Saturday, December 19, 2009


Well, my time is up down here, at least as a Peace Corps volunteer. I will have been here for 2 years and 8 days short of 4 months. I know that I could not have done it successfully without all the blessings and help I got from the Big Guy and family and friends both here and away. Here are just a few things that I am thankful for:

Letters that arrived all year long, packages (one time even 3 at a time), and other gifts that contained various things such as the ever necessary peanut butter, beef jerky, music, photos, playing cards, How to Guide for Wiring with electric parts, movies, flan, nuts, berries, flea spray, Girl Scout cookies, a painting, holy water, and a scorpion killing stick with scorpion blood on the stick.


people making and receiving phone calls, skype calls, and text messages and being available and waiting to do them.

Donations of both money and goods that were given to my community

My visitors! Charlie was the first, and boy was I happy to see him when he came. By his coming, I ended up meeting the nuns in the capital who have become very good friends of mine. Then came Emily for my 2nd Thanksgiving. Andy and 11 students from St. John Student Parish came down in March for an alternative spring break. Then of course Mom, Dad, Gee Gee, and Katie came down in August followed by Brian in August. Andy made back to back appearances unexpectedly in Sept and Nov. (Andy, you win the Most visits to Guatemala award). Andy acceptingly or maybe forcedly brought home two 50lb suitcases home for me. (Thanks again for schlepping through the US with my stuff.) Finally Beth came in November as well.

The trillion houses that were opened to me where I was given the opportunity to sit at the owner’s table, sleep safely, and share in the family’s time and food.

The people with whom I worked, because first of all, if no one wanted to do anything, what would I have done? I am especially thankful for their patience in trying to learn something new and for looking past my language and cultural blunders and for sharing their time, their community, and their many eggs, beans, bananas, and oranges.

The medical staff that allowed me to participate in 8 medical missions in Guatemala. They gave me nice places to stay, excellent food, and and a conversation that was in English.

The Peace Corps staff, especially the nurses, who helped me through bouts of explosive diarrhea.

The countless people that shared with me their stories about their life

The countless people that shared with me their advice, whether asked for or not, whether right or wrong.

The other volunteers in Jalapa, both of the past and present, including Lauren, Liam, Devin, Dan, Kay, Alene, and Nicole and for all the fun times we had together. A special thanks goes out especially to Nicole who probably did a few to many favors for me as I was making my way home. Without her, I probably would still be trekking across Guatemala tying up loose ends.

David and Julie Sutton, and their kids, who opened up their home in Jalapa to us volunteers whenever we wanted and who was always willing to share a meal and a movie. They were our American family in Guatemala.

Moral support given for making the decision to join Peace Corps (something I am proud to have made), especially from Mom and Dad, and for them doing all those crazy requests I asked them to do for me since I was away and could not do them.

There are countless more things that I am thankful for that I did not list. Basically, I just want to say thank you. Every little and big thing that you all did made my time down here something meaningful, extraordinary, and unforgettable.

I know I am leaving changed, or as some volunteers of the Jesuits would say, “Ruined for life.” I remember talking to someone before I left about why I did not join the military instead of the Peace Corps. Among other reasons, I said that I did not want my experience in the military to change me in the way I thought it could. I remember feeling the same way about working with money. I decided early on that I would not choose a profession dealing with money because I did not think I would like what I could become. For some reason, I felt it could seduce me in ways that I might not later be able to control. I am not saying these are bad jobs, not by any means. I am just saying how I felt in regards to my goals and thoughts.

There are many things I want to take with me, many I can’t quite explain or identify yet. Here are just a few:

For me, relationships and the love within those relationships are what matter with God and with others. Without them, no matter what you do or what your have, everything just seems to have no purpose

Food. I learned a lot about food while down here, believe it or not. I came down thinking that for me I had to have some sort of hearty protein like meat or peanut butter at least once if not twice a day. In my defense, I have quite the metabolism. After living a month at a time with just one or 2 hearty protein meals (by choice) while doing all the physical activity that I did, I learned slowly and in a slightly painful manner that of course, I was wrong. I learned a lot about the US food system, its problems in how we get our meat and vegetables on our plate, and the benefits of eating things grown locally and naturally.

The knowledge of the lack of opportunity and violence and lack of education that occur in others countries and the loss of hope that they provoke.

That the most dangerous job is not being a crab fisherman. It is being a bus driver in Guatemalan.

That you can greet someone with a hand shake, elbow touch, shoulder grab, wrist grab, half or full hug, or kiss on the cheek in the same country.

So as of December 22, I should be resting back at home. That means this is probably the last entry of this blog, though there might be one more to showcase a few last-month pictures. Thanks for sharing in my experience through this blog. I can’t wait to see you all back home or talk to you by phone within country. Merry Christmas!

