Let's use this blog to keep up with each other! Excited to be in Guatemala, but also missing everyone! Post whatever!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Que pasó en mayo

Hello all! I´ve actually been pretty busy in May, but let me first vent a little bit with regard to the backwards priorities of the Guatemalan public school system. The school day begins around 8ish and goes until 12:15ish depending on the schools, and while this obviously is not enough time to teach anything, the school day doesn´t have to be a complete waste; the kids could actually learn a thing or two. Things are made more difficult by the Ministry of Education who decides to suffocate the teachers with actividades. In Guatemala for Dia de la Madre (Mother´s Day) schools invite the mothers to an activity at the school and the kids put on mini-performances to show their appreciation. I like the idea of Mother´s Day activities, but instead of using non-class time to rehearse the presentations, precious learning time is wasted so that the kids can ensayar (rehearse). So Jessica, wanting to be a productive volunteer, shows up to school ready to give her lessons and meet with the teachers, but instead ends up critiquing skits and dances. So second week in May gone, but one week wasted can be made up. The Ministry, with good intentions, then decided to have a artistic competition of sorts between schools of the same district. Each school was responsable for putting together and performing a theater skit, song, dance, and something else. The good intention here being that art is kind of a foreign concept to the Guatemalans I live near. Instead of a creative individual expression that uses the imagination, art here is the copying and coloring-in of disney characters. I remember the day I actually tried to explain this to some students because I just could no longer take having them proudly show me pictures that¨they drew¨ and seeing a copied picture of Mickey Mouse. The wording they use it key, the say ¨Mira Seño a mi dibujo,¨ and I would always say to myself, ´but you didn´t really draw that, and it´s not really yours because you copied it .´ I also couldn´t take it when I asked to kids to draw a picture of something they were visually familiar with but without giving them an example. Instead of using their imagination, they all looked at me paralyzed and said ¨Seño no puedo.¨ So one day I decided to break it to some kids that it really wasn´t their drawing because they copied it, and if they wanted to call something theirs they had to draw it without copying something else. The picture of Mickey Mouse is someone else`s picture. I know this sounds mean, and you´re probably thinking, Jess why can´t you just let the kids feel good about themselves. Well, after the first and second and third time I did let it go, but when you´re around it everyday you feel the need to correct them because if you don´t clearly there´s no one esle around who will tell them the real deal. It´s the same with the kids´cleanliness. If I were to go around everyday and not tell the kids they were dirty, they would never recognize that they´re dirty, and thus would never clean themselves. So obviously the kids didn´t really understand me, and obviously in Guatemala art still means copying other pictures, but I tried - that´s all you can really do in the Peace Corps. So the Ministry has the very good intention of trying to initiate artistic expression in the kids via a healthy competition, but what happens? The teachers use class time to rehearse, and the kids only learn their lines. You also may be thinking, why can´t the teachers stay after school and rehearse with the children. Well, for one the teachers have no desire to stay after 12:30ish and would rather die before they miss their scheduled ride home, heaven forbid they have to wait for the next bus. Basically idea of putting in extra time to get the job done is a foreign concept. On a side note, I was asked to be the jurado calificador or judge for one of these contests. I judged teatro y cancion with two other judges, and the teachers (not the kids) were such sore loosers! The other judges made a joke earlier that they hoped the crowd wouldn´t lynch them for the judging results, I laughed, but after I realized that while the comment was an exaggeration he had reason to fear being hated. So anyway 3rd week of May gone. Finally I come upon the final week in May and hope to be somewhat productive and end the month on a strong note, but of course the Estadisticas! Estadisticas or statistics is a bunch of computerizred paperwork regardign the students that attend their school that each school has to fill out perfectly or else redo it. Talk about bureacratically inefficient paperwork! The teachers get so stressed out from the pressure of having to do it perfectly, that they literally can´t do anything else and end up canceling classes. Again you may ask, can´t the teachers do the work on the weekends or after school? No way! So May was a rough month in terms of productivity, but June isn´t looking any better. Already this week there´s no school tomorrow, Thursday and Friday because of some big teachers meeting. The following week the teachers have two trips planned just for their teacher activities and a convivio where they all get together and eat. So a 2-day week next week, and the following week the teachers have a week of for teachers week since it´s the middle of the school year. Then June´s over! Luckily in May I had some projects that kept me busy, one being giving two information workshops on HIV/AIDS and Trash Management to some high school kids, which went very well. Yesterday I gave a workshop to all my teachers on making lesson plans for the health lessons they have to give, how to be effective as a team, how to set goals and create agendas to achieve them, and how to uphold strong management and discipline in the classroom. The taller went from 8:00 to 3:30, and you bet the teachers were freaking out, but all in all it went very well and I feel that the teachers truly listen to and respect my opinions and suggestions. We´ll see if the ponerlo en practica (put it in practice). Next week I´ll also be participating in the GLOW camp again, and will be giving a workshop to adolescent girls about the importance of education and life-planning I guess you could say. We´ll see how that goes!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Views of Lago Atitlan

I even like it cloudy!
Just one place you could see if you made the trip down (hint)!

