Thursday, July 30, 2009

I'm Easy Like Sunday Morning

After the Pecaya climb on Saturday I was in much need of a day of relaxation. Two other volunteers, Diane and Michelle, and I headed to the right place for this on Sunday morning…the macadamia nut farm, Valhalla.

To get to the farm, we rode the chicken bus. After being in Guatemala for five weeks and almost getting ran over by several, I could not believe that I was finally taking my first chicken bus ride. It was not all that different from riding any American school bus except they were ridiculously decorated and came straight out of the 1970s. Despite our tackily designed aging bus, we made it to the farm.

This farm was just what we all needed. It was a small little paradise ran by a crazy old man and his wife. Once we entered, I was immediately taken in by the beauty. We were offered macadamia nuts and chocolates with the nuts in them. Then we got a very short tour by the owner who used to live in the US. He pretty much just babbled on about all the US’s conspiracy theories against him, but I was too amazed by the surroundings to care. He also quickly showed us how the nuts are harvested, and then went on his way.

Next, we were all given a short free facial massage using Macadamia nut oils. It felt incredible.

We headed towards the restaurant, which were pretty much just some tables outside surrounded by the macadamia nut trees. Apparently they cook in this old trailer that looked like it was a thousand years old.

Without having to think about it, all three of us ordered the pancakes with macadamia nut butter and didn’t regret it for a second. They were delicious!

After our scrumptious brunch, we explored the surroundings a little bit more, having fun on the swings and in the hammocks. We all agreed this place was one of the most beautiful we’ve seen thus far in our travels.

It was hard to pull ourselves away from the peacefulness of the farm, but we managed to hop on another chicken bus and made our way to the small pueblo of San Antonio. One of the interns, Moli, had recommended I stop here at some point but warned me it would be hard to walk away from the artesian market empty handed.

Moli was most certainly right. As soon as I walked in to the indoor market, I instantly saw woman working at the looms to weave beautiful bags, scarves, tablecloths, etc for their shops. I started talking with one of the women while she was weaving.
Next thing I know, I’m dressed head to toe in traditional Mayan clothing. Don’t laugh when you look at this picture. Okay, maybe you can laugh a little bit. Here’s how I look dressed as a traditional Mayan.

Next I headed upstairs and struck up a conversation with a woman named Anna. We spoke for about 30 minutes, all in Spanish, which definitely made me feel more confident in my conversational abilities in another language. All the woman here was nice and friendly, but Anna was especially welcoming. Here is a picture of the two of us.

Upstairs, next to all the vendors, there was this small one room museum. It had typical clothing that Mayan women where in all different parts of Guatemala. It was small but quite interesting and worth a look.

I did not walk away empty handed, but instead ended up buying a small purse, a table runner, a worry doll, and a scarf.

I then went to their adorable Parque Central to capture a few more shots of this small town.

Then is was back on the chicken bus to Antigua where we all sat three to a seat with no windows down because it was pouring rain by this point. I had a woman practically sitting on my lap and a child sitting on her lap. Again, Guatemala is not so up to date on those safety laws. The bus ride back was uncomfortable to say the least, but most definitely worth it.

These days in Guatemala have been amazing. I can’t believe I have such a short time left!



“Easy Like Sunday Morning” -Commadores

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So High, Elevation

This weekend was incredible. So much so that there is no way I can fit it all into one blog. I’ll just start with Saturday’s mission: climb an active volcano, Volcan Pecaya.

Saturday morning at 8am I went to the travel agency to meet up with my group for the day. I was pleasantly surprised to see my French buddy, Guillermo, the guide from my Lake Atitlan trip, there. I was happy to hear he would be my guide on this trip. There were three other GVI volunteers, an army man named Jimmy, and two parents and their daughter who is around my age, who were all in the group as well.

We took the 1 hr 15 min scenic drive to the volcano. Once we arrived in the park, kids were there instantly trying to sell us walking sticks and marshmallows. There were about three kids who jumped on the van as it was still in motion, just to get our business. I remember my friend Debra telling me that I most definitely want to have a walking stick for this hike. I let a little boy named Brian sell me one for 5 quetzals. Let me tell you now…these were the 5 best quetzals I’ve ever spent in my life.

