, a Guatemalan-run foundation for the development of socio-economic programs, they have a branch that specifically assists communities that want to start ecotourism programs and FUNDAP has been assisting this aldea for the past two years. Their main assistance is to provide trainings and workshops, almost always paid-for. This is fantastic and they’ve already had capacitaciones for the tour guides, as well as provided opportunities for members of ASODILL to go to other communities to learn about lombricompost and organic gardening. They’ve also provided ASODILL with a lawyer at a reduced cost to help them become a legally recognized NGO. Pretty amazing, huh? So here comes little Sally Peace Corps thinking she’s gonna save the world and she finds out it’s already being done! Well, I can’t say I’m disappointed because my job certainly doesn’t suddenly become meaningless. There is still much to be done, much that I can help with with a focus more on the personal things, like what I listed before as my duties: bird guide training, helping with interpretive trail development, English classes..and besides, little Sally can’t save the world all by her lonesome, right? Ademas, I also realized this week that my being here already has helped direct some thoughts in a more reasonable direction, not because I’m Miss. Know-All, but solely because I have a background in biology and just as Rosa always tells me, she doesn’t know anything in this area. But more on that later.
So back to the story of my week: FUNDAP offered an opportunity for Rosa and 2 other members of ASODILL to attend a trip to several ecotourism sites in Alta Vera Paz this past week and I managed to squirm my way into the deal! Some of the other communities that were to attend backed out and so there was space for an extra little gringa! So on Tuesday we hopped onto a camioneta to Xela and FUNDAP headquarters, 3-4hrs away, and spent the night in a hotel to leave at 4:30am the following morning in a FUNDAP microbus with 17 others like us, eager to see a different land and learn some more about ecotourism. Only thing we didn’t know was that the trip was going to take 17 hours! We did stop for meals (which the organization graciously covered for me) but man it was a long, long day. We were on our way to Laguna Lachua (look it up!) and turned out the time it took to get there was much longer than anyone imagined. But let me say, the group in that bus, despite how tired, despite how every time we asked someone on the road how much longer and they said mediahora and it turned into 3, they continued to remain in high spirits, rowdy and laughing, turning a frustrating situation into jokes and good humor. It was pretty darn great. Haha, best part was, we get there at 9:00 in the night and the wildly cheerful tour guide gaily informs us that we have an hour hike in to where the sleeping cabins are! And I was once again heartened to watch this awesome group of folk grab their things and get walking. The guide said the women should have brought boots when she saw them all wearing fancy sandals (which is all I’ve seen any of the women in my community don). What made me doubly heartened and pleased and proud was that when she told the group that the women could stay behind and enjoy a comfortable night here and not wear themselves with the hike, the 5 ladies took to the trail and, in all honesty, with their fancy sandals, ran the men into the ground! Rock on. The hike was great, I was in between people with flashlights and happy to be moving and not sitting (17hrs on my butt in one day is more than sufficient, thanks). Too bad it wasn’t light to enjoy the bosque silvestre but I was able to enjoy the sound of the insects and the feel of the rain on my skin. The lodge was impressive-2 floors, comfortable beds, a dining salon. Despite how tired we were, after downing some ready-made tamales we followed the guide down the trail that opened to a boardwalk that went out onto the edge of the laguna. The night rang with the sound of frog chirrups. We shined our flashlights into the clear waters and saw fish and a teeny tiny crocodile! I didn’t look at the clock as I crawled into my mosquito net-adorned bed.
Next morning I rose with the sun and walked about to take in the birdlife. I was surrounded by my North American family: wood thrushes, catbirds, Baltimore oriole, magnolia warbler, american redstart, spotted sandpipers..they’ll all be gone in a month. I’ll be sending my love with them so when you see one of these buggers come May, listen carefully! We breakfasted on tamales and I almost resisted the temptation to join the ladies for a dip in the laguna after the men had had their loud fun and calander pictures in their bathing suits, posing on the rocks. They all left and we stripped down and hopped in to the warm, clear waters (from what I could understand from the guide, there’s no worry of crocodiles in the daytime, don’t ask me why). It was deeeelightful! We paddled around, climbed onto the rocks and dove in, took pictures, felt clean again after the sweaty day before packed in a microbus. We packed up afterwards and took to a trail that looped back to the visitors center. On our way I wasn’t able to birdwatch since we were behind schedule but we did stop under a tree with two howler monkeys which peered down upon us as we peered up. Big momma and a lil’ baby. Ain’t no monkeys where I live. Sigh. But we have quetzals! Which you need to be up in the mountains for, so ha. We drove around some more to 2 different farms, one that has it’s own lagoons on the property which we hiked to. This area has petroleum underground and luckily this community has their natural areas protected so they don’t drill here as they do in some of the surrounding territories. This farm, Finca Salinas, is where Chad works, my old buddy from San Antonio who is one lucky bugger for getting this as his sight! Unfortunately we didn’t get to reunite since he was otherwise occupied that day but I got to tell him on the phone of my envy! It was interesting, the guides showed us the second lagoon which was, and I cross my heart, pepto bismol pink. And the guides told us that the color changes, one will be pink and then go greenish or normal and another will turn. Chad told me that’s one of the things he wants to figure out right away. Right? We figured it was for the petroleum underground, maybe some kind of chemical effect, but man! Didn’t see any wildlife in the pink one but the other had turtles and waterbirds. Weird, weird, weird. Chad has his own blog, btw, I think you can find it on Peace Corps Journals. And anyone who wants to report back on if this is found in other locales, feel free to comment here because I’ll probably forget when I go into town and get on the net. We also visited a finca where they were in the beekeeping business. This is something that would be cool to start here, something I want to look in to because Rosa is gung ho. We have bees. We have flowers. Honey tastes good. The day was warm and, unfortunately we had to book, once again. Back into the microbus for a 5hr ride back to Coban. It was a shame that we spent more time in the bus than learning and exploring but it was definitely a great time had at the laguna. We reached the city around 9pm after winding curving bumping swerving up and down the dirt roads that seem to go on forever through the hilly country. Rosa and I were suffering, our backs and necks and tailbones not too happy with the condition of the road, not to mention the microbus was a low rider and therefore had it’s share of suffering as well. We slept in Coban and woke up early the next morning to hit the road again (not again!) for the 8hr (I think..maybe 9?) trip (these all seem quite long but it helps that I’m not mentioning that part of the time is spent eating and on pee breaks..) to Xela. We then walked across the city, the ASODILL crew to where we were to meet the son of a neighbor or Rosa’s who drives his microbus to visit his family every Friday at 6pm. So back into another (not so crowded!! though shock absorbers were not included in the construction of this clunker..) microbus. So! 2 ½ hrs later we were Hooooome!! Whuddaweek. One to remember.

