Las Comadronas

There are 317 registered comadronas (midwives) in my municipality in the departamento (state) of El Quiché. The Centro de Salud (health center) conducts bi-monthly trainings that the midwives are mandated to attend. Today, nearly all were in attendance in the town’s main meeting hall.

nl res comadronas group.jpg

Before any of the training or logistical information was shared, we began with a Mayan-Catholic ceremony. A Mayan elder created the circle with other elders, then those of us in the circle lit the candles.  Once the fire (or candles) are lit, the Mayan elder typically begins the ceremony. But in this case, a young priest was present to offer prayers. There is a curious integration of Mayan and Catholic practices and I can’t tell what is what, even though I was raised Catholic.

nl res Comadrona lights last vela_Fotor

nl res candles comadronas

Let’s just say that everyone knows the sign of the cross and kneels at appropriate times. But there were women who lit their candles in a way that was indicative of indigenous ceremony.

nl res border velas y flores_Fotor

After the ceremony, Sebastiana (woman below with the mic) led the training. She introduced the new health center staff (there were at least ten present). The new staff members will each be assigned  to staff a health center outpost. And the midwives will be assigned to communicate with whichever staff member is at her nearest health center outpost.

nl res staff

Due to the ceremony and the logistics, there was only time for about an hour and a half of training which included a film and a demo by one of the comadronas (below).

nl res demo.jpg

It takes a long time to do attendance. Each comadrona must show her I.D. to a staff member and give her signature or finger print.

attendance takers

I used my time to meet comadronas who might be willing to be interviewed by me. Juliana (below) has been a midwife for over twenty years. She speaks both K’iche and Spanish so we were able to have a nice conversation. I hope to interview her for this blog in the coming weeks. nl res w border Juliana w comadronas behind_Fotor

It’s Friday as I write this and now I must attend to creating a charla (talk) for next week. Be well. ❤️

 

The Grace of Being Alone

I used to think that being in Guatemala would feel like being a hop, skip and a jump away. After all, it’s easy to pick up a phone, send a text or use video chat. But instead, home feels light years away. I have written family letters and this blog, but for the most part, no one writes back with missives about their lives. I’m not complaining, I’m just trying to say that technology has not bridged the distance and I feel very far away.

I feel far away even from people here. I feel like I’m walking around in a bubble due to my limited Spanish and because no one accepts me as a Latina–it’s blown my whole identity out of the water! In terms of my Spanish problems, I am always struggling to translate things in my head. I have not reached a level of comfort in any conversation because I can hear my own mistakes which make me ponder corrective options while I’m still talking! At the end of each day when I retire to my study, I soak in the rest and quiet of my space.

Let me digress a moment.

Once I was on a two week artist retreat out in the countryside in Connecticut. During the days, I would walk along green fields from the house where we stayed to the art center where I worked on a collaborative theatre project with two other artists. At meal times I enjoyed listening to the handful of artists that were also there on retreat–accomplished dance and theatre artists with many stories to tell. I found myself listening deeply but barely talking. During the second week, I plunged even deeper into my work, creating a video segment that would fit into a larger theatre piece. By the end of the retreat, when I returned home, I noticed how much I had been in silence even while being in the company of larger than life artists. The silence that had come from simply keeping my mouth closed for those two weeks, felt cleansing, freeing. It had freed me from some of my own ego.

Returning to my present time here in Guatemala…. Due to all this “aloneness” there has been an odd but welcome unlayering of myself. Here are a few ways to describe how it plays out for me:

I’ve been more aware of patterns of conditioning in myself, in my thoughts, speech and behaviors. I would have thought that this would place me in choice of how I want to think, speak, or behave but instead, the moment of awareness leads to a dropping away — a feeling of an energy shift. It’s subtle, so subtle that I wonder if I should even write about it.

When I go for walks and hear my busy thoughts, it’s easier to drop under them, like dropping under incoming waves at the beach. It’s only momentarily that I can walk peacefully like this, but moments add up. Thank goodness for the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the mindfulness walks I’ve taken with him and practitioners at Deer Park Monastery.

