18 November, 2009


Sports camp pictures.

If you think you've seen some of these before, head to later in the album, I've added new ones I promise.

Entry with details on its way. Peace.

21 October, 2009

Coke from the bottle...

I'm sitting here enjoying an ice cold coca cola out of a glass bottle, but not one of those wimpy 12 or 16 ounce bottles, but a full liter of cola. That's right, I'm drinking a liter of cola. By myself. It is delicious.

I figured that another little update about coming down to visit me was overdue, especially since I had two visitors these last two weeks. The first was Jacob Akemann, who flew into Guatemala City and stopped by my place on his way up to Mexico City. He is keeping a really great blog about his travels, and as most of the last two weeks have involved me, it could be worth your while to check out his blog (click here). He's got some great pictures and should serve as enticement for any of the rest of you who might still think that you could make it down here. There are older entries about Guatemala that you can't read unless you click on "older posts." I promise, its worth it, he's a great writer.

Second, my friend Ashleigh brought her dad down to my site today. He is visiting her this week, and it was really great to be able to have them both bum around town for the day. We basically saw all of the cool stuff in one day too! It is amazing what you can do if you have a vehicle at your disposal.

So now that I am strung out on Coca-Cola I am going to try to calm down and go to sleep. Tomorrow we're connecting a new PVC pipe from the trunk line to the school bathrooms so that we (Lord willing) will be able to finish the foundation of the wall this week in time for kids to help put in all the bottles next week. As they say here, little by little.


P.S. Check out a few more bottle pics and school pics in general.

08 October, 2009


I changed some of my online photo albums around with pictures from this past year, and added a bunch of new ones as well. Hopefully they are better organized now.

Pictures from the celebrations I just talked about.

Check back at these albums basically for the rest of the time I'm down here.

06 October, 2009

Beauty Pageants and Parades

I’m not all that convinced that there will be anyone who reads this due to the long hiatus between entries, but for those of you who do stumble upon this entry, I’d like to muse a little on the topic of Beauty Pageants and Parades here in Guatemala. I think I originally promised this entry about a year ago, but as September comes around every twelve months it occurred to me to try again this year.

September 15th is Guatemala’s (and Mexico’s, and most of Central America’s down to Costa Rica if I’m not mistaken) Independence day. If you add in a town “feria” or fair in Quetzaltenango (the department I live in and also the Department’s capital city) on the same day, as well as one in my training community on the 29th, and then spice it up with celebrating Children’s Day on October 1st, you have some serious partying going on.

My life has basically been all party all the time since the 4th of July for me, seeing as we celebrated that sacred American holiday with Peace Corps Volunteers, then I came back to site for two weeks to prepare for and then celebrate my Municipality’s “feria” on the 25th of July. I went back to the USA for the better part of August to celebrate my sister Sharon’s wedding to my new bro-in-law Kent, and then I came back just in time for the national party month of September!

Now some of you American readers might wonder how I could be such a slacker. “I thought you were supposed to be there to work Kyle!” you might say to me. I tell you, the preparations that go into these parties and the headaches they bring to those who would rather not partake in the festivities make one nostalgic for the days when all you had to do was get up in the morning and go to work. Squeezing productivity out of so much fun is no small job.

Any celebration that has a civic connotation to it in Guatemala brings with it certain expectations. First, there must be multiple days of celebration leading up to the actual day which you are celebrating. Second, someone must be crowned something. Third, large quantities of people will spend large amounts of time standing around and watching things (including coronations, parades, lip sinking, people dancing poorly and/or drunkenly, bands playing… the list goes on). Fourth, many people will talk at great lengths about the same thing, usually with matching introductory and closing statements where every single sentient being that has ever heard of this kind of activity will be welcomed and thanked for their existence, from Almighty God to Pedro’s Great Aunt Miriam who died 15 years ago (but remember how good her sweet bread was?).

