Friday, September 16, 2005

Independence Day

Well just when I thought I could get back to normal life after Andy and Laurie left, around rolls independence day on Sept. 15th. So basically the schools shut down for 1-2 weeks. The main tradition associated with Sept 15th is an Antorcha, which means torch. basically groups of people get together and take a road trip to another part of Guatemala or sometimes the beaches of Mexico and come back the eve of independence day, the 14th and run with torches and when they arrive in their town square they are extinguished and there is a celebration. Well after doing one last year, I told myself I wouldn't do one this year, especially after last years trip ultimitely lead to my surgery and I also was hit with a bag of Ice water in the eye which swelled up my eye pretty good. That and the fact that I am getting old and it is hard for me to sit in the back of a big truck for hours on end packed with people. But of course when invited I couldn't say no. My group ended up doing an Antorcha to Izabal which is on the exact opposite coast from Santa Cruz Naranjo. It is approx a 7:30 hour bus ride so you can imagine how long it can take in a truck. We had 40 people crammed into the back of the truck so there really wasn't much room to get comfortable. I would describe the comfort of the trip as a hayride with out the hay. It is probably not that unlike some conditions of people being smuggled across the border. We arrived at midnight to our first stop and most people slept in the park, but a handful of us, me included, stayed at a cheap hotel. Got up the next morning to see El Castillo de San Felipe, and old castle and do some swimming. We then headed to a beach which was supposed to be 20 minutes away, but ended up being 3 hours away on an unpaved and rocky and windy road. So the back of the truck was like a popcorn popper and us the kernels. I normally have a strong stomach but that ride made me naseous. So we got to the beach late, about 6pm and realized that there were not hotels, not restaurants, and the only bathroom was locked up by 7pm. Also there was no public lighting, only one light outside the one restaurant (that didn't have any food, but at least had beer) However at least the water was nice to swim in! So there was a big fight between as more than half of the group wanted to leave since there were absolutely no facilites and the rest wanted to stay. But since the road was dangerous to return at night we stayed the night and slept on the floor of the supposed restaurant. It was hard to sleep due to the hard uneven boards and the biting insects and it was quite chilly. But despite all the discomforts it was an incredible time!! So we left early the next morning to bring back the torch. All in all it was about a 12 hour trip. Usually you stop in various places along the way and run a few kilometers with the torch. But as we went so far away and were running late we really only stopped at a few. I wasn't going to run at all as I was badly sunburnt and my stomach was killing me and I was sore as hell from riding in the back of the truck with 40 people but as we were about 10 kilometers from Santa Cruz, everyone started chanting my name MATEO, MATEO, MATEO so I had no choice. So I began thinking I would just run for a bit and hop back in the truck. I forgot to mention all along the way people throw water into the truck and on you as you are running. It is said that some throw bags of urine and ice, but for the most part it is bags of water and hoses. So you get quite wet. I got caught up in the moment and ended up running the whole 10 kilometers. We got back about 11:30pm and then went to the organizers house for some tamales. It was really cool cause everyone was waiting for the Antorchas in the center of town. The best part is besides being sore I got no major injuries this year! The next day I took part in some of the Independence day activities. One of the most fun was called a Palo Encebollado which is a huge pole that they put in the ground and grease up. Along the way there are prizes and at the top is a cash prize. So I decided to give it a go as not really anyone would do it and my friend Ariel organized the thing. So I ran back to the house to change and then began the climb everyone was cheering and laughing. I didn't make it far but it was sure an experience. Later I helped boost kids up the pole. Which was the hardest part as they would stand and climb on my sunburnt shoulders and grease and dirt would fall in my eyes. Here are some pictures of the crazy event:

Well the two week trip back to "civiliazation" was a good time. My little brother got hitched and I saw some baseball games, ate approx a dozen brats and filled up on other good greasy food and good beer! So needless to say it was tough to come back to my Guatemalan life, but after 5 days my brother came down with his wife and as I took them around Guatemala I got to eat well again. But before that we will begin with some frustration.

