Peace Corps- Guatemala 2004-2006

Posting about my Peace Corps Experience in Guatemala from Sep 2004-Nov 2006

TESA, My main project in the Peace Corps

WOW, hard to believe it is now 4 months into service plus 3 months of trainning. I have been assigned to a huge project (US$4million for 5 years) in a small village with no electricity, no running water and no paved roads!. If you look on the map of Guatemala, I am in the northern part close to mexico, Salacuim, Ecoregion Laguna Lachua, AltaVerpas.

I never know what is going to happend from momment to momment here, nevermind the PC office requests a monthly plan. Sometimes, I take sick people to the hospital and then bring back newborns. The next minute I might be playing with kids, trying to teach them English, then sometime we have a meeting in the office with over 25 people. Other times I am sitting in a village hut learning backstrap-weaving with the ladies of TESA.

I often think of how I can describe my life and work here... The best explanation I can come up with is that my organization is like the United Nations, but instead of working with countries, we work with 50 surrounding villages on community development, farming, income generation, health, village governance, activity organization, health, education-- you name it we get involved. We have a team of like 20 technicos and managers with various different expertise that go around in motocycles and cars to the little villages like a small army on a mission.

My job here focuses on the income generation projects, so I help with financial analysis and management of various projects such as vanilla, honey, reforestation incentives. Our organization also acts like a little venture capital firm. We seek projects to seed funds that hopefully will mature into a sustainable income for the surrounding communities. So constantly I am keeping my eyes out for potential business ventures for the communities. But instead of funding millions of dollars, we fund hundreds and seek profit that can eventually feed the people.

However my main project has been with TESA (Tejedoras de Salacuim) a project that was started with the insight of a previous volunteer with $300 seed money. She started the project when she noticed that some of the women here know how to do backstrap weaving but was not making money. She trained them to make handbags that still using traditional weaving but with a much more modern design. So now I basically manage this project as a business. Our group consist of about 15 ladies of ages from 8-75 who do not speak much Spanish, mostly their native laguage of Achi. They are some of the nicest people that I have met, which makes me more driven to make this project succeed.

My goal is to teach them to manage their own money and production like a real business and to look for distribution whether internationally or locally. Eventhough the money we make is very minimal, and the work involved limitless..but the little money that they do make, can make the difference of whether they can buy meat for dinner instead of eating tortillas and beans. The work has never been more satisfying knowing that my contribution really does contribute to a better life and to be here witnessing the change..

I can go on and on..but photos are worth a thousand words. Here are some of the pictures of the group.
Photos of TESA

and here is a cataglogue of our product..If you have any contacts that would be interesting in buying or distributing our products do not hesitate to let me know.
TESA Product Catalogue

TESA, "Weave of Life"

Let there be light or not!!

First I was nervous when I found out I was going to be assigned to a place with no electricity. How can one survive without electrictiy? How will I read, and get around at night? When I finally got to my site in December, I kept thinking how great this place would be and how things would be so much easier if I just had a little big of electricity. I remember one night, I stared into the darkness and saw the darkness sparkle like a beautiful light show. It turned out to be fireflies, and I thoguht to myself how beautiful they were and how wonderful they are to have light. I realized that I was envious of a little fly for having electricity and light that I did not have.

But slowly over the last few months, I have gotten used to living in darkness, I always carry a flashlight, infact, I have like 5 flashlights, so I do not get caught in any one place without light at night. Instead of using candles, I have gone the hi-tech route and use a kerosene camping latern. I have also gotten used to reading in my bed with my headlamp switched to the red bulb to ease the stress on the eyes.

Life without electricity is much simpler..when I go into the city to go shopping, I simply skip the items requiring electricity. Shopping is so much simpler, you buy the daily necessities as a result. I tend to go to sleep earlier and rise with the sun. It is always a nice surprise to finally figure out who is coming to visit you when you shine the flashlight in their face. Nevertheless, I always wished for electricity.

But I was taken back today when I heard that they have finally resolved the issue with the farmer who cut the powerlines through his land. Apparently, we will have electricity in a few months. At first, I was excited. Then a few seconds later, I thougtht life will really change here, technology will finally reach this end of the world! My little adventure of living in the middle of nowhere will not be the same. Maybe I rather not have electricity, I realized actually that I do enjoy life without electricity, or limited electricity, life is just that much simpler.

