We’re back from the Oriente (the east) in one piece. Which is pretty amazing considering the number of pistol toting cowboys, landslide ridden roads and stomach bugs we encountered (once again, I escaped the diarrhea!). In fact, despite these things (plus a COMUDE (municipal level assembly) meeting that lasted FOUR hours in a sweltering gym and the fact that we look disgustingly sweaty in every picture taken) it was a great week!
The point of FBT (field based training – Peace Corps LOVES acronyms) is to allow trainees to see how real volunteers live and what their work entails. It is supposed to help us start to visualize our service, clarify what we want in a future site and also ensure that we are clear on what we are signing up for in the next two years. We visited four volunteers and met with the program directors throughout the week to discuss preferences. And, honestly, I’m pretty open to most possibilities: east, west, indigenous, ladino, big, small…
Each clearly has its pros and cons. Large municipalities have great services (electricity, internet, water, better access to a wider variety of products), but they also mean that you may have more trouble creating meaningful ties with your community. It would be great to be near other volunteers and be able to have people to share your experiences, victories and gripes with, but having that crutch might mean less time integrating with the locals. And did I really come here to hang out with Americans the whole time? Placement in an indigenous community would mean huge communication difficulties, though I can’t decide if this is better or worse than dealing with the intense machismo in ladino culture. So, all I was able to say definitively was “I don’t want to be hot” because I got really tired of being sweaty this week and realized that my desert upbringing didn’t provide me with much heat tolerance – just a reliance on air conditioning.
Some trainees, probably based on skillsets they came in with or particular personality traits, were already given a good idea of where they are going (one even had theirs pointed out on a map). Some were given vague hints. Some, like me, were just asked questions. And I guess that makes me a placement wildcard.
We don’t find out until October 14th and some are taking the uncertainty harder than others. I’m not particularly worked up about it. So much changes so quickly here that you can never really be sure what kind of situation you are truly getting into (in fact, elections happen halfway through our service and could mean any of a number of changes in our work environments). Also, every current volunteer stressed that, in the end, your service is what YOU make it. So I’m just going to enjoy my next few weeks here in my training site (because I’m convinced none of the volunteer sites we visited were prettier) and remind myself that I didn’t apply to the Peace Corps because it was an easy thing to do.
And if I get sent to Alta Verapaz, to the middle of the steamy jungle without water or electricity or internet, with people that only speak indigenous languages and the most corrupt mayor in all of Guatemala? Well, at least I’ll have some really great stories to tell.