Monday, February 23, 2009

Thanks for all the support...

I wanted to thank all of you who donated to my stove project. Through your generous donations we were able to buy enough material to construct 10 improved wood burning stoves. We are currently in the process of building and have constructed 6 stoves thus far. We started by building one at the community school so that the children's daily snack could be cooked at the school instead of being brought from a far away house. We are now in the process of constructing stoves for the homes of the leaders of the community. The leaders are community members who take a role in helping to better their community. They are not paid, and through there activism there community benefits. The need is great in my community, but through support from generous individuals such as yourselves and other institutions the community is continually improving itself for it's future generations.

As for me, I have 5 months left of my service. Time is really flying by and before I know it this experience will have come to an end. I thank all those who have supported me through letters, packages, emails, and comments on my pictures letting me know that you appreciate my efforts and that through my work I have inspired a spirit of service. When I read and hear these comments it reminds me of one of my favorite bible passages Matt 5:14-16. My God bless you and may you find your purpose through Him.

I invite you to check out the rest of my stove project pictures.

Friday, October 3, 2008

with 10 months left....

With 10 months left, where do I find myself. The Peace Corps experience has been fullfilling to say the least. I find myself wondering what my life would be like if I never embarked on this journey. You could say that I was couragous and selfless for deciding to leave my comforte zone for 27 months, but I would tell you that it wasn't either. I wanted to free myself. I wanted to grow as a person without the distractions of our so called lives. I wanted to get away. In the end I always knew that I would get so much more out of this experience. This journey has been a personal awakening, an exploration of my soul. I’ve learned to be comfortable with who I am. I’ve learned to enjoy nature, friendship, my guitar, a good book.

I always viewed life as an end, where do I want to be at the end. But I realized that life is the journey. Life is what passes us by when we’re worrying about what we want to do in the future. I just turned 27 and my life is completely changed. I have not the slightest idea of what I want do when I get back and usually that would scare me, but it doesn’t. I believe that my purpose is set, and no matter what road I go down that purpose will be fullfilled, so why worry. When you don’t know where you’re going, all roads lead the same way.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

One year down, 15 months to go

Yes, I'm still alive and living in Guatemala. I celebrated my one-year mark by going home. Well not exactly...I went home for my sister's graduation and a friend's wedding. It was great being home, it always seems hard to come back. Being with family and friends, taking hot showers with high water pressure, sleeping without a mosquito net, and just how clean every thing seems. Just getting to have a variety of food other than black beans and tortillas. I know it may sound like I'm complaining, but I'm still happy here. It's just funny how excited I get about getting to eat some Vietnamese food! I tell myself that I’m going to start cooking more, but just the idea of having to go to the market and dealing with all the chaos, let’s just say I don’t cook very often.

I’ve been in good health lately. The month of May is known for having the highest rate of illness among volunteers. It is blamed on the changing from dry season to rainy season. We’ve had some intense weather already, which I’m hoping is not a preview of what’s to come. The rainy season is usually cooler and obviously wetter than the dry season. It will start raining every day at about the same time, it is almost as if there was a rain timer plugged in.

I’m excited about work because I was just granted $1000 to construct a large hand washing station at the school in my community. I’ve had the opportunity to work on various different projects from water systems to building latrines. This project, however, will be the first project I’ve led from start to finish. I will be taking lots of pictures and when I get a chance will post them on here.

For now, I just wanted to give a quick update. Here are some pictures from an active volcano I recently hiked and camped at. It is called Volcan Pacaya and is one of the only volcanoes in the world where you can get really close to the lava flow. It was pretty cool and I have to admit a little scary! Enjoy!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Pancha’s steak house…

