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).


Friday, June 24, 2011

Midweek in Antigua!

This week we have been back in Antigua, debriefing with the whole group. It has been amazing being back with our homestay families! My family is in full-on preparation mode for Sofi’s 1-yr-old birthday, which is on July 2 (On the homestay profile we got when we arrived in Antigua it said that their favorite activity was celebrating birthdays... that should give you an idea about how excited they are for this party). About 300 people are invited (most of which are family) and they are getting a band and cooking a huge meal for everyone. Unfortunately, we are going to be in Nebaj for the party, which I am so bummed about. It seems like it is going to be a lot of fun.

We have been doing work with our organization in the morning and doing Spanish classes in the afternoon. Yesterday was our last day of Spanish classes, and I am actually really going to miss my teacher. She is about 8 months pregnant and is one of the funniest people I have ever met. One day when we were all playing soccer, I asked if she was going to play and she pointed to her stomach and said “No, I’ll be the ball!” She proceeded to make her own pom-poms and cheer vigorously on the sideline. She gave me her email address so we can keep in touch.

This weekend, we are staying in Earth Lodge, which is a tree house style hotel and avocado farm. Then, it’s off to Nebaj for a week and Huehuetenango for the second week. It’s crazy to think that we only have three weeks left!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Campaign in Panaxchaj

So today was my first campaign. At campaigns, the interns (us) help our an acessor team (the Guatemalan entrepreneurs) sell products to local communities. Our campaign was about two hours outside of Xela in the gym of a small town called Panaxchaj. Like many things in the third world, I could not have possibly predicted anything that happened at this campaign. In short, the campaign was a giant parade of disasters ending in small, but infinitely rewarding victories.

Disaster #1 (the main disaster)

The accessor in charge of the campaign forgot the eye exam. Because the "main" attraction of the campaigns happens to be the free eye exam, this was a huge, gigantic, big-foot sized issue. So at 8:45, 15 minutes before the start of the campaign, the accessor and Devin (another intern who 1. happens to have a stomach bug and 2. is the only other intern beside myself above an intermediate level of Spanish) left to go find a printer (difficult) and wifi (impossible) in the next 15 minutes (yeah, right). 

So, Alicia, Tim, and Emily and I were left by ourselves to run the campaign. Shit.

Disaster #2 

Because I'm a half-awake idiot in the mornings, I forgot to bring the surveys for our new product (agro-drip...see last post for more info) to the campaign. Not that it really mattered because Devin, the most fluent spanish speaker in our group, was gone on a wild-turkey chase (there are no geese in Guatemala)

Disaster #3 

Devin and the accessor get lost, can't find wifi, and are now 1.5 hours away. It is 10:00, and people waiting for eye exams are getting antsy. We have distracted them with presentations about our water filtration bucket (Alicia rocked this job, she had a script prepared and everything), our solar lamps, and our light-bulbs. This did not work (Guatemalans are very perceptive, my home stay mom knows when I'm hungry, when I want a shower, and why I didn't come home before 6...scary). The group of locals pulled the metaphoric "cut the shit" card and asked, in ernest, when the exams would start.

The Solution 

To steal from one of my favorite T.V. Persoalities Tim Gunn, it was a "make it work" moment. I called James, our regional coordinator (who was on the other campaign with Annie) and asked him to describe to me the approximate sizes of the letters on the close-up eye exam (we had the far-away exam, but we only provide reading glasses so the close up exam was key to the entire operation). So, using a pen for a measuring tool, I drew the letters. The highest row was "a tiny bit bigger than the width of the pen" and the smallest was "about as small as the tip of the ballpoint". Granted James and I could have been holding completely different sized pens but hey, when in Guatemala... It was around 10:15 and we began using my makeshift eye exam. (Luckily Tim and Emily have both had glasses since elementary school and were therefore Jedi masters at eye exams.) They showed me the ropes and I proceeded to give the exams. Devin and the accessor were now one hour away with the real eye exam. In conclusion, we gave over 30 eye exams and I sold 15 pairs of glasses (we sold 22 in total, an incredible day ordinarily, Herculean on this particular day.) Alicia also succeded in pitching and selling a water filter, our hardest sell (another incredible accomplishment given the circumstances). We also sold 6 eye drop bottles, 8 packets of seeds, and 3 light bulbs. My "fake" exam turned out to be surprisingly perfect, a very close match to the real one. Guess me and James had similar pens after all.