So due to my success in Santa Cruz Naranjo, Empresariales Juveniles (Junior Achievement) is opening up a regional office in my town. What I don't get however is why they opened it up now when the school year is almost over. What makes me mad is for almost two years now they have been using my numbers and my accomplishments and claiming responsibility for my work, but they have never once met with me. So of course when they hired a new person they didn't set up a meeting to discuss how she would begin working. Luckily she tracked me down one day and introduced herself. I explained what I was up to and that I would be heading back to the states for 2 weeks and would finish up the 2 classes that I wasn't quit able to finish before my vacation. So I was pretty perturbed when I got back and found out from some kids that she had went to their class and had them sell a product in just a day, when that was the step I was about to finish with them in a 6 week class. She also went to other classes and had them sell products, with out really any class behind it in how to be successful etc. And one of the teachers was mad at me as she thought I wasn't going to show up anymore to their classes as this new person was showing up. So my first week back was doing damage control. It is not entirely the new person's fault as she was getting pressure from her boss to do stuff, but since I had basically done everything she had nothing really to do. So which really makes me wonder again why the heck they didn't wait until next year. As their clear lack of organization is starting to make the programs look bad, when I spent two years building a good reputation with my classes and teachers. So anyway hopefully I can end all things on a positive note. I will now be training the new person, so hopefully in this manner she will not mess with what I am doing.

Anyway now more about Andy and his wife's visit. It was a quick visit, but one of the coolest things we did is see the national park where Survivor had just finished filming! The park is close to the more famous national park called Tikal and is called Yaxha National Park. It has some pretty cool ruins and we got some cool insight into Survivor Guatemala, as our guide, who spoke very good English, worked on the set for 4 months. They actually closed the whole park for 2 months, and at first this angered a lot of people. But from talking to people they seemed to now be pretty O.K. with it as it was closed during the slow season and they employed a lot of local people at 4 times the normal daily salary and dropped about $28,000,000 in investment in Guatemala. Not to mention they should get a pretty good boost in tourism following the airing of the show (Septemeber 15th) And unlike other survivors, this is actually a national park with Mayan Ruins and thus easily accesible. Here are some pictures: these are just a small sample. I will include more later especially as we find out what you see on Survivor Guatemala:

Here are some pictures of them at my house with Chacho and me with Barney:

Monday, August 29, 2005

Just before leaving for my 2 week US vacation

Well its been awhile so lets see if I can remember what I've been up to. Well I was the best man (padrino) for my friend's Guatemalan wedding. It was a civil ceremony so it was held at a restaurant. Susana was also in the wedding. I had to give a toast in Spanish. I was so nervous that my hand was shaking so I was spilling the champagne. I had to set down the glass and do my toast. Despite all my nervousness it came out really well. It was a fun time as about 15 volunteers from my group were there also so we got to hang out and catch up. See Pictures:

Other than that I finished up one of my classes where I organize a business with the students. They decided to sell fruit cocktail. It turned out amazing as we doubled our expected profit and they sold all 125 cups in 5 minutes. They also performed a funny 30 second commercial and advertised well in other manners. See Pictures:

Monday, July 18, 2005

Well I am really getting annoyed with the informality of the Guatemalan Public School system: June was the worst month ever. They minestry of education gave the public schools a full week off in June, but besides that there were the many random days off or just days when the teachers didn't show up. It annoying to get to a school and find out there are no classes but it happens a lot! It is especially annoying when I walk an hour or more to get there and then have to turn back. It is a very rare occasion when I actually find out ahead of time that classes are canceled. Also random street vendors will walk into a school, interrupt class to hawk car air fresheners and other random stuff. It blows my mind as noone seems to see any problems with this! Also school frequently starts late and gets out really early. So it is going to be a challenge to finish up in my schools especially with my extended absence in August. But we shall see.

Well I still am not confident enough in my ankle to play soccer, but I am ready I think to play basketball. The only problem is we haven't had a game in 3 weeks, so who knows when we will start up again.

I helped train the new group of volunteers and other than that it has been a little boring. I also just applied with my friend Matt, to be on The Amazing Race. It was challenging filming a three minute video as we had to borrow all the necessary equipment. When it came time to edit it onto a VHS tape it was almost impossible to find a working VCR as most people if they had anything had DVD players. We ended up having to go door to door looking for VCRs. And if they had VCRs they either had missing integral buttons or it didn't record or there was some other problem. Finally after much frustration I was able to find a working VCR in my town and now we are just waiting to hopefully be called back for an interview.

