Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Last week we had field based training aka FBT. This is the part of training where we go out to a more remote part of Guatemala to stay in a village where volunteers currently live and work to get a feel for what life will be like when we move to our sites. All three training groups went to different places- Food Security went to Jalapa, Municipal Development went to Huehuetenango and my group, Agricultural Marketing, went to Coban. Coban is a small city about 3 hours north of Guatemala city. Google map it. We were up there visiting an aldea of the city where a volunteer works at a rural tea cooperative run by Q’eqchi Mayans called Te Chirrepeco.
We arrived at the cooperative in the dark of Sunday night and all 7 volunteers crowded into the Te Cherrepeco office and drew host family names out of a bowl- a lottery of sorts to determine which family we would be living with for the week. I drew Gerardo Bac and off I went with Gerardo to find his house in the dark hills of the expansive co-op. When I arrived I was greeted by the entire family: the mother Lucia, four daughters: Blanca, Olivia, Maria, Elvira and her daughter Haiti, one son Ramon (the others live in the city), his wife (whose name has at present escaped me and it was quite rare so I don’t think its coming back soon), their newborn daughter Bianca and about five dogs and two puppies. One of the puppies was named chucho but they didn’t have a name for the other so I named him Lefty because his front left leg is white whereas all the rest are brown. The family liked the name and started calling him by it.
The rest of the week proved to be an exhausting one. I would wake up at 6 and take a warm bucket bath with heated water from the wood burning stove where breakfast was being prepared. The water had a rustic smokey scent that surprisingly was quite comforting. After a breakfast of eggs, salsa and tortillas (the biggest tortillas i’ve ever seen) I would walk 45 minutes through acres upon acres of lush green tea fields with Maria until we arrived at the Cooperative’s main building to meet up with the other volunteers for the day. Throughout the week we took a tour of the Tea Co-op, gave training to associates at a local coffee cooperative and visited an organic candle making operation. We also had an afternoon with Anacafe, the leading authority on coffee classification and certification in Guatemala, that consisted of a lesson on cupping and classifying coffee quality (surprisingly similar to wine tasting) and a field trip the their experimental coffee finca/plantation.
On the third morning, as I was packing up my backpack for the day, I noticed a huge cockroach sized beetle struggling on its back (visualize an upside-down turtle) on my bedroom floor. I had never seen such a strange bug so I took a few pictures of it and then showed the fam who thought it both hilarious that I would take pictures of bugs and fascinating that my camera’s zoom function could magnify it so much. Then Maria asked if she could enter my room and without a peep swept the bug onto the front lawn and crushed it with her shoe. I asked what the bug was called and she said “Ronron” which could be the spanish or Q’eqchi translation because the family speaks both. And then she said, ”para la cena” or “for dinner” and chuckled a little.
That day we visited a few businesses, two micro-finance/credit and loan companies and one governmental training office. All three are potential resources for our future work in the field. We arrived back at the tea co-op around 6pm and after downing my nightly cup of tea I chatted with the girls in the outdoor kitchen (dirt floors, walls made of large branches, laminate ceiling, complete awesomeness) until dinnertime. Conversing with the family was always entertaining because there were translations being thrown around all over the place. Lucia, the mother didn’t speak much Spanish so everything between us was getting translated. Luckily, Ramon’s wife is Poqomchi Mayan and is just now learning Q’eqchi so I wasn’t the only one needing the translations. From Spanish to Q’eqchi, from Q’eqchi to Spanish, and even sometimes from Spanish to English to Spanish to Q’eqchi when they were asking how to say English words like “shoe” “good morning” and “nice to meet you” which sounded a bit like “nycechomeecho”.
We were all chatting and laughing as Lucia and Maria made tortillas over the stove and Olivia, Elvira and Blanca husked corn on a long wood bench, when all of the sudden a huge bug fell from the ceiling onto Elvira’s foot. She violently shook her foot and the bug flew into the air and landed on the floor in front of my feet. It was a dark red and black hairy caterpillar-like bug that gathered itself and began to slowly crawl along the dirt floor. Blanca came over with a kernel-less corn cob and speared the bug with the tip. The process made me squirm a bit but when she looked up at me I said, “otro ronron para la cena? Vamos a comer buenisimo esta noche” “Another bug for dinner? We are gonna eat well tonight.” Laughing, Blanca threw the dead bug into the flames under the stove.
The next day we were chatting in the kitchen as usual when out of no where came scurrying a black skinny runt of a puppy that I had never seen before. He ran through the legs of my chair and hid under the kitchen table. As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty dogs in the house. The majority of which would chase and bark at me whenever I pass the kitchen or walk to the back outhouse. This caused some issues early on because in the middle of the first night I woke up and had to use the outhouse but I was A.) worried that the dogs would violently bark at me and wake up the rest of the house and B.) scared that i’d get bit and have to rush back to Santa Lucia to get rabies shots (standard procedure for any mammal bite). With all this in mind, that first night I just held it in until daybreak which i’ll admit was unpleasant. Wanting to avoid further unnecessary pain, the next day I asked for a “palo” or stick to use to scare away the dogs at night (all dogs here, even street dogs, have an innate fear of sticks, its great). So the family armed me with a broom stick, nice and thick and very frightening. The rest of the week I walked around the house with my palo, even after the dogs became accustomed to me, because the family insisted I keep it on me at all times (they thought it was hilarious). Whenever I was without it they’d ask me, “Annalisa, donde esta tu palo?” “Where is your stick?”
So back to the random dog in the kitchen. It was extremely frail and evidently undernourished. I was shocked to see this strange dog just chilling in their kitchen so I asked where it had come from. Maria translated the question for her mother and from what I could gather from her facial expressions Lucia must have said something along the lines of “I have no idea” in Q’eqchi. So jokingly Maria said, “It just fell from the ceiling like a bug.” She then threw the scrawny dog a hardened tortilla. As the three puppies fought for the food I announced that this new addition to the household was in need of a name. Maria asked me what we should we name it, and I said “Ron-ron.”
The fate of that dog is still TBD. I don’t know if the family will proactively adopt Ronron into their already full-house or just leave him be in the kitchen eating scraps and see what happens. All I know is he was still scrounging for food the morning I left the Tea Co-op. The family did invite me back for Christmas (and has already called my cell phone three times to check in on me) so I’m sure I’ll be back for a visit and when I do go I’ll let you all know if Ronron is still there. The dog that is, not the bug.