Anyway, the moral of the story is first, you can never predict how things are going to turn out, and second, you should always, always carry a Bic ball-point pen :) 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hello Again

Post #9

Annie and I have both gotten sick in the last week, I had a bacterial infection and Annie had a bad cold and stomach pains. Unfortunately neither of us know what made us sick, but were on the mend, sorry for the lull in posts! 

Xela is incredible. Our group has been staying in apartments in Zona 1 of the city, right next to central park. We've been cooking "family" dinners every night (spaghetti on Tuesday, burrito bar on Wednesday), playing catch phrase, watching movies (Taken was the most recent one...I do not recommended watching it while abroad). Tomorrow is our campaign (my first one! I missed the last one due to sickness) and we're very excited, all of our publicity went really well so were hoping to sell lots of products! 

Random side note:
Guatemala is a dog catcher's dream...every street, house, pathway, field, and door step has a dog, or many dogs, or new puppies. Like, brand new. Yesterday we got to see a day old puppy and her mom, so cute!! Not gunna lie, I have definitely contemplated smuggling a little puppy back into the states...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What We've Been Up To

A lot of you have been asking about what Annie and I have been doing here in Guatemala so we've put together a quick post with information and websites.

#1 Soluciones Comunitarias

This is the organization Annie and I are working for. It is an organization based in Antigua, Guatemala and run by locals and international volunteers with branches in Xela, Solola, ,Nebaj, and Huehue. SolCom trains rural Guatemalan women how to sell products aimed at improving the overall well being of individuals in their communities. Products include solar lamps, water purification systems, energy efficient light bulbs, eye glasses (vision and solar protection), and seed packets. The organization functions on the "micro- consignment" model. Basically SolCom recruits and trains women to be salespeople for the business, free of cost, provides them with products, and helps them go into communities and start selling. The women get to keep a portion of all of the profits and the rest is reinvested in SolCom. Therefore the women take on no financial risk (a loan), receive financial benefits, become their own bosses, and start their own businesses that help them and their communities.

#2 Agro-Drip

Annie and I are working on researching a product called Agro Drip, a small irrigation system that helps rural families with limited access to water more efficiently water their gardens. If we find the system feasable/marketable it will be added to the list of products sold by Soluciones Comunitarias.

#3 Good Stuff Good Works

This program, run under the same umbrella as SolCom, helps to being rural woman's handiwork and weaving to international markets. The two organizations we've worked with thus far are Lema, a woman's weaving cooperative in San Juan del Laguna and Las Mujeres del Triunfo, women's artisan cooperative in Truinfo, Guatemala

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Another Quick Update

Our car got hit by a chicken bus today. Fortunately we were both moving at about 5 mph (going over a speed bump). We took our their right side mirror and they scraped up the side of the van. Our driver was not happy. My opinion of these chicken buses keeps getting lower...

Solola and Xela

Some updates about the work we're been doing in Solola (Pana) and Xela. We worked with a couple women’s weaving cooperatives and a computer literacy organization that doubles as an after-school program and a student library. Our organization, Soluciones Comunitarias, is opening an office in Solola, so while half of the group visited the computer literacy organization (Swan Tinamit) the other half worked on a marketing plan for the new office. At the end of the week we had two different campaigns where we helped the assesoras do eye exams and sell products that benefit their communities, such as glasses, solar lamps, and water purifiers.

It definitely hasn’t been all work, though. On Saturday we went zip-lining over the forest with the lake on one side and beautiful waterfalls on the other side. I had never zip-lined before, and it was absolutely incredible. The zip-lining was in a nature reserve which had spider monkeys, butterflies, waterfalls, and hanging bridges. On Saturday night, we went out to a bar in Panajachel called Iguana which had tequila shots for 5 quetzales ( about 65 cents) and 3 beers for 25 quetzales (about 3 dollars). On Sunday night, we found a restaurant with a huge TV screen and watched the Mavs win the NBA Finals :).

We’re now in Xela, which is the second biggest city in Guatemala (right behind Guatemala City). It’s actually called Quetzaltenango, but everyone calls it by the indigenous name, Xela. We’re staying in two amazing apartments. The girls have one 3 single rooms and one triple room. Of course I picked the last number for the order in which we picked beds, so I have the only twin bed in the apartment which also happens to be hard as rocks. Yay! We have a kitchen, so we did some grocery shopping and are going to cook most of our meals this week. Yesterday was Emily’s birthday, so we went out to a yummy hamburger place and then came back to the apartment building and had cake and champagne on the roof. We scared the shit out of emily with some local fireworks and a creepy clown cake (they ran out of all of the other normal ones...). Then we all watched the movie Taken in our apartment (if you haven’t seen it, just a word of advice.. don’t watch it when you are abroad. Liam Neeson is a badass though). We may or may not be contemplating filming a "Real World" style TV show while we are here called Into the Jungle... we’ll keep you posted.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Big Fat Mayan Wedding

