Monday, December 27, 2010

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

From the bottom of my heart

(Students from my English class- My sitemates Hillary and Stephen make an appearance)

Thursday, December 9, 2010


This is Mojito. Believe it or not, I did not name him. I adopted him on Sunday and one of the volunteers at the pound (probably the only pound in this country) had named him and it has stuck.

We had a rough first few days adjusting but he is doing much in going to the bathroom outside! I get the funniest looks from people as I walk him around town on a leash. Using a leash is unheard of in Guatemala but I am hoping to start a new collar/ leash trend in Uspantan. We shall see if it catches on...

Work-wise, December has been busy without the crazyness that was my November. Every other day some Christmas-related festivity is taking place so people are generally a bit less motivated to do much work. I am starting to get used to bombas and fireworks going off throughout the night.

Last night was the celebration of La Concepcion. As I was leaving my house to take Mojito for a walk a large procession carrying a shrine passed through the street with children running ahead to light bombas and firecrackers along the path. Safety first! A few nights ago was the tree lighting ceremony in the park- fully equipped with a firework display and live marimba band. The Muni was giving away ponche (warm fruit, cider-type drink) and tamales which is the traditional Christmas meal in Guatemala. It definitely feels like Christmas around here.

My promoter groups are going well and I have started my second medicinal plant garden in one of my communities, Poblaj. The English classes Hilary and I have been giving come to a close next week which I am looking forward to. The classes were fun and helped me get to know a lot of people but it will be nice to take a breather. Still not sure where I will be or what I will be doing for Christmas but I am looking forward to some days off before the start of the new year!

This week marks my 5th month in site and by the end of December I will have been in Guatemala for 8 months...crazy!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Today when I got to the hospital someone (assuming a patient) had tied their chicken to the trash can at the main entrance. It reminded of me of people tying their dogs to street poles in front of supermarkets. Except it was someone's chicken. Tied to a trash can. In front of a hospital. A place of health and sanitation.

More impressive is that someone walked their chicken to their doctor's appointment and then was so concerned about losing it that they tied it up.

On a completely different note: huge shot out to my mother who turns one fabulous year older today!...along with Ms. Britney Spears. Which basically makes them the same person.

Rio Dulce/ Livingston

Some pictures from my Carribean Thanksgiving vacation.

We travelled out to Rio Dulce for a night then took a boat up the river to where it opens up to the Carribean and stayed in a small town called Livingston. Thanksgiving weekend happens to coincide with the celebration of National Garifuna Day. The Garifuna people live in the eastern part of Guatemala and are of West African and Carribean descent. Livingston is kind of like the capital of the Garifuna people

Livingston definitely did not feel like the Guatemala I have known for the past 7 months. The Garifuna culture is beautiful- tons of music, dancing and food!

Rio Dulce:

Jungle. Actually where they filmed Jeorge of the Jungle. Brendan Fraser was here!


My sitemate, Hilary, and Jared, who lives in a neighboring municipality.

Livingston in the day:

Dancing in the street.

Cooking food in the street (with amazing hats!).

Livingston at night:

More music in the street.

More dancing in the street. This woman taught me how to shake.

Thanksgiving dinner:

Friday, November 19, 2010

November flew by...

November has been extremely busy. In a great way. I was, unfortunately, unable to celebrate Halloween this year and there is a great big gaping hole in my heart because of this. Best. Holiday. Ever.

On Halloween a group of Canadian volunteers from the Hearts and Hands Foundation arrived in Uspantan. They spent the week building eco-friendly stoves in 3 villages of Uspantan. Three other Peace Corps volunteers and I served as translators for the group as only 2 of the 25 volunteers spoke Spanish. Going back and forth between English and Spanish all day is pretty exhausting but it was great practice. And now I know how to build stoves! Life lessons!

Some of the work from the week:


After (The family and our team: the Canadian Volunteers, Don Nataniel, a local leader in the village we were working, and Pablo a technician from the Muni)

Children coloring pictures of the eco-friendly stoves


Proud owners of a new stove. Note the black ceiling. The lady of the house had been cooking over an open fire for 25 years. Materials were dropped off with the families the week before we arrived and her son carried each piece of the stove from the road down the mountain to the house. The house is only reachable by foot.


On November 1st we took a break from work to celebrate Todos Santos (All Saints Day). I went to the cemetary to eat lunch with a family that the Peace Corps volunteers are close with here in town. It's a beautiful and colorful tradition.