On each of the days leading up to the actual celebration different events are planned, usually getting grander with time. At my school, this means first electing a girl to represent the school for the next year as the Queen of the Student Body. To do this there must be several candidates that must participate in a beauty pageant. As an example of how intense these competitions can get, this year for our municipal fair, my neighbor’s daughter won the “Reina Infantil” or Infant Queen pageant. She is 4 years old. To practice her talents and make all her costumes, the entire school pitched in. Classes were let out at half days for the week prior to the competition so all 16 teachers could help practice the routines and speeches that my 4 year old neighbor had to reproduce. Our village has now won this competition for 5 years running, so we have something of a reputation to uphold. The whole country is enthralled by these types of events, and anything worth celebrating has a beauty pageant associated with it.

Another day preceding the celebration will usually involve one or more parades- the more important the festivity, the more parades. If you ever happen to be in Quetzaltenango around the 15th of September, do NOT plan on doing anything fast. Traffic stops for about a week while parades of students from every academic institution march around. The good ones are reminiscent of a high school marching band, the less sophisticated (like my school) walk in front of a pickup truck wired for sound. I posted a video of this on my facebook account. Click here to check it out.

Guatemalans also love competitions of other kinds, not just those involving passing judgment on beauty. Some places have horse racing, others sponsor sports tournaments. My school had a bike race one day, a scavenger hunt another, and even (my personal favorite) a scholastic bowl! When I went to my training community to visit the family I lived with while I was learning to live in Guatemala, they convinced me to run in the 5th Annual Footrace. Apparently the route the race was to follow was the one I had taken for my runs while I was staying with them. I was a little weary having not really run much in the past year, but feeling like I was in pretty good shape, I took the challenge and signed up. Upon arriving at the starting line I surveyed my competition, and I was happy to see a few middle aged men who although appearing to be in good shape, were by no means intimidating. I was feeling up for some good exercise if nothing else until about 20 minutes before the race.

While I was stretching out, four complete runners’ clubs from the capital city arrived in the small village of 2400 people. I was not pleased. The hat dropped to signal the start of the race and I fell instantly behind. Twelve kilometers (around 7 miles) later, I was the last man in the open men’s category (boy was I pissed to find out there were categories) to finish out of about 30, and the 4th to last to finish over all (edging out two 15 year old girls and a 70 year old man). My host brother made sure to follow me on his motorcycle almost the whole way encouraging me to take deeper breaths and longer strides. Had I been in slightly better shape, he probably would not have survived the run.

The rest of the family was very complimentary and I took the humiliation in stride. Everyone who I talked to after the race told me that what mattered was that I participated and finished, and hey, I got a T-shirt for finishing. Speaking of clothing, my host mother bought me some new cloths for mass and the dance that they had that night. I got a sweat shirt, t-shirt, jeans, and… bikini brief underwear. I think I need to explain that this is the preferred undergarment of the Guatemalan male, and every man and boy that I have seen swimming has worn this cut of brief, so I think by her purchasing me this article of clothing she was telling in her own way that she saw me as a local. However, this woman also washed my underwear for 3 months and knows that I am at very least a boxer-brief kind of guy (sorry if this is over sharing), and what possessed her to buy me underwear at all, let alone this type of underwear is still beyond me.

This might have been a bit too much sharing, but in any case, that’s where life has been for me lately. I’ll try to get in an entry by the end of the month about the work I’ve managed to accomplish despite all this merriment, complete with pictures. In the mean time, chime in; let me know what’s happening back in the Land of the Free and what’s going on in your lives. I miss you all. Peace.

03 September, 2009

Of Mice and Men, Pt. 1

My mother has always said that she can tell how busy I am by how messy my living space is. When I have nothing going on, my room/apartment/house is usually kept clean and well organized. The busier life has gotten the messier I have gotten. If I maintain a good level of activity, my living space can stay messy and disgusting for months at a time. Oddly enough, it usually isn’t the level of mess that has gotten me to finally clean house, rather getting so busy and weighed down by work that I freak out and use cleaning as an excuse to avoid the more important chores that I have awaiting me in the outside world.

