Visit is Booked!

Wednesday June 15th - Fly into LAX

Hang out in San Diego that weekend
Amtrak it to the Central Coast the following week
Drive to the Bay Area the next weekend and hang there

Friday July 1st - Fly SFO to GUA

It's set in stone! let me know who's going to be around

Thinking About a Vacation to California

Hi everybody, so it’s about that time after over a year in Guatemala that I start to think about home. Well, actually I was thinking about Tahoe really more than home being Martinez or San Diego, but California nonetheless. Anyway, I’m pretty sure at this point that I’m going to come back to visit during the Summer (like maybe the last 2 weeks of July, but very flexible), I just have to hammer out some dates and activities. My thoughts were to fly into LAX and then head down to San Diego to see friends and family down there for a few days to a week. Then I would make my way up the central coast to see other family near SLO, then from there get up to the Bay Area and see the rest of family and friends. Finally after 2 weeks or so of exhausting traveling, eating, and hopefully some volleyball action, fly back to Guatemala from SF.

I’d welcome any input on this plan, especially suggestions for times/dates (like, tell me if you’re going to be in town and if you want to see me or take me out to dinner :P ). Any offers of rides or places to stay would also be welcome, as are ideas of fun stuff to do. I don’t want to over-schedule myself and my first priority is seeing all of you, but it would be nice to have a few activities planned, or at least ideas of activities. Write me a note here, on facebook, or send me an email please!



Contemplating My Service

Friday 2/4/2011

I’m not considering leaving the Peace Corps, as the title might imply, just doing some thinking out loud. Explanation below.

Since the end of December, friends and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in a department (kind of like a state) of Guatemala called “Alta Verapaz” (and Baja Verapaz really, though I don’t really know anyone there) have been evacuated from their homes due to a government raid on drug traffickers. I really don’t have enough information to well-inform you all on the situation, but as I understand it, the government is violating civil-rights in the name of combating drug trafficking, which is not uncommon through the Verapaz and El Petén region. The volunteers of that region were evacuated due the Peace Corps’ inability to protect their safety (which I think was a very good idea) and after about a month of hanging around the office doing nothing, waiting for something to change, they were offered the chance to change site—which means relocate and start their project over from scratch—or head home and terminate their service early. My friend Chad who I talked with the other day said that if he didn’t get the site he wanted he would go home early, 14 months before his Close Of Service (COS) date. That got me wondering what I would do in the same situation.

It would be very difficult for me to change locations right now for many reasons. One is that I just like it here, I’ve made more friends in the past 3 months than I did during my first 7 or 8. I finally have gotten to know my project, what my responsibilities are, what’s expected of me, and how to get help when I need it. The people are also getting used to me, I’m still greeted with “buenos días, Katy” in the street when I’m walking to work, even though I don’t have a clue what the name of the other person is. When I don’t show up to the soccer field on the weekends the boys ask me where I was when they see me Monday.

Another reason is that I’m comfortable here in my house and in my room. I still rent a room from a family and will continue for the next 14 months. There are just no other options. I have a nice comfortable bed, finally made myself a pseudo-closet where I can hang up all my clothes on hangers (yes, this is a big deal), and people respect my privacy. Last year I paid my family Q5 (about $.60) every day to eat lunch with them, and just two weeks ago I stopped that. Lots of times they just made food that didn’t interest me, like boiled chicken with a couple boiled, flavorless vegetables and some MSG powder, or over-cooked, really hard beef that didn’t taste like anything. At least once or twice a week there would just be nothing because the grandmother went away on errands and didn’t remember to tell me where she put the lunch. About once a week lunch would be just beans and tortillas (this is actually one of my favorites, but nowhere near its Q5 price tag).

There were no hard feelings when I stopped, as they said this was actually easier for them too, so for the past couple weeks I’ve been indulging in lunches of salads, omelets, stir-fries, guacamole (yes, this is a meal), and hamburgers. That’s right, I cook meat now. I buy a pound of ground beef ever week for Q20 ($2.50) and it’s good for three meals. I chop up onions, jalapenos, red bell peppers, garlic, cilantro, and I add a bunch of spices like curry powder, garlic powder, seasoned salt, not all at once of course, but different flavors for different days, and mix it all together to make a tasty burger. This is a good meat for me because it’s easy to see when it’s cooked all the way through. My next project is chicken alfredo. I already have cream, parmesan cheese, garlic, butter (margarine really, but butter’s not available), and plan on adding mushrooms, broccoli, chicken, and maybe some type of noodle. I think I’ll write another blog dedicated to my cooking triumphs, but for now, you get the idea that I’m comfortable where I live.

