Saturday, December 13, 2008


Some pictures from my recent hike of Volcan Tajumulco, highest point in Central America at 4,220 m (just under 14,000 f). The peak

Volcan Tacana, Tajumulco's shadow and Mexico

Guatemala's range of volcano's from the peak of Tajumulco at Sunrise.

At the top

Volcan Santiagito blowing of some steam... the most active Volcano in the western hemisphere.

At the start

Friday, December 5, 2008

Turkey Day

The tradition continues...Thanksgiving in all its turkey killing glory. Please excuse the poor editing, my ancient computer was being uncooperative and kept freezing. For Houdini's complete background check out my friend Kate's page: Unfortunately the poor bird made his final disappearing act this thanksgiving dinner.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

La Cosecha

November 19, 2008

The harvest has begun. For the second time since I have arrived in Guatemala, cornfields are being flattened left and right. I can no longer walk from my bathroom into my house in a towel, the barrier of corn that shielded me from prying eyes has been razed. Entire families spend the day out in the fields gathering corn, machete-ing cornstalks and lugging ayotes (giant squash that look like watermelon). Soon all the left over dried-out foliage will be burned in giant bonfires sending smoke billowing into the air with the dust that is already rising. Children and adults alike spend the day shucking corn, saving corn husks to make tamales and chuchitos, separating the good from the bad and selecting those which will be used for seeds next year.

The rain has stopped and the cold has set in. I am back in the habit of drinking tea, using four wool blankets and shivering in my two sweatshirts, long-underwear, scarf and wool cap. It is more than a struggle to get out of my warm bed in the morning. Camionetas and trucks that pass on the road send clouds of dust into the air drying out eyes and lungs. The wind is picking up, and electricity is the victim. It is fall in Guatemala.

Rapid Reduction

November 11, 2008

Our forces are rapidly decreasing.

Andrea (Art Corps) finished up her service this October, and returned to Ecuador to spend some time with her family.

Our semi-site mate in the town over resigned last week.

Katy and Joe are moving sites, to a town on the south side of Xela, due to lack of work here.

… and then there were just two. It’s quite a drastic reduction. Granted, we were overloaded before. There was never any need to have four Peace Corps volunteers in one site. If you count the JICA volunteer (Japanese equivalent to Peace Corps) we had as many as 7 foreign volunteers. Nevertheless, you get used to having people around.

I am happy for Katy and Joe, because it seems their new town is very invested in working with them and the development of their program. This will be a step up since the interest was so low here. It will make them happier, busier and their service more rewarding. I am sad that they are leaving, because they have become such great friends of mine, but they never should have been placed here in the first place.

It seems that I will have to get used to entertaining myself at night again, but this is not the end of the world. If nothing else, it gives me lots of time to study for the GRE, and ponder my future.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Todos Santos

November 3, 2008

This weekend I made the trip out to Todos Santos, Huehuetenango for the celebration of All Saints Day.

Todos Santos is one of the few places in Guatemala where the men as well as the women still wear the traditional dress, at least in theory. Men wear red and white striped pants along with colorful collared shirts, and while the younger generation has kept this tradition, it has altered it to modern styles. Young boys and teenagers wear pants in a style copied straight from the states, wearing them low and baggy. They could pass for a pair of jeans if it weren’t for the stripes. And while they still wear the collared shirts, they leave them open and wear shirts bearing the insignia of heavy metal rock bands, WWF wrestlers or rap artists. I was struck by the fusion of tradition with modernity in this small isolated town.

On another note, Todos Santos is also famous for its celebration of All Saints Day. First, because the town’s feria also falls on this date (todos santos means all saints in Spanish). All towns in Guatemala have a patron saint (or saints in this case) for which they throw a celebration every year on that saint’s day. Secondly, Todos Santos has gained notoriety for the horse races they stage on this date. The races are not so much races, as drunk men riding their horses up and down a road at full speed. Upon reaching the end, they wait until one man decides to turn around and race back to the other end and the others follow. There is no winner and not much of a point. Predictably, several men fall off their horses in their drunken stupor and more than one are usually trampled. It is said if a man dies, his team will have good crops the following year. I watched the races the morning of the first, and saw several men fall and one get trampled.

Unsurprisingly, Alcoholism is an even bigger problem in Todos Santos than in most places in Guatemala. Last year the town voted to outlaw the sale of alcohol. While this prohibits the sale it does not prohibit the consumption, and the bolos were out in full force for feria. Men were passed out like flies all along the roads. I wonder if there is much hope for this problem, in a town were the act of drunkenness is a traditional celebration.