I’ve had moments of spiritual witnessing in which I am aware of myself (my body) not needing my thoughts to drive my actions. I am reminded of spiritual teachers who have said that we are not creating our lives, life just is; life is living itself. An example of this is when I am thinking of whether I should first eat breakfast or take a shower. My thoughts might be swirling with the options when I suddenly notice that I’m entering the shower. I chuckle because it proves once again that my body is living the life and the thoughts are needless banter.

The feeling of isolation that I’ve had for a few months now, means I don’t have to act in any particular way to impress or defend myself or be accepted–all the things that humans do in a subconscious way. This is partly an outcome of getting older, too; if I can get out of the house clean and fed, I call it good.

It’s also been easier to sit and meditate rather than to fight it like a child.

A psychic friend told me that here in Guatemala, I would be happier than I could imagine. It’s true, it really is. But the happiness is occurring in a way that I had not imagined; it’s welling up from within. Sometimes I feel the expansion of joy so much that I need to process it–because my head has not registered yet, that this much joy is possible. Processing (with EFT or Ho’oponopono) allows me to let out the steam of any suppressed energy in my body. If I don’t process it, my programmed response might be to use the internet or sugar to stay in my normal comfort range. There’s no growth in that.

In spite of the common connotations of  aloneness and isolation, I would say that my aloneness and isolation have been a source of much of my inner peace. Because aloneness is not the same thing as loneliness and I am not totally isolated; I am surrounded by people everyday. But still, I’ve had just enough aloneness and isolation to feel the grace of what comes from untethering to my thoughts and to people while retaining my tether to Creator. I have a strong connection to Creator (use whatever name or theology that suits you) so there is no possibility for me to feel truly alone or isolated. And I feel utterly connected to my family and friends here, even with the simultaneous feeling of distance. At least I’m no longer waiting for anyone or anything. Everything feels soft.

All of this is to say that the unlayering of myself has been a way to let go and allow the goodness of what moves me (what moves us all) to be better revealed and flourish.

nl Res Guadalupe.jpg

Terremoto

I never knew that Guatemala does not have four seasons! Instead it has two: dry (November – mid-May) and rainy (mid-May to October). All through the dry season I wondered why Guatemala was not as radiantly beautiful as I had pictured. Beautiful, yes, but dry. Then the rains started and within days, the country transformed into a radiant and glorious green!

Still, it’s beauty comes with some risks. Lately, Guatemala has had over a week of heavy rains, flooding, landslides and now, terremotos (earthquakes)! I am very safe where I am as long as I stay home and do not travel unnecessarily.

At times the Peace Corps Safety & Security office sends us text alerts with updates. When something puts us at risk, they ask us to send in our statuses and whereabouts. I appreciate that they are always looking out for us.

nl res earthquake.jpg

Today, June 22, 2017, the earthquake rattled at 6:30am while I was awake and trying to get myself motivated to get out of bed. The earthquake helped! Eight days ago, at 1:29am, we had a 6.9 earthquake. That felt smoother, like a waterbed (yes, I’m that old) rather than today’s jalopy-like experience. I guess this is what it’s like to live in Guatemala and I’d better get used to it. California earthquakes are one thing but earthquakes in a developing country are another.

Below: view from our roof, looking down onto the fallow corn field below. Our house is against an incline so the backside is up high whereas the front is level with the street.

nl res rooftop.jpg

Speaking of the corn field in the back, look at it now during our rainy season!

IMG_20170620_100309_566.jpg

Over the decades, Guatemala has suffered many disasters  from earthquakes and floods and landslides. The worst of the recent damage from landslides and earthquakes have been in other departments (states). A recent landslide in another department buried homes, a microbus and a car. It’s horrible what people suffer from catastrophes! We have had no flooding of the streets in our town but the woodworker next door lost his roof to recent windy rains. I have no idea who else in our pueblo or surrounding communities have had problems.

Over the past seven years in NYC, I experienced hurricanes, a tornado, superstorms and blizzards. Life is not so fragile, right? It’s pretty hardy, considering. Nonetheless, I will pack an emergency bag just as I’ve been told to do by the Peace Corps. It helps to have so little to cling to but I don’t expect I’ll ever have to use it.

