29 February, 2008

Individual Directed Activity

I just got back from my first visit to my site. It wasn’t technically considered a site visit, because I still haven’t technically received my site assignment, which happens on Monday. So this was considered an Individual Directed Activity, although for all intents and purposes it was a site visit. I hit the camionetas (retrofitted school busses with lots of Guatemalan flair if I haven’t mentioned them before) at 8 AM Sunday morning and got to the entrada to Nuevo El Palmar (they call it Nuevo because Antigua El Palmar was literally cut in half by lahar activity about 20 years back, and it is bad for business to have a giant gorge running through your central plaza if you are supposed to be seat of a municipality) at around 2 PM that same afternoon. From the entrada, I proceeded to jump into the back of a pickup truck loaded with finca workers and headed on into Las Marias, the community in which I will be working for the next two years. Because I have a special knack for transportation screw ups, I decided that rather than get off in Las Marias proper, I would stay in the truck until it stopped, which was about two kilometers past town, but when I had been standing looking confused not to be in a town for about 30 seconds, people started asking me if I was looking for another gringo that lived around there, I said yes, and got a ride back into town where a little girl walked me to Adam Blankebicker’s front door.

Adam has done some pretty great work in the last two years, and it seemed to me by all the warm welcomes that I will have some pretty big shoes to fill and some pretty high expectations to meet, but at the same time I will have a community that is anxious to work with me on all sorts of projects. I got to witness an all community meeting where the Water Committee introduced Adam’s Small Project Assistance project (a special source of funds available to PCV’s through USAID), I had the opportunity to meet all of the teachers that I will be working with, talk with one of the two members of the Santiaguito Observatory staff, and even meet with the Alcaldeza (female mayor, one of the six in the whole country) of the municipality.

All in all, I am psyched to be looking at going into such a great site, with so many opportunities to work with motivated people. I am pretty nervous too, but I think that will die down once I start working. I posted a few pictures, and I promise to take more the next time I get out there, which should be in another week or so. Happy leap day! Peace.

21 February, 2008

Training Stories or Why I'm 14 Years Old Again

It’s been a few weeks since the last entry, and we have been super busy. We had to give a few classes in the last two weeks, to preschoolers and highschoolers and everyone in between. We are also formulating a project to do in our training communities, which requires a lot of meetings in an already tight schedule, but so far so good.

So where to start? We just got back from a weeklong trip to visit four different volunteers in their sites and to see what kind of work possibilities there are in our program. Basically the answer I came away with is that I can do whatever I want as long as I am working. Ideally, the environmental education volunteer works for two years with three (in my case two because of the MI program) schools and attempts to get them to a point where the school can be certified as an Environmentally Friendly school, which means that the students and teachers become environmentally “conscious” and the physical building of the school becomes a place where trash and other human waste are managed properly and hygienically.

Now, the school system here is run a bit differently than back home. First off, school theoretically runs nationwide from January 1st to the end of October everyday from 8:00 AM to noon, with a week vacation for Holy Week, and then maybe a two week vacation in July when there is usually a two week break in the rain fall as well (it is supposed to rain from April to August or September almost nonstop). This schedule can be interrupted at any time for any number of reasons, from teacher strike to a teacher calling in sick to a “hey, I don’t feel like school today” day. I am told that you almost have to ask on a day by day basis whether or not there will be school the next day, and sometimes that isn’t even reliable.

Considering that we are not expected to teach whole classes or even be in schools every day of the week, even if there were some sort of reliable schedule, we could possibly have a lot of free time. This is where secondary projects come in. We have free reign to do any sort of project that our community may deem necessary, so basically I could be doing anything from building a school out of bottles to digging garbage dumps to building guitars to organizing youth groups to … well you get the idea. The things I just mentioned by the way are all projects being carried out by other Environmental Ed volunteers. This is extremely liberating in the fact that I will really be able to pursue projects my strengths will be able to complement, and a little daunting in that I will be majorly responsible for pursuing community development projects at my site. This would be less daunting if I hadn’t arrived in country hearing so many botched development stories from so many different sources. I guess it either means I will be prepared to avoid mistakes, or that I will avoid the small mistakes and find my own gigantic ones!

I found out that I will be visiting Adam’s site at Las Marias (outside of El Palmar, south of Xela/Quetzaltenango, and most probably my future site) on Sunday of this week, so that is pretty great. I have a ton to ask him and I am glad to have some time away from the regular rigors of training.