Different Perspective

October 12, 2008

Some of Katy and Joe’s friends from training came and visited this weekend and put a different perspective on Peace Corps Guatemala for me.

I have become accustomed to urban sites and placements. Almost everyone in my group lives in the main town of their municipality. This generally entails a market (at least once a week), paved roads, Spanish speakers, relative proximity to a major urban setting (under 3 hours), etc. which is to say, convenience. There is no doubt in my mind that Guatemala is one of the easiest placements to get. I often forget that I am living in a third world country, although a few things bring me back to reality (having to wash my clothes in the pila, bad roads, low levels of education and dental hygiene, to name a few).

Katy and Joe’s friends live in a small isolated aldea (an outlying town from the muni’s center) in the department of Huehuetenango (nicknamed way way far away). It took them 12 hours to travel to our site. Their town is so far out of the way, it has barely been reached by Guatemalan or foreign aid (which makes me realize, I am not as isolated here as I think). Many people have never been to school and most do not speak Spanish. For this reason, people in town are very responsive and appreciative of their efforts. The local health center told them that rates of diarrhea have dropped by as much as 30 percent since they began giving health charlas to the community two months ago. The local population does not become offended and uninterested when they explain they are there to educate and not give out money. They have been placed in a town that desperately needs their help and is eager to receive it.

I believe part of the problem with placements is bureaucratic restrictions. People are so scared of the repercussions of a volunteer getting hurt or threatened that we are being piled on top of each other in more urban settings where the towns are larger, more developed and in less need of aid. All of us have become frustrated here in Cabricán, because when we offer up help, people expect that we will give them things or money. They become indifferent when we explain we have no money to disperse and that we are here to educate. International organizations have thrown so much money at them that this is what they anticipate. In addition, it is harder to integrate and to reach those outlying communities that really do need, and would appreciate, our efforts. I would love to work in some of the outlying caserios of Cabricán, but a 2 hour hike one-way is both impractical and discouraged.

Katy and Joe’s friends don’t fit the typical mold in that they are in one of the outlying communities. They don’t need to worry about the logistics of hiking in and out because they live there. In this small town, it is easier for them to integrate and the people are grateful and enthusiastic of their efforts. It is difficult for them to be so isolated, but they really seem to be enjoying their service despite this fact. I believe Peace Corps efforts in Guatemala would be a lot more effective if they would place people in more of these outlying and isolated communities. Sure, there is greater risk involved, and it would be a harder and more challenging service, perhaps more people wouldn’t be able to cut it, but isn’t that what Peace Corps is all about? Challenging yourself to help those in need?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Coming Home!

October 7, 2008

Just throwing it out there for all of you who have been asking:

Yes (after 20 months) I am coming home for Christmas this year.

I arrive in DC (It was almost $300 cheaper than flying into NC) on December 18th. I’ll be there for a couple days with my sister until I can catch a ride home to Chapel Thrill.

I fly out of DC on January 8th… Due to lack of money and time, I am not planning on being anywhere but DC and North Carolina.

Plans include excessive consumption of food (sushi, steak, salad, breyer’s mint chocolate chip ice cream, CHEESE…I will consider it a failure if I don’t gain at least 10 lbs in 3 weeks), hitting up as many b-ball games as possible to watch my team dominate, LOTS of time with the family (this includes the Elanders and the Joses) and possibly Charlotte for New Years (this depends on my girls! I.e. all my sweetmates, Ravie, Casey, Claire …let me know what you’re up to).

I really cannot wait to see everyone!

Regular Cazador

October 7, 2008

I might be beating a dead horse here, but since my cat is my child, and my most constant companion… I’m going to overdo the stories about him.

Xpint has turned into a regular cazador. In the last two weeks he’s come home with three mice and a bird. The worst is that I can’t complain about the carcasses the keep appearing on my kitchen floor because it’s my fault. I turned him onto it.

It started when visiting friend spotted a small mouse running around my yard. Not thrilled by the prospect of a mouse infestation (the house had a problem before when Brian and Aneth lived here), I woke Xpint up from a characteristically deep slumber and pointed it out to him, while chastising him for not taking his job as a cat more seriously. He chased it under the fence, it escaped and I assumed that was the end of it. Xpint looked slightly disappointed at having lost out on his nap and a fun toy.

