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.

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