There are 250 communities in Cubulco with an estimated 50k people. When I say communities I’m talking about the outlying groupings of people in areas around town. These areas range from heavily forested, dry desert, mountainous, next to rivers…what ever you can think of we have here. The center of town, where I live, is populated with about 10k people. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one side of town to the other. We have one Catholic Church, many Evangelical churches, one bank…actually just finished building the second, a municipal office building, and of course Pancha’s steak house. Anytime we take someone not familiar with Pancha’s, my doctor friend always asks how strong their good intestinal bacteria is. Basically they serve grilled meat or chicken served with black beans and tortillas…no silverware…delicious. We have a public pool that is actually pretty nice and an artificial turf soccer field (5v5 size) for entertainment. There are no gyms, movie theaters, malls, fast food chains, bars or clubs…unless you consider cantinas part of that realm. Cantinas are where men…only men…go to get liquored up then pass out somewhere in the street. Alcoholism is a big problem here; people seem to not be able to control their consumption. Life is actually pretty tranquil here…I’m assuming this is what small town America would be like, except for maybe the many street dogs running around and the 5am wake up call from people lighting off fireworks to celebrate a birthday. In the house I live in, I pretty much have all the luxuries that we have in the states…maybe not as efficient or easy to use but I do still consider myself fortunate. For example, I have a washer…yes, most volunteers have to wash their cloths by hand or pay someone to wash them. I have a washer, however, unlike in the states where you just turn it on and it fills up. Our washer is not connected to water so I have to get a hose and fill it up manually. Not such a bad deal, but then there is the fact that water here comes out brown, so I usually have to filter the water through a towel before it goes into the washer. Then I have to do it all over again for the last wash cycle…but I’m not complaining I’m completely happy having access to a washer! Other commodities…flushing toilet, hot water…not always but usually, cable…only have 10 channels but 3 of them are movie channels. And the last thing that may come as a surprise is Internet…I wouldn’t say high speed, but definitely faster then dial up. It comes and goes…never that reliable, but when it’s working well, it’s great. I know what you must be thinking…some people in the states don’t have these commodities. This is true and I feel very fortunate for what I have. So now that I’ve explained my living situation…all of you should feel more assured about coming to visit. I guarantee some of the most scenic roads and mountain passes you have ever seen on the road toward my site.

So a quick update of my work here in Cubulco and what I’ve been up to these past months. I remember working in DC and always hearing the phrase “work-life balance”, in DC I never had an issue with this as many of you know…like when I was “on the bench” for 5 weeks, sitting at my house reading and watching TV still getting paid. Here though I had been feeling overwhelmed, I was always on the go…and that is basically what I did. Everyday we would go to a different community, spend the day in the community talking and making plans for projects and then leaving only to return one month later and talk about the same stuff. The strategy of our non-governmental organization (NGO) is to reach as many communities as possible, even if that means having very little impact. As a volunteer, here for only 2 years, my strategy is to focus my work in a smaller area and hopefully have more of an impact. We made this known to our NGO and have since embarked on our own mission. So I’ve decided to choose a community a reasonable walking distance away from town and focus my efforts there. This will give me the opportunity to not only become part of this community but also allow me to return to town in the evenings and still have a life. So no more long intense motorcycle rides…well at least not everyday. My community is called Salamcho and is located 3km, roughly 2 miles, outside town. So I’ve been walking over to the community, meeting community leaders, and figuring out, with the help of the community, what their major needs are. From there we begin writing grants to apply for funding for these projects. Most of the grants we write are funded by NGOs in the states as well as some international organizations. My goal is by the end of February to have at least 3 grants completed, they ask for a lot of information about the community and the project. I was also thinking about some smaller projects that could be funded through donations by friends and family. So don’t be surprised when you get an email from me asking for donations…help get me working…and at least you know where your money is going!
More pictures of town...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Welcome 2008

Wow, I haven't updated my Blog since October, my apologies to all. I've made it a new year's resolution to be better about updating...even if it's a couple of lines with some pictures at least you'll know I'm still here working!

I wanted to thank all of you who made the trip down to see me at home during the holidays...I definitely felt the love...and also those who called with many words of encouragement. I can't tell you how hard it was to leave. The first couple of days here were pretty rough, honestly I thought about just calling it quits...but I knew it would get easier after a couple of days. So the first week has gone by and I already have the same feeling that I had when I started...excitement and a motivation to work. I guess it's like the peace corps says "It is the hardest job you'll ever love" It blows my mind to think of how far I've come in these last 8 months and I'm excited about my next 19...but who's counting :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

primero Dios...

‘Primero Dios’ is a saying Guatemalans use frequently. Someone will say 'primero Dios we meet next week' or primero Dios we will have enough water to last through the dry season. What does it mean…literally it means God first. It translates as ‘if God wills it’…so if God wills it we will have enough water or if God wills it we will meet next week. Faith in God is a huge part of Guatemalan culture, even through significant adversity Guatemalans keep their faith and understand that plans can be made, but nothing is guaranteed. I have found myself often using this saying. Primero Dios I will make it through these two years.

