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.