Reflecting

I still don’t understand the bus schedule in my site. Every time I have to leave I do a quick survey and everyone gives me different times. So I average them and hope for the best. Sometimes it works. Other times I end up waiting an hour at the corner where busses pass looking awkward. This is one of those days. I sheepishly wave at the guys from the muni who keep walking back and forth past me, the ones I just said goodbye to in the office in a rush thinking I was going to miss this bus.

I finally get on a bus and get that rush of relief that I’m sure all volunteers get upon seeing empty seats. Nobody likes standing in the aisle with your butt in people’s faces and the ayudante yelling at you to move back so they can squeeze in more people behind you. Even worse is being the third person on the seat, with a fraction of your butt kind of perched on the end, trying not to tip over into the aisle, sometimes with someone else’s butt in your face. Anyway, I do my own little private “hallelujah!” and settle in.

I start to make a mental to-do list for the next few weeks. Forms, appointments, packing. I think about my foreign service personal narrative responses. I ponder who I’m going to approach for letters of recommendation for the fellowships I’m applying for. I tell myself I still need to make a reservation for our going away weekend and need to talk to my landlord about my move out date. I feel a little bit overwhelmed.

Then one of my favorite songs from my time here comes on the radio. And I stop.

It’s a lovely song, yes. But I think it’s more the video I’m in love with, showcasing the beauty of Guatemala that most people don’t even know exists. I know I didn’t before I ended up here.

I look out the window and marvel at the uncharacteristically blue skies on this rainy season afternoon. I am taken aback once again at how lush and verdant the hills along either side of the road are. For the first time all day I feel truly present in the moment. And thankful for the opportunity to have experienced this place and a mind-boggling number of treasures it houses in an area roughly the size of Tennessee. Of course, there are many things I didn’t get around to, but I just tell myself that those will help me come back. I have unfinished business, I guess.

There are things that I am realizing more and more that I will miss. Little things. The heart-melting cuteness of little girls in traje. The smell of tortillas on the comal. Little boys playing soccer on every street. The way you can identify where a woman is from based on the design of her guipil. Tuc-tucs, 12 cent mangoes, constant refacciones. Even the simple joy of having a real seat on the bus.

The song ends. I take a deep breath and resume reviewing my mental to do list, but this time a little less overwhelmed.

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Wrapping Things Up

Not that I’m counting down (you know I am), but we’re 37 days from COS. It’s going to fly by. Next week I’m off to the office for the Close of Service medical gauntlet (I get to poop in a cup three times!) and at the start of August will be reunited with the hold-outs from our training class for our COS conference. There will likely be lots of hugging and “I can’t believe it’s been two years already” type statements. At some point I’ll also try to get back to Santa Cruz to despedir my friends there. Throughout these weeks I will also be trying to get rid of all the stuff I’ve accumulated throughout service while simultaneously stuffing my bags to bursting with souvenirs I just can’t leave Guatemala without. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that apparently Mayan textiles are trendy because of all the 2012 excitement. I mean, have you see this?! I, of course, am going to buy things that look like this here for much less money and try to convince people that Peace Corps makes you stylish.

Somehow after all this I will be getting myself, and all my fancy new mayan goodies, to Vegas (anybody have any American Airlines miles they aren’t using?) where I will promptly buy myself a smartphone and then lunch at the nearest all you can eat buffet. I will likely instagram my meal in an attempt to join all the cool kids in 2012.

Soon after I’ll head out east to distract Sami when she should be focusing on starting her grad program and then begin a road trip of epic proportions with Lexi:

Are you along this route? Would you like to get a drink together?

I’ve sort of got my fall schedule at Evans worked out and even roped a professor into being my Degree Project advisor (he’s my newest hero). I’ve got a place to live (as long as Lexi doesn’t kill me during our two week odyssey) and I’ve even begrudgingly started applying for fellowships and jobs.

I’ve got it all planned out, I guess.

I’m excited and, of course, a little sad. Endings are always sad. But this experience has been more than I could have ever predicted. Yes, more frustrating and lonely. But also more meaningful and special and filled with more laughs and moments that have taken my breath away than I thought you could fit into 24 months. I am leaving, but I don’t feel like I’m losing anything. After all this, I’m always going to be a little bit chapina. I couldn’t leave that behind even if I wanted to.