Growing up in Boca Raton, FL and now living in a third world country has definitely been an adjustment. The sounds, smells, and sights are so completely different. Living here has definitely made me more aware of my surroundings and has heightened my senses. I’ve been at my site in Cubulco for 3 months now and have experienced things that I would have never had the opportunity to experience living in Boca Raton, FL. Guatemala held its national elections in September. The elections were on a presidential as well as mayoral level. There are 14 different political parties with 14 different candidates for president. Since one candidate cannot obtain at least 30% of the votes, there is a second election in November with the two candidates that received the highest percentage of votes in the first election. The two parties left are ‘Partido Patriota’ using the slogan ‘Mano Dura’ which literally translates into ‘Hard Hand’ and ‘UNE’ which is an acronym for something but literally means ‘United’. The two parties are pretty close in the races and the November election should be an interesting event. For the most part the elections went smoothly with some isolated cases of civil unrest, usually caused by mayoral elections. In my town of Cubulco an unfortunate case of civil unrest occurred and as a consequence the mayors house was burned down and two townspeople were killed. I was fortunate to not be in town that day, but was forced to stay in a different town for a week until things died down. I was a refugee for a week. Things are definitely ‘tranquilo’ or calm now and primero Dios that the presidential elections next month will not cause any more violence.

I experienced my first mosquito transmitted illness called Dengue fever…let me tell you it was not a picnic. Dengue fever is also know as break-bone fever or bonecrusher disease…which I think is pretty funny now…not during though. It was like a really bad fever, but strange because I didn’t have any of the normal symptoms like sneezing, sore throat, or runny nose. I did have the worst muscle and bone aches that I’ve ever felt. It was as if someone was constantly beating me. I also had times where I felt extremely hot and my face and neck turned bright red. And the last couple of days I had an itch rash all over my chest arms and feet. Needless to say it was not a fun experience. There isn’t a treatment for Dengue, you just take Tylenol for the pain. I was thankful though that I contracted it about a week before my parents arrived in Guatemala. When they came the muscle and bone aches were not bad I was only dealing with the rash. I just thought I would share my Dengue experience with you all…if you want to learn more about Dengue…check it out on Wikipedia. Primero Dios none of you ever get Dengue.

So I had my first visit from the states. It was great having my parents come all the way to Guatemala to celebrate my Birthday…now that’s love. Not only did they come but their Guatemalan friends from the states came to help show them around. We traveled all around Guatemala going to places that I’ve never been to. I fell in love with the country of Guatemala over and over. The places we visited were beautiful…here is a link to the pictures of when my family was here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Life in Cubulco…

Sorry it has taken me a while to post an update, the Internet connection here is painfully slow so I haven’t been able to connect. I’ve been in Cubulco for about 3 weeks now and it feels as if I’m starting over again. The Peace Corps says that the hardest time in a volunteer’s service is the first 3 months at their site. It has been a challenge, sometimes I think about how life was in the States and I start missing home. Work is what has really kept me motivated. There is tons of work to be done. So what do I do? Well currently I have been familiarizing myself with the areas in which I will be working. I will be working in 14 different communities in an area called Chitanil. The only catch is that these communities are pretty far from Cubulco. So my typical commute to work goes something like this: 45 minutes to 2 hour motorcycle ride through the mountains (no paved roads), it’s kind of like dirt biking…except that you start walking funny after the 2 hour rides. The motorcycle ride only takes you part of the way there, since the paths are pretty treacherous. We have to leave the motorcycle at a certain spot and then start hiking. Some hikes are better than others and they range from 1.5 hours to 4 hours. So I’ve definitely been getting my exercise in the mornings. Because of the extensive commute, sometimes we have to stay the night in the community…this is the tough part. I’ve only had to stay 1 night out so far, but it is exhausting! Not really any food in the towns, we usually eat eggs and tortillas, so I usually pack a couple of sandwiches to take with me. The living conditions in the communities are pretty harsh. Water and food are scarce and only few houses have latrines. My job now is to map out the communities needs i.e. figure out what they have, what they need, and then prioritize those needs. Once we figure out the needs of the community we will put a proposal together to get funding for the projects. The hardest part is getting people in the community organized and motivated to help in these projects. We want to get as many people in the community involved so that these projects are sustainable…meaning when we leave they will be able to maintain and if needed replicate the technologies. But people in the communities have to work everyday just to survive so asking them to give up a day of work to help build latrines, for example, is asking a lot.

As for me, I’ve been doing well health wise. There are lots of mosquitoes here so I’ve had to put a mosquito net around my bed and build screens for my windows. The weather here is pretty nice, it’s hot but without humidity and at night it gets cool. I had the opportunity to visit some really scenic waterfalls around my area and also a huge rope bridge hanging over a river. I will try and post something at least once a month, if possible! Thanks for reading and for the emails…they are encouraging!!

Here are some pictures that I’ve uploaded: