Photos from Guatemala

Here are some of my photos. Once you are at those pages, you can view the slideshow by clicking on the icon in the upper left-hand corner.

Arrival and Training

Swearing in and first pictures of Santa Maria Visitacion

First 3 months at Santa Maria Visitacion

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A little off topic

My favorite song is, and always will be, Flo-Rida’s Club Can’t Handle Me.  Granted, it’s not really a good song, but it’s my favorite because it was the first song I heard when we landed in the airport in Guatemala.  It will forever and always remind of that wonderful, crazy, terrifying feeling of walking out into a country I had never been to and was going to spend the next two years of my life in.  It’s such an exhilarating feeling- stepping out of your comfort zone and into the unknown!  The feeling that something really, really, really BIG is about to happen and that your life will never be the same.  It will always remind me of moments like walking into the hotel in Washington, D.C. to begin staging for Peace Corps with a room full of people who were to become like family, and when my counterparts whom I had met for a couple of days were driving me down a sketchy, bumpy road to my new home, Santa Maria Visitacion.  Maybe that's why once I started traveling it's been hard to stop...maybe I'm addicted to that stepping-out-on-a-ledge-without-looking-down feeling.  That song reminds me of all the reasons why I joined Peace Corps, which for some reason, when written down, just seem corny and fake.  And so to get out of my year and a half slump of serving in Santa Maria, August has been all about Flo-Rida and getting out there and doing things I’ve never done before.  Which, is actually not that hard!  They don't necessarily have to be huge actions to change up the routine.  From eating half a watermelon for dinner to singing Alleluia while planting beans with Lucia, doing things I hadn’t done before was very simple and a breath of fresh air.  I went to some hot springs, I changed up my running route, I had an open discussion with a Catholic Guatemalan about religion, I put my corte on all by myself without any help, it's just been a great month!  So while yes, July was tougher than most months due to various reasons (3 of my best friends came to visit in June which was AMAZING, but of course that meant they had to leave after that, and then I got lice), August has turned out to be much better!  So thank you, Flo-Rida.  Also thanks to Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant, and Karl P. for their ridiculous and hilarious podcast.  Side note: my second favorite song is actually the Titanic song, because it seems like EVERYONE knows it no matter where you are.  I’ve heard it in Spanish, a techno remix, played on recorder, on the chicken buses, in the muni, you name it!  Which was why I was so bummed when the movie came out in 3-D and I couldn’t go see it.

Pictures from the past couple months/feria in Santa Maria

1. Learning how to make chocolate from cacao beans with the girls!
 2. During feria, diferent town "queens" from all over Guatemala came in their best traje to participate in the crowning of our new queen, or Rukotz'ij Tinamiit (Flor del pueblo en tz'utujil= town flower).  It was the most beautiful pageant I've ever seen...and there wasn't even a swimsuit competition!
 3.  Some of my students from the basico, or middle school, before the parade in their brand new uniforms.
 4.  Me and one of my students in the parade
5. Cheerleaders from the basico in their new uniforms.  
 6.  Glock girls!  Man walking on those streets in heels was hard...don't know how the women here do it!  I had to walk home barefoot.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

March, April, May

Last night I was visiting my friend Dina and her son Roberto and Dina started showing me Mayan artifacts that she found here in Santa Maria.  Then I started thinking “How the hell did I get here?”  No matter what happens in Peace Corps, whether I am at a down point or a high point in my service, I am so lucky to be in Guatemala.  Last week I went to a training and stayed at a hotel with a t.v.(!!) and on the National Geographic station was a special on the Mayans and they showed a Mayan ceremony in the mountains of Lago Atitlan.  It was so weird!  Life is so unpredictably wonderful- I never, in my whole life, imagined I would have the opportunity to live in a place and experience a culture that is in a National Geographic special!

Anyways, things have happened since I last wrote!  Projects, I moved houses, earth day, more diarrhea, reforestations, lots!  It’s been so long I almost forgot what my blog was called.  One thing that I really enjoy is working with one of the women’s groups in town.  The president is an older lady named Dona Lucia and who is missing a lot of teeth and has a leaky house.  We have craft time a lot because we learned how to make bags, earrings, purses, and even baskets out of chip bags together, and her group is learning as well.  They have improved a lot on earrings and are now experimenting with colors and beads.  The baskets are a mix of the pine baskets they already make with chains of chip bags woven together.  It’s all very exciting!  The ladies, however, are very eager to sell even though a lot of their things aren’t high quality yet.  Poco a poco!  They did get a very large order for pine baskets so they have a lot of work cut out for them!  Lucia has a lot of experience working with Peace Corps volunteers and works extremely hard, always.