An hour or half hour later, my friends and I were hanging around enjoying a rare sunny afternoon in the middle of the rainy season, when Xpint ran through the kitchen clutching the poor thing in his mouth. He must have taken my reprimand to heart. The mouse was a tiny, not much more than a baby, and I began to feel really guilty as Xpint tossed it about the backyard. He’d let it out of his grip and impatiently wait for it to attempt to bounce away before pouncing on it again and again. Eventually the mouse caught on and played dead. Xpint, irritated, just threw it about every which way, tossing it around, carting it up the ladder, down the ladder and through my house from the front yard to the back. In the end he got overly enthused and flipped it into a bucket of water. It was when it started to struggle and flounder that we learned the mouse wasn’t actually dead. Xpint, faced with a horrible predicament: get wet and continue playing with the toy, or just watch it drown, compromised by poking it with his paw every once in a while and then recoiling back in horror at the wetness. I ended the charade by fishing the half dead mouse out of the water and chucking it into the cornfield. I’m sure it met its match at the hands of some other animal, who would actually eat it.

Chucking small dead animals into the cornfield is becoming a very common occurrence. Two days later, I found half a mouse on my kitchen floor when I woke up (I’m still terrified thinking about where I will find the other half). Yesterday morning Xpint came careening into the house clenching a struggling bird in his jaws of death. I tossed him into the yard and locked him out of the house in my attempt to keep dead animals out of my kitchen. Convinced the bird was dead and gone, I let Xpint back inside later only to find upon my return from Corrales that he had retrieved the dead bird from the yard and decorated my kitchen floor with its plumage. I spent the evening picking off all the feathers I couldn’t sweep off the rugs. To top it all off, I was lying in bed last night trying to fall asleep, when I heard Xpint playing with a squeaky toy. Since he has no toys that squeak, I turned the light on to investigate, and there he was, bounding all over the kitchen tossing around another half dead mouse.

Xpint is either torturing me or teaching me to get over my squeamishness. Perhaps I should have thought about this outcome before moving in next to a cornfield.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My site mates...

September 7, 2008

I have new site mates… although; they’re really not that new anymore.

Katy and Joe, a couple from California were assigned to Cabricán in July. There are now four of us just in the center of town. Of course, there are really more than four of us, if you count volunteers from other programs, and Aaron.

Aaron, is the equivalent of a new site mate, as he was assigned to the municipality of Huitan, a one hour walk or 20 minute bus ride from us. One of Katy and Joe’s good friends from training, we’re always inviting him over for group dinners.

I wasn’t very enthused when I found out there would be four of us. Gringos stand out a lot here, and it’s more than noticeable when they start to over take a town. It also makes it harder to find work for those that are here. Katy and Joe were supposed to be working with the health centers giving charlas on health, but there was already a volunteer from Japan who had filled this role. Also, having so many volunteers in a town makes it harder to integrate. Peace Corps claims to limit two volunteers to a site, but this is clearly not the case.

This is not to say that I don’t like having Katy, Joe and Aaron around (at first my frustration with Peace Corps came off to them like they weren’t welcome). They are great people and I love hanging out with them. We’ve continued the Cabricán tradition of group dinners and even added game nights. It’s especially nice to have Katy here because we get along so well (the only downside is that we apparently look so similar local people can’t tell us apart).

Katy and Joe have found a project in one of Cabricán’s small outlying towns: Mirador Los Corrales. They want to build latrines for this community that lacks both running water and electricity and are in the process of looking for funds. In the mean time, they are educating people on health and sanitation, and Katy is working with the older kids in the primary school on self-esteem and other related issues.

Pila Xpint

September 4, 2008

Xpint for some reason doesn’t like his water bowl. He will check the toilet, empty glasses, puddles and the pila before he will check his bowl. His favorite is the pila, which I do not understand, because it involves some acrobatic moves and the danger therein of falling in. Maybe it’s the thrill. I have to admit I’ve been tempted more than once to just shove him and witness the chaos that ensues.

HIV/AIDS Training

September 2, 2008

I held my first HIV/AIDS training yesterday and despite all my fears it was a smashing success.

Cabricán has 7 básicos (middle schools) in the municipality and, with funding from a grant Peace Corps received, I was able to plan a training for all the teachers and directors that work in these schools. More than 90 people were invited.

Needless to say, planning a training of this size requires more than a little leg work. There were materials to prepare, snacks to order, extra funding and donations to find, etc. Running the budget was more than a little stressful, especially because PCVs were coming in to help out from all over the country. As things in Guatemala almost never run smoothly I was constantly running back and forth between my house, the library and our CTA’s office checking and re-checking that everything had been completed as planned.