Oh well, we will see, after all this is a developing country and we are in Guatemala, so we have a different time system. So who knows maybe it is just a rumor. Until then, I am already stressing over what appliances I would buy for my little cabin if it comes, and what business opportunity will be ideal to be the first one to take advantage of the electricity?

Until then, I will continue to think the ultilmate question

Let there be light or not??

How refreshing it is to shower in the pouring rain!

Well, only in Salacuim does the saying "When it rains, it pours!" come alive. The climate is mostly ideal here, except now whe the temperature hovers around the 100F (40F) mark with 100% humidity. But the days are clear blue skies with strong sun rays lighting up all the different hues and colors of green of the surrounding forest. And as the night falls, when most are in their houses anyway (due to no lights anywhere and nothing to do in the village), the rain begins to pour bringing down the sweltering temperature just in time for a comfortable night sleep.

I, as with most everyone here, have a tin roof, so the sound of the rain drops bouncing off the roof makes a symphony of noise that totally wraps and surrounds you, and drowns out any noise or even any thougths in your head that may be keeping you up. The symphony of rain drops somehow becomes as comforting for sleeping as any elevator music.

Then you wake up the next morning, to see that the trees are even greener as they had their fill of water and the dusts have been washed off the leaves. The day after a night of rain,truely a "New Day", cooler temperatures, more beareable humidity, cleaner air, and brighter colors and animals and birds all come out of their holes playing.

But the reason that I am writing about this is that I had the most awesome experience with the rain here the other night. At about seven o'clock the other night, the wind picked up out of nowhere, lighting can be seen in the distance...then all of the suddenit was like we were in a movie about a natural disaster, with coconuts dropping like bombs all over our tin roofs, and our humble wooden cabins were making noises as if it was gonna lift off the ground. Then the rain came, and it was litterally coming down in buckets and the buckets were flying sideways. My land lord came into my house with a neighbor to hide as they thought their houses were going come crumbling down. The sky was as angery as ever with lighting striking close enough to feel as it was gonna touch you.

But in the midst of the nightmare, I marveled at how refreshing the rain was, especially in the dry season when our waterwell was starting to dry up and I never had running water in the first place. Plus I had not taken a shower that day when I was dripping in sweat.

I got this crazy thought to take advantage of the fresh rain and decided to take a shower underneath the roof gutter. Then I decided since no one was around and it was dark, I was gonna do it nude. I jumped into the gushing gutter waterfall.. and started screaming in happiness as the water was so pleasurable (hard to imagine this, unless you had been taking bucket baths and using well water). I sang in the rain. I didn't care, no one can see me in the darkness (except the occasional falsh of the lightning) and no one can hear me over the noise of the rain.

I thought to myself how beautiful nature is and how lucky I was to enjoy such a natural experience, showering in the nude, in the water from the sky and watching the light show of lighting and not to give two shits as to what anyone thinks or sees..

But things suddendly changed as the lighting hit somewhere too close for comfort.. I started turning on my rational brain again. I thought, I don't have to worry, what is the chance of me getting hit by lighting, after all I am not standing next to any towering cell towers or buildings ...the only thing that is tall are the trees and they are not conductors..But then I thought, well the roof is metal..but then I am not touching the roof or the house for that worries..Oh shit..I am showering with water that is coming directly from the metal roof with a big conducting waterfall to my head!! you never saw me run naked so fast into the house!!

This will be one of the most memorable momments in my life...I am waiting for the next big rainstorm with lighting... Not only was it a wonderful experience but what an adrenaline rush!!!

How time flies in the Peace Corps

As you have all noticed, I have not written much. It is not like there is nothing to write about, afterall it is the Peace Corps. But somehow the time just keeps flying by..I keep saying to myself "Tomorrow..Tomorrow..!!" and now it is like 9 months since I have been here. So I promise, I will write more.. But for now, you can check out my sitemate Zach's blog site.
Click here for his site
It seems not a momment passes without him thinking of a new entry into his blog, talking about his adventures here.

Zach came to this site(Salacuim) basically a month later than me, but had already served a few months in Puerto Barrios before the PC office changed his site due to drug trafficking problems in his previous town. Now we work in the same Project and office and live with on the same family compound, we basically eat 3 meals together and share our adventure here. This morning, I commented how we are like a married couple, after using our shared latrine, I yelled at him for not neatly folding his toilet paper before putting it in the wastebasket so that I have to look at the pile while I do my morning duty!

So if you every wonder what I am doing, you can always read his entries. Anyway, he is proving to be much more humourous and creative writer than I.