Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Business is up lately

Wow. Hard to believe it's been almost a month since I last wrote. I've not forgotten about my blogging mission, and I have lots to share about life in my town. Before picking up with all that, I do feel like the past week deserves some commentary, though.

I expect that with the international media's fascination with disasters, everyone already knows this, but it's been a heck of a week here in Guatemala - especially looking on as a geologist. First thing, Volcán de Pacaya erupted with greater-than-normal force on Thursday (and then Friday), spewing a dusting of ash as far as Coban, cloaking southern Guatemala City in inches of ash, closing the airport, and forcing the evacuation of some 1,900 people in the aldeas closest to the volcano. Although it affected daily life for people in at least three departments, this was a relatively small-scale event with few casualties. Pacaya has had, and likely will have, larger events in the future.

Meanwhile a tropical depression, which by Saturday was a tropical storm, was passing through to mix things up a little. Debido a eso, Cuerpo de Paz put us all on Standfast for just under 72 hours, meaning we had to hang out in our pajamas at home, eat pancakes, and keep an eye on the local situation. I myself was stuck inside with three energetic kids. ¨There's a lot of mud here,¨ one kid commented as we sat watching the news reports on TV of floods and landslides all over the country. ¨Vaya a dibujar, sí?¨ was what Renecito had to contribute, when he wasn't running around the house screaming his brains out unintelligibly.

Luckily, we're on relatively low-grade terrain, and nothing major happened in my municipio - a few road embankments collapsed in the higher villages, drainage canals plugged. Nevertheless, the damage throughout the country - including in my department - was extensive. It was interesting to sit through these two events with the knowledge that even with the training of a geologist, first responder, interest in hazards mitigation, I had nothing practical to contribute to the emergency situation. As Peace Corps volunteers, our first job is to keep safe. As students of hazard mitigation, we know some theory, with muchas ganas to learn about practice, but where does that place us when the volcano's erupting big time or the hurricane's passing through? On the lifeboat, pretty much. And as newbie-gringos in the community, who would call on us anyway?

I suppose more where we fit is between crises - to work on the ground to bring people resources to assess, understand, and plan for the range of possibilities. After all, emergency preparedness is part of a truly sustainable tourism program, eh? But my place in all of this (like everything, it feels like!), is something we will have to wait and see about. There are definitely communities in our municipio that are organizing disaster plans for the rainy season, but I have to be open to the idea that whether or not I'm involved does not have much to do with me!

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