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dos años en Guatemala

I know I’ve been neglectful about updates especially in such a turning point in my life. It is official, I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer, but rather a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (no, I haven’t been back to the states yet, but that’ll come soon enough). I will update all of this when time allows, but know the following:

  • The Latrine Project was finished and inaugerated the day before I left Cantinil
  • Cantinil, did, in the end, throw me a large going away party, which will forever be stuck in my memory.
  • Brittany made it to Guatemala and we’re just starting our adventures.
  • I had a blazer and some boots made, they’re amazing.
Life going forward will not be simple, but I am looking forward to it. I hope to see you all soon, and I’ll let you know what actually happened then.
Love,
Erik

 

Growing up I never had a favorite sports team to rally behind. Monday morning at school usually meant a lot of, “oh yeah, touchdowns are awesome” as I nodded along to classmates’ scattered recantations of last nights heroic efforts. But this doesn’t mean that I never had a team to root for. Apple was my team growing up. I never found religion in anything but a squat beige machine with a six-color striated logo, but it opened my imagination and drove me very likely to the places I am right now.

It was Steve Jobs’ Apple that made me curious enough to build my first computer, to program my first blog, to always look at a computer as a tool for doing something larger than itself; something I still do today. But it wasn’t just Apple’s products that inspired me it was their ethos, their mind for design, and their passion for the passionate.

So a thank you to my quarterback, my short-stop, my hero, Steve Jobs. You will be missed.

Some of you might know that this vessel of purity and righteousness that some call my body was recently awarded the healthiest volunteer award (2009-2011). In two years I skipped out on the rite of passage that includes everything between explosive diarrhea to worms that live in your eyes. I still wouldn’t call these two years a charmed life, but I spent a bit less time than average leaning over a latrine wishing for lightning (or faulty electricity) to strike me dead.

Last week I went down to Peace Corps headquarters to submit to a battery of medical tests, which I imagine were to help prove that I was safe to let back into the United States; dogs being brought into the states have a less extensive testing process that we do. Being full of ego fresh off my printed certificate that clearly states that I am “very healthy”, I never thought anything could befall me, at least not now. I was wrong. And after my second day of medical tests, I fell from my health precipice hard. Unsurprisingly most of my fellow volunteers were equal parts nonplussed and unconcerned. “Welcome to peace corps,” became a popular refrain.

So close to finish line, I tripped. What resulted was a bacterial infection that felt as if it was eating my upper intestines. I could do nothing but make frequent trips to the bathroom and groan while watching one 007 film after another and sucking down gatorade as if my life depended on it, it did.

Two days later Kathy, one of our wonderful nurses, gave me a pill and a sympathetic smile. I’ve always had a suspicious relationship with medicine. You take a tylenol because of your headache and you never really know if it did anything at all. Other than bright yellow urine, vitamins seem to do little at all. This time was different. I was given a powerful antibiotic and within ten hours after the first pill I felt as if nothing had happened. That evening I was up with energy and ready for anything more stimulating than a 007 one liner. Medicine is amazing, irony is often cruel.

Moving to Chicago; wow, I can’t wait to see live music again; Chicago is famous for Wilco and Kinsella bands; Tim Kinsella, after breaking up with Cap’n Jazz, started a band called Joan of Arc; The Passion of Joan of Arc is an amazing film– I need to see it again.

I came to serve in the Peace Corps for a lot of different reasons, most of them the same as anyone else: I wanted to help; I wanted to experience something new; but among them was a desire to struggle. We live lives of amazing ease and comfort in the West. I knew that before coming here, and I’ve never lived very luxuriously, but I never really understood how many comforts we enjoy in the States until I didn’t have them. That may be cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason.

Tonight was a Peace Corps night. It wasn’t a struggle on some large scale, but rather something small, common, and mundane. I ran out of gas. I have a small propane stove that I prepare most of my meals with, and it is powered by a small propane tank– the same make and model that powers your grill (albeit in rougher shape). I had skipped lunch and wanted some comforting food. It has been cold lately, and making more involved meals means a warmer kitchen and some time killed. I had just put on a pot of water to boil some pasta, a skillet was already cooking down some tomato sauce, and in another I had just placed some battered chicken in some oil. Chicken parm was the goal. But before the water even started to bubble a woosh signaled the worst– my gas went out.

Half raw chicken and watery sauce wont do. Barely able to think over the din of the rain on my roof, I simply went to work making a fire in the traditional stove that usually serves as counter space in my kitchen. A wood pile, thankfully under some roofing, supplied the fuel, and after an hour or so my water was boiling again, my sauce cooking down, and my chicken sizzling.

So now I’m covered in soot and my house is filled with smoke, but this is some delicious pasta.

I’ve kept trying to come up with a clever way to properly explain how amazing the project inauguration was in El Durazno, but as I looked over the photos and the videos we took, nothing could really compare to being there. So instead of me going off in tangents, I’m going to leave this space to Don Rueben the mason that made this entire project possible, to explain how important this project really was.

Is how long it took me to get a grand total of less than 100km today. Road construction should probably not be done in the middle of the day.

This was my fourth(ish) trip to the Antigua area in something like 4 or 5 weeks, and I am so beyond tired of it. The benefit in all of this is that last week we had a beautiful project innaugeration in El Durazno. We took video, lots of photos, and I hope to share that whole event with you all soon. Know that you all got a gift, we’re just going to have to figure out how to share it. I vote for a schedule. There is more good news, the project funds for the latrine project are here and we will be starting construction as early as late this week. This is exciting.

A lot has happened since I last wrote on this blog, including something of a milestone, I passed my second year here in Guatemala, and I have something less than two months left here, which is little time to finish the tons we still need to accomplish.

