Sunday, March 11, 2012

The best going away present

The goodbyes have started. I fly to the U.S. on March 23rd. It is all going by so quickly!

I went to the Zona Reina for the last time a couple weeks ago to do my last workshops with my promoter groups up there and introduce my replacement who will continue to work with them. To my completele surprise my group in La Taña gave me a wonderful thank you gift- a traditional Q'eqchi' woman's traje! La Taña is one of the poorest communities where I work, devoid of resources, and to receive such a beautiful and meaningful gift from them was beyond expected and a bit of an emotional moment. I remember when signing up for Peace Corps hearing from RPCVs that a Volunteer will never feel that they gave as much as they received from his/her host country and community. That was never so true as in that moment when I realized that something that I did had deserved (I hope) such an amazing gift.

My promoters made me put on the traje before presenting the workshop.

La Taña health promoters

Women represent!

My counterparts in La Taña, Jaime and our spectacular translator, Carlos

Full on Q'eqchi'

Friday, February 3, 2012


Yesterday I talked the kid who works at one of the used American clothing stores in town down from 60Quetzales (about $6) to 25Q ($3) for a pair of Steve Madden ballet flats. I told him no one else had feet as big as mine in Uspantan and therefore I was the only potential client for the shoes.

Total win.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


So many changes.

First off, I had a wonderful New Year´s on the beach with my sitemates and then a fabulous visit from my parents. Then my Peace Corps service came crashing down (a little over-dramatic but not changing the wording).

Two of my closest friends left Peace Corps and Guatemala and last week we received the news that Peace Corps Guatemala needs to cut its number in order to stay open. The reason the volunteer numbers need to be lowered is that Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala (the northern triangle) is the most dangerous region in the world not currently at war. Apparently this doesn´t come off well to our Congress. Understandably so.

A couple weeks ago the volunteers in Honduras were all pulled out while Washington takes a month to assess the security situation and will decide whether or not the volunteers will be allowed to return. El Salvador and Guatemala will go under security reviews after. Instead of pulling out the volunteers, Washington has decided to lower numbers. The way they have decided to achieve this has been by implementing an early COS (close of service) for the groups of volunteers closest to their original COS date. The group that swore in before mine (March 2010) will have to leave a month early and my group (July 2010) will have to exit Guatemala 4 months early. Also, any other volunteer has been offered an early COS- meaning, even if the volunteer has been in this country for 3 months, he or she will have all the same standing as a volunteer who has completed the full 27 months. It has been a tempting offer for many.

In addition, volunteers are being pulled out of various departments and consolidated in the northern highlands. Luckily, my beautiful department of El Quiche will not be affected by this. Peace Corps will be providing a shuttle service for volunteers so that we don´t have to use the Inter-American highway and minimize time on the chicken buses, where the majority of crime against volunteers takes place.

Basically, I now have less than 8 weeks to wrap up everything I thought I would have 5 months to complete. I need to get the committee of the village receiving projects legalized, get my grant application in, graduate my health promoters, transfer my work to my replacements, say my goodbyes and return states-side. I am fortunate that I will have volunteers coming in to oversee the construction on the latrines and stoves but also heartbroken that I cannot be here to see the final product of the hard work that has gone into training the 25 families receiving the projects in health and healthy home infrastructure.

There are many critiques of the way that Peace Corps has approached this decision and the way that they are choosing to reduce our numbers but the decision is not negotiable so I, and the other volunteers affected by all this, will just have to keep moving ahead and try to get as much done as possible in the drastically less time than we had thought.

Already missing Uspantan.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tis the season

The Christmas season in Uspantan basically consists of church services

Tons of fireworks and firecrackers

And Christmas lights that play music non-stop

It's a mix of fun, solidarity and utter horror.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Butterfly Effect

Whether you learned about the butterfly effect in Literary History 101 or from the great Ashton Kutcher film, we are experiencing our own butterfly effect here in Uspantan.

Cardamom is a spice used in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking and drinks. Often considered a delicacy when infused in teas. Guatemala is one of the worlds largest exporters of this plant, most of which goes to the ME. The majority of cardamom plantations in Guatemala are located in the northern region of Uspantan, the Zona Reina. From October to January, the men of this region work 7-day weeks harvesting the cardamom and selling to exporters who dry, package and ship the spice. Speaking with the health promoters that I work with in this region, I have found that the majority of a family's yearly income is made during these 4 months of harvesting.

Last year a pound of freshly cut cardamom was sold for 15 ($2)Quetzales to companies that would then dry and export. This year the price has dropped to 3 Questzales (.40 cents). Thus leaving the families of the Zona Reina essentially 4/5th poorer than they were last year.