Luckily I was fortunate and had the support of my community. The local health center donated condoms for demonstrations, the Muni donated color diplomas, and the library helped me out with materials and labor. I also had the added benefit of my FOG fund (donations from all of you, my family and friends at home), which allowed me to print off and bind 7 copies of the program so that each básico will have a copy. This is essential to sustainability, because if they don’t have access to the program they will never attempt to recreate it.

Despite some bumps in the road, things worked out for the best. When two PCVs who were going to help lead the training fell sick and were unable to make it, my new sitemates stepped up to the challenge and helped fill their positions. This was crucial as it is hard to lead the training with more than 30 people in a group and we had more than 85 teachers attend.

In the end we had almost 100 percent attendance rate, which is unheard of in these trainings. In most cases PCVs get about 50 percent. I attribute this to the hard work of our CTA who put the full force of his authority behind the event.

In addition it seems the event was very well received, one of the básicos has already approached the library for help in implementing the program with their students before the end of September. As for the remaining 6 schools, we will visit each of them before the end of the school year in October to discuss how they can put this program into practice.

A special thanks to all those who helped out: Kutner, Katy, Andrea S., Andrea P., John, Rose, Michael, Aaron, Lic. Osorio Lopez, Neptali, Irvin, Hugo, Magdaly, Beatriz and Mary.

My Cat Has a Posse

Aug. 26, 2008

My cat has a posse. This is perplexing. I admit I am new to pet ownership, specifically cats, but I get the midnight prowling, the insistence of sitting atop my keyboard when I am trying to work and the meddling with my knitting. Thanks to a book on cats given to me by my site mate’s mother, I even understand the Chewbacca noises and the kneading of my stomach (I previously thought he was just trying to make me feel fat).

But a posse?

Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought cats were supposed to be solitary creatures? My dad is no help with this: “They’re probably just his girlfriends honey. Male cats like to go on the prowl.” Except that he’s neutered and, of course, my dad never seems to remember this. Maybe he thinks that because Guatemala is a third world country, neutering is impossible here.

It started out with a small tabby cat, which I assume is my neighbor’s. I’ve found him in my house more than once, which leads me to believe that Xpint has shown him how to get into my house through the window I leave open. As a true Guatemalan animal he is terrified of people and flees the minute he sees me. Then I came home to find another larger cat lurking about my yard. He looked rather guilty when I came in through the gate and immediately made a beeline for the cornfield.

I am not particularly pleased with this whole situation. I don’t mind that Xpint is hanging out with the riffraff; I actually think it’s kind of cool that he has friends. However, the other day he disappeared for a full 24 hours and came home with a giant gash on his face. I was in hysterics. You never know how attached you have become to your pet until it goes missing. I’m beginning to think he’s found friends in the wrong crowd. I have a feeling his posse is helping itself to his food and leaving fleas in my house. I’m not stingy, but I am on a Peace Corps budget and I did not sign on for three cats when I bought one. I can’t go about Cabricán frontlining every cat I see. And cat food is EXPENSIVE. Luckily he’s an outdoor cat and I don’t have to invest in kitty litter.

I bought Xpint instead of a dog because I knew I could leave him alone for long periods of time when I went on trips. I also thought he would be easier to handle (no potty training etc), but I forgot to factor cat posses into the equation. It just didn’t seem likely at the time. Maybe I would have been better of getting a dog, but I am beginning to realize that owning a pet regardless of species is a big responsibility and comes with the good and the posses.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Rain Drop

Aug. 15, 2008

Rainy season… we had a nice little two week break, but its back in full force.

Results of Boredom...

Aug. 15, 2008

I think I am on the path to actually completing one of my projects. I know this will shock my mother. I have a tendency to be fickle at best. It would take more than two hands to count all the sports I tested out during out my childhood. My participation was generally limited to a year or less, due to loss of interest. The same can be said for all the activities and art projects I have started through the years as they never seem to get past the first phase. Many kudos to boredom as it seems to have inspired me to form a more firm commitment. The pictures above are of the blanket I am knitting in my “spare” time.

Buses and Vendors

Aug. 13, 2008

Buses are not always crowded, but more than often they are. Generally speaking I’ll be squeezed in between a slightly obese snoring Guatemalan male who is taking up half the seat while drooling on my shoulder and a nursing mother who is balancing three children on her lap, under her seat and in between her legs in order to avoid having to pay an extra fare. Rounding curves at lightening speed, it would be amazing that everyone doesn’t constantly tumble out into the isle, except we’re all pegged in place by the 30 or so people crammed standing into every last inch of remaining room on the bus.