Over and out.
PS. Yes, this is turning into my journal. My apologies to those who were bored and if you totally just skimmed the whole thing I sure don’t blame ya.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Here goes!

So our last week back in the comfort of familiarity was short and packed. Monday we didn’t get to the headquarters because of a bus strike happening in Guate, the city. This was great for us, San Antonio and Santa Caterina hung out for the day: we played bananagrams at Leo’s house, hit the internet café and hung in our central park, reading and catching up on journal entries. Tuesday was a bunch of wrap up in the office, last words, tips, safety advice, rules. I bought “Que Rico” which is the Peace Corps Guatemala Volunteer cook book. I can’t wait til I have my own kitchen and can cook all ‘dem recipes for myself. Wednesday we jumped around to our various towns to get a last look at everyone’s project. We had a nice little temblador, bitty-earthquake, in the middle of the day that Fife’s family had been predicting for several days and he’d been warning us all morning there was an earthquake going to happen today and whaddyaknow, they were right! We were all mightily impressed. Thursday, though, was the icing on the cake: Swearing In! Fourty-four Peace Corps Trainees camioneta-ed, tuk-tuked, microbused and drove with our familes to Hotel Antigua where we all sat on a gorgeous day, dressed up to the nines and were officially inducted into the glorious world of Peace Corps Volunteerdom! And we have diplomas to show for it! Mama Tina came with me and her daughter-in-law Elsa to see my graduation. Afterwards we took our families out for lunch at a pizza joint, Jordan, Chad, Kate and I and our family members. For the afternoon, we took last pictures around the fountain, all the women in their beautiful huipiles, and parted ways..Peace Corps volunteers, finally on our very own! From here on out we are no longer going to be babied, to have every hour of our day scheduled out for us, no more private PC microbuses ferrying us around, nope. We aren’t trainees anymore, they’ve open their cupped hands and are letting us jump off into oblivion, hoping they’ve taught us enough that these wings will carry us aloft, on to our new lives.

