Friday, July 23, 2010

Being a tourist...Guatemalan style

So a couple weeks ago the extended family on Oralia's side decided to go down to San Marcos La Laguna one Friday night and stay at a place her brother owns...just an hour away but since we rarely do overnight trips anywhere it sounded pretty exciting.  We were told the place had plenty of space for all of us, but in the end we only ended up being 17 instead of the whole 28.  Good thing too, cause once we rolled in to town (with a trunk full of blankets, plates, Cream Soda (India K´iche', my treat, cause it's so good!), tea and bread) we found out that the 'house' was really just two rooms made from concrete blocks right next to a store that the other brother owns, meaning that it was currently being used to store a huge pallet of sugar, water and a stack of 20 foot long rebar for upcoming construction.  There was a twin bed in the corner of the one room, a desk with one chair and enough spiders and random bugs to make this more of a camping experience (or jail cell), complete with a latrine out back with a sheet of corrugated metal as a makeshift two foot tall door that you had to move to go in and out.  But the funny thing was I didn't even bat an eye, not surprised at all.  We got to work grilling meat, tomatoes (to make chirmol, the sauce) and heating up tamalitos.  Despite the rain, which caused us to grill under the roof out back, trudge through mud to get to the water and the proximity of everything which filled the house with smoke, we had a delicious dinner.  The muchachos decided to go take a stroll through town with their uncle and I was privileged to be invited (instead of staying back with all the adults).  I'm pretty sure we looked like an interesting bunch....5 guys between 12-19 years old and a 38 year old Guatemalan walking around with a tall blond, joking the whole time.  

We get 'home' and its time to set up sleeping arrangements.  Luckily I brought a thick sleeping blanket and this ends up being the mattress for me and two of my brothers on the cement floor in the room with the sugar and water, with our feet dangling over iron rods.  Everyone piled on the floor in the other room in sections according to family (the grandma got the twin bed and shared it with the newborn baby some girl just gave to her a few weeks ago to raise).  As I got comfortable in my corner, arranging my pillow and blanket, I tried not to think about the creepy crawly things that most likely were watching me from the rafters above, plotting their journey down the wall to join me in my slumber.  Little did I know, those things would not keep me from sleeping, instead I passed the night listening to a chorus of snoring champions (who would have known the grandma would be the worst!?), the baby who cried and cried, which the grandma had no trouble sleeping through so Oralia would have to get up to take care of her, and tossing and turning to avoid the pains of concrete support.  All this made it pretty easy to get up early, accidently wash my face with the water that's used to flush the toilet instead of the water out of the faucet (the basins were close to each other and I was tired...), and head down to the lake to check out the view.  On our way we wanted some coffee to eat with the bread we bought, but since San Marcos is pretty touristy the only thing that we found open was a dingy hippie place that had some for Q7 a cup!!  Super expensive but since we were a big group and the men were good at bargaining, they got it down to Q3 and good thing too cause it turned out to be pretty bad tasting and served in chipped, stained cups of all shapes and sizes.  Oh well.  The day started out pretty cloudy but cleared up and turned out beautiful!  

The view from the rocks of San Pedro volcano.

Erin (a volunteer and good friend of mine who lives in San Marcos for now) took us around to the best spots.

Lunch!  Crab soup, turned out puro utz' (really good)

The boys trying to fish. the lake is still super contaminated (Erin, who has her masters in oceanography with an emphasis on fecal contamination calls it a gigantic toilet bowl since there are almost no functioning water treatment plants and all waste waters run directly in to it from the many towns and cities that lie on its edge and from the whole watershed itself).  Apparently this area is less contaminated so she took us here and the boys hopped in a bit to cool off. Erin just shook her head.

Juanita (Oralia's sister) and her two little girls.
We came home dirty and exhausted but with big smiles on our faces :)  Call me crazy but I enjoyed this much more than heading out with other foreigners for a weekend away (nothing against my fellow volunteers and other gringos).  I've been fortunate to have traveled to many places and countries before Guatemala and my way of looking at things is very different from people who rarely get out.  It's like the joy you get when you watch someone open a don't get anything material out that but the happiness is contagious.  It's nice.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Party in the USA

I didn't mention in my last post that the end of June I took a trip home to the States, returning to Guatemala oddly enough on Independence Day.  Below you'll find an overview of my time in both North Dakota and Chicago...


One of my best friends from back home, Tanner, got married to the wonderful Amy and I got home just in time to go celebrate with old friends :)

The cake cutters.  Oh yeah, that cake had no idea what was coming.

The beautiful couple.

Me dancing with the lovely Lucy.

North Dakota at its finest!!!  I know we probably all love our home states and believe with foolish pride that we come from the best part of the I won't go in to my long and prideful description of ND's wonders, but see for yourself some of the great open spaces, animals and good people.  Below is a view from inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Buffalo!!!  We pulled in to a lookout point and from afar I totally thought it was a statue...really it had wondered in to the parking lot and was thoughtfully cutting the grass in front of the visitor's center.

Taking a walk around the farm on a gorgeous summer's day.

Me and some cousins at a family I loved showing this picture to people in Guatemala- for once I'm not the tallest!

Being away makes it hard when you have friends back home raising kids (they grow so fast!) It was super fun to hang out with Jana and her cute kids (who knows where they got it from, hehe).  

This picture is from a talk I gave to kids about life in Guatemala.  I loved their questions: are there killer lions there? do you eat real food?  I wish I could take them with me to see it all!

