The Vagina Monologues

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No puedes amar una vagina si no amas los pelos

You can’t love a vagina unless you love hair

The last couple of months have been filled with working on The Vagina Monologues. Ever since I came to Guatemala, I knew that I was going to put on a production of The Vagina Monologues. I participated in Vagina Monologues when I was in college, and it was truly a transformative experience. I went from a relatively meek girl who kept her thoughts to herself to an empowered woman who was not afraid to voice her opinions. I was surrounded by amazing women who carried their nuanced experiences with them. Women who weren’t afraid to be outside of the box, women who felt free to color outside the lines and be unapologetic about it.The Vagina Monologues taught me how to speak my truth and not be ashamed about it.

And so I carried all of those women in my heart and in my mind when I set about trying to do this show. I won’t lie, amidst all of my excitement for the show, I never knew it had the potential to be powerful or extremely well-received out of a Peace Corps audience. Given the context that Guatemala is the country with the highest rate of femicide in Central America, a country that is still dealing with the trauma from the civil war 20 years ago, a country where 98% of cases involving the murder of women remain in a state of impunity, you would think this show would be well received. However, Guatemalans are also very reserved and internalize their feelings. So, if you imagine a show such as The Vagina Monologues where women are freely talking about their vaginas, using colloquial words for vaginas, and openly talking about sex, that’s a big deal.

However, my doubts were assuaged by seeing the passion and drive from the cast. Our cast was made up of 24 women: 15 Guatemalans and 9 Peace Corps volunteers. We rehearsed every Monday and Wednesday for about 6 weeks, which is considerably less time than 5-6 months prep that we had in the States. I remember our first meeting one of our cast members, Yuly, shouted , “coño! coño! coño!” (translation: CUNT! CUNT! CUNT!) with so much enthusiasm, I blushed because I was embarrassed she said cunt out loud. Who would have ever thought a Guatemalan woman would be enthusiastic to say such a word with a smile on her face? I certainly didn’t.

That moment is what characterizes why The Vagina Monologues are so important in a place such as Guatemala. I remember when we would do the play in the States, and it would have an “Other” factor. There are some monologues written about and for women in other parts of the world, and when reading them, its easy to say, “Wow! How hard it must be to be a woman in X country,” which make your struggle seem comparatively less harder than someone else’s. Doing the show in a X country, so to speak, showed me while yes, it is hard to be a woman in Guatemala, it also showed me the power of resistance. Resistance doesn’t necessarily mean how well you can quote Third Wave feminist authors. Resistance doesn’t mean protesting (even though that is important to do!).  I’d say, resistance is living out loud when society tells you to be small. Laugh and say CUNT because its changing the dialogue that women can love and be proud of their bodies. Cry for the women that we have lost to gender-based violence. Stand with your back straight, your red lipstick on, your sexy black dress on and your heels on for surviving another day in la cultura machista. Because yes, you DID wake up like dis!

From the beginning, I let the cast choose their own monologues, choose the rehearsal time, and I emphasized that the show is not my show, its our show. I wanted The Vagina Monologues to be a space where Guatemalan women could speak their truth in a loud and clear voice. That’s what I believe, this show accomplished. Many of the cast had never been on stage before, none the less, speaking about their vaginas. It’s been amazing watching the show grow organically, from our first meeting where one cast member did not want to be in the show if men were involved or present, to the final product. I couldn’t be more proud. I also grew a lot too. I had to learn to break away from my Type A tendencies to plan everything. I had to stop comparing what the show looked like in the States to what it is was here. I had to be flexible and patient, especially when the week of the show, I was admitted to the hospital for two days (I had a severe allergic reaction to pork and was almost sent back to the US!!). I had to trust and love all the parts of this process, just like you have to learn to love your vagina and all her hairs.

It was so different being the director of the show versus being a participant. So much work goes into the show, from re-working the script, securing the venue, planning rehearsals, publicity. I have so much more respect for Rachel, Mei, Jordie, Jess, and Maggie for all their work because it was NOT easy. I definitely would not have been able to do this without Farah and Angela. They were my left and right hands and were really invaluable in this process. Also, we had so much support from Guatemalans in getting this production off the ground. Luis helped us with the planning process and recruited Guatemalan women to participate from his organization, Xela AID. The Mayor of the municipality of Quetzaltenango even offered to do internal publicity for the event on top of donating the National Theater (the largest venue in Quetzaltenango) for free for the use of the show. The Municipal Office of the Woman Quetzaltenango were our official collaborators for the event, and the play was performed on Saturday, March 7th 2015 to commemorate International Women’s Day. I also helped them promote their walk and town hall about violence against women.

The show was more successful than I imagined, and trust me, I was praying about the show every day. We made changes to the show to make it less Western and more Guatemalan by incorporating sensitive topics such as domestic violence in indigenous communities, acts of violence committed against women migrating to the United States, and positive masculinity. The positive masculinity monologue was performed by 5 males: 2 Guatemalans and 3 PCVs. Two of the monologues were performed in Mayan languages (K’iche’ and Mam). Of course, we had to end the show with Beyonce! My friend Cole created a video where he dubbed Chimamanda Ngozi Achebe’s speech in Flawless in Spanish with the voices from the cast and the video we opened up with, The UN Girl Declaration.  The video is attached below:

In total, there were  300 attendees, the majority being Guatemalan and/or women between the ages of 18-25 old. The audience was very diverse, including people from Peace Corps, Uruguay, France, and Australia were even present. 100% of the proceeds (total of Q 2,149.85, about $275) were raised for the beneficiary of the event, Pies de Occidente. Pies de Occidente is a non-profit in Quetzaltenango that promotes health education with Mayan women about reproductive health and domestic violence prevention in rural indigenous communities in the Western highlands of Guatemala.

Without a doubt, this show was the most important event of my service. Even though I have a year left to go, I would still argue that nothing will ever cap this level of significance. This show exceeded my vision and my expectations. I am honored and proud to have been able to share a part of my life with other people and that people were able to interpret it and make it their own unique experience.

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The cast!

The cast!

