Monday, January 3, 2011

Mmm Happy Holidays!

After an incredible trip back to the states and a promise to be better about blogging I think it’s about time for a new post.
I just spent the last 13 days in the states after 8 months in Guatemala. I ate way more food than I thought humanly possible, drank far too much and filled every minute with friends and family. I am so incredibly grateful for my amazing friends and family. This trip literally would not have been possible without their help. I feel so lucky to have what I have.
With a 20 hour trip ahead of me tomorrow I can’t help but think about how different I am than the last time I made this trip. Going into this journey I was absolutely terrified, I cried all the way to my first layover. Now with a belly full of good food, some great memories with friends/family and the knowledge of what awaits me when I land; I am pretty happy to see Guatemala again.
Since my last post some things have changed. School let out for the rest of the year so I had to fill my time with other activities. I taught English three days a week with my site mate which was actually pretty great.

Unlike my classes in the schools, English is something you can really measure results. You can’t really measure self esteem accurately but whether or not someone can conjugate verbs is. I also facilitated two camps. One was a physical education camp with 27 of my students. I taught them about the importance of a proper diet and exercise. Guatemala is definitely a country of malnutrition with a good majority of the population underweight and lacking a large amount of nutrients.

My second camp was an all girls’ camp with the goal of teaching them self esteem, leadership and empowerment. The first camp was a big success and was great time. Unfortunately, the second didn’t go quite as planned but that’s ok. I will try again next year and learn from my mistakes.
Things are still going strong with the boy. I feel incredibly fortunate to have a great man during such a crazy time in my life. He treats me so well and really has helped make my life complete in Guatemala. I still can’t believe that I found such an amazing boyfriend in a third world country.

These next couple of weeks I will be planning for my first official school year which starts on the 15th. I am so excited to see what the next 18 months have in store for me. Thank you for your continued support and Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mucho Suerte

It has been awhile and seeing as I have no work for the week it seems like a good chance to update you on my life.

So first birthday in Guatemala went well but had some major glitches. For one, they called STANDFAST on us while I was on my way to meet my boyfriend. This means that you cannot leave your site because it is too dangerous. At this time it was tourential(spell check) downpouring and there were tons of landslides on the main highway which sadly took the lives of many Guatemalans, rest in peace.
The picture is of crosses on the highway where people lost their lives in the the landslides. I got the go ahead to stay in Antigua but we were not allowed to travel to the lake as planned. After meeting Geo and wandering around Antigua looking for a hotel we arrived at Berkhard legitamently soaking wet. We were able to enjoy the weekend in Antigua, hitting the clubs, eating good food and enjoying one another's company. He left Monday but I was stuck there along with about 5 other volunteers. We made up the standfast crew and partied every night until Thursday when we got the go ahead to return to our sites. Needless to say standfast is hard...

Ran my 15K in Chimaltenango two weeks ago and it was incredible.
The route was so beautiful and I did it was some amazing friends. Finished the 9.3 mile run in 1 hour and 45 minutes, not bad considering it was my first real race. I just wanted to finish it and I was damn proud to have done so. Next up is the half marathon in Xela on the 14th of November and after a week of resting I am back to training.

I ended up staying the night in Chimal with my good friend Maggie and woke up at 5am to return to site. Why so early Christina, you may ask...wellll we were told that there were going to be protests on the main highway starting at 8am so I needed to be back in my site by 8 or I would be stuck in God only knows where. Things were going fine, according to plan. I was 20KMS from Cuatro Caminos, where they said these events would be taking place, at 7:30am when the buses could no longer move as people crowded into the street. The picture is of one of the protests I encountered on my walk. I was exhuasted from the race the day before but knew I would be stuck there, in the middle of no where for hours and hours if I didn't do something. Putting on my running shoes I decided to take my chances and walk a bit, see if I couldn't find a bus on the other side of this crowd. So 20KMS later (12.5 miles) I finally hit Cuatro Caminos. I was still in high spirits, feeling proud of what I had just accomplished and thinking once I got to the other side of the crowd there would surely be micros or tuk-tuks, something to get me home. Oh no, the entire department of Totonicapan had shut down for the strike and people had put rocks and branches in the all the roads to discourage people from driving. At this point the rain began and with it my spirits fell as I slowly but surely found myself still walking and drenched. 5KMS later I encountered the bomberos, they are the volunteer firefighters, who thank God took me the final 15KMS. I still need to write them a card and get them some delicious treat to thank them. After all was said and done I had ran a 15k one day only to walk 25 more the following. I am just now recovering. And in retrospect it was a fun adventure and now makes a good story but let's be honest those last 5kms about broke me.

Now it is feria time in Toto which means a ridiculous amount of people, so much street food walking in parades,

and basically regulation free rides. Pretty much the best time of the year in Toto. I have enjoyed myself thus far and fair rides will never quite be the same after legit fearing for your life on the ferris wheel and the zipper.

