Sunday, March 30, 2008

World Map Mural


Work has begun on Loma Grande’s world map mural. Each of the kids from fourth, fifth and sixth grade were asked to pose for the mural doing different activities and will be painted in, to give them ownership in the project. We have almost finished sketching the world, and Andrea (Art Corps) and I started painting on borders today so that the kids can fill in the countries and characters with colors. The mural will display the phrase “Mejora nuestro mundo. ¡Tú puedes hacerlo!” (Make our world a better place. You can do it!) to encourage the children to work to improve the world and to foment the idea that they can initiate change. Thank you so much to those who are contributing to my fund with Friends of Guatemala and making this project possible!

Friends of Guatemala (FOG) is a voluntary organization whose members include Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) in the U.S. This is a tax-exempt non-profit organization (501c3 status); donations can be tax-deductible. The FOG Scholarship Program (Category I) funds scholarships for children in Guatemala who need assistance and are nominated by current Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). FOG also provides an extra resource (Category II) that current volunteers can request to benefit projects in their community.

FOG Scholarship Program funds are comprised of donations from families and friends of PCVs and RPCVs.

For those who would like to make a donation and help fund my projects:

DONATIONS should be sent directly to FOG in Washington, D.C:

Friends of Guatemala
P.O. Box 33018
Washington, D.C. 20033

Donors should include the following information on the memo line of the check:
“PCV Sara Knechtel – Cat. II”

Semana Santa


Semana Santa is the celebration of the week before Easter. In Guatemala it is celebrated with huge processions, the most famous being held in the colonial city of Antigua. For volunteers, it is the opportunity to explore parts of Guatemala not yet seen. Volunteers are given one weekend out of sight per month, but this is not enough time to do much more than head to Antigua for a night or Lake Atitlan (if, like me, you live in the western highlands). Since most host agencies shut down for the entire week, it gives volunteers the opportunity to see places that are farther from their sites. Marissa, Laura and I used the week to travel up to the Peten, the jungle of Guatemala that reaches up into Mexico and borders the Yucatan and Belize, to see the Mayan ruins of Tikal, and to the Garifuna town of Livingston on the Caribbean Coast. This is much too long to be contained into one blog post, so I have divided into several different sections which are posted below.

El Remate


After a night of fitful sleeping in an ice cold overnight trip from Guatemala City to Flores, stepping down off the bus into the warm humid air of the Peten was a relief for all of us. We had been warned that the advertised air-conditioning on the bus was more of an annoyance than a benefit, but this had been torture.

Quickly surrounded by the usual mob of taxi and shuttle drivers we were able to negotiate a cheap price by shuttle to get to El Remate, a small town halfway between Flores, the capital of Peten, and the ruins of Tikal, where we would be staying for the next two days. Laura, who had been up the week before with her father who was visiting from the states, assured us this was a better deal than staying at the park, because it was less expensive and there was a beautiful lake.

Beautiful does not begin to describe it. Pure turquoise and surrounded by tall green grass, the lake is calm and tranquil. Small rickety wooden docks extend out into the water. The area of El Remate has yet to be developed; there are no motor boats to disrupt the serenity of the area, and it is easy to see how one could loose track of time in this lazy little lakeside town.

Exhausted from our trip and lack of sleep, Marissa, Laura and I headed down to one of the docks. With the warm rays of the sun beating down upon us, the lullaby of the water lapping against the dock soon had us all fast asleep on the wooden boards.

As good as this sounds, it only got better. For lunch we stumbled upon a small Italian restaurant off the side of the lake. International cuisine is not Guatemala’s strong point, so we were shocked to find the place churning out homemade pasta made by an adorable old little Italian man. Food was clearly his passion as he shouted out specific details on exactly how the food should be prepared and cooked to the woman he had helping him. An hour later stuffed on tomato and (get this) REAL mozzarella, fresh bread, homemade pizza complete with fresh tomato, mushrooms, onions and NON-CANNED black olives and limonada, we could not believe our luck.

Lunch, of course, was followed by more lounging on the dock and swimming in the clear lake water before we headed back to the hostel to get an early night sleep. We needed our rest for our early morning rise at 3 am the next day to catch the sunrise tour of the Tikal ruins. The trip could not have begun in a better manner.