In other news, it’s rainy season again.  Which means more drying my underwear in the toaster oven!  But, I have to say, rainy season is MILLIONS of times better in my new house.  I don’t have a leaky kitchen, or mold on my walls to fight, and I have a huge patio where I can hang out and there are no horses outside- the air is much fresher!  I don’t have to be inside in the dark ALL THE TIME now.  I actually spend most of my time on the patio now.  I don’t have a shower, though, so I take bucket baths and wash my hair in the pila.  I’ve gotten used to that though!  I also have a much better relationship with my old host family- my host mom still washes my clothes sometimes, and she comes over to visit as well.  She saw my tampons in the bathroom and was curious so I even had the pleasure of explaining how tampons work to her.  She was very perplexed!  They do kind of sound scary when explained in gringa Spanish.   

I am also announcing here that I am training for a half marathon!  That way, I have to keep up with the training schedule so as to not disappoint everyone!  I am still on week one, but it’s exciting because I actually get up early in the morning (gasp!) to run, which is a really good way to start the day.  Yesterday, however, I made the mistake of running before the reforestation we did.  So I went for the run, came back, bathed, and then went to the reforestation.  Which meant hiking two hours down to the river and then up the mountain on the other side, and then hiking back.  I was so tired and sweaty, I could barely move.  But I couldn’t bathe either because there was no water in the pila and water doesn’t come to the house until 7 at night/7 in the morning for about an hour each time, so I just drank three cups of water and lay down on my exercise mat to sleep.  I woke up STARVING and had nothing in the kitchen except an egg and some bread, so I ate that, and then went and bought some more food and ate that. 

Last Saturday as well, my friend Dina and Roberto came over to give me a German Shepard puppy.  The gesture was really, really sweet because Dina had actually bought the dog for her son, Roberto, but Roberto wanted to give her to me because he was worried about me being all by myself (he’s 6 years old).  The cat however, did not like him and wouldn’t let the dog come near the house which was a relief, because I am not ready to have a puppy!  Part of the reason Roberto wanted me to have the puppy was that I had a seizure in March in one of my classes.  Ever since then, all the teachers and students have been super supportive and helped me explain epilepsy to the other students who didn’t know what happened.  It was really weird though- in February, I went to a Mayan ceremony to celebrate the new year and the priest at the very end said that someone there was suffering from epilepsy and that they should talk to him afterwards.  I assumed it was one of the students there at the ceremony, but now I’m not so sure!  Definitely gonna listen to any more advice he gives from now on.

I can’t believe it’s June.  My mind just won’t let me believe it, and I’m behind on all this work because I keep on thinking I have more time.  But it’s June 5th!  I miss June in the States!  It always meant summer, no school, watermelon, hiding out and eating cherry tomatoes in the garden, birthdays, and vacations.  Here June means deadlines, freakouts about Peace Corps going by too fast (what am I gonna do afterward?!?!?!?!), flooding, roads getting worse and worse, and preparations for feria.  Speaking of what I’m gonna do after Peace Corps, any suggestions?  I thought that Peace Corps might help me figure that out, but it’s only made me more confused.  It’s made me realize that I love living abroad, and that I can do it, but that I really miss family and friends back home.  It’s also made me realize that I love dancing, the beach, Spanish, Central American food, and teaching kids outside but NOT in a formal setting. 

Okay, well I guess I should get back to work, but I love and miss everyone at home and Santa Maria is still waiting in case anyone else wants to come visit!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


January’s motto: Be open and ready for whatever happens!  This month has been just a whirlwind of activities, both good and bad, and another Peace Corps rollercoaster of emotions but it’s ending on a positive note.

First of all, Peace Corps Guatemala has been going through a lot of changes due to security issues in northern Central America.  So, this month has been stressful just learning about the new changes, but given time to think about them and as I’m not nearly as affected by them as other volunteers are, I’m okay with them.  And they are to keep us safe, which is definitely necessary.  I got a new counterpart (YAY) because a new administration came in and fired everyone from the old administration.  He’s awesome!  He actually wants to work with me and we have much better communication.  I also finally know more or less what I’m doing, which is so nice.  Only took 9 months!  But I’m working with women’s groups, making jewelry and purses out of old chip bags for them to sell, teaching English again, working with the teachers in the middle school to make gardens in the school, and teaching the Agroforestry class once a week.  It’s pretty crazy too- I just got a call saying I have funds and a group from the states who are willing to come down and help build a recycling center for the municipality.  This would be a huge project, but I would be really stupid to refuse funds and free labor.  Hopefully the mayor’s up for it!  I'm keeping my fingers crossed. 

