After Field Based Training you may recall that I felt less than impressed with the Oriente. My visit to a volunteer a few weeks later did little to redeem the east. As I approached Site Assignment I became more and more sure that I did NOT want to be on that side of the country. The cowboys, the heat, the intense machismo? No thank you. I even made it a point to call up my Program Director and list to them the reasons why I felt I would be much better suited to a site in the indigenous west.
Of course, by then the assignments had already been made and I, no surprise, ended up exactly where I did not want to be. And you probably recall my posts about site assignment and then site visit and my reservations and worries and, you know, the embarrassing amount of crying I did about it all. And though I tried my best to couple all of it with hearty optimism, I was still disappointed.
I had started to visualize service in a mayan community. I had already started the process of adapting to that particular culture and, I’ll admit it, had been seduced by the images of women in traje and life in the mountains. The Oriente just didn’t seem to compare to the cultural richness of the Occidente. And, in many ways, it doesn’t. Everyone here wears jeans and traditional artforms are almost nonexistent. The roads are better and rate of remittances higher, meaning despite the small size of my community, it still feels distinctly urban in many ways.
But that doesn’t mean this community isn’t in need of support. Because it is. Malnutrition is still rampant (Guatemala is continually placed on those international “worst” lists), domestic violence common, and economic stability a constant struggle. And, unfortunately, most support organizations completely ignore the needs in the East because in many ways, like me, they are charmed by the West. Yes, I will admit that there are certain communities that are in far more need than mine. But I also know that there are comparable communities that receive far more support mainly because they make for better photo opportunities.
Needless to say, I’ve stopped wishing I had gotten an indigenous site. I am realizing the importance of being here and the worth of helping this community. And I get the distinct impression that my presence is really appreciated here – because these people know that most volunteers, NGOs, and government support go to the West.
So, my pictures might be less impressive, but I think I’m finally okay with that.