At first impression, he wasn’t the friendliest fellow on earth.

“Let’s go, everyone in the vans. There are supposed to be 11 of you. Peace Corps, where’s Peace Corps?” he barked. We cautiously signaled that we were the three volunteers. The day before we had signed up for the sunrise tour of Tikal, the most famous Mayan ruins of Guatemala. Being a Peace Corps volunteer has its perks, as we get a generous discount to enter most national parks, so we were able to negotiate the usual price of this tour down from 300 Quetzales to 200. Little did we know this would cause so much consternation with our tour guide, who was not convinced the Peace Corps discount actually existed.

“Okay, you three in this van, everyone else in the other.” All 11 of us hesitated, the boxed lunches we had paid for were no where to be found, and the hostel owner was passed out in a drunken stupor in the hammock. Not to worry, our guide had no qualms with waking him up before the crack of dawn so we could be on our way. Marissa, Laura and I piled into the small van, while the other 8 had to squeeze into the other. Although there was space in ours to seat two more people comfortably, the guide wouldn’t have it. Only the three of us in the first, everyone else in the other. The couple we met the day before gave us a dirty look, before cramming their way into the stuffed van. We assumed our separation from the rest of the group had to do with the uncertainty of our cheaper entrance rate.

To assume makes an ass out of you and me.

While our guide treated everyone else with brazenness and disrespect, he was amazingly civil to us. He did point out the obvious and explain that he wasn’t a good tour guide because he didn’t have patience and wasn’t a people person (duh!). After watching the sunrise from temple number 4, we broke off with another guide who gave us the entire tour of Tikal in English. We were told to meet up with our original guide outside the park at 11 am.

Sweating profusely, exhausted and in desperate need of re-hydration we stumbled out of the park to meet up with our original guide. I’m almost certain it was 11 am on the dot mas o menos a minute or two. He was sitting there waiting, and upon catching sight of us snapped “Peace Corps! Let’s go!” (We were a little tired of being referred to as Peace Corps at this point…) He herded us into the small van once again, despite the fact that the entire group from our hostel hadn’t exited the park yet. When two people tried to hop into the van with us, he quickly negated their attempt by informing them they would have to wait and return in the other van. Our ride home was something of a nascar race through the jungle back to El Remate. A little perplexed at our guide’s brashness and our VIP treatment, we quickly put it behind us and headed off to the lake to enjoy what was left of the day and the sun.

Later that day, enjoying a cold beer (amazingly, they use refrigerators in El Remate) on the hammocks back at the hostel the owner stopped to chat with us a bit. “So, how did you enjoy your tour with matagringas?” DIRECT TRANSLATION = GRINGA KILLER. “Excuse me?” our mouths dropped. “Yea, matagringas. It was never proven, but he probably killed his druggie gringa girlfriend who was cheating on him a few years back,” he replied while laughing hysterically. “He did it with a machete, and now everyone calls him matagringas” (behind his back, I assume).




The Tikal ruins are the most famous Mayan ruins in Guatemala. The area of Tikal was originally settled in 200 BC and grew in power and control until its unexplained demise beginning in 900 AD. Most of the great temples that surround the main plaza (and are the ones most often photographed for publication) were built around 700 AD.

The center of Tikal is over 16 square kilometers, contains over 4000 structures and, at its peak, once housed a population roughly estimated at 100,000. The park itself is about 550 square kilometers in size and upon walking around it is easy to understand how a tourist once got lost inside the park for 12 days.

The official “discovery” of Tikal by the Guatemalan government occurred in 1848. Excavations began in 1881 and continue to this day, as Tikal is located in a jungle, new growth is rapid and hard to contain. Most of the structures in the park are still concealed simply appearing like small hills to the untrained eye. Even most of the larger structures are not completely uncovered, with only their tops cleared of the foliage. Throughout the park you can see excavations in process, small temples that still have the roots of enormous trees bearing down on top of them.

