I successfully swore in as a Volunteer in the United States Peace Corps a week ago Thursday, and the first week as a volunteer has been an interesting one. The weekend of swear in was a lot of fun, as our training class basically got to just hang out in Antigua before going out to our respective sites throughout the country. Some people left Saturday, others Sunday depending on how far away their sites were. Initially I was pretty apprehensive about the move because there are no buses out of San Miguel Milpas Altas on Sundays. This left me with the prospect of hauling two back packs and a huge nylon bag full of crap over the two hills and thirty minute walk that stand between San Miguel and the nearest transportation. The packing process was pretty hilarious actually, as my host mother Doña Lidia decided that the best way to transport all of my stuff was to put it into one bundle that stood about a meter tall and weighed easily 75 pounds and carry it all using a milcopan (head strap) in the traditional way. I obviously am not nearly as Guatemalan as Doña Lidia thinks I am though, because when I tried to lift the bag in this manner my neck nearly snapped off at the shoulders. Thankfully, I was able to arrange transportation out of San Miguel last Sunday morning with Jesse’s host grandfather.
I got into Las Marias just before noon, having made great time (about 4 1/2 hours by bus from Antigua), dropped my luggage off at the house where I am spending my first three months, and called Adam, the volunteer who I am replacing to let him know I had arrived. He surprised me by telling me that Drew, a civil engineering Masters International student who did his work in Jamaica and who I had gotten to know briefly while he was working on his thesis this fall up at Tech, was visiting with his fiancé. So I slipped my swim trunks on and headed off with them to Antiguo Palmar, the old site of the municipal head that they moved do to intense lahar activity in the mid ‘80s. The river that cut a canyon through the town thirty years ago and then again about ten years ago is heated at its source by a lava flow from Santiaguito and cooled down as it descends by a series of tributaries as they enter the main river. The locals have set up a few make shift damns to trap the water and form a series of pools that make great heated swimming holes. After a few hours of enjoyment, Drew and his fiancé left for Xela/Quetaltenango (different names for the same town) which is about an hour away, Adam went to his place, and I headed home to arrange my things and settle in for the first night.
I have spent the rest of the week setting up my living conditions here. They are very comfortable, in fact I think a little too comfortable, unless you take into account the mango tree. I seem to have arrived right in the heart of mango season here in Las Marias, which is great because it means an abundant supply of humongous (seriously the size of my two fists put together) juicy mangos. However, seeing as my lamina roof is placed directly under one of these delicious fruit trees, I have been besieged by mango bombs morning, noon and (the worst) night. The five pound terrors fall down onto the tin roof with a sound like gun shots right above my head. During the day I have already gotten used to the noises, and I’m not here that much during the day anyway, but when one falls at 3 or 4 AM… let’s just say I am very glad to be slightly dehydrated due to the heat and not as well fed this week at these moments, it’s that startling. I really hope that the mango season is a short one for this particular tree.
I’m going to be working the next few weeks on figuring out where I fit in to this place they call Las Marias. The work that I was worried that I would have to start immediately upon arrival seems to have lost its urgency in the past two weeks, which is a huge relief. I can start slowly and build up my own steam without having to jump on Adam’s train as he is leaving. It is intimidating enough walking around with him as he says good bye to what are now good friends while I am saying hello and struggling to remember everyone’s combination of four names that they introduce themselves with and which of these correspond to the nicknames they are called by and known by around town. At least everyone is friendly and most are very patient, and everyone expresses to me how much they hope that I like the place. The person who seems to be the most interested in speaking with me is the town drunk who I have to walk by three or four times a day, but I am hoping that will change as other people get to know me.
I hope that April and the beginning of the baseball season finds you all well. I am happy to report that although I don’t have any place that is close where I could catch the occasional game if I so desired, the news paper does have a small section where they usually put one story from the big leagues as well as the scores from the previous day, so I will be able to remotely follow the great American pastime as long as I occasionally supplement my diet with occasional trips to the internet café. Let me know how you all are doing, I really like getting emails, and I promise that I will respond!! Peace.
Something to be Thankful For
7 years ago