We started going up and I found it instantly challenging. I was told the last hour was very intense and we should all try to save our energy for that. So after a little while of hiking, I jumped on a horse to take me to the more difficult part of the hike. I don’t regret this choice a single bit. At first I felt like I was wimping out, but this allowed me to relax a little and enjoy the scenery before the real hiking began.

Here I am on my horse Campion, which means Champion in English.

After a short relaxing journey on Campion, we arrived at the part where the hike stops being a pretty trail through some trees and becomes a steep climb up razor sharp volcanic rocks that refuses to stay under your feet. This is where the walking stick came in. Thank god for that thing! I never would have made it through without it.

As I watched the people walk up the volcano I seriously thought there is no way in hell I will make it all the way up there. The people near the top looked like tiny little dots from where we were. Guillermo told us that just a few weeks before the place where lava was flowing was not nearly as high, but since Pecaya is an active volcano it is constantly changing formation. If you look at the picture below and focus on those tiny people on the right side, you can kind of get an idea what I’m talking about.

So up and up we went. I took it one step at a time. At one point I looked down and got to see how far I had come which was an amazing feeling. Eventually we all made it to the top. And I wasn’t even the last one up!

The group was told that there was no way to know when there would be lava flowing, so we may see it or we may not. If I had hiked my ass all the way up there, and risked death about a thousand times, I was not going to be happy if there was no lava to be seen.

Luckily, the volcano rewarded me for my efforts and I got to have one of the most unique experiences of my life. As soon as I arrived at the top I instantly felt intense heat and knew that there must be lava doing its thing. Sure enough, there were two huge streams of it making its way down the volcano. It was seriously amazing.

I’ve never been one who was big into geology, but after seeing this it might just be a new interest. Since we were all pretty exhausted from the climb up, we hung out at the top for a long time, enjoying the view and roasting marshmallows on the lava. The whole thing was seriously incredible. Here is a narrated video of the lava flow. I apologize for the shakiness, but my hands were tired from gripping to that walking stick for dear life.

So after spending our time at the top, I was thinking the hard part was over. All we have to do now is go back down. Wrong. Going down was quite possibly twice as hard as going up. Again, the rocks did not stay below your feet, and we all pretty much slid our way down. That 5 quetzals walking stick really came in handy going down. It didn’t stop me from falling about a thousand times, but after a while I actually got pretty good at falling. I always landed on my butt instead of on my face. With the rocks I was dealing with, this was pretty much life saving.

After climbing down the volcanic rock, we stopped for a delicious lunch prepared by Guillermo. Right as we started to eat the clouds rolled in and we got completely soaked. Jimmy, the army guy and the only one who forgot to bring a raincoat, said they have a saying in the army, “Embrace the suck”. This basically means that when things suck, which they often do, just go with it and don’t fight it. You’ll be better off in the end. So we all “Embraced the suck” and made it the rest of the way down the volcano. We were soaking wet, but we all definitely had a blast.

I have seen many things in Guatemala that would for sure never be allowed in the US, and letting people climb this volcano would most definitely be one of them. However, I’m so glad that I’m in Guatemala and not the US, and had a chance to experience this amazing hike. I’m not really sure I’ll ever again be able to say, “I hiked a volcano and roasted some marshmallows on lava today.”

Love, Julie

"Elevation" -U2

Sunday, July 26, 2009

They Say It's Your Birthday

This past week was a week of many birthday celebrations.

The first one was Tuesday at school. We celebrated Elena’s birthday. Elena is the woman whose house is used for the English classes of our school and where we eat lunch. She cooks for all of the volunteers everyday. In honor of her birthday, her husband came out and gave all of us huge shots of whiskey. This is not the first time we’ve been served alcohol at lunch. Remember, after lunch we still need to go teach our second group of students. Any Tubman people reading this think we should ask McHenry if we can implement an alcohol on birthdays policy at our school?

That same night, we went out to celebrate my housemate’s birthday. About 15 or so volunteers met at the corner near our houses and headed to Café 2000, a sports bar in Antigua. We spent the night drinking, dancing, and singing to the sounds of the live band that was playing. Lisa had a great birthday and we all had a good time.

The celebrations continued on Friday at school where we celebrated all the kids who had a birthday in the month of July. All the volunteers gave each birthday kid a hug and a Feliz Cumpleanos! To celebrate, we had huge piñatas that the students with a birthday got to hit after being spun around as many times as correlated to their age. I’ve never seen kids dive for candy like that in my life! All the birthday kids also got a present such as a jump rope, puzzle, marbles, or coloring books.