Peace Corps has not been able to rid me of this habit. My first three months in site, my house was as clean as any alma de la casa’s in my aldea. However, thankfully, things have started picking up for me at site. I have finally “hit my stride” as a volunteer, which has inevitably meant a down turn in my housekeeping attentiveness, and has at times unfortunately sunk as low as my neighbor asking me if it was against my culture to use a broom or mop during certain times of the month. If it were not for those occasional times where I feel overwhelmed by work, I’d be living under tons of bean cans, unburned newspapers, and hiding from record breaking sized dust bunnies.

I’ve gotten this far in life using this system, but here in Guatemala, slovenliness has much more severe (or at least more immediate) consequences. I have paid dearly for my bouts of dirty living. At first I was only invaded by lesser vermin: annoying animalitos such as ants and cockroaches. Evil though these insects may be, they are easily dealt with despite constant onslaughts using such techniques as boiled water and the occasional veneno. The spiders move in if I forget to sweep the ceilings and corners for more than a week at a time, but I actually keep a few spiders in webs placed strategically around my house in higher spaces and use them to control the mosquito population.

About two months ago however, I started a SPA project that has been taking up a lot of my time and energy. Enter my new worthy adversary: Comondante Mousellio del Ratón. Our first exchange began with me groggily walking into my kitchen at 4:30 in the morning to grab my breakfast Tupperware that I take with me to work, and screaming like a girl as I startled the comondante as he was helping himself to the remains of a stir-fry dish I had prepared the night before and stupidly left on my stove. After we each regained our composure, I proceeded to chase him out of my kitchen, into my bedroom, through a pile of dirty clothes, and finally out my front door, all the while yelling and hitting almost everything I own with my frying pan in a futile attempt to kill the rascal.

Our subsequent skirmishes have mostly taken place during these wee hours of the morning, with memorable events belonging mostly to the opposition, including a narrow escape in which he scaled the back of my refrigerator, tightrope walked across the dangling electrical wire that feeds it and jumped through the hole between the block and the lamina, and a miraculous matrix-style jump where he dodged my flying rock hammer (which left quite a dent in my wall and included a slight puff of concrete dust as it hit). I have left poison and some self made traps, and have not had any exchanges in the last week, but I fear he has simply retreated to the countryside to recruit troops. In leaving my post for the All Volunteer Conference and 4th of July Festivities, I fear I am opening a very wide window for the evil forces of the FIR (Frente Invasionista de Ratones) to establish a foothold. More to come in the next issue...


My host agency office is located an hour walk away from my home, and if I want to avoid this trek I have to catch a truck at 5:30 in the morning. I make the journey three times a week, and usually carry my desayuno tipico with me to prepare at the office. As the trip is a rough one where I am stuffed into the back of a semi-trailer with between 50 and 100 finca workers, I am always worried about breaking my eggs during the journey. The solution I have employed to safeguard against this possible morning tragedy is to carry the eggs in my pocket (I figure if my pants are a good enough place to guarder one set of huevos, why not two?). I was proud to report that until the events of this tale transpired, I had a perfect safety record that spanned almost 8 months. Three eggs a day, three times a week, for 24 weeks means that over 200 eggs had been successfully transported in this manner and arrived safely in my belly.

On the morning in question, I arose at my customary hour, grabbed my back pack, put my huevos in order, and set off for work. As I was locking up my front gate, still groggy with sleep, I noticed a rather large spider crawling on my leg. I moved quickly to exterminate the stowaway, which proved to be the beginning of my undoing. I slapped my pant leg, killed the spider, and also crushed one of the eggs in my pocket. I had to reenter my house, change pants and deal with the mess on my leg. By the time I had completed the clean up and made it to the place where I normally catch the truck into the finca where my office is located, I found I had not arrived in time and needed to employ alternate transportation, my feet. This set back compounded my tardiness, and by the time I arrived at the finca offices, I was already an hour and a half late for work.

Being the Christmas season, I was looking to purchase some gifts, and as my office is located inside a coffee finca, fresh coffee seemed to me to be a natural choice for regalitos. I entered the office of the finca administrator and requested the goods. He was able to see that I was pressed for time, and hastened to fill my order. I reached into my pocket to pull out some billetes, and out fell another egg, right onto his office floor. Two down. After apologizing profusely, and being rather begrudgingly forgiven, I began the final assent to my office. Upon entering the building, I passed the kitchen and left my final hope at breakfast, my last egg, sitting on the counter. I went to my desk and set about catching up on the work that I was now two hours late at beginning.

