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.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

San Lorenzo El Tejar and Mother Organico


Today we had the pleasure of visiting San Lorenzo El Tejar where a group from the Peace Corps Healthy Schools program is spending their training period. It was our “Community Exchange” where we get to see where another group lives. Their town is vastly different from ours..it’s much smaller (I learned that San Antonio is 10,500 people strong) and it is actually an aldea (which is the next step down in size from pueblo). The girls there showed us around, we saw the church and central square. They don’t have many tiendas (maybe three, while we have dozens) and the community is mostly made up of Ladinos, rather than the indigenous Mayan community that is brightly announced in the colorful clothing worn by the women in our pueblo. Nonetheless, I was smitten with the place, it’s very hilly and the houses are more spread out which leaves room for a plethora of lush green growth. I wanted to stay the afternoon and just plop down somewhere with my binoculars. They took us up to a hill that overlooked the aldea and across to the hillside fincas growing a variety of crops. Their river was a sore spot, though. Before it even came in to view, the smell was highly evident. The whole town uses it as their trash can and there is literally a section where everyone dumps their waste. Mortifying? Absolutely. Their water supply is a spring borne close to the overlook and the whole aldea only has about an hour of water a day with which they fill every vessel they have in addition to their pila basins to last until the next time the water flows (which is never truly guaranteed). The community pila has a constant supply of water from the river, which then is directed right back with all the soil and soap of the daily laundry. It seemed to us that this town seriously needed some environmental education volunteers. We were driven back to San Antonio with the San Lorenzo clan in tow so that we could give them a taste of our pueblo. We brought them first to the mirador at the entrance to the city. This looks out across the basin where our town and that of Santa Caterina lay nestled. It's a rather pretty vista with the volcanoes in the background (but it's been fairly cloudy the past three days so we couldn't give them the truly grand view). We also walked with them through the Mercado de Artesania which was fun because they don't have the traditional clothing draped all across their community the way we do. I presented our basurera, the trash processing plant. We are unique to be one of the few in Guatemala that actively employ the process of Lombricompost..or that of using lombrises, a.k.a. worms, in the composting process. For everyone's information, the worms do not get paid. But hey, it must be a good life, being tossed into a huge pila full of rotting organic waste (for a worm, anyway). All the trash of San Antonio is picked up in trucks that circulate around the city and, for 2Q a bag, they haul it up to the dump. In their homes, the locals are supposedly separating the organic and inorganic waste into different bags, but looking into the pila where they dump the organico, it's pretty evident that not everyone got the notice. Nonetheless, 80% of all the town's trash is organic, the rest is inorganic and separated out into 15% recyclable material (scrap metal, cardboard, plastic, which several companies pay to pick up) and the remaining 5% left is burned. But see, the stuff that's burned is what the environmental councelor Sergio, from the Municipality, wants to find a solution for. Basically the dozens of employees working there every day are breathing in toxic chemicals from the burning waste, not to mention the toll it takes on Mudder Earf. The Lombricompost, which goes through several stages of decomposition over the course of 6-8 months, becomes beautiful rich abono, or fertilizante natural. It is hefted into 100lb bags and sold for 40Q. These bags of organico, rich in all the nutrients that remain steady throughout the process of being picked from a tree, eaten to the quick, thrown out, and trucked up to the basurera, are returned back to the earth to lend a rich hand to the next growth of crops. Sustainability at it's finest...and the world keeps spinning round.

A Gift


Smiling little Stephanie was laying on her petate, a woven grass mat, as she worked on her homework. The grasses, which are used to make the mats, are themselves known as Petate. They grow tall in the lagoon beyond the far end of the city. The mats are often used to sit upon when the mujeres are weaving their ropa tradicional because the weaving loom is attached at eye level or higher and the mujer sits upon her petate on the ground, holding the base of the loom where she works her magic. But, back to Stephanie with her shining eyes..this is the host sister of Hilary, one of my group members. I stopped by their house before we headed up to the cancha de basketball and was talking to the girl about school and the cartoon character on her notebook while Hilary got ready to go. Well, before I knew it, the little 6 year old was tying a beautiful woven bracelet around my wrist, telling me she wanted me to keep it and nodding with determination when I asked if she was sure. Well sheesh! As we walked along the street, I decided I'd paint her a watercolor in thanks for the sweet gift. “Muchas Gracias Stephanie, para la pulsera tan bonita! Que amable! Tu nueva amiga, Stacey”.