27 septiembre 2010-lunes- Technical difficulties have led to a delay in posting…but here is a recap of images from our trip to the Oriente….I still chuckle at that name because there’s really no resemblance with the east of this country and what I consider to be the Orient (Asia)…yet poco a poco, I am getting used to using the names of occidente (west) and oriente (east). El norte still refers to the U.S.A. where many Guatemaltecos have worked or have family.
Back to the wild “oriente”…Drats, I missed seeing the pistol-packing cowboy in the restaurant, apparently 5 guns strapped on his chest and sides. Recommendation to us: run the other way when these guys have been drinking… Mostly we heard that men show restraint when sober, thankfully! Even the mayors pack pistols; it’s just another accessory to add to the machismo outfit. Women get to dress more informally in the east (not the modest clothing prevalent in the Mayan communities in the west), thus, allowing for more comfort in that oppressive heat! Our hotel in Chiquimula was modest but comfortable…however, the fans struggled to provide adequate air flow for comfort. The first night I lay awake from 3-4am trying my best to cool down. The cold showers were a welcome treat instead of their mild inconvenience back in my host family home and cooler climate.
Lunch last Monday was definitely the best meal, even financed by the city hall of San Jose La Arada: thin steak, sausage, sweet-tasting leeks, tamarind juice and more. Deliciosa! Two days later, lunch caused quite a different reaction…three of us ended up quite ill that evening, including me. I seriously worried about dehydration in that heat with vomiting and diarrhea…a call to the Peace Corps nurse at 4:30am offered reassurance and thankfully my system finally calmed down. So my meals on Thursday consisted of bananas, yogurt, and Gatorade. I hope to not repeat that night anytime soon!
Seeing the seasoned volunteers in action was both inspiring and daunting…Jesse and his Guatemalan counterpart held the attention of about 40 people, dividing them into groups to identify their community’s priorities. Each person received 3 dried corn kernels to vote amongst the top 6 choices…the top 3 for seeking funding were: a.) a road improvement project, b.) construct a 2nd floor on a primary school; and c.) financial assistance to 8-10 families who suffered home losses due to flooding. Priority was given to projects benefitting the greatest number, so the compassion towards storm victims was heart-warming. Thursday morning also brought my opportunity to present in Spanish…still weak on my feet, I introduced the “dinamica” for our topic of communication. I instructed the group of 20 women and volunteers to line up according to their birth months, with no talking or using hands. Puzzled looks were the response. I told them “Hay que buscar otras maneras de comunicacion” (“You need to find other ways to communicate”). We soon allowed hand signals to assist in the effort… the group participated nicely in the follow up discussion, giving examples of other times when communication problems have arisen.
On Thursday, we watched Reinna deliver a “charla” or presentation on nutrition to a group of 20 women in a small town…the women had identified this topic as a priority for them. All of these baby steps of democratic citizen participation help build greater trust between citizens and their government. With local and national elections only one year away, we are stepping into interesting political times during our time here….as Peace Corps volunteers we are instructed to keep a stance of neutrality regarding politics and not be used in campaigns…apparently, our status as Americans makes us a considerable asset. Mayors here have no term limits, so midway in our service there may be a complete change in local (and national) administration…we might be building work relationships and support for our projects once again…
Tormenta Tropical Matthew cut short our week…our Cuerpo de Paz security advisor asked us to head home before the storm hit. The north and east of the country have been hammered by this storm since Friday, so it was good to return to our haven in the center of Guatemala…gracias to Peace Corps for erring on the side of caution…apparently there is a new storm upon us, but I am safely in my room listening to the fierce pounding of rain upon my metal roof. Hmm, don’t know if tomorrow we will get to visit a coffee farm as planned. Siempre hay que tener patiencia! (We must always be patient!)