Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Xela Bike


This weekend Laura and Justin, being the extremely active and outdoorsy people that they are, biked over to Cabricán from San Lorenzo. This, while only about 7 miles, involves grueling up-hill climbs that I would never venture to attempt on a bike. (Brian, Aneth and I hiked to San Lorenzo in December and that was hard enough.) I was extremely excited to have my first visitors, and Laura and Justin make excellent guests as well as cook delicious (albeit vegetarian) food.

During the course of the evening Laura and Justin talked me into biking with them to Xela on the premise that we bus from Cabricán to San Carlos Sija, thereby passing the worst of the hills and the unpaved road, and bike from Sija to Xela. Justin put my bike together that evening (the wheels had been unattached ever since my APCD dropped the bike off in November), and the next morning I ran out to get the brakes fixed and put air in the tires. After throwing our bikes onto the top of a bus around 10 am, we were off.

Despite skipping the worst of the uphill climbs, the bike ride was challenging but beautiful. We stopped to eat lunch just outside of Sija in a beautifully forested area beside a small river, which unfortunately appears to have been adopted as a trash dump. The first part was easy going and downhill, but I was soon reminded that in a mountainous region what goes up must come down and vice versa. All our hard work paid off when we were able to cruise down the mountainside into Xela and witness an amazing view of the valley below.

San Miguel Visit


Last Monday I finally made it back to San Miguel, the site of my first host family. I had not been back since the end of July for Pablo’s birthday party, and I was a little afraid the family would think that I had abandoned them. I had little reason to worry as they greeted me with open arms and their usual full array of teasing.

Much has changed since I was last there. The twins, Fabio and Shirley, are walking and almost talking. Pablo is no longer a shy two year old but a talkative and rebellious three year old. The family has put on an addition to their house, and now has three rooms instead of two. San Miguel is receiving volunteers again, probably due to the road being paved and buses running regularly from San Miguel to Magdalena. Luvia and Chepe’s new volunteer is in the environmental program and they claim, slightly spacey.

Most notably, however, Luvia is pregnant again. The baby is due in March and will be her fourth child. It is difficult for me to imagine being 22 and having four children, all under the age of four. This last one unfortunately is unplanned, but they are nonetheless excited about the new addition to the family, although they swear that it will be the last.

It was so nice to be able to see the family again, especially Shirley, my favorite. Her constant smile makes it impossible for you not to love her. I’m hoping to return in March or April to meet the newest addition.

Volcán Chicabal


Last month Marissa, Kelly, Carolyn and I hiked up Volcán Chicabal. It is an extremely short hike, only about 45 minutes to the top, with some beautiful scenery. Kelly rightly observed that with the cold climate and thick vegetation it was extremely similar to the rain forests of British Colombia.

The crater of Chicabal contains a lake sacred to the Mayans. For this reason, you are not allowed to swim in it once you reach the top, but it is a little too cold for swimming anyway. Sitting at the summit looking down into the lake, or walking around the shoreline, you can imagine why the lake holds such religious significance. The rolling fog brings the lake in and out of focus giving it a mystical quality.

Although we were able to witness a few Mayan ceremonial activities, we’ve been told the first week of May attracts thousands of Mayans to the lake, but outsiders are generally not allowed in the park at this time to avoid interference.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Rainy v. Dry


For your viewing pleasure: The view from my roof, rainy season and dry season.

The rain stopped more or less at the end of November, and probably will not start again until late May, early June.

Tigo Land


Tigo is taking over Cabricán.

In Guatemala, there are three main telephone companies, Moviestar, Claro and Tigo. During the presidential elections there was a joke that whichever candidate you were against: tiene que ser un movie star, porque no habla claro ni esta contigo (translated: has to be a movie star because he doesn’t talk clearly and isn’t with you). This of course was a play off of the slogans of Claro (habla claro: speak clearly – i.e. you always have a good signal, or: talk Claro) and Tigo (Cabricán* está ConTigo: Cabricán is with you, or, it’s double meaning: Cabricán is with Tigo).

*Substitute current location for Cabricán… you get the picture.

Actively engaged in price wars (since arriving in Guatemala, Tigo has begun offering triple minute days) and always searching for free advertisement, all three companies offer free paint jobs for everyone. The catch of course, is that your free paint job is in the selected company’s colors, complete with their logo.

Within the past week Tigo has begun painting over Cabricán. So for example, CabriPan, the bakery down the street (pan means bread) now exclaims in dook blue and white: CabriPan está con Tigo. Every street I walk down has at least three new stores, walls or houses painted over with the Tigo insignia. Inexplicably, Tigo has also been able to convince the municipality to paint the entire soccer stadium Tigo. (Yes, we have a soccer stadium. We might provide the worst education in all of Guatemala and leave several outlying communities and schools without running water, but we can afford to spend millions of Quetzales building a new giant stadium).

I can only assume Cabricán is about to be renamed Tigo, or this is some perverse practical joke where someone wants me to live in a sea of dook blue for the next year and half.
On a side note: UNC vs. dook
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I’m a Tar Heel born and a Tar Heel bred and when I die I’m a Tar Heel Dead! Rah rah Carolina-lina! Rah rah Carolina-lina! Rah rah Carolina-lina! GO TO HELL DOOK!