Work is winding down as school comes to an end. They have exams for the next two weeks and then vacation until January. During this time I will be teaching english every week and having camps, we shall see how this pans out...things in Guatemala never ever go as expected. I am headed to Coban in two weeks to meet the boyfriend's fam, I have never been so nervous to meet someone in my life. Ay, I will keep you posted on how much of an ass I make out of myself. That is it for now, hasta pronto.

These last pictures are all from the feria:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Guatemalan Life

With a glass of wine in hand I figured it was about time I update my blog.
Life is amazing...more than a month as an official volunteer and I couldn't imagine being much happier with my present situation.
I wanted to give you guys an idea of my daily life here in Toto. My average day looks something like this:
Dance Practice (still teaching the dancers the Thriller dance, we present on the
10th of September)

Running with my site mate (training for the 15k in Chimal on the 19th of September)

Shower, make breakfast with my propane stove and prep for classes

Work at the school (I am personally in the classroom teaching things like self-esteem, making/achieving goals, communication, leadership and team building, HIV/AIDS, and sexual education) My students are especially interested in sex education, a vast majority have never received any sort of education and couldn't tell you what vaginal intercourse consists of let alone tell you how to protect themselves.

Pasear tiempo with my students or Elizabeth(site mate)

Dance around my room, make dinner and pass out

Weekends consist of a lot of the same, sometimes with a little alcohol involved, a lot of traveling and making some lasting memories.

Some things that I love and have made Guatemala my home, in no particular order:
my students

my site mate
my host family
waking up in the morning to a town that is so ALIVE
the running track
the micro bus drivers
relationships I have formed with people in random places like the local hostel, the security guard at the grocery store, the waitress at the local ice cream parlor...
the fact that nearly everyone in my town knows my name and says Hola, buenas dias/tardes/noches seno Christy
I can get to any of my good friends here in Guatemala within 3 hours
there is ALWAYS something going on
my dancers/dance team
skyping with my family and friends back home
my boyfriend (to be discussed shortly)

the internet
latin music
my counterpart

the way people come together to help one another
the mountains
the lake

the market (I can buy a pound of chicken for $1, pound of strawberries for $.50, pound of bananas for $.20...just an idea for you guys)
feeling important
and much much more
PS the group of kids is my students at a dance in my backyard, the gansta shot is my counterpart (aka my boss) and the super guapo guy with me is my boyfriend:)

So yup, got myself a Guatemalan boyfriend. I was one of the girls that said "no way, never." The men here have a serious rep for being sexist, dominate, demanding, cheaters, and just overall not very good boyfriends/husbands. That being said, one has managed to change my mind for the time being and I am not mad about it. For now, I am enjoying the times I spend with him and the serious improvement in not only my language skills but my grasp on the culture. For those of you future volunteers reading this I highly suggest you give it a try. jaja. Vamos a ver que pasa...

First birthday in Guatemala next weekend, headed to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan with the boyfriend and I am super excited. When I arrived in Guatemala I was terrified. Scared of the unknown, scared I couldn't handle this, scared I would miss my amazing life back home so much that I would never succeed here. I am no longer terrified but feel completely at home in my environment. The unknown excites the hell out of me. I know now that I can handle just about anything. And while I miss home I am taking advantage of every second in my new home. I know that I am missing weddings (congrats to Anjilee/Chris and Kirsten/Zack) and births (congrats to Ali/Jason) but everyday of my life here is an amazing. It doesn't matter if the most exciting thing I do in the day is hit the market, my life here is an adventure and I am living it to the fullest.
*Live your dreams*

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's Official!

I am writing for the first time as an official volunteer. Two weeks ago, 45 of us swore in and committed ourselves for the next two years to the Peace Corps. Aside from saying goodbye to the family I have come to know and love over the past three months the swearing in process was fantastic. The picture is of me, my family and the ambassador.
After the ceremony the majority of the new volunteers made their way to Antigua where we pushed our regained independence to its limits. We spent the weekend enjoying ourselves and relaxing before the real work began.

I am currently in my permenant site in the department of Totonicapan. I couldn't be happier with my living situation and my site in general. I seriously lucked out. I have running water, electricity almost always, a hot shower, my own kitchen and internet. I am living like a PC queen! The picture is the view from my back window. I live in a little aldea right outside of a large city. Living this way gives me the best of both worlds which is fantastic. When I go into the city I have a small amount of anonymity and in my aldea everyone knows my name and saludars me. My biggest school is directly across the street from me so the street is always full of my students goofing around.

I have a really great site mate named Elizabeth. Her and I have been training for a 15k in September. We are also planning some camps together for winter vacation and basically she is going to be my saving grace when I am stressed. The person I can depend on to grab a glass of wine with me and BS about work, guys, and our considerable lack of privacy.