OMG. So I got here on the last bus of the day (round 2pm after many more hours on the squished camionetas) and right off the bat I jumped into the life of my lovely aldea which right now is in Semana Santa, full swing. I didn’t even get my bags unpacked before the loudspeaker call down at the school drew nearly the entire community to join in the procession. I walked with Rosa and three of her daughters and her nephew in one of the two lines of folk slowly making their way up the cobblestone calle towards the church at the top of the hill. The afternoon was lovely, clouds sat over the lush mountains on either side of us and I felt otherworldly. Well I am otherworldly I guess, being the only one with pelo rubio y piel blanco among a sea of beautiful chestnut-skinned, dark haired gente. I was passed a handful of thick grasses and followed suit when I saw the others bending them over into loops and tying them into upsidown teardrops. A group of young men at the head of the line played guitars and women walked behind them singing . We walked slow and stopped intermittently and the encargados would rush to plug the microphone into the nearest house and speak words about God and living peaceful lives with good intentions. We walked up the steps of the church and passed inside. We found our seats and for two hours listened to words from the preacher, stories read from scripture, music and song…I was exhausted but content. This was my new community and I’m here to stay.
Monday: I went with Eduardo down the mountain to the river, running clear and gorgeous on this lovely morning. We met up with Pascual, Claudio and Luis and set to work making a trail that followed (and sometimes crossed) the river. I moved monte (weeds/brush) while Pascual cut his way through the jungle-y mix. We made our way to the first waterfall and there we opened up the pool beneath it, moving tons of big rocks to create a larger area for people to ploop around in. We covered the pathway in black sand from the river and poma, white lava stone that floats on the river surface and collects among the rocks. We worked til about 1:30 and had a snack on the riverbank (bananas, pan and tortillas with something yummy in between). After lunch Pascual and I got to work on our mueble, a shelving unit made from wood boards. Professional carpenters that we were, it took a lot of trial and error. A lot! We worked for 3 hours and I collapsed into bed around 7:30pm
Tuesday: I had a lazy morning of catching up on reading and my journal and looking through some of the mountains of electronic information that Peace Corps gives us (on everything from building trails, to developing NGOs, to how to build a bottle school and more). Afterwards, around 10pm I headed over to Eduardo’s house to watch the process of making pan (bread). As part of the Semana Santa tradition, the community shares in the making of loads and loads of sweet bread. Those who can afford to buy all the ingredients and spend several days making all manner of shapes, sizes, designs and flavors of pan and those who couldn’t afford to make the bread make dolls out of trash. The dolls symbolize Judas which they parade around from house to house with rackety noisemakers, whistles and masks carrying Judas on their shoulders and demanding pan in a loud chaos filled group at your door. But back to the pan. I met Fernando, Eduardo’s brother who told me all about the oven and how it’s made of clay and bricks and lime and it’s HUGE! A big igloo-like thing that almost filled the whole room, set on a brick base. He was the man in charge of the fire and the gaggle of women to either side were working furiously, rolling out bolas of egg-yellow maza, or dough, and rolling, cutting and twisting them into different designs, sometimes adding a more sugary design on top. As soon as I offered to join in, I was donning an apron and wetting my hands with grease and clumsily rolling out bolas and mimicking the designs that the ladies and girls showed me. After we filled three long shelves full of bread ready to bake, Fernando started pushing them into the oven as Margarita or Juaquina brought over the pans laden with pan. He used a long stick with a hook on the end, pushing and placing strategically so that he could retrieve those fully baked while still having room for the unbaked. Next I found myself joining Dona Emelia, an old woman who just about put me to shame with her endurance in mixing the maza. Bent over a wooden trough full of flour, oil, butter, egg, vanilla we hand mixed for what seemed like ever, my back ached and I was just about dripping sweat into the dough. Margarita tied back my hair for me and the heat of the oven and the work was extreme. But every time I looked over at Emelia, I knew that I wasn’t about to stop! I lasted two batches and felt pretty darn good, it was such a fun time! Laughing over how obvious it was which breads were mine and feeling such kindness from the women as they presented me a plate full of the breads we’d made together. It was a lovely time, a wonderful experience. That afternoon I shared my bread with my family and Pascual and I got back to work on our mueble. It’s getting there, little by little, the mistakes aren’t too devastating and we get a good laugh out of calling ourselves expertos y profesionales. When he said we were the grandest carpenters, he got a huge kick out of me adding “in this room”. That evening we got a visitor! Neil, an English man who is touring Central America and had already passed through town several months ago for a handful of days and now is back and hoping to stay a bit longer. He, Pascual, Rosa and I had dinner and talked way past my bedtime (9:30!) and had all kinds of interesting conversation about the community and other things.
Wednesday: Went out with Pascual to his terreno, the plot of land he owns and grows coffee, fruits and harvests his firewood from. We spent all morning there, collecting and planting seeds, harvesting fruits and greens, viewing his wide range of cultivars: plantain, banana, macadamias, limes, guisquil, mangoes (no, not ripe at the moment unfortunately). It was, aside from getting eaten alive by bugs, a grand time. I heard a black throated green warbler singing, doesn’t the little bugger know it’s not spring yet? Not to mention has a long way to travel back up to the states before he should be thinking about finding himself a sweetheart! Back home we lunched on guisquil and greens we’d harvested (and, of course, pan now that there’s a neverending supply). Afterwards Pascual put more time in on our mueble which is now practically complete: two long top shelves (which we’re going to put a division in, as support), a line of cubby holes down one side and a bar on the other for hanging my clothes. It’s fantastic! Now I gotta put some shalack on it (varnish, I dunno, something to make it look pretty and keep the termites from eating it..they’ve already discovered it since the desk in my room is infested..I just killed one in my bed right now…don’t worry we’re moving the desk tomorrow..). After we finished there, Pascual had to help Rosa prepare 10 chickens for tomorrow, i.e. kill ‘em dead. Being a good Peace Corps Volunteer, I asked if I could try. Well, I’ll just say, the killing was the easy part. Messy yes, but once that was over with I had to pluck her clean (after submerging it in boiling water), even her head, then I gave the whole body a good scrub with soap. Next I cut off the head and legs at the “knees” and cut into the upper chest to pull out the swallowing tube (bear with me) and then into the abdomen to extract all the innards. Next I cut off the beak and got the rest of the swallowing tube and the tongue and put the legs in boiling water for a few moments and was able to strip off the scaley yellow skin. I cut off the toenails and added the legs to the “for keeps” pile with the head and body. I found my way through the innards and cut the gizzard apart from the strong muscle that surrounds it and scrubbed the muscle clean and added that to the pile as well as the heart and liver. There you go! Tomorrow I’m gonna eat it and, with all this written down, I’ll know how to do it again in the future. Hopefully I’ll have a few more practice runs, though, before I try it myself. Throughout the afternoon and evening Judas dolls came knocking at our door followed by hoards of masked children working homemade noisemakers, blowing whistles and yelling. Melbet and Josaphina, the two youngest sisters ran with me to the door, shoving a small round loaf of bread into my hands to drop into the bag held open by the smallest of each group. It was really a lot like Halloween but much more exciting. There was always a moment of shock when they saw a gringo come to the door, making it all the more fun. Now, with a tummy full of pan, it’s time for bed. ‘Cept I’m not tired. They make the weakest coffee known to man here and adults and children alike drink it every hour of the day and night and if I have it after 5pm, my bedtime is shot. I’ll just have to lay in the dark and scratch my bug bites for an hour or so.
