With a heavy heart I must announce that September’s celebrations have come to an end. (Not to worry – only about 2 weeks left until the next celebration, immediately following the Foreign Service exam! SO SOON AHHH!) While I’ve only worked about 1 day this month, I can’t say it hasn’t been fun :)
When I left you last, I was preparing to go to Xela and the Xocomil (sho-co-MEEL) waterpark for Melissa’s birthday…and it was awesome! I’m fairly obsessed with my sitemates, so I knew it would be a great weekend, but add to the equation little-kid (splashing around on water slides all day) and grown-up fun (tremendous Indian food, burgers, drinks, dancing) and we couldn’t go wrong. Xocomil’s about an hour outside of Xela, closer to the Pacific coast, so although it started raining about 10 minutes after arriving, it was still hot and we were already wet from the slides anyway! Kate and Melissa’s friend Elizabeth and her boyfriend Alvaro were excellent company, especially as Alvaro used to go there as a kid and his reverted childlike excitement was highly contagious! We were forced to end the day around 3pm due to a massive storm and headed back to Xela to celebrate Melissa’s birthday like adults lol. And what would any trip to Xela be without a trip to Hiper Paiz/Wal-Mart for necessities? It never ceases to amuse me how it remains a store almost exclusively for the rich here…
I did work a bit in the week that followed – making salads with the fifth- and sixth-graders at the Trigales school, as well as a meeting about a project Stephen and I want to do with our green-bean groups. The plan is to apply for USAID/Peace Corps grants to pay for the process to certify 2 groups in Buenas Prácticas Agrícolas (Good Agricultural Practices). One group is already almost ready to be certified (they were supposed to receive the certification last year but got kind of screwed over by a miscommunication between NGOs), but both need to brought up to speed with capacity trainings and the necessary safety/hygiene equipment. We’re hoping to cover the costs of all that, plus the actual certification, with the help of the exporting company that already buys their green beans, and maybe also the muni and Save the Children. Once the groups are certified, the company will pay them more money for the product; income generation is a main part of the PC Sustainable Agriculture project. So now we need to start planning and filling out the grant application, but I’m not really sure what the timeline for that is…welcome to development work in Guatemala!
That Friday I also got a visit from Allie, who traveled for 2 days to hang out with me and avoid possible disturbances in her town during the September 11th elections. Apparently out east where she is, celebrating cowboys shoot their guns in the air, causing problems when the bullets come down… But Cunen was luckily super tranquilo the whole weekend and the best part was: the political parties were forced to stop advertising themselves for the weekend, so I finally got a rest from all the noise! Wait, I take that back; Allie and I were woken up at 5am Monday by bombas and cohetes (kind of like fireworks, but without the nice accompanying lights) announcing that we’ll have a new mayor come January. I was surprised he won, as many people in town described him as very egotistic, but I guess the other candidates weren’t as strong. One of the losers was hand-selected by an aldea (village of Cunen) that wants to secede, but threats of rioting never took place. And violence in nearby Nebaj and Sacapulas were localized enough that Allie was able to leave Tuesday morning without any problems. Except maybe a rounder stomach from all the cooking and lazing around we did!
Wednesday was another fun celebration: a birthday party for Kate’s old host sister :) Maria Isabel turned 7 and she is the cheekiest, cutest little girl. I thought it was very sweet of her mother to invite me, since I don’t know the family as well as Kate or even Melissa, and you never turn down an invitation here! She must have had a good time putting together the guest list, though: 3 gringas, an elderly Evangelical pastor and his wife, an ex-mayor who ran again this year and lost, and a bunch of little girls. The situation was so ridiculous that I almost started inappropriately laughing during the pre-meal prayer! But we ended up making good conversation and only lightly touching on the elephant in the room (the recent elections), so that by the time we left, the pastor told us what fun girls we were! Ohhh I love the random experiences here :)
That was followed by Guatemala’s 190th Independence Day on Thursday! All of the schools in town participated in the morning parade, which I got to see from my front door as it passed right by my house. My host siblings and their friends and all the other random children I know were adorable, if not the most talented musicians, dancers, or gymnasts. (Did I mention the “rhythmic gymnastics” event one of the secondary schools put on for their anniversary? Let’s just say it was highly entertaining, and you know my standards!). Unfortunately the customary afternoon games and pig-catching – I can’t even begin to describe how excited I was to see people try to catch a greased-up pig! – were canceled because the current mayor wasn’t re-elected and obviously needed to vent his frustration.
Cunen in celebration
my host sister (with the whistle) and her friends dancing in the parade
And FINALLY, this past weekend was Noor’s birthday celebration at the lake. We had a great time prepping in Pana for her party on Saturday night in another lake town, Santa Cruz La Laguna. The hostel there is really chill and has really great food and didn’t mind when about 20 of us volunteers took over the lounge area for our own use! It was a fantastic night with people I really like; I definitely wasn’t ready to leave. But of course I had to and I got back to Cunen yesterday, laden down with more peanut butter :)