The main reason it would be difficult to leave is I feel I did not really accomplish much during the past 10 months here. I did a lot of sitting in an office waiting for somebody to tell me what to do. When that didn’t happen, I asked anyone and everyone what I could do to help them and 99% of the time got a “well, oh, nothing right now Katy, thank you.” When that didn’t work I came up with my own ideas of things to do but, being new here, I needed other people to hold my hand through most of the stuff and just couldn’t find anybody with any time to spare. When that didn’t work I much more aggressively went seeking out people to give me projects, to give me things to help them with, or to just give me ideas of things to occupy my time. Added to this was a frustration of working with a group called “Movimundo”, an organization funded by Italy but based here in Quiché, Guatemala supposedly aimed at promoting community tourism. These frustrations could fill many pages, and someday soon I’ll write about them, but not today.

If I was forced to evacuate my site I’d leave feeling like I hadn’t really done enough in 10 month’s time. I’d feel like I couldn’t leave Guatemala because, although I have learned a lot and grown as a person, I would feel like I hadn’t completed what I wanted to accomplish. But I don’t know if I would be able to get that in another year in a completely different location. I know I wouldn’t have some of the troubles I faced at the beginning – learning the language, getting used to the environment, dealing with food and stomach issues and things like that, but other troubles are universal. Building trust with the locals, learning everybody’s name, learning the way of their small and enclosed world, learning what they really want out of me rather than what they wrote on a piece of paper to convince somebody to send help. These things take time and they cannot be rushed. It’s like studying for a test, sure you can spend 14 hours they day and night before cramming, but at some point the brain can only take so much. That is how it’s like here; you can’t just spend a whole weekend with somebody and then expect to be best friends. They need to see you every day, they need to see you eat the same things, that you play the same games, that you joke and have fun and are a regular person who’s not just going to pick up and leave in a couple weeks and never look back.

A question I get asked a lot is “Katy, when are you going home? For good?” Well, when I first got here the answer was 2 years which seemed like a long time. Each month or two months I really needed to think more about my answer, subtracting months off at a time “1 year and a half” I finally said in August. I’m down to “about 1 year and 2 months, March 2012” and it’s getting closer every time I think about it. The next question is “and then you’ll go back home to the US all at once?” With that I answer no sé, “I don’t know”, which is true because I’d like to do some traveling and visiting other Central and South American countries while I’m here. The third question that always follows is “and then you’ll never come back?” which I answer with an emphatic “NO! Of course I’ll come back. I’ll write emails, and send pictures, and make phone calls. I’ll come back to visit, but I’ll talk with you in the meantime too.” I’m always so touched to see the looks on their faces when I assure them of this, to know how much I mean to them as a friend, and for them to know that they’re all my friends too.

But if I had to make the choice to start all over in a new village, a new project, with new family and friends or go back to the US, what would I pick? This is the choice some friends are being forced to make right now. I wouldn’t want to change my site because I feel like I could spend another 10 months doing nearly nothing. I wouldn’t want to go home because, really, what am I going to do with the rest of my life? I’m not ready to make that decision yet. Maybe I’ll never be ready to make that decision. I wouldn’t want to change my site because, for the past 6 years I’ve never lived in one place longer than 2 years. My homes have always been temporary and although I know that my home here is temporary, somehow it feels different because it’s so, fixed. I wouldn’t want to go back to the US because, although I know I’ll always have a home with my mom or dad, that’s not where I would want to spend an extended amount of time. Though I have no clue where I actually do want to spend an extended amount of time.

I guess I’m really saying that I’m glad I don’t have to make this decision myself, because I honestly don’t know what I would choose. I think I’d stay here. There’s just more that Guatemala can offer me right now than the Unites States can. There’s more learning and character-building and teaching and experiencing and leading and messing-up that I can do here than in the US, even if I wasn’t here, in Quiché, at home. Even if they sent me somewhere where I knew nobody, had trouble communicating due to the language barrier, had trouble fitting in due to the culture, had trouble getting work done, and just had a tough first few weeks, I’d get through it and it would be worth it. I’ve already done it once. It was worth it.

Photos: Sexto Magisterio

6th grade Magisterio (teacher training) is like senior year of high school here. There are 6 grades in primary school, 3 years in basic school (middle school) and then 3 years in a career training school. At the school I work at we offer primary, basic, and high school in training teachers. There are a bunch of different tracks that students can focus on for their final three years, but this is the only one (for now) that we offer. This is the second graduating class of teachers for the "Centro de Formacion Nuevos Mayas". We took these photos a couple days ago for them to include in a few presentations.

From left to right:
Back row: Juan Velazco, Gaspar (Kax), Nelson
Front row: Teadora, Ana Isabela, Argelia, Tabita

Ana Isabela, 22, one of my best female friends.