To change the subject, today marks the beginning of school break. I have a lot of big goals to accomplish during my break and I’m very excited about all of them. I’m all about goals and achieving them. Collages help me pave the way. Below is my latest collage. It includes my priorities for now which includes writing, community engagement, activism, connection to Tonantzin (Aztec Mother Goddess, more popularly known as Our Lady of Guadalupe), trips to the lake (the bedroom image), staying fit & meditating, and of course, beaded necklaces. So here goes!nl res cropped collage.jpg

 

 

Quetzales

Friends sometimes ask how much money we make in the Peace Corps and whether it’s enough to live comfortably. People also want to know about the cost of traveling here. So let me offer a few bits of information here.

The Peace Corps was established by President John F. Kennedy (Executive Order 10924) on March 1, 1961 and authorized by Congress on Sept. 21st of that same year. The Peace Corps Act clarified its purpose as:

To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.

It is important that as Peace Corps Volunteers, we live a lifestyle that is integrated with the people with whom we work. In other words, we should not make a higher wage nor have greater access to things of a higher standard of living.

Basically, I make the equivalent of a beginning level teacher. Keep in mind, I don’t have a family to support and I’m not creating a home full of furniture or needing a car or moto since I’m here for the short term. I’m able to take care of all of my needs as long as I pay attention to my ongoing expenses. I keep a little book for that purpose.

Our rent is covered by the Peace Corps. Our only other main costs are food, clothing (I lost weight and need new clothes!), incidentals and travel. Great, fresh vegetables and fruits are readily available at low cost in the outdoor market three times a week in my pueblo. Below: an indoor market in Chichicastenango

nl res Chichi market_Fotor

There aren’t many places to spend money except for the cafes, stationary stores, and a jewelry/cosmetic store which is very inexpensive. Let me give you an idea of some random costs but first I’ll give you some exchange amounts:

Anything less than Q7 (7 Quetzales) is less than 1 US dollar. Q10 = $1.36.

avocado Q2; broccoli Q5.25; apple Q2; oranges (bag of 6) Q10; papaya Q7.9; fresh corn tortillas (pack of 4) Q1; chard Q1.65; cantelope Q6; eggs Q23.9

Restaurants and cafes vary from very inexpensive (Q15 to Q20 for a meal with a drink) to more expensive (Q50 to 70 or a complete meal w/drink. I love eating out but I can’t do it often because the costs add up. I can however, have a nice plate of healthy tacos w/drink for less than $3 or, if I want to splurge on a Sunday, I can have an incredible breakfast with coffee for $4.77.

Travel is inexpensive in Guatemala. The large carreteras are usually crowded beyond comfort and you feel every bump in the road. But the cost and accessibility makes them worth it. For me to travel from my site to Lake Atitlan, three hours away, is only Q30 ($4.09). That’s about 4 bucks to get to heaven.

Lake atitlan w feather

Once you hang out a while and meet people, you find the best prices for hotels in each city. You have to know people. I recently found a nice, modest hotel for Q100/night in Panajachel (sorry I can’t give you the name since I stay there). But you can also get a very inexpensive room at the beautiful hostel, La Iguana Perdida, across the lake with a more secluded setting. Otherwise, on the cheaper side, hotel rooms are about Q150 per person and they are very modest and without a view. More money means more space and a view.

nl res E in huipile

 

In terms of the hand woven textiles, they are priced well below their true value but at the same time, more expensive than I can usually afford. A rebozo (shawl) is about $20+ and a larger one that is used as a falda (skirt) can be Q400+ ($54.51). I bought a couple of used huipiles in Chichicastenango. That is definitely the place to go for weavings. Mine are a little worn but gorgeous nonetheless.

Until this month I’d been complaining to my inner self about the money situation. But then I met another Volunteer who told me how much she spends a week (very little) and how much she saves–enough for flights to the U.S. and her upcoming wedding! That was humbling. Then a few days ago I realized that I had forgotten about Q800 ($109.02) of money from this month’s income. Apparently I had hidden it from myself! That might sound like very little to you but to a Volunteer, it’s cause for a happy dance! So, yeah, I’m doing fine.