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Angela, Farah, and me

Angela, Farah, and me

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a summary that doesn’t look like a summary, but it is a summary

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Site Mates

Since I’ve last written on here, I have acquired not one, but TWO awesome site mates! The first one, Colby, came here in late August/early September and the second one, Abby just arrived last week. Bill is closing up on his service, which is definitely giving me a lot of anxiety and sadness. A service without Bill is going to be a major adjustment. However, I’m really lucky that I have two site mates that are both really chill and will be around for a bit 🙂

Antonio

Great news! Antonio Rolando has recovered. When I first met him, Antonio weighed 9.9 lbs at 11 months old. He is now no longer malnourished, but is still in a vulnerable window period. I am not sure what Antonio’s weight is now, but I will continue to monitor his growth. At 1 1/2 years old, he is still susceptible to any type of illness that could set his growth back (i.e. cold, stomach virus) and he could become malnourished. Not that him being 3 or 4 and having these symptoms is any better, but at the least, he can fight more. It is truly the biggest joy to see a child who has light and life in his or her eyes. Helping be a part of  Antonio’s recovery has been the highlight of my service and has reaffirmed why I am here to serve.

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Antonio in May 2014, and him in November 2014

Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) 

In Guatemala, Día De Los Muertos is celebrated by flying kites. People believe that kites are the connection between the mortal world and the heavens. On Día de Los Muertos, people spend the day at cemeteries eating and reminiscing on loved ones who have passed. I’m used to spending Día De Los Muertos in Hollywood Forever cemetery and participating in Mexican traditions. So it was cool to see something different, but I did miss the dancing, singing, and the amazing Mexican food!!!

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Thousands of people came to Sumpango. There were other festivities, another popular festival is Drunken Horses in Todos Santos.

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#kiteselfies

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Beautiful design of kites

Thanksgiving

This was my first Thanksgiving away from home. So, that being said I needed to go to a warm hot beach and chill out somewhere. That somewhere was Livingston, Guatemala. Livingston is primarily populated by the Garifuna community. Garifunas are Black Caribs, and unlike other narratives from the Diaspora, the Garifuna people were never enslaved. The Garifuna inhabit the Eastern coast of Guatemala, Belize, St. Vincent, and I believe Nicaragua as well? Not sure about that. The food was great, we ate tapado which is a soup made with fresh seafood and coconut milk. We also tried some Gifiti which is a distilled rum that is also used to heal people and can also be an aphrodisiac.

I definitely got to relax and spend time with most of my closest Peace Corps friends. However, the sun only came out for one day, the first day we were there. The rest of the time it was cold, cloudy, and rainy! As Outkast said so simply, “you can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.” I did plan this vacation, but I did not expect the weather to be so wonky. Needless to say, despite the weather issues, we had a wonderful time getting to explore new parts of Guatemala.

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A belated Thanksgiving dinner at the hostel

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On a lancha or boat to Río Dulce

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Playa Blanca, Livingston Guatemala

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Siete Altares (7 Altars), Livingston, Guatemala

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With some of my lovely MCHers, Daisy and Elisa

Other Activities 

  • Guate Trip 

Peace Corps prohibits us from going to Guatemala City unless it is for medical reasons or going to the airport. VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee) planned a trip to visit Guatemala City, which was very fun! We first went to a museum about textiles and Mayan culture. Then, we tried to go to another museum in Central Park but it was closed. On the bright side, there was a FREE concert in the park with the one and only La Miseria Cumbia Band. Me, being drawn to musical venues and dancing was dancing on the sides by the stage. The wife of the lead singer saw me and told me I could dance on stage with them. So I brought two of my friends and we got to dance with Miseria Cumbia Band! It was AWESOME, and I was also freaking out a bit because my Guatemalan friends got me jamming to their music!

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A real burger

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Andrea and I, one of my closest Peace Corps pals in the Central Park

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Textile Museum

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Yes, I ordered a Pumpkin Spice Latte

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Hanging out with my friend Angela and Aristotle

After that, we went to Bougie Central or Cayalá mall. Cayalá is similar to the Grove in Los Angeles. It is a huge outdoor mall that has amazing (albeit very expensive) restaurants and even a..wait for it..STARBUCKS. Even though I enjoyed a day of pampering, it was really odd to go somewhere and see not one person in traje, or tradition clothing. I later found out that Cayalá is specifically zoned so that no one without a car can access the shopping center, hence taking out “the undesired crowd.” Economic inequality is very tangible in spaces like Cayalá because compared to where I live, Cayalá is like another world with kids on bicycles, STROLLERS, Starbucks. For a second, I almost thought I was in the US…

  • Día De Los Niños 

So in Guatemala, it seems like there is a day for everything, mothers, fathers, teachers, health personnel. You name it, there’s probably a day for it. I digress. Día de Los Niños, or Day of the Children is a celebration of the wonderfulness of children. To celebrate kids and all of their awesomeness, Bill and I went to a school called Chuixacol to play games and do other fun activities.

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I am always the smallest person in line, hehe

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  • HIV Workshop 

Meg, Bill and I helped co-facilitate a HIV workshop with the health center in Pueblo Viejo, Momostenango and World Vision. World Vision is a NGO that is based in my site that helps combat hunger. World Vision is all throughout what is commonly referred to as the “Third World.” Anyways, the workshop was for middle school kids ages 12-14 and they did round Robin sessions on teen pregnancy prevention, STI prevention, and HIV awareness. For those that don’t know, Round Robin sessions is when you start in a group and sit in on a session and then are rotated for x amount of time (in this case, every 45 minutes) to hear each session. At the end of the day, we did a Q&A session and the kids had to work in teams to present a skit on the themes they learned today. It was a fun activity!

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Middle school students wearing traje, or traditional indigenous clothing of the region.

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Skits

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Meg, Bill, and I

  • 1st Annual Toto/Xela Leadership Camp: I got to participate in the first ever Toto/Xela Leadership camp. We had about 50 kids and 20 something PCVs participate in a summer camp to raise awareness about different issues such as leadership potential and also to keep kids entertained on their winter vacations. I was a group leader with Kellen and Miranda and co facilitated a Zumba session with Ardonna. I realized how much I miss working with kids and look forward to doing more GLOW camp and other youth related activities in the future.
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The beautiful Laguna (Lake) Chicabel. According to Mayan legend, the lake was moved from its original location to where it is now by the Mayan gods. The lake was moved because people misused the lake. Now, the lake is pristine and sacred. No one is allowed to swim, bathe, or do anything but admire its beauty. There are also altars around the lake where you can put offerings or make prayers to certain Mayan gods.