This combination is made even more comical when stopped at a cola. Hoards of vendors come sprinting to the bus attempting to sell as much as possible before any one else can get on. They squeeze their way through the crowd, climbing over people and seats, slamming their baskets into unsuspecting heads and shouting their wares in the slow Spanish drawl typical of rural Guatemalans. ¡Chuchitos! ¡Hay chuchitos de pollo y de reeees! ¡Toma su chuchito caliente mamita! ¡Hay tortillas con carne, con pollo, chile relleno bien calentitos! ¿Qué le doy joven? I’m partial to chuchitos myself. My bus rides are no longer complete without one.

Colas are not the pain in my ass they used to be, now that I have gotten over my fear of street food and being left behind if I debarked the bus. They provide an opportunity for a snack, a bathroom break in the bushes and, best of all, a pause in the bouncing, swerving trip so I can actually read the Prensa Libre I bought with the intention of reading on the bus. I don’t get carsick from reading in a moving vehicle, but it’s impossible to read when you’re being thrown about like a barrel over Niagra falls.

I think I’m finally acculturating or adapting. Not that I still don’t have fits of madness where I swear profanities in English under my breath and elbow the guy in the gut who’s falling asleep on my shoulder. However, I am finally getting to the point where I can arrive at the other end of my journey without wanting to tear the head off of every person who looks at me the wrong way… or at least fall asleep on someone else’s shoulder.


Aug. 7, 2008

Guatemala isn’t quiet. I often wonder where the affection for loud obnoxious noises stems from, or why deafness is not a more common result.

There are no sound barriers here. Houses are constructed out of cement block and insulation does not exist. Therefore, something that might have been slightly annoying in the states, but mostly drowned out, is suffered through in full blown clarity. Music is blared, religious sessions are screamed and howled, bolos stumble down the street serenading the town with unintelligible songs and stereos are set at maximum volume for all public events – regardless of whether there are two or two hundred people.

I once sat through a wedding where marimba music was blared so loudly at the reception that you could not hear the person next to you speak unless they screamed directly into your ear. We sat through the event in silence for four hours – and no one danced. It’s not my iPod that will destroy my hearing but this preference of ear-splitting levels of sound.

Even the animals here are in on the conspiracy. Roosters, do not crow when the sun rises, but three hours before and every half hour from then on out for the rest of the day. I swear that the chuchos schedule their snarling brawls for 1 am, directly outside my house.

My absolute favorite, however, is the pig next door, which I have never actually seen. The first day I moved into my new house I could have sworn that the pig was being slaughtered. It squealed, bawled and shrieked with such intensity there was no doubt in my mind that my neighbors would be sitting down to a breakfast of bacon. However, after a few months here, I have become accustomed to its daily death cries that occur like clockwork every afternoon at 4 pm. It’s either cranking out piglets daily or just really hungry.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Aug. 2, 2008

Home. Finally.

Some of my fellow volunteers were confused about what I meant by this. More than a few assumed that I was going home – to the States – rather than home – to Cabricán.

After spending in all practical terms the entire month of July out of site, I am ecstatic that I am HOME. Which makes me wonder: when did I start referring to Cabricán as home? Is it in fact my home?

They say home is where the heart is, but I cannot claim that my heart is here. My cat, my stuff, and my “life” are temporarily stashed here. Temporarily being the key word. But my heart? I suppose Guatemala is growing on it. More than a few lifelong friendships have developed here. I love waking up here and watching the sun burn through the fog, the mountains slowly rising out of the mist, but I think my heart is back in the States, with my family, my past and my future. Perhaps my heart would be here, if it was committed. However, knowing this experience is transitory keeps my heart at bay. For what is the point of forming a permanent attachment to something that isn’t permanent?

Yet, I am calling Cabricán home, even though I know it is only temporary, and even though I know my heart isn’t here. My home is where my stuff is. Or my heart is here, and I just haven’t realized it yet.

Last Visitor

July 30, 2008

The last couple of months have been a whirlwind of visitors. Having just said goodbye to my sister, and last visitor for several months, I am both sad and happy.

Sad, because I love my sister. She has always been a mentor to me, someone to look up too and someone to aspire to be like. She has always been there for me and she is an excellent traveling companion, which is not an easy thing to be, especially in Guatemala. Showing her around Guatemala was fun and easy.

