Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Teaching English

Everyone here wants to learn English, a fact that has become exceedingly apparent since the moment I stepped foot in site. Three of my Cooperative Socios are teachers (one is also a director) at the elementary/high school in town so the topic of teaching english was inescapable from the very start. When first asked if I could teach English I said, “there is a possibility.” And from that point forward my socios would introduce me as, “This is Annalisa, she is a volunteer with Cuerpo de Paz and will be working with the Cooperative for the next two years and she said there’s a possibility that she will teach English to the kids, right Annalisa?”. They’d turn to me smiling and nodding and I’d reply, “Yes, there is a possibility.”

During training we were warned about this. Guatemalan’s look at all Peace Corps volunteers and see an “I know English” stamped across our foreheads. Hence the reason why every Guatemalan that knows any English ALWAYS throws out a word or two in passing or in conversation. I constantly hear, “Hello” (more like: haylow) in the streets. In conversation, random words or phrases will just pop out of mouths like, “taste good”, or “hot” or “car”, “store”, “shopping”. These words are normally followed by a smile and a look on their faces that requests some reassurance that they said the word properly.

It is nearly impossible for PCVs to go through service without being asked to teach English. I personally have no problem with it, but the Peace Corps constantly reminds us to not let teaching English interfere with our main project- Agricultural Marketing in my case. In my case, I took teaching English as a good opportunity to get to know some more faces, integrate a bit and gain a little trust in the community. SInce I arrived in site during “summer break” it also gave me a two month window to teach 10 classes until January when school picks up again. “Get in and get out quick” mentality.

My English classes started last week and so far so good. The students, who are supposed to be 11-15, are eager to learn and well behaved. I was amazed when on the first day of class there were students waiting outside the classroom 30 minutes early. Everyone here runs on la hora Chapina (aka Guatemalan time aka at least 30 minutes late) so this punctuality meant my classes were important to them. The first class I taught I had about 30-40 students. The next class again I had 30-40 students but some new faces and some students didn’t return. The third class I had 72 students. There were so many students they didn’t all fit in the classroom. There were kids sitting on tables, dragging in chairs from other classrooms and sitting 5 to each table meant for 2. The classroom was overflowing with kids, literally, there were students outside huddling in chairs around the classroom door. I am pretty sure the fact that my classes are free has been the major draw for the town. In my class of 72 there was also an entire family, mother, father and kids, that just received their papers to go to the U.S. and obviously wanted to soak up as much English as possible before their departure.

So far we have reviewed basics, the alphabet, numbers, colors, salutations, introductions, emotions, names of family members and “to be” and “to have”. What I find frustrating is that its a little difficult to gage whether the students are actually learning. They love to repeat words after me, in fact they shout the words out. But if I call on anyone to talk or come up to the whiteboard to present something all of the sudden they become voiceless. I’m hoping that after these initial ten classes if I continue to teach English (and I don’t think there is anyway out of it) I will be able to have a smaller class size- ideally a class sized for one room.

p.s. my women’s soccer team lost in the final. It came down to penalty kicks- thank goodness I made mine. If I hadn’t, I may not have been welcomed back to town.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food Coma

My father has been known to make swiss cheese out of the New York Times. Not a day goes by that he doesn't put scissor to some sort of reading material- newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, promotional materials, even those little flyers of information you get when visiting an exhibit at a museum (he'll pick up three). You name it - if it has writing or pictures that interest him- its bound to have a future date with his scissors. His routine goes like this: find article or picture, cut it out, sometimes make a collage of it, add a sticky note, insert in envelope with other clippings, seal and mail to family or friends. Since arriving in Guatemala I have received a healthy stash of Dr. Bob supplied reading materials (thanks papa!). I have slowly been going through all the articles he has sent and last night I decided to dive into the last of my clippings. One half of a Dartmouth Medical Magazine. My dad had highlighted an article on medical care given in Nepal for me to read "Anna- one of the volunteers writes grants for the Nepalese- similar to P.C. -Dad". It was 9PM on a Friday night and I felt like I should stay up late (just on principle) so I settled down with the magazine and started with the first article about researcher's findings on how organisms are controlled by an internal circadian clock. When I was done with that one I read the next on comatose patients and the moral challenges treating physicians have with the push for "early family intervention" conducted by organ transplant coordinators. When I finished the second article, which I found fascinating, I was both glad that I now have the time to read literature of this nature cover to cover and worried that reading this article so close to my bedtime might lead to coma nightmares. I don't think i'd normally get worked up about having nightmares but as a PCV I am required to take malaria pills. A side effect of this medication happens to be vivid dreams and, on the flip-side, very vivid nightmares. The last thing I wanted was to find myself locked in a comatose nightmare- the kind where you are paralyzed, held prisoner in your immobile body but can think and hear and sense- a-la The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. With this on my mind I decided it best to end the night on a lighter note and read the last article- the one on Nepal- before tucking in for the night.