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Kellen, Miranda, and I with our awesome team #LOSDRAGONES

  • Finishing TSR Workshops this year: We finished our TSR Workshops, yeah! TSR or Rural Health Technicians from across our department participated in a series of workshops on behavior change.

    With my Rural Health Technician from my health center, Seño Fausty

    With my Rural Health Technician from my health center, Seño Fausty

  • Arlene’s GLOW Camp: I helped my friend Arlene out with her GLOW camp that was for 3 days in rural Momostenango. About 100 kids participated and learned about reproductive health, nutrition, self esteem, and more. Meg and Bill also helped out #TeamSanBartolo/Pologua. It was really great and I’m excited to do my own GLOW camp next year!
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Arlene teaching girls that they can become leaders too!

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List of beliefs that kids wrote down in our Positive Masculinity session

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UN Declaration of Girls used for Female Empowerment session

Computer Meltdown

My computer broke. It was stressful. It was expensive. It did not get fixed until I came back to the US. However, in that time, I got to reflect a lot and just chill out. It was nice to spend nights reading books instead of watching movies or TV shows for end. I’m thankful and happy my computer is fixed now, but I also appreciate the time I got just to be pensive and disconnected for a bit.

Everyone is Quitting, #WHATAMIGOINGTODO #existentialcrisis

Within the last 5 months, 3 crucial people have quit the health center. One of my most pilas (smart, go-getter) health educators was transferred. My best friend, the nutritionist quit to pursue other endeavors, and now one of the professional nurses I was close to is also leaving. The energy in my health center is palpable: it is an erratic and often, stressful environment. Currently, my health center is being striked by my community for providing below average services. At the same time, many people in my health center haven’t been paid since July, which makes sense as to why someone may not be providing their best at work.

The last two months has been a hot mess in the health center, and its made me wonder “Is it even worth it to stay here?” Everyone is miserable, no one wants to work, the center is divided. I’ve been trying to pray on it and stay positive. I see a lot of potential for healing and emotional reparations in the future, but I’m quite frankly unsure if people are in a place to hear it or receive it. Because of that, I’ve been feeling down about my service because I’m not really sure about my capacity to handle the fact that so many people are just leaving left and right. When I started, there were about 40 people working at my health center, now that number is more like 25 and counting…which leads me to my next topic..

Return to the States 

Coming home has been the best part of the last couple of months. Sometimes, you just need to go home and get grounded again. It has been nothing short of amazing to see my friends and family, to frequent my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles, and to feel 100% back in my comfort zone. Home is good. I never realized how much I miss the smell of sea salt, the taste of Mexican food, the warmth of the sun, I could go on for days about how amazing it is to be back where I belong. But all the while that I’ve been home, I realized I am integrated in Guatemalan culture. Moments such as trying to flag a bus down (LOL WHO DOES THAT IN THE US?!) or thinking in Spanish, or even hearing the marimba at church made me appreciate what is my new life. I feel ready to take on 2015 and all its joys and challenges that it will bring.

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I left my heart in Los Angeles, California ❤

My first major project of 2015 is doing a gender conference with Comité A La Atención Violencia (a work group that is part of the Área de Salud, or health providers on a departmental scale, that is committed to ending domestic violence in Guatemala) and producing The Vagina Monologues that will be done in Spanish and possibly some other Mayan languages. I’ve been focusing a lot of my energy on this, so hopefully, it will be an awesome event. I am looking forward to collaborating with new people and experiencing new things. As much as I fear going back to Guatemala, I know that God will work through me to bring about good things. Just trying to have faith in my ability to finish my service, a faith like a mustard seed, small but that flourishes and can move mountains. I am going to try to be less hard on myself and feeling like I’m not doing enough, when I should look at all that I have done and that for now, that is enough.

Thanks to everyone who has read this and who has supported me over the last 10 months, it means a lot to me, and I will try to update this more regularly in the future!!!

letter to future volunteers

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My program training specialist (PTS) asked me to write a letter to incoming volunteers. I remember when I first got my acceptance letter and read the letters from the volunteers. Funny how things come full circle, and how much I’ve grown since I first started the application process until now, 7 months serving in country!


Hello future Peace Corps Volunteers!

Welcome to Guatemala, the land of eternal spring and pura utz. I am sure that you might be feeling excited, nonplussed, or uncertain of what is to come. Don’t worry, there are volunteers and staff members who are here to support you! Many of you chose to come to Guatemala. While I did not chose to be placed in Guatemala, I feel very blessed to live and serve in one of the most ethnically and geographically diverse countries in Central America.

I won’t deceive you and say that serving here is easy. As of anything in life, there will be challenges and unexpected changes that impact your service. However, with every obstacle, there are small victories that stay with you for a while. I remember the first time I spent my birthday away from home with my Guatemalan best friend, and she made me cupcakes and sang me Happy Birthday in Spanglish. I remember the first time I ate a chicken’s heart. Or the first time I witnessed a severely malnourished child gain weight and start recuperating. This is not to say that your inevitable falls won’t hurt as much, but the little successes are what motivate me to keep going. As we say here in Guatemala, poco a poco (little by little), you will get the hang of things and feel confident in your decision to serve here.

During our swear-in ceremony, our country director George Like told us that “you are the architect of your own experience.” In other words, you determine what your service will look like. For me, I decided to get involved with the nutrition workgroup, the Gender and Development committee, and the Peer Support network, which will help mentor future volunteers whom are of color, women, or LGBT. Apart from those activities, I also co-facilitate health talks with health educators, teach Zumba classes, and I am in the process of starting a women’s group for health promoters. There are also opportunities to collaborate with other Peace Corps volunteers. I help coordinate a monthly behavior change workshop with other MCH volunteers in my department and will be participating in a health leadership camp in November with more Peace Corps volunteers. I encourage each and every one of you to find a committee or workgroup on a topic that you’re passionate about; it will definitely color and enrich your Peace Corps experience!

The next 27 months will challenge you, but will also make you into the person that you were always meant to be. Serve with love and compassion. Remember where you come from and the unique skill set that you bring to the Peace Corps – and most importantly, always give your best and keep your head up! It will help you a lot here 🙂

All the best,

PCV Tyler

Maternal and Child Health Volunteer

an arrangement of feels

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Winter is Coming….
 