All that I can think of for now. Oh one more thing, I now will be in 2 wedddings in August as a friend from my group, Tyler is marrying a Guatemalan and Susana and I are the Padrinos which is bascially bridesmaids and groomsman. Here they have both a civil and religous ceremony. So they will be having the Civil ceremony here Aug. 6th and then the religous back in the states.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The town fair:

Well every little and big town have about a week long fair celebrating their patron saint. Ours is Santa Cruz as you can tell by the name of my town. It is a little Waun-a-Fest (sorry Andy, no coin game but you may have liked some others) with Carnaval rides (definitley wouldn't trust the ferris wheel) and games and of course lots of food and BEER! (I ate Pupusas for a week straight!) There are also basketball and soccer tournaments, which unfortunately due to my injury I could only watch. There were dances every night but one. The first night the disco had so much equipment and their were so many other vendors sharing the electricity, power was lost for 3 hours, but when it came back on at midnight people still paid to enter the dance. The one night that there wasn't a dance a performing group from a University in the capitol and some Guatemalan TV personalites put on a show in the Gymnasium. I was sitting in one of the front rows with my Guatemalan family (by their choice) Well it started late like normal and I forgot the cardinal rule about NOT DAYDREAMING IN ANY PUBLIC EVENT WHILE YOU ARE THE ONLY FOREIGNER AT THE EVENT! Because I came out of my daydream and looked on in horror as everyone around me was staring at me and the person who was on the stage (a lady from one of the Guatemalan TV morning shows) was approaching me. I was cajoled into standing up and respond to her questions in the microphone (sidebar: I hate mircophones and Do not know how to use them, my voice sounds terrible and I just absolutely hate talking into them as I sound like an idiot and don't think most people understand me when I use one anyway. Not to mention I have never had any experience that I recall in the states having to use one.) After the question and answer session I was forced by her and the applause of the crowd to "Da una Vuelta" meaning to spin around like and idiot so everyone can check out my backside. After that luckily I was done but at least I wasn't the only one, next was Ariel who was sitting next to me so I got to laugh at him and others also. Now at the end of the event there was a singer and she went out into the crowd looking for someone to dance with her. As soon as she stepped off the stage my stomach dropped and I began praying that she not select me. Luckily I was not chosen, but the next day I was told by more than one person that as soon as she stepped off the stage I became pale and very serious. They could tell how nervous I was. It was a fun time and everyone heard about how they picked on the Gringo, but it was all in good fun and just shows the good repoire that I have with my community. However, the fact that I know so many people in my town can also be a bad thing as everyone wanted to invite me to a free beer. I seriously could of had free beer till I passed out everynight and ended up sleeping in my own vomit in the middle of the park with a street dog as a pillow, but luckily I was able to convince them that one or two was OK and not every night. I did buy an occassional round for everyone to help and keep it even also. To see pictures from my actual Town fair, go here:

The Banking Cooperative:

Well we had our annual meeting (about 6 months late) I got there on time (as usual) at 9:00 am. And although it is a custom for meetings to start late, this one didn't start until 11:30 so I was fairly annoyed. More annoying was the fact that the town fair was going on so there were plenty of other things that I could of done. Another frustrating thing was that 10 of 60+ members showed up and it lasted until 3:00 without anything really being accomplished. The president resigned and along with the other officers up for election, with the 10 people there was no volunteers and not even enough people to fill the vacancies, yet they think that the Cooperative can continue. Also somehow the accountant presented us as having a gain for the year when that has to be impossible. Especially considering the fact that they paid a Q6,000 bribe and got nothing to show for it. So I think I am oficially done, as they haven't done anything for the past aprox. 7 months anyways and I am sick of them coming to me and saying they need my help and they are serious and going to start working hard.. I have heard that a lot and it always ends up the same in them not having enough time to commit to the sucess of the cooperative. The good thing is now with this extra program that I designed to continue after another one I am now fairly busy in the schools.

