Peace Corps- Guatemala 2004-2006

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

Searching for treasures in the jungles of Guatemala

It is about 6pm sitting in our project “Office”. It was over 100 degrees F in the shade today, the humidity is a little better than the last few days, so I would guess it is about 90%! I am dead tired. I desperately needed a cool shower, stripping down only to find that there is no water. So here I am sitting not knowing what to do, tired, sweaty and smelly. But as I sit here, thinking about my day, I become energized from what we were able to accomplish today. For the last couple days, I have ridden a motorcycle through the forest, driven over 100 miles on rocky dirt road, crossed a river on a pure dugout canoe and hiked paths that were accessible by foot, all this to search for our treasure. I felt like was back in the times when Spaniards explored the world. We searched out far flung villages wherever the rumors pointed us.

click here for photos taken during our search

Actually we have been searching for people with Cleft Lips! It is one of the new projects that I am initiating here -- developing a new network as part of the Partner in Health which focuses on searching out the poorest of the poor in Guatemala needing surgery matching them up with visiting surgeons from the States and Canada. The goal is to search the remotest parts for people who do not have access to medical or financial means. Working for a multimillion dollar project as a business person, I sometimes feel frustrated due to the inability of overcoming the realistic challenges of the situation to bring major economic changes to the lives here. So I have been excited to start this project on my own because, I figured if I can not help people make more money directly and immediately, with this project, I can directly affect someone’s live immediately and dramatically with the potential of saving some lives!

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In memories of Joe and Moe

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Anybody that knows me well, knows that I love animals, big or small. So naturally being assigned to this site in a little village surounded by deep sub-tropical rainforest, I had a dream of being surrounded by exotic animals freely roaming the forest but always coming home to my version of Noah's Ark.

Since being here for 8 months, I have adopted Zoe from a dog shelter along with 3 dogs of my landloard's. We have roosters and chickens running all over our yard sounding the alarm clock every morning. Then I was a given a wounded parrot which kept on getting away to climb a nearby orange tree to gorge himself before finally being stolen and sold by a local kid. Then I found 2 wild bunnies in the corn fields which I took home to nurse. But since it was such a quick runner, my dog Zoe, naturally thought it was a target and by the next day, it had not only eaten one but probably the other too since it disappeared without a trace. Disappeared along with the bunnies was my hope of raising a wild bunnies to be totally free but yet recognize the owner as I did when I lived in New Zealand.

Then a few days after eating the bunnies, Zoe caught a ferret-like animal that they call taquacin. I had to yell at Zoe really loud to get her to drop it out of her mouth. The neighbors were happy that we caught it because those animals apparently eat chickens and their eggs. But, the next day, it died as I think Zoe broke its spine when she caught it. I was sad as the animal was so small and innocent and died along with the animal was my dream of owning a ferret since my college roomate had one.

After all the bad luck I had with all these animals, I realized that maybe it was not meant to be!! But a deep innate desire can not be surpressed. I was visiting a friend of the peace corps in his town fair when we ran across someone selling a pair of racoon like things, size of kittens but with a long snout like an anteater. When I saw them, I knew I had to have them! Immediately it revived my dream from reading "Little Rascal" when I was a boy. As a young boy, I always tried to catch the raccoons nesting in our chimney to have them as pets until I found out they bite and have rabbies.!!! But the joy of reading the story of "The Little Rascal" never left my childhood memories.

To get back to the story about the little raccoon like animal I saw in the fair. They were so cute, running around the fair ground playing and hiding under the trailer already used to people. I bargained the price, knowing that I would get them at whatever price he said, finally settling on a price of about $15 for both.

So off I went home riding on the roof of the microbus holding onto the paper box with my new friends and holding on to the railing of the roof with my other hand occasionally letting go as the animals would crawl out of the box risking being swung off the roof of the van.

When I got home, people surrounded with curiousity. I would find out that they are called Pizotes in Spanish and Coati in English. I immediately introduced them to the 4 dogs that we have, and within a short time the dogs stopped chasing it and started to hang out naturally as if they were part of the family. The pizotes quickly adapted to the dogs and the new surrounding, not requiring a leash. However, just to be safe we tried building a huge cage for them, which proved to be useless as the pizotes are tree climbers and very agile. So basically from day one, we were able to let them roam free due to lack of alternatives to keep them caged or leashed- which was my intention in the first place as I never believed in caging animals, believing if you take care of the animals well, they would not run away out of their own choice. Nevertheless I got numerous criticism for buying a wild animal ( an offense in Guatemala) that one time I even got in an arguement how I was miss treating animals when I take care of my pets as if it was my own kid and when the Guatemalans throw rocks at dogs.