No, I don’t watch Game of Thrones but yes, indeed, winter is coming. It is getting colder and colder as the days pass. I am so thankful my mom brought me a space heater because when I go to sleep and when I wake up are definitely the coldest parts of the day. We are nearing the end of a dry rainy season, so thankfully, it has been raining more recently. The country needs rain since the government declared that we’re in a drought. 
 

Education in Guatemala 

 
I’ve been spending some more time in elementary and middle schools in Guatemala giving charlas about different topics. Something that I have noticed from personal experience as of recent is that people here are not accustomed to being educated in a manner that is analytical or dynamic. Recently, I gave a charla on nutrition and I noticed anytime I posed a simple question to the large group that no one would answer me. I asked a group of kids what do they eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner. No response. As I awkwardly pause and wait for anybody to answer what they eat for breakfast, or even to name one fruit. Still, no response. That is when it dawned on me that a culture of questioning, especially authority does not exist in Guatemala. It’s not that people do not actually know the answers (sometimes they don’t), its just that people listen to whom is speaking in front of a classroom. There are no questions asked, there are no insightful discussions, you just intake the information from the person giving it to you. Maybe because I attended a liberal arts college, I am just so accustomed to a professor asking questions such as What do you think about that? and subsequently, there is a sharing of opinion or information. Here, I could ask What is a fruit? and no one will respond even if they know what a fruit is. It’s difficult sometimes because I want to be more engaging, but people here are used to intaking information in silence. This becomes challenging because some people will pretend to understand something and will not ask for help or clarification. There is not really question time in Guatemala. When the time for questions come in a charla, it is usually silent. Unless you are in a meeting, then it becomes more of a “Well let me tell you what I think” and frame it as a question, even though its not a question. To ensure that people understood what I talked about in the charla, I like to play Papa Caliente or Hot Potato. The problem with this is sometimes kids or adults do not feel confident to answer the question and will stare blankly until I call on someone who either knows the answer or is a more verbal communicator. So right now, I’m trying to adjust my cultural norms of education to better fit the learning styles and needs of Guatemalans. 
 
 
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Nutrition charla where kids had to create and present to their classmates their own healthy plates of food by using the 4 food groups carbohydrates, proteins, minerals and vitamins, and fats! They could make plates as a sample breakfast, lunch, or dinner option!

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Something that has perturbed me a bit on my school visits is how absent the teachers are. For example, last week I went to a school to give a charla about nutrition. After I was done, I asked the kids where their teacher was and they said I DONT KNOW. On top of that, the teacher never came back to the class. So to kill time, Bill taught a charla about geography. After, I led dinámicas and taught an impromptu Zumba class after a student requested that we do some fitness. This made me think Are people even learning here? It’s bad enough that kids are not even in school for 8 hours a day (usually 4 hours, but if its a holiday or random event such as a beauty contest, then school is cancelled). I was explaining to Bill how frustrating it is to see that here and it would never happen in America, and then he reminded me that many schools in inner-city neighborhoods are not that far off from what goes on in Guatemala. And when he said that, it was upsetting to think that in the United States and around the world, there are children who are not receiving adequate education simply because of where they live. One girl in one of the classes I went to is deaf and mute, and no one attends to her. This is the third time I’ve been to that school, so I already knew who the special needs student was in that class. In my charla, I made sure to engage with her one on one, by drawing photos of the activity we were doing and writing questions in simple Spanish so that she would feel a part of the class. Normally, the teachers don’t even include her in the activity, so how is she supposed to learn anything? It really made me see the privilege that I’ve had, especially as an American woman, to go to schools where I always had attentive teachers. I always had access to resources (ex. computers, paper, pens), I always had access to a tutor if I did not feel comfortable answering questions, I knew who to turn to for academic support, so I was given all the keys to success. This is not to say that I think I’m better than Guatemalans because I have more education, rather that I realize that I had several advantages that has aided to my ability to navigate different spaces, especially in higher education and beyond. 
 
Feeling Insecure About Service 
 
Recently, I’ve been feeling like I have been comparing myself to the last volunteer who was here before me. It’s been 5 months and I still haven’t completely stepped out of observer mode to doer mode in the health center. For those who know me well, you know that I am an active person. I like to observe at first to get a feel for things, but after a while, I like to take initiative and go go go. I feel frustrated that I’m still fairly dependent on health center staff to schedule any type of activity and haven’t had that go go go moment quite yet. To fill in my down time, I planned and facilitated the first of a series of workshops about team building and communication for my health center. The first one went really well and I am in the works of planning more. I also have been taking K’iche’ (a Maya language) lessons, which has been fun because I enjoy learning new things. However, my teach is a bit of a flake and has cancelled on me several times in the last two weeks. So, time for a #newhobby. 
 
The other day, I was re-reading my Welcome to Site packet and reviewing what the previous volunteer had done in the same amount of time. I’ve been having problems getting my women’s group started and running, and many of my days as of recent has felt like I am idly wasting time. Something that I have learned about myself is that I do not like to be stagnant or have nothing to do. It gives me anxiety when I’m sitting in the health center with nothing to do, so I create tasks or brainstorm new charlas or activities to do just to kill the time. I also learned that I am pretty rigid when it comes to plans. Recently, I have had the misfortune of being bailed on or last minute changes happening to my schedule. Yes, this is the essence of the Peace Corps life,  but I guess I am not as “go with the flow” as I thought about I was before coming here.
 
  I like order, I like structure, but more than anything, I really love consistency. 
 
So this has become one of the larger obstacles that I deal with in my service as of recent: learning to go with the flow and accept chaos. I’m trying to find a controlled space in the chaos, which would make me feel more comfortable and less irritable about last minute changes, delays, etc. Every day I am learning something new about myself and about my site. Today, I learned that I am willing to try new things such as eat a chicken’s heart. I am not ready to say forget my plans and let’s just wing it. I’m just not there yet, but maybe with time, I could be there. I am trying not to compare myself to past volunteers in my site. Our projects are different and Peace Corps is so different from what it was a year ago to what is now. But sometimes, it becomes more difficult when I think of the distance of where I want to be and where I am at my point in service, especially in comparison to past volunteers. 
 
