21 octubre 2012-domingo
Por favor, roll the drums…pa pum, PA PUM, PUM, PUM, PUM!! One day recently my Gmail inbox finally revealed that anticipated email from the Peace Corps office following months of waiting: my request to extend my service for a 3rd year in Guatemala HAS indeed been GRANTED!! Sweet news! I have wrapped myself in the warm reactions of others to my news…Sonia, my counterpart, treated me to a high five and sweet treat. Children have hugged me. The alcalde (mayor) and city councilmen offered their congrats between bites of carrot cake that I shared to celebrate. So residents of San Bartolo Aguas Calientes will see me working (and baking) in their midst for awhile longer.
You might wonder has that intense sun at 7,000 ft gotten to her finally? Why in heaven’s name does she want to stay when 27 months is already a lifetime away from home. Most Peace Corps volunteers give a wistful glance back at their successful projects and new friends in Guatemala after their 2 years away, ready to embark on new paths in the USA. Well, there are a myriad of reasons for why I am staying…
First and foremost, I feel a personal and professional obligation to continue my support of the Municipal Women’s Office in San Bartolo, compounded by the knowledge that no Peace Corps volunteer will be assigned to replace me once I leave due to the cancellation of my program. Sonia and I have accomplished so much since January 2012 when she assumed her position as Coordinator of the Municipal Women’s Office. There are now 18 women’s groups in our different and far-flung communities with a total of 803 women. This is a landslide of female participation in community development and political process!! Only 3 groups existed in 2011. Next goals are to teach groups how to run their own meetings and affairs, weaning them from our constant presence. It has been truly heartening to see rural women rise to the challenge of becoming community leaders, when so many obstacles are placed in their path…family chores and obligations, meager family budgets, lack of easy transport, and little or no formal education. And yet, rise up they do. Their group members willingly sacrifice a few pesos so that their leaders can afford transportation costs to attend crucial meetings. What a buen ejemplo for Americans!
Peace Corps service has also given me the opportunity of a lifetime to creatively address my community’s needs…I both relish and lament this need to self-direct. My path during these past two years has led me to build a school garden out of trash-filled bottles to teach elementary children the benefits of growing their own vegetables, as well as, trash management. Slowly, slowly, our municipal library is getting equipped and offering more services which will improve the educational opportunities for youth and adults. Yes, Patience (with a capital ‘P’) is a virtue I must practice in every endeavor as I navigate a different culture, language, and way of doing things. There was bit of a showdown last week as I had to threaten to return funds from USAID if the mayor did not come through with his promised contribution for the library project. So yes, sometimes, I have to be ¨fuerte¨ (strong-willed) to bring about change.
There are also some personal perks for sticking around… Polishing up my Spanish, mastering at least a minimal command of the Mayan language K’iche’ spoken in my town. A 3rd year brings the benefit of a roundtrip airline ticket for a special leave of one month (to rejuvenate oneself for the homestretch). Watch out Seattle, I’ll be landing on your tierra on December 15th! Gracias Peace Corps for funding this trip home!
Ideas for my 3rd year range from helping our municipality promote our hotsprings to tourists, while enlisting community participation in the improvement of this important fuente de ingreso (source of municipal income). Biodigestors have grabbed my imagination as a way to address the need for a more sustainable cooking fuel. Although the idea first sounds repugnant, it makes so much sense to utilize animal waste to create not only useful fertilizer but methane gas for cooking…reducing and even eliminating that ever present need for firewood for cooking. This country cannot afford to lose their forests at this current rate. Environmental education continues to be a great interest of mine, and I look forward to more invitations from my LEED architect friend to teach a guest lecture or two to her university students. Maybe I will even sponsor a solar contest with youth here… building models with solar panels to teach about renewable energy….and the ideas go on and on.
During my 27 months of service, I reached an impressive milestone of 10,000 hits for my blog!! ….Thanks to all of you readers!! I hope that you have learned to appreciate this colorful culture and land called Guatemala while reading some and perhaps even all of my 80 blog postings. Lastima that I will not be here in Guatemala on December 21, 2012, but I wish to dispel any notion that Mayans predict the end of the world for that day…Oxlajuj Baktun is the beginning of a new era for the world, with hope for better alignment with the environment. The world can certainly use the beginning of a new era!!
So muchas gracias a ustedes for tuning into my life here in Guatemala! This next chapter will end on November 27, 2013…so stay tuned until then!