Working in the schools:

I just wrapped up one of my programs in 7 schools. I have two more classes to do and I am done with that. I am lucky as all my classes have been excellent as I have heard horror stories from other Peace Corps Volunteers. The last class when I finish up and hand out diplomas, every one of my classes have begged me to come back and continue working with them. Luckily now that we are testing this new program my girlfriend and I designed I have that option of continuing working with them. One class even apologized for not always answering my questions (and I had thought they had done a pretty good job.) Another one of my classes threw me a party the last day (the whole nation had school off due to the impending hit of hurricane Adrian) I was in my house as all classes were cancelled due to the Hurricane when a student stopped by and told me to come in an hour as the party was still on. So we ate and danced. They forced me to dance with them despite my pleas of "I'm still recovering from my soccer injury." Next week I will be starting the new program in three more schools.


Well I am still recovering from my injury. I tore the ligament pretty badly. I will call the nurses tomorrow and I am hopeful that I will now be able to begin running on it.


Chacho is as cute as ever. He watches his two Barney DVDs nonstop about 10 times a day it seems. It used to keep him quiet now it is hilarious to watch him dance and jump about to Barney and his antics. One of the volunteers from the new group just visited this past weekend, and Chacho and her became really good friends. (see pic: She is a vegetarian so she taught me how to make Hummis and it was pretty good. Luckily there was a lot to do in my town so we kept fairly busy. It was Corpus Christi so the whole town makes decorative altars and there was a parade on Sunday. Also Viernes Verde, an internationally known rock band (that has also played in the USA) performed in my small town. It was hilarious to see all my friends moshing and the mayor also showed up to the event. What surprised me is they has a lot of english songs and also did a cover of Guns N Roses. It was a good time. I think that is about all!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Well not much going on. I had a pretty good soccer experience as 18 people showed so I figured I wouldn't be playing. So I was quite surprised when they read the lineup and I was starting! That was followed by a bad soccer experience the next week as I just limped into the Peace Corps Office and found out that I tore a ligament and am out of commission for at least a month. So that will be cancelling the planned SCUBA Diving vacation I had scheduled to the Honduran Bay Islands with some friends from May 7-13. Oh well. On a positive note, the town fair is starting on 30 April and goes probably through the next weekend. So that will be fun although I will be sitting out of all sporting functions. Other than that, work continues on. I finished off one school and am finishing off another this week. The cooperative has their annual meeting next weekend so I will see what they have to say but that is probably the last thing I will do in relation with the cooperative. All for now, but here are some pictures from Easter:

Monday, April 11, 2005

This n That

Soccer: Well I got to play a full game as we had no subs. I learned a lot of rule differences also. I play forward and we were on attack. I called for the ball "aqui, aqui!" My teammate gave me a perfect pass and I was just about to take a fairly close range shot when the whistle blew and I was called for a penalty! Apparently you can't call for the ball. The only thing you can do is call the persons name or nickname. What a ridiculous rule! It cost me a potentially sweet goal. And now on to my second lesson. We are on the attack again. I am staying even with the last defender purposely trying to stay onsides. My teammate passes the ball ahead of the defenders and I sprint towards it and once again have a fairly good shot at a goal, but whistle blows and offsides is called! Apparently their rule is that you have to be onsides when the ball is received. I have always played where you only have to be onsides until the ball is passed, then you can sprint ahead and track it down ahead of a defender. Oh well, I have now learned the hard way. In the next game, I thought I had the offsides thing down, but was whistled again after I had given my teammate a sweet pass and he had given it back to me. Before I could score the potential game winning goal (only 10 minutes remained) the offsides whistle blew. I later asked my teammates if it was a good call or not and they said it was as I was offsides by just a hair. Later on I got a yellow card for supposedly kicking the goalie while he had control of the ball, butt actually he had bobbled it twice so I kicked it and tried to score. That was a bad call.

Basketball: Basketball has started and I am on my third different team in three different seasons. For some reason my last team, where we almost won the championship, disbanded. I am now reunited with the guy thats team I played on in the first place. He is the best player in the league, and has finally learned to share the ball and play as a team, so I think we could definitely go all the way this year. Unfortunately the local muni is not giving us the gym until the local town fair is over after the first week of May, so we will have an extended break.

