Let's see, how to encapsulate a full trimester of work in one blog...It's been a really interesting journey, looking back on the adventure of coming back to Guatemala with the Peace Corps. The journey could be described as a practice of active surrender, not knowing where you're going to be place, nor what exactly you will be doing with the Peace Corps. The funny thing is, now that I have been placed in my site and have an office in the municipal building (with my desk and computer) working in ecotourism, I still find that these questions are still lingering, somewhat unresolved, as things change on a daily basis here. But true to the Peace Corp values, a volunteer must embody the characteristics of patience and flexibility in order to succeed. I find that this could not be more true in my experience.
Peace Corps training is one in which ones character is truly tested. With a rigid structure and a task list the size of the average american child's christmas wish list, one soon realizes that their life has become dedicated to their work (or training in this case), and in turn their work has become their life. What is seen as a loss of personal freedom at first, eventually changes into a sense of responsibility and dedication to one work. Such is the life of a Peace Corps trainee, which extends into the realm of the Peace Corps volunteer as well--making a constant supply of fresh squeezed lemonade out of all of the ripe lemons that life has to offer.
After the 3 month training, when our training group swore in as volunteers there was a sense of this bitter sweet achievement...whereby we were now free to recreate ourselves and our lives within the community in which we would spend the next 2 years of our live, while once again leaving behind all of that which we have become familiar with and the friendships we have formed within the three months of training. But we were all ready and waiting for that date of March 25th when we would swear-in to the Peace Corps volunteer life, and officially be moving on the the next phase of life.
But I must say that, out of all the places that I could have imagined being sent to, the pueblo in which I am now living is a perfect fit...in the department of Totonicapan, Pahula (as the pueblo is known in its native K'iche tongue, meaning surrounded by waterfalls) is a beautiful town with Rio Samala running through the middle of the town. Located in a valley, with neighboring towns and villages looming on the surrounding hillsides, from which fall several different waterfalls. Also amongst the waterfalls are many fuentes de agua, or water springs, as well as aguas tibias (or, "warm springs"). On top of that, besides the amount of physical beauty which exists within this town, the culture is one of incredible measures. Though the pre-columbian Mayan traditions have been largely converted to Catholic and Evangelical traditions here in modern times, the spirit and strength of community traditions here is strong. While we just past through Semana Santa recently, there were tons of events happening, almost every day of the week preceeding Easter, including Catholic processions with alfombra making (a process of dying sawdust and laying down the sawdust with stencils to make patterns which resemble rugs, and upon which the procession marches carrying an engraven image of Jesus or the Virgen Mary accross), dramatizations of plays and musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar, and an extra special tradition of the dramatization of a play called El Martir del Gologota (the story of the passion of Christ, a play which marked its 100th year anniversary in the town this year). But beyond Semana Santa there are many other rituals and traditions which are observed in this town, most of them being Catholic traditions. One of these traditions, which happens every December, is the running of the diablos, a ritual in which many of the young men in the town paint their bodies black, and run around the town in their underwear (usually drunk) attacking people and trying to smear their body paint all over them. But a little less weird are the traditions in September for the day of independance--September 15--in which huge kites are flown above a huge procession of the children in the town, or the tradition of the feria in July, which is actually the biggest of all traditions they say...where the whole town turns into a big fair, with farris wheels, live music, and a HUGE market. Also, another notable event which occurs regularly here is the market...a huge market covering blocks and blocks of the center of town, which occurs 2 times a week on Wednesdays and on Fridays. On special occasions though, the whole center of the town turns into a market.
So my job here is to create a Park by which tourists would be inspired to come visit and contribute to the economy of the local community. At the same time, my co-worker and office mate-Victor Elias--is working on the economic development aspect of the office by creating a cooperative of artisans of the area. In accompanying him in his interviews with the local artisans we have gotten a glimpse into the inside life of the artistic community of the area including tejidores (the makers of traditional fabrices), alfereros and oyeros (pottery makers), amongst many others. In this coming week, the first week of May, we will have the opportunity to host a gathering of all of these artisans to discuss the formation of a focus group, or organization by which all of the artistry of the area can be presented in an exhibition to augment the tourism of the area.
While this job is really a dream come true for me, there is a lot to live up to here, and I have often found myself overwhelmed within the first month of service with the amount of work they want me to do here in relation to my level of proficiency in Spanish. But poco a poco, little by little, we will get the job done. And what I have found to be most important of all is to be open to others coming in to take part in help in making this project a reality and not trying to do it all by myself, a feat that is impossible. So I am grateful that this project has been premeditated in the community by certain key members, and I am now working with an architect who has been dreaming up this project for the last 2 years. Though his vision is big, it is far from complete, and I find my role becoming one of connecting the dots and building bridges between people to bring these ideas to life. This may include the establishment of a hydro electric dam at the base of one of the waterfalls, creating a pool of water in which people can swim, and perhaps even a zip line.
All will come clear in time....
Until next time,