Bismarck is home to the Superslide Amusement Park, which offers a variety of attractions, our favorites being mini golf and the slide featured in the background.  No visit home in the summer is complete without a race down!  I'm pretty sure I would have beat Kaela had it not been for my skirt...

Jana and I having fun exploring Fort Lincoln State Park.  I can't think of anyone else I'd rather spend a romantic sunset with...wait a minute.  Oh well, we had a good time exploring the cementery (the headstones give causes of death such as froze to death, drank himself to death, gunshot, or typhoid fever) and climbing around on the old military blockhouses.

Hanging out with the 'rents.


My brother Matt and I biked to the lakefront for a sunny picnic...yay for summer!

The afternoon included a walk through the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Conservatory.

Bachelorette Party for Jess!  So great to reconnect with the old crew from IWU.

So Jess's wedding included many Indian traditions (since her husband is originally from there).  Here's her hand soon after she had the Henna artist work on them (up to her elbows!  3 1/2 hours)

Beautiful bride :)

Part of the wedding ceremony.  Her sister is to left, in a sari just like the rest of the bridesmaids. The officiant is seated to the left.  He would explain parts in English but mainly did the ceremony in Hindi.

Another part of the ceremony where colored dust was put on top of her head.

"I now pronounce you man and wife!"

Kellie!!  We met many years ago in a freshman Spanish class (we had an amazing corner, right kellie?  jajaja). 

Erika and I met in Miami when her study abroad group passed through and I came to visit friends of mine who were staff.  A year and a half later we randomly met up again but this time at a bonfire in rural Illinois (Jess's mom's house).  Such a small world!  Some of you may remember that both Jess and Erika came to visit me last August in Guatemala.

Sarah and Tiff made the drive up from IN to hang out and catch up.  Here's us enjoying the afternoon walking around Bucktown and the Ukrainian Village.

Danielle joined us soon after.  We were roommates all four years in college until she got a new one (her husband).  We have such good memories together and of course keep making new ones!

Great Cuban food for dinner.  I even got my favorite- vaca frita!  Tastes way better than it sounds, hehe.  I have such great the jungle is only missing Steph and Yue'e.

I also have great brothers!  I unfortunately didn't get a picture with Brad this time but here I am with Matt before taking off.

And that's all folks!  Now I'm back to daily torrents of rain, lots of black beans, tortillas, washing my clothes by hand (I think I washed every day at home in the washing machine just cause I loved how easy it was), world cup final fever, traveling in camionetas and learning new things around every corner.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The World I Know

Yet again there's been a lapse in my blogging activities...whoops.  Things (as always) have been pretty crazy with me, but life's good and I wouldn't have it any other way :)

Kudos to Mama Lupe for helping me with my birthday bash.  We toasted ingredients for my favorite dish, pepian de pollo.  Below you'll see dried chiles, tomatoes, miltomates, bread, onions, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. It turned out fantastic!  Oh I should mention that we started prep for this party on Fri May 28 (to have it on Sat), of course the two days that the tropical cyclone Agatha hit Guatemala hard.  
More on that to follow.

I am blessed to have such wonderful people in my life here.  
Juanita's not in this picture but she was so great that she went out during the storm to pick the leaves from the corn stalks so we could wrap up tamalitos in them!

Picture with the family

So many of you might know what happened during Agatha, but if not click here.  The storm came just two days after one of our active volcanoes, Pacaya, erupted, and caused immense destruction throughout the country with flooding, mudslides and even a giant "sinkhole".  Luckily my community was spared from losing any people, but the park sustained significant infrastructure damage.  Here's what happened to the hydroelectric dam...  I have a post back in April that shows what it looked like before.

Our entrance was completely washed away and one of our concrete arches is now falling down because the land underneeth it was washed in to the river.

Here's the turbine and generator buried under mud.

We didn't have any power at the park for 5 days, so we all pitched in a hand to clean up.  I joined the men fixing the bridge and entrance.  Here Don Martin and I are exhausted from shoveling.

Luckily the roads got cleared a bit and I was able to head to San Antonio for a visit.  I love these kids!

Randomly hanging out with my co-worker's mom while making dinner.  
Each day brings surprises and new experiences.

Chico, Eddy and I took off on a Friday after work and class to hike up to a gigantic rock on the mountainside.  Here we're taking a shortcut through someone's corn field.

My first baby shower in Guatemala.  Exactly like the ones back home, except for the food (tostadas and tamales).  We even played the guess the size of the mom's tummy game with string and the race to burst balloons between two people (below)!

We had the pleasure of hosting a group of Canadian tourism students for two weeks in the park.  They were amazing volunteers and helped make signs, clean the trail, paint the office, plant trees, etc.

Fair in San Antonio Aguas Calientes.  Could not believe the men spent all day Saturday cutting huge pieces of plastic to make this decoration for their street.  The design is a depiction of St. Anthony.

My dear friend Patty gave me this bag for my birthday.  She tried to make it to the party, but like all of the volunteers I invited she also couldn't make it due to the storm, so we celebrated later.

Danika and Fatima all ready for their brother's birthday party.

So this was the craziest weekend ever...had a get together with the fam Friday night, took off Saturday morning for San Antonio to hang out with Patty and the old fam, left early Sun morning to get back in time for the baby shower, made cakes all afternoon and then spent the evening celebrating Johnny's 12th birthday.  
It was great :)