Random News from Cabricán:

Aneth is gone. L
Andrea, the new Art Corps volunteer, is living in Rio Blanco, the town over, and will be visiting next week!
We are getting a new Peace Corps volunteer in April. She will be in the healthy schools program, replacing Amber, who left in July right as I was arriving. Brian says I should save my enthusiasm until after I meet the new volunteers in case I don’t like them, but I am optimistic!

Random entertainment from Cabricán:

Xpint is currently sitting on my head and making Chewbacca noises. He is pissed off I won’t let him walk all over my keyboard.

Sitting in the office, the temperature drops a good 10 degrees, clouds roll in and it begins to rain. This is very odd, because it is January and it is not supposed to rain until May. So I question Norma, “It’s a little weird that it’s raining isn’t it?” to which she replies, “oh yes, very strange. I read about it in the newspaper the other day. It’s some weather that came in from another country. It’s not Guatemalan weather.” I found this explanation lacking, but unsurprisingly everyone else I questioned had similar explanations, or simply replied, “saber.” Later on, talking to Brian, I discovered the real source of the mystery rain: the remnants of a hurricane that hit Mexico.

I couple months ago I made my cooperative an excel spreadsheet to calculate the interest for their members’ accounts. It only works for 6 months at a time, so the other day Elizabeth asked me if I could make a new one. Since my job as a Peace Corps volunteer is to train, not to do, I explained to her that I would teach her how to make them, so that when I leave they can continue to use them. We settled on Thursday to start on the project, but when I showed up, Elizabeth had taken the day off. I returned the next day and asked if she wanted to work on it then. “I’m really busy today,” she replied intently studying Nuestro Diario, a Guatemalan mix of the Enquirer and USA Today. Frustrated I sighed and asked if Monday would work for her and she answered “it depends on how busy we are… but you’re still working on it by yourself right?” I repeated that my responsibility as a Peace Corps volunteer is to train, that we’re trying to create sustainable development. She stared at me blankly.

Leaving Brian’s house someone ch, chs me and yells “¡seño!” His neighbor runs out of her house and asks me if I know where Brian is. She explains they knocked on his door earlier but he didn’t answer. Since I don’t knock and just let myself in, Brian will ignore knocking if he doesn’t feel like talking to people. His neighbor explains that her daughter is studying to be a bilingual secretary in Xela, but she needs some help with her English homework. I’ve never been very good at saying no, so despite the fact that I was on the way to the market I get shuttled into her home. I spent the next hour not explaining English, but basic grammar. This girl, who is at least 16 and studying to be a secretary, has no idea what nouns, verbs, pronouns, prepositions, adverbs and adjectives are. That’s the Guatemalan education system for you.

Listening to Guatemalans talk, I’ve noticed they have a habit of repeating things they’re saying three times in different ways. For example, someone explaining that they went to the store would say, “So we decided to go to the store, we were going to the store, we went to the store.” This must be why it takes three times as long to accomplish things here.

El Futuro


Living at the end of the world gives me a lot of time to think, especially at night. And what else is there to ponder, but my future? I suppose some people would chastise me for not living in the present, but it is kind of hard to live in the present after seven o’clock when the whole town shuts down. In order to entertain myself for the next three or four hours I watch movies on my laptop, read books, write blog posts, work on puzzles, muddle over what projects I can start so that I am not such an ineffective volunteer, crash in on Brian or fret about what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.

Being that I had NO idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, the last 6 months in Cabricán have been very useful in narrowing down the possibilities:

A) Writing – My mother loves this idea. I’m not certain. I’ve never believed myself to be a good writer, but recently it’s become not only therapeutic but also extremely enjoyable. Travel writing would be my dream job. How great would it be to travel for free?

B) International Development – Broad category, I know. To broaden it even further, development in general. I would love to go back and work for the Latino Community Credit Union again, but I also want to work in a big city for a while. Washington, DC captures my attention because of all the opportunities in development. San Francisco as well, not because of development, but because I would love to work on the west coast and San Francisco seems like it would be a great city to live in.

C) Masters – Go back to school and get my masters in…? (Obviously not well thought out).

D) Veterinary School – This would clearly take a little extra work, given that my last science class was intro to biology my Freshman year at UNC and my last math class was AP statistics… which, scary to say, was five years ago now. I’m currently reading this book, “Mountains Beyond Mountains” about Dr. Paul Farmer a graduate and now professor of Harvard Medical School who spends half of his year providing free medical treatment in Haiti. He is also, coincidentally, a Dookie, so I guess some people who graduate from that place turn out okay. I think it would be neat to do the same thing but as a veterinarian.

E) Dirty Hippie – My definite plans upon completing my service, are either motorcycle diary-ing it backwards to Tierra del Fuego (sans the motorcycle, although I haven’t ruled that out completely) or buying a piece of junk car and driving up through Mexico back to the states and hitting all those places I’ve always wanted to see like Yellow Stone National Park and the Grand Canyon. Of course, by that point, maybe I will be ready to come home… or maybe I will become a professional dirty hippie and book it around the world on a shoestring budget for the rest of my life or until I get bored of seeing new things.

Of course, maybe I’ll just be a professional dirty hippie with a masters in (fill in the blank), who travels the world providing international development in veterinary care and writes about her experiences. Perfect!