Below: clay bowl, crystals, textiles and quetzales. 

nl res crystals better pic.jpg

Two last things to share with you is that the Peace Corps does not allow Volunteers to work extra jobs in Guatemala. They don’t want us to receive any money from Guatemalans, which makes sense. Secondly, the Peace Corps sets up a savings account for each Volunteer so that at the time of Close of Service (COS) after two years and three months, you will have something with which to re-settle in the U.S. Instead of telling you an actual amount, I suggest that you speak with a Peace Corps Office staff member. They can help you with that information and much more.

I highly recommend the Peace Corps experience. For any kind of service, what you give aways comes back double. In the case of Peace Corps service, it comes back a hundred times more.

 

 

Corpus Christi

On Thursday, June 15th, 2017, my town celebrated the Catholic feast day of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi–yes, that is the correct spelling here, too–is also known as Día del Corpus. There was another reason for this celebration which was to honor immigrants.

[The biggest Catholic holidays pretty much take over this town. If there were other such large scale events, I would document those, too.]

Corpus Christi is a commemoration of Holy Communion and “Corpus Christi” means, “Body of Christ.” The celebration of a Catholic Mass includes the miraculous act of Transubstantiation, in which the chalice of wine turns into the blood of wine and the holy eucharist, in the form of round, white wafers, turns into the body of Christ. Catholics believe that this is not just symbolic but actually real.

I add the following information in case a reader might want to travel to experience this feast day in Guatemala. According to Wikipedia: “Corpus Christi is a moveable feast, celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or, in countries where it is not a holy day of obligation, on the following Sunday. The earliest possible Thursday celebration falls on 21 May (as in 1818 and 2285), the latest on 24 June (as in 1943 and 2038).

So are you ready for the photographs? It was a remarkable visual treat! These alfombras are very different from the ones for Semana Santa because these do not include colored sawdust carpets. These were made from pine needles, flowers, leaves, and sometimes fruit and other random resources (see cardboard chalices below). They were made in the early morning hours before the procession’s starting hour at 9am.

nl res eucharist alfombra

main street alfombra

It’s rainy season here, and although it did not rain during the desfile (procession), there was evidence of the rain from the very early morning hours.

best pic

Below:  this is an image of a chalice with a holy eucharist rising from it.

nl res rosepetalchalice

I’m always amazed by the artistry of everyone here. There are no galleries in these smaller towns but their artistry is everywhere in their celebrations and traditional clothing.

nl res alfombra sandia

Below:  as the priests and others from the lay religious community walk by, an altar boy swings a thurible which is a metal incense holder used for burning frankincense.

nl res procession jun 2017

You can see the length of the procession in the photo below. Over three miles of alfombras were laid down for the procession. nl res long procession

I missed being able to show this in the photograph below, but the man with the red belt is actually barefoot. This is somewhat common amongst elder people in more rural communities outside the pueblo.

nl res traje tradicional jun 2017

Below:  the priests stopped the procession every so often and everyone would kneel down on the wet, muddy streets in prayer.

nl res procession w clergy

nl res man orange shirt

 

nl res strolling musicos

Musicos

As the procession wound around the last few streets, I walked ahead to photograph the inside of the church. Below is the main plaza in front of the church. It was a market day so vendors filled most of the space except an area that featured a bandstand with an amazing group of musicians that had been playing great cumbias all morning. No one except for three men danced, though I was shaking it up in my mind. They stopped before the procession arrived at about noon.

Traditional weavings and huipiles (traditional women’s shirts) were laid down in the last part of the alfombra which led up to the church steps, .

nl res jun 2017 leading to church

nl res huipile jun 2017

nl res leading inside jun 2017

I was so happy to have been able to see the inside of the church before the throngs arrived!

nl res ms inside church jun 2017

huipiles before altar

Below:  one of about ten free standing statues. They are all adorned in traditional traje (clothing). I am not sure who this is but it might be St. Michael the Archangel, judging by his wings and sword.

nl res statue

I am always surprised and warmed by the openness of devotees who speak their prayers aloud or raise their arms in praise.

manpraysstatue

Peace be with you. Thanks for seeing/reading this blog. Feel free to leave any comments or questions.

