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...