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.
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!!!!
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!
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.