Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thank You!

After about 3 weeks of being home, I find myself ready to write my last post and reflect on my adventure in Guatemala. First, I want to touch on the work I did with SolCom, which was incredible, enlightening, and ultimately very rewarding. The program is wonderfully run by passionate and driven individuals from every corner of the united states. I felt, from day one, that the program would be well guided, and ultimately "successful". I have placed the word "successful" in scare quotes because the idea of development work and the word "successful" now seem completely incongruent and impossible to place in the same sentence.

Development work, by definition, is never finished and success, by definition, means completion or achievement of your goal or objective. Therefor it becomes impossible to define my summer in terms of success. So what other word might I use? If I cannot describe my work and experience as successful, was it then a failure? I would again say no...failure is also a word that clashes with the meaning of development work. Every failure in development work is actually an achievement for with each failure comes the discovery of how NOT to do something, a knowledge equally important as how TO do something. So I go back to an article I read before the summer began about service work to find my word. The word is impact. Not impact in the sense that I created or drove any real measurable social change, but impact in the sense that my presence in Guatemala was felt, seen, heard, or experienced. That I somehow impacted the people I lived and worked with. I taught my home stay sister basic phrases in English, she taught my how to make dobladas and be in awe of nature. I showed a group of girls how to play volleyball, they kicked my butt in every other game we tried. Christian, my homestay nephew, took me around his father's flower nursery and taught me all of the flowers names in spanish. I tried to explain in english. I sold a pair of eyeglasses to Miguel, a man from Huehue who couldn't see the harvest he was trying to pick he thanked me with a coca cola and a hug. Little things. Tiny. Insignificant. Hardly worthy of mention in the overall scope of development work...or maybe not? Perhaps true development work is tiny, invisible, insignificant and hardly worth mention. Development work means serving, and in service we, the servants, should be unnoticed, making those around us successful, happy, and better with our work.

These are some of the thoughts I've had about development work and my time in Guatemala. I feel like I got to know a country in more depth than I ever have before and yet I also feel as if I have hardly scratched the surface. Part of me wishes that I had spent all of my time in one location with one group of people, and another is so grateful that I traveled every week to meet new people and have a more multifaceted experience of Guatemala. There seems to be no right answer, only a miriad of experiences, stories, and efforts that define the impact one person has on a group of people, and the impact a group of people or even a country has on that one person. I hope everyone gets an opportunity to live in and serve a different country, or even their own country. It is a truly humbling, unique, and wonderful experience.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Campaign in Aguacatan!

On Friday, we went to visit some Mayan ruins near Huehue. There were a couple sacrificial pyramids, some tombs, and a basketball court where they supposedly played ball with human heads. Also if you lost the game, they killed you... Talk about pressure. We climbed the pyramids, took some pictures, and just relaxed in the sun for a little while. Jess almost pushed Emily off the pyramid in her excitement to take an "aesthetic phot".

On Saturday, we had a campaign in Aguacatán, which is a small city near Huehue. It was by far the best campaign we had had so far. There was a huge market right outside the room we were doing the campaign in, so a ton of people came by. We sold three water filters, a candela, 9 solar lamps, a ton of glasses, and an AgroDrip, which is the irrigation system that we have been researching. It was so busy that we never had any down time, 4 hours on our feet was pretty exhausting. We were constantly doing eye exams or talking to people about the other products. Overall, we sold about Q7000 worth of products! The other group sold 4 water filters and a ton of other products. Basically, our team is amazing!

Sorry for the Delay!

This past week has been super busy, so I'll try to re-cap it as quickly as possible. Our group is now in Huehuetenango (Huehue for short), the second most populated city in all of Guatemala. This week we have been working with a youth group in Santo Thomas. The organization is run by an awesome man names Nelson and aims to help kids be active in their communities and succede in school. For our project, we prepared and ran a leadership seminar for the kids of the youth group. Leadership is a very under-taught skill in Guatemala (most of the kids thought being a good leader meant giving orders and having people follow them) so it was incredibly important for us to be there teaching. Activities included a blindfolded obstacle course, an activity in identifying and sharing personal strengths, a self-reflection letter that helped the kids set personal goals for the month, and a brainstorming session on how to organize a community soccer tournament. I was amazed at the willingness to learn and the incredible self awareness exhibited by these kids. 

Some highlights of this week included dinner at a chinese restaurant (yes...these was one in Huehue... so random). Not only was there a restaurant, but Tim, one of the kids on the trip, managed to find marbles and olive oil and stage a chopsticks contest. The contest consisted of two bowls, the oily marbles, and a timer; the winner was the person who could  pick up the greased marbles and pass them bowl to bowl the fastest (I won!!). 

Another highlight was watching the USA vs Brazil world cup match in the lobby of our hotel. Let's just say we had some very concerned looking staffers peak their heads in after Wambach scored with 1 minute left, and even more when we won! 