Thursday: Woke up to the sound of the announcer who blares over the loudspeaker from the iglesia every morning around 6am if not earlier. I came out of my room to a flurry of activity around the house, Rosa, Pascual and the kids all hard at work: more chickens. So at 6:30 in the morning I was up to my elbows in feathers as I desplumar-ed (aka defeathered) one chicken after another. After breakfast, Neil and I headed up to the vegetable garden and spent the morning weeding. I enjoyed talking (yes, in English) with my new friend. He has a good bit of experience and insight into the town, having been here before, that he was really quite helpful as I brainstormed possibilities and approaches to project ideas for the next two years. It was a gorgeous day (oh aren’t they all..) we had flocks of parrots zipping across above us, chattering for all the world to hear. Bright green gems, they were. I heard a kiskadee and a Willow Flycatcher (always fun to recognize songs I haven’t heard in a long time) amongst the din of birds I’ve yet to learn and identify. We worked for three hours and the bugs weren’t bad at all and I’m convincing myself I’m getting use to them, whether I am or not..but over the past two nights I haven’t woken up once for scratching! My walk back to the house after we finished was through crowds of masked jóvenes dressed in red symbolizing religious figures. They danced on the basketball cancha surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, another Semana Santa tradition. A masked figure came up to me and began talking in broken English, asking how I liked the town and the festivities. Back at the house we ate, and I must say the chicken was quite good for all the work put into it (and I helped!). Later in the afternoon, we sat around after lunch talking with Rosa and Neil about the coffee production in the town (I learned that all along I’ve been drinking organic coffee straight from beautiful hills that surround us here in my new home!). For the afternoon Neil and I did a bit of exploring around the edges of town that I’d had yet to see. On my way to the albergue where he’s been staying, I was stopped by a lovely old woman who clasped my arm in greeting and asked if I’d eaten. Oh yes, lots of food. And pan? Yes, so much pan during this week of Semana Santa! Did I want some more? Wait here, let me get you some pan! She ran off into her house and was back moments later with three loaflets of pan. I told her about how I’d be here for two years and already was so enchanted by her lovely town. She was so wonderfully sweet, Matilda was her name. I gave Neil a loaf and we went walking. We went down to the river below the cancha and stopped to watch birds for a bit when a young man named Vitrilino came by and, seeing that we were enjoying nature, invited us up to a little overlook for what ended up being a gorgeous view of the thicket. We talked with him for a while and then continued on our way. I shared my binoculars with Neil for him to look at a beautiful glasswinged butterfly but he was so taken with the strength of my binox that he was blown away just looking at leaves! We walked on and found our way up to the cancha de futbol and while talking about our desire to play a boy came out of the woods kicking a soccer ball and, before we knew it, we found ourselves in a match, one goalie, one offense and one defense with Dani as the sun went down behind a shroud of pink clouds. Terrific.
Friday: Woke up today and saw the looong alfombra, the sawdust carpet that the children in the secondary school spent all night creating. They drew out designs and words, flowers and crosses with different colors of dyed asserin. It was quite impressive, all the work they put into it, and the thing covered the entire length of the calle. For the morning they had a religious procession where white robed youths led the community from the church to the school and back, stopping at various points to speak. A group carried a religious shrine adorned in flowers. Later I joined Pascual who led a group of muchachos on a recorrido, or tour, down to the river where we’d improved the trail and build up the pool below the waterfall. The group was in high spirits and down at the water they jumped right in and laughed under the beating cascade. I sat with Conrado, one of the members of the asociación and we talked about all kinds of things. He was bien paciente with my Spanish and we talked for almost an hour while the others played. They shared their gaseosas (sodas) with us and Pascual used his machete to cut up a melon he’d brought. It was beautiful out and the clouds made their way in for a matte afternoon. We climbed back up the tall ridge, serpentining higher and higher til we reached the road leading back to town. The men were really pleased with the tour and already were talking about coming back with friends. This is great because these are our “customers”, they loved our trail and had no objection to paying 15Q each for the experience. Yes, bring your friends, tell others, come back again!
The weekend went well, Saturday a good deal of the community went down to the river for an afternoon of fun. Rosa, Pascual, Josaline, Melbet, Wendy and I hiked down and straight off Wendy and I sloshed into the poza (pool) below the waterfall and stuck our heads under letting loose a few gurgling shrieks as the force of the water as well as the frigidness. I made some attempts at teaching her to swim but mostly she held herself up in the shallows and kicked, not wanting to submerge. My first failure as a Peace Corps volunteer and certainly not the last...but I won’t stop trying! We lunched on guisquil from Pascual’s terreno and what appeared as big juicy mushrooms but rather turned out to be chicken gizzards and the first bite tasted like the death I smelled the day of the killings and the second bite only vaguely hinted at the flavor you and I recognize and love. I decided that was enough. Luckily Melbet lives for any and all manner of carne so I passed it off to her.
Sunday I had the day to myself and did a bit of hiking down the beautiful ridge toward one of Pascual’s parcelas. The view is gorgeous to either side, lush mountain slopes with the volcanoes in the distance. Santiaguito, the active little loaf below the more dominating Santa Maria rumbled throughout the entire day. I saw all kinds of birds including a red-legged honeycreeper, black and white warbler, olive sided flycatcher, warbling vireo, boat billed flycatcher, summer tanager, rose breasted grosbeak, many black throated green warblers (singing still!), common tody flycatcher, black and white warbler, white winged tanager, slate throated redstart…a great morning to drink it all in at my own leisurely pace.
Monday, Neil and I went down and joined Pascual and his son Jonathan down on one of the parcels and we got busy chopping firewood with machetes. The blister popped and yes it still smarts but oh the satisfaction of hacking away with a machete…That afternoon we had the most lovely experience. Neil and I were looking to find Rosalia who was his host “mother” when he last visited. We didn’t find her but ended up chatting awhile with her neighbor Ruth. I love explaining to people that I’m going to be around for the next two years, yep, two whole years! Nope, I’m not leaving in between, two whole years. On our way down the dirt road, we stopped and got to talking with two cute lil’ ones sitting on the stoop of their house, Edmond and Jessica. Well, Rosalia appeared on the road and those two had a little reunion and she told us to come on over to Ismael’s house, next door. We walked in and the whole family was sitting about in the dirt yard and we sat down with Ismael and got to talking. Well I’m totally enamored with this guy, he knows a fantastic deal about the birdlife around the aldea and from his yard he was pointing out everything that flew by and teaching us the names in Spanish. He works for the Asociacion but has been kind of fading out of it due to his other work commitments. He works for Manos Campesinos which is an organic coffee supplier for which he has to travel to Escuintla (2hrs away?) fairly often. Additionally he cuts hair, there at his house (as he points to the ground to what’s left of the last client). So he’s not able to make all the ASODILL meetings and commitments and isn’t always available when they need a tour guide at the last minute. Well I’m hoping that our shared interest (we ended up talking for more than an hour on all things nature, then bleeding into Guatemalan politics..he’s fascinating and has a great deal of knowledge and is very in tuned with the need for nature conservation and awareness) perhaps I can re-initiate his interest and commitment. Before we left, he, Neil took out his camera wanting some goodbye pictures and we took all manner of pictures with different combinations of us and the family (I busted out my camera too). They were lovely people, showering us with pan dulce y café while we chatted. Ismael told me to drop in anytime I want. Oh this is totally what I daydreamed about, connecting with the community, having it become family. His wrinkled mother told me we all were going to cry when I leave, two years from now, and I already knew this to be true.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