Happy, because I can finally spend some extended time in my site. I love having visitors, but it is emotionally and physically draining. It is hard to be away from your home, or stuff. It is hard when they do not understand Guatemala in the terms that I do, or cannot adjust to the differences in culture and amenities. It is hard living out of a backpack (and constantly losing your stuff).

I will not get to spend the whole month of August in Cabricán due to another training by Peace Corps. However, I think I am going to get three full weekends, and this is a feat in itself. I never thought I would say this, but I am not leaving my site if I can help it.


July 21, 2008

One year as an official Peace Corps volunteer, one year to go, and significant changes.

I officially changed my counterpart agency to Cabricán’s Library: Biblioteca Nuevo Amancer. This has two benefits: first, the guilt of not working with my assigned agency has been lifted from my shoulders; second, I feel a more fixed work schedule will be more conducive to accomplishing more in my second year.

It is easy for me to place the blame on Peace Corps for my original placement, and to only see the negative side of the equation. However, this would not be rational. As a result of my first placement, I have learned to be more out going, more proactive, and more responsible. I have learned to seek things out for myself, rather than waiting for them to come to me. With the failure of my placement, came new opportunities that are more related to my interests and abilities. I was also able to choose them for myself, rather than wait for Peace Corps to find something that might or might not work out.

It would be easy for me to write off my first year as a failure as I have often wanted to do. But this would overlook all that I have accomplished and all that I have learned.

My APCD (Assistant Peace Corps Director) came out to visit a couple days ago to officially change my agency and to see what I have been doing over the last year. Feeling pressed upon to show some RESULT, I took him out to Loma Grande to look at my world map mural.

The result surprised me. Seño Amarilis, who teaches the classes I worked with for Fundamentos Empresariales, explained to my APCD how the children had taken over responsibilities for snack sales at recess after finishing this course. They picked out their own products to sell, including healthy items such as fruit which weren’t an option before, and were allowed to keep half the proceeds. They came up with the idea on their own. The teachers had not mentioned this to me, and had I not taken my APCD out to see the mural, I might never have known. This taught me to understand, although I might not see the results of my work, every action has a result, and I should not be so judgmental of my efforts.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Brian's Despedida


Brian’s time here in Cabricán is running short. Yesterday we did a short hike down to Las Barrancas and along one of the rivers and then up into Chorjale so he could have at least one last hike through some of the municipality. Andrea came with us and was able to see Los Rojas, where Brian did his first project of water tanks upon showing up in Cabricán two years ago. We spent the afternoon cleaning up the house for Brian’s despedida.

Juliana came over around 3 pm to teach Andrea and I how to make tamales, which seems to be a simple enough process, although lacks an official recipe and so will be hard to recreate. Additionally, with three people cooking and working at once they still took us two hours to make, so I can see how with only one person working they could take all day.

The few guests, Reina, Roberto, Juliana, both Andreas, Saul and Gary arrived around 8 pm and we sat down to enjoy the tamales and celebrate Brian’s experiences and work over his two years here. Reina, Juliana and Roberto gave Brian the traditional shirt worn by men in Cabricán which he was very excited about, although this one is particularly shiny and not exactly traditional. He and Roberto were twins for the evening.

Brian leaves Cabricán de una vez (as they say here) this Thursday and will head down to Antigua and Santa Lucia to finish up all his final paper work and medical documentation. His flight home (New Hampshire) is on July 9th. He is leaving a little early to surprise his mother for her birthday and will be in New Hampshire until the end of July. Aneth is flying out to visit him there for a couple days and then they are driving across the country together back to Los Angeles. Cabricán to Los Angeles will be a big change, but Brian is very excited about it, mainly because of Aneth.

I will be sad to see him go. He has been such a great friend and support during my first year here and it is hard to imagine Cabricán without him. However, after more than two years he is ready to go, and I can understand that (as long as he remembers to send us packages once he is gone!).



The tamales we made used a rice dough and are typically made for Christmas. Generally speaking tamales are made from some type of dough placed in a maxan leaf or corn husk (maxan leaves, a very large green leaf, are used for special occasions) with a red sauce (made from tomatoes, miltomate, sesame seed, pumpkin seed, several different types of dried pepper, onion and chocolate), a piece of chicken (or turkey on special occasions) a prune, and some red pepper and then wrapped up. All the tamales are placed in a big pot and steamed. Reina claims she can put the creation into a recipe for me, however, most people here just go by instinct, taste and future experience.

