29 marzo 2011-martes
President Kennedy’s vision and words launched Peace Corps 50 yrs ago this month…challenging youth then and now to serve in a peaceful capacity around the world. My heart swelled with pride as this message was reiterated last Friday, March 25th by Ambassador McFarland and Peace Corps Chief of Staff, Stacy Rhodes. Impressively, there has never been an interruption in Peace Corps Guatemala from its inception 48 yrs ago…only 2yrs after the creation of Peace Corps. Even a tragic and prolonged war did not keep volunteers from working here, and thankfully I do not have to serve under such challenging circumstances. It was such a delight to listen to these two inspirational men who delivered their speeches in impeccible Spanish (yes, I am a teeny bit jealous).
Nearly 200 of the 240 volunteers serving in Guatemala attended the joyous event at the luscious grounds of the ambassador’s home. On that day we welcomed more than 40 new volunteers into our Peace Corps family and bid a fond farewell to half that many who are ending their service. A photographer who apparently works on press issues for Peace Corps commented to me, “You have a blog, don’t you?” A bit surprised, I stated yes…so as I review my stats of who has read my blog, it includes office staff checking that I am providing a respectful window into life here in Guatemala. One unfortunate trainee chose to vent sarcastically on his blog and thus did not make it to volunteer status…a sad loss for him and perhaps a good lesson for life.
The morning was sprinkled with anecdotes of how volunteers have positively impacted lives of Guatemalans…providing me with inspiration and ideas as I navigate my own path as a volunteer. I went to this ceremony seeking to meet more volunteers who live near my site, and fortunately found some….also a dozen or so of the newbies will be heading to my department of Totonicapan. Approximately 8,000 volunteers have walked in the Guatemalan shoes that I now try to fill. Impressive! There are most certainly commonalities in our experience that bind us together, yet the story we each shall tell will have our own individual stamp upon it.
No gathering of Peace Corps volunteers is complete without some humorous stories illustrating differences in culture but human similarities. A volunteer who is concluding his service told the following story of his first week in his site: “I went jogging one day and ran by a house. A woman ran out yelling at me in a Mayan language, but it wasn’t until later that someone explained to me in Spanish what had happened. Apparently I had frightened an 8yr old boy who had never seen a foreigner before. I was told that the only way to cure him of his fright was for the boy to eat a broth with some of my hair…a bit unusual but I cut off a few locks. Later that day I smiled and also became a bit worried….I was told that he needed a bit more hair for the cure! Thankfully that was the end of it and I didn’t have to go bald my first week .”
What shall be my story at the end of 27 months? The crystal ball here is just as hazy as the one back home…I can only tackle one day at a time. My goal is to make a difference in the lives of people such as Silvia, the shy 13yr old Mayan girl who works long hours as the live-in caretaker for my elderly neighbor. She left school after 4th grade, and now lives more than an hour walk away from her family with little contact with them…what American adolescent is ready for that separation and responsibility? Hopefully I can offer some inspiration to her for a future with more possibilities. We’ve enjoyed some Connect Four games together, to be followed by some baking lessons…cultural interchange and world peace through the deliciousness of carrot cake!
So here’s a toast to another 50 yrs of Peace Corps volunteers!!…and perhaps at least one of my readers will join me on this path. It’s never too late…. During training we each received a notebook with the following quote: “If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” –Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal activist. Perhaps it’s my lack of sleep from reading a murder mystery book until 1:45am, but I think it’s more that this journey hits in a very personal way…tears are now springing to my eyes with that quote. When that cold pila (outdoor sink) water jars me awake in the morning or fleas attack yet again or I hold tightly as the bus driver takes the turns faster than I like…I need such inspiration as the guiding light, and it helps me to laugh once again as I struggle with a language and culture I am still learning ….what would I do without the word “cosita” (little thing)? ….ah, the beauty of pantomine. May my sense of humor be strengthened by this experience as I laugh alongside my new companions, stengthening our human bond. Guatemala is a truly beautiful country full of wonderful people and promise!!
I will end with some of my new words in K’iche, the Mayan language spoken in my region. Saq’irik (Buenos días). K’in k’ikotik in k’o iwuk (Estoy feliz de estar aquí con ustedes- I am happy to be here with you.)