When breakfast time finally rolled around, I went back to the kitchen to find that my counterpart's wife had come to my rescue by bringing tamales to share. Being very relieved that I was not going to have to rely on a single egg for all of my morning nutrients, I began eating. When we had finished and exchanged the usual pleasantries (muchas gracias, buen provecho), I moved to begin cleaning up. I washed the dishes we had used, wiped down the counters and table, and put away the extra food. The only thing left in site was my lonely huevo.

As I was talking with my counterpart and his wife, I absentmindedly grabbed a plastic bag to store my egg in for another day. I picked up the egg and dropped it into the bag. The egg passed right through the hole in the bottom of this bag, and smashed on the floor, bringing my defeat to completion.

How could this happen you ask? After 200 eggs having completed their journeys in complete safety, how could three perish in such an untimely manner on the same fateful day? I will tell you. I have another habit that I include in my morning routine that I neglected to report. The first thing I do after stopping my alarm clock is walk out my front door in the morning darkness and pee into the bushes. The preceding morning I had awoken, and followed my itinerary as usual, but no sooner had I loosed the stream into my favorite bush than I heard a flutter of wings and a very startled clucking. As it turned out, my neighbor's chicken had chosen my bush as its nightly roost, and my peeing on it had scared the piss out of each of us. Pee on a chicken and you've got to expect some broken eggs.

30 July, 2009

2009 Part 2

So the idea that I was going to try and get better at communicating through this blog was apparently just a bunch of steam. We’re almost through the 7th month of this year and this is only my second entry. Pathetic. Let’s see if I can at least partially redeem myself with a rundown of what has happened between the end of March and now.


I continue to be blessed with visits from people back home. In April, My Uncle Scott, Aunt Angelica, cousins Marcos and Nicky and friend of the family Penny Barr came down to spend holy week in Guatemala. Holy week is by far the most festive time down here, as every town has their own special traditions for celebrating the week before Easter. I think they had a pretty good time, and I am hoping to be able to post some of their thoughts on their time here soon.

In May, Matthew Burris and Ashley Poust, two of my very close friends swung by for a visit. We spent most of the time hanging out in my village and I think they got a pretty good idea of what my daily life is like. They showed up at the very beginning of the rainy season, so they even got one or two days taste of what happens here in town when the rain is drowning everything: a lot of sitting around in the dark.

I’d like to brag a little that I am getting very good at showing people around now, so if you are reading this and think you want to come down and see what’s going on for yourself, let me know soon. It doesn’t seem like it some days, but I really don’t have much more time that I’ll be down here. If you want to visit me, you have 8 months left…


I celebrated my 25th birthday with a trip to the water park. I convinced a group of fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and a few of my local friends to accompany me to the large water park about 10 miles from my house. One of the store owners I know was able to get all of us in for free (otherwise it costs about $10). It was really great, and incredible that such a ritzy place exists so close to where I live.

4th of July

So every year the Peace Corps Volunteers of Guatemala get together for a professional conference spanning two days and then a picnic on the 4th of July to commemorate our country’s independence. This year, I was on the committee to plan the conference and the picnic. The 8 of us on the committee brought in about 20 speakers from other organizations all across Guatemala and put on a conference about how to coordinate with these organizations to get work done in communities that we as volunteers are calling home for 2 years, and then threw a picnic with sporting events for the 200+ volunteers and staff that make up Peace Corps in Guatemala. It was a lot of work, and incredibly difficult to coordinate especially with the 8 of us spread all throughout Guatemala, but we got it done and I think people learned a lot and had a great time. My crowning achievement was having the US Ambassador to Guatemala show up with his 2 sons and participate in our soccer tournament.


So over the past few months work has not slowed down at all. On top of all that fun stuff I just reported on, I’ve been busy in the school writing grant proposals with the Director to try and get money to use all of the bottles that we have collected to complete a circulating wall around the school. Last week I got notice that USAID had approved our Small Project Assistance (SPA) Fund grant, and so we will begin construction of the wall in September.

