First Trip to Headquarters

Today I rode my first “camioneta”, chicken bus in English, which is an old school bus from the US, repainted and with a little engine work, and used as the major form of public transportation here in Guatemala. Cost: Q7 (US $.90) to ride from my town to Peace Corps headquarters. I live in a small town with 3, soon to be 4, other volunteers of the same language level, and we are pretty lucky to live very close (as in walking distance) to another town which is also hosting five volunteers, two of which brought guitars with them. The camioneta ride was very crowded; you have to get on early in the route in order to get a seat which we were lucky enough to do on the trip there. On the trip back however, the bus was so packed with three people to a seat and others crammed in standing up. The busses come often, but all are just as crowded. It’s the mode of transport I’ll have to get used to! All I am really worried about is theft. I’m carrying around my camera basically everywhere I go now because one never knows when that perfect photo opportunity will be, and I’m sure there will be plenty in the next couple years. I know the risks, but what’s the point of having a nice camera if it’s going to sit in my room all day? I knew the risk when I decided to bring it and if something happens, oh well. I’ll just deal with it.

Today I also bought my first newspaper in Spanish. I figured that reading would help my language learning even more than the speaking I do in class and around the house with my host family. Books are very expensive in Guatemala, I think partly because they’re not very popular. People don’t have a lot of time to relax, and when they do, they would prefer to do other things. I read one article in the paper about corruption, taxes, and the government. I read the same short article four times and each time I found more words that I needed to ask about or look up in a dictionary. The 13 year old Marvin helped me with most of the words. The weird thing is, even after a whole day in English (today we had classes in English), something just clicked with my Spanish speaking this evening. I was helping Miriam, the daughter, make dinner and the sentences just seem to flow out without much stumbling and dictionary-looking. It was great. I hope to find a bookstore soon to buy a book in Spanish that I know well in English.

Tomorrow we are going into the city of Antigua, which is a huge tourist town, but it has a bank and other shops and everybody in my group has a small shopping list of things that we can’t buy here in our small town. I especially want to find a music store and look at the guitars. I know I’m going to buy one eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later, but I want to make sure I get one of good quality so it is probably better to look around before I buy. Even if I’m not happy with the guitars they sell in Antigua I could at least get a handmade flute or other simple instrument to satisfy my musical needs. In Antigua we also hope to buy cell phones which will make coordination with other groups much easier. Oh yeah, plus calls to the US are pretty cheap so, if I feel like it, I guess I’ll be able to call home once in a while.

Where I live the only access to internet is via an internet café that costs Q8 (US $1) per hour, which is pretty cheap, but I don’t use it every day. I also can’t access the internet with my own computer so I can’t use Skype either.

Yesterday we found out what our project is. Every training group has a small project they complete together with their host community during their three months of training. We will be organizing a cultural fair to attract tourists who want to learn about this town of Mayan descent. There will be music and dancing, food, drinks, hand-made goods to sell, art, etc… I was a little put off at first because none of this really has to do with ecology and the environment, but I’m willing to give it a shot. I do hope that when I get placed at my permanent site my job will deal more with nature, but this will be a good learning experience for me. I’ll get to learn about small businesses, marketing, advertising, and I’ll do it all in Spanish. We will be learning more about this project tomorrow and Thursday so I’ll write more about that when I find out more.

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