However, I’m trying to be positive because the nutrition workgroup that I’m a part of will be meeting this week and GAD (Gender and Development) committee meets later this month. I did finally make contact with my women’s group, so *fingers crossed* that our first meeting will be next week. I reached out to World Vision and I’m going to start working more closely with them in the future. I’m starting to feel more solid about my service in the future…but that could easily change. As a chronic planner, it is stressful to know that I cannot account for what I should theoretically be doing on September 18th. Everything in Peace Corps is on a day to day basis, because so much can happen in a day that its hard to even say that what I planned to do next week will actually happen, nonetheless what I planned to do tomorrow will be actualized. I am just hanging on and trusting the process and trying to unlearn my chronic planning ways as to not drive myself crazy. This is easier said than done, but I’m trying and that has to count for something, ¿verdad?
 
Fería 
 
This month was my town’s fería, or carnival to celebrate our patron saint, Santo Bartolomé. There were parades to kick off the event. In comparison to the San Cris feria, ours was much smaller and low-key, but it was fun to see health center staff with their families at the event. We also had our first nutritional fair and marathon. Over 200 people came and participated in the activities. For the first time ever, I was outside in my site after 6:30pm and most of my town was out dancing until the wee hours. A friend came to visit me and it was fun having someone else see my site during that time. Basically, there was lots of sweets, some rides, and lots of marimba for days. There were also beauty pageants for La Reina de La Municipalidad (Queen of the Municipality) as well as the Reina Indigena (Indigenous Queen). I went with my site mate, Bill to see the Reina Indigena pageant and it was honestly one of the most incredible events I have ever seen.
 
 
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Mi familia

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Tradition where people whip each other…saber porque?

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Traditional Maya dancers

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Inaugural Parade

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Seeing people have so much pride in their culture and customs, of being an indigenous woman in Guatemala, made me simultaneously happy and envious. Happy, because it is great to see a colonized people reclaim their culture and continue their heritage on through generations to generations (side note: sadly, less young people in my site want to speak K’iche’ because they see it as an “older” and “weird” tradition). Envious because as a Black American, I feel that our people did not have that same ability to retain culture, apart from food. And even then, soul food is more Southern than West/East coast. The language, the dress, the oral traditions have been lost during the time enslaved Africans were brought to America until today. I am thankful that in addition to being a Black American, that I do have my Caribbean/West Indian culture, but even at times, I feel like a foreigner when I interact with West Indians because I wasn’t born or grew up on the island. Anyways, it was an event that I was really honored to see. The girls did traditional dances as well as gave speeches about the Earth, about being thankful, and about family (they recited their speeches first in K’iche’, then in Spanish). This weekend is Día de Independencia or the biggest feria in Guatemala in Xela. I will be going, so look for more updates in the future! 
 
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Indigenous Queen 2013-2014


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Indigenous Queens from Momostenango, San Andres Xecul, and San Francisco El Alto

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Indigenous Queen 2014-2015

 
 
Going Home and Goodbyes
Four people have recently left the Peace Corps, three of whom I was close to. Seeing the three of them leave has made me sad because who wants to see your friends go home? Life happens, and you just have to accept that. Having three people go home has also made the experience feel more real.  Sometimes in Peace Corps, I forget that real life is still going on in the States because we are, in some ways, in a bubble. Reality is, that we are all temporarily here in the Peace Corps. No one but God knows if we will all make it to finish our two year commitment.  Since we are scattered across the country, it is rare to see a volunteer on a weekly basis. You just never really know what anyone is going through unless you pick up the phone and call, or you talk on Facebook. This is hard because I value face to face time a lot, and seeing a friend (especially who does not live in your department) is a once in a blue moon type of deal. Peace Corps is very YOYO (You’re On Your Own), which is a good and a bad thing. I pray that as many of us can and will make it here, and that those who cannot/could not stay here are safe, healthy, and happy at home in the US. Anything can happen, and that kind of excites and scares me. Soon, I will be going home for Christmas! My mom purchased my plane tickets home! I’ll be back for almost three weeks, which is definitely motivating me to make the next three months of my service to be extremely proactive and energetic so I can recharge over Christmas. 
 

6 months

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how do you measure 6 months? 


 

  • 1/4 of my way done with service. 
  • seeing my coworker’s burgeoning belly blossom from the second trimester into the third trimester.
  • people calling out,  “seño taylor! corre corre corre!” 
  • having people ask how I’m doing and genuinely mean it. 
  • making friendships. 
  • taking care of my mental well being. 
  • feeling aloof yet connected at the same time. 
  • being able to ride a camioneta in relative calmness. 
  • communicating my feelings clearly and honestly — this has been a challenge in the last 6 months, but i’ve been able to do it with as I’ve gained more confianza 
  • seeing the world in different eyes. 
  • working through my insecurities about the uncertainty of what is ahead in my service. 
  • trying to understand what life is like in the states from what i can grasp from Facebook. 
  • feeling at home in my house for the first time. 

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” i was within and without”

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IST Recap:

So much has happened since I left for IST (In Service Training). IST was wonderful, it was the first time since we left for site that we have all been together. We started off IST in Quiche where we had a two day charla about nutrition and maternal and child health. Then, we returned to Santa Lucía where we had more group sessions with guest organizations; my favorite one was with ALAS, a non profit based in Antigua and Alta Verapaz that do dynamic sexual and reproductive health trainings in rural communities. There was lots of catching up time and learning new things from each other as well as our guest speakers!

One of my favorite parts of IST was doing our personality tests. We all took abridged versions of Myers-Briggs Personality Test, and I found out that I am a ESFJ: Extroverted Sensor, Feeler, Judger. Click here to learn more about your personality. Another highlight of IST was coming back to my training community and spending time with my host family. Sofi turned 4 years old, Munchies finally got a much needed haircut, and Danny got 100% on his final exams. It feels like years have gone by when I returned to their house; there were so many subtle changes made in the house and my babies are growing up so fast! But at the same time, there was still just as much love, laughter, and good food served there as there was before I left.

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me and my homestay siblings, danny and sofí

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mch volunteers and dirk!

