Saturday, December 20, 2008


7.52 am Saturday
I am awake. I have been awake for the last hour and a half. I have been awake for the last hour and a half because my neighbors (whom I share a very thin wall with) have been playing gospel music very, very loudly for the last hour and a half. I had no intention to be up this early.

My eyes itch from the sunlight coming in through the window above my door. I have managed to block most of it with a strategically placed towel. It isn’t a problem most mornings as I generally sleep through sunrise without a problem. However, when I’m awoken against my will around that time, I have a tough time falling asleep again. I bury my head between my lumpy pillows to no respite. I pray, no pun intended, for a break in the barrage in order to doze off comfortably into the nether world of sleep once again. But honestly who am I kidding. No such luck. My head hurts from a combination of lack of sleep, the bone rattling music coming through the door that separates our respective domiciles, and my brains vehement denial to process this “music.”

My door at 6.30am

When I say gospel music I don’t mean down home, dance-inducing, clap-along spirituals. No. This is a smorgasbord of ill-produced songs in every major style (rock, pop, cumbia, ranchera, salsa, regular guitar-y religious chant, etc). It seems like a sampler they give out at the temple or something. All of course include many passages such as “God is the Path,” “I found the light in the Lord,” and my personal favorite, “Entregate al Senor,” meaning roughly “Give yourself to the Lord.” There is one in particular that grind my gears. It reminds me of an “Old McDonald had a farm”-esque campy rhythm but with the aforementioned lyrics and sentiment. I wish I could go back to sleep.

And its not that I mind the music so much. I mean, music is great. However, variety is the spice of life. And these people play the same 10 songs over and over and painfully over again. My ears ache at the sound of the crescendo beginning of the first song on the album. I’m all for religious freedom, but not at 6.30am on a Saturday.

Oddly enough the last few tracks on the album are DJ Flex’s (The artist known as Nigga around the world, except in the US for obvious reasons) “Baby, Te Quiero.” This Panamanian reggae artist is quite popular here, but how he got his song (and various remixes even including an a capella version) on this particular album will forever elude me. He must have one hell of a marketing team. It’s hilarious to me that the strictly religious stuff is played when the father is home, but as soon as he leaves, its “Baby, Te Quiero!!!” blasting for hours on end. Same song. On repeat. I think my ears are going to start bleeding soon.

And this has been happening for the last 7 days in a row. They also turn the music on at night, but that doesn’t bother me so much. It’s just a horrible way to be awoken, that’s all. So I resolve to fight back. During the week I don’t mind so much, because I can forget about setting my alarm clock and don’t have to worry, because sure as the sun will rise, the music is on at the crack of dawn. I don’t know what time the sun comes up around here, I have made a concerted effort to not know. But it must be pretty damn close to 6.30am judging by the weak sun rays filtering into my room when I am awoken by the music.

I fire up the old laptop, and turn on the awesome Logitech speakers I found on for 25 bucks, even though they retailed at Best Buy for 100 clams. I try to select from my 45 gigabyte library of tunes what I judge as the furthest cry apart from what they are listening to. I settle on a French duo called Justice (I know, I know, with a name like that it is a godsend.) Even better the tracks I play are off of their latest album, Cross, whose album art is a gigantic yellow catholic cross on a black blackground (pictured below.) It’s perfect. I feel justified to play their songs, righteous you might even say. The names are even right for the situation, with names such as Genesis (which was featured on a Cadillac commercial recently), Let there be light, Waters of Nazareth, Stress (what I’m feeling right now) and last but certainly not least, DVNO (which is sounded out phonetically in spanish sounds like “Divine.”

Justice´s album cover for Cross

I turn the music up, but just enough to drown out the noise from next door. Even though my european electronic music is pretty loud, it’s just nice to have something streaming in my ears that I chose, something I know and appreciate. I start to drift into a highly relaxed state of near unconsciousness. I can’t turn off their music, but I can damn sure drown it out.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

And then my house flooded... Twice.