Working in the schools: The cooperative is basically dead, so I have been continuing my work in the schools. I am giving 7 classes from Tues-Fri. The teachers are technically supposed to give them especially since I trained them all, but mostly they let me do it and help every once in awhile. Tuesday I walk 1 hour each way through fields on unpaved, hilly roads to get to my school. It is a heckuva workout, but I love it. Wednesday for the first time I had to walk 40 minutes each way, 30 of which were straight up a mountain. Luckily for the second week I arranged a ride as it is not so pleasant to teach a class dripping with sweat! The other classes are closer. I will be finishing up the series of 5 lessons in 2 schools next week and the others within 3-4 weeks. Then with select shools I will begin a new program that I have designed with the help of Susana.

Finally! Pictures from xmas 2004:

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

March 16

Trip Home: Well the trip home (well not quite home, Illinois for a wedding and Florida to visit the parents) was great. Got to see family, friends, and eat a lot of food! I think I definitley gained some weight. It was a sensory overload and now it is a little hard to readjust back to Guatemala. But it is definitley good to be back as I missed my house and my friends here also.

Soccer Update: Well I began my career the day before heading back to the states. I was a little intimidated as this is the best non-professional league in the country and if your team wins the department title, they can actually move up to second division professional soccer. I told the coach I would rather not play as I was extremely out of game shape. But lucky for me, they only had one sub so they told me I needed to play the whole game. I was glad I was forced to play as this took off some of the pressure. I played fairly decent. I had a great pass that would have been an assist but the goalie made a great save. I also just missed a game winning goal. One of my teammates crosssed the ball in the center and I went up for a header, but the goalie jumped up and got the ball a split second before I arrived. We collided and he held onto the ball, so we ended up tying 1-1. Now my second game, we had plenty of people so since I am probably the worst player on the team, I didn't expect to play. Also, each team can only make five player exchanges a game. I got in close to the beginning of the second half. We were up 4-1 and within a couple minutes after entering I scored my first goal! It wasn't the most amazing goal, but it was a goal. It felt great as when I got in a lot of people that were watching would chant my name everytime we made an offensive attack and call for me to score a goal. So when I did they went crazy. It was cool! Then about 5 minutes later I almost scored my second goal. I stole the ball and took a shot that went off the post. I followed my shot and was going to put it back in the goal, but the rebound came off on an angle and as I was adjusting I fell in a hole and hurt my arm pretty bad. I stayed in the game though but was really disappointed that I didn't get that goal. No matter though as we won 9-1. Another funny thing was we were playing against the mayor. One thing I don't think I mentioned was the condition of the fields we play on. They are all dirt with rocks (big and small) glass and other garbage mixed in. And the sun bakes them so they are extremely hard. But it is definitely all worth it.

Work: Nothing much new here, still trying to get on the cooperative about better record keeping and organization. Currently since they got their computer (really really slow) back I am inputing all of their financial data into Excel Spreadsheets. Just started in the schools this week with the business program but since they take all next week off for Easter week, that will go on hold for a week.

Chacho: Well Chacho is growing like crazy. Whenever I get back he always wants to help me carry something to my house and now he is even visiting me. I will be reading or watching TV and he will open my door or if its shut he will knock. After weaving through the mess he will watch tv with me, look through photos or color. He also has a crazy new dance routine down that is the funniest thing I have ever seen. He is definitely the boss of the family. Ariel, his dad, picked me up from the airport upon my return to Guatemala and told me how Chacho had been asking for a "Chivo" (baby cow) for awhile. He told me that I should come with them later that night as he was going to buy him one. So he picked out his chivo and I asked him what he was going to name it. He said "Chiky" we all laughed as that was the name of the owner of the chivo. For those who are curious a chivo costs Q400 or about $50. So I got into the back of the pickup with the chivo and of course Chaco refused to ride up front with his dad so I got to hold onto the Chivo and Chacho as we headed home through rough terrain. It was both a fun and interesting experience.