Marissa, Laura and I chose to do the sunrise tour as it is when the wildlife is most active. Needless to say we found ourselves stumbling through the jungle of Petén somewhere around 4:30 in the morning with one headlamp desperately trying to make it to temple IV (the tallest in Tikal at 64 m) for the sunrise. Sweating in the heat (before the sun was even up) we booked it across the park, only pausing once to catch a glimpse of one of the temples that suddenly appeared right in front of us with the commencing light. Roars erupted through the jungle, a sign that the howler monkeys had awakened for their morning romp.

Out of breath after running to the top of temple IV, (Most of the temples, including all of the large ones, have wooden steps constructed up to their peaks, as too many people have fallen to their deaths attempting to climb the slippery stones) we arrived just in time to watch the first temples appear miraculously out of the mist and above the canopy.

Kodak moment x 400

It was truly the most amazing experience watching the temples appear out of nowhere, while the jungle clamor of howler monkeys, spider monkeys, tree frogs and the cacophony of bird calls erupted in full force. Our English speaking guide (not matagringas) was kind enough to point out the toucans to our right, and consequently every toucan during our 5 hour tour, by proudly exclaiming “Look! Toucans! Fruit Loops!” (Fruit Loops got a little old 30 minutes in, but the toucans continued to be fascinating). If the tour had ended there I would have been content.

Our luck didn’t end with the toucans; we left the beaten path and made off through the jungle, caught both the howler monkeys and spider monkeys in action (due in part to the uncanny ability of our guide to imitate their shrieks), and climbed to the top of all the largest temples braving steep shallow stone steps, rickety wooden ladders and nearly perpendicular ascents.

I’m sure the sunrise tour of Tikal will be one of my most vivid memories of Guatemala.



With Tikal under wraps, we headed off to Livingston to continue working on our tans. Livingston is four and half hours by bus plus one hour by boat from Flores. Located on the small portion of Caribbean coast that remains to Guatemala after the British made off with Belize, it is an area unique to Guatemala. If asked to select which of these things do not belong in this country, Livingston would be it.

Livingston contains the largest population of the Garifuna people in Guatemala. The Garifuna are descendents of shipwrecked African slaves who mixed with the local indigenous population of the island St. Vincent in the Caribbean. When the island was finally conquered, the British deported its surviving population to Honduras and their descendents spread along the Caribbean coastline.

Needless to say, Livingston has a decidedly Caribbean feel and culture which starkly contrasts with the conservative Mayan cultures of the western highlands. There is a large black population, palm trees, brightly painted wooden houses, an abundance of seafood, people who are taller than me, Garifuna music (mostly composed of drum rhythms), and actual dancing!

[To get to Livingston you have to take a one hour boat ride in from Rio Dulce (sweet river), or a 30 minute boat ride from Puerto Barrios. Having arrived from Rio Dulce and exited to Puerto Barrios, I strongly recommend taking the boat ride in from Rio Dulce. The ride down this river was one of the most beautiful I have seen in my life. The hills fade from green to blue to purple and the water is calm and gorgeous. Houses are constructed along the shoreline on stilts with palm roofs. Rounding the curves of the river you catch glimpses of hundreds of birds and I’ve heard there are manatees in this area, but we didn’t see any. It is easy to imagine this area uninhabited and teaming with wildlife. The ride out to Puerto Barrios is through the bay waters, rapid, and rather non-descript in comparison. In addition Puerto Barrios itself is a rather ugly, seedy port town and not much to look at.]

Upon successfully arriving in Livingston (three Belgian tourist were kidnapped a few weeks back on their way in from Rio Dulce by a rebellious indigenous group, but were released unharmed) we made our way to our hotel; a rather large dump, but the only place that was still taking reservations by the time we got around to planning our trip. Quickly dropping off our stuff, we raced to the nearest restaurant to begin gorging ourselves on seafood.

This portion of our trip mainly consisted of eating, dancing, eating, exploring, eating, sleeping, and eating. Unfortunately it was cloudy both days we were there so we did not spend much time at the beach, on the bright side; Livingston is not renowned for its beaches anyway. We did watch live Garifuna music and the Caribbean waters at night from the dock of a seaside bar. I think that my favorite part of Livingston, besides the seafood, was its strong contrast of culture against that of Cabricán. It is amazing that there is such a wide spectrum in a country so small.

