Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dear Trader Joe's

Quierido Trader Jose,

Allow me to introduce myself, I am Annalisa Brown Liberman, your best Guatemala- based customer, ever. For nearly two years I have been living in rural Guatemala as a Sustainable Agriculture Peace Corps Volunteer. Ever since my arrival on August 12, 2009 my father and friends have faithfully sent me dozens of bulging yellow manilla padded envelopes filled with Trader Joe’s treats. I don’t know how I would have survived these past two years without them.

I want to personally thank you for your toothsome trail mixes and delectable dried fruit. I have tasted and loved them all. I have particularly savored your Macadamia Mix Gingerly with Cranberries and Almond, Sweet & Savory and Tempting trail/trek mixes. However, nothing has tantalized my taste buds more than your Just Mangos dried mangos. I especially enjoy the packages filled with deep marigold colored slices picked ripe from Mexico or Thailand. The Columbian variety, for some reason, are never quite as as sweet and juicy.

Today, I was enjoying a package of Just Mangos in my cinderblock casita while rain outside made rivers of the town’s dirt streets. As I chewed to the pitter-patter of drops on the tin roof, I wondered just how many of Joe’s Just Mangos and trail mixes I have consumed as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I did a rough calculation and came up with over 100 packages.

I currently have two packages of Just Mangos and two trail mixes left in my reserves. These were sent by my father in a package I received June 8th. I have since told him to send no more, for my Peace Corps service ends August 17th and I will soon be able to roam the isles of Trader Joe’s on my own. Free to pick out only the juiciest, most golden Just Mango packages in the store. I can’t wait.

Once again, gracias Trader Jose. You have made my Peace Corps experience quite a treat!

Un fuerte abrazo (a big hug) from your devoted patron,


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ask Dr. Bob

On a large 24”x18” piece of yellow construction paper I made a table seven columns by eight rows. Fifty-six boxes. One for each day of service I have left in the Peace Corps. I labeled the columns with days of the week and grouped the rows into June, July and August. I titled the poster, “Calendario de Proyectos con Annalisa” (Calendar of Projects with Annalisa).

I began to populate the calendar with my remaining projects, trips away from site and daily obligations. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 3:40-4:50 English classes at Basico with Jeny. Completion of Service Medical Appointments in Antigua June 22-24. Women’s group cooking class: Pizza and planting tomato seeds, 3pm Saturday, June 25. Inventory review workshop, 5pm Wednesday, June 29. Pollo Xinca Cost of Production Analysis, Saturday, July 9... the table slowly filled up. When it was done, I taped it to the Coca Cola display fridge in the coop tienda and shared it with the socios at a meeting on Monday.

As I plan my last projects, I also have to figure out how to wrap up my service with a healthy sense of closure. My dad has coached me on this phase of my Peace Corps service. A phase that he refers to, in psychiatrist jargon, as the ‘termination period.’ Over one particularly long phone conversation about a month ago he explained this critical stage of decathecting to me. I was on one end of the line swaying in my hammock while he was on the other end, presumably, sitting in his swiveling office chair. “The termination period is a period of separation between a doctor and patient,” he began. “At the end of a treatment, a physician must work with the patient to show their time together was effective in treating the illness and that the patient is capable of sustaining his recovery even after he is not under the direct care of the physician...” (Did I paraphrase correctly, Papa? “Close enough,” as you might say.)

In any regard, the take away I got was that these last few months of service is a time for me to reflect with the cooperative on all of the work we have done together and the progress we have made. It is also a time to discuss how to sustain these improvements even after my departure. I have taken his advice to heart and have started reflecting on my service with the Coop socios. The presence of my bright yellow calendar stands as a reminder that my days with the coop are limited and has allowed me to ease into ‘termination period’ conversations. Sometimes, however, I contemplate, between myself and the cooperative, who is the doctor and who is the patient. For, I, most certainly, will come out of this experience the most changed.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I've done this before. Too lazy to write a post so I'm going to copy and paste an email I wrote to my big brother, Peter, last night.

I am writing this email using a battery powered lantern that Dad sent me in one of his many packages. I usually reserve this light for night time showering. The electricity has been out for the past hour so it's working overtime tonight. Luckily, I still have 2 hours 29 minutes left on my Mac battery and my internet runs through the cell tower. We get blackouts about five times a week during the rainy season. It's not raining right now, so I am not sure what caused it this time. To be honest, though, I really enjoy the still darkness.

Guatemala is a very noisy country. At all hours there are drivers blaring banda music out their car windows, motorcycles revving their engines, neighbors watching telenovelas at maximum volume, kids screaming, parents reprimanding, kids then crying. It all blends together to form a constant hum of background distraction. I liken it to an audio equivalent of the visual overload in Times Square.

In contrast, when the lights are out, it's peaceful. I can hear the crickets and frogs and even my elderly next door neighbor plucking away at his guitar. Right now, he is playing Mary Had a Little Lamb. Every once in a while, the lights will flicker on for a millisecond and there are shouts of joy that echo throughout the town. But, all goes dark again, and all goes silent. My neighbor will then switch to playing Cielito Lindo or Happy BIrthday. I wonder if he has a book or is just playing from memory. I can picture him behind those blank cinderblock walls, sitting in his room, on a wood chair, strumming his guitar by candle light, thinking that no one is listening. Or, maybe, he knows I am home, and is playing for me.

I now have 2:09 left on my battery. Peace Corps tells us to conserve energy when the lights go out. We never can be sure of when they are going to come back on. Time to shut down...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pollo Xinca

Wednesday evening I finished the last of seven trainings on 10 fundamentals of business that I conducted with the coop. The final topic we reviewed was “Promote your business.” Three days later, the coop put this principle into practice.

Saturday was the inauguration of Pollo Xinca, the coop’s latest business venture. In light of what they learned during our workshop, the coop decided to promote their business with a “Buy two or more pieces of fried chicken, get a soda for free. (while supplies last)” offer on opening day.

In Guatemala development may be slow but, work, straight-up labor, can happen lickety-split. Take, for instance, Pollo Xinca. The cooperative may still struggle to define its purpose and benefit its members yet, they can successfully whip up fried chicken operation in about one month’s time. Here is a quick outline of the idea through to fruition time-frame:

May 6: Maritza announces she has found someone who will lend her Q10,000 to start-up the fried chicken business. I must note that this loan will work much like a typical bank loan- paying off the capital and interest at the same time. I’ve drilled it into them to NEVER take another loan like the mess they got themselves into with Adan.

May 27: The men dig a well and instal a motor to pump fresh water into a pila/sink in the back of the tienda.

May 28: Tienda is rearranged to allow a section of the store to be occupied by the fried chicken business. The men create an awning over the pila in the back of the tienda.
May 31: Fryer, freezer and display case are delivered from the capital.

June 2: Electric outlets and lighting are installed in the Pollo Xinca section of the store. Cement is laid on a section of the store that had a dirt floor.

June 3: Outside of the store and Pollo Xinca area are whitewashed.

June 4: 8:00 am, women begin to decorate the tienda.

June 4: 12:00 pm, Eddy from Fedacop teaches Emerson, Pollo Xinca’s ‘chef’, how to fry chicken and french fries.

June 4: 1:50 pm, Eddy presides over a prayer around the fryer, asking God to bless Pollo Xinca.

June 4: 2:15 pm, first five pieces of fried chicken are sold.

June 4: 6:00 pm, Over 200 pieces of chicken sold and the last of 60 promotional sodas was given away.