So overtime, the Pizotes became members of our village family. They would climb on our laps when we sat down for dinner. They would climb the hammock like it was their jungle gym. The dogs also adopted them well. Zoe would sleep with the Pizotes cuddles on its back and when Zoe got up, the Pizotes would naturally ride piggy back. The female dog, Negra was pregnant at the time and already given milk. Amazingly, Negra let the Pizotes nurse on her ilk just as if they were her pups. So for the last month the Pizotes were the joy of our family. The neighbors all knew them, as they would visit all the neighbors during the day and return at night. They were so playful that we named them after the three stooges, Joe and Moe. We even began to recognize their different personalities eventhough they are basically identical. Joe being the more timid and shy one, and Moe being the more confident and adventurous one.

When I came home from work or woke up in the morning, they would all come running to me to greet me. Just imagine 4 dogs all jumping over you and then the Pizotes climbing up your leg. At time the pizotes were like little mischievious kids, they would climb all over the structure of the house, and often climb all over the kitchen shelves and knocking over plates of tortillas or breaking bowls. But overtime the started setting their own schedule, sleeping on top of the wooden cabin under the roof, and during the day they would explore the surround forest and houses. They were so popular that they were acutally robbed twice, once by a neighbor, and another time by a passing bus which fortunately my sitemate Zack responded quickly enough to get on his bike and then transferring to a motorcycle to chase down the culprit.

I was excited to add Joe and Moe in our littel family in the village. I was also happy that again, I proved that people and animals can live in harmony. But then something was wrong. The other day, I got up and the Pizotes did not come to greet me along with the dogs. Then they did not show up for dinner.. Something was wrong, I had learned Joe and Moe's schedule. I knew they did not run away, as they would have earlier if they wanted to. So yesterday, my worst fears were confirmed. I came home to the news told by my landlord that he had gone looking for the Pizotes but heard that someone had taken a machete to them, mistaken them for Taquacin, the animal that eats chickens. I fell silent out of disbelief. How can somone take a machete to such innocent and small animals, especially when they have overcome their fear of people only to be proven to be its fatal mistake. I keep thinking how cute and innocent they are and how they did not deserve it. What could I have done? Should I have put collars on them so that people know they have an owner? Should I have been home ore to keep watch over them? Should I not have trusted the neighbors with free animals? Should I not have even bought them encouraging animal trafficking?

I definately feel bad and sad. But, I still feel that it is the right thing for people to live in harmony with animals. It is odd how we have domesticated dogs, cats and horses and so forth but when we do it with an exotic animal it is wrong. I am the believer that it is not how we acquire the animals that is the issue, it is how we take care of them! I just wish I could have protect Joe and Moe better.

Thank you Joe and Moe for trusting in People.!!

I lost my virginity in Guatemala!!

Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) November 1, a big holiday here in Guatemala where people celebrate the dead. Well, that day the spirits of the dead were certainly out in force. My friend Leah from Michigan Bschool just arrived the night before to visit for a week including seeing the celebrations where people gather at the cemetary of Santiago outside of Antigua to fly kites over 30 feet wide with bright colors that are typical of Guatemalan culture.
Click here for photos of last year kite flying

Leah arrived the late the previous night and we checked into one of the most beautiful hotels in Guatemala, Casa Santa Domingo, where Bill Clinton stayed on his visit. The next morning we got up early in the morning to go see the kite festival riding a chicken bus for 20 min filled as usual like sardines. I softly mentioned to Leah to be careful with her bag as it is common to get pickpocketed, while not trying to scare her about the realities of Guatemala on her first day here in country. But luck would have it that the spirits of the dead were not with us on that day.

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year!!

Happy new year to all the friends and family. 2005 came and blew by. It is incredible that it was September 2004 when I landed in Guatemala for the Peace Corps. And now it is already 2006! Wanted to thank you all who have been supportive by keeping up with my efforts through this website.

I am presently here in Taipei until Jan 13th enjoying time with my family and feeling home again in my Asian culture and not having to mumble with Spanish. Just came back from a 5 day New year trip with the family to beautiful Ankorwat, Cambodia. It was like a child's playground for photographers and lover of colorful cultures. Check out my latest photos.

Until then, I wish you all the best of luck and joy to you and your families.