Hotel Henry Berrisford


Hotel Henry Berrisford, while grand in name is nothing but a dump in actuality. I should have known from the description in my guide book “Beware, it often runs out of water and/or electricity,” that it was not the best place, but it was the only place still taking reservations, and the book also claimed that it had clean rooms (albeit this book was published in 2004).

On top of being burdened with noisy neighbors and paper thin walls (although this did not bother me as much as Laura and Marissa because I’m still lucky enough to be able to sleep through everything) we had the added addition of roaches. If nothing else, this reminded me why I am so lucky to be living in the cold highlands, because the largest bug I have seen here was a spider and couldn’t have been larger than my thumbnail.

Insects are not one of the things I tolerate well, especially roaches. I think this dates back to when we lived in New Orleans and roaches infested pretty much everything. Upon discovery of our roach, Laura and I reacted naturally, screaming and jumping up onto our beds, as it scurried out of the bathroom and into a corner. I promptly exclaimed I would never be able to sleep with roach in the room and Marissa looked at both of us like we were fools.

Luckily Marissa being the sweet, caring, loveable girl that she is, decided to rectify the situation by initiating a roach execution. This of course depended upon us being able to locate the pest, so Laura and I shoved beds around the room screaming while Marissa chased it with a shoe. I’m quite sure passersby might have thought we were the ones having our lives threatened from all the noise we were making.

An eternity later, the speedy devil met his demise in the bathroom with a resounding smack from Marissa’s shoe, and I was able to sleep peacefully through the night without worrying that some large insect would crawl across me in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, Marissa was not as fortunate. Arriving home from the bars at 3 am, our neighbors decided to have a scream fest of their own.



If there was a theme to Livingston, I think it was food. I have recently developed an appreciation of seafood, and the ridiculous amounts of fish, shrimp, crab, lobster and other maritime critters being served put me on cloud nine. I’m learning to cook for myself here (I’ve got eggs, pasta and stir-fry down pat), but I’m finding it hard to be creative using the same ingredients every week and food is getting boring. As a result, I consumed an unhealthy amount of shrimp in Livingston, simply because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it again anytime soon. I reminded my self of Bubba from Forest Gump because I was talking about shrimp so much. Jumbo shrimp, fried shrimp, lemon shrimp, garlic shrimp, shrimp ceviche…

My favorite restaurant there was Tilingo Lingo. A Mexican woman, who has lived pretty much everywhere in the world, including India, runs it, and, although she lacks a certain social finesse, cooks an amazing array of food. I think I licked my fingers and my plate clean. Laura made the winning selection, ordering tapado, the local speciality, a stew made from fish, shrimp, crab and coconut milk. While it looked a little unappetizing, a bowl of green broth with an entire fish garnishing the plate, the tapado stole the show.



Guatemala, most recently, has had the second highest rate of international adoptions in the world, next to China. While this may not seem all that weird, consider Guatemala’s national population, around 13 million, and China’s, around one billion. The US has been working with the Guatemalan government on revamping their adoption process, due to huge amounts of fraud and the not entirely uncommon practice of paying people for their children, or worse, stealing them.

Given this level of corruption, it’s not surprising that the rumors have sprung out of control in isolated rural areas. In many remote indigenous communities, foreigners are viewed as roboniños (child stealers) who kidnap children for adoption or to sell their organs. This belief has resulted in violence in several areas. A few years ago some Japanese tourists and their guide were murdered by a mob in Todos Santos, Huehuetenango, after the tourists took photos of a young girl. The town, assuming the worst, took matters into their own hands, an act not uncommon in communities where the traditional law enforcement and justice system has failed them.