The cemetary.

Flying kites.

Remains of a Mayan ceremony (note the mix of Mayan and Catholic tradition).

I spent the following week at a Reconnect conference at the Peace Corps Center in Santa Lucia (near the capital). Everyone from my training group got back together for this. It was chance to review our first months in site and develop our work plans for the coming months leading up to In Service Training. The last few days of the week I spent in K'iche' classes. I am now on the hunt for a forml teacher here in Uspantan.

Finally, my program director came out to Uspantan to visit this week. We went out to the communities where I am working in the Zona Reyna. We did a full tour of the region, visiting the health posts and 24-hour health centers and meeting with the teams of nurses and educators that I work with out there. He also sat in on a couple of my workshops with my health promoter groups. Lucky for me one of the groups is one of my stellar promoter groups- participatory and energentic. I have found that the most receptive communities to my program are the most remote. It makes sense. When very few resources are offered, there is apparent enthusiasm to take advantage of any opportunities available. The enthusiasm also encourages me to make the treck every month (5 hours in car on the worst road ever!).

Getting the workshop started

Working with the educators from the hospital (I'm so huge in this country)

A nurse from the health post translating into Q'eqch'i


Some of the promoters presenting to the group.

Ending with an activity.

Now I have the Thanksgiving weekend to look forward to. My site mate, Hilary, and I will be heading out to the Eastern coast to chill out on the beach for the holiday. Finally, my first vacation since I got to Guatemala! While it can't beat Thanksgiving in Ohio with the family I'm pretty sure I will be able to enjoy myself...especially if I get to swap out turkey for margaritas.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Civil Unrest

I have been in Guatemala 6 amazing months now. I have been in 4 tropical storms, a flash flood, been evacuated from my training town, seen countless landslides, been stranded in Uspantan for weeks due to closed roads, I have seen dogs attack, micro drivers fist fight for passengers, I have been chased around a town square by a drunk man in traje speaking at me in Mam, and as of Friday I can add 'witness to civil unrest' to the list!

There are various mining projects and plans to construct hydro-electric plants throughout Guatemala. One of these hydro-electric plants would be constructed in the northern part of my municipality. There are also a few sites that are being looked at for mining. A large part of Mayan culture is the connection to the the prospect of destroying it for profit is not sitting well with many people in Quiche. On Friday a municipal-wide vote was taken to decide whether or not construction of the plant and the pursuit of mining should move forward. Word of this vote spread through the department of El Quiche as well as the country.

Thursday evening the departmental police as well as the national army rolled into Uspantan to prepare. Word on the street was that a large anti-mining group that has been protesting in other areas of Guatemala would be showing up for the vote. This same group took part in a demonstration that ended with the burning of a City Hall in one of the southern departments of Guatemala. Early Friday morning, as the police and army were putting on their riot gear, I got the hell out of town.

Thankfully, there was no violence. I hear the protest went on all day and that Uspantan was overrun with demonstrators but the tention never reached a boiling point. I am back in town and everything seems back to normal. Unfortunately, I do not think anything was solved on Friday and this topic will not be put to rest for some time. I am pretty certain that this issue will plague my entire Peace Corps service.

So as not to end on a sad note, enjoy the wonderful music (and mustache) of Diego Verdaguer:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

San Vicente

San Vicente is one of my farther aldeas. I have 25 health promoters participating in my promoter program coming from 3 different communities in the area. It is a great group; very cooperative and enthusiastic. To get to San Vicente we drive about 40 minutes and then hike an hour. There is no road access to San Vicente. This is why I suspect the community is so welcoming to the promoter program- they just don't get a lot of outside support.

Last Monday I went out to San Vicente to present the 2nd of the 12 workshops that make up my promoter program. We kicked it off with the ground breaking of the community medicinal plant garden. I am working with the office of Mayan medicine to support communities that practice medicinal plant remedies. The garden, I hope, will be especially usefull to the people of San Vicente since the treck to the hospital for even basic consulations is physically and monetarily draining.

(Ground breaking/ One of my counterparts explaining garden up-keep)

(Women watching on)

(Squeezing her way through)

(Child being afraid of me)

With every health/ preventative health workshop I give, I also work with the Mayan medicine technicians to bring curative plants for the themed illness of the month. The goal is to give the communities resources to treat common illnessnes but also identify the warning signs of advanced or complicated illnesses.

The community is super excited about the garden and I think will take very good care of it.