So wednesday was a big day. I got a visit from my project specialist, kind of like my supervisor at peace corps. All the comedors in my town were closed, so we drove into Huehue. The first eatery on the road is none other than the golden arches, ambassadors to the world. You got it, McDonald´s which had opened up recently near my town. She said she had craving for it and who was I to intervene. It was her treat. Awesome. Over my quarter pounder with cheese we talked about what I had been up to the first month and a half in site, and all the projects I would like to see undertaken with the coming year.

It was a good visit and I got my vacation plans all squared away with the boss. She came to talk to my counterpart, who gave me rave reviews. My mayor also had good things to say about my work so far so that was good too. Now, this visit ended around 4.30pm. It looked like it might rain, so I grabbed my rain jacket, just in case. Everyone in town swore up and down that it NEVER rained here after November. Boy, were they wrong.

It started raining as we say in panama, ¨un palo de agua.¨(read: alot) So now I was stuck in my office, which is really just two doors down from my house, but for solidarities sake, I stayed with everyone else who was stuck and had a long commute home. One guy had to ride his bike 2 km, through now muddy uphill roads. I did not envy him. So around 5.45pm when I had finally had enough, I waltzed home to find my house flooded.

On the ground was about an inch of water, product of a drain clogged with leaves. Luckily my room had been spared, with the my computer and tv connections on the floor. Also spared, the carpet I had inherited from the past volunteer. My kitchen, bathroom and backyard were not so lucky. They was a mix of dirt, leaves and rain water sloshing about my house. Most comical of all were my shower sandals floating through my kitchen. The culprit in this unfortunate debacle? Leaves that were not picked up by me in the backyard because everyone had sworn up and down ¨it never rains here during december!¨ I had to go out in the rain and constantly keep clearing the drain. My shower drain had also mysteriously clogged so i had to take turns between clearing the other and sloshing my way into the backyard to clear the other.

Fortunately I had invested in a pair of waterproof hiking boots before I joined the Peace Corps, and boy did they deliver on this occasion. My new rain jacket I received in my christmas box from my mom also worked to specifications.

I woke up the next day to find my floor caked in dirt with leaves scattered about. It was going to be a bear to clean and I had just run out of cleaning fluid to mop. I decided to shower, and go to the store to get some cleaning supplies for the project at hand. As I turned the shower on, only a hiss of air came out. Great, no water today. So I took a bucket bath, and went into town. I came back around noon. As I entered my house, I heard the sound of running water. Of course now there´s water! But at least this meant I could flush my toilet without prejudice. So I walked into my kitchen to find once again, a good deal of water on the floor. I turned to the bathroom, where I had left the shower on, product of forgetting to turn the knob to the closed position. Verdamnt. I had to wait for the mess to drain again, and then set about cleaning it all up.

Hey, at least I got McDonald´s out of the whole deal.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Now that I´m settled...

I didn´t really post up anything while I was in training because time kind of flew by. I can see now that once at my site, the pace of life is alot more shall we say, ¨relaxed.¨ Since arriving at my town near Huehuetenango, I have been able to visit about 8 communities of the 17 that surround us. I consider this a success. Getting out there has been an ordeal at times, but the Muni has made arrangements since we are not allowed to use motorcycles. A few of the projects we have been working on are organizing our COMUDE, which is like a super community group, gathering info for a new census the central government asked us to do, and getting internet for the office. It´s slow going on all three, but progress is being made. A few interesting things that have happened lately:

1.I have a cat named Henry which is in my backyard regardless of whether I want it there or not. He ate a can of tuna I left out. It wouldn´t be so bad, but tuna is about 2 dollars a can here.

2. I went to Lake Atitlan for thanksgiving with a bunch of other volunteers, which was awesome. It was relaxing, the food was good, albeit expensive, and it was just nice to not have pressure to be ¨on¨ all the time.

