First Day at Site


My first day at my site, my new place of residence, my home for the following two years really only consisted of about two hours: arrival at 6:45pm and falling asleep around 8:30pm. I left the Peace Corps office in Santa Lucia, Sacatepéquez at 11:00 that morning with one of my counterparts, Marta. A counterpart is basically like a boss and a co-worker all in one; they are somebody who knows enough about the work that I’ll be doing that they’ve been assigned to be the one I should go to with questions, but at the same time not exactly working “above” me. I have another counterpart named José who had to leave for another engagement and could not return with me, but he’s the president of the organization I’ll be working with and really seems to have it together. Yesterday We drove in a pickup truck with one other girl I’m in training with and her 4 counterparts, or at least the 4 people who came to collect her. We sat three in the front seat and the rest of them in the bed along with all our stuff. We traveled in this manor until about 3:00 when we arrived in El Quiché, the city where we parted ways. There we took a microbus to a town called Nebaj which took us about 2 ½ hours, though I’m told 2 hours is more realistic. From there we loaded onto another microbus to my final town, an Aldea of Chajul, of 1,050 people. An Aldea is a small town within a municipal region, and usually there are many Aldeas found in more rural municipities. For security reasons, I’m not allowed to post the exact location of where I am to the general public, but if you want to put a thumbtack on your map for me email me and I’ll tell you. On arrival I was greeted by nearly the entire population of students who stay at the school I’m going to be working with. The school has the capacity to host 30 female and 30 male students in dormitories, as well as hosting tourists in a mini-hotel (which is where I’m staying for the next few days) with two rooms with two beds and two rooms with just one. The school campus also has a comedor, basically a cafeteria, a multi-purpose room, a basketball/fútbol court, and bunches of classrooms including a music room.

The ride between Nebaj and my Aldea was such a tease! We left Nebaj just as dusk was approaching as well as the fog rolling in with it. I could see well enough out of the windows of the microbus to see my surroundings, but the dusk and the fog obscured just enough of the details to give me a taste of curiosity without being able to fulfill all my eyes wanted. The low light dulled all the colors into hues of blues and greens and grays and the fog blurred the outlines of all the figures and allowed me to see only what was most close to me. The fog also creates this amazing depth of field experience where what’s close to you looks really really close and what’s far away looks almost surreal and untouchable. It was a beautiful drive and I can’t wait to see more of it during the daytime.

On a change of subject, water only runs here in the late evening through the early morning so showering must be planned well ahead of time. I’m told that other times of the year this is not the case, but that March through May water is scarce and usually not available during the day. I tried to take a shower last night to avoid this problem, only to encounter a nice smelly piece of poop in my shower. And no running water. I’m not that disappointed because I didn’t need to shower that badly, but it does say something about an organization that wants so badly to host tourists, has put a whole lot of funds into building these quarters to have them, but didn’t think that not having reliable water would be that big of a deal. It’s not to me but I’m not a tourist. The toiled won’t flush nor will the sink run if you don’t have water: those are necessities if one wants to host tourists. They are also things that can be solved quite easily. You can have a big 5 gallon bucket with water on hand and use that to fill the bowl to flush, and you can use the same bucket with water to rinse your hands over the sink. It disappoints me, but doesn’t really surprise me, that these aren’t things they’ve already thought about.

The rooms and buildings are absolutely beautiful. All the wood things, the doors and windows, desks, tables and chairs, benches, bed frames, curtain rods, are all made by the older students here in a woodshop class. They made these things to furnish all the rooms here and also they sell them in a local market. There are basically two levels of basic schooling here in Guatemala: “primario” students are usually between 6-12 years of age while “basico” students are usually between 13-16 years. The basico students take more advanced classes but also take more practical classes: carpentry, weaving, cooking, etc… and at this school the weavings and wooden goods are sold in a market to help subsidize the cost of the school. When I go to buy furnishings for my house in 3 months I know exactly where to go.

For the first three months here at site I’ll be living in my counterpart’s house, the president of the organization, with his wife, two kids, and wife’s mother. It will be a little different than the situation in my town now because there won’t be nearly as many people living there and now I also have the option of eating with them or not. I’ve opted to only eat lunch with them and find other means of eating for breakfast and dinner. I’m thinking fresh fruit for breakfast and avocadoes for dinner. I saw some huge avocadoes on the drive up here from Nabaj and my eyes grew to twice their size in amazement. As of now I’m really looking forward to these next two years especially after seeing how organized my counterpart is. I can’t wait to take a walk around the town tomorrow and see everything in the light!

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