(These girls had never had their picture taken before)

(Still excited by the digital camera)

(My health promoter group after we made soap)

(Leaving San Vicente)

(Starting the hike back. See those houses out in the distance? That's where the road is. It's a treck)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Retail Therapy

I don't think it's a secret that I enjoy shopping. Not going to lie, deciding which clothes to give away, which to put in storge and which to bring to Guatemala was difficult. Predicting fashion 2 years in advance is not easy.

Thankfully I am still able to see my clothes being worn by my friends back in New York via Facebook. Just last month my coral dress went on a trip to Austin. Thanks, Meredith!

But I have since discovered the wonderful land of Paca shopping here in Guatemala. It fills my retail void. Paca shops are used clothing stores, used AMERICAN clothing stores. I am still not sure how the clothes make their way to Guatemala but I suspect that Paca shop owners pay a set price for boxes of clothing that they then dig through and sell. It's like opting for the 'surprise' gift in the treasure chest at the dentist office. Never sure what you're going to get.

This 'used clothing from thousands of miles away' idea sounds a bit gross but, if one is willing to pillage, there are some gems amidst all the stained and worn pieces. Yesterday I found a Robert Rodriguez skirt in perfect condition and in my size! I paid the equivalent of $1 and 10 cents. It has been my biggest Paca accomplishment so far. Usually I walk away with a Target brand clothing item (which there is absolutely nothing wrong with- I very much miss Target) but every now and then there is an inspirational find. Like my Jones of New York sweater that I bargained down to the equivalent of $2 a few weeks ago!

The best part of all this is seeing what other people choose to buy at the Paca. Today I saw a young gentleman walking around town in a UCD sweatshirt- Go Aggies! Then there is the young woman who works in the tourism office and wears a shirt that says 'Happy Holidays' and has 2 bejeweled martini glasses on the front...if only she knew. But my favorite was the day a student came up to me at a tienda and asked me to translate his shirt. It said: "You can't cure dumbness but there is always duct tape" and had a picture of a kid with duct tape over his mouth.

In sum, Paca is my salvation and my entertainment.

I leave you with this song because I heard it 3 times today and it's stuck in my head.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Clean Burning Stoves

Great news from my leading lady, Secretary Hillary Clinton.

The effects of wood-burning stoves and open-fire cooking are detrimental and seen all over Guatemala. Passing through villages one can always spot the houses that do not have improved stoves- the walls of the houses are stained black all the way through to the outside.

While this project doesn't seem to include Central America (sad) hopefully the trend will catch on!

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Besides the terrible news of our fellow volunteers at the beginning of the month and the dreadful storms, September has been a pretty solid month. I am already exhausted.

I failed to mention that September 3rd was national health worker day. All the health workers in the department of Quiche met in the cabecera (the capital of the department) to participate in a parade, soccer and basketball matches and a ‘Miss Health Center” competition. My dear friend Susan was the contestant from her Health Center and got to ride around Quiche on a HIV-prevention themed float. Fancy!

The events were pretty fun and ended with a huge dance with 2 bands to ends the festivities.

Susan as her float passed the church in the central plaza of Santa Cruz el Quiche.

Our float for Uspantan.

My fvorite float of all. What is with the ostrich?!

My work so far has been very encouraging. I just finished a few days of work up in Zona Reina presenting the health promoter program to over a hundred interested people! So far I have 6 groups of health promoters formed in 6 different villages and have started giving the health workshops. I kicked off the health promoter workshops in 3 of my communities this week and presented the program to 2 others interested communities.

This is Don Domingo one of the technicians in the hospital. He is working with me out in one of my communities, Poblaj.

Children in Poblaj crowding around to watch a presentation on oral hygiene. These is the traditional ‘corte’ that the Mayan women wear.

Student's muddy shoes. (Side bar- I realize I have not been posting pictures of my health groups and this is because taking photos can be considered offensive. I am waiting to build a bit of credibility in my communities before I go around flashing my camera in people’s faces)

Thank goodness next week is feria in Uspantan. Every community has a patron saint and each saint has a day dedicated to him/her…which of course turns into a week of celebration. Our beloved San Miguel will be celebrated next week with carnival rides, vendor booths and pizza stands. As I type this there are men walking around on stilts in the town square. And since everyone will be at the fair, no one will be available for workshops which means I basically get the week off.