Afterwards the entire school was treated to a snack of juice and tostadas with beans and cheese made by Elena and her family. They were delicious!

Here are the kids diving for the extra candy being thrown out into the crowd!

All the birthday celebrations were very different, but I had a great time at each of them.



"Birthday" -The Beatles

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

And I Start To Complain That There's No Rain

I’ve been in Antigua long enough now that I feel I have moved past having the official title of “tourist”. I’ve grown accustomed to the routine and feel a little bit more comfortable here with each passing day. Just like in any place I’ve lived in for an extended period of time, I’ve come to have my favorites; favorite restaurant, favorite internet café, favorite bakery, favorite laundry place, favorite place for coffee, favorite music venue, etc.

Also, for someone who is as directionally challenged as I am, I’ve come to know my way around quite well. I still only know the name of about two streets here, one of them being the street I live on, Colonia Candelaria, but I can recognize landmarks and buildings all over and never have to stop to ask for directions.

The regulars on the street are becoming familiar to me as well. There is the girl with no hands who draws incredible pictures with her feet outside of Café Condesa, the woman who sells super fresh cut up fruit at her post on the corner near the coffee shop I go to everyday, and the man who plays the harmonica while sitting Indian style near McDonalds. There are some interesting characters here. Scanner Dan, the hunger strike guy, and the piccolo player in the orange jumpsuit who all have wandered the streets of Madison, WI, have some competition here for most interesting and unusual street person.

Although I feel comfortable here and have a good sense of the city, I still feel there is a lot more to explore and discover. One of the most interesting things I’ve found about the architecture here is that you really never know what lies behind a door. For example, I’ve walked by this one store near the park a million times. It looked pretty small, but interesting, and one day I decided to stop in. I was amazed to find that it was not just a store but an enormous indoor market that went on for at least a block inside with probably 50 different vendors. I still feel there are many more places like this to be discovered in the few weeks I have left here.

One strange thing I’ve actually not been used to this past week is the dry weather. It is the rainy season here, which means you can pretty much guarantee there will be rain in the afternoon. The first three weeks this was like clockwork. Around 2 o’clock, no matter how sunny it had been in the morning, the clouds started to roll in and you knew rain was coming. But now it’s been over a week without a drop. This actually has a name, coliqula or something like that. As strange as it sounds, I miss the rain a little bit, but not too much.

I’ll leave you with some more pictures of the city I’ve come to call home, but check back in soon This weekend there will be a hike of an active volcano, a trip to the macadamia nut farm, and possibly a chicken bus ride to the town of Pastores where custom made boots can be bought.



“No Rain” –Blind Melon

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Your Hands and Feet Are Mangos, but You're Gonna be a Genius Anyway

At school everyday, the kids get a fruit break which is pretty much their recess time as well. The fruit is like gold for the students. I have never once see a kid not take the fruit or not eat every last bit of it, no matter what kind of fruit it is. Even though they love all the fruit, my students tend to get extra excited when we have mangos. I’ve brought my camera with me on a few of these days and was able to capture the students enjoying their delicious snack. My camera has also served as entertainment for many students. The other volunteers and I will often hand over our cameras and let the students do the photography for a little while. With the magic of digital cameras, the kids can see the results instantly.

I wanted to share some of the best moments I’ve caught on film during mango day!




"Mango Song" -Phish

We'll Make The Best Of What's Around

I have been teaching my own class in Spanish for two weeks now and I have survived! All the classes in the school are named after volcanoes and mine is called Clase Fuego. The school has two sessions, a morning and an afternoon. Therefore, I have two different sets of students and I use the same lessons twice each day. The part of the day my students are not in our school they are at the state school. GVI gives scholarships to the children so that they can attend the state school and pay for items such as school supplies, uniforms, and other various fees.

Most of the classes have at least two teachers, but not mine. I’m flying solo. It’s surprisingly gone much better than I had expected. I’ve found that when I’m forced to speak in Spanish it helps a lot. I’ve also become quite good at pointing at things and acting things out! Although my grammar is atrocious, my students somehow manage to understand me. And when they don’t I have my pocket size Spanish/English dictionary to bail me out.