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The Kindness of Strangers

Back in site. I’ve been welcomed back by ongoing feria festivities. I had thought I’d miss the whole thing since I was gone for over a week, but today is the 8th official day of feria (probably the 20th unofficial day) and there’s no sign of the end. Today there was a “marathon”, a competition on horseback, a clown and a very loud band in the park. It was so loud it was shaking the windows of the office. So I came home… and can still hear it. I’m playing the new Justin Bieber album to counter the plonk, plonk, plonk of the marimba but now it just kind of sounds like some kind of Guatemala/Biebs mashup.

Regardless, I am glad to be back. Being out of site is exhausting, particularly when part of the reason you are gone is to help execute a conference and large party. There’s no need to recount a play by play, but I will say that both were a success.

Don’t be alarmed, this is simply the VAC (Volunteer Advisory Council aka Party Planners Extraordinaire) striking our best chapin pose.

After the conference and party I joined a rather large group of people headed to the beach to continue the 4th of July festivities. Basically, I ate a lot of fish and am still finding sand in interesting places.

Photo Credit to Kim!

I suppose I should also mention how the beach seemed to bring things full circle. The last time I was in Monterico was for our Welcome Party in January 2011. I was with my Oriente crew and was overwhelmed by how many months in Guatemala were staring me in the face. Now I’m weeks away from finishing, clearly one of the most veteran volunteers of the group, and not one of the people from the first trip were present this time around (they have almost all since ET’d or COS’d).

Anyway, none of this has anything to do with the title of the post. I’m getting to that.

Not that you don’t already know this, but it doesn’t take much for me to start to feel like everyone is just trying to find a way to take advantage of me or that all efforts (not just mine, but everyone’s) towards making the world a better place are a waste of time. I’m a cynic. I feel like I regularly lose my faith in humanity. It’s a problem.

But then events occur and all of sudden it seems like the universe is tired of my bad attitude and wants to blow. my. mind.

In the conference and party planning process, VAC realized that it was going to be really scraping the bottom of the barrel in financing all of the activities. So we sent out a desperate plea for donations. Responses trickled in and we were happy to hear that we’d be receiving a couple of things here and there. Though, in true Guatemalan fashion, details were scant. We were cautiously optimistic that at least some of the donations would come through and would vaguely resemble the things we had requested.

You guys, receiving the donations was like christmas morning over and over again. We asked for a salad. We got trays of salad, trays of rice and a huge tray of cookies. We asked for pizza for 100. We got enough pizza to feed at least 200 very hungry individuals (at the end we were giving away whole pizzas to volunteers and staff). Cheese, beer, ice, gift certificates… And, the best one: We asked for ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise for a BBQ for roughly 150 people from a condiment manufacturer in the capital. We drove away with all this:

That’s a lot of mayonnaise…

We were overwhelmed at the way these businesses came through for us. How they wanted to help us and how their donations, in a way, recognized the efforts of the volunteers here. Who knew some boxes of jam could mean so much?

And then, if that weren’t enough, we went to the beach and a nice man there bought us countless margaritas, shrugged off our thank yous and simply told us, “You are the best that America has to offer.” I don’t know if I would necessarily go that far, but it was nice to hear. And the margaritas were delicious.

Thanks, Universe.

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Important Update on the Leashed Turkey Situation

There are two now.

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Not the Most Meaningful of Posts

First of all, this:

Don’t want the turkey to get away!

Also, this:

1. How did you get inside and all the way up there?!           2. EWWW.

I don’t think I have much else to share except that it’s officially rainy season and I am jealous of everyone enjoying the sun and fun of summer. BUT I bet you don’t have captive turkeys and adventurous slugs around to spice up your life. Win some, lose some.

