28 January, 2008

Week 2

I am now completely done with 2 full weeks of training, and only 9 more to go! We met our teachers that we will be working with last week, and this week we should actually have some time to figure out what it is exactly we will be doing. There is some talk about helping some of the teachers finish a grant to get a water tank and purification system set up at the school as well so that the kids don’t have to bring a 3 liter bottle of water every Monday so that they will be able to wash their hands. We are scheduled to be in the classrooms with our first lesson at the beginning of next week, so that’s pretty cool. The closer I get to actually working the happier I will be.

My homestay family is awesome, and apparently also related to almost everyone in town. Jesse, Joey, Briana and I are basically famous, as everyone knows us and our bowel habits. Apparently I am winning because I haven’t been sick yet, knock on wood. I’m not sure if that means my mom’s cooking is safer, my stomach is tougher, or if my body is just saving up for a really knock me off of my feet sick in a few weeks. No use worrying I guess… even though there have been three dead birds around my house this week… just kidding, my host mom says the neighbor kids are shooting them with sling shots.

So about what exactly I am going to be doing here:

I will supposedly be assigned two schools to work with in the hopes that I can help the teachers develop a plan for an environmental education program. Exactly how I go about doing this, whether it is me giving talks to kids, running workshops for teachers, or just helping the principle find out how to go about getting multiple bins for trash and recyclables will depend on my site. As of right now, I think I will be taking over a site from Adam, a PC MI from the GeoHazards program at MTU who is COSing in April, so eventually I am going to get to talk to him and find out the info on the schools that he has been working with to see what I am going to be able to continue and where I am going to have to figure some new things out.

In addition to this, I will be working with CONRED and INSIVUMEH (the Guatemalan equivalents of FIMA and the USGS) to help monitor Santiaguito Volcano. Again, what this exactly entails will depend on what is going on there now and where people want things to go, but apparently the Tech group that was just down here put in some new equipment. In addition, there are supposed to be plans for a workshop sometime at the end of next year that we might have a chance to help get some things rolling on, but again, that’s all in the future.

In the meantime, I am enjoying my training community and my training group, and I am especially enjoying the chocolate covered bananas which are sold in the next town over. We pass by the place almost any time we want to go into more civilized areas, so I have been eating quite a few, and I am in fact on a first name basis with the girl who works the counter.
Thanks so much to those of you leaving comments or writing emails, I love hearing from people. I may be a little slow getting back to people just because I am only really on the internet once a week, but I promise that I will respond soon! Peace.

21 January, 2008

First Week in my Training Site

Things this week that made me realize I was really, truly, and honestly going to live in Guatemala for two years:

1) Watching Volcan Fuego send out a plume of ash while I was standing in line for a rabies vaccine.
2) Seeing a rat that looked to be bigger than a small cat take a walk through my bedroom.
3) Hoping into the back of a truck to hitch a ride up the mountain to my training site.
4) Laughing my head off as I had my first go at tortilla making. I dropped two on the floor and made three horribly thick ones before I turned out one that was palatable. Meanwhile I had four grown women, and three pintsized ones enjoying the show and commenting how funny it was that the three year old who was afraid of me a week ago finally warmed up to me because her tortillas were better than mine.
5) Sitting on my host family’s porch watching fireworks from a village across the valley as I played with my host mother’s granddaughters that live in our compound.
6) Going for a run with Joey around San Miguel’s fútbol field while watching the sun setting in between Agua and Fuego.
7) Walking the streets of San Miguel selling vegetables with my host mother and her two granddaughters and meeting almost the whole town because everyone is related.
8) Talking with Jesse, Joey, and Brianna, the three other trainees that live in San Miguel, and realizing that the whole town not only knows our names, but probably our pooping habits.
9) Finding out my childhood was a bit of a sham because I never learned how to spin a top with a piece of string, and finally learning how to do it from one of the special education kids up the block.
10) Watching the AFC championship game at a gringo bar in Antigua and having to go home before the NFC championship game because I wouldn’t have been home before dark (our “gringo curfew” during training) and if I had been late my host mom would have gotten mad and probably sent me to bed without supper… yeah, I feel like I am 12 years old again.

I really love it so far. Jesse and I met with Bill Rose and Flavio Linares on Thursday to discuss our placements, and it looks like unless something crazy happens I will actually be taking over Adam Blankenbicker’s site at Las Marias on the slopes of Santiaguito volcano, just south of Quetzaltenango/Xela. Finding this out makes me the first in our training group to know their assignment, only about two months ahead of schedule. On Friday we had a chance to visit Jem (another Michigan Tech student who got here about a year ago) and her site in Panimache near Fuego (that she took over after John) on Friday and all it did was get me really psyched to get going in April. We also got to see the last Tech delegation of Greg, Rüdiger, John, and Lisa, and I got to meet Adam for the first time as well. More when I get it, but as for now, here’s the first set of pics. http://augustana.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2030286&l=dd257&id=33102227

14 January, 2008

San Miguel de Milpas Altas

¡Hola Todos!
Well, I’ve been an official Peace Corps trainee for a whole week now, and it feels like it has been a month. PC Guatemala changed last year to site based training, so instead of everyone living in one community and going to a training center every day, we are all spread out in different host communities within an hour bus ride/walk/both of the training center where we meet once a week for general sessions. The majority of our training however (i.e. technical – where I learn my job, and language – where I learn to mejorar mi Español) is done in a group of four at our host community. The three other people in my training group are Jessie from Tech, Joey from TX, and Briana from MN. We’re all going to be mejoraring our Espanish together as well as learning the ins and outs of Environmental Education Peace Corps style in the beautiful (if isolated) community of San Miguel de Milpas Altas.