The key to getting kids to like you is to sing with them. Seriously. To kill some time on the first few days I sang a few songs with my students. Now, singing is a must in our class pretty much everyday. I have my Spanish teacher, Maria Marta, to thank since she taught me a few songs that were very kid friendly. I also dug way deep and remembered a few songs from my 8th grade Spanish class. I guess my tendency to remember lyrics to random songs works bilingually.

I also tend to make up many games for my kids to play. Academic games for the most part, but some just for fun too. I probably have the loudest class in the whole school and we are always up doing something or other out of our seats. I look around and all the other classes seem to be hard at work while mine is running all over the place, but I think I’m still teaching them something and I know they are having fun.

So far I’ve done lessons in math, language, the 5 senses, transportation, and forms of communication. I find science the most difficult to teach. I tried to do a lesson on the seasons, but all the students know are the rainy season and the dry season. They have never experienced anything like winter with snow or fall with the leaves changing colors. Most of them have never been outside of Itzapa. By the end of my time here I hope to have broadened their horizons at least a little bit. I want them to have knowledge of the world outside of what they already know. In my opinion, that’s what a good teacher does.

Between the first and second sessions of school we have a two hour break for lunch, lesson planning, and just hanging out. A few days ago all the volunteers went on a walk through Itzapa. Until now, all I had really seen was the one street that the school is on. The walk was an eye opening experience. This place is very hilly. I was pretty much out of breath from walking up those hills. We passed many people, men, women, and children, carrying incredibly heavy loads of wood on their head and on their backs up and down these hills. Our intern, Moli, told us that some of the kids we passed used to go to the school, but were pulled out so they could work more. Every single person we passed, no matter how heavy a load they were carrying, smiled at us and said “Buenas Tardes!” As poor as the people of Itzapa are, it still amazes me how happy they seem. They are always smiling and appear to have an overall positive attitude. It’s really pretty inspiring.

I think if there is one thing this trip will have taught me it’s to appreciate what I have. It’s so easy to get caught up in the little problems of day to day life. We all do it. Guilty as charged. We can get angry and frustrated about the smallest things. I hope I can learn from the people here and let some of these insignificant problems go. I know that big experiences have an impact immediately after they are over, but somehow what was learned tends to fade with time. I hope that I can hold on to this experience for as long as possible and remember the knowledge I’ve gained here for a long time to come.



“Best of What’s Around” –Dave Matthews Band

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This Is The Time To Remember

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Guatemala for almost four weeks already! The time is flying, although I knew it would. I still have three weeks left to enjoy this country and I’m hoping to soak up every minute of it. I get to wake up here everyday, walk outside, and view an amazing ruin of an old church. It's pretty fantastic.

I’m getting used to my life here and some things I thought I would miss I am finding surprisingly easy to live without. For example, television. I watch a LOT of TV at home. I’m always the one in the lounge at school asking people if they saw this show or that show last night. But here there has been no time and really no reason to sit around and watch TV. It’s a nice change of pace.

Another thing I am living just fine without is my car. Except for going to my school in Itzapa, which is a 40 minute drive through the hills, I walk everywhere. I have never done so much walking in my life! I don’t even know if I walked this much when training for the breast cancer walks. At first I couldn’t believe how much walking I was doing, but now that I’m getting used to it I actually really enjoy it.

Then there are some other things I can’t get used to. I have mentioned that my host mom’s housekeeper lives in our house with two sets of twin girls. The older ones are so well behaved, while the younger ones aren’t so much. Lisa, my housemate, and I call them the devil children. They just turned 3 years old and up way later than us every night and up way earlier than us every morning making more noise that you can imagine. They are always screaming and crying and running past our rooms. They also are always watching Spanish Tela Novelas. It would be really easy to hate them, but they are so darn cute.

Another thing I’m not quite used to is the food. Unfortunately, it’s been mediocre at best. There has been mystery meat served for lunch and dinner many times. Luckily I have found Antigua’s best bakery with the most delicious banana bread you have ever tasted. It’s possibly saved me from starvation on several occasions.

Something I’m getting accustomed to is hearing ridiculous fireworks all the time. They are the kind you can’t see but just make a really loud boom! Apparently they are very popular here and are set off for pretty much any reason or no reason at all. At first I would be shocked a little, but I’ve grown used to the sound. The loud gunshot sound almost makes me feel like I’m right back teaching in Dolton. Just kidding…kinda.