It is surprising to me, that people searching to adopt children would adopt from Guatemala knowing the corruption that permeates the system (any google search on Guatemala and adoptions will return articles on its shadiness). Last weekend, however, due to lack of transportation and lack of lodging as a result of Semana Santa, Marissa, Laura and I spent the night at the Marriot in Guatemala City on our way back to our sites (I had to call in an early birthday present). The place was teaming with roboniños. Middle and upper class white Americans were running around comparing their new Guatemalan children in the lobby and the restaraunts. “Oooh, she’s adorable,” one couple cooed to another. “We’re getting ours tomorrow, we hope she’s just as pretty as yours.” There was a giant club of them swarming through the hotel. We would pick them out from across the room and whisper “roboniños” as we stared at each other in amazement. The whole process seemed sick and the people appeared oblivious to the corruption they were contributing too. I understand and commiserate with other people’s desires to have a family, but the manner in which the Guatemalan system is run makes me hope that people would look elsewhere for a more honest and open system, even if it meant having to wait longer for a child. Unfortunately, it appears from our Marriot experience that this is not the case.

Saturday, March 15, 2008



We now have two Andrea volunteers working in Cabrican: Andrea Pérez, our Art Corps volunteer living in Rio Blanco, and Andrea Stanaway, our new Peace Corps volunteer working with the healthy schools program.

Although their names are pronounced differently, (Andrea Pérez is from Ecuador, so you pronounce her name with a long soft a, and soft e) this doesn’t really make much difference to anyone except to us four volunteers because every Cabricáneco pronounces them the same way (we are in a Spanish speaking country after all).

I can already see the confusion setting in across the town. First, because there are now two extranjeras named Andrea. Secondly, because Andrea S. looks exactly like me in the perspective of Guatemalans (we are both “tall,” with blonde hair and blue eyes, which clearly makes us twins). I can see all three of us being confused with the other.

I have been showing Andrea S. around Cabricán and the novelty of having two gringas wandering around is practically causing hysterics. I think the town was just beginning to get used to the idea of having me around, but TWO gringas? Crazy. The stares have set in again.

After looking at a couple places, Andrea S. has decided to live with Reina, at least for the first couple of months. This is great because she’ll be right across the street from me, and perhaps occupy a little of Roberto’s time. I’m very relieved that she has turned out to be such a sweet, down to earth person, because I was slightly concerned we would get a volunteer we didn’t get along with.

She returns to Santa Lucia tomorrow to finish up training, will swear in on March 27, and officially moves here at the end of the month.



I taught a class at Loma Grande the other day, and when I finished the lesson, the kids wanted to continue instead of going out to recess. How often does that happen in life? Granted, part of the class involved making paper airplanes, but we were long past that exciting point. I couldn’t believe it!

Despite myself, I am kind of enjoying teaching classes. I swore it was the one thing I would never do, (I negated going abroad to teach English because I didn’t want to teach) as the thought scared the Bejesus out of me (ME! TEACHING? No way!). Surprisingly I find it really rewarding, mostly due to the kids. There is one little girl at Loma Grande who I love. She is constantly disheveled, her clothes are on at least their third hand-me-down, and she won’t say more than two words to me, but she has the most adorable smile in the world.

The other day we made the 30 minute hike into the center of Cabricán to the library to begin our world map project. The kids were divided into groups and began to research the different regions of the world. Unfortunately due to the form of education in Guatemala (listen and repeat after me) the kids are having a bit of a hard time with the freedom of this project (I didn’t tell them specifically what to research on their region). I hope that it will help them think more creatively and outside the box. Each group will present their findings to the rest of the school, thereby allowing everyone to learn a little about each region of the world.

Painting begins at the end of March.



I cannot confess to being completely updated on the elections going on at home. My access to news in Cabrican is limited. The Guatemalan newspapers are barely following the primaries and do not offer in depth analysis of what is going on. I have to settle for their short blurbs which do not provide much more information than who won which primary. The internet costs money, and I rarely have the time to check online news sources after revising my email. I do have people at home who take the time to update me on things, but this comes mixed in with their opinions and impressions. This being said, my candidate for President is whole-heartedly Barack Obama.

Lately our politics have desperately lacked inspiration. Partisan fighting and infighting have taken over our halls of leadership and little is accomplished without cooperation. We have grown disillusioned with our government which appears to value party politics more than the good of the nation and important institutions like our education system are suffering as a result. Not to mention, the past eight years of fear-mongering and the constant threats of “you’re with us or you’re against us.” Lack of openness to new ideas has only made our country suffer and our relationships abroad deteriorate.