 

 

 

 

 

Semana Santa 2017

Before I let it go any longer, I want to write about Semana Santa in my town. It was in March (and now it’s already June). It was a vacation week for me and I wanted to travel but I had not planned it properly. Whenever we take off for even one night it requires advanced permission requests from our local supervisor and our PC program manager; hotel and shuttle reservations; notifying PC Whereabouts and hand washing enough clothes to pack. I was still green with that whole process so I blew my chances to leave. But wouldn’t you know it, staying home was a surprise gift because the processions here were wonderful. During the weeks leading up to Pascua Resurrección (Easter), Catholics in Guatemala have many processions, especially on Friday evenings and the last two days before Easter.

There is a huge cathedral which sits in the main plaza, across from the municipal offices. In the weeks preceding Easter, the eyes of most of the religious statues inside the cathedral were covered with purple cloth. Most churches in fact, were adorned in purple drapes. Purple was the color of the robe placed on Jesus before they crowned his head with a wreath of thorns and gave him the cross to bear.

nl res woman in church semana santa

Below, Mother Mary wears traje (traditional Mayan clothes) and beads.

nl res church statue semana snta

Desfile, means procession. Some desfiles were small with groups from particular communities and some were huge, as in the ones on the weekend of Pascua.

nl res procession semana snta

Below:  On several occasions, the streets were lined with alfombras (carpets) made of flowers, pine needles and colored sawdust and fruits. The religious clergy and any andas (floats) walk along the alfombras. After the processions, they are quickly swept away by home and business owners. The alfombras were typically made in the evenings for the next day’s procession. Traffic was detoured from these streets (this is the town’s main street).

nl res semana snta carpets

nl res alfombra

Above, the photos were taken at night when the alfombras were being made. Below, is the beginning of the desfile (procession).

nl res start desfile

The cathedral also has a smaller chapel which was used for this mass pictured below. This mass was in K’iche. When I stumbled upon it, I was overwhelmed with it’s beauty which my camera failed to capture. Believe me, it was extraordinary. The altar was in the shape of a mountain, covered with candles and figurines. People knelt and sometimes stood on the cement floors for hours; there were no pews or cushions for knees.

nl res semana santa kiche mass

On the day before Easter,  there were desfiles in which a huge anda  (float) was carried by two rows of men carrying Jesus and a second anda (of slightly lesser size) carrying Mother Mary, was carried by two rows of women. Every ten minutes or so, there was a change in the float bearers. The changes were swift and efficient with barely a pause in the procession. 20170414_082048

nl res parade 2017

As the andas entered the main plaza, they wound their way through the crowd and into the church.

nl res mens float 2017

nl res plaza easter 2017

I did not photograph inside the church after each procession because it was impossible to see anything but hundreds of heads. Here is one image to show you what I mean.

nl res church semana snta.jpg

Semana Santa processions and devotional masses take place throughout Guatemala! It is a beautiful thing to witness and experience.

Día Internacional de la Mujer

March 8th was International Women’s Day. La Direción Municipalidad de la Mujer (The Municipal Administrative Office of the Woman) hosted a large event in our town in honor of International Women’s Day, although it was held on March 9th due to scheduling conflicts with another large event with the same theme. The event was held at a local recreation center (see the pool in the background) and the invited guests were indigenous women from our town and surrounding communities.nml res_dia de la mujer_

Martina Velasquez, Director of the Dirección Municipalidad de la Mujer, and her awesome staff and volunteers, did a great job of coordinating the logistics of the event. Over 200 women and children attended and there were many representatives from local organizations that participated. Martina had generously invited me and my colleague, Miho, from JICA, to speak at the event. Miho went a step further and arrived in her beautiful traditional Japanese garb.

nml res_Miho trad dress

We were given fifteen minutes each to speak. Miho gave a short introduction to herself and her work as a JICA volunteer. I gave a talk on “The Four Keys to Self-Empowerment.” Can you tell I’m from California? The four keys to self-empowerment as I laid them out, are one’s voice, truth, breath and heart. I spoke about the importance of each key and led them in a short breathing exercise. Maybe the concepts were too Californian and not enough K’iche. But in crossing the cultural divide, one must try things and learn from one’s successes and mistakes. And if one is earnest and well meaning, it will count for a lot.

