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 Earth...so 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.