Friday, March 25, 2011

Halfway there

I almost can´t believe that we swore in as volunteers a year ago today, but I am quite happy to believe it. I´m happy because it´s not been the easiest year of my life – nor most of ours – but we lived it!; happy because it´s been one of the most worthwhile years of my life; happy because I finally see some projects, and the productive work I so crave, lining itself up for this last year. Peace Corps is a crazy rollercoaster – a better explanation of which deserves its own post - but for the most part I feel quite content with where I am, what I´m doing, and the relationships I´ve formed.

Today all of PC/Guatemala´s volunteers - including those just swearing in and those just COSing - sat down in the capital with PC staff, host families, and a handful of dignitaries to commemorate Peace Corp´s 50th anniversary and watch the new volunteers swear in. It was good timing for a celebration; lately it has felt like more is happening in site, both in the confidence I have with people and the concrete projects we´re getting rolling – for interpretative and orientational signage, environmental education with women and schools, an active and successful tourism committee - and – perhaps – even a municipal recycling center.

I know not all of these projects may work, but I feel immensely satisfied just to have arrived at this point, to have managed to plant the seeds in the ground. Even knowing there have been plenty of times when I could have been more proactive, worked just a bit harder or put myself out there a bit more, I also know that I put in my fair share of patience, flexibility, and understanding to get to those seeds planted. And, evening knowing that not all will germinate, I think they will bring something to fruition that is more positive than not.

So looking around at my fellow volunteers and the ones about to start, listening to the speakers reflecting on the accomplishments of the volunteers about to COS or extend their service - I didn´t feel jealousy or the sense of ´¨what-if¨ or aimlessness that has pulled at the back of my brain for some of my service: just the sense of having hard-earned a few days´ pause, a dark beer, celebration with good friends.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Moving into my own place!

It’s been awhile since I’ve last blogged – not for lack of ideas, so much as lack of time. And a lack of attention span, too. Living in semi-urban Guatemala is like keeping both the TV and stereo going full blast. I think it wears out the mind. Or at least, the mind formed from a young age in a small town in the US where the loudest thing around is the occasional dog barking, ambulance siren, or ice cream truck. But at least in the midst of the insanity, some ideas for projects are coming together.

More on that later, but the big news - related to wearing out and lack of time - I have finally moved out of my host family’s house! I lived with them for almost an entire year. The move wasn’t inspired by any particularly acute stimulus, rather a slow build-up of thoughts and wonderings along the theme of: “Hmm, wouldn’t it be nice to…” I find it tough to explain it to local people when they ask me why I left, because I really love the family, and there wasn’t one particular reason.

There were a few obvious drawbacks to being with them: lack of control over the general cleanliness of my environment, lack of space and organization, feeling like I was constantly on stage - all of which were definitely draining me mentally. I never felt like I really had space to think. I also was looking forward to the March-June fly and low-water season with less than excitement, and by default had to leave Oliver to wander freely all day, which led to a couple close calls with street dogs.

Moving out has helped a lot. The neighbors all respect my privacy, I have soo much organizing space it’s glorious, and I have a 50 gallon water tank all to myself. Plus there aren’t any flies in this part of town yet. Oliver is pretty content; he can go up on the porch whenever he wants and I don’t have to worry about him fighting with street dogs. I’ll get to see my host family a few hours every week, which was about equivalent to the amount of really quality time I was spending with them before anyway. (I feel like my relationships with them reached the comfort zone plateau awhile ago - that is to say, our relationships have developed most of their potential, and putting a lot more time into it doesn't really make that much difference.) Plus the family next door is plenty noisy so I don’t feel really lonely. And as an added bonus the Catholic church is a lot less noisy than the neighborhood Evangelical church where I used to live.

The current drawbacks? I don’t get to come home to a hug from my little host brother nor greetings from the fan club, although I’m amassing a new one here; It’s freezing in the house since no one uses the woodstove; incidentally this house has few windows, and I love natural light; there’s no tamales or leftovers; I don’t have access to even a square foot of land; and I have lots more responsibility: I have to buy and cook everything I need; I’m going to have to figure out what to do with my used toilet paper and Oliver’s litter; I have to cart my food scraps over to a neighbor’s; no more washing machine; I have millions of little house maintenance things! The toilet is already seriously backing up which I am taking as an unfortunate sign. And I do live alone, which is a little less secure than I was with the host family, although I live in a busy neighborhood.

That said, I feel like this was a really positive change. Most people will ask me something like: Aren’t you afraid of being on your own? With the obvious undercurrent of: Does this mean you want to entertain unsavory men-folk? Drink alcohol? Do who knows what else? More than being in danger, a woman without chaperone is a very dangerous thing here. I get the idea that society needs to keep behavior in check by directly enforcing collective norms and such. It can’t necessarily trust its members to police themselves through indirect pressure. Yet I don’t think I’ll be up to anything too scandalous- maybe drinking a glass of wine while listening to bluegrass and organizing my kitchen cabinets ;-) I’m pretty sure the neighbors will get over it.