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On Trying Not to Be an Asshole

Around half of Peace Corps volunteers (I actually looked this up – 54% in 2010 according to PeaceCorpsJournals) nowadays toy with the idea of blogging their experiences and end up setting up a wordpress or blogger or typepad thing. Some do it to help achieve the third goal (help Americans understand the people and cultures of other countries, for those that haven’t memorized them like I have). Some do it to perhaps shut up some of their friends and relatives back home. And we can’t forget those who dream of someday turning their Peace Corps experience into some kind of bestselling novel and are hoping to use the blog as a jumping off point towards winning that Pulitzer.

Most blogs end up abandoned after a few hasty updates since various posts don’t really offer adequate power/internet for such pursuits. And I guess there are some people who have just too. much. fun. to stop and blog about how incredible/amazing/lifechanging Peace Corps is (they probably even forget they started a blog, ahem Gracie!). I’m sure a few get discouraged by the blog visit counter (I’ve had 2 hits in the last week. This is pointless!) or simply grow tired of it. There are some, though, who stick it out and post some poignant and powerful stuff.

I’m not talking about me. Seriously, I wrote my last post on not being able to take a shower…

Anyway, I run across some of these posts and am taken aback. Some are funny. Some are heartwrenching. All are enlightening. Most make me want to stop writing in my blog because my words don’t even come close to capturing this experience in such beautiful, genuine, insightful ways. (I will keep writing, though, since I’ve already made it this far. Might as well finish what I started.)

So, anyway, I read this today and it was the same thing all over again. Humorous. Authentic. Deep. And it’s amazing the kinds of questions you start to ask yourself when faced with the ideas and reflections of other volunteers. It’s almost scary how another volunteers words, someone you’ve never met and whose experience halfway around the world is different from yours in countless ways, help to define opinions and reveal motives you didn’t even realize you had.

” ‘How to live?’ I asked myself, as graduation loomed and the world seemed to narrow rather than expand. Fearful of growing up and becoming an asshole, I went in for an interview with Peace Corps. “

And there it was, a lightbulb moment. That’s why I’m here. I just didn’t have it summarized in such a straightforward way. Amidst all the reasons I had, this was the essence of it all.

So, did it work? Well, for the author she says,

“Am I less of an asshole? Who knows.”

As for me, I also have no idea. I’ve had days where I’ve hated this place and the people. Days where I’ve cursed their hora chapina, glared at the vegetable lady and visualized her being viciously attacked by chuchos for charging me more than everyone else, and even threw up my hands in defeat after another pointless meeting and thought “you all deserve to live like this!”. Yes, I have thoroughly and horribly been an asshole.

Peace Corps is not the solution that I thought it was going to be. For some reason I had this idea that the Peace Corps was the answer to all my post college, early twenties angst and confusion. I thought my two years would teach me to be the perfect world citizen, make me less of an asshole, reveal to me my truest desires and passions, answer all my questions about who I am and where I am going. And, you know what? It hasn’t. Peace Corps is many things. But it is not magic.

There are no solutions. There are simply steps. Peace Corps is a step. A big, two year long step. A step that hopefully helps to make me a little bit less of an asshole, but apparently won’t be sharing the meaning of life with me anytime soon.

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This is my life

There’s been some sort of water shortage going on lately (or maybe I’m just ALWAYS out of the house and/or sleeping when it’s on… probably the sleeping) and I’m pushing four days without showering. Which, and this is probably not okay to admit on the internet, is pretty much par for the course here. But I went on a hike today so I’m feeling particularly grungy. I should have showered at the volunteers house I was visiting but I still haven’t figured out the bus schedule for my new town and was convinced that if I did not leave RIGHT. THAT. MINUTE. that I would be stranded somewhere on my way home. And being stranded is pretty high on my list of panic inducing fears (I used to get pretty bent out of shape in Seattle when I thought I’d missed a bus so you can imagine how insane I act about catching busses here) so I booked it out of there… and was then really annoyed when I sat in a bus for a half an hour waiting for the driver to decide he was ready to go.

I did make it home though, if you were wondering. In all my smelly glory. And I was hoping, hoping, hoping that the water would actually be on today, but I guess I used up my daily quota of Guatemala miracles on getting back to site. Maybe tomorrow.

Until next time (when maybe I’ll have something more substantial to post besides my saga of poor personal hygiene), here’s cats on leashes.

 

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