I started a dance group with the students from one of my schools. I am teaching them the dance to Thriller which we are going to perform at the feria in September. I didn't know how it would be received by the kids but they ROCKED it! I am so pumped. I have a lot of confianza in the jovenes and I hope that they have the ganas to get through it. Vamos a ver.

I want to also take a minute to give a HUGE thank you to those of you who attended my party in Spokane and donated. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. It is so wonderful to know that I have amazing family and friends that still support me even when I am thousands of miles of way. I cannot wait to say thank you in person at Christmas. You are all incredible, thank you so much.

This is for now, I will leave you guys with some pictures. Those seems to say way more than I ever can.

Friday, June 25, 2010

When in Guate

We are approaching our two month mark in Guatemala and life is getting better every day. Guatemala has officially become my home, I feel good here, comfortable. Things that you guys back home would consider offensive, extreme or wildly inappropriate I now consider a part of my daily life. Some of these things include; pimped out school buses going 60 mph around sharp curves, bolos (drunk guys) passed out literally in the middle of the road, women crying in the streets to ghosts at the ass crack of dawn, keeping all my money in my bra, and bringing my rain coat everywhere even if it is 90 degrees (chances are it’ll rain.) My host family still rocks and although we can’t always communicate effectively we have a damn good time. Last night I thought I was going to make my host mom and aunt wet themselves they were laughing so hard. It feels good to have the ability to be funny in another language. I rely a lot on humor to get through tough situations and I love that my family here can laugh with me.

Last week we had Field Based Training. We stayed in hotels in Toto (about 3 hours from my house) for 5 days. While hard work, it was a much needed break from our everyday lives. We had some control over what we ate, where we went and we got to hang out after dark, something that never happens during training. We did presentations (in Spanish) for students, teachers, and parents. My favorite by far was the HIV charla. My friend, Audra and I gave a two hour presentation on HIV to a group of 33 students. The kids were super involved and everyone participated which was awesome. Participation in the classroom is hit and miss. Sometimes you get a class that is really interested and other times getting students to get involved is impossible. Girls here are especially difficult when it comes to participation. Guatemala is a machismo culture, men are extremely empowered and women are expected to be fairly submissive. That being said, boys usually monopolize the classroom generally forcing girls to keep to themselves. Empowering girls is one of the major goals of youth development and as a confident woman I can’t wait to be a positive role model.

One of the days during FBT we got a great opportunity to help with a bottle project. Bottle projects are a fairly new and very green way to do construction. It cuts down on the amount of concrete you need and uses quite a bit of garbage that would otherwise end up in the streets or the rivers. The volunteer who we helped was building latrines at a school in her site. In the picture the latrine is almost finished being filled with garbage. Once that process is complete a mason will cover the outside in concrete and the school will have brand new bathrooms that they can be proud of.
This last Saturday was the first time I felt like a legit Peace Corps volunteer. Tropical Storm Agatha rolled through Guatemala a few weeks ago and left quite a few towns in ruins. A PC Spanish teacher’s home and community was destroyed. All of the trainees traveled to his home to do some disaster relief. I wish I had pictures of the wreckage. It was like a massive mud river flowed through the entire town, leaving homes filled with 4-6 feet of mud. We dug out homes with the locals. We left muddy, exhausted, and with a sense of pride. We were only able to spend a day in the town. The locals have been working day and night since the storm and will continue to work until everyone can reclaim their homes. It is incredible how these communities can pull together in times of need. I am humbled by their ability to give so much when they have so little.
On a personal note, we recently talked about a big project that we are encouraged to carry out in our schools. The purpose of the project is to increase communication between grandparents, parents and children, which at the moment, is very limited. The discussion made me realize how very little I know about my grandparents. I wasn’t sure why there was a gap in knowledge there but I knew I wanted to bridge it. I emailed my grandparents and when I got in return was awesome. While we chose completely different lives we are more alike than I could have imagined. I'd like to end the post the same way my grandmother ended her email:
My only suggestion for your future is you have but one life so live it your way. Couldn’t have said it better g-ma, love you.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Time Flies When You Aren't In Control

I think I am slowly but surely conforming to the Guatemalan way of time. You don't work for time, time works for you. There isn't such a thing as a day, I can't put a date to anything these days. Days meld into a continuous circle, not a definitive date. I kind of enjoy this way of life, it's comforting to know what I can't get done today I can get down tomorrow or the next day or maybe not even until next month but that is okay.
I started working at a school in an aldea (little village) outside of Sumpango.