Today everyone split into four different groups. Our group traveled two towns away to participate in a Mayan wedding demonstration at a textile/ weaving house in San Antonio. We learned that it's a tradition for single women in Guatemala to wear a "suter" (mayan woven blanket) on their shoulder. Traditionally, if a man wanted to marry a woman, all he had to do was grab her suter from her shoulder and tell her she was his (married women wear their suter on their heads). Once the couple was engaged, the bride-to-be had one year to weave her new mother in law a suter as a sign of respect. Because she had one year, the suter had to be absolutely beautiful. Also, it is impossible for two different people to weave a suter because the stitches wouldn't match up, so the bride had to make the entire thing herself. Her relative competency as a wife and mother would be judged on the beauty of the suter. Thankfully this practice no longer exists; women are allowed to choose their own husbands in San Antonio these days. After the breif mayan history lesson, some of the group got to participate in a "mock" wedding. Annie, Taylor, and Aubree were chosen to form the bridal party, while Sachin was chosen to be the groom. Annie ended up being the "important spiritual guide" (she had spent 12 hours praying on her knees before the ceremony), Taylor was the mother-in-law, and Aubree was the bride. Everyone got to wear traditional Mayan Traje (skirt, belt, top combination). Highlights included Taylor showering everyone in flower petals and the slightly awkward cheek peck wedding kiss. Afterward we got to watch one of the women weave on a traditional back-strap loom.

First Days in Solola

We’re now in Sololá, which is a region near Lake Atitlán, one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. On Monday and Tuesday, we worked with a women’s weaving cooperative called Lema that made beautiful products with natural dyes. We helped them with a marketing plan and business strategies. They taught us how to weave, and we “made” our own scarves (aka they were more like head wraps, and the teachers weaved about 3/4 of it). On Wednesday morning, we hiked up the “Mayan Nose,” which is a series of mountains that looks like a profile of a face. The hike was really, really steep but we made it to the top by singing “I’m a Survivor” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” We were also slightly demoralized as we came puffing up the hill and three 60-year-old Mayan women in flip flops came cruising down in front of us. But the hike was very much worth it, the view was amazing (although the bathroom at the top was “very Slumdog Millionaire” -Abby)

Today we did a bunch of different work. In the morning we went to some small villages where we are doing a campaign on Sunday and did publicity for it, which basically involved walking around and telling people about the campaign. Then we went to a really rural village called El Triunfo and worked with a group of women that have a weaving cooperation there called “Las Mujeres Del Triunfo.”
A lot of great things happened today, including:

-Jess almost peed her pants in excitement when she and Nick discovered that they could buy 300 “Cremas” aka Guatemalan Oreos, for $4 (they plotted to bring these cheap delicious cookies to the masses in the US and make millions).
-Dan, who had a vendetta against abbreviations, said his first “abbrev” (“Whats the guac sitch?”) This trip has been full of fun abbreviations, courtesy of Jess. Lolzerskates!
-We rode standing up in the bed of a pickup truck from village to village. Definitely my new favorite form of transportation.
-The boys of Team Oportunidad (Chris, Dan, Nick, Tim, and Devin) decided to form a singing quintet, and they specialize in singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in rap form and changing the words to whatever they feel like.
-We had to hike down to the house where we were meeting the El Triunfo women through farmland, and Abby and Jess each wiped out realllyyy hard on the path down. To add insult to injury, every time we turned around, there were at least 5 Guatemalan children staring/giggling at us from behind different trees. 
-Jess got shat on by a bird while she was riding in the back of a pickup truck in the rain.
Tim made a special “star shaped” tortilla, much to the amusement of the Mayan women we were cooking lunch with.
-Abby was fervently praying for her life as we rode the chicken bus back down to Panajachel. The bus was probably going about 50 mph down a mountain, making hairpin turns, most of the time about 4 feet away from the edge of the cliff that led down to the lake. 
-This actually happened last night, but we went out to eat in a restaurant, and I ordered a Diet Coke and the waiter went out to a tienda, bought me a Coke, and then served it to me. Chris ordered a Gallo (beer) and the waiter left and brought back a case of Gallo and served one to Chris. And this didn’t only apply to drinks (we thought, hey, maybe the fridge is broken). When the boys ordered a pizza, and the restaurant workers may or may not have called and ordered it from a pizza place down the street (the waiter walked past us with a pizza delivery box)... We left wondering if this restraunt actually sold anything...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Weekend Adventures

This weekend we stayed in a hostel in Antigua and had lots of adventures. The nightlife in Antigua is really fun. A lot of people that live in Guatemala City come to Antigua to go out on the weekend, so the bars are always packed. We all went out to a bar on Saturday night and got our dance on. 