...and so it begins!

So our last week back in the comfort of familiarity was short and packed. Monday we didn’t get to the headquarters because of a bus strike happening in Guate, the city. This was great for us, San Antonio and Santa Caterina hung out for the day: we played bananagrams at Leo’s house, hit the internet café and hung in our central park, reading and catching up on journal entries. Tuesday was a bunch of wrap up in the office, last words, tips, safety advice, rules. I bought “Que Rico” which is the Peace Corps Guatemala Volunteer cook book. I can’t wait til I have my own kitchen and can cook all ‘dem recipes for myself. Wednesday we jumped around to our various towns to get a last look at everyone’s project. We had a nice little temblador, a bitty-earthquake, in the middle of the day that Fife’s family had been predicting for several days and he’d been warning us all morning there was an earthquake going to happen today and whaddyaknow, they were right! We were all mightily impressed. Then we move on to Thursday, which was the icing on the cake: Swearing In! Fourty-four Peace Corps Trainees camioneta-ed, tuk-tuked, microbused and drove with our familes to Hotel Antigua where we all sat on a gorgeous day, dressed up to the nines and were officially inducted into the glorious world of Peace Corps Volunteerdom! And we have diplomas to show for it! Mama Tina came with me and her daughter-in-law Elsa to see my graduation. Afterwards we took our families out for lunch at a pizza joint, Jordan, Chad, Kate and I and our family members. For the afternoon, we took last pictures around the fountain, all the women in their beautiful huipiles, and parted ways..Peace Corps volunteers, finally on our very own! From here on out we are no longer going to be babied, to have every hour of our day scheduled out for us, no more private P.C. microbuses ferrying us around, nope. We aren’t trainees anymore, they’ve open their cupped hands and are letting us jump off into oblivion, hoping they’ve taught us enough that these stubby lil' wings of ours will carry us aloft, on to our new lives.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Checkin' out the New Digs