I’ve therefore been spending most of my time at school passing around to the classrooms and trying to make sure all the kids are cooperating with the teachers and bringing in their share of bottles, and plugging into various other activities including an Earth Day celebration, Mother’s Day celebration, and a lot to do with our town “feria” (the celebration of our municipality’s patron saint).

Up at the volcano observatory, we’re still trying to figure out ways to improve our capabilities, but I have been training the observers on how to use our gas monitoring equipment so that they will be able to keep up observations no matter who is working with them.

Trip to the States

I’ll be back in the US from the 3rd to the 23rd of August, but I won’t have a phone number to speak of, so try sending me an email and I’ll try to get in contact with you. I’ll be posting photos soon as well. I miss you all and hope that things are well. Peace.

20 March, 2009

Week 62

That’s right; I’ve been living in Guatemala for 62 weeks, out of a planned total of 115. For 51 of those weeks, I have been a volunteer in active service, attempting day in and day out to further the three goals of the Peace Corps:

1) Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2) Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3) Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

In the day to day activities that go on here, it is getting easier and easier for me to fulfill the first two goals. After roughly a year of service, I feel like I am fulfilling my duties at my two host agencies to the best of my ability, and that I am actually meeting a need for trained men and women. And while I am not sure if I am helping the people in my village understand Americans as a whole, my friends and neighbors are understanding at least this American better than they did 12 months ago. The goal that I have been neglecting, at least over the last 4 months is obviously the third. I’ll try to catch anyone who still checks this on what has been happening down here, including Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, a lot of volcano field work, reinvigoration of projects at school in the second year, and visits from a few friends.

Happy Holidays

I spent most of December working at the observatory. It was nice to only have to focus on one set of problems while school was on break. After many meetings and discussions with observatory personnel and our bosses in the capital, I think we decided that my chief contribution to the day to day activities of the observatory will ideally be to find a way to get internet access from this remote location during the next year. All future advances in the technical capacity of the observatory really seem to depend on this, so I will be putting a lot of effort into figuring out how this will work (A LOT of learning about IT stuff) in the coming year. We eventually want to have a webcam and be able to send and receive data to be processed at the observatory. If you know of anyone with experience in this sort of thing that would be able to answer questions, I’d be interested in emailing them! I also spent a lot of time hiking with one of my counterparts, taking advantage of the wonderful weather of December to get to know some of the up close and personal aspects of Santiaguito.

Christmas was very different this year. This was my first Christmas that I have ever spent away from my family, which was difficult. Christmas Eve I hung around town, playing with kids and wearing a Santa hat. I bought a lot of fire crackers as is apparently the custom, and we all set them off. At first I was a bit apprehensive about playing with explosives and children at the same time, given my American senses of risk and danger, but when I saw one of the kids who will be 5 NEXT month toddle up to one of the neighborhood store windows, hold up his 10 centavo coin (about a penny) and ask to buy a small hand held device that shoots sparks out of the end, and then also ask for matches to light it with, I thought that maybe I was being paranoid. I realized that I was not paranoid when he proceeded to light the thing five inches from his two year old brother’s face. Thankfully, I didn’t see any children get burned, but with these kinds of things happening all over the country that day, I don’t like the odds…

I went up to spend the evening with a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer (Ashleigh Shiffler) who had her family visiting her at her site for the holidays. We went to mass, which was punctuated by large mortar shells being lit off from the park outside while we sang carols in Spanish and watched the neighborhood posadas come in during the service. It was nice to have an American family to spend the holiday with, as it made the whole thing feel a lot more like home. We all went to one of the family’s that Ashleigh is close to in her town and ate the traditional Guatemalan Christmas tamales which I had been hearing so much about all year (think a mush of cornmeal with raisins, some special spices, and a small chink of meat in the middle, prepared in banana leaves). Then we went across the street and bought the equivalent of about $30 worth of fireworks and at the stroke of midnight joined literally the entire town in simultaneously putting on one of the best shows that I had ever seen. After experiencing the pure insanity of a town of about 20,000 people all setting off fireworks at the same time, I see now why the United States of America has legislation in most states to prevent these sorts of activities. It helped that most of the houses here were made of concrete and therefore not as susceptible as our wooden dwellings back home to catching on fire, but with the amounts of exploding charges and the subsequent fall of burning metal shards, I am surprised that there are not more injuries associated with the holiday here. Everyone assured me that New Years Eve would be the same thing all over again.

