Tuesday, August 25, 2009
It was a sad day last saturday when I left Dona Brenda and the rest of my Santa Lucia family for my permanent training site in Alotenango, just a 15 minute bus ride from Antigua. Luckily, I found my new host family to be just as welcoming as the first and for the past week or so I have been settling nicely into my new diggs here where I will be located for the next three months. The town is nestled between two volcanos- Volcan de Agua and Volcan del Fuego. These two huge mountains make for a very picturesque vista at any turn here in town. The best part is that Volcan del Fuego (translation: Fire Volcano) is still active and about once a day it proudly reminds us all of this fact. I’ll be in bed at night listening to an orchestra of dogs barking and roosters crowing when all the sudden a huge explosion cuts through the noise and all falls silent but this continuous thunderous echo. It honestly sounds like the town is being bombed in an air raid, which scares me silly until I realize its just el Fuego again and then I proceed to run outside to catch sight of red gewey lava spilling from the cap and drizzling down the side of the mountain. In daylight, when the volcano groans, smoke billows from the mountain top- another site to see. I live in this town with four other volunteers. All girls, all from California (over 1/3 of the 33 volunteers I am down here with are from California). Amanda, Pati (Trisha) and Shaila- Its a good thing they are all great peeps cause we pretty much spend all of our time together. Shaila and I live around the corner from one another on one side of town and we are pretty much inseperable- probably because Shaila needs the help of my stellar navigational skills in order to find her way home (her abuelita found her confused and disoriented down the street the only time she had to walk home without me). Amanda and Pati live on the opposite side about 10 minutes walking distance.
My family here in Alotenango is almost opposite in character from my family in Santa Lucia but are equally as hospitable and welcoming. My host mother Dona Paula (she does go by Dona) makes handmade tortillas over a wood burning stove everyday for lunch and dinner and her smile is so big it swallows us all in happiness. Don Miguel is a true jack of all trades. He has six businesses: 1. As a farmer- he owns three parcels of land in the outlying area of town where he grows coffee, corn, squash and other veggies, 2. he also runs a neighborhood molino (corn crushing machine to make meal for tortillas) out of the front of the house, 3. fixes molinos, 4. sells pepsi, 5. transports lava dirt to make cement blocks and 6. runs a papas fritas (french fry) stand out of the garage/driveway at night. The man is always working... and of course everyone in the family helps out with the businesses. Eswen, the only son, is 15 years old and is quite the flirt- he is also the one who puts bandaids on his zits and wears a shirt that says “RELAX i’m a massage therapist”. Pretty smooth. I’m thankful to have him though, because he likes soccer as much as I do so we bond over poppyfoot. Silvia is the oldest child at 21- she is a sweetheart and works at a local school teaching kids how to cook and sew and as the eldest, it is her duty to talk about boys with me. Lidia is the baby of the family, she is turning 11 on Tuesday. I don’t know what i’d do with out here cause she isn’t afraid to correct me whenever i say something wrong in Spanish which has helped me tremendously throughout this learning process. I guess it goes both ways because I’ve been helping her with her English homework. Oh, and I can’t forget the abuelitos (grandparents) who appear and disappear from the house so often that i feel like i should start looking for trap doors and secret passageways.
So, the first day I met my family was all a bit awkward. I was pretty much dropped on their doorstep and we kinda all looked at each other like “alright, i guess this is it”. That afternoon they had prepared lunch which they set up for me and Eswen and Lidia at a small table by the open kitchen. As I ate with the two youngest kids everyone else hung around and watched and talked. I’m sure they were intreiged to see this gringa eat and of course I didn’t fail to entertain them. Five minutes into the meal with a slip of my fork I splattered rice all over my lap to which Don Miguel cheered and yelled “Pura Chapina” (Pure Guatemalan) and laughed, a laugh I now know very well that ends with a this classic whistle howl. Its brilliant I wish I could share it with you all. Throughout lunch there was a lot of staring and nodding and small talk. I don't remember all that we talked about but they did ask if I had brought a bible.
I later found out that the majority of my family are evangelicals which then explained the Spanish Christian pop music that the kids love to listen to ALL day long and the reasoning behind no TV or video games and lack of dancing. I’m happy to make do without TV but no dancing is another story. It didn’t take more than two days before I found myself singing and dancing to the Christian pop that has become the new soundtrack to my life. I’m pretty sure the family is more entertained than threatened by my performances. Which was confirmed when no one was looking and Eswen pulled out a few Michael Jackson signature moves from nowhere. Ah, this is all magical. I love it.
Training has also been going well. We have spanish class every day but Sunday, about three technical training sessions a week and one huge group training day on Tuesdays in Santa Lucia with all 33 volunteers. This week we found out that us Alotenango girls will be working with the local Tourism Office over the next few months to help them market local artisan crafts to tourists going to visit the Volcan de Fuego. We are all excited about this project and can’t wait to get started. It should be great practice for what to expect when we go out to our sites and have to do the process on our own.
Just in case you were wondering, the address to the right is my mailing address for at least the next three months so if you feel a desire to write a letter or burn a CD of new music or send me a package of “Just Mango” slices from Trader Joes (Dad), feel free :)