Today is actually our first group training day where we have had to travel back to the training center in Santa Lucia de Milpas Altas. Actually everything around here is named “de Milpas Altas” because all their Milpas are very high up in the mountains. My GPS tells me that we are at an elevation of 6,505 ft above sea level, and 1,898 miles from my parent’s house in IL – and I believe every bit of it.

My room is great, I have my own little building right inside the family compound, and directly across from the kitchen. I live here with my host mother and father, who are both in their late fifties or early sixties, their second son and his family which consists of his wife and two little girls (who I have spent the last two nights playing with, meaning I lift them up into the air until I get tired and then they play with my camera), and their daughter who is fourth oldest in the family out of five, four dogs, one pig that lives next to the toilet, a goose who lives behind me, four birds which are just here to be pretty, a goat which I have not yet seen, and a bull who watches me when I sit on the toilet. We have electricity almost all the time and running water once every five days, and a freaking gorgeous view of the valley below us, so it is pretty much a paradise. I took my first bucket bath this morning, and it was warm and refreshing, and I only used about 2 gallons of water. My host mom, Doña Lidia, sells fruit and vegetables that she buys in Antigua up here as well as some delicious tamales (which are slightly different from Mexican tamales in that they have a much more mushy inside that does not hold its form when you unwrap the banana leaves, think cream of wheat, but instead of wheat use corn or potatoes) so the food is great. I’ll post some pics later.

So I got up this morning at 6, got clean, ate my breakfast (tamale again, mmmm tasty), and met Briana to walk down the hill to get the guys at 7:15. Usually our day will start earlier, because if the training session starts at 8, and we have a half hour walk to get to the place where we ride the bus for half an hour, we need to be leaving earlier, but our language professora Mirsa came to get us today. It is a big day, because along with the Presidential Inauguration, the director of the Peace Corps is here. We got to meet him at staging, and he is here visiting us as well. Apparently this is a pretty big deal, and he doesn’t usually do this (I guess he heard that I was coming). The rest of the week we will be meeting in our village church or right outside my bedroom for our language lessons, or meeting with the rest of the Environmental Education trainees at one of the three schools we will be working at throughout training.

All in all I think that this Site-Based Training is trying to be a miniature version of real PC service. The main differences being that we each have four site mates instead of eventually one or none, and we go around to our schools in groups instead of alone. They say it gets us much more prepared to do the real thing because we have a trial everything, including community integration. So far, so good. More to come later. In the meantime, que les vayan bien. Peace.

08 January, 2008

End of Staging

Well, I have just completed a day and a half of staging, and tomorrow morning we (the other 35 volunteers in my training class and myself) get on a plane for Guatemala where we will spend the next three months as Trainees. Hopefully all 36 of us will still be around in 12 weeks for the swearing in. Everyone is pretty cool, and it will be great to hang out with most of these people in Guatemala for the next few months as we all go through the training process.

As far as updates, my assignment has already changed! Apparently my research will be more easily facilitated if I am part of the Environmental Education group... so ecotourism is out. I still am not sure exactly how this will affect me, but I guess that is part of the "Peace Corps experience."

We are headed for a smaller town outside of Antigua called Santa Lucia Milpas Altas. We are supposed to be there for the next three days in a "retreat" where they will test our Spanish skills and assign us to our training sites. This concept, as far as I understand it, is relatively new. We are all placed with homestay families and we will be moving in with them on Saturday, but rather than do language training all together in a group, we have all of our training in communities around the training center in Santa Lucia Milpas Altas. Class sizes are limited to either individuals or maybe only 4 or 5 (still have no clue as to which) and are held "locally, like in a church or in your host family's courtyard," and only meet with the whole training class on Fridays (if even then... we are all pretty confused about this and the staging staff has not explained it fully). Apparently this type of "In-Site Training" has proved to be much more successful in the last year or two in boosting language learning rates (probably because you can't speak English to people every day and you are much more isolated from other trainees). In any case, it seems like this training will be different than the ones I have heard about. I'll be sure to explain this more clearly as soon as I understand it myself.

This will probably be the only entry for at least a week or so because of all the settling in bugs that I have to work out. In the meantime, for anyone that is worried, know that I'm being well taken care of and learning a lot. Peace.