Met my counterpart! Actually, I had two guests on counterpart day, not just Claudio but Rosa as well, the president of the sustainable development association that I will be working with. We had a day and a half of getting to know each other at the training center and on Tuesday the 16th we each headed off to our own future sites to spend a week introducing ourselves and getting to know our new community. It was a jam packed week, and then some. Rosa is my new host mother and I immediately grew to like her..she’s very friendly and has a fantastic sense of humor, is easy to talk to and helpful with my Spanish, not to mention wonderfully welcoming. Getting to know her and all her great qualities put me at ease, knowing I’ll be living with her for the first three months (Peace Corps requires we spend this introductory time with a family for safety and to better integrate into the community). We rode with Tara, another volunteer, whose counterpart had his own wheels and offered us a ride (score!). Tara will be living about an hour away from me which is fantastic, we can go to the market together and be a support system or even getaway for those times of need! Our travels took us south of the volcano range and westward. The landscape got more tropical and we stopped for mangoes and coconuts (had a truly juicy mango experience, fyi). We parted ways about an hour outside of our aldea where Rosa, Claudio and I hopped on to a camioneta for the last, breathtakingly beautiful stretch. The bus labored up the bouncy dirt roads, winding up and up through the lush foothills of the mountain range. Soon the edge of the road dropped off into oblivion and the facing ridges were covered in thick green vegetation. Flashes of color darted everywhere and I wanted to hang out the window with binox and bird book in hand but I think that might be seen as a little culturally unacceptable. We rounded a bend and, across a span of nothingness, another ridge drew sharply skyward and Rosa pointed out where I would be living for the next two years. It was dreamlike. I think my eyes must have been large as those mangos and I couldn’t wipe the inadvertent grin off my face. Gringas! Weird creatures, those. It was late afternoon and the bus crawled up the last bend onto the cobblestone stretch of my new home, the school on the low end and the church up at the top with houses lining either side. I got out and Pascual, smiling eyed and with a warm friendly grin, introduced himself as the husband of Rosa. They showed me my room, large and spacey with a window to outside (yaay!) and a huge comfy bed. Pascual and Rosa have three kids still in the house; the oldest is their only boy, Jonathan who is 15, Josaline is 11, and Marbet is 6. They have two girls in their 20s who live and go to school in Xela (the city of Quetzaltenango). The kids are shy and very polite and the parents are outgoing, love to talk, are very curious and thoughtful and intelligent, we immediately got on. Pascual is the director of the secondary school (Instituto Secondario) but also invests a lot of time and energy in the Asociation (looking for funding and training workshop opportunities, for example) and Rosa also runs a good sized store out of her home. They are very busy people, but so energetic and I feel lucky to be settling in with them. For the week, I was able to introduce myself to droves of people, starting with every grade in the primary school (what a way to begin!), and I met the main members of the Association. I also met with the representatives from every organization within the community (head of schools, members of the association, head of the coffee industry, organic and inorganic, the COCODE (basically a group of town representatives that are organized and able to petition to the government), and the auxiliary (church related). We talked about town priorities and needs. I got to sit in on a workshop led by an NGO community development group that has assisted the community greatly in their efforts to start up an ecotourism sector. This is a great organization that has done a great deal but that runs off of very little money and has lots of other towns they’re assisting so they were glad to see that I was coming in and I was glad to learn that I’d have their contact and support. I got to know the town, saw the coffee factory (harvest just ended for the year), their lombricompost (worm compost) production, weeded in the beginnings of a trial community vegetable garden (completely organic!), and saw the new guest quarters-a small 3 room lodge for visiting tourists that volunteer for the association, helping in the coffee, garden, or trails. This lodge is brand new and still needs a bit of work, along with the volunteer and ecotourism program in general. These people are so passionate, though, ready to make it really roll. They’re so excited to have me here to help in their mission and they are all just so friendly and welcoming. I got a huge tour of some of their trails with their 3 tour guides, Eduardo, Claudio and Keller. We birded for a whole half day (starting at 5am) and saw all KINDS of birds(!!!) They have great potential in the aviturismo department, but the guides have a lot to learn yet. They do know a lot of the common birds, even by ear, but many of their names are local names, and in Spanish. A serious birder coming here would be disappointed if they expected to know every last little bird they saw. I’m definitely excited to work on improving our bird tour option, any excuse to get back into those woods and learn the birds with a bunch of gung-ho Guatemaltecos! We saw some cool birds, too..squirrel cuckoo (I was psyched, I love these long tailed characters), several kinds of strikingly colored jays, tanagers, emerald toucanet (!),a hook billed kite, lots of migrant warblers still here before they head back north in the spring, and we heard quetzals!! This is fantastic, Resplendent Quetzals are very true to their name, absolutely magnificent birds and a huge attraction for basically gold to us. What we need to do is find out how we can guarantee a sighting, find the specific trees they feed upon and determine their daily and seasonal habits. Gold. This is what we need, to get tourists in to the town, bringing in money because there is NOT much work for citizens of this community and they really have to struggle to make ends meet. The land they produce off of is pretty measly, very steep and not easy to work and, as the town grows, there is less available to support all of the people. But they have a rich bounty which is the hugely diverse forest beyond the coffee; they own 35 hectares of natural bosques further up the mountain. The community is slowly coming to understand that that is their goldmine. They don’t have to use up their resources; they can share them with the public! We just need to tell the world, get them to come, have them fall in love, tell others, come back, and bring friends! So here we are now. This, ladies and gentlemen, is where my true journey and challenge begins.

Here is my new host family, and yes, they are as sweet as they look.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Headed to Quetzaltenango-Where there be Quetzals!

This will be my new home, where I will be settling in to a brand new life, a whole new adventure. All I really know about it, though, is the name! And that it’s located in the department of Quetzaltenango which literally translates to “there are quetzals here” in Guatemalese. We went to the Peace Corps office in Santa Lucia on Site Assignment Day, March 12th 2010. David, our program technical trainer drove excruciatingly slowly along the curvy highway, and we yelled at him in excited frustration to hurry the heck up! This was our lives and we were about to find out where they were going to lead! They blindfolded us and we stood in front of a map of Guatemala, outlined in the grass with sticks, leaves and twigs. In the grass were masking tape X’s Flavio, the man who made the decisions, led us each to one of the points and we stood, blind, listening to the rustling of whoever was close by. We were handed a folder and knew that on the front of it was written the name of the town that right that moment was eagerly awaiting their perky new volunteer. I clutched mine like my life depended on it. We reached out and could feel other hands feeling around and were told to take off our blindfolds. Looking down at the folder, I saw “Stacey Hollis, Quetzaltenango”. On the map I was the person standing furthest to the west and nearby I saw Tara and Amber. We all laughed and ripped into our information packets, flurrying through the overload of information, deciphering the Spanish into some idea of what we were about to dive in to. So here it is. This is an Aldea, which I loved the sound means a small community, 1,200 habitantes strong. Next I saw the climate: “calido lluvioso” rainy, con temperaturas entre 23-26 degrees Celcius”.. umm had to look that one up (73-78 in Fahrenheit). Okay, warmer and rainy is actually good, that means tropical..well when I read on and saw it mentioning “abundante vegetacion tropical” I felt a rush of excitement!! The altitude was 1250m which translates to about 4000ft, and I’m basically on the slope that leads off the volcano chain toward the Pacific Ocean. My town is small, “hay 5 tiendas pequenas, un hospedaje o albergue (small visitor’s lodge), y la iglesia catolica”. So there’s not much to it! Definitely a soccer field and basketball court, though. This will be a good icebreaker, and “sin duda”, is recommended as a great way to introduce yourself into the community..hop on in to those pickup games!
So now the nitty gritty good stuff: When Flavio set me on my spot on the map, he said, “you are the first volunteer to be sent here”, my mind raced and I grinned and squirmed under my blindfold..I felt proud that they believed in me to kick start a whole new place, all on my own. They decided that little Stacey Hollis would be the first to place the mark of Peace Corps on this little aldea in the southwestern foothills of Guatemala. What I leave will be a manifestation of my own ambition, my own initiative. I will come in and be the first Gringa to spend two years lending my hands to that which the community desires and I won’t have a volunteer to give me their take on the town, no structure to follow, no (darn!) house to inherit. I am thrilled!
Next: The town has a reserve comunitaria de bosque nuboso…yipppeeee!! I got me a cloud forest!! And oh man, I was jumping when I read on “35 hectares (86 acres), senderismo y el aviturismo (!!!) con la presencia de mas de 180 especies de aves” including a strong presence of “el ave nacional, El Quetzal”!!! Flavio got me a bird site! Woohoo!! It said “existen abundantes quetzals (which totally means good quality healthy forest to support this bird that relies on mature aguatillo trees), aves, mamiferos silvestres como pizotes, andasolos, micoleon, tigrillos (little lions and tigers?!)”. And furthermore, “cercano a la comunidad puede apreciarse el Volcan Santiaguito (activo) y el Volcan Santa Maria..I got volcanoes! That really did make me happy because I get a lot of pleasure out of looking at my three volcanoes here in San Antonio and the occasional rumble and blast of silt and ash is exciting. Steph, one of the masters students who is here to study volcanology totally told me she knew where I was going and that supposedly there’s some big valley that’ll protect me if it ever does give a really good blow. Hey, sounds good to me.
So my town already has a Sustainable Development Association that they started in 2008 and they have been working on the development of interpretive trails in the Reserva Forestal Comunitaria and “ruta a Catarata El Chilamate” (a waterfall trail!). They have been actively inviting in international volunteers to live with host families and work on local coffee and flower farms as well as to help with the trail work. So it sounds like there is something established, but it’s new and they want training for the hosts families and guides. Also there’s talk about training teachers in environmental education and involving the school kids in environmental projects in the reserve, oh it all sounds good to me. It’s nice that there is something set up already that I have at least some structure to work off of!
So yea, this girl isdefinitely not complaining! I am ecstatic. Course I have yet to see the place en vida real. But sheesh, it sure sounds good! So now I have the weekend to scour the internet about my soon-to-be-home and get ready to meet my counterpart, my partner in crime for the next two years. His name is Claudio and he’s the secretary of the association. We will spend Monday getting to know each other at the training center and then together will travel to the aldea on Tuesday where I will spend the next 5 days getting to know my new community. We come back for 3 days of paperwork in Santa Lucia, swearing in (graduation!) is on the 25th and that weekend I will set off, my bags all packed, for a lone ride on the camioneta to my new home. Warp speed, I’m telling you.