Then there are the dogs. Seriously I’ve never seen so many dogs in my life. Unfortunately, they are pretty much all strays and very sad looking. At first I was scared of getting bitten or attacked, but they are actually very scared of people. We learned in orientation that dogs are pretty much equivalent to bugs here and people do not treat them well. It really breaks my heart to see these helpless things running around. Many have wandered into the school, and call me a bleeding heart, but I just want to take them all home. Well, them and the kids.

One remarkable thing I’ve seen is the women who carry HUGE baskets of fruit on their heads. It’s fascinating. It is unreal how they balance these things and it’s pretty amazing.

And finally, there are the chicken buses. These are old American school buses that didn’t meet American safety standards. You can see the bright painted colors as they drive down all the cobblestone streets. They are abundant and pretty much this country’s public transportation system. Their drivers are insane and many of the passengers are as well, jumping on the back of the bus while it’s in motion. When these buses go by you have to hold your breath and they always leave a huge cloud of black smoke in their wake. I’m wondering if there is a chicken bus somewhere in Guatemala with the drivers side mirror hanging on only by a piece of duct tape…

So this place is a little crazy, but it’s starting to feel like home.



"This Is The Time" -Billy Joel

It's Been So Long Since I've Seen The Ocean, Guess I Should

This past weekend 5 other volunteers and I headed to Monterrico on Saturday morning. Monterrico is a tiny beach town on the Pacific Ocean and only about a two hour drive from Antigua.

Although this lazy beach town is only two hours away, the weather is drastically different. The air in Antigua is always pleasantly cool, making it feel like it’s always Spring here. In contrast, the Monterrico weather is HOT! We were all pretty much sweating the entire weekend.

We got there, found a hotel, got a quick bite to eat at a place overlooking the ocean, and headed for the beach. The sand here is volcanic and therefore black. Black sand equals burning feet! I felt like I was walking on coals while making my way into the water.

The feel of the water was much welcomed in the heat, but what I was not expecting was the waves! These were some serious waves. I was anticipating a nice calm dip in the water, but as soon as are feet got wet we were all pretty much knocked over by the force of these things! Just standing up in the ocean was a hard core workout, but it was pretty cool.

The other unique thing about this beach was the sand. I already mentioned it is volcanic black sand, but what I didn’t say is that it is the stickiest sand in the world! I’ve been the beach enough times in my life to know that you get sand all over you, but this sand was seriously the most difficult sand to get rid of. After three dips in the pool, two showers, and two days, I think it’s finally all gone.

On Saturday night we got to witness one crazy rainstorm during dinner. Once the rain subsided, we took a walk on the beach to watch the amazing lightning in the distance. It literally lit up the entire sky and ocean. It was the second lightning storm I have seen in two weeks and they were each incredible.

Sunday morning started bright and early when four of us woke up to take a boat ride through the mangroves. We had hoped to see the sunrise, but unfortunately it was a little bit cloudy. We were, however, able to view some amazing and beautiful nature as we made our way through reeds on the water. The tour was completely in Spanish, but I actually understood a little of it. Even if I couldn’t, the view was stunning. Take a look.

We spent the rest of the day sleeping, cooling off in the pool, and reading in hammocks overlooking the water. Not a bad trip for $28.

This coming weekend, I think I’m actually going to stay in Antigua. I want to hit up the market, possibly climb a volcano, tour a macadamia nut farm, and catch a soccer game. Oh and maybe sleep a little too.



"A Long December" -Counting Crows

Cuz You Got To Have Friends

I realized I haven’t written too much about the other volunteers. It’s a big mix of people from all over of all different ages. The way my program works is that people arrive on Saturday and leave on Saturday. How many weeks you stay for is pretty much up to you. There have been many people who have come and gone in the short time I’ve been here. It’s pretty inconsistent and it sucks to say goodbye to people I was just really getting to know, but it’s nice to be meeting new people each week too.

Every Friday night GVI, the program I’m with, has a BBQ at the interns’ houses. Everyone brings food, we eat BBQ chicken, do intros of the new people, goodbye’s to the people leaving, and do the craziest dance you’ve ever seen. One of these weeks I’ll have to get it on video.