How Cute!

The children of members of my first host family. Danny kissing his cousin Stephanie.. AWWWW

New Hair Cut

As of 3 weeks I think. What do you think?

Dona Fina's Birthday

OOOO I got her smiling
Husband Don Esau, a.k.a Chucho (street dog)
Son William
Daughters Bianqui and Bonnie

Dona Fina's 43rd Birthday!

Dona Fina holding the card I made for her. Check out that dinner! Look at all that meat grease.... uuummmm! By the way, Fina is happy she just never smiles. She wouldn't be Guatemalan if she did.
Bianqui and Bonnie getting the cakes together
Once again she really is happy

Dona Fina has been a great support for me in Guatemala. She's very giving, and is always ready to sit down and talk. She's one of the few people who were open to me from the beginning. She ows an eatery in my town, and lives in Ellen's town where she has been equally kind to Ellen. For her birthday on February 15th Ellen and I decided to thank her for everything with an U.S. dinner of meatloaf, macarroni and cheese, a salad with vinagrette dressing (Guatemalans never eat lettuce or salad as we know it. A typical Guatemalan salad consists of cucumber, tomato, onion, topped with a salt and lime dressing. It's actually delicious, but still not the kind of salad I'm accustomed to), and a chocolate cake. This dinner was also a huge deal for Ellen and I - taking advantage of Dona Fina's oven it was a chance to eat food we miss! Here are some pictures.

GLOW pictures

Getting ready for the group photo
Counselors with my girls
Out of the euphoria we felt for putting on a successful camp...

GLOW Pictures

The three girls I recruited to participate in the GLOW camp. They were 6th graders from Xecaxjoj, one of my schools
Having fun with Tye-Dying
Camp Fire!!!
Work those abdominals girls!
We had the camp at a convent - I know very ironic considering some of the topics discussed. This nun had a very dry sense of humor and was very matter of fact. She cracked us all up! I don't know many nuns but she had to be one of a kind.

GLOW Pictures

During my Sex-Ed presentation
Still talking about sex
The women of our Leadership Panel. The last woman on the right, Juliana, is my counterpart. She is head of all the schools in my district.
Getting ready for our sex talk next to a wonderful sketch of a womans reproductive organs during a pap smear
Alleya and I mixing dye for t-shirts

What's Been Going On You Ask?

Okay so it's been 3 months since my last post, let me update you! First lets take it back to November and GLOW camp. GLOW, which stands for Girls Leading Our World, is a leadership camp for adolescent girls that originated in the U.S. Finally the manual was translated to Spanish, and in November 2007 we put on the first GLOW camp in Guatemala which we translated to Estrellas de Hoy (Stars of Today). The camp was a great success! We gave talks on Nutrition, HIV/AIDS and Sex Education, Exercise/Well-Being, Culture Sharing, and a Panel of Guatemalan female community leaders. In between the talks we had several other activities which included journaling, camp fires, pizza making, nature walk, and Tye-dye t-shirt making. The camp was special because the idea of a camp doesn't culturally exist in Guatemala. The idea of asking parents to part with their children for a weekend was very weird in and of itself, add to that the presentation of themes and activities that the adolescent girls don't usually encounter made for a risky endeavor. Quite frankly I was a little scared. I volunteered to talk about sex-ed, and ended up reviewing the female sexual organs including the menstrual cycle , how a baby is created, and when one should have sex (suggestions). At first when selecting this theme to share with the girls I envisioned American girls who had already, for the most part, encountered this topic. When I finally came back down to earth, I realized who I would be dealing with: Guatemalan adolescent girls who come from VERY traditional backgrounds where sex simply isn't discussed. It was likely that a good portion of these girls had never learned about their own bodies in this way. I live in a community where women have gotten married at 13 and 14 and had their first child within the following year, not understanding how it all came about. I also live in a community where no one, or very few people know what a condom is (that's another story). So needless to say, I got a little freaked about how I was going to present this information without offending. Also how was I going to fully educate the girls if somethings I couldn't say? For example I originally had a brief statement about orgasms, because it comes up in conversation about the clitoris, but I was advised (probably correctly) to omit it. Okay fine, but a girl should know these things, am I right? I also then had to exclude Gspot talk. But the talk was very successful even without these details. Although, if the girls can't even here the information from liberal Americans when are they ever going to hear it? My talk on how a baby is created involved a PG- rated illustrated story with dialogue demonstrating the dialogue of planned parenthood. The conversation between the man and woman focused on whether they were ready to have a child and take care of it - provide a house, educate it, feed it, and have a steady income to take care of it all. The talk went so well that I was motivated that I could potentially reach some people in my town, we'll see.
So about the condom story. A good friend of mine, Gloria, was telling me one day about a friend of hers who met a man, had sex once, got pregnant, man denied everything, and she was left with child and without money to care for it (since traditionally the man works). The first thing that came to my mind was condom. So I took a risk, because even though Gloria and I are friends, we've never talked about sex before, and started talking about condom use. I informed her that if a condom had been used, at the very least her friend would've been left with hurt feelings when the man dumped her instead of a child to take care of for the rest of her life. Turns out my 21 year old friend Gloria didn't know what a condom was. As I began explaining it to her I remembered that Peace Corps gives us condoms in out medical kit. I invited her to come see one, but also felt the need to say that I only have them because they're a part of health maintenance, not because I have sex (I'm telling you my town is very traditional... if a man and woman are seen together having a good time people automatically assume they're intimate). So what do you know she comes up and I walk her through the process of opening a condom and how it's applied. She thanked me for showing her, and I was happy that I took the risk to show her. She could've been really immature about it, or thought things about me for having it, and in such a small town I have to keep my reputation very pure. So this is what I'm dealing with. Not all of Guatemala is this traditional, just where I live. Here are some pictures from the GLOW camp.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Christmas part 2