My pictures include a group shot of the women artesans that my group worked with, here they're holding their diplomas that we awarded them for successfully attending our charlas on hosting tourists in their homes. The kittyshot is Pancho "Panchito" Lopez, sitting next to the wood stove. This is why his lil' whiskers are singed.

Saturday, March 6, 2010



Our 11 weeks of training that, eight weeks ago seemed to be a lifetime, are now entering warp speed. It is unbelievable how fast the Peace Corps experience seems to be whizzing by and it scares me that I'll blink my eyes and suddenly it'll be March 2012 and I'll be headed back to the states. When I look back through the pages of my daily journal, even just a few weeks ago seem like ages past. Time is such a malleable, bending, blurry entity. I'm just riding the waves of it, slow and steady and then crashing and spinning. Oh, I love it.

Yesterday we presented our third charla, I worked with Hilary and we presented to the women's artisan group on how to be good hostesses because we're preparing them to give weaving classes to tourists in their homes. It is made to be a pure cultural experience, these women in their beautiful hand-woven ropa tradicional. They'll invite you into their homes where chickens will roam about the cement floors, you'll duck under branches of fruit trees laden with oranges and mandarines, they'll have their weaving looms set out with a rainbow of threads spilling out, you'll smell the rich combination of spices that were bought fresh from the street vendors and mixed with tomatoes and ground chiles to make "pepian", a traditional Mayan dish, they'll guide you in the woven style of making petates with long thick strands of the dried marsh grass, you'll sit and watch a traditional baile, one of the ceremonial dances that celebrated weddings and birthdays. This is what we are aiming for, to teach these women not how to do their job, but how to be prepared for having strangers who don't speak their language, who can't drink their tapwater, who are new to this culture, into their homes. So the charlas went great, we played games and were all laughing and by the end, they were piping up with ideas and answers and were entirely different women from those we met seven weeks ago, quiet and timid. We'd gained their confianza, their confidence, and have grown close. At the end of the session, they were saying how sad they were that we were leaving, urging us to be sure and visit as soon as we could.

Man, it's going to be hard to leave Guatemala when the time does come.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Field Based Training


We are just flying through February, aren't we? So this past week my training group and I spent a fun-filled week in “Field Based Training” where we get to get our hands dirty and see some new sights. We started out by visiting a volunteer in Chilasco, a small aldea where they grow lots and lots of broccoli and he's working with the tourism office (more aptly classified as “tourism hut”) to develop the business aspects of their tourism industry. The town butts up to the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve so they have cloud forest hikes and a great waterfall nearby called Salto de Chilasco which we got to hike to. It was gorgeous and the cloud forest was dripping lush.

The majority of the week we spent in Alta Vera Paz in a small aldea called Samac. A volunteer is finishing up his 2 years and so one of us will be replacing him. He's working on developing a cultural tour of some ruins of a German-run coffee farm. The town is Quiche Maya and we really got to know much of the community as we did a lot of activities with both the men and the women. The entire aldea is quite small and so we were the main attraction all week. When we moved into their newly constructed cabins complete with bunkbeds, composting toilets and computers, there was a crowd of men, women and children huddled at the entrance of both cabins watching our every move. They were very proud for this was the first time they ever had accommodated so many visitors, so it was a big deal indeed. The townspeople were all incredibly welcoming and kind and their community already thinks the world of Peace Corps and our Associated P.C. Director Flavio who accompanied us for a few days. He's the one who visits the sites and determines what sites need volunteers and which volunteer should be placed there. Basically all of Guatemala think him a god of sorts, or so we've noticed, since he doles out free help (us). He's got our lives in the palm of his hand so to us, so we're definitely de acuerdo with the Guatemalans. He's way pilas (a go-getter, achiever).