3. I don´t think I am going to be able to get rid of all the spiders in my house, I guess I am just going to have to get comfortable having them around. One upside, they keep the fly population down.

4. I finally figured out how to make rice well given the altitude, turns out I have to use a lot more water than I regularly would.

5. We will be receiving ArcView GIS training soon, which I´m looking forward to very much.

6. Being able to talk on Tigo after 9pm and being charged only the first five minutes goes a long ways towards staying in touch with everybody.

So that´s about it for now. Hopefully my office will get internet soon and I´ll be able to update this guy more often.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Month In

So I have been in Guatemala for a month now. It feels like its been years. My town feels pretty safe, and I feel like I can travel without problems. I have taken a few field trips to visit other volunteers and haven't run into any problems. My housing situation is great, I have a really nice house with my own bedroom with a door and its own bathroom, which is alot more than I can say for some of the other volunteers. The walk uphill sucks to go into town, or to catch the bus, but its getting better.

My host mom's dog doesn't bite me much anymore, but now has turned on her, which is kind of funny. It was also her birthday (host mom, not the dog) last week, and she totally did not mention anything at all about it. I found out about 6pm because her daughter came in with a birthday cake. I was on my way out, so I wasn't even there to sing happy birthday. She did however get a washing machine, which is awesome because now when she washes clothes, it dries alot quicker.

I did my first charla, or talk, to a group yesterday. I talked to about 15 high schoolers about citizen participation. It was awesome. When I asked why it is important to be a part of your community, they answered almost exactly what I had in mind to tell them. Also, they really got into the activities, and participated alot. If anything, I didn't give them enough chances to speak their minds. I also talked a little about the importance of going to college.

I am going to another town tomorrow to see some ruins, and its supposedly really impressive. I am really excited to just travel around, since during training we are so limited in our freedom. That has probably been the toughest part of this whole thing so far, not being able to move about freely, stay anywhere overnight, go too far. But I guess that this trip I am taking this week will ease that concern a bit. We are going out west for a weeklong training session. We are going to give a presentation to a community group about leadership. We are also staying at a luxurious hotel where we will be paying about 4 dollars a night for, so I am super curious to see what that will be all about. I am all packed already (no se rian mom and vali) and just not looking forward to the long ride in the bus. It sure beats getting on a camioneta with our luggage though.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

First day in training

So I am writing from a tiny town in the mountains of Guatemala. We arrived yesterday and had about a half day of training, but most of us were so wiped out from the early wake up, 3am, that we went to sleep around 7pm. We were all separated into groups to stay with host families and I got to stay in a house with one other volunteer. We both share a room, but its pretty big. We get three meals a day, which have so far been all based around platano, beans, cheese and tortillas, though today we had chicken soup with rice and melon. we also get some maicena, cornmeal like drink most of the time, which is hot. its not too cold, about 70 during the day and a little cooler at night, but we do have a shower with hot water!!!!!! the house also has a microwave which was surprising. We deal mostly with the mom of the house, a nice lady who doesnt really talk to us much, but whenever we do talk she always laughs at us. the husband really doesnt talk, and so far he has said hola to us and not much else. there are too kids about 10 and 12, boy and girl but i avoid talking to them because i cant for the life of me remember their names even though they have repeated them many times. as for the peace corps thing, today we had a language test, which was a breeze for me, but they told me that i will definitely be learning a mayan dialect since i have advanced spanish skills. also we got some shots for certain nasty diseases. furthermore, they gave us our first batch of antimalaria pills which we are to take weekly. common side effects can include nausea, diarhhea and ¨lucid dreams.¨ can´t wait for tonight. I´ll write more as soon as possible but its getting dark and i dont want to get in trouble with my host family.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

In the beginning...

So I am leaving for Guatemala in a little over a month for 27 months to serve with the Peace Corps as a municipal development advisor. I am starting this blog to stay in touch with my family and friends back in Panama and the US. I am already starting to pack, and trying to figure out just what I need to take with me.