Our Bungalows with private pool!


Delicious Chickens before they went in... Christmas Eve Meal

Christmas 2007 at Monterrico

Chillin in the hammocks
Beautiful Sunset!
Christmas Day Dinner!
Christmas Eve Dinner... great team work!
Taking in the Sun

I haven't forgotten about the blog!

So it definitely has been a while since my last post! I've been on summer vacation since the end of October and will be returning to classes next week. This week I'm busy giving talleres (meetings) with the teachers at each of my schools trying to get them back on track with the Healthy Schools program. Generally we review goals and discuss/brainstorm on how to accomplish them. I had my first meeting with the Parracana teachers yesterady, and what I enjoyed most was the comfort I felt with them, a comfort that I spent last year developing. I'm beginning to realize how invested I am in Guatemala, I can't believe it'll be a year on the 18th.
An investment that I'm beginning to reap in the form of good working relationships, growing friendships, and even in the comfort I feel within my daily routines. Who would've thought that it would take a year to reap the benefits of integration, and to even feel comfortable in my day to day activities. It feels good to be known in my town, to have people to say hi to, to be able to tell people to pass by my house when they're in the neighborhood. 2007 was a year of adjusting to different environments, a year of being new, and it was exhausting. I spent my first three months in training and lived with one host family. Every day was an adjustment, a get-to-know-you-and-your-culture moment, a slow progression along the comfort ladder. I learned that the best way to integrate is to adopt a fake it until you make it mentality- force yourself to be apart of the family even though you aren't, force yourself to make conversation even when it's so easy to just sit isolated in your room (many times this isolation is well needed and deserved). Talk about the weather, about your work, about cultural differences... talk about anything even though maybe deep down you don't really care. This is the exhausting part of Peace Corps: the need to be accepted in an environment and culture that is your opposite causes you to always have to be "on." When you're not trying to fit in, you can choose to be anti-social, but in Peace Corps not fiting in or failing to make any social connections can make for a very sad, lonely, and depressing 2 years. So in my opinion, not socializing, not making small talk isn't an option because I want to try and enjoy my time here. And many times it is forced! There are times when I don't feel like leaving my house, I don't feel like speaking Spanish but I do it anyway because it's why I'm here, and I always come back feeling better that I got to know someone in my town better. So after my first three months in training with my first host family, who I'm pretty close with, I moved to my site. My first week there I got a really bad cold and was in bed all day in the house of my new host family. Ahhhh, to have to get to know again! But sadly the second time around wasn't as succesful as the first. My second host family had never heard of Peace Corps, didn't seem to care to really know why I was there, and I just felt like I was trying way too hard! I was making all the effort, but they weren't really responding to me. Needless to say, I was very eager to get into my new house and connect with other people. But I was the first volunteer in my site, not to mention the first real foreigner aside from the Cubans who work in the town health center. The towns people didn't exactly welcome me with open arms, it took a while for people to stop staring at me when I walked by, and it took a while for them to respond when I said Buenos Dias. Every conversation I had involved my shpiel describing where I was from and what I was doing in their town. But poco a poco people began to accept me, and now they approach me! A great accomplishment but one that took some time. August I moved in to my house, and instantly felt more confortable. To cook your own food, to take a long shower, to blast music..... wow what a difference a little bit of freedom makes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Room During Training (January - April)

Previous Room With Host Family