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.
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?
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.
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!
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.