Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 07/09/2012

Dipping A Foot in Each of My Two Worlds

8 julio 2012 domingo    

The glory of Mt Rainier

¡Que rápido fue el mes de junio!…zip, whiz,  and June  was gone!  On June 5th I began my multi-stage re-entry into the USA. First was a weary day of travel by land from my town to Antigua (buses, vans, and taxi… you get the picture), then the following day boarding that metal bird for Houston, then Phoenix, with a late arrival at 11pm to Seattle. Those 13 hours spent in airports and planes reminded me that actually Guatemala IS far from Seattle, despite the apparent proximity through Skype and FB contact.


Contra dancing at Phinney Neighborhood Center

What an eight wonderful days of bliss in Seattle!!!… The menu included: dancing (all types and dance venues), but I held back from dancing in the streets although that would have been fun, too. Dining with friends (savoring teriyaki chicken and salmon with gusto!) and multiple walks around Green Lake. Last year, after setting foot back in the Emerald City I had suffered some days of angst and confusion as to what and where was home….this year I stepped without hesitation back into my former life.  My identity as a Peace Corps volunteer is more cemented now, so it seemed easier to accept that I had dialed into the Seattle Channel for a brief while, knowing that I would soon be back to the Guatemala program.

My Guatemalan home town

I fully expected to be troubled by the luxurious cars and homes which are a stark contrast to the reality of the majority of San Bartolo residents, but this time I just shrugged at these shows of wealth. Yes, most of my Guatemalan friends and coworkers dream of these material possessions, but they enjoy richness in their family and social networks that Americans should envy. Did I relish some of the luxuries? Por supuesto! Of course! The first few days I shivered in the damp, cold weather that Seattle first offered me, and after whimpering sufficiently my two different hosts turned on their indoor heating for me in pity (which they normally resist to doing in June)….indoor heating is an unknown luxury in my town and in most of Guatemala, so I soaked in that pleasure.  Hot water out of the tap was also a treat, although I now believe that it may not be worth the huge energy price tag….clean tap water is now enough to make me happy.

Mother and daughter reunited!

For one day in Seattle I donned my professional hat for fellow urban planners and gave a presentation about community planning in Guatemala. Yes, there are definite challenges less likely faced by American planners, such as, widespread illiteracy, poverty, and malnutrition, however, this just forces me to be more creative and visual in my approach. When I spot the sparkle in a rural woman’s eye during my talk, I can sense a future community leader. That counts for a lot. With plenty of photos of my work, I outlined five basic principles that planners must keep in mind, no matter who is the group: 1.) Do whatever is necessary to encourage participation; 2.) Reach people at their level; 3.) Be inclusive; 4.) Look for community leaders and ideas; and 5.) Be fair in allocating resources. My audience seemed to appreciate the opportunity for the virtual trip to Guatemala, and gained a bit more understanding through my work. Check out my PPT here: Community Planning in Guatemala

Proud parental moment…Hooray to Michelle!

Graduation time! (My true motive for this trip back to the USA.) Seeing my youngest, Michelle, head across the stage to receive her BA in International Studies from the University of Oregon was the fulfillment of many, many parenting hours…all given freely but nonetheless that much sweeter with this return on my investment. That she graduated Summa Cum Laude in the top 1% of her class just confirmed my motherly intuition that she is a very bright and also compassionate young woman.


Reunion of the generations and family branches.

Celebration time with confetti-filled eggs from Guatemala!

Family members streamed in from the corners of the USA and even Central America for this special event!! A few speakers helped graduates dream about possible career paths as they outlined their very own zigzag path to their current passion and work. I especially appreciated the story of a Congressional Aid who shared his pride regarding the importance of his work, which involves researching a variety of issues to keep his boss informed for policy votes…and he worked hard to rise to that job within 5-6 years of graduation.

Michelle, the salsa princess

Before the graduation jitters hit too hard, there was a night of salsa dancing…and I think I actually held my own. Michelle’s performance with her ladies styling group was very riveting and fun. Hmmm…perhaps my daughter might take me on as a student someday.  It is so rewarding that we both share a love of dance and this cements our bond, although I will acknowledge her as the princess of salsa…just leave the waltzing to me.

That calendar date of June 19thcame quickly and signaled that I should pile back into my Prius and head north to Seattle. A rainy 6 hrs later I was back in the Emerald City and ready to switch channels in my real life to the Guatemala program.

Mom and daughter dancers

Again, I faced another dreadful trek…with a night in the Houston airport and their anti-vagrancy seats, so those annoying metal bars between seats made it near impossible for repose.  Seriously, would it be THAT bad to allow passengers to rest comfortably? Well, I should stifle some of these complaints because my roundtrip cost me a whopping $60 on a frequent flyer ticket…so I guess I had to pay the price of some discomfort. Day 2 was a repeat of all the land transport fun. When I stepped slowly off the bus in San Bartolo I headed straight to my house. Travel hair and face and body was not a pretty sight….I would be ready to face the world the following day.

Yes, seamlessly, I switched back into the Guatemala channel…it is indeed a strange feeling to be comfortable and adapted to two such disparate worlds, and to realize that both exist in the same moment on this earth. I briefly experienced some angst upon my return as I reflected upon my decision to request a 3rdyear extension of my Peace Corps service…my alter ego asked, “What? Are you crazy?” but within 24hrs I felt back at home again with my Guatemalan life.

Smiles abound as we finish this garden wall

The next day I asked, Sonia to write a letter formally requesting my extension with a signature from the alcalde  (mayor). My library committee president was in the process of writing another letter of support when the mayor came into my office. He asked, “What? You need two letters?” I replied that it wouldn’t hurt to show that people in San Bartolo wanted me to stay…his response, “Well, then we might as well request an additional 2 years while we’re at it.” I said, “Well, I do miss my family.” “We’ll let you go home one month per year.” I smiled.


Stuffing bottles with trash…& cleaning up the environment

Yes, so I am back to my adopted home. I just received word this past week that my library project has been successfully funded with USAID funds (HOORAY!) and the Chotzague elementary ecoladrillo garden wall is coming along. Yesterday I had caldo de pollo (chicken stew) to commemorate the death of my neighbor’s husband, and found myself watching how Guatemalans handle loss and grief….as with all life events, with a closeness of family and friends.  In the evening I attended an evangelical service at the invitation of my co-worker, Sonia, and I was quite pleasantly surprised that the music volume was much less than the typical.  My little 5 yr old friend, Maynor, slept on my lap during much of the service and then awoke to rejoin his parents and also to partake in the after-service snack of paches (similar to tamales) which were handed out.

My heart lives in Seattle and Guatemala…enjoying Green lake

For now, this is indeed my home, my present, and my ongoing challenge to make a difference. Within a few weeks I expect the news on whether my request to extend for a 3rd year is approved….I am sure that whatever the decision, my path will offer interesting challenges. So stay tuned and thanks for tuning into this program called my life in Guatemala!!


  1. Janet,

    This is your best letter yet! Loved the comparisons between your life in the states and your life in Guatemala.

    Looking forward to your next visit when we play The Seattle (Tacoma) Channel once more!

    God’s Speed and Blessings,

    Michael W.

  2. I love the phrase “Too legit to quit!”

    My Best,

    Michael W.

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