This morning when I woke up I was pleased to remember that in fact I did not dream about becoming a vegetable but eating them instead. I dreamt of a Thanksgiving feast fit for a Queen- of course prepared by the best chef I know- my mom. There were four tables of food all adorned with three tiered silver serving platters. Platters filled with all foods imaginable. Everything was so vivid (thanks malaria meds) I could smell the food and see the steam rising from the heated plates. Twenty types of various salads with ingredients such as asparagus, tomato, buffalo mozzarella, barley and parsley, dried cranberries, pinenuts, eggplant, zucchini... There was stuffing and roasted vegetable pizza (? not standard thanksgiving fare but i'll take it) and corn bread and turkey so juicy it dripped when carved. There was food I had never heard of before, artichoke bread and giraffes meat (I don't know what my brain was thinking). And the dessert table, oh my, the dessert table was my heaven on earth, sweet potato pecan pie, chocolate cake, raspberry bars, peanut butter cookies, I could go on and on about the dessert... everything served with a scoop (or three) of ice cream. In my dream I just did laps around the tables with an empty plate because I didn't even know where to start I was so overwhelmed.

My sister Danica was there too. I remember her wrestling Nate for a piece of chocolate cake. I'm not sure why, she normally only fights for the sweet potato pecan variety...

Unfortunately, I woke up before finishing my first helping.

This year I'm looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with other Peace Corps Volunteers in the highlands of El Quiche. But there is no denying that I'm still really gonna miss Thanksgiving dinner back home- and my subconscious has made note of it. So, in place of the real thing I hope I can start my dreams tonight where I left off this morning and at least get to taste some dessert.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Week Three In Site

I’m pretty sure someone in my household saw me undress through my bedroom window. I currently live on the second floor of Seno Lili’s house and one wall has two large windows overlooking the entrance and driveway. When I first moved in I specifically asked if I should be worried about people looking into my room at night and Lili’s response was, “Oh no, its very quiet on our street at night. You don’t have to worry about that.” Yesterday, as I was preparing for a Cost of Production charla for my Cooperative, Seno Lili came up and said, “Lisa, (she calls me Lisa) the guy is here to hang the curtains can he come into your room?” Twenty minutes later I had curtains. After he left, Lili was arranging the drapes and said, “Now you won’t have to worry about anyone seeing you through your window at night...” It was all very suspicious.

In other news, my women’s soccer team won our semi-final game 3-0 on Saturday. Our team did really well although at times I felt a little like I was stuck in an AYSO all-star game. Lots of kick-ball. I managed to get a yellow card. It was a total fluke. I stole a ball from a girl mid kick which caused her to kick me instead of the ball. She then fell to the ground grabbing her leg in “pain” and “agony” and rolled around for emphasis (at least she has one move that looks just like its done in the pros). As the ref stuck his hand in his shirt pocket to grab my unwarranted foul the crowd was cheering “ROJA, ROJA, ROJA”. They wanted me to get a red. It was the first time since I’ve been in this country that I truly felt hated. My team assured me that they only wanted me to get a red card because they wanted me out of the game. I guess its understandable, the other team must be thinking, “who is this white chick and how did she just so happen to appear on the team for the semi-final game?”

After the game, as we were leaving the stadium feeling very victorious, a coach from the other semi-final game being played after ours yelled across the field, “Canche, nos vemos en el final”. Translation: “Whitey (thats me of course), we’ll see you in the final”. My team just laughed.

I would write more about some of the actual work I’m doing here- about my cost of production presentations and the english classes that I got conned teaching- but nothing extraordinarily funny or exciting has happened during either of them for me to entertain you with. This Friday I will be working with a women’s group and hopefully something will come out of that... if not, i’ll just let you know how the women’s soccer final goes on Saturday.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Futbol and Fiesta

I need to first apologize to all of you who are tiring of my posts about futbol (soccer) but thus far my life here in site has pretty much revolved around the sport. So once again this entry will too.

