Thursday, January 22, 2009

Trabajo y Fiesta!

Settling in to life here has been easier than expected. I have the regulars I say “Buenos dias” to when walking through town; I’ve picked up some fun Guatemalan phrases (¡Un cachito por favor, cuate!); and I begin each morning with a wonderful cup of coffee, made from the coffee beans that grow across the street.

My group has gotten off to great start on our cultural tourism project. The other two girls in the group, Molly and Maria, bring environmental and tourism skills, while Jamie and I bring more business and economic development expertise. We will be working with the Municipality to assist a Mayan women’s weaving group so they can have a more sustainable way to create and market their goods. Last Friday we met with 32 of the 55 women for a focus group discussion, trying to find out what their assets are, what they want, and how we can help them achieve their goals. We are a bit overwhelmed with all we want to do in the next two and a half months!!

But it hasn’t been all work and no play….this last weekend San Antonio Aguas Calientes had a big festival to celebrate the Dulce Nombre de Jesus. I’ve never seen such a thing! Parades, processions, dancing, food, plays, mass, bands, Mayan games, endless fireworks and music don’t even begin to describe the three days of festivities. And my friend Rachel (from ACCION USA in Boston) is now living in Antigua and was able to come for the second day and check out my pueblo!

As we were watching the parade, Maria and I were standing against a wall (otherwise we block everyone’s view behind us) when a few Guatemalen men went past us on the sidewalk. The first one looked at me and then did a double take with a big smile. He looked semi-familiar, but I only gave him a half-smile just in case he was sizing up the gringa. Maria didn’t recognize him, but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I knew him. It wasn’t until five minutes later that I realized it was the mayor! We had had a meeting with him on Wednesday where he pledged his support for our project. Ay, que cosa, hopefully he won’t hold our absent-mindedness against us!

Another funny thing happened the next night I went with Jamie and his host family to watch a play. Only I want you to picture it on top of someone’s roof in the middle of the block with hundreds of people gathered below to watch. The main actor was quite funny as he began to tell the story of the Dulce Nombre of Jesus. He went on to describe that no such festival is celebrated in the United States, thus the gringos have to come to San Antonio to see it…of course Jamie and I are the only two gringos in the crowd and every single person starts to look our way! There’s no hiding when you’re the tallest people around. It was all in good fun, and the upside is we’re now well known throughout town!

The main church and plaza
My pueblo- San Antonio Aguas Calientes

My family- Don Enrique, Clara, and Dona Maria
"Pelota Maya"- the ancient game played by the Mayans; this group will appear on the History Channel in March!
Part of the parade

Walking through the maze of buses in Antigua

Molly, Maria, Jaime and our Spanish/Cultural mentor Jorge
Rachel and I in Antigua

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Address and Cellphone!

So if anyone ever feels the desire to send some cheer my way (hint hint) here’s how it’ll reach me in the near future:

PCV Brittany Sickler
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 66
Antigua Guatemala
Sacatepequez 03001
Central America

And I just got a cell phone today...yay! The number is 011 502 4034 5514. It's free for me to receive phone calls, so no worries about ever giving me a call.

My first week in Guate

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Guatemala for a week now. The “chicken buses”, widowmakers, tortillas and volcanoes have all come to be normal components of a typical day.

Last Tuesday I was in DC for staging, where I basically filled out paperwork and met my fellow trainees. We are currently a group of 32: 16 working on the Healthy Schools Project, and the other 16 of us working in Sustainable Community Tourism. It’s interesting meeting people you know you will be in close contact with for at least the next two years; bonding came fast. You could see most people were dealing varying levels of similar emotions: anxiety, excitement, fear, relief, etc.

Unfortunately we woke up at 1am on Wednesday to leave the States, and after a brief stop in Miami (where I got to see Andrea, Reg and Andre!) we landed in Guatemala City. Exhausted, we were given a basic introduction to the program, safety procedures and health guidelines. Then we set off to host families near the Peace Corps Offices in Santa Lucia Milpas Altas. Two of my fellow trainees and I had the pleasure of staying our first 3 days in the country with a wonderful Guatemalan family. I couldn’t get too attached because last Saturday we headed out to our communities where we will be training for the next three months. Split into groups of four based on language ability and project focus, I will be staying in a nice-sized pueblo about 20 minutes west of Antigua with another amazing family.

Although I stick out among these small women in traditional Mayan dress, I feel quite at home and am learning quite a bit about the local customs and culture. One of the Mayan languages, Kaqchikel, is spoken here and my lessons have so far taught me how to say “thank you”, which works out quite well. My host mom, doña María, has also promised to teach me how to make tortillas and how to weave…hopefully I can rise to the challenge these next few months!

Monday, January 5, 2009


Wow.  Some experiences have a knack for knocking you off your feet, and my short trip to China last week definitely proved that to be true.  I am so grateful to Yue’e and her family for being gracious hosts, giving us eyes and insights in to such a fascinating culture.

We stayed with her brother and sister-in-law, in their three story apt in Fuzhou.  This “small” city (with estimates of between 5-7 million) has much to see and do, but remains off the beaten path for most travelers.  I have never been stared at so much in my life!  My friend Steph made the comment that she felt it was like we had two heads or something.  I rarely blend in when I travel (in Central and South America) but this was pretty crazy. There are so many stories to share but here are just some of the highlights:

-Eating lots of seafood- eel, shark, squid, jellyfish, clams, crabs, mussels, oysters, shrimp, lobster, carp, and many more unknown to me

-Learning Fujian customs for weddings; my favorite were waiting with Yue’e in an upstairs bedroom while Jackie proved himself worthy to come to her (he sang a love song, and shouted “I love you” in Mandarin and English

-Going to two receptions, one with Jackie’s family out in the country (with a 12 course meal) and one in the city at a nice restaurant (with a 20 course meal!)

-Bringing in the New Year with fireworks and dancing 13 hours early J

-Visiting a Buddhist temple and monastery built in 867 AD

-Seeing a thousand-year-old banyon tree

-Relieving post-wedding stress at hot springs; sitting in bathes of wine, tea and ginger followed by a ten dollar hour massage


Going to the market

All ready before the ceremony

At the first reception

Bouquet toss (Good catch Tiff!)

I truly grew to enjoy the little squid

Thousand year old banyon tree


View from the apt at night

Buddhist temple