Field Work

I had two days after Christmas to prepare for the arrival of a group of scientists who I would be working with for nearly the entire month of January. The group had members from Michigan Tech, New Mexico Tech, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We spent about two weeks in the field around Santiaguito collecting seismic data, thermal images, and high definition high speed images of the crater floor. I was also left in charge of maintaining a seismic station for the next four months down near the observatory, as well as four time-lapse cameras that are taking pictures once every five minutes during daylight hours from up on Santa Maria (the mountain overlooking the volcano). We spent New Years camping on Santa Maria, which gave us an amazing view of the fireworks: the whole Guatemalan countryside lit up with fireworks at midnight. It looked much more festive and a lot less dangerous from that safe distance and about 4,500 feet above. Then we went and spent a week at Pacaya volcano measuring the heat being emitted from the lava flows while another team was working on installing a GPS monitoring network to track changes in the shape of the volcano. Finally we went up to Fuego, where actually a rotating team had been watching a seismic network and monitoring the gas emissions with a sulfur dioxide imaging camera. I learned a lot, made a lot of contacts, and had a great time.

Back to Routine

February meant the beginning of the new school year. Like most Guatemalan public schools, we had and are still having a horrible time getting the operating funds deposited that the government promised for the school. As a result, supplies had to be purchased from local businesses on credit, arrangements have had to be made for paying electricity and water bills late, and teachers have had to be working without pay. The worst part is that there is a seemingly never ending series of meetings that the director and occasionally teachers are called into (meaning that the students are not in school either) that attempts to explain the problems, all with the same reason; the money isn’t here yet, keep waiting.

This predicament has really hurt my ability to work as well. This year I will not be teaching in the classrooms, but more coordinating efforts between teachers to implement environmental lesson plans into their own teaching, as well as serving as a resource to them for ideas or occasionally team teaching lessons. I am mainly focusing on helping them meet the requirements to be certified as an Environmentally Friendly School by the end of the year, as well as coordinating efforts for the construction of our bottle project.

I talked a little bit about the bottle project last year, where we are having students collect plastic soda pop bottles and fill them with inorganic garbage. This serves several educational purposes, including separating trash and raising consciousness about how much trash is produced by the community, but the hope is that these bottles will serve a purpose in their own right by making up a large part of the building materials for a structure. This lowers the cost of construction and (hopefully) enables communities to build things that they need. We are still currently deliberating on exactly what structure we are going to build with our bottles, but the initial goal is to collect 4000 bottles and then make up the difference for the number of bottles we need for whatever the project is after we reach this goal.

I have also been doing a little school work of my own. Through the magic of the internet, I am able to sit in via video conferencing on a Volcano Seismology class that is being offered back in Michigan. I can see the whole lecture, ask questions, and even get homework assignments. The best part is that I am able to apply what I learn immediately to interpret the data that I am collecting! In my second year I will be submitting monthly reports on the volcano’s activity, happenings at the observatory, and my research progress to my superiors at INSIVUMEH (the Guatemalan equivalent of the United States Geological Survey) and Peace Corps. This means that I actually know enough now to be reporting my own interpretations, which is pretty exciting, and I’ve produced two now for January and February.

So that’s basically what is happening around here. I have also been very slow with posting pictures, but I will have some new ones up soon! It’s strange, but I have lived longer in this house here in Guatemala longer than I have lived in any one dwelling since I left my parent’s house for college. With that amount of relative permanency, it is easy to forget that I’m living in a “foreign” country sometimes. At the same time, I can’t believe that I’ve been here a year already! One more left…

I miss you all. Take care, and if you get a chance, drop me a line and let me know how you’re doing as well. Peace.