Let’s see…interesting things I have done…I went to the beach!  Which was so wonderful!  It made me realize that I am meant to be at the beach, no matter what.  I love Santa Maria and couldn’t be any luckier to be near Lake Atitlan, but the beach feels so comfortable.  My happy place is always St. Teresa beach in Florida so whenever I'm stressed out, I just close my eyes and pretend I'm there.  It helps a lot!  Our family vacation was SO GREAT too!  I’m moving next month too, which is going to be a relief.  Hopefully no more back problems once I get a better bed!  I will also be inheriting a cat from the other volunteer, and even though she’s a sassy cat who does what she wants, it will be nice to have a pet!

1.       Pick Coffee
2.       Teach a class on the carbon cycle in Spanish (hard!)
3.       Dry my underwear in a frying pan on the stove (=burnt underwear)
4.       Dry my underwear in the toaster oven (=success!)
5.       Look forward to my cup of instant coffee every day
6.       Learn how to sew a collared shirt
7.       Spend Christmas at the Earth Lodge overlooking Antigua
8.       Meet so many amazing, talented people (whether artists, musicians, dancers, writers, weavers, Guatemala’s got talent!  And it provides so much hope in spite of all the violence and drugs)
9.       Heard the national anthem of any country so many times (I think I’ve heard the Guatemalan Himno Nacional more than the national anthem of the United States)
10.   Learn to like beets and crave Moon Pies
11.  Go to a Mayan ceremony/be in a Mayan site for December 21, 2012, the beginning of a new era!
12.  Sleep in my sleeping bag for 10 months. (don't worry, I wash it a lot)  
13.  Be away from home for over a year (this one I don't like so much)
14.  Wear traje

Monday, October 31, 2011


So, as you can see from my last entry, September was a very frustrating month.  Work was going very slow due to frequent strikes by the teachers (which isn’t their fault since they aren’t getting paid), there wasn’t very much sun, and due to other things as well it was just hard to keep a very positive attitude.  But after a tropical storm and after a week and a half of solid rain, destroying many roads in the country, the sun is finally out!  And October has turned out to be a pretty good month.  I’ve learned so many things from just trying to stay positive, that I thought that I would write a few of the things I’ve learned. 
1.       First of all, if I didn’t have my family and friends to vent to, I probably wouldn’t still be here in Guatemala.   So thank you so much!  You all have been such a great source of strength and given me lots of help.  It’s funny how sometimes friendships and family ties can grow stronger when you are farther away (but don’t worry, I’m not going to stay farther away forever!).  But this is something that everyone in my community seems to already understand.  In two weeks, three women of Santa María passed away, and each time, there was an unbelievable support for the family from the community.  For the funeral, the whole community comes to support the family and I have never been so moved.  I went to one funeral and followed the procession down to the cemetery, where afterwards women had provided lunch for everyone.  And that means everyone, over a hundred people easily.  Even families that are struggling a lot still make time to invite me over for coffee and dinner, which is really awesome.
2.       A good conversation can make my day so much better!  I’ve been starting to get to know people here a lot better and having a good conversation makes such a difference.  It’s strengthens my ties to Santa María, gives me insight into what people’s lives are like and what is important to people here, and what the needs of the community are.  It also helps people get to know me and hopefully see me more as just another volunteer.  In other words, making friends here helps a lot too!
3.       Don’t stop doing what you love!  When I got really sad and lonely, I would try to do things that I love, like read or write, listen to music, or go outside (which was hard because it rained so much!).  Every time I walk through the country here it just takes my breath away again, I don’t even know how to describe it!  Also, I’ve started baking and cooking a lot more and experimenting with recipes, which I knew I liked but I didn’t really know that I liked it this much.  I just wish I didn’t make so many dishes to wash all the time!
4.       Be prepared for anything.  Whether it’s a tropical storm, political party hosting a party across the street, bad news, or really good news, any day can bring any kind of surprise.  For example, one day I was teaching English at the primary school and went out for a snack during recess.  When I came back, EVERYONE was crying.  Some kids were shaking uncontrollably, the teacher was crying, and the teacher’s aid was just yelling at me “START TEACHING, PLEASE”.  It turns out some of the students had been playing near a house during recess and found a dead woman inside.  It was just a really shocking incident that I was not prepared for at all and I kind of went into shock.  I’ve had so many new experiences that it’s just necessary to be prepared for anything every day.
I’ve learned a lot more, too, but I don’t want to make this post extremely long and cheesy.  Here’s what’s been going on in my life lately:
1.        A new mayor was elected, so I am working on a presentation for the different communities on the landfill/compost/recycling center project that is already in progress.  That way, hopefully the communities will still push for the project when the new mayor comes in and he won’t throw it out.
2.       Israel passed the writing portion of his English test, which is really great!  It was a test on even things I didn’t know about English, like phonetics, biographies of the founding fathers, the origins of English, and other difficult topics.  We are still waiting to hear back about the oral part of the test.
3.       I survived tropical storm 12-E, although many roads in Guatemala did not.  NOTHING dried though and it pretty much rained 24 hours 7 days a week for 2 weeks.
4.       I made a delantal (an apron), and am working on a blouse and button up shirt with the sewing workshop with the Comision de la Mujer.  I love that group and am learning so much with them!  I even had to be the secretary one meeting and write the acta, which is a legal document of what goes on during the meeting.  It was really hard because I had to listen and at the same time write everything down!
5.       I’ve been looking for a new place to move to, and I might have found a family to move in with!  I’m going to spend more time with them to make sure that it would be okay, but I’m pretty excited.  I would just be renting a room with them and share a bathroom and kitchen with them.
6.       The project with the environmental songs is slowing down because we are having some budget problems, but hopefully we will work through them!
And finally I will end with the quote that's on my mirror:
“…you need to understand that as long as you got a vagina you run the entire ----- universe” – Katt Williiams
Sometimes it’s tough working around men in the muni, but I’ve realized that the real power in Santa María is with the women.  These women work so hard for their families, selling Avon, sewing, baking, running a tienda, weaving, while at the same time being expected to raise their children, prepare all the meals, wash the clothes, and much more.  The women are the foundations of the family here, yet most of the decisions are made by men.  This quote just helps remind me that women are powerful and not to let the machismo get me down!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 15