I think it is rare you find people like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F Kennedy who have the power and the vision to inspire so large a portion of our nation. I believe Obama is one of these people. Change does not come solely from the change of presidencies; it comes from getting the nation and its people invested in change, invested in improving the status quo. Obama has the power and the vision to do this. True, people sight his “lack of experience,” and perhaps that is so, though I do not believe it, but experience never guaranteed a good leader, (look at our current one) and there are plenty of people who lead well without that “required experience.” Leaders have to be able to compromise, to make tough decisions, to unify and to lead by example. Obama has already proven he can do all of this.

Thomas Wolfe writes in You Can’t Go Home Again:

“I believe that we are lost here in America, but I believe we shall be found. And this belief, which mounts now to the catharsis of knowledge and conviction, is for me – and I think for all of us – not only our own hope, but America’s everlasting, living dream…

I think the true discovery of America is before us. I think the true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty and immortal land, is yet to come. I think the true discovery of our own democracy is still before us. And I think that all these things are as certain as the morning, and as inevitable as noon. I think I speak for most men living when I say that our America is Here, is Now, and beckons on before us, and that this glorious assurance is not only our living hope, but our dream to be accomplished.”

This quote strikes a chord with me, because it reminds me of Obama’s rhetoric of hope, of change and of accomplishment. This is not to say that Obama is going to be the savior of our country or achieve all of this on his own. Obama’s power is not necessarily his ability to achieve change on his own, but his power to inspire people to help him achieve this change. He has the power of organization and inspiration and I believe he can convert this into group action.

It is rare to have an election so full of qualified and exemplary candidates. I do not doubt the ability of Hillary Clinton or John McCain to lead this country. I have often said in the past I would vote for either of them, but in this election I believe that Obama is the better candidate. Clinton unfortunately at this point in time is too divisive and has too many enemies to unite the country when this is desperately what we are in need of. Not to mention, that her election would result in 24 years of the same two families ruling our country. Now is time for a change, not more of the same. I would love to see a woman in the white house, but I do not think Clinton is the best candidate and cannot vote for her solely because she is a woman. McCain is also an excellent and experienced candidate and his domestic policy for the most part is inspiring. He has proven to go against the grain of party politics for the good of the country. However, due to the past eight years of leadership, we need someone who can mend our international relationships and foreign policy and McCain unfortunately seems too centered on the big stick to be able to achieve this.

All this stated. GO BAMA!

Guatemala That I Love


I can feel the sun beat down upon me, its warm glow enlightening my spirits. One can sense the change in season; the sun’s strength is growing rapidly. The difference is felt on your skin, burning hot and hotter, red and redder with each ensuing day. This is not to say that it is hot outside. The temperature lately is never anything but perfect or slightly chilly. It is only the harsh rays of the sun at this high altitude that cause any discomfort.

I sit outside in the afternoons basking in its light and admiring all the beauty that surrounds me. The breath-taking views of Guatemala will never be one of my complaints, nor something I could grow tired of. While I have seen the different views from Cabrican hundreds of times, they never cease to amaze me. It is no wonder there are at least 12 towns in the municipality named Buena Vista (Good View). Despite my bitterness at my isolation, I am constantly thankful that I am in a rural area, that I avoid the excessive pollution of larger areas and the never ending concrete.

The sky, Carolina blue in all its glory, extends into oblivion, colliding with the mountainous landscape and rolling hills. Hawks soar in the distance rising and falling with the wind. In the foreground dirt roads and adobe brick houses dot the landscape, growing smaller and smaller until my flawed eyesight can no longer distinguish between them and patches of trees and empty brown cornfields, and everything merges into one large picture of splendor. Large puffy white clouds roll in and out, interchanging warmth for chill. And in the distance I can make out Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Tajamulco and, with any luck at all, Tacana and the Mexican border.

The sound of civilization: of hammers, chainsaws, cars, bus horns, children playing in the street and someone’s stereo blaring Julieta Venegas, mixes in with the sound of the campo: of roosters crowing, cows, dogs snarling over leftovers, the wind in the leaves and the random words in Mam I can decipher.

This is the Guatemala that I love. This is the Guatemala I will not be able to forget.

