28 August, 2008

Spring is in the Air

As most of you back in the United States are enjoying the last dog days of summer and preparing to welcome the changes that come with autumn, here in Guatemala the air has more of a feeling of spring. School here runs (theoretically) from January to October, so going into September means that it feels like May back home. The “winter” here is ending (although it really is technically summer as we are still in the Northern Hemisphere), school vacation and an end to the rains and occasional hurricanes are in sight, and people are beginning to make plans for the good weather months.

School is all a buzz right now with preparations for Independence Day celebrations, which for Guatemala is the 15th of September. I’m told there will be parades, performances, and all sorts of other festive activities, so that should be a fun blog post next month. However, with the preparation for these activities there really isn’t much time for me to be in the classroom giving lessons, especially because end of the year exams are the first week of October. So right now I am contenting myself with helping where I can when I’m at school, and just trying to get kids to pick up after themselves during recess.

Work around town is starting to ramp up as well, as on the other side of the village they are getting ready to put in sewers and a paved street where right now there is just a dirt road. They do have sewers currently, but apparently they are old and have been breaking down and backing up recently, so this project (which was slated to begin in June) will be a welcome relief to many people.

The rains this year have been particularly destructive to our streets around town, most of which are dirt or crude cobblestone, so our village council is scrambling to try and figure out which areas need the most attention with the most urgency. The town is basically perched on a cliff above a pretty large river, and many of the poorer families live very close to the edge. There are also several streets and paths that pass very close to the cliff, and there is a major problem with erosion going on at several key locations around town. I’m not really sure what they’re going to be able to accomplish though; they have already received notice that there are no funds for street projects left this year because they all went to the sewer/street project. The council has asked my help in scouting out possible organizations that could fund small infrastructure projects, but I’m starting from scratch as the Peace Corps hasn’t traditionally been involved in road building here in Guatemala.

I’m looking forward to the end of school because it means that I will have more time to focus on the volcano. In addition to trying to get started on some new data collection, I also have been asked to help with some field work being carried out by the national office, which should be very interesting. In addition, better weather will bring with it more visits from other scientists, which means more field time and a steeper learning curve for me.

I think that’s it for this round, Peace.

18 August, 2008

Plans and promises

August has felt a lot like starting over here in Las Marias. After being gone or busy for most of July, including a wonderful trip back to the U.S., it is nice to get back and get some work done. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that great of a homecoming. I arrived back at my house to find that someone had broken in while I was gone and made off with a good deal of my stuff, including my camera, so unfortunately I won’t be posting anymore pictures. It was a tough blow, especially because I had been using the camera for my research efforts, but the community has been very sympathetic and offered very heartfelt apologies; everyone seems to think that it reflects badly on them personally. My landlord is putting bars over the windows to make the house safer, and all my neighbors have been on high alert ever since I’ve been back, but so far no one has any leads on who the culprit may be.

My boss from Peace Corps came out and helped me give a workshop to my teachers. It was a bit stressful having to plan an entire day’s worth of activities, but the workshop was a success, and I think everyone learned a lot and had a good time as well. That, plus a whole box full of books that First Pres of Elgin sent down, has put bumped up my street credit around the school, where up until this month I have kind of been feeling like someone that the teachers just put up with.
I’m pretty sad that the school year is almost over, as we are entering our final quarter, and school will be out for vacations after the second week in October until January.

In response to some pretty diligent requests on the part of a group of guys that works for one of the coffee fincas (think plantation when you read this word), I have started a small English course that meets Tuesday and Thursday nights. I’m thinking of it as kind of a pilot program; if I do alright as a teacher, I’ll probably start offering some more classes as my schedule allows because people have been asking me to teach English since I got here. The bottle project is going well, but I am still not sure if we will have enough bottles by the end of the year to actually build a bodega. Everything else is just kind of trucking along… life is busy and good. I’ll be going up to visit a friend’s site on Wednesday to help her give a workshop to her teachers about trash management lessons, so that should be fun, but other than that, not much new to report. I hope everyone’s getting the most out of the end of summer and that those of you going back to school have a good start. More soon, Peace.