Monday, August 15
Today was probably one of the best days I’ve had in Guatemala!  I’m finally feeling better after having stomach and other health problems and it was just a really good day!  It’s really nice to feel healthy again.  The daughter of someone who works in the Peace Corps office is coming to live in Santa Maria to work with the women’s group here so today I went to look at houses with her and her mom and met Dona Lucia, who seems like an amazing woman!  She leads the group and they make pine baskets to sell in the capital and are going to learn from the new girl how to make shoes out of tires and some kind of plant I think.  Also, when I run, I go into one of the communities, and the kids usually stare at me or run away because they think I might steal them.  They are starting to get used to me, though, and so today some kids started racing me and it was really fun!  They were making fun of my red face but they helped me make it up this hill that I always have trouble with.  And I got a package, which makes any day better!  I’ve already started one of the books I got, Love in the Time of Cholera, and can’t put it down!  That’s the problem…if it’s a good book, I can’t just read little bits at a time.  Today was just beautiful too.  It’s starting to rain more in the evening, around 5:30 or 6, so I have time to go running in the afternoon and get to see the beautiful mountains!  I am amazed every time at the breathtaking views.  It feels sometimes like I’m in a magical land, with mountains appearing out of the clouds it’s hard to believe its real sometimes!  The road winds through different terrains with corn and beans or coffee fincas.  While I was waiting for the new girl to arrive, I was sitting and just talking to the kids who were getting out of school and it felt really good to feel a part of the community!  I don’t feel as bad anymore not working in the office all the time and I think my counterpart is getting used to me not being there from 8-5, which is good.  This Thursday I am going to start teaching vermiculture to his class, so hopefully that will go well!  It will be an experiment, since I’ve never done vermiculture, but this weekend I might go visit a friend who has good setup and see how he does it. 
Election time is really exciting!  There are lots of things going on right now, lots of campaigns and people painting the country with all kinds of political slogans and signs.  One party’s slogan is “Hasta la victoria siempre!” which Che Guevara is famous for as well.  Another party, which actually has a lot of support, has suspicious ties with the war.  Another party with a decent amount of support does not actually have a legal candidate yet because she is the wife of the current president and they divorced so she could run for presidency and the supreme court has told her that she can’t run numerous times because she broke the law to be able to run.  So she is using her supporters to protest and cause roadblocks to try and get the supreme court to let her run.  Rigoberta Menchu is running for presidency, as well as several other women, and it’s great to see women involved in politics here!  Locally, there are four candidates for mayor in my town, one of which is a woman.  Luckily things have been pretty tranquil and there hasn’t been any violence- just a couple of political rallies and parades.  In some places, like the town next to me, there have already been political clashes.  Some schools are planning on closing early for elections because they will probably use the schools as places to vote.  Speaking of elections, I had to go into the Peace Corps office and picked up a magazine that was about the 2012 elections back home.  I am so behind on politics at home!  I really have no idea what’s going on except for the fact that I missed Shark Week.
So I apologize for not posting in a while!  I have been busy being sick and going to workshops, but now I’m settling back into a routine.  With the women’s committee, I am continuing to learn how to sew with them and will soon start an apron.  The women’s group also wants to build greenhouses, so I am going to help them look for funds and write a proposal.  With the high school, we are going to start planning out their recycling center for the upcoming school year.  A couple other teachers have come up to me with projects they want to do, but I am still not quite sure how to make them happen.  Overall, I’ve learned so much in the time I’ve been here!  I can’t believe that we are halfway through August already.  There’s so much to do and time goes by so fast!  I want to stay in my community but at the same time I want to travel around too because Guatemala has so many places to see! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