Not a day went by this week without rain. Hurricane turned tropical storm Ida passed through my town and kept everyone indoors for either the first or second half of every day. I was pleased to learn that rain had also canceled the woman’s soccer game the previous weekend permitting me the opportunity to play with the team in the semi-final game rescheduled for the next sunny Saturday.

On Tuesday afternoon, there was a break in the rainfall and at 3PM I went to the soccer field ready for practice. When I arrived there was a mass of people gathered at one of the cinderblock homes that surrounds the field. As I got closer I noticed a casket was at the front of the sea of people in plastic chairs and it dawned on me that I was passing through a funeral. I tried to walk past the crowd respectfully and as inconspicuously as possible but, lets be honest, thats just impossible for me to do here. So of course, as I made my way to half field everyone just stared at me. In a town of 3,000, when someone passes its very likely that about 80% of the town is either a relative or friend of the deceased and therefore, I figured just about the same percentage of my soccer team was probably sitting there in those plastic chairs. As I continued walking with all those eyes on me, I thought to myself, “what are you doing here, there is no way we have soccer practice today”. And I was right. Two minutes after I sat down under the oak tree at half field Ingrid, the team captain, came walking over in her street clothes. She didn’t even have to say anything, I got up and said, “No practice today right”. She confirmed my assumption and told me practice was rescheduled for Wednesday.

Luckily Wednesday the rain seemed to know our training schedule and didn’t come until around 6PM so we were able to get a full two hours of practice in. Thursday we weren’t so lucky. Sad but true fact: the Casas Viejas women’s soccer team is less dedicated to training than my 1st grade Mighty Marigolds AYSO team. A team for which I played “defense” but really just picked flowers on the field during games (or so my mom tells me). To demonstrate this fact: our soccer team carries about 16 players, on average 9 show up to practice. I can’t wait for our first game so I can actually meet the other half of the team. I say this without malice because I am pretty sure there is a good reason why the other girls are absent. For all I know they live 15 KM and 3 lancha rides away from the center of town and it would be absurd to expect them at every practice. OK, so back to Thursday. Knowing the commitment level of my team, I was pretty confident that any level of moisture in the air greater than Santa Rosa’s standard tropical humidity would be grounds for canceling practice. And since I could see the rain clouds moving in on my way to the field I thought Thursday’s practice would for sure be canceled. I was wrong. Imminent rainfall didn’t stop us from training, it just decreased the number of girls that showed up from the usual 9 suspects to just 5. And the rain did fall. It began during our warmup and was still falling an hour and a half later when we were taking shots on goal (the goalie was one of the five that showed up). I was utterly impressed with the girls that did come, no complaints and we didn’t even break for water (our coach said to just open our mouths instead). Despite the rain we still had about 10 townspeople watching us practice. I’m not sure if they came because they like to watch us train or just wanted to watch us get muddy and wet.

After practice our coach, Faviola, told me that the trainer, the one without his front teeth, would decide my position on Saturday. Everyone I talk to about the team asks me my position. Legit question right? And every time I have to respond with, “I don’t know yet.” I feel as if they think I'm the kid on the team that the coach doesn’t know what to do with so just sticks em in goal except the girls team already has a goalie so even that spots taken.

Saturday morning I woke up to pounding rain on my tin roof. Ida reared its ugly head again and I got word that the game was canceled. So another week until I meet the rest of the team.

For a change, Sunday was just that, very sunny. A good thing too because the Casas Viejas men’s team had a home game against the neighboring town of Casias. The entire town came out for the game, the sidelines were packed with people and papas fritas and snow cone vendors. There was even a guy walking around selling frozen jocotes for Q2 and when asked why they were so expensive he said they were “Colombiano”. Dona Arceli, whom I now familiarly call Seño Lili, and I settled into a spot right behind the play-by-play announcer who was wearing a shirt that said, “I lost my phone number. Can I have yours?” and right in front of the speakers hooked to his microphone. It was the only shady spot left and yes my ears are still ringing. The game was a true social event. I know this because I could smell cologne in the air and Seño Lili wore her hot pink strappy sandals.