Now it is off to the kitchen to making something for my travel addled stomach, maybe a glass of wine, and certainly sometime soon, a soft bed.

 

 

The evangelical church a house down from mine just made an investment in a bullhorn; god help me.

I’ve now been here for over 2 years, and I am currently sitting outside behind the municipal building stealing WiFi because I don’t have a key to get inside– Sunday.

Yesterday the far rightist party campaigned in town complete with an inflatable orange fist. Brown shirts be damned, the orange shirts had their fists in the air. The whole thing was about as creepy as I expected. I took a few photos and I hope to upload them tomorrow.

Until then,
Erik

The rain is playing xylophone on my roof. We had a brief break from the rain last week as an indian summer turned Cantinil and Guatemala at large into a rain free paradise. It was a welcome break during what was weeks of travels spacing out on busses lurching and squealing up and down the national highway. Last week, though, brought some normalcy back to my life here; the listlessness, waiting, and fighting with bureaucracy is back, but there is a strange comfort in it, at least I wasn’t on a bus. Last weekend in a break from the dull drum of the rain, I heard a helicopter bleat out its thunderous applause over the valley that stretches out in front of my small home.

A helicopter this time a year only means one thing, a rally. The presidential candidate for PAN a relatively small party flew into town. I cleaned up my breakfast and put on a nice shirt and hat. I walked to the center of town. The yellow banners all adorned with a blue arrow had transformed the town, people were buzzing about, and there was real excitement. It is rare for anyone representing national government to be this far out in a rural community, and people were thrilled at the opportunity to connect the endless campaign songs, painted rocks, and haphazard banners to someone real.

The political season here has been fascinating. I have always been enthralled with the dramatics of politics. I still endlessly read the New York Times even when though my internet connection crawls at a speed that we’ve forgotten was even possible in the states. I know what is going on with the debt ceiling crisis, and I often relay the news to my coworkers who humor me, but ultimately move the topic quickly. The last few months, though, have been different. The office, peace corps volunteers, and the nation at whole is wrapped up in the election. People are reading the Prensa Libre the national highbrow paper over the titillating Nuestro Diario. Politics is a real personal gambit, and in a country that has only seen a few democratic turn overs, the stakes are very real. The municipality especially buzzes with information about local and regional candidates, as their jobs, ultimately depend on it. Unlike the United States where the bureaucratic arm of the government is largely stagnate and apolitical, every four years the municipal employees, one of only two other employers (all state run) in Cantinil, see large or complete turnover. My coworkers often talk of their next job, plans for the future, or a complete confusion over what to do next; I can relate.

This year the politics of Guatemala have been wracked by turbulence. Some thirty local and regional candidates have been found dead, and the country as a whole, it seems, marches daily up and down the central thoroughfares demanding the inclusion of candidates or the exclusion of others. The former wife of the current president has been accused of using public funds in her progressive conditional payment program, Mi Familia Progressa, to purchases votes, and when her familial closeness to the current president could no longer be denied, she divorced her husband days before declaring her candidacy. Sandra Torres is a controversial figure, to say the very least. The fore runner, though, looks no better. Otto Molina Perez at the top of the horse race and running for the far rightist Partido Patriota was a military leader in the early 1980s during some of the bloodiest years in Guatemala. Guatemala either has a short memory or a desire for security so strong that they are willing to forget the past. With Sandra Torres’ candidacy debated on a national level, her chances at the moment of winning a spot on the largely graphic ballot looks doubtful. The third place candidate, Eduardo Suger, is the only candidate that seems worthwhile, but his chances of winning look dim.

Juan Gutierrez’s helicopter swung low over the small center of town before darting off to a soccer field tucked into the coffee fields just a short distance away. I ambled around the bustle of excited people and yellow flags before running into a few good friends whom seemed equally amused at the action in town. We chatted for awhile as we watched a small SUV plastered with banners come down the mountain and into town. People seemed equally parts confused and enthused as the presidential candidate lumbered out of the car and greeted the crowd; a few men in nondescript polo shirts followed close behind armed with battered looking automatic rifles. Reminders of Guatemala’s current violence are hard to avoid even here in our small sleepy town.

Speeches commenced and about half of the people that had actually gathered actually went into the community salon, I started toward the door and asked my friend why he wasn’t following, he responded with a wry smile that he was only here for the free lunch. I started to make a joke about no free lunches, he only smiled, confused, an emotion I am accustomed to affecting here.

I have been to my fair share of political rallies in the states, and am pretty well versed in the soaring rhetoric employed. We often here about America’s greatness, our progress, and our political bedrock, but in a country wrecked by gang violence and a history of less than democratic elections, leaves candidates with a confusing contest. The candidate for mayor for PAN, someone I know well finished a rousing speech about challenges and coffee beans when the presidential candidate flanked by his pandering vice-presidential candidate in an awkward fitting cowboy hat got up to speak. The discourse was short and it ran the gamut from depressing acquiesce to the state of Guatemala; accusations of corruption in all the other major parties; and brief statements about the power of employment here in the rural areas of Guatemala. Veronica, a coworker from the women’s office joked about the candidate looking whiter than I did. He did.

I was struck most by the contrast of it all.Here we were in a small dusty salon that looks more like an aging airplane hanger than an appropriate forum for a presidential candidate, who let the rhetoric fly about the power of the farmer with an accent that belayed few excursions outside of the city, all while I watched the heads of true farmers nod their heads and give a reserved clap or two. People seemed jittery and not soon after Juan Gutierrez shook hands on the way out, going out of his way to get to mine, everyone flooded out, where lunch, a few tortillas wrapped around a piece of meat, waited. My friend, Solis, who never went in was already through his third, smiled widely as I filtered out with the rest.

 

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