Speaking of feria, earlier this month I hopped over to Nebaj, a municipality close to Uspantan and home of the Ixil people, to check out their feria which was going on at the time. It basically looked like your standard flea market-meets-county fair but on crack. People, food stands, games EVERYWHERE. I will be sure to take pictures of our fair this coming week. One thing that did catch my eye however was a photo backdrop at which a man was charging people a few Quetzales to stand in front of while he took their picture. It reminded me of school photos in middle school where we chronicled our yearly growth and development for our families in front of fishing or beautiful flower bed backdrops. Except the people of Nebaj were able to pretend that they were magically transported to America! How fun! And this is the image of America that was chosen:

I wanted to hang a disclaimer next to the backdrop: “Please note: This is rather offensive and anyone who has read a newspaper in the last 9 years will know that you didn’t actually visit the United States this year. Thank you”

Ohhh Guatemala, never fails to entertain.

One of the many storms this month rollng into Uspantan. View from my window.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ups and Downs

Hello everyone,

I know some of you receive the 'Friends and Family of PC Guatemala' newsletter (Sarah and Meredith you are adorable) and got wind of some very sad news. Last week 2 volunteers were involved in a tragic car accident. The volunteers are fine and in the US with their families. They were travelling with their health center staff for an outing to celebrate national health worker day. Unfortunately, the crash took the lives of their Health Center doctor and 2 nurses. Thankfully the Peace Corps Volunteers are well and recovering.

And, just to bring the tone down a little bit more right before I bring it back up, now the country of Guatemala is in a state of national emergency after this hot mess happened: We are expecting more storms this week.

But not to fret. I am home in Uspantan just waiting it out. Trust me, Uspantan is a decently sized town NOT located on the side of a cliff- where, unfortunately, many people are forced to set up shop in Guatemala. Dirt+cliff+water= BAD. For the record.

Now for a sprinkle of good news- I got a call from my counterpart this morning to tell me that 60 people showed up to register for the health promoter program I am setting up in one of the 3 communities I will be working in out in the Zona Reina. That's a lot! And that is just 1 of 3! It can be difficult to mobilize communities to become involved in programs such as mine so when there is such enthusiasm shown it is very exciting. This particular community is in a lot of need; they have no electricity or water. Such a positive response on the part of the community is very encouraging.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Keeping Busy

There is certainly no lack of work in Uspantan. The staff at the hospital has been keeping me very busy which is so welcome and helps the time fly. It's strange to think I landed in Guatemala almost 4 months ago!

I realize I have neglected to share the actual content of my work (thanks for pointing that out, Mom). My Peace Corps program is called 'Healthy Homes' which was recently changed from the much longer but more descriptive title of 'Rural Home and Preventative Health'. I rather like the original name of our program though it is a bit long-winded and having to then translate it doesn't help. Basically I work along side Health Technicians and Educators in the hospital going out into the various communities of Uspantan to give preventative health capacitations. That is my primary objective.

The staff at the hospital and I have selected communities (there were 186 to choose from) that we feel will benefit the most from the capacitations and I have been going to each introducing myself and my program to community leaders and interested persons. The communities that I will be working in are very rural and mostly indigenous. It has been incredible for me to have the opportunity to work with these communities and learn, bit by bit, about the Mayan cultures however this comes with obstacles. Due to the political history of the Mayan people and the Guatemalan government, many people do not trust government institutions, including the health centers and hospitals, and thus there is a lot of resistance to visit health posts or allow government issued vaccinations and other medicines to be administered. Much work done by my counterparts has to do with education; educating about vaccines, the importance of visiting the health centers,importance of vitamins and nutritional and varied diets.

Guatemala has the 4th highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world ( GASP. To combat this, there is a national campaign to suppress this figure by weighing every child, identifying malnourishment and providing vitamins and, in some cases, food. Thus much of my time is spent out in the communities with the educators. As they weigh and vaccinate children I am able to talk to the families and give nutritional, hygiene and other preventative health talks to those in attendance. It is useful to go with the educators on these visits so that I am seen working in the community and so that I am able to get to know the families and see first-hand the needs of each community for future capacitation topics.

Right now my main objective is to become a familiar face in the communities in which I will be working. I am working to form Volunteer Health Promoter groups in these communities who I will give workshops and capacitations to once a month. I am very excited about this. The communities we have chosen do not, in general, have very immediate access to health posts, centers, or the hospital so preventative health and knowledge of common illnesses is pretty crucial. This, of course, means it can take some time to get out to these communities on my end. One of the communities in particular has no road. To get there involves a 5AM departure time which then gets us to the start of our hiking path at about 6AM and an arrival time of about 730AM for the 8AM workshop. It's kind of a pain in the ass but then I try to remember that the people who live in the community have to make this hike any time they need a medical consultation even for something as preventable or treatable as diarrhea or fever.