nml res_foto by Miho_me on stage w mic

nml res_me on stg foto by MIHO

Afterwards, a woman gave me a big hug and gifted me with a handbag that she had woven and that had been for sale on the vendor’s table. It was such a blessing to meet her and to receive her gift. See photo.

nml res_Me w Ana Cleta Larios

The event was filled with actos. One was about domestic violence and another was about sexual assault. The dramatizations offered step-by-step instructions on what to do in the case of those emergencies. The actress that portrayed herself in crisis would visit a series of small tables with representatives from different agencies (police, hospital, health center, etc.). The representatives from each agency didn’t even have to act; they knew what to say in each situation. Watching the dramatizations helped women think about the choices they’d have to make and the information they’d need to declare.  In the photo below, it’s hard to see, but an actress is laying on a stretcher while attendants offer her care. nml res_wide view_dia de la mujer

During the event I walked around and met a few people. One was a woman selling handwoven goods. She showed me ribbons for the hair and to demonstrate, she had another woman braid the ribbons into a crown and place it in her hair. It was beautiful to watch.

nml res_lady at dia de la mujer

There was also a raffle with a lot of giveaways. One women won for being the eldest in attendance. She was over 90 years old and very capable!

nml res_ oldest woman at Dia

The event ended with lunch for everyone. I escorted the elder woman to the front to make sure she got served first. After everyone had been served and women were boarding buses for home, the staff rested amidst the empty pots and balloons that were being torn down by children who wanted to play with them. Marina (center in photo below) director, reina, capitana, super woman–she is all of those things. She and her team did a great job of honoring the women of this town.

nml res_Martina_Dia de la Mujer

Single Stories

16602821_1380413548677303_8848461364396132906_n

Photo: Upper row: family portrait, Bottom: Atenojenes (my grandfather); Gregoria (my grandmother).

When you are new to a country, it is easy to generalize about the people based on your personal experiences. But what happens to you might be different from what happens to another traveler (and another and another). I cringe when I hear someone generalize about Guatemalans. I often refute what I hear and offer my own experiences and suggest that there are as many variations as there are people. I am sensitive to generalizations because as a Chicana and I’ve been struggling against them all of my life.

Yesterday I met a North American man visiting Guatemala. As we ended our conversation, he asked me where I was from. He knew I was from the U.S. so I answered, “California and New York.” He looked slightly disappointed in my answer, paused and then said goodbye. I figured, though I could be wrong, that he wanted to know my ethnicity, because I get that question every single day. I don’t mind it when Guatemalan’s ask me because I understand the curiosity—I’m a foreigner here in this pueblo. But I flinch when questioned by North Americans because it insinuates that I am different from everyone else or that I don’t belong. I’m proud of my cultural heritage and once I know someone I’m happy to swap information about our cultural heritage.

[I’m thinking of my friend, Barbara, and all our shared stories in coffeshops around New York City, especially The Blue Stove in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood. Wait up, Barbara, we’ll resume when I get back there. We have a lot of catching up to do!]

During our pre-service training in the Peace Corps, we had a few classes on cross cultural understanding. In one of those sessions we were treated to a screening of a Ted Talk by Nigerian writer and Mac Arthur Genius Grant recipient, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, titled, “The Danger of a Single Story.” In her brilliant talk, she warns, “Show a people as one thing and only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” I might add, that it is not what they become, but it is what they become in the eyes of others. She continues to describe the power of the storyteller to shape attitudes towards a person or a people. This is especially evident today, politics being what they are. I keep hearing people defend the new immigration policies, because they want to be protected by the “bad people,” despite research that shows that there is no link between immigration and crime in forty years of data.

But national narratives that have been bred for generations are hard to overturn. Read: There’s an Intriguing Sociological Reason So Many Americans are Ignoring Facts Lately Business Insider, Feb. 27, 2017

Back in the 1990s I remember seeing the hilarious theatre productions by Culture Clash in San Diego. Those of us in the audience from the Chicano community laughed loud and long, because the humor was medicinal or our pain over how we’d been stereotyped negatively or simply rendered invisible. Culture Clash used stereotypes to construct their characters. These were not only stereotypes that were fed by media but also stereotypes, icons, and heroes that Chicanos/Latinos had bonded to, to form personal and group identities. Cultural Clash explored them all and sometimes it was like looking through a mirror so we could see how we were framing ourselves and laugh (or cry, or cry with laughter) and sometimes it felt painful to see the ways that we, as a people, were pegged, limited and held back in society.  Another theater group, Chicano Secret Service, did the same type of work and both groups helped many of us realize that while we had many things in common, we are also unbound in who we could be as individuals.