Kax, 17, one of my best male friends


The guys


Me and my girls from Chiul, a town a couple hours away

I handed the camera off to Kax, who picked up photography rather quickly, and now I turn to him to explain to anybody else how to work it. He speaks Spanish, K'iche', and Ixil.

Me and the guys, Nelson (L) Juan Velasco (M) and Kax (R)

Three scholarship students through "New Mayas Society" Ana Isabela, Juan Velasco, and Teadora

Me, Teadora, Argelia, Ana Isabela, and Tabita: just the girls

I don't know what these guys were doing but one (Juan Velazco, the one on top) really really wanted to balance somehow on the other one (Nelson)

Me and my basketball buddy Kax

Pyramid of hombres

One Year in Guatemala!

Photo: Our group of Sustainable Community Tourism Volunteers who came in last January, plus one extra we adopted from Paraguay (serving her third year here in Guatemala)

One year ago at this time exactly I was sitting in the Miami airport waiting to board a plane for Guatemala. I remember not being nervous, as I thought I would have been. I spent the previous day in Washington DC in a crash prep-course to my next 27 months which covered almost nothing that I now find useful. I have, however, learned since then a whole lot of new useful things that I feel I could never have gained doing any other work in most other places. I have many days that I feel unproductive and like I’m not doing much, but even the majority of those days I learn something interesting.

One day I was waiting in the office for a meeting to finish with a fellow teacher, Cristobal, and the conversation turned to the normal, “it’s quite cold here, isn’t it?” Followed by “so, Katy, what exactly do you do here?” Into the inevitable “so, Katy, what religion exactly are you?” Cris started explaining to me the three theories of how the world came to be: one, the biblical, genesis view that we came from Adam and Eve, two, the scientific view that we came from monkeys, and three, the Mayan view that we came from corn. “So, Katy, which one do you believe?” I started talking about a few things I believe, tried to explain what a phylogenetic tree is and that we didn’t really come from monkeys, then turned the question on him. He said he didn’t really know, and he had some problems with the genesis story. “So, we were taught that if a brother and sister have children it’s a sin, but, if God just created Adam and Eve, how did they have grandchildren without it being a sin?”

Another afternoon I was watching a soccer game with a friend who had an injured knee. He wanted to play so badly, and I emphasized greatly with that and we had a very long comparison about all our different sports injuries and good ways to stretch out and warm up/cool down. Then he started explaining the strategy of the game to me which was fascinating. I explained to him how in volleyball there are just some people who play well together and some who don’t; they may all be great players but some just click better than others. He said it’s exactly the same with soccer, and showed me they people he plays well with. He told me about different playing styles (like “con cuerpo”, with body or with force) and how to offend/defend against those different styles. I think he would make a good coach because he explains so clearly and has a lot of patience.

Many days I have children wandering in and out of my office and now, since it’s January and mothers are coming to sign their children up for the coming school year, there’s tons in here every day. Yesterday I spent an hour showing the kids different photos on my computer of my life in the US, the different sports I played, friends, family, my house, animals, etc… They kept shouting “sos vos!”, that’s you! In each picture where they spotted me. It was much more difficult for them to pick me out of a group shot where there was more than one white blonde girl. Many of these younger children don’t speak much Spanish, but usually an older sibling will be present who speaks enough to talk with me and answer questions. They all love teaching me words in k’iche’, but I think they like even more laughing at how I pronounce them. Yesterday when they came into my office I had a couple water bottles filled with plastic trash and we talked for a good long time about how it hurts a lot of plants and animals throwing the trash in the street and how it’s better to dispose of it properly, by burning or storing it in these bottles which could eventually be used to build a school, library, latrine, or other building.

On to some more general lessons I’ve learned:

The biggest thing I have learned and developed is patience. If you know me well, you know that I can be pretty flexible with a lot of things, a lot of things I don’t care strongly about. What do you want to eat for dinner? What movie do you want to watch? Playing right side or left side? What are we going to do this weekend? If I don’t care, I’ll say I don’t care. If I care 73%/27%, I’ll say that. If I want something strongly enough, I’ll do what I can to get it. I have learned to loosen up a lot on that last one this past year. One example is my housing situation. During my first month here I wanted to move out sooooooooooo badly. That desire built and built and built, and finally burst when I realized that would not be an option. There are just no options for having my own house here. Having realized that there is really nothing I can do about it, I just stopped thinking about it. It’s like leaving a classroom after taking an exam and thinking, gee, I really really should have marked C instead of B on question #4. There’s nothing you can do about it now so don’t go crazy over it. I still get annoyed by a lot of things, but, I deal with it.

