13 December, 2008

Hectic Holidays

"Everybody else just calm down. This financial meltdown will affect you ONLY if you own a house or are paid in currency." ~ Steven Colbert

Thank goodness. I rent and am paid in birds (Quetzales is the national currency, and they are also the national bird).

I meant to post this very soon after I heard it back in October, but one thing kept coming up after another. Before I knew it, I had let almost an entire quarter of a year slip by. This in no way means that nothing has been happening down here; on the contrary things have been busier than ever. The ironic thing was that I had put off updating this blog until I got internet access towards the end of October, but since I’ve been back online it seems like I actually have less time to post pictures, update the blog, and write emails than before. I used to have to budget my internet time very specifically, whereas now I can chat with friends, check news, and even use skype to make video calls back to the states from my bedroom. I’ve actually become much worse at responding to correspondence!

So I think I last left off with tales of Jared and Jimmy’s visit. October was a tough month. My best volunteer friend here went back to the U.S., so it was a little rough figuring out a new support system for days when I just needed to vent, but everyone has got to move on. It was kind of a wake up for me that even though it seems like I’ll be here for an extremely long time, 27 months is not forever, especially looking at it from the end of month 11.

October was the last month of classes for the year, which meant that it was pretty much impossible to get anything done other than help the kids and teachers prepare for final examinations. From 4th grade on, the kids need to pass these exams to move onto the next grade, so there was a lot of stress. That didn’t stop us from celebrating Día de Niño (Children’s Day) on the first of the month, and then we had a lot of parties celebrating the year during the last week of the month after Finals were graded and we were waiting for the graduation ceremony. They have a Graduation for the 1st graders and the 6th graders, and somehow, I ended up helping about 18 guys tie their ties. Most of them had never worn one before.

Through an amazing donation from the Sunday school classes at First Presbyterian Church in Elgin, I was able to go with the director of my school up to Quetzaltenango to buy a TV and DVD player for the school to use next year. The teachers were absolutely thrilled, as this means that they will actually be able to play movies and show clips to the students next year. I’d say about half of the students actually have Televisions in their homes, but the children’s programming on Guatemalan Broadcast TV is pretty poor and basically limited to Dragon Ball Z and Yugi-Oh, so the possibility to watch something educational will be something completely new. We had some money left over, so we decided to use it to buy some DVDs and a few more books to add to the collection that was also sent by First Pres earlier in the year. These added resources are really going to make a difference in the quality of education that the kids here in Las Marias will be getting, and I would like to pass on the many thank yous from the faculty and students here back to everyone at First Pres in Elgin. I will be taking pictures of the students and school again when classes resume in January, so be watching for the TV you all bought!

The end of classes meant that I had a bit more free time, so I took a little vacation the weekend of Halloween and went to visit a friend of mine from Michigan Tech who is serving right across the border in Peace Corps Honduras. He lives about a 15 minute walk from some really great Mayan Ruins, so we explored those, and then went to a Halloween party. It was neat getting to meet a different crowd of Peace Corps Volunteers, talk about similar challenges, and get some new ideas.

I spent a good chunk of time in November in and around Mexico City as part of a conference on volcanic gases. Michigan Tech was able to put up the money to send Jemile Erdem who is working at Fuego and me, and we both learned a lot. It was neat being able to go back to a city that I knew. We got a chance to put some of what we learned into practice with a two day field trip to Popocatépetl, a big volcano about 40 km south of Mexico City.

I spent a week in Antigua at an In-Service Training session for Peace Corps, and it was really nice to see my host family and some other far away volunteers again. However, returning from that trip meant celebrating my first Thanksgiving away from my family, but with the help of some other volunteers, we made the best of it by cooking an entire dinner here at my house. It was actually perfect. We didn’t have a football, but we did have a Frisbee, so we played a little Ultimate. The next day we went swimming out at my river, which is heated by the lava flow coming off the volcano.

December has already been super busy. I’ve been doing a lot of preparation work getting ready for a pretty large field campaign that will start the 28th of this month, the same day as my friends Annie and Ryan’s wedding back in Illinois. I’ve spent some time hiking and scouting out some locations, and I also went up to visit a fellow volunteer Kurt Bradler at his site that is only about 6 km away from me, but due to terrain difficulties and bad roads it takes about 2 hours to get there in a car. I’m debating on finding out how long it would take to walk one of these days…

So that is basically what I have been up to. Please check out the new pictures I posted, and I will do my best to write soon after Christmas, but just in case, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Peace.

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