So, now that I’m in Guatemala, every time I think or start to say, “Guatemalans seem to….” and I stop myself from uttering a single story about this diverse culture.

Lago Atitlán

After integrating into our permanent sites for near two months, Bak’tun 8 (my Peace Corps group) was called back to the PC headquarters more training. early in-service training (EIST) at the PC headquarters. Bak’tun 8 has two areas of focus: Youth in Development (YID) and Healthy Schools (HS), each with their own program managers. Upon our arrival at the headquarters we thrilled to see each other and anxious to swap stories but we had little time to do so once training began.

During the weekdays we were busy but fortunately our weekends were free. I got to hang out with my good friend, Kathy Z with whom I’ve spent many weekends in Antigua. We were neighbors during our first ten weeks of training and, along with Patricia, our other neighbor, we’d go for walks up into the hills. It was sad when Patricia left the PC for home. But she seemed to know that there was something else she had to do. Now she is in Laos, working in Pediatrics, helping nurses develop critical thinking skills in their care of critically ill infants.We are all so proud of her.

During EIST, Kathy and I frequented different cafes but always liked spending hours at Mc Donald’s because it had wifi, super clean bathrooms, and you could sit outside with a beautiful view of one of the volcanos. It was great to reconnect with Kathy and also with Connie. We are among the older volunteers so sharing time together and talking about life is altogether different from being with the younger crowd. The younger crowd is very dynamic, energetic and accomplished. They have plans for adventure and doing important things in their lives. Us older folks have done a lot and now we’re running at a different speed. Instead of starting medical school or a graduate program, we are thinking about social security and learning Spanish quickly enough to do our jobs well.

Photo below: Santa Cruz, a little hill that overlooks Antigua. Kathy, Connie and I did the short climb though it nearly took it out of me!

vendors-at-antigua-cruz-ds

Antigua has a beautiful park in their main square and as usual, it was filled with tourists and vendors.

ds-antigua-park

Kathy and I spent a lot of time walking in search of good, inexpensive food. I also looked for health food supplements but found that they were either unavailable or too expensive. Thank goodness I had brought some effective remedies from Tigerlily Holistic, a community acupuncture clinic in Brooklyn.

ds-antigua-fruit-vendors Photo: fruit vendors in Antigua

Completion of EIST marks when PCVs are free to travel on the weekends, twice a month. To celebrate, most of my Bak’tun decided to go to Lake Atitlán. I was so exited to go to the lake. I had been wanting to go ever since I’d applied to the Peace Corps a year earlier. On the bus, I looked out the window searching for water and when I saw it I nearly swooned. It was just as wonderful and I’d imagined.

ds-pana-first-glimpse

I found a hotel room, dropped off my heavy bags and and then walked for hours enjoying the sights and the lake. It was like medicine for my body and heart.

Photo below: One of the docks in Panajachel.

ds-pana-dock

Photo below: Three volcanos that ring the lake (two on the left, one in front of the other).

ds-lake-atitlan-peaks

Photo below: After five months in Guatemala, I really missed a hearty north American breakfast. I found it here: bacon, eggs, toast and/or pancakes and rich coffee. Whoa! It hit the spot. I don’t remember the name of this wonderful cafe, sorry!

ds-pana-cafe

Panajachel (“Pana” for short) has a main street that is filled with vendors selling traditional traje (clothes) and crafts. The dolls at one vendor’s table made me chuckle. I posted the photo of it (below) on Instagram and one of my friends commented:

I love this so much! One of my prized childhood possessions among some handmade dolls from Sonora was my Barbie with a handmade huipil and long skirt whom I lovingly renamed “sweatlodge sweetie” haha!

ds-barbies_traje

In the evening I sat in an outdoor cafe in the balmy weather eating a delicious pasta dish and promised myself to return to the lake again and again.

ds-pana-evening

The next morning I headed out on a bus for the long bus ride home which was bumpy and windy and crowded. But over the next few days I felt the relaxing peace of my weekend and the magic of the lake.