So some of the stuff we did throughout the week included hearing lots of charlas on things like environmental interpretation, how important it is to work with other town and form tourism alliances rather than compete, we did a day of trailwork/maintenance taught by two current volunteers, had a session on making signs using routers, made some action plans addressing various issues around the community that we split up and investigated (my “team” and I made an action plan on how the toilets need seats and instructions on how to use the composters)...all of these things we did with the community so I had lots of chances to really get to talking with them. After every interaction, I'd walk off grinning like a fool..these people are so pure and just living their lives. The town is small, doesn't have much money, there's only a tiny little store, they grow coffee and sugar cane, have probably 10 tourists pass through a year, it's clean though, and they all speak Quiche as their first language, they love their current volunteer and are so looking forward to their next one (I was constantly responding to their queries of how much I liked it here and if I'd want to stay), the women make their unique white cotton weaving called Pik'bil and they are coming up with new ways to contribute to the family income, through making jewelry with seeds and growing rabbits for food. The men aren't afraid to tell us how proud they are that their women are strong and independent. Yes, I was completely charmed by this place, these people. How could you not be when you walk by a dusty yard and six children come running out yelling “Estacey!”.

Riding in the back of a pickup truck on our way to the cloud forest.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bienvenidos a Febrero, el mez mas loco que todos!

I'm sitting in my room listening to the rain pattering away at the zinc roofing above my head and hearing my host mom's words in my mind: February, the craziest month of them all. You never know what you'll get, freezing cold, boiling hot, rain..each day is a surprise. The rain is actually very unusual for this time of year, as we are just entering into the warm, dry months of summer. What's to blame is climate change, por supuesto. Nonetheless, I had a very pleasant walk in the chipi chipi (steady sprinkles that are famous throughout the rainy season. Today it was really a drizzle but chipi chipi is more than amusing enough to bend the rules a bit.) with my good friend and groupmate Hilary. We strolled around the aldea of San Andres, which is a tiny sub-pueblo off from San Antonio. The clouds hanging low and the hazy silouettes of the trees along the ridges above us made for a very tropical late afternoon.

Last week was packed full with work as my group and I prepared our charlas, a formal class or presentation that is basically the bread and butter of Peace Corps. Simple, straight to the point presentations that we will be doing many of in the next two years. We presented to several councelors from the municipalities of San Antonio and our neighboring pueblo, Santa Caterina. Also attending were a handful of women from our group of artisans here in S.A. with whom we are hoping to develop a cultural fair as well as the trainee group from Santa Caterina. Additionally our technical trainer David and our program manager Flavio (who is in charge of what site we'll be placed in based on our experience and our performance..gulp) were there to evaluate us. So you could say I was a bit nervous. Our charlas were, together, how to create and conduct a charla. Charlas on charla-ing. Like, how to assess your audience, the importance of experiential learning, how to break the ice with your students, planning and preparing your charla and, finally, the importance of reviewing and processing what you've taught your students. The last one was mine. I talked loud, got people laughing with my ice breaker (if they answered my questions reviewing the charlas right, they got a prize!) and I really felt I got the message across with repetition, a short rollplay where I did a review with my “students” to be sure they got the message of throwing their trash in the basurero instead of the river or streets (Acto 1: I, as the teacher, forgot to review and they all ran off throwing trash all over the place). My groupmates and I were very pleased at how it seemed our audience really picked up a lot from each charla as they told me what they learned from each one in my review. So, despite my nervousness, I got some good laughs, got the point across, stumbled a few times with my spanish, had my notes to keep me rolling, and managed to come out on the other side not too worse for wear!

In other news, I had the experience of watching a Mayan ceremony as it was conducted for us on Saturday (which is the Mayan new year) by a spiritual guide in Iximche. This was a really beautiful place, up in the rolling hills with towering pines, cypress and oaks. The Kaqchiquel (one of 21 different Mayan tribes in Guatemala) had a town here with temples and ball courts, the remains of which still stand. In 1524, the Spanish conquistadors overtook the town but they didn't remain long for the townspeople, hiding in the hills above, continuously attacked during the nights until finally the Spanish relented and left to find another place to name “capital” of this new land they now called their own. The ceremony was about an hour and a half and our conductor had us toss a handful of different colored candles into a growing fire. He invoked a variety of different gods to protect us and our friends and families, bring good and release us from our sins (bear with me, this was all in spanish/kaqchiquel, so I might be a bit off about some of it) and while speaking, he tossed various things in as well-rosemary, dulces, sugar, aguardiente (liquor) and some little brown lumps. We were made to face in each sacred direction as he prayed in the indigenous language and he had us shut our eyes and flicked aguardiente into our faces. All the while, other people were in front of their own fires and various flower strewn alters lighting candles and a small group of men played the marimba and a cello. I felt very much the tourist but not quite as bad as the ones that just would walk up to the bowed worshipper and snap away with their cameras. Afterwards we ate a meal of comida tipica that was muy rica. It was a beautiful day and I even saw a few birds-stellars jay and an eastern bluebird: one bird you see commonly in the Western United States and the other in the east, but here, the two worlds come together as one, in an entirely different world. And these aren't migrants, either, they're residents living in a habitat befitting their needs. Can't blame them for choosing Guatemala! Ahh and there's still so much yet to be seen and that I have to learn in this gran bellesa pais.