One other big lesson also having to do with patience is learning when to keep your mouth shut. I like being right. I mean, I really, really like winning arguments and having other people agree with me. But more often than not trying to get other people to change their minds is more energy than it’s worth, and I’ve learned how to just deal with this. I still put my opinion in when somebody is complaining of having a headache and pouring themselves a cup of sugary coffee saying, umm, don’t really think this is the best idea for a headache. And when they say, “really, you don’t say…” and continue drinking their coffee, I just shut my mouth. In the past, whenever anybody has asked me about my religious beliefs and I say I don’t believe in a god, I compare myself with being vegetarian but not being a crazed PETA vegetarian. Vegetarians are usually normal, rather friendly people who just want to live their life like they do and not push their views on other people. PETA vegetarians (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are much more obnoxious, outspoken, often ill-informed, and propagandists. I am trying to not be a crazed PETA person in other areas of my life now, too.

Continuing on with patience, I also think I have learned to cut other people more slack when they make mistakes. Before, if someone made an error and it affected me, I liked to make it known. I thought it was important to make it known that it was not my error, that I had nothing to do with it, that I wasn’t responsible in any way, and make the wrong-doer suffer for being wrong. I still think it’s important to point out mistakes, because if you don’t the same mistake will get made over, and over, and over again. But I’m learning how to do this much more delicately. For example, the other day I received a call at about 6:15pm from a coworker who needed me to send some photos to him. Only thing is, I didn’t have the photos. He asked me for a selection and said he had to send them off as early as possible the following morning. I said I would do what I could to wake up early, take the photos, and send them out as soon as possible. Now, normally, I would have added in a “too bad you called me at such late notice or I could have gotten better shots” or “if you had only called me a day sooner I would have been able to ask around” or “how long have you known about this report you have to send off, and why are you just asking me now?” But, I said none of those things. I wanted so badly to make him realize how unintelligent he was being but I held myself back. I’ve been holding myself back a lot lately.

On to a couple things I have learned about work

I need a schedule. I need set hours to go to work, set hours where I have free time, and I need scheduled activities to do at work. I need a supervisor, or at least someone to report to with what I have accomplished. I need someone to help me write my work-plan, or at least someone to advise me and help me look over it. I’ve always wanted to believe that I could be a self-starter, someone who sees what needs to get done and just goes and does it, but I’m not so sure about that now. Maybe during the first year it was difficult for me to realize really what needed to be done, and definitely I was trying not to be a bother by constantly asking questions to really really busy people, but I definitely accomplished less than I would have liked to due to my solitary ever-changing schedule and projects. This year I am going to be more fuerte (strong) with my association about what I need. I need more free time. I need to work with people instead of by myself. I need to have a different schedule than other people that will give me time to go running in the morning and some free time in the afternoon while there’s still daylight. I need to be involved in planning and organizational meetings. I need people to communicate with me. I definitely have a lot of responsibilities that I’m going to do a better job at keeping this year, but in my eyes, I’m here because they asked for me. If they don’t want to put in their part, why should I be motivated to put in mine?

I am motivated. That has never wavered. Sometimes I wonder though, by whom? And for whom? Well, I know I want to see something good come out of my time here. I want to leave something useful, important, and something that could not have been provided by anyone else. Something unique. They say the Peace Corps challenges you. I think we challenge ourselves. I think that’s always how it is, though. It sounds cliché perhaps but this really is the kind of work where you get out what you put in. The regulations the Peace Corps puts on us are minimal, in terms of being productive, as are the regulations from my association with which I work. Sometimes this creates a, logically, unproductive environment. I have always been a hard worker when I have a project, I know what I have and need to get it done, and a deadline. It gets done when it has to get done, and I do it right. But when I am the person creating the projects, deadlines, etc… sometimes it’s hard for me to not put it off. It’s easier for me to do better work when I’m doing it for somebody else; if somebody else is depending on me I don’t want to let them down. If I’m working for myself, well, of course I don’t want to let myself down either, but it’s easier to justify excuses to myself than it is to other people. And this is what I want to change.

On to a list of changes/goals for 2011

Seek help when you need it. Don’t worry so much about bothering other people if you need their help; they’re the ones that asked for a volunteer so they have to put out energy too.

Make a plan, give it to somebody responsible, and use them to help keep you on track. Make yourself answer to somebody, as that’s better than answering to yourself.

Get more involved. Be pushy. If people don’t want to invite you to meetings or other activities invite yourself. I know enough people in this town that I can always find a kindred face amongst the crowd.

Read more. In Spanish and in English. I want to leave this country as fluent as possible and for this I need practice with correct grammar and an improved vocabulary. It also gives me more interesting things to talk with people about.

Keep up better communications. There are some family and friends in the US whom I regularly talk with, but with others I’ve sort of fallen out of touch with. That happens, and sometimes there’s nothing I can do about it. But sometimes I do feel a little lonely and it always makes me feel better when I can have a good chat with a good friend.

Last, and certainly not least, write more. And take more pictures. To share with you all.