Since I haven’t been keeping up with this (but I have been writing in a journal and maintaining a calendar full of notes and happenings and memories), I thought I’d post what I’ve been sending out in my TinyLetter.
This was sent out on February 24, 2015.
I’m sending this to you in the middle of week ten (!) in site. That makes about 19 weeks in country, in total. It definitely feels like time has passed, but not enough to be measurable, if that makes any sense.
First, I’d like to share some pictures of my town and my home, just so you have a better idea as to what I’m talking about.
1. Yes, my town has a breathtaking view of Lake Atitlan and Volcán San Pedro (yes, that’s volcano in Spanish, but this one is mostly inactive).
2. Yes, my fellow PCVs are incredibly jealous and are already planning their lakeside getaways.
3. No, I’m not living in a hut (although that is the PC stereotype) and I’m very grateful to have electricity, running water (sometimes hot water in the shower!) and Internet on the good days!
Now I know why I started this Tiny Letter email subscription thing, whatever it’s called – to try to keep my friends, family and other super cool individuals up to date on my Guatemalan life, but that’s the thing. It’s my life now, so sometimes it’s a bit difficult to write about what I’m doing when it’s just normal life. There are some things that are noteworthy like finally buying a bed, my first bout with a GI illness in-country (that’s right, I lasted 17 weeks!), and going ziplining with some health center staff as part of a celebration for Valentine’s Day or Día del Cariño. That said, here are some entertaining and somewhat informative anecdotes from the last couple weeks:
The Guatemalan government gives out “Vitacereal” to pregnant women, lactating mothers and malnourished children. It’s this bag of mix that is chock-full of carbohydrates and proteins and more. Women are supposed to add it to food for either them or the growing rugrats. Since my health center is the head of the health district, all of the district’s vitacereal gets delivered here. Now I don’t know if it was the vitacereal or if the health center already had a problem, but one day, all the female staff members were shrilly screaming – because of a little rat. Some women refrained from going to the bathroom and others just locked themselves in their offices (because a rat can definitely unlock the door, forget about just squeezing underneath). After two days of this, the male staff members took control. Armed with brooms and mops, they cornered the rat. They closed off the exits with surprise, surprise, huge bags of vitacereal. Ultimately, the little guy was caught and apparently the health educators believe in capital punishment for the rodent variety. Now we can all breathe a bit easier and of course, go to the bathroom whenever we please with no fear.
Since my two host parents are pastors, I try to attend church with them on Sunday. Now Guatemalan services are incredibly different from any service to which I have ever been, just as beautiful, but still very different. From the volume and the parts in the local Mayan language (Tz’utujil – I dare you to look it up on YouTube!) to the children happily playing or fiercely crying, it’s definitely ad adjustment. Hands down, my favorite part of the service is “maraca-man.” I don’t know his name (yet), but I look forward to his presence every week. So towards the end, there are three groups who sing (women, men and youth) “alabanzas.” Sometimes, an elderly gentleman who plays the maracas accompanies the men – the “maraca man.” With his brow furrowed in concentration and eyes squeezed closed, his deliberate arm movements make me not only giggle (on the inside, of course), but also appreciate the joy and passion he brings to the otherwise stoic men.
Recently, I had the pleasure of getting to know one of the “quartermaster” staff (that’s literally what it translates to in English, he’s essentially a jack-of-all-trades. He sweeps, mops, runs errands, makes phone calls, and more) and after our 20-minute “platica,” I felt like I had found the perfect work partner for an “Espacios Amigables.” It all started because he was studying algebra (ick, I know) and geometry (what piqued my interest). I asked, “What are you studying?” and from there he expressed his dream to get a bachelor’s degree in mathematics abroad and become a math teacher in Guatemala. He explained that he had actually spent two years out of school and was now trying to finish what’s equivalent of a high school degree (how he does this is beyond me because he’s at the health center Monday through Friday and I’m pretty sure there aren’t high school classes on weekends). The part that’ll tug at your heartstrings is how he described his youth – his parents were strict about a curfew and did emphasize the importance of an education, but since he came home with the best grades out of his nine siblings, he essentially got away with anything, including but not limited to drinking and smoking marijuana. Long story not so short, his story epitomized the turnaround that’s possible for youth and made me even more motivated to start an “Espacios Amigables” or “Friendly Space” (think along the lines of “Safe Spaces” in the US) where youth can meet together and share/discuss/learn and more.
After about two months at the local health center, I have noticed one major difference between Guatemala and the US. Regardless of time of day, sex of the staff member or anything else, every small child that is brought in to have his/her height and weight measured is beyond terrified of the scale and the measuring stick. It doesn’t matter if the kid came in with a happy disposition, smiling and fully immersed in the intricacies of his or her fingers. The second the kid sees or becomes in contact with the scale, its waterworks. They grasp for their moms, pulling hair, outright refusing the hard metal surface, sometimes defying gravity and maintaining grip on mom’s huipil. After multiple attempts (normally involving mom and at least two health educators) to weigh the child, the ordeal (or part of it) is finally over and the tears immediately disappear once the baby is back in mom’s arms. Then comes the worst part – having one’s height measured. Since all kids under the age of five have their height and weight monitored, the “measuring stick” is more like a wooden plank on which the children are laid. Their heads are pushed (gently, don’t worry) to the end and then their legs stretched out (again, gently) to get their full height. This seems like complete torture if you went by the screams. And this is all before vaccines, if any, are administered (that comes later in the consult). At first, I was mortified at the kids’ reactions and I thought my participation would just make it worse, mainly as my tall, scary foreigner status. So I just witness the ordeal from the corner, writing down numbers and such. Now, we have developed a new method for the really finicky children. We have mom hold said kid and have her step on to the “big kid scale” and then weigh her again, this time by herself. A simple idea, but still separating a child from mom is hard and makes you feel terrible about your job. This is also why I didn’t accompany the health educators and nurses when they vaccinated kids. If all these tears were just from weighing, imagine what an actual injection would incite. It’s not part of my project, but I’m determined to find out if there’s some sort of fear epidemic plaguing the under five population in Guatemala. So far, other volunteers in other towns have confirmed that the same signs are symptoms are evident among their kids, too. I wonder how far it goes…
One of the other things I’m proud about is how I’ve started to get to know more people at the health center. I may sound like a middle school girl, but I was invited to eat lunch with the nurses and secretary. At first, I feel a bit out of place but eating with them is infinitely superior to eating by myself in my kitchen. Thanks to the three of them, I have now tried sapote (kind of similar to a papaya but not), been introduced to all types of corn products (tamelitos, tamales, and yellow, white and black tortillas), and learned some Guatemalan slang. Most of all, with them, I feel a part of something. The other day, we had a health district meeting in the next town and during the mandatory refacción (snack), one of the women called me to make sure that I knew where I could buy snack (because it’s a new town and I may not know). It really is the small things.
Sorry this post was incredibly long, but I can say that it’ll be awhile before my next one – tomorrow I leave for Early In-Service Training, which is more project-focused. For the first three days, I’ll be participating in a PC nutrition education workshop with two work partners from my health center and then about two weeks back in Santa Lucia at the PC office learning more about MCH! I’m excited to see some other volunteers and to start planning projects for my first year of service!