11 June, 2008

Turning 24 and Saying So Long

Life continues here in Las Marias, but things are getting busy. Two weeks ago my APCD (read boss for people who aren’t required to speak in acronyms) visited my site and met with all of my counterpart agencies and me. He told me he was happy with my progress thus far and left me and my counterparts with lots of ideas for directions in which our work can go. In the school, we scheduled a day for a teacher workshop. At the observatory we set up a plan for a possible community outreach program, and at the mayor’s office I was invited to be part of the planning committee for the new municipal disaster plan. All in all it was a very productive visit.

So heading into last week I was very excited to get a good start on work. Then Alma and Arthur decided to pay Guatemala a visit. Up to this point, I have become very accustomed to afternoon rainstorms putting an early halt to the day. However, waking up Monday morning and going to school in a decently heavy rain and finding neither teachers nor students was a bit perplexing to me. School apparently is canceled when it rains because the pounding on the tin roofs of the classrooms make verbal communication and thus teaching and learning nearly impossible. This may seem like a logical solution, but the effect is somewhat more impressive when one considers that there are only two seasons in Guatemala: rainy and dry. It rained all day on Monday and Tuesday, so I couldn’t go up to the observatory to work either. I received notice from Peace Corps that due to bad road conditions I was put on Standfast, meaning that I was not permitted to leave my site. So I wound up sitting on my porch reading books and waiting for the rain to stop. Let’s just say that I hope we have two years of light hurricane seasons.

The rain finally quit about 4 PM on Tuesday, which was good because I was supposed to have a meeting with our Village Council at 6. I arrived on time, everyone else was there by half past the hour, and we started the meeting. I noticed that none of the women members were present, which was slightly out of the ordinary, but with all the rain I wasn’t sure what extra responsibilities the women of the house might have and so I figured I just missed something. By 7:30 we had finished all the business items, and all of the sudden the ladies showed up carrying a huge amount of food. It turns out they had planned a birthday dinner for me, complete with cake, firecrackers, and the traditional “Happy Birthday” song sung in bad English. It was a wonderfully warm gesture and left me feeling very grateful to have been placed in such a great community. I was only sad because I didn’t bring my camera and the only pictures I have were taken on my phone.

Unfortunately, a great day was followed up with some really hard news. One of my best friends in Peace Corps is being Medically Separated from our program because she had an allergic reaction to peanuts. Although she was cleared for service initially, the Washington medical office decided that the reaction was severe enough to bring her home. There is still a slight chance that she might be coming back if she can appeal the decision, but the chances are pretty slim. The decision leaves me not only very sad to be losing a terrific friend and colleague, but also a bit angry and apprehensive about the way Peace Corps Washington handled the situation. If a prior condition acting up is grounds for Medical Separation, despite the commitment of the volunteer or the economic investment of the government, it makes it hard for me as a volunteer to feel secure and supported in my work here. She literally found out Wednesday of the decision and is flying home on Thursday. A complete life change in the span of a week seems to me cruel and unjust, not to mention a pretty sorry way to show appreciation for someone who was willing to train for 3 months to serve her country for 2 years.

I have begun actually presenting lessons in the school this week. I am excited by this because now the teachers and students alike are able to see me doing something productive rather than just hanging out a few days a week. I think the students responded very well, and the teachers told me that they thought I did a good job presenting. I was impressed by the students’ levels of interest and by the teachers’ commitment to working alongside me while we both presented the lesson. Many volunteers aren’t so lucky.

I had a meeting last week with my principle and the president of the village council and we had a meeting with all of my teachers today, and we will be embarking on a community trash collection program/construction project. We will basically be having students collect garbage, asking them to pack the garbage into plastic pop bottles, and using these accumulated bottles to build a storage shed for the school. The director and the president had seen an article in the paper about another group of Peace Corps Volunteers who helped to make an entire two room school out of bottles and decided that this would be something they wanted to get done in our community.

The teachers will be teaching the kids to fill up the bottles correctly on Friday, and each student will be responsible for filling one bottle with trash from the community each week from now until the end of August, at which point we hope to have around 4,000 bottles to build our shed. My job between then and now is to figure out what else we need other than bottles to get the job done. The challenge for me is that there were three volunteers working on the bottle school, whereas there will only be one working on the bottle shed…

So begins June. I’ve officially been in country for 5 whole months, which to me seems at the same time too big and too small a number. I’m sure that sensation will not leave me for the rest of my time here. I am thrilled to know that as of writing this entry the Cubs have the best record in baseball and are also the only team to have not lost three in a row this season. What a great 100 year anniversary, let’s just hope they keep it up. Know that I am jealous of anyone who can spend time watching a baseball game on TV, almost as jealous as I am of people who can eat a nice grilled steak. I’ll be home in July for a week and you can bet that I will be trying to get as much of those two things as I can. In the meantime, I hope everyone is well, and I have really appreciated all the emails, keep ‘em coming! Peace.


Ross Allen said...

Good to hear your community is gung ho about the work you're doing! I hope that pop bottle shed turns out, I'll be interested to hear how you decide to build it...

Happy late birthday!

jcvertin said...

Alfonso Soriano broke his hand last night as I watched the Cubs game....say so long to first place. :)

Just kinding, I have D-Lee and Geovany Soto on my fantasy team and they will carry the Cubbies to October.

Take care bud!

jcvertin said...

PS....happy belated birthday bud. I owe ya a beer.

Laurie said...

Heard your birthday was recently...Happy Birthday Kyle! Hope everything is going great over there!