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Nutrition Taller in Quiche with my coworkers Greysi, Lisdi, and Carol

During IST, I spent my first 4th of July away from home and needless to say, it was a raging good old time! Wow, that sentence sounds like something my mom would say, haha. In the day time, we played soccer, basketball, and volleyball and for lunch we had some good old American BBQ. Later in the evening, Peace Corps rented out a restaurant in Antigua where we had dinner and a talent show. Our MCH group performed a routine called Teach Me How to Breastfeed, and I also sang Bless The Telephone with my friend, Arlene. After all the festivities, we then ended the night with fireworks on the terrace of the restaurant and dancing! It was definitely the most fun 4th I’ve ever had!!!!

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Post IST: What Do We Do From Here

After IST, I was feeling a lot of emotions: happy to be returning to site, anxious to apply what I’ve learned, overwhelmed by my ambitiousness to get everything that I want to get done done, sad to be say goodbye to some of my closest friends that I don’t see frequently because they live in Quiche or Chimaltenango, and also sad to be leaving my homestay family. When I came back, I’ve felt like I wasn’t as productive or rather, I haven’t been on my A game as much as I was before I left for IST. To be honest, that made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough, and when I feel this way, I start to feel like I’m not really a good volunteer. I’ve been learning to try to unlearn this behavior, but as an American, I’ve realized that is something culturally ingrained in me. My parents always used to preach about the 7P’s: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance, otherwise known as hard work + good planning = guaranteed success. And in my site, this equation reads more like (hard)* this is highly subjective* work + non existent planning + last minute cancellations + rain + major construction project on road = success if you’re lucky, or as people say here, Primero Dios (God willing). Our nutritional fair that we had planned to do when I came back from IST has been rescheduled three times, but finally we have set a date! And we have done legitimate planning, so there is some hope for success…primero Dios.

In terms of other projects, I am excited to be starting my women’s group later this month. A woman came up to me in the market and asked me if I was the new Peace Corps volunteer. She said she had heard I was a dynamic and fun person to work with, and that she would really like to work with me. I was really flattered even though I forgot her name the second time she approached me about the idea. So me taking this as a sign to be active, I got her information and had a formal meeting with her. The woman is a health promoter in an aldea (small rural community) in my town who along with 17 other promoters have a group where they hold monthly meetings about various health topics. A volunteer who was here before me started the group, but since her leaving about a year and a half ago, the group had pretty much stopped meeting. So she asked me to take on the role as facilitator, and I would be giving them charlas on different themes; the promoters then would go into the communities and replicate my charlas for other women. At first, I was uneasy about accepting the offer, but I am really excited to get out of my health center and start getting active again. I also had the chance to go on National Radio Totonicipán and talk about the MCH (Maternal and Child Health) project with Celina (Baktun I) and Rebecca (Baktun II). It was a great experience, and I learned a lot from them about their experiences in country and things that worked for them/didn’t work for them that I plan on implementing in the future. Also, our TSR (Técnico de Salud Rural — Rural Health Technician) workshops have been going well, the Toto volunteers are doing more work on behavior change with the Área de Salud (the people in charge of all the health districts in my region). We have received good feedback and the TSRs are really receptive to us, which is good!

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that one time when we were on the radio #mch

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TSR Workshop at the Área de Salud Totonicapán

Some good news: Antonio, the baby who I frequently write about has gained more weight! He actually has plump cheeks and his hair is growing. It’s incredible to see the progress that he’s made, and I attribute that a lot to Silvia being insistent on checking up on him every day. I usually go with her or with another educator to prepare snack for him and to check up on his mom and his family. The last time we went to their house, we made incaparina banana pancakes and Antonio loved them! So did his sisters, and we spent about 4 hours at his house. In this time, we made pancakes, laughed, talked, and I even taught them some basic ballet movements. I felt really happy in that moment, because everyone, even Juan Orlando was in happy spirits.

I also went to a play about maternal mortality, which my counterpart, Seño Fausty was a part of. Some of the kids were laughing, but the play was very realistic and well done. My relationship with Fausty (my counterpart) has gotten better, and we understand how to effectively work with one another. I am really thankful that we are spending more time planning projects together, and she is really supportive of me even if she is not always around all the time. The play was really moving, and all the actors are people who work in health centers in Totonicipán; I believe every pueblo in our department was represented in the play! The play was performed in front of 500 middle school students, and afterwards, we had refacción (snack time). Imagine trying to feed 500 hungry middle schoolers….it was a hot mess, but they enjoyed the snacks as much as I did 🙂IMG_3215

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Protemás enchiladas

Another thing that happened was that I was invited to become a part of the Gender and Development Committee in Peace Corps! I wanted to be a part of it as soon as I found out that they were responsible for putting on Vagina Monologues, and I’m really eager to work with the committee to put on some awesome programs for the rest of the year, and plan for the upcoming year!

All By Myself: All Up In My Feelings Part 1, 2, and 3

Speaking of upcoming year, I’ve almost hit the 6 month mark of being in country. That means I am 1/4 through with my Peace Corps service, which is a weird way to frame it, but its true. Even though a lot of positive things have been happening to me recently, I have also been feeling off and not as excited about life as I was when I first got here. I felt like I was going crazy: all these great events and opportunities coming my way, but I’ve been feeling really stressed and anxious. I revisited the Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment.

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“You are having normal reactions to an abnormal experience.”

Recently, I have been having a hard time finding a comfortable space. I’m transitioning from observer to doer, and in this time, I still find myself unsure of my abilities. At the same time, I’ve seen a lot of changes happen in my health center that have caused me to feel either really excited about an event or really cynical of something actually happening. I’ve also been dealing with more street harassment and having a hard time managing to find the words to confront it. It’s made me feel like I can’t work with men or trust men because I feel like I am not being taken seriously as a work partner when I work with men apart from Bill.


We even had a whole session about street harassment in a Peace Corps security meeting with all the Xela and Toto volunteers; it was really nice retrospectively to have that, because after that meeting, I noticed a significant spike in harassment in site. I’m no stranger to street harassment, but when you don’t have the social mechanisms to combat it, especially not the correct language to start those conversations, then it starts to feel overwhelming. I’ve noticed I’m not as friendly in public unless I see someone that I already know in the streets. I’m trying not to let it bother me so much, but it has. I’ve been thinking of doing some programming around this, either as a charla or with GAD because its an issue that many volunteers face: over 75% of volunteers here are female. Also, street harassment and the inability to deal with it makes me feel like its hindering my ability to do an effective job in country.