This is probably a good point to address what training is like on a day to day basis. I think the best way to describe it is that I have become a 14 year old boy again, only now I can grow a beard. I actually made a list with one of my friends and training site mates, Joey Delgado (http://guactalk.blogspot.com/) of things that made us sure we were 14 again. Enjoy!

1. My mom does my laundry because I can’t. It’s not really that I can’t it’s just that I don’t beat the living hell out of every piece of cloth against the stone, and therefore she doesn’t believe my clothes are clean when I wash them.

2. I have to be home before dark. I stayed at a friend’s house to watch the super bowl. I told my host mom I would be home late. She called me at 7, I told her the game was about half way over. She called me at 8, I told her there was still a whole other quarter. She called me at 9, I told her we were going to be leaving shortly. She called me at 9:45 and I was walking home in a place without cell reception and didn’t get the call. She met me at the front gate, and the first thing she asked me was if I had been drinking. When I told her truthfully that I had not had even a sip the whole night and that she could call the host mom of the volunteer whose house I had been at with the other volunteers from my town, she said it was good, because if I had been drinking she would have been “muy muy enojada” or very very angry. She then proceeded to only lecture me on the dangers of walking home after dark, and especially so late after dark. In my defense, I was still home before 10. In her defense, walking home from the next town over in complete and total darkness was pretty freaking terrifying, even though I was with two other guys who are also bigger than 90% of Guatemaltecos.

3. I spend my weeknights (and most weekend nights as well) doing homework, playing video games, reading books, and going to bed by 9:00. There just isn’t anything else to do when your whole family is ready for bed by 8:30 and gets up at 4.

4. I get woken up on Sunday mornings (the only day I could feasibly sleep in) by my dad blasting his favorite music on the radio. The only differences are that instead of being woken up at 8:30 by Oldies 104.3, I’m woken up at 5:30 by “TODA MACINA!!!! PURO ÉXITOS!!!” (big base voice yelling) which is Ranchero music. For those of you who don’t know, that’s the tuba polka music.

5. The girls get together for sleepovers. There is only one female volunteer living here in San Miguel and only one living in Magdalena (the next town over), so they get together every so often for “girl time.”

6. We sleep in bunk beds. On our field based training, we literally slept in bunk beds like you would a summer camp and in order to avoid hearing the girls talking in the next room about what crushes they had, us guys told dirty jokes.

7. My mom packs my lunch. I really enjoy this actually.

8. My mom wakes me up if I hit the snooze alarm.

9. My mom takes care of me when I’m sick.

10. My mom tells me to go to bed if my light is on past 9:00 PM.

11. I am currently reading The Lord of the Rings, although it is only because I just finished The Brothers Karamazov.

12. I have to do chores. These are slightly different than the ones I did as a teen though. For example, I sweep, not vacuum. I push the vegetable wheelbarrow around town on Sunday mornings while my mother sells them instead of mowing the lawn. I put water on the dirt instead of the lawn because the grass is fine, but the dirt gets dusty if we don’t water it. Oh, and I can’t leave in the morning before my bed is made.

13. The topic around the lunch table is always either soccer or WWF wrestling, and I am dead serious.

14. Every one of my friends is either single or has not seen their significant other in 6 weeks, and are also preoccupied with bodily functions, so almost any complete sentence ends with somebody finding a way to make it dirty. All our minds are “in the gutter” as it were.

15. The single greatest joy in life is once again ice cream, cake, or candy.

16. We had a 3 hour sex ed talk, which included watching a baby being born, AIDS testimonies, and our Medical Officer wearing a giant condom hat.

17. The only professional tools I have been issued thus far are markers, glue, scissors, tape, and poster board.

18. I occasionally babysit little girls of ages 8, 6, and 4. At least they’re cute.

19. Pizza = Special Occasion

20. Someone else wants to know where I am at all times. Gotta love the Security Officer.
Hope you enjoyed that. Sorry it was so long. I put some new pics up on the facebook album and I hope to put more up next week along with another blog post after I get back from visiting Adam. Until then, thanks for the emails, the comments, the wall posts, and the thoughts and prayers. By the by, I was pretty nasty sick for about a week and a half with some weird lung stuff, but I’m on antibiotics and decongestants, and I am feeling a lot better, so thanks for the thoughts there too. I miss you all, and please keep emails coming! If anyone wants to call me for any reason, my number is on facebook, and its 15 cents a minute on skype, just call after 8 PM because otherwise I might be busy or with the family.