This is the outside of our school, there are only three rooms inside. It consists of primera, segundo and tercera. It's the equivalent of junior high in the states. There are only two rural schools in the youth development training group so don't assume all schools are like this. Many of the others are pretty well developed and have hundreds of students. Kyle and I are working with 25 students while the other half of our group, Maggie and Pete are working in a different aldea. Our school is a NUFED which means they prepare the kids with skills to work at home or in the field. This is a great thing and a bad thing. Great because the things these kids are learning are applicable directly to their lives as they are now. A hindrance because it limits their hopes and dreams. How can you hope to be a nurse when you are focusing on how to cultivate crops?
Last week our group went with our spanish teacher, Felipe to the museum of coffee and music which was an awesome experience. I had no idea how much time went into my weekly cup of peppermint mocha from Starbucks.

This is a picture is of my group with the best spanish teacher of all time. I honestly lucked out to have such a cohesive group and such an incredible spanish teacher. To my group if you ever read this, you are amazing, I am so happy that I ended up with you guys. You make this experience that much better. Maggie with her bright disposition and words of encouragement, she is the one of the sweetest girls I have ever encountered. Kyle with his many words of wisdom, he brings a small sense a maturity to our otherwise lacking team. And Pete for knowing everything in spanish, always helping us out and cracking us up. My group rocks and I hope they know how incredibly fortunate I feel.
I have cooked two successful meals for my family with the help of my group. This last one was pizza, from scratch! It was delicious! Amazing food here is few and far between so when we have something that resembles a former favorite it's a serious blessing. Not to say the food here isn't good, just not what we are used to. The pic is of Pete and I getting our hands dirty.

We went to Antigua last weekend and had an incredible time. Antigua was a much needed break from training. Yes, we are still volunteers 24/7/365 but taking some time to be a little less professional has to happen just to keep some sanity. We had a blast, saw some amazing things and had that much needed beer that most of us had been craving for the last month. While Antigua was a beautiful place to visit I do not see myself spending much time there. There are so many tourists! It was really great to see so many white people since there are only 8 of us out of the 47,000 people that live in Sumpango but you feel a sense of entitlement there. You don't want to be bunched in with the tourists. I live here, I want that credit. I want the locals to know I do not see Guatemala through the eyes of Antigua like so many of those tourists do. When my friends and family visit I will take you there for some fun times and as an escape from the reality that is Guatemala but you will see everything. The beauty, the poverty, the life and the death that Guatemala has to offer, I'll make sure you get a taste of it all:) Antigua was a great way to bond with other volunteers, release some stress and revel in english for a day. The following are pics of our day out in Antigua.

So it has been more than a month since my arrival in Guatemala. I have learned a lot. A massive amount of spanish, how to work with the youth of Guatemala, and about myself. I get caught up in the thought of learning about myself. I know I am getting to know myself more than I ever have but shouldn't I already know myself after 23 years...I suppose not. I will keep you posted on my discoveries in Guatemala and in myself, should be an interesting journey:) I love and miss you guys please keep the emails coming! And if you are interested in seeing my home go to look up chrismeredith86 and there are two videos up, enjoy!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Salud, Dinero, Amor

Sorry it has been so long, life in Guatemala has been quite time consuming.
To start, I am very happy and content. To be honest I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I started this adventure. I didn't know if I could hack it, I didn't even know if I wanted to hack it. Here I am though, surprising myself. Time has flown, I can't believe it has already been three weeks since I last saw the states. My days are filled with everything from spanish lessons, to technical training, to learning how to tortiar (make tortillas:)

A lot has happened in the last two weeks. My spanish has improved incredibly. I learned how to wash my clothes by hand. I made a very successful and delicious meal for my family with Maggie's help (she is all kinds of awesome). I have experienced a comedor/cantina (bar) in Sumpango and don't plan on returning. I get harassed everywhere I go. The men here love me, the blonde hair and blue eyes drives em wild apparently. The head of safety says I am exotic here, definitely a first. Not something I am really excited about either, it gets old real fast. I traveled to Guate which was exciting and overwhelming. It is crazy how different our communities are in comparison to Guatemala City. It is like any big city you might find in the States but with some seriously depressed looking buildings peppered in there. We went to their "Walmart" literally it is owned by Walmart but I can't remember the name. I am not a big Walmart fan back home but here it was like heaven. Everything I have dreamed about for the last three weeks was in there. The group is headed to Antigua this weekend, so ready for a beer. I think the malaria pills have me dreaming wierd dreams about alcohol consumption.

I start working in the schools tomorrow with my partner, Kyle. We have 24 students in a little village outside of Sumpango. I am super excited since this is the introduction to our actual job. I feel pretty confident in my spanish although I have a looong way to go.

Salud, Dinero, Amor...things to say after people sneeze. One word per sneeze. Three sneezes and you get blessed with all three:) Enjoy that little tid bit, I am bringing it back to the states.

I have more bites than I could begin to count, my body feels achy all the time, I get aweful headaches, and I get new shots every week but I am exactly where I need/want to be. This has already proved to be a challenging and rewarding experience, I can't wait to see what's next. Stay tuned...