Also, its been "ferria"  (holiday time) in Huehue, so the streets have been packed with people and vendors all week, making for some very fun nights out, including a concert on Saturday and many run-ins with very silly bolos (Spanish for drunks). 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Campaign in Chel

We do a campaign each week which involves one day of doing publicity (going around and telling as many people as we can find about the campaign) and one day of actually doing the campaign. Our campaign this week was in Chel, which is a very rural village about 3 hours from Nebaj. On Tuesday we went to do publicity, and we found out that about 2 hours of the 3 hour drive is on dirt, rocky roads that are incredibly steep and have potholes legitimately EVERYWHERE. Not only were we scared for our lives that the bus was going to fall off the cliff or not be able to make it up and down the mountains, but the bus was just bumping up and down like crazy for 2 hours. Not a fun ride. Abby and I now have permanent butt bruises. The ride was worth it because the village was incredibly beautiful. A huge wide river ran through the center and it was full of women washing their clothes, kids playing, and every baby animal that ever existes (chicks, ducks, pigglets, puppies, kitties...yeah Guatemala is baby-central) The women’s indigenous clothing here is gorgeous. They wear a red skirt and a vibrantly colored shirt (aka huipil) and these intricate hairpiece things that involve huge colorful pom poms. Most of the people there only speak Ixil and not Spanish, so it was really hard to communicate with them. We relied mostly on the asesores (women and men we worth with) to speak and translate back into spanish. We went back on Friday to do the campaign. It was pretty successful—we sold a couple solar lamps, some lightbulbs and a ton of glasses. The other group sold three water filters which is a HUGE accomplishment. Devin even sold one while he was not wearing pants. He got bed bugs so his host mom had to wash all his clothes and she didn’t leave him with any pants… so he fashioned a skirt-ish thing by tying two sweatshirts around his waist, one in the front and one in the back. Classic Devin. The campaigns were really, really successful, though, and a lot of fun.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fun Fact

Guatemalans don’t have arm hair, so they are absolutely fascinated by ours. Sometimes on the chicken bus kids will just sit there and stroke our arms. It’s a little creepy. Also they don’t really have leg hair, so when we were at the school the other day, a little girl was just stroking Dan’s calf for about 10 minutes.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Special Education School

Today I went to the special needs school in Nebaj. In Guatemala, people with disabilities are complete outcasts from society. Some parents will even tie their children up on the porch because they don’t want to deal with them or don’t have time to deal with them. About 10 years ago, an American named Popi (his real name is Donald... not quite sure where the name Popi came from) started a special needs school here. Side note- Popi owns a restaurant in Nebaj that has the best apple pie in the world. Who would have thought that the best apple pie ever would be in the middle of nowhere in Guatemala? Anyways, there are about 40 students from age 2-46, and only 2 teachers. We are working on creating an internship program (for college students studying special education and recent graduates) that would allow these students to come down here for the summer to work with the school. They are in desperate need of some help and funding. Not only are there 46 students, but their disabilities are across the board; down syndrome, autism, blindness, muteness, and the physically disabled. With only 2 teachers, many of the children don’t get the attention that they need. We went today and played with the kids for a while. We bounced around basketballs, helped students with their work, and showed them how to take pictures. Afterwards, we talked with Popi and Margarita (one of the teachers) about the internship program and what we can do to help them. They were really receptive to the idea. We also talked to them about planting some vegetable seeds in their small garden for the kids to take care of and eventually be able to eat. They are already learning how to make jewelry, paint, and cook. The teachers are teaching them with the hope that someday they will be able to be independent. We are creating a website for the school as well, which will include more information, the school's mission, and a place for people to donate. It is a little overwhelming because there is SO much to do and we are only able to work with them for a day or two, but we both really want to continue working with the school back in the States.

Searching for the Perfect Shower...

No, I have not found it yet. However this post will briefly summarize the contestants: 

#1 Bucket bath, Antigua

Pretty nice for a bucket shower... At first I was intimidated by the cinderblock bathing house (it lacks a window) and the giant bucket, but the water was incredibly warm and clean. Downsides were running out of water with sudsy hair, and being freezing cold between bucket-fulls.

#2 Low Pressure Shower, Las Camillas Inn

This title pretty much gives it away. The only thing worse than a bucket shower is a real one that dribbles out water. 

#3 Steam Shower

For those of you who watched the NBA draft this shower was like a first round draft pick that tears his ACL in the first month of pre-season. HUGE disappointment. At first is was great, warm, decent pressure. But I was either too far away and freezing (getting misted by the steam) or up close burning myself on the one-temperature-fits-all water valve
(size: HOT HOT BURNT). To cap things off, as I was grabbing a spare towel, a giant tarantula (roughly the size of my palm) crawled out of the folds. Awful.

#4 bucket shower, Nebaj

It had dirt in in, it was cold, enough said. Also, as a tease, the real shower wasn't working "due to lack of light" whatever that means. Bummer

Anyway, you can clearly tell I'm craving a shower... Count down to water pressure! 

Showering definitely makes the list of things I take for granted. Along with...
-peanut butter
-dryers (clothing, hair, hand...anything that turns wet to dry)
-a non-sticky space bar on computers (they are terrible here for some reason...)
-my health
-cheddar and sour cream lays (they really are a gift from god)
-cheddar cheese in general
-actually, all cheese that isn't krafts singles (which are a gift from the devil)  
-bars (the drunks just roam the streets and harass you)
-cold milk
-and the united states sanitary system (I'm writing them a long love letter when I get home...there is no garbage pick up here so everything gets dumped in the road, in rivers, or in the backyard, so smelly).