Friday, July 30, 2010

Uncomfortable conversation of the day

Speaking with a young computer processing student who interns in the hospital-

Student: Where are you from??
Me: California. Fairly close.
Student: Not as close as Arizona [factually disputable]. I've been there!
Me: Oh nice! How did you like it?
Student: Not very much.
Me: Oh that's too bad. Why not?
Student: I was in jail the whole time


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My meeting with the Godfather of Cholá

The first community that I will be working in is Cholá. Accent on the ‘a’- it is not pronounced like ‘chola’, as in a female gang member…unfortunately. Cholá is very beautiful but my work is cut out for me. For starters, we have the issue of the health post, which is not really a health post, but rather a rented room with no bathroom. The doctor and nurse, and now me, have no relief when working out there and just hold it until getting back to Uspantan! But the community felt it necessary to build a jail about 2 months ago directly in front of the health post which consists of 2 cells including one bathroom in each cell. The jail cells face the entrance of the Health Post no farther than 20 feet away. The facing wall is all bars and no curtain so while patients come for checkups, they can also check out who was disorderly the night before.

Basically, we are trying to see if we can either get a new health post built entirely or at least rent out one of the jail cells, when not in use of course, to use as a bathroom for the Health Post. Super classy.

So last night the nurse and I went to the meeting of community leaders of Cholá to present myself and such issues.

Each community of Guatemala has a group of leaders basically the equivalent of a City Council who meet to discuss problems and new initiatives. It is important to have the backing of the community leaders as they hold quite a bit of influence especially in rural communities where the motives of outsiders are heavily speculated. The nurse presented me to the community leaders and I presented my project and explained a bit about Peace Corps. It was hilarious and intimidating to say the least.

The meeting was held in the community hall of Cholá which is a large auditorium with terrible acoustics and birds flying all around. The leaders were seating around a long table on the stage of the auditorium. We walked up and presented ourselves to the table of all men donned in their best clothes, cowboy boots and ornate machetes. A very welcoming first impression. At the center of the table sat the president of the community leaders, the oldest man in the group. If there were a Guatemalan mafia, this man would have been the Godfather. Throughout the entire presentation he sat staring us down, hardly moving or speaking. The vice-president mostly spoke on his behalf. We presented the issue of the bathroom among other problems.

The most pressing issue however is that someone in the community is selling false immunizations cards to families who want to avoid a trip to the hospital. This super-genius, however, is dating the immunizations with dates that either have not yet passed (for example: March 2012) or a series of children are reported to have been immunized before he or she was born. To this the Don (no really, in Guatemala all married men are called ‘Don (insert first name)’ so my analogy continues to work!) explained that Cholá has a very efficient vigilante justice system and they would work to catch the perpetrator. To give an example of this magnificent vigilante justice operation he explained that just last week a young boy ran away from home after an argument with his father. When he showed up at a neighbor’s home to ask to stay the night they threw him in jail for disrespecting his parents.

I hope they catch this man because forging immunization cards for children is deplorable and it will be rather ironic when he is thrown in jail and the only view from his cell is the health post.

Anyhow, when the presentation concluded the men spoke amongst themselves in K’iche', there were some nods and a few grunts and finally the men agreed to help us with our fight for a new health post, our plight to form promoter groups and to catch the immunization card forger.

Then the nurse and I walked back to Uspantán is the dark (sorry mom) and I taught him some English along the way. He now knows how to say ‘I am scared’.
I am not going back for next week’s meeting.

Monday, July 26, 2010

First week down

I have been in site just over a week now. I moved into my new host family's house on Sunday. I'm happy to finally be feeling settled.

I've been spending time working out in the communities around Uspantan. It's important that people get used to seeing me around town and in the villages, mainly so they don't accuse me of trying to steal children. That has been a problem tourists have faced in the past. I have a great team of nurses, technicians and health educators to work with here so I am excited to get going.

The most exciting thing to happen: internet was just set up in my office in the hospital!