I’ve met people here from all over the world. It’s really interesting to learn about places I’ve never been through people who live there. It definitely makes me want to see more of the world. But what is the most fun is laughing at the different ways we say things and trying to imitate each others’ accents.

Here are some pictures from the BBQ last Friday night, which was the best one yet, and from a place called La Sala where we danced and drank all night afterwards. Enjoy!



Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And I Feel So Much Depends On The Weather

This past weekend was AMAZING! One great way to spend the Fourth of July when you are out of the country. Around 8am on Saturday morning nine other volunteers, two girls we didn’t know, two tour guides and I made our way to Panajachel, where Lake Atitlan is located. This lake has been described as one of the most beautiful lakes in the entire world. I was a little skeptical and didn’t want to believe all the hype just to be disappointed. The ride itself had outstanding scenery, but little did we know what spectacular views were awaiting us.

Once we arrived, our first activity was mountain biking. I haven’t ridden a bike in probably about 10 years, if not longer so I was a bit nervous. This nervousness grew when all of the bikes were way too tall for me. The tour guides didn’t allow my vertical challenges to stop me from having this experience. They actually drove into town, in the middle of nowhere, to get the seat of my bike cut shorter. It was still a little tall, but I figured it was good enough.

This bike ride was possibly one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. It was pretty much all downhill at the fastest speeds possible. My hands actually ached from gripping the breaks so hard the entire time. We were on a road, not on some rugged path, so that made it easier, but being on a road means cars and chicken buses. Our ride was very curvy and most of the time you had no clue what would be around the corner. Had I fallen off that bike or not seen a car, I most definitely would not be around to write this blog right now. The ride was seriously insane.

About half way through the ride we stopped at this point for a picnic lunch. The view was seriously unbelievable. We were staring at Lake Atitlan, which we were headed towards, and the three mountains surrounding it; Atitlan, Toliman, and San Pedro. Check it out.

When our bike ride was over we hit up the town for some shopping in the market. It was my first time bargaining and I was actually pretty good at it. I bought a jade necklace for 25 Quetzales, which is about $3. Not bad.

Next, we climbed aboard a boat and made our way to Jaibolito, one of the tiny villages right on Lake Atitlan. We crossed the lake and set eyes on our hotel, which was literally built into the mountains. It was possibly the coolest place I have ever stayed. Our rooms were amazing, there were hammocks all over to lie in, and the view was unbeatable.

The rest of the day consisted of swimming in the pool, an amazing dinner, time in the hammock, and the night in a hot tub. The hot tub was an interesting experience. The water was being heated by a wood burning stove. Also, from the hot tub we could see the most amazing lightning storm in the distance. It was once HUGE cloud with constant lightning that we kept thinking was getting closer and closer but never made its way to us. By us the night was perfectly clear with a million stars in the sky and a full moon shining.

When we woke up the next morning, it was a delicious breakfast followed by kayaking and hiking. I’ve been kayaking a few times and by no means am I an expert. However, when I got in that kayak there was nothing stopping me and I was leading the pack the entire time. Then, at the very, very end of the kayaking, I somehow managed to tip over. From then on it was just a lost cause but it was okay because we soon arrived at the place we were going to begin our hike back to the hotel. I really wanted to bring my camera with kayaking and on the hike, but if I had it would be laying at the bottom of the lake right now and not much good to me anyways.

The hiking was what I was most nervous about. At first I thought, this isn’t so bad; it’s more of a walk than a hike. I have been on hikes way more difficult than this. Then, out of nowhere, we were headed up, up, up. It was tough. After making my way up, the real hike began. It was a narrow path where you pretty much had to put one foot in front of the other to fit. If your foot went off the path, you were basically going to fall off the mountain into oblivion. This part of the path went on for about an hour and a half. There were areas where we had to climb down rocks where I seriously thought this is it. I’m going to die.

But, I made it. I was the last one to finish the hike, but hey, I finished, and that is one big accomplishment for me. I really had no other choice because there was no other way back to the hotel.

After another good meal for lunch, we were headed back to Antigua.

It was really one incredible weekend. One thing that made it even more amazing than I could have thought was the weather. It was clear and sunny the entire time. Not a drop of rain. It’s the rainy season in Guatemala, which means it rains just about every single day. But the weather god really was looking out for us this past weekend. We’ve been back less than 24 hours and it’s already rained. Had it rained, the view would not have been nearly as spectacular and it’s possible we wouldn’t have been able to do everything we did.