During the first half of the game the most excitement came not from a play, but rather from a stray pig that ran on the field followed closely by its slightly overweight owner trying to chase it off. Luckily the second half proved to be more exciting and yielded three goals. Ten minutes into the second half Casas Viejas scored the first goal. At the exact same moment a black chucho (dog) was taking a crap right outside the 18 yard box. When the crowd cheered for the goal I wondered if the dog thought they were cheering for him. Casas Viejas scored two more goals and the other team decided to call the game 6 minutes before the official time. It was a solid victory for the town.

After the game I went to a birthday party that I had been invited to on Tuesday. The party was for a little girl named Jasmine (turning 3) that I had met along with her mother and 6 year old sister Melissa at the Coop during my site visit. Their mother (who can’t be more than 24) told me that ever since I left Casas Viejas three weeks ago Jasmine had been asking, “where is the blanquita” (a nicer way of saying gringa). I was excited to have been invited and even more excited that they were going to have not one, but two piñatas. The party was hilarious but I feel I should leave you all with a movie clip from the festivities instead of trying to describe it in writing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

First Days In Site

Last Thursday my group of 32 Peace Corps Trainees officially became Volunteers. It was the big day, Swear-in as its called, and we all bused it to the ambassador’s house for the ceremony. The ceremony was short and sweet and we were given little petit sandwiches and fudge brownies afterwards. I shoveled about 5 of the tomato basil sandwiches in three minutes flat- it was the basil that got me hooked- so unexpectedly fresh. We had but ten minutes to take some pictures in the ambassadors garden and then were ushered out of Guatemala city.

I had already moved out of my room in Alotenango so my first stop after the ceremony was Antigua. All the volunteers met up there to unwind and say our final goodbyes before we all dispersed to our respective sites throughout the country. Its a weird feeling to have spent so much time with everyone these past three months in the training process, having had my days filled with classes and activities and sharing experiences with other americans and then in just two days time to be in my site with no one who speaks english and little supervision from the Peace Corps office. I’m truly on my own but I feel entirely OK with that. Actually more than OK, I’m quite relieved and excited for what’s ahead.

On Sunday the Cooperative President and one other socio picked me up from Alotenango and we made the two hour drive to my site. Since arriving in town I’ve been settling into my new digs at Dona Arceli’s house. My room came furnished with a double size bed, a TV (i’ve been watching the World Series), a fan, a plastic table and chair. I’m gonna need to do some shopping for other basics - I have no mirror so getting ready in the morning has been a bit of a challenge. I did manage to hang my mosquito net from ceiling rafters with Peace Corps supplied dental floss and every time i look at it I feel part Macgyver part princess.

Aside from getting my room situated I have also started getting out into the town and meeting people. Today was Dia de Todos Santos which is one of the biggest holidays in Guatemala. I sat at the cooperative with Eslin and passed the afternoon watching people walk by looking their best and carrying flowers- both real and paper- to the town cemetery to decorate their deceased relative’s graves. Around three o’clock (because I was told it was going to rain at 4PM) I convinced Dona Arceli to go with me to the cemetery to check out the festivities. When we entered the cemetery full of people and Dona Arceli began to introduce me to her friends, It dawned on me just how tall I am compared to everyone here. I was looking pretty much all men in the eyes and looking over the heads of all the women. It felt good to be tall even though its one more thing to make me stand out. We continued to walk through the cemetery, passing kids sitting on cement raised graves, staring as usual, some saying “hello”, others just giggling at me. I just smile back and say “Buenas tardes”. The graveyard was full both of people and graves making it a little difficult to get through the maze. Along the route we ran into a few other associates from the cooperative - all welcomed me back, “How are you liking it here? Are you sure you don’t want to leave yet?” I get that it may be a little strange for them to have this American willingly move here to live and work with them for two years but I wonder when they are going to realize I am here with the intention of staying. At least when I reiterate, “No, I love it here, I'm in it for the whole two years”, they get excited and say, “oh good, long enough for you to get married here, and then you’ll stay”

After the cemetery we walked back to Jennifer’s house where half the town was gathered at a makeshift carnival-like stand awaiting the results of the holiday raffle. Everyone paid 3 Quetzales (approx. $.40) and the grand prize was a “chivo” or calf. Before they started the raffle they paraded the cow around the crowd and tied it to a nearby tree. It was a really nice looking cow, actually kinda cute and when Dona Arceli didn’t win I was a bit relieved cause I didn’t want there to be any chance that sometime down the road I’d have to eat it.