Aguas Calientes


Reina took Juliana, Roberto, Brian, Andrea and I out to some hot springs in the north of the municipality of Sija yesterday. To get to Aguas Calientes, San Carlos Sija we woke up at four in the morning and hiked an hour out to Cienaga Grande where we caught a bus at 5:30 that takes a route through the department of Sija into Xela. From where we were dropped off it was another 30 minutes to an hour hike downhill into Aguas Calientes.

These hot springs are different from those of Aguas Georginas, near Xela, in that they are not a tourist attraction and are used only by locals. They are not as pretty as Aguas Georginas, but they make up for that by the lack of tourists. By happenstance, we arrived on their feria so the town (which isn’t much more than one road) was overrun with people. A band had come in from Totonicapan, and there was a parade for the patron saint.

I think I managed to scandalize the town in my bikini, however, with all the blue-eyed, fair-skinned children that were running around, I think more than a few people have spent some time in the states and were a little more used to it than Cabricanecos would be.
Andrea and I spent a lot of the morning trying to teach Roberto how to swim, and he was catching on really quickly, putting his face underwater and giving it a try. I think if he had a couple days in a pool he would quickly pick up on it. Unfortunately, pools are hard to come by in this area, and the chances of that happening are slim. Most people in Cabricán, including Juliana and Reina, do not know how to swim.



A few of us went out to Tilapita this weekend, an island off the coast of San Marcos, near the Mexican Border. One of the Peace Corps staff was kind enough to lend his beach house for Kody’s birthday, so Brian and I decided last minute to head up there.

Tilapita is very isolated and yet to be discovered. Houses have thatched roofs, the beach is empty of trash and we were probably the only gringos on the island. This will probably change soon as small hostel was recently created and the beach has just made it into the most recent version of Lonely Planet.

It was a very chill weekend. We spent the days out on the beach swimming and playing frisbee, eating fresh seafood cooked by one of the neighbors, and watching gorgeous sunsets.

All in all, it was a perfect break, if you don’t count the fact that I lost my wallet on the way home. I must have a problem with Karma because, in the last week and a half, I have lost my wallet, my iPod, broken my cellphone, broken Brian’s Sirius radio and somehow managed to make iTunes not work on my computer. Go figure.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Creative Drying


Rainy season frustrates my attempts to dry clothes outdoors...

Estufas Mejoradas


Brian has officially finished his last project in Cabrican. Working with a women’s group in Corrales he has helped them build 73 estufas mejoradas. These stoves allow women to still cook using fire, but prevent them from cooking over an open flame, which not only prevents fire hazards, but also lung disease as smoke exits through a chimney.

Brian worked with the women, teaching them how to build stoves, and proving to them, that they were perfectly capable of doing this without their husbands’ help.

Today the women had their stove inauguration to celebrate their new stoves and thank Brian and Juana Xoquic, the president of the women’s group, for all of their hard work.

Doña Juana and I are also planning on setting up a community garden with this women’s group. We already have the seeds donated from and will hopefully get things organized by the end of June before I have to leave for my mid-service conference.

Cate and Miguel Visit


I’ve just ditched my second set of visitors. Miguel left yesterday for Mexico, and Cate headed back to the states today.

Cate and Miguel were an excellent set of visitors and got along famously, especially considering they’d never met in person before. (The explanation to people on how they ended up in Guatemala at the same time usually involved some version of “we met on the internet” – all of you on the LS will appreciate that one.) It was so nice to have two people so interested in the culture and seeing more of Guatemala than just the tourist sites. Luckily for Miguel and I, Cate was camera happy and I am sure her well documented trip will be up on the internet soon for all to see.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

John Visits


My little brother John arrived this month, beginning several months of visitors.

I really enjoyed showing him around Guatemala, torturing him with the chicken buses and lack of water pressure. It was wonderful being able to share what I have been experiencing and to see him after so long and he made me realize that things here aren’t as normal as I have come to accept them.

It was also a great precursor to his study abroad in Ecuador. Being able to practice his Spanish here for a week made him realize he can communicate if he needs too. He held a whole conversation in Spanish with one of my Guatemalan friends, which I think was more than he realized he could do.

Next up: Miss Cate Elander: 8 days and counting.

Teacher Training


I complete my first teacher training today with the help of my friend Carolyn who came up from her site in Cantel to help me. Carolyn has been in country for almost three years now, so her experience is invaluable.

We trained twelve 5th and 6th grade teachers in Rio Blanco, San Marcos on the program Fundamentos Empresariales, which I have been working with both in Rio Blanco and Cabrican. Fundamentos, teaches children basic business techniques: how to save, how to plan ahead, how to calculate your earnings. We hope that the program will reach many more children by training teachers and providing each participating school with the program materials. I doubt that all the teachers will implement the program, but I am hopeful that at least some of them will.