Street harassment here is different to me than in the States; in the States, its usually some random drunk person or aggressive person on the street making a statement, while as here, I’m harassed by people that I know, that live in my community, or that I work with on a daily basis.

So there’s a big difference in that, as well as my comfortability with confronting it. I feel like I have to choose my battles wisely, seeing that I still have to work with these people in the future….

I guess you could say, the novelty of being new and bright eyed to my Guatemalan world is rapidly diminishing. I’ve started to realize that this is really my life; this isn’t just a short term experience, this is my reality. I didn’t really process that until my family came to visit me.


I never noticed when I made subtle changes such as always carrying toilet paper on me, or getting on camionetas and not being phased by the amount of human bodies that are in one space. I can converse fluidly in Spanish, even adding vaya, pues, porque (with the pause in between por and que). These little markers of time and place I took for granted until I had to do them all, but through the eyes of my family, who was here on their first visit to Guatemala. I am so happy that my family came! My mom and sister came for 10 days, 7 which we spent together.

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happy birthday mommy!

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We got to travel to Panajachel, Antigua, and Xela, so they saw a good amount of the country. The highlight of the trip was spending my mom’s birthday with my homestay family. We went back to Magdalena and my mom got to see where I spent my first three months, learning how to walk, talk, and make semi-good jokes in another language. Words cannot describe the amazing feeling I had when my American family met my Guatemalan family. Even without sharing a common language, we became one family. My Guatemalan family took us out for birthday cake, bread, and coffee and we had an amazing time. I almost cried after because it was that amazing to see my family: one who is genetically related to me, and another who I love as if we were genetically related meet and enjoy each other’s company for the first time. I feel blessed to have such unique and colorful families, and that they will both forever be in my life! I’m sad that my mom and sister had to return to the States, but I’m excited to go home for Christmas and see them as well as other friends and family members soon! After their visit, I have become more homesick. I can vividly imagine Los Angeles and all my favorite places. I long to see my hometown everyday, but poco a poco, I’ve started to see Guatemala as my home too. Even if I don’t have the strongest connection to it yet like I do with Los Angeles, it is my home and I am happy to be here, even though I am experiencing my first lows of service.


To end positively…

“ There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” ~ Ecclesiates 3:1

This Bible verse was one that my friend Elizabeth sent to me, and I feel like it is so relevant. Once I re-read it, I realized that my season right now is one of change and uncertainty, that this too will pass, but that there is something to be learned from this. All of my seasons in Peace Corps cannot and will not be perfect and happy and struggle-free. I’m trying to see my service, especially this point in my service as a season. Seasons in Guatemala, although there are only two are pretty well respected. The rainy season is time of harvest and growth, which is the one we’re in now. However, we have been in a cannicula, or dry spell. The dry spell has destroyed much of the harvest across the country. Summer is when the fruits of the rainy season ripen and are to be enjoyed. Using the metaphor of seasons and change, I’m trying to picture myself as a little seed that is being watered, tested, and in the process of being a flower, but has yet to arrive there yet. As my old boss used to say, trust the process. So here’s to trusting the process and the germination of my little seed of a life…

“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” ~ Max Ehrmann

 

the rest is self explanatory.

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Es decir que…

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It has been a while since I’ve updated my blog! Tomorrow, I will be leaving for IST (In Service Training) to learn more about how I can be better at my job. We are also learning more skills and updating our MCH group what we have been up to since we have last seen each other 2 months ago. I can’t believe how much has happened and changed here since I moved in two months ago.

Charlas, Charlas, and more Charlas 
This month has been full of charlas (or health talks). I helped give a charla on self esteem, the importance of good hygiene, de-chlorinating water, and family planning. I really have enjoyed charlas, but my favorite one this month was on self esteem. María Teresa and I went to an elementary school in a local aldea (small vicinity) to give a health talk about self esteem to 5 and 6 year old. On the way there, I came up with a song (and dance moves) which I presented to the kids. They loved it! The song went like this:
Yo amo a mi misma (I love myself)
Tu amas a ti misma (You love yourself)
Todos aman a sus mismas (They all love themselves)
Esto es la autoestima (This is self esteem)
Yo sé que soy lista (I know that I am smart)
Yo sé que soy linda ( I know that I am beautiful)
Yo puedo hacer todo con Dios que me bendiga ( I can do anything through God who blesses me).

It was so awesome to see kids get so excited about loving themselves. I said to them I’m colocha (curly) and you guys aren’t. One girl has glasses in this class and others don’t. That boy has long legs, and the other boy doesn’t. I told them to celebrate their differences because God made each and everyone of us in His creation; that we are all beautiful, smart, and uniquely different for a reason. I asked them if they thought they were cool kids and they went WILD. I love kids. My coworker has a video which whenever I get it, I will post later on. Now my coworkers think that I should become a writer for children’s TV (aka Calle Sesame/Sesame Street) because I’m good at making impromptu jingles, haha.
However, one of my charlas was kind of a failure. I went with Lisdi, a health educator to Choqui to give a charla on family planning. This was the first time I had ever given a charla on family planning with men and I was pretty nervous. Lisdi let me introduce myself and lead a dinámica. Before we started, I asked them if they spoke Spanish (because the farther away you are from the center of town, the less Spanish people speak; K’iche’ is more commonly used). They said yes, but when I lead the dinámica, they said they had no idea what I was saying and started laughing. Sometimes, it makes me feel really self-conscious when this happens because I know what I said was clear, but since its the first time I’m presenting, its like I need to gain confianza with the group. But it makes me feel like my Spanish isn’t good enough even though it is. Lisdi took over since she is fluent in K’iche’ and a representative from SESAN came with us; he too is fluent in K’iche’. At one point, they had a disagreement about one of the family planning methods, and the SESAN rep took over the entire charla. He stopped addressing Lisdi and only spoke to the men about what was going on. I was pretty shocked that happened, and then they started arguing in Spanish about who was really leading the charla. I left with Bill to give another charla to kids on the importance of good hygiene, and when I came back, the SESAN rep was leading the charla. I know its important for men to be involved, especially with family planning, but I felt that the way the charla went was really bad and took away from Lisdi, who is an educator and actually knows how to use and inform people on their options for family planning.