Overlooking the wonderful city of Uspantan:

Men carrying firewood:

Yesterday Hilary, one of my site mates, her friend who is visiting and I went out to a few waterfalls in Uspantan. The hike was a bit rough and muddy because the rain has been so bad this season. We basically climbed along mudslides to get a view of the waterfalls but it was gorgous and completely worth it. Hilary works in eco-tourism so we were doing 'research' for the tourism office. I plan on accompanying her on many of these 'research' outtings.

Road leading out to the waterfalls:

Start of the hike:


Washing the mud off our shoes:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Swear In+ My San Luis Family

San Luis las Carretas group with Ambassador McFarland.

Our big Guatemalan family!

Awkwardly posing with Dona Susana and the twins on my last morning in San Luis before starting the long day of travel to Uspantan. Definitely not going to miss Chester (the dog). His house training skills are lacking.

Wilson kept me company while I waited for the bus. I wish I had taken a picture of all the stuff I had to lug on the buses. I'm surprised I didn't get robbed.

Real Life Volunteer!

The past few weeks have been insanely busy. First off, I’m a real life Volunteer! My group swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers on Friday. We came to Guatemala as 52 and 46 swore in. It was difficult to see quite a few people leave last week.

After site visits the first week of July, we returned to the Peace Corps office for the last week of training. My site visit was overwhelming but very productive. There is much work to be done. I am working in a very large municipality. Uspantan consists of 186 communities with 12 Health Posts throughout. The far reaching aldeas are hours away. I will definitely be spending my first months in site orienting myself and identifying communities in which to work. I certainly have a lot to choose from. Better than being bored!

The last week of training was bitter sweet. While I think we are all ready to get out into our communities and start working, it will be a few months now before we see each other again.

The swear in ceremony was very beautiful. The Ambassador of the United States to Guatemala, Ambassador McFarland, swore us in as Volunteers. Funny mistranslation story: swear in day was a bit windy and during the opening remarks of the ceremony, the Guatemalan flag nearly fell over. Luckily one of the Directors seated at the front table caught the flag mid-fall before it hit the ground. Not a big deal. After the ceremony I went back to my host family's house for lunch. I proceeded to tell the entire family about this but instead of saying that 'la bandera de Guatemala casi calló' I said 'la pendeja de Guatemala casi calló'...'pendeja' means moron. I told my host family that during the swear in ceremony, the Guatemalan moron almost fell over. Embarassing!

After swearing in on Friday we were, for the first time, allowed to stay some place other than with our host families. Basically everyone stayed in Antigua for the weekend leaving for site Sunday. I think it’s safe to say that after adhering to a 7PM curfew since arriving in Guatemala we aprovechared of the freedom we were finally granted.

Anyhow, I am back in Uspantan finally settling in. In case you were wondering, these are the different means of transportation I take to get to site:

The very classy tuk-tuk

Microbus, with as many people packed in as possible.

Chickenbus. If you have ever wondered what happens to the broke down school buses in the United States that don't pass smog tests- they are shipped to Guatemala and used for public transportation.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Uspantán, El Quiche

I got my site assignment this morning! I will be living in Uspantán, El Quiche for the next 2 years!

I will be the first and only (for now) volunteer from my program. There are currently volunteers working in my municipality in municipal development, eco-tourism and agricultural development. It will be nice to have a few site mates though I am excited to be working on my own with the Health Center.

The population of Uspantán speaks Spanish but the majority speak Mayan languages- Q'eqchi, Quiche and that will be interesting.

I'm excited. I will be in a large (relatively speaking) city but still in a rather rural area- best of both worlds. I leave on Sunday for Xela, Quetzaltenango. On Monday everyone from my training group will be meeting with their counterparts and from there I will leave with my counterpart for Uspantán. I will be there through Saturday, scoping it out and meeting the employees of the Health Center. Then back to San Luis las Carretas for the final week of training and Friday the 16th I swear in.

It's all going so quickly!