The next morning, Abby and I got up at 7 to hike up to some waterfalls. We had heard that the hike was pretty easy, about 3 miles total, and the waterfalls were really beautiful. We drove out to the base and started hiking and quickly learned that it was NOT easy. It wasn’t very steep, but the hike involved scaling rocks, bush-whacking, trekking through rivers, and crossing very old, narrow, rickety, wooden bridges. A little while after we started the hike, a group of Guatemalan teenagers passed us, all carrying machetes and knives. That was a promising start. A couple people fell into the water and scraped themselves up a little, so Abby’s first aid kit saved the day (yeah, she had a first aid kit...). However, when we reached the first waterfall, it all became worth it. The waterfall was absolutely gorgeous. It was about 120 feet tall, and there was a group of locals repelling down it. We stayed there for a little while, ate lunch, and then continued onwards to the second waterfall. This was where the hike got treacherous. A couple people wanted to turn back when we had to rock climb up a vertical slope without any ropes or harnesses. We all made it to the second waterfall, though, (some took the longer, safer route) which was also very pretty. Finally we climbed back down and returned to Antigua for our last night in our home stays! (We're headed to Solola for this next week, home of Lake Atitlan, the most beautiful lake in Guatemala) 

Soccer and Salsa: What Guatemalans do Best

For the second half of the morning on Thursday and Friday, we learned some authentic Guatemalan pastimes. On Thursday, we had a salsa and merengue lesson taught by one of the Spanish teachers, Eduardo, who is probably about 5’ 0” and 90 pounds and can move his hips like Shakira. It was really fun, even though our whiteness and total lack of coordination pretty much guarantees that we will never be able to dance like the Guatemalans.

On Friday, we played soccer against the Spanish teachers. This was quite entertaining, since the teachers range from about age 20 to age 60 and included some of the female teachers who have probably never kicked a soccer ball in their life. The students split up into 2 teams and we played until one team scored, and then the losing team switched out and the other team came on. It got pretty heated, since we didn’t have actual goals (very typical of guatemalan "street ball") and couldn’t really tell when a goal was actually a goal and when it wasn’t (the referees were not helpful). It was a lot of fun, though.

Side note- On Saturday night, we saw the salsa teacher, and another Spanish teacher out at a bar and they both managed to make out with students and dance with probably about 15 more each. Creepy?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Whoops! Translation Errors

When speaking Spanish, it's very important to enunciate because many words have very similar sounding but completely different meaning (and wildly inappropriate) "twins"

1. Mucho and gusto

 You say: "mucho gusto" (nice to meet you)
You meant to say: "me gusta mucho" (I like this a lot)

Whoops: So while eating your delicious dinner, you accidentally told your family (or your meal) "nice to meet you" instead of "I like this a lot"

Embarrassment factor: 1.5 stars

2. Embarazada and verguenza

You say: "¡Estoy embarazada!" (I'm pregnant!)
You meant to say: "¡Tengo verguenza!" (I'm embarrassed!)

Whoops: as you leave the bathroom, your new host mom thinks your red face means you're with child, not that you can't figure out how to flush the toilet.

Embarrassment factor: 4 stars

3. Cansado and casado

You say: "estoy casado" (I'm married)
You meant to say: "estoy cansado" (I'm exhausted)

Whoops: when you exclaim "estoy casado" to your spanish teacher (while making an exasperated and tired face) she assumes you're having marital problems and launches into advice giving mode about the "machismo" perils of Guatemalan (and American) men

Embarrassment factor: 1 star

4. Caer and cago

You say: "me cago" (I just took a shit)
You meant to say "me caigo" (I just fell down)

Whoops: as you arrive home and announce the "big fall" you took on the cobble stone streets in Antigua, your home-stay brother can't stop laughing about the silly gringo that shit on the road

Embarrassment factor: 4 stars

5. Caliente and calor

You say: "estoy caliente" (I'm horny)
You meant to say: "tengo calor" (I'm hot)

Whoops: when you sit down to family dinner, fanning yourself and exclaiming "estoy caliente" after your intense soccer game, your family thinks your red and flustered for another reason...

Embarrassment factor: 5 stars

Lessons learned...