On Having Small Children’s Hands in My Hair 
 
So as a rule of thumb, you generally should NOT touch anyone unless they say it is ok. Here in Guatemala, I usually have a hand or two in my hair before I can begin to say no. It’s starting to get on my nerves, especially when I can hear people talking about my hair behind me and then before I know it, I feel a finger on my scalp. It is the weirdest feeling to be the center of attention all the time without wanting to be. One day, I snapped at a child (no I am not above that) because he started touching my hair and saying my hair was a wig. First of all, why would ANYONE want nappy hair as a WIG #tangles #tangles and did i say #TANGLES. I asked him why did he think my hair was fake. He kept running to touch my hair and then would run away. So I said all people in the world don’t have straight hair, and that my hair isn’t a wig and that its real. and that it is MINE. So then I pulled his hair and said how would you like if If I pulled and touched your hair? He thought it was funny, but I didn’t. Then, my coworker stepped in and explained that I’m colocha and that my hair is different than other people. Little kids love yelling COLOCHA at me on the streets and then laughing or staring. I’ve gotten used to the staring, so I just stare at them back and they get over it. I’m excited for the day when I’m considered a part of normal life so that me being colocha isn’t a big deal anymore. It’s funny to me that being colocha stands out more than being morena, but I guess its because people in my town are brown – dark brown skin so I don’t really stand out color wise as much as I could if I were say, canche (white).

Rainy Season 
Rainy season is really a thing in most parts of the world, except for Los Angeles. The rain has been so strong, that there are major mudslides, power outages, and freeways that have broken due to the rain. Peace Corps put us on stand fast, which means that we were not allowed to use public transportation or leave our sites until the rain cleared. Unlike the schools, the health center remained open even though we couldn’t leave. So for about a week, we had many days were I was at the center, watching TV or reading my book because we couldn’t go out and give charlas, do vaccinations, or anything until the rain cleared. Also, about 80% of my health center staff travels to work from other neighboring cities, so when the freeway broke and the route changed, it took over 2 hours every day for people to get to work on time. Luckily, I haven’t suffered too much rain damage and Standfast was lifted.
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rain rain and more rain


Drag Show & Xela Pride 
I got to attend a drag show and participate in Pride in Guatemala. It was my first time seeing both events in person, and can I say, it was fabulous. I hate using the word fabulous when referencing something queer, but it truly was fabulous to see the drag show. At the show, there were openly gay people who participated in the show and in the crowd. From what I have seen in Guatemala, being closeted is absolutely necessary. The combination of machismo, ideas of masculinity, and a strong religious influence, being gay is virtually unheard of (at least in my site). To see the drag queens parade and be themselves was definitely an act of resistance and exposing themselves instead of erasing or concealing their identities. The show was really a pageant: there was swimsuit, evening wear, performance, and a Q&A section of the show. I kept yelling work hunty, but I’m not sure how that translates in Spanish. Anyways, it was great to be an ally and supportive of the organization who put on the show, IDSO. IDSO stands for Inciativia por la Diversidad Sexual de Occidente (Initiative for Sexual Diversity). IDSO also puts on Pride, which is small and more conservative than other Pride celebrations in the States. When I told my coworkers that I was going to Pride, that asked me if I was afraid that a lesbian would make a move on me. I laughed and said, I’m no more afraid of that than a man coming on to me. So, here in my site, people still haven’t really grasped the idea of being gay or lesbian, and the realities for LGBT people in this country. I try to educate them as best as I can, but as a straight person, I’m not really sure if I’m the best person to be doing that. Anyways, Pride was awesome and I loved dancing with the drag queens and participating in the event.
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Peace Corps Volunteers at Pride!

 

Goodbyes and Birthdays 
We had a going away party for one of my coworkers, Mauricio. Mauricio is going to finish up his schooling and graduate soon! He was at my health center for 8 months, fulfilling his practicum for dental school. Mauricio is one of my friends, and I will miss him a lot. To celebrate his time here, we had a staff barbecue with games, Zumba, and most importantly, FOOD. It was a great time, and I’m really glad I got to be here to spend time with him.
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Centro de Salud Staff 🙂

I also go to spend my first birthday away from home, and it was better than I could have asked for. I got to spend time with my coworkers, who are really more like my friends. It’s really been awesome having them in my life here, and I appreciate them so much! They took me out for dinner and dancing, and they even got me presents! The next day my best friend and coworker, Silvia made me pancakes and her whole family came downstairs to sing Happy Birthday to me and give me presents. I felt really loved on my birthday. My first birthday away from home was one of the best ones that I’ve had yet!
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Me and my best friend/coworker, Silvia ❤

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Silvia made me coconut chocolate cupcakes because she knows i love coconut….#precious

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Birthday presents 😀

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Turning the big 23 #MichaelJordanYear


Some other updates:
  • Antonio Rolando, the one year old who is severely malnourished that I’ve been writing about gained 4 POUNDS today! This is a big victory, so now he weighs 14 pounds. He is still underweight, but at least he is gaining weight. Today, I was informed that UNICEF Guatemala is coming to my site to make a documentary about him. I’m feeling conflicted by this, especially as I have gotten closer to him and his family in the last few months. People in my town have begun to chisme (gossip) about them, saying that his mom is in an abusive relationship and talking poorly about the other kids. I’m hoping this movie will do some good, but I’m feeling severely pessimistic that this is just another way to market off of someone else’s struggles….
  • World Cup is awesome and we are making brackets at work! I’m predicting that Chile will win the World Cup #DarkHorse
  • I finally have furnished my house! I got my last major item, a dresser for my clothes. I’ve been living out of my suitcases for 2 months, so it’s been a relief to finally have CLOTHES WHERE THEY BELONG 😀 Now, I can save up for vacation. Watching all this World Cup is making me want to go to Brazil ASAP.  IMG_2839 IMG_2840 IMG_2841 IMG_2843
  • I’ve been getting really into cooking, here are some things I made:
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    Pasta with Longaniza, broccoli, onions, tomatoes, and garlic

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    Beef and Broccoli bowl

New twist on a broccoli stir fry

New twist on a broccoli stir fry

 

Well that wraps up my post, here’s a picture of my site from the last sunny day we had in site… so beautiful IMG_2833