Now that I have done one training with Carolyn, I am planning to do at least one on my own in Cabrican. I am also hoping to set up an AIDS training for teachers here in Cabrican, although given my visitor schedule, and other AIDS trainings scheduled by PCVs that may have to wait until August.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Xpint´s Gift


I arrived home exhausted today after dropping John off at the airport, my friend Oscar’s birthday, and night of planning for my teacher training tomorrow in Rio Blanco, to find that Xpint had brought me a gift: the most giant disgusting bug I have seen since living in New Orleans. I didn’t realize they could get so big here, given that it never gets much above 70, but apparently they can. I loved when Xpint started killing the bugs inside of my house, because it meant that I didn’t have to, but I am reconsidering this benefit now that he is bringing large ones home from outside. I am waiting in dread for the day when he comes home with a dead bird or mouse and leaves it in my bed.



I am scarily programmed to arrive early to everything. I can make a concerted effort to arrive late to an event and still get there 15 minutes early. Given that my mother was freaking out about my brother’s safety upon his arrival last week in Guatemala City (a notoriously unsafe area), I planned to arrive 15 to 30 minutes early, which resulted in my arrival 2 hours before his flight got in.

Guate’s airport is undergoing major renovations. An excellent plan, considering when I arrived in country (over a year ago now), the airport was nothing less than a hole in the ground. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of work to be done. The waiting area contains no seating and nothing to do besides sit on the floor (if you are as disorganized as I am and always forget to bring something to occupy your time).

Fortunately, the airport is a great place to people watch, especially tourist watch. They come stumbling out of customs, weighed down by their giant backpacks and suitcases, dazed, confused and easily trapped by the first person to shout ANTIGUA! SHUTTLE! ANTIGUA! Much to my chagrin, I am constantly looped into this group and had to fight off several overly eager drivers who relentlessly tried to convince me I wanted to go to Antigua, Panajachel or Chichi. I thought it was quite obvious I was waiting the arrival of someone considering I had only a purse and I arrived by taxi, not through the arrival gate. Clearly they missed the memo.

While the tourists are fun to watch (and to make fun of), the most interesting part was watching the arrival of people who had obviously been gone for years, at best. Something to the effect of 1/12 of Guatemala’s population lives in the United States. Children here grow up without meeting their father, some women spend more than a decade without seeing their husbands, and mothers spend an eternity hoping their children will one day return and they will be able to see them again before they die. It is an amazing site to watch a family greet a member who has been gone for such a long period of time; to watch children meet a father who they have no real memory of. You can see the joy in their eyes, and the relief in their smiles.

On top of this, the airport is a place where you can see all spectrums of Guatemala’s population converge and mingle in one place. Given that racism is still so common here it is a rare sight to see every group, from rich Guatemalan’s dressed to the nines to indigenous families, the women in their traje with ribbons braided into their long hair. It gives you hope seeing such a wide array of cultures grouped in one place all happily focused on one thing: welcoming people home.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rainy Again


My new site mate is from Seattle, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised today when walking home from the gym in the rain and cursing my luck at having forgotten my umbrella and having left my clothes out on the line she states her excitement at this sudden downpour.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the rain in the first place. Not that I don’t mind the occasional storm, but when it happens everyday for six months it gets a little depressing. While the change in season will bring back things that I love: greenness and lack of dust… the list of things I don’t love is considerably longer: always having to wear waterproof shoes and carry an umbrella or raincoat, my clothes never drying and smelling like mildew, being trapped indoors, mold, not being able to hear yourself think… I could go on, but I don’t want to be too negative. I can only attribute Andrea’s excitement to her lack of exposure to rain without drying machines and houses that properly drain.

Xpint on the other hand shares my chagrin. Effectively trapped in the house due to his aversion to anything wet, he spent the afternoon running circles around the living room and biting everything (literally everything). So this rainy season might not only cause me mental distress but physical pain. This afternoon has already resulted in a few new future scars.



Springtime is here again, or if you’re Guatemalan: wintertime.

The rains are beginning to start up again, and while I am already irritated with the thought of mold, smelly clothes, and never being able to leave the house without my umbrella … there is one benefit. Things are beginning to turn green. Preparation began weeks ago and now the clouds and fog are rolling in and all those empty brown cornfields are slowly changing color. It is weird to think this is my second time witnessing this process.