4th of July

Happy 4th of July!!  Every year, Peace Corps holds a big celebration the weekend before, as well as an All-Volunteer Conference in Antigua.  I went to both of them last week, which unfortunately meant I had to miss out on most of my town’s feria, or town fair, last weekend.  All of last week was exciting though, everyone was getting ready for the fair!  Vendors came and set up arcades and food stalls and really sketchy ferris wheels.  School bands practice for the parade, all the girls get their traje hemmed and embroidered and put on their heels, and all the guys put as much gel in their hair as they can so that not even a hair is out of place.  There is a parade and schools and organizations each make carrosas, which are kind of like floats, on the back of pick-ups.  I helped out for the one that the muni was making, which was fun!  We spent the week cutting and glueing and glittering.  Everyone was stressed out we weren’t going to finish though!  I don’t have a finished product picture, but I’ll try to get one from someone else.  The theme was, of course, Santa María and the products that are grown there- corn, avocado, limón, café, potatoes, and squash.  Schools had events all last week and this week they are out of school all week, which doesn’t really surprise me anymore.  The school schedule is so confusing- there are always holidays and events going on.  On Thursday I left to go to Antigua for the conference/4th of July celebration and then came back on Sunday.  On Sunday I saw our new central park, which is really nice!  It has a big covered amphitheater and a fountain.  It doesn’t have a lot of green spaces, but lots of places to sit and people watch.  It will be really nice having a place to “hang out” in Santa Maria now!  The All-Volunteer Conference was pretty fun- I missed a lot of it because I had to meet with my supervisor about the teacher training, but what I heard was pretty interesting.  There was a panel on diversity and how to explain to Guatemalans that not all Americans are white and look European.  There was also a guest speaker who talked about the elections and then workshops afterwards.  Then there was a basketball tournament between the different departments (Sololá lost) and we went back to Antigua to rest before the fourth of July party on Saturday.  There were delicious burgers, pasta salad, potato salad, music, a talent show, a baking contest, and a pie eating contest.  It was really fun to see everyone from my group again and meet new people as well.  The ambassador and his family came, and he brought his famous brownies.  They were absolutely delicious with cardamom seed in them which made them taste so good!  I have the recipe so I have to try that while I’m here.  When I came back to Santa Maria on Sunday, there were still things going on so I went to the park with Etelvina and the kids to watch the marimba band that was playing and walk around.  Then the convite started, which was probably the weirdest thing I have ever seen.  Everyone was in the park, watching the band, and then these people dressed in animal costumes came out and danced around to the music in the park.  It was really terrifying- the animal costumes were supposed to be friendly looking or something, but if I was a child I probably would have nightmares after that.
Things I’ve gotten used to since I’ve been in Guatemala:
1.        Being in a camioneta on the highway and seeing the ayudante climb out the emergency exit and walk along the outside of the windows while the bus is going 45+ mph
2.       Seeing lots of people on motos/bikes (the most I’ve seen so far is 5- with a toddler in the front!)
3.       Guys peeing wherever they want to on the street
4.       The fact that it is promiscuous for women to show their shoulder or wear anything above the shin in public yet breast feeding in public is normal here- even at the dinner table
5.       Teenagers making out everywhere in the street
6.       Firecrackers all the time
7.       Women carrying huge baskets on their head and being able to carry on conversations at the same time
8.       Little girls carrying their even smaller brothers and sister on their backs while the mom carries a load of firewood on her back
9.       Having diarrhea
10.   Hearing horses (and smelling them) at all times of the day and night