This weekend will definitely be one that’s hard to beat.

"Plush" -Stone Temple Pilots

Monday, July 6, 2009

I Really Should Be Back At School

(Written last week, but I´ve been experiencing major technical difficulties. More blogs to come soon!)

I’ve been in my school in Itzapa, a small village in the hills, for three days now. I have to say, when I signed up to volunteer I thought of it more of a vacation than work, but let me tell you, it is most definitely work.

First let me describe the school. After taking a 45 minute drive that I am surprised to have survived each day, the 15 or so other volunteers and I unload out of the van in Itzapa. We are promptly greeted by the smiling faces of the kids sitting outside waiting for school to start. The kids here actually like school. But children are not the only ones around. There are always stray dogs, chickens, horses, and even a few cows passing us by. Chickens actually live in an area in the school, keeping an eye on us.

I have been a teacher for about five years now and have seen and taught in many very different schools and with very different children. However, this is definitely the most unique by far. First of all, there are really no walls in this school. For the most part, all the classrooms are open, just under a tin roof. There is some bamboo separating my class from the other one. We do have white boards, but in most rooms you have to actually hang them by a string on the walls, which again, there are very few of. The “English department”, where students go to learn English, is in a family’s house across the street.

The mother of this family is Elena and she welcomes us into her house on a daily basis. This is where we are served lunch each day by Elena and her family, who do all the cooking. It is also where we hang out during our breaks. In addition, this is where the only bathroom for adult use, separated from the classroom by a little curtain, is located. Oh, and you can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet here.

And now, the kids. They are seriously adorable and have so much personality for such little people! Most of the girls come to school dressed in traditional Mayan clothing, which is always fascinating to me. Many of the students work in the fields with their parents before school, so their day starts way before we even get there.
These children have very, very little. Many of them are malnourished and hungry. The families in Itzapa have all kinds of animals living with them, many brothers and sisters, and sometimes no running water in their tiny houses with tin roofs. The streets in the community are filled with garbage and there is constantly smoke in the air. There are also an uncountable number of flies and other bugs hanging around. This does not make for a very healthy lifestyle, however, these kids for the most part seem very happy.

I am teaching in a first grade class, although the ages of my students range from 6-9years old. They have tiny little plastic tables and chairs to sit at. We do language, math, science, social studies lessons with them, just like in any other school, but really there is no actual curriculum to follow, and there is very little structure. There is a lot I am trying to adjust to.

Right now I am really just helping out this girl named Casey with the class. Next week, the class becomes mine. Did I mention that the class is taught in Spanish? Yea. So, I’ve been going to Spanish school and practicing, but my Spanish is most definitely not good enough to keep up with these kids yet. We’ll see what will happen.

One thing I do find amazing, is that even though I don’t speak the language well, the kids still love me and every other adult around. There are things that can bond you with kids no matter what language you speak. I played jump rope with some today and gave others piggy back rides, and I think I’ve pretty much won them over. I still get some strange looks when I mess up and say things like “wash your hands” instead of “raise your hands”, but I think they will learn to be patient with me, at least I hope!

There is a long list of things that happen in Guatemala that would never fly in the US. Recess here at Itzapa is a great example. These kids are seriously flying around the place, jumping off of anything they can, being swung around by teachers in every way possible, and pretty much have no safety rules whatsoever. The first day I was kinds in shock and kept saying “Cuidado, cuidado!) (careful, careful!). I don’t even know if we have any sort of first aid equipment around.

However, my cries of “cuidado” faded quickly. These kids will fall, knock their heads, scrape their knees, and have a finger fall off and won’t complain. They will get right back up and just keep playing as if nothing happened. I have yet to see a tear. These are some tough kids.

Things have been pretty disorganized and actually really frustrating my first few days at school. For several days there has been nobody in charge around and to be honest I feel pretty lost. Also, the days are so long. We leave at 7:35am and get back around 5pm and then it’s right off to Spanish School. When Spanish school is over I have to hurry home for dinner. There has been very little time for me to even get basic errands done and that’s been kinda stressful. One thing I definitely wish is that I had a little bit more free time.

Hopefully things will be a little less chaotic soon, or then again, maybe it won’t be. I’ll keep you posted.



“Maggie May” –Rod Stewart