Kathy had not been able to go to the lake but we agreed to visit each other’s homesites in the coming months. Instead, a couple of weeks later she exited the Peace Corps and returned to the United States. Her circumstances made it perfectly understandable. I was sad but I’m sure we’ll keep in touch. All of the PCVs in our Bak’tun that have returned to the states, are missed. They made a difference in our lives while they were here. They blessed us with their presence and continue to do good in the world.

ds-pink-rose

First School Visits

Sending Happy Birthday wishes with love to my mother, Eva!!! ❤️

So, I’m assigned to work in ten rural schools. My school supervisors have been too busy to take me to the schools and apparently, I needed an escort the first time. So I’ve been studying Spanish and reviewing my Healthy Schools materials, waiting for something to happen. This week, all systems are GO!

Photo: Our office where the school supervisors

mineduc-office

Miho, my new friend and colleague, invited me to observe her at one of the schools we share. After meeting the director, we peeked in to say hello to Rita who was preparing huge pots of atol for refa (snack). Atol de Avena is oatmeal made as a thick, liquid drink. It’s super yummy, especially when sprinkled with cinnamon. The atol is free for all the children but we also saw several outdoor booths where parents were making sandwiches and arranging other types of snacks that the children could purchase.

Photo below: Rita stirs a pot of atol.

ritastirsatol

We proceeded to an empty classroom so that Miho could conduct height and weight checks on children. Since it was recess, the children were rambunctious and curious about us. Someone asked if I was Miho’s mom because I also looked Japanese. “Oh, you’re not Japanese…are you Chinese?” I’ve come to love these questions and delight in talking about my Mexican and Diné heritage. One boy tried to make fun of another boy by saying, “He’s indigenous!” Speaking to the children in front of me, I replied, “We’re all indigenous. I am indigenous,” and they nodded in agreement. I’m not sure what they understood since it was so noisy and they were racing in and out. But it was a start.

miho_jica

One boy was especially funny, a real comedian. He made funny faces and postures and bopped kids over the head with a plastic container and used a jump rope as a whip. I prayed that no one would squash his joyful spirit as I took his props away. I saw that he had used white out to dot his hands and asked to photograph them.

speckledhands

comic-salute

All the kids were fascinated by the fact that I am from the U.S., especially since so many of them have family there. In rapid fire succession they began asking me to pronounce their names in English. I told them their nicknames, too. I also told them that a lot of North Americans prefer to pronounce their names in their native language.

The next day, my colleague, Ronal, drove me to several more schools to formally introduce me to directors and teachers and show me the bus route I would be taking from now on. For some unknown reason, my Spanish was better than ever (not great, but better). I also understood everyone, which was a kind of miracle. I remember telling a cook in a cafe about how hard it’s been for me to learn Spanish. She told me to ask God for help.

I got to visit some classrooms and being unprepared, I simply started telling the children that I was from the U.S. and wondered if they had any family there. A chorus of kids said yes. I asked them if, on my bi-weekly visits, they would be willing to do a trade with me: I would teach them some words in English if they would teach me some words in Spanish and K’iche. They jumped with excitement and the teachers were also very happy with the idea. In fact, in all of the schools, the directors and teachers were very enthusiastic about the idea. I will use words that relate to our Healthy Schools program, about hygiene and a healthy lifestyle.

It had been pointed out to me that some of the youth are rejecting their traditional language and dress. So I made a point to telling the children that I had begun taking K’iche classes. When I recited the only word I know: “Saqarik” (good morning). They laughed because I used a pronunciation that is used in another area, but not in theirs. There is so much to learn! [Photo below: Ronal with 5th and 6th graders.]

ronal_class

Since Ronal’s home is situated next door to one of the schools, I got to meet his lovely mother and take a snapshot of her roses. Guatemalanroses, don’t forget! Roses are everywhere but I’m realizing that roses are difficult to photograph. Today, I am working on a charla (talk) to give to a large group of Mayan women next week. Wish me luck!

whiterose