These last few weeks have been full ones, with a lot of work, a lot of planning, and a lot of thinking about how the next two years of service are going to go. As far as finishing up training goes, we taught our last lessons at the school here in San Miguel two weeks ago, and we spent last week building a three stoves, a floor, and a drainage ditch for the kitchen at the school which houses grades K-2 for the town. Our only remaining activity at the school will be an “environmental day” that we will celebrate this week.
I’ve been out to visit my site now twice, and I am definitely itching to get out and get started. I will be jumping right into work. In the school, I am expected to kick off a trash management education campaign. This will be a continuation of Adam’s solid waste management SPA project (Small Project Assistance funds from USAID for Peace Corps volunteers). In conjunction with the education campaign in the school, I think that I will be working with the COCODE (Council for Community Development) of the aldea (village) of Las Marias and the municipal offices of El Palmar to figure out some kind of sanitary landfill situation and/or recycling project for the community. I am slightly worried that the gap of time between now and when I will be arriving and starting work is a bit large and that the delay could mean more of a struggle to get people on board with the project, but there really isn’t much I can do until April.
I will be living with a family for the first three months of my service; however, I will be feeding myself and doing my own laundry, things I haven’t had to do so far and additional reasons why I am going to miss my present host family when I leave next week. Things have been wonderful here in San Miguel and despite my rants about being treated like a child, training has been a pretty comfortable environment. I am not expecting the rest of this experience to follow suit. I’m really going to miss the constant companionship of the other trainees, especially those who have been living in San Miguel with me. Having other gringos close by to complain too and laugh at the many awkward situations that we find ourselves in on an hourly basis is a luxury I am really going to miss. The closest volunteer to me will be about an hour and a half away, and he only has transportation in and out of his site a few times a day.
In addition to running around this week trying to finish up training activities, it has also been Holy Week. Semana Santa in Guatemala is a pretty big deal, and as we had been told and found out this week, the country basically shuts down for the week, unless you’re business is tourism. Schools and government offices are closed, and many businesses shut their doors. The way to celebrate things in this area is by making alfombras (literally carpets with designs made out of saw dust, pine needles, fruit, candles, and almost about anything else) and then having large processions carrying andarias (giant floats without wheels) that pass over the top of them as they move throughout the town.
Last Saturday night after coming back from our site visit a few other trainees and I went down to Antigua to work on an alfombra that was being made by one of the teachers from our school. When we went back to Antigua on Palm Sunday to see the processions, we couldn’t get close enough to see our finished product because of the amount of people in town. We took advantage of the lack of children in the school on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to complete our construction projects, and on Thursday night we had our own alfombras and procession of an andaria through San Miguel.
This was a pretty interesting spectacle for us because the gringos in town got to help carry our andaria. If you look at the pictures, you see that every one grabs a side and rests the thing on their shoulder. This works great as long as everyone is arranged in proper height order so you have a constant slope for the weight of the andaria is distributed evenly. Joey and I went on Wednesday night to the church to get measured for our place in line, and it turns out we are taller than everyone else in our aldea by a cool two inches, and taller than the average carrier by at least a head. This meant that in order to carry the andaria, we could try and stand up straight which meant carrying at least four other people’s weight (this proved to be impossible, the darn thing was just too heavy) or we could figure out how to slouch and get closer to the height at which everyone else was carrying it. We had four rotations of about fifteen minutes each, but somehow we almost always ended up carrying through two rotations. So we had half hour shifts from when we left at 5:45 until we got back to the church at 10. The only other comment I have is that my back is really killing me… still.
On Friday, I was awoken at 4 in the morning by the pounding of my host mother’s mighty fist against my window telling me that I had better hurry up and get ready because the bus was going to leave without us. By 4:30 I was sitting on the camionetta with my host parents, my host sister, two of my host brothers and six of my host nieces and nephews descending the hill to Antigua. The bus let us off on the outskirts of town because most of the streets were closed off and we walked about a half mile to where the really big processions were and saw a bunch of the really elaborate alfombras. As an experience, it felt a lot like going to see a combination of the Christmas window displays and the Thanksgiving parade in Chicago… at 5 AM. We took the bus back around 9 and had breakfast at 10. By noon, the family was ready to hit the road again to go back to see more and we took one of the last buses home at around 1 in the morning after seeing what I think may have been one of the final processions of the day, but who knows. It is no wonder that Easter Sunday isn’t as big of a deal here, they’re still tired from Good Friday!
On Easter, the other trainees from San Miguel and I cooked a lunch for our homestay families. Joey had the great idea to cook some American chili, and Briana made potato salad, and although we are not exactly convinced they actually liked the food, they all apparently appreciated the gesture.
This will probably be my last entry as a trainee, as we officially swear in for duty on Thursday the 27th, and I’ll be in my site on Monday the 30th, ready to get down to business. I hear that the Chicago area got pounded with some late Easter snow yesterday, so I hope everyone is dealing with that alright. If you need a break, just remember they call Guatemala the country of eternal spring, and where I’m going next week is definitely hot and tropical, so plan your visits now! Peace.
Something to be Thankful For
7 years ago