I will also be working out in the Zona Reina. The Zona Reina is an area in my municipality that was severly affected by the Guatemalan Civial War and cut off from the rest of the country for many years. A road was built going out there only 6 years ago so development in the region has been slow. The drive is about 5 hours on a dirt, nausea-inducing road. I have been once so far but am planning to get out there at least once a month to give capacitations and any other workshops I can. There is a rotation of Cuban doctors who work out there as well so hopefully I will make some friends (lift that travel ban, Obama!). The needs of the communities out there are great but the pristine, untouched landscape is amazing. It is straight-up, off the grid, jungle country.

So in sum, I'm bouncing around all over the place but extremely excited to get started with my health promoter groups and to get to know the communities. I have 2 years to do it but it already doesn't seem like enough time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I am very fortunate that my site has electricity and running water that is fairly reliable. Only a few light-outages and water-shortages from time to time.

Monday, however, my entire town was without electricity the whole day for 'maintenance'. As in absolutely everything and everyone was without power from about 5AM to 10PM. I'm not necessarily complaining so much about this as I am wondering about the logic behind it.

First off, no one could work because the lights, computers, etc didnt work, so why Monday was the chosen day for maintenance is beyond me. Second, this means that refridgerated goods, milk/meat and other perishables, probably went bad since refridgeration isn't very strong to begin with. Third, I would be very surprised if any store owner actually threw out said perishables. Fourth, it tends to concern me when the police, firefighters, jails and other important fixtures of society are unable to function optimaly.

In conclusion- if Uspantan can learn anything from Gray Davis and the California energy crisis of 2001 it would be how to operate on rolling blackouts.

That's all.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Most terrifyingly bizzare thing I have seen in this country to date

- Portrait a white Obama. It sort of looks like a strange Obama- Kucinich hybrid. Anyone with me on this?

This was hanging up in a bar in Huehuetenango. I have no explanation.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cunen Beauty Pageant

I've fallen a bit behind on this blog. Shocker. Last weekend was very quiet. On Sunday I went over to visit my neighbor volunteers in Cunen, Melissa and Kate. The basico school (junior high equivalent) in Cunen was having a very fancy beauty pageant. Each class had one girl competing in a series of activities which included speeches, in both indigenous languages and Spanish, indigenous-ware, formal-ware, a talent show, a dance and, my absolute favorite, the costume/ dress-up outfit.

First off, every town, school, municipality, church in Guatemala has beauty pageants so it's not an uncommon occasion. It's an obsession here. But the level of rediculous was off the charts (in the best way).

The speeches were pretty stanards, though I had no clue what was being said when the contestants addressed the audience in K'iche. The contestants then wore a traditional indigenous dress from various areas in the region. Each traje, which is what the indigenous dress is called in its general sense (i.e. The Guatemalan woman was wearing traditional traje.), was accompanied by a dance. These dances were performed to traditional marimba, the national instrument, music and involved various other students to depict a scene or customary pratice of the Mayan people. For example, one dance depicted the marriage ceremony in which a new bride is handed over from her parents to her husband. Another depicted the preparation of the crops which is very involved and spiritual in Mayan practices. My favorite, was the depiction of the arrival of the conquistadors. Below you can see a picture of this dance in which the Spanish conquistadors arrive and proceed to surround a young Mayan girl and take her captive. This part was a bit uncomfortable for all the white people in the audience...all 3 of us.

Now for the talent portion. I am not sure 'talent portion' would be the appropriate title for this as it consisted of the contestants dressing up in different sport paraphernalia and walking the catwalk. There were a few soccer players, a basketball player, two rhythmimc gymnasts, a boxer and a bull fighter. Maybe it was the 'assumed talen portion'? Maybe the audience is supposed to assume that the sports the candidates portrayed are the talents they are capable of?

Anyhow, on to the best part. The costume contest. These girls are not messying around. It looked like mardi-gras up in that school auditorium! I can't even describe this well enough to give it justice. See pictures below.

Welp, then they came out in formal wear and the winner was announced and we all went home. This weekend is the crowning ceremony and celebratory dance. I may just stop on over in Cunen again...