Tigoland Pictures


Due to popular request....

Saturday, March 8, 2008



All Guatemalan towns celebrate their feria once a year. Feria is the week long celebration of the town’s patron saint and quite the event of the year. Vendors come in from all over the country… or in Cabrican’s case, from Xela. The town is inundated with people from the surrounding area and you have more street food options to choose from than ever before: street tacos, hot dogs, pizza, fried chicken… which is a dream or a nightmare depending on whether or not your stomach can handle all the extra bacteria crawling around in the vendor’s cart.

I am still not clear on exactly who the saint of Cabrican is. The most common response, besides saber (who knows?), was Cristo de Akapetagua. I have no idea what Akapetagua is or means, but I am quite sure that the saint is some form of Jesus. This perplexes me; because I was not aware that Jesus could be the saint of a town, but you learn new things everyday.

Regardless of whether or not Jesus is the saint of Cabrican, there doesn’t seem to be much celebration of that saint during the week anyway. Kids run around the game areas and spend a fortune on video games and foosball. Teens frequent the excessive number of dances and the Ferris wheel propped up on wooden blocks and racing around at a speed uncommon to Ferris wheels. There is a brief parade with religious figurines.

My favorite event was compite. Crowds with straight faces gather around to watch a group of people dance around in masks for four hours repeating the same steps. I could never manage to watch for more than five minutes before boredom set in, but I believe the local Guatemalans found it very entertaining. Despite their expressionless faces, they would remain there for the entirety of a show.

Feria, coincidentally, is also an excuse for a soccer tournament. Cabrican, Sija, Palestina and Huitan bring out their teams to battle for a trophy that rivals me in size. Being that this is no ordinary soccer tournament (Cabrican no longer invites Sibilia to their tournament because one year they ran away with the trophy several years back even though it was a tie), the town pays players from other parts of the country to join their team. Again, despite the fact that their education is among the worst in the nation and many of the outlying aldeas (suburbs, if you can call them that) do not have running water or electricity. Unfortunately this year, Cabrican lost to Sija in the finals, so Sija got to take off with the mammoth of a trophy.

I will hopefully have pictures up soon. While I failed in documentation of feria, I had a couple of friends come up to partake in the festivities and Shanna is an exceptional photographer.

Monday, March 3, 2008



I’ve been in site for six and a half months and I finally feel like I am accomplishing something!

Before she left, Aneth introduced me to Avaleni, one of the librarians in Rio Blanco, the town next to Cabricán in the department of San Marcos, in the hope that I would be able to collaborate with her. I have to admit I did not have much hope in the matter, as I had been introduced to several people who feigned interest but never followed up. I was pleasantly surprised when Avaleni contacted me without me having to contact her first.

We discussed a few of the programs that Peace Corps offers and she offered to organize a group for me to teach. I was shocked to discover when I called her this Tuesday night to confirm that we were meeting the next day that she had already found two classes for me! Not having anything planned, I quickly pulled out the program we had to teach in training called Fundamentos Empresariales (Basic Business) and thanked my lucky stars I hadn’t tossed it in the trash bin or given it away.

The next morning I climbed on the Camioneta dreary-eyed at 6:30 am and headed over to Rio Blanco. I was met at the bus stop by a cheerful Avaleni who rushed me over to her home and made me breakfast (beans, eggs and of course tamalitos). By nine that morning, I was in front of my first class of 26 sixth graders. This was followed by a class of 30 fifth graders. Frazzled by the speed in which I had been thrown into teaching a class, I was surprised at how well everything went and how well the children participated.

Since the bus does not return to Cabricán until 5:15 pm, Avaleni and I discussed the possibility of teaching a course to the older children in seventh and eighth grade on Wednesday afternoons as well. I had the added benefit of talking to Andrea, the new Art Corps volunteer who replaced Aneth, and she said she would help me with painting a world map mural if I find a school willing to participate.

On top of all of this, I am beginning to volunteer in Cabricán’s library. Today I helped out in a special session they had organized for Valentines Day, and I am going to start working with their youth group next week.

In a nutshell, things are starting to look up in Cabricán. I might not waste my two years here after all!