I’ll end with something written by a friend who suggested I use it to close out my blog:

“Thank you all for faithfully following my life updates. I am no longer going to update you in this method though. I have finished my wonderfully adventurous 2.5 years in the Peace Corps and am now off to fighting evil, slaying dragons, and bringing the bazooka missile launcher back. I am forced to change my name and keep a low profile because I rescued a chicken, 3 salamanders, and some coffee beans from their terrible fate. (I was able to smuggle them to Narnia in a crocodile disguised as alligator skin boots.) From now on, I will only be able to inform you of my escapades when I show up on your doorsteps, hoping to find cover from the ninjas and military misfits that are chasing me. Please pray for me, but whatever you do, don't offer sacrifices to the Antarctica god of alertness (he was hoping for the coffee beans)."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

3rd All Saint's Day, but nothing ordinary still

Well of course I had to slip in something in my last weeks as a volunteer, something that I had wanted to do just about my entire time but something that can only be done on November 1, All Saint's Day. That something was really far away. If I had gone the entire way by bus, it probably would have taken about 16 hours to get there, so I guess you can understand why it was not the first thing I jumped at to do. That something was going to a town called Todos Santos (All Saints in English) in Huehuetenango where rightly so, they have their patronal town fair on Nov. 1. One of the most unique events that they do is on the 1rst, they hold a sort of horse race, though it might better be called a survival run since there is no real race track and there is no winner. It is a pagan ritual they have been doing since old time for the survival of their community. Basically men train and prepare all year long, something verly costly and time consuming, just for one day. On the first, they dress up, as you will see in the photos, in special clothing, different from their already special normal ware that everyone in that town wears. In the morning on a closed off section of dirt road padded with sand about the length of a football field and a half, they race their horse at full speed. They do this for hours. They leave exhausted and sometimes battered from falling off. There are even people who die doing this. Hopefully the pictures will explain even more this special event.

Oh, so I realized I did not explain how I got their. Well on the way up, a boyfriend of a volunteer drove us up. It saved a lot of time, but unfortunately we were 6 people in the back of a small pickup with our stuff. And of course, it has not rained in months, but what did it do, it poured. It rained so hard that when we got to the town we were going to stay in the first night (we stayed about 2 hours away from Todos Santos to break up the trip and because its really cold and a bit expensive to stay there during the festive weekend) they closed off the roads because the main road was flooding and cars going by were pushing even more rain into the houses, or at least that is the explanation that the guy gave us who was so nicely blocking off the only road with his two cars so that no one could get through. We got through an hour later. So we had fun. Luckily the next day got sunny so we could dry everything out. It still rained (though this time we brought a rain slick) the next day going up to Todos Santos, which sits quite high up at 2700 meters in elevation. Surrounding peaks stand at about 3700 meters, so it's pretty cold. The 31st we had a Halloween Party and my sitemate and I dressed up as "Joe"; unfortunately I do not have a photo available. The next morning was the race and guess who was there... the US ambassador. And guess who got a ride all the way to the capital in the ambassador's fleet along with 7 others. :) That gesture certainly was not necessary. He went all the way to drop all 8 of us off wherever we needed to go making sure that we were getting back safely, even though it probably cost him almost 2 hours extra. He even made us brownies! I was even more thankful as the whole way there it poured, and I would have been in the back of the truck in it all. Without saying, I was very thankful. And thanks to you all for paying your taxes.

I'll get to the Nov. 1 pictures, but first, here are some pictures of my last days of work.

My last produce exchange...

Locuats are in season!

fruits and roots from my community
vegetables from the mountain

Group picture before the mountain women leave back to their town with their newly trades fruits and roots.

HIV/AIDS session with the women and nurse of the health center... well, this is afterward. I forgot to take a picture during the session. The women are holding up cards of the role they had to play when we acted out how HIV can enter the body and how it can cause AIDS.

Here begin the pictures from Todos Santos:

Here's me with my sitemate (Nicole's taking over my place), another volunteer and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, Josue (Joshua) is the guy that gave us the ride from the capital to Todos Santos... I thank God for him. As the picture suggests, "Super Delicious Smoothies anyone?"

Fooseball is at all the town fairs

Marimba time... as you can see, the typical dress for the men includes striped red pants and a blue/purple jean jacket. Here only one of the men is wearing the typical hat.

Stray dogs rallying just before the race.

The race....

This person was one of the first people to get injured. Luckily he was not trampled to death.

Proof that I was there.

One of the oficial master of the ceremony. He's holding up horse traffic. Sometimes though the riders get so into it that they just ignore these oficials. I mean to the rider's defense, if I were riding at 100% for hours on end, I would probably daze out a couple of times too.

It's good to know we are protected everywhere. Here you can get a good look at the typical dress of the men including the hat worn by men and women.

I try not to think about if one of the those horses would have come at me... the rickety fency would have protected me for sure.

Another casualty

Typical fair goodies.

The town center and church during the fair

Dinner with the nuns in Alzatate. I ordered pizza, but from Jalapa, but the cook forgot to make it, so steak it was.

The other end of the table.