This sudden and devastating drop is due to various factors affecting the market. First, because cardamom has been so profitable over the past years, production, especially in India, has consistently risen to meet demand. Thus Guatemalan cardamom is competing with a much closer producer of the spice. Secondly, and most importantly, the unforseen uprisings in the Middle East have disrupted the market and demand for cardamom. The Middle Eastern market has been flooded with an abundance of the spice but there are few interested in buying.

And there we have our butterfly effect. Egypt's Facebook revolution set a series of events into play that have landed an entire community here in Uspantan struggling to make ends meet this year.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stop light

Walking to work the other day I noticed that the first stop light has been put up in town!

A couple problems: red, yellow and green are all on all the time and it is made of cardboard. I'm not really sure what its purpose is but it's a start.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The most appropriate word to describe life over the past month. It also happens to be the 'state' in which Guatemala finds itself at present. The government of Guatemala declared a 'State of Calamity' on Monday due to the devastation of the roads post- tropical storm 12E. I cannot think of a more unorganized word to describe one's country than 'calamity'. Love it. So appropriate.

On September 11th, Guatemala held national elections. The Presidential race was narrowed down to 2 for the runoff in November, house representatives were elected as well as mayors. In general, mayoral elections tend to cause the most violence and tension. This was certainly the case in Uspantan. The current mayor was reelected to the dismay of many. He did not win with a majority but had the highest percentage of all candidates... as is typical procedure for democratic elections. However, this did not sit well with supporters of the losing parties.

Here comes the fun part! Elections were the 11th and Independence Day was the 15th. Since everyone has the day off work and school for Independence Day (which includes a day or two before Independence Day as well to 'prepare' for the grand celebration)protests against the election outcomes were conveniently postponed until the following Monday, when everyone was sure that Independence Day had been properly celebrated and should have been returning to work. How nifty!

Independence Day parade ending at the soccer field.

Some of my English students:

Girl in traditional Uspantan traje (on the right with the fun head gear)

Fun Independence Day tradition- grease up a pig and whoever can catch it can keep it. This kid won and walks away with his prize.

Other grease event: teams of men try to climb a pole covered in pig fat. There is an envelope at the top with money and whoever reaches the top keeps the money. No one won.

But it was fun to watch...

So basically, 8 days after the elections and after all the Independence Day celebrations were done a group of angry Uspantekos gathered in front of the municipal building and declared that the mayor had not won the majority of the vote (true) and therefore was illegally and deceptively accepting his reelection (completely false and not how elections work). The crowd was angry and tense but disbanded around lunch time leaving the threat of another such showing on inauguration day.

Moral of the story, I got the heck out of Uspantan and went to the United States of America. Best country ever. I met my family in Florida for my cousin's beautiful wedding to his stunning bride and basically laid out in the sun for 4 days and relished in the fact that I was not the tallest person in the vicinity and babies did not cry when they looked at me. In fact, there were very few babies. Which was awesome.

I then popped up to New York for 9 days to annoy all my friends with real-people jobs and force everyone to hang out with me. I could go on and on about the luxuries and conveniences of America but will limit the list to a few: drinking water from the faucet, trash pick-up (that doesn't then take the trash to the side of a mountain), grocery stores with everything you could possibly want, food, ohmygod the food, public transportation that involves few children, is reliable and everyone respects your personal space. Incredible.

Florida Keys

Hung out with the pops

Hung out with my mom

My dad's idea of vacation: a view and a cigar:

Beach time with the cousins

My ma breaking it down at the wedding with her sisters

Last night in FL. Dinner with the whole fam as we send off Jason and Suzanne on their honeymoon. The restaurant brought them a congratulatory fish cake. It was weird.


So I took the majority of my NY pictures on disposable cameras because the outcome is more fun that way... but is less sharing-friendly. Sorry, guys.

But I have made my way back to Guatemala, possibly at the worst time climate-wise. I landed on October 12th on the 2nd plane that was allowed to land in Guatemala City that day due to weather (yeah, it was a great flight). Guatemala was hit heavily by rain due to the tropical storm 12E. Roads have been washed out, there are countless landslides, many cases of flooding and blackouts. Thankfully I missed the brunt of the storm but was stuck at the Peace Corps center for 3 days after arriving before being cleared to travel back to site. It is my personal belief that tropical storm 12E served the sole purpose of eroding away all the political party posters covering the rocks and mountain sides of Guatemala. Did I mention billboards aren't a thing here? Candidates just paint their names and party emblems on rocks, houses, mountains or anything else.

Now I return to this 'State of Calamity'. We are not allowed to travel until further notice while this country figures the road situation out, I suppose. Which is fine because I need some down time after the ruckus that was the past 4 weeks.

Please note that since I made the above statement that America is the "best country ever", I found out that this song is #1 on Itunes:

It's October.