Friday, November 28, 2008

I´m not sure who is seeking revenge, but he brought an army

So, I emerged from two days during which I only saw my bed and the toilet, and my boss at Camino Seguro said, ¨Yeah, here in Guatemala we say - It´s not if you get sick, but when

I must admit I was getting a little bravado about my iron stomach. When I first arrived, I brushed my teeth with bottled water, always asked if ice cubes were made with agua pura, and knew not to eat any fruit that did not have to be peeled first. But, I grew complacent. The last time I had a Pupusa, I went for the chicharron instead of the basic queso, and while on the coast enjoyed ceviches more than once, which my guide books says is dangerous culinary territory.

But there was no adventure eating on Monday, nothing out of the ordinary--just the regular routine. So I can´t put my finger on what reduced me to a sniveling, shivering, Tylenol PM-popping patient.

I´ll spare everyone the details since you have leftovers to enjoy, but it wasn´t pretty. I think the scariest part is that I actually fainted and fell in the hallway outside my room on Tuesday night, whether from dehydration or fever I am not sure. Luckily no one was there to witness it, and more luckily I did not strike any vital body parts (i.e., my head) on any immovable objects (por ejemplo, the floor).

I´ve been back at work two days and my 4th graders are behind on the Christmas skit and I continue to prefer having un baño within sprinting distance, but I survived.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Meet Lefty

He was my baby turtle. I mean, not my baby turtle, but I paid 10 Q to set him free. It was kind of a race on the beach in Monterrico--there was a rumor of a T-shirt prize for the first turtle to the water, which must have been a lie because after about 6 meters you couldn´t really tell whose turtle you were rooting for.
I named him Lefty because it kind of sounded like a fast and crafty kind of turtle. And because in the song ¨Pancho and Lefty,¨ Lefty is the one who survives. In the end, he was neither fast nor particularly crafty but he did tend to swerve to the left.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What´s in a name, really?

When I started at Camino Seguro, I introduced myself to a couple of people at the bus stop the first morning. I said, ¨Hi, I´m Anna.¨ The response I received was, ¨oh, you´re the 5th or 6th Anna we have working here.¨ And so, just like that, I was magically transformed into Adrianna.

Adrianna is my real name, after my paternal grandfather, Adrian, but I have never gone by it--I have always been Anna. The summer between my junior and senior years of college I tried Adrianna on for size, but found that my co-workers at the restaurant where I was working (The Blue Corn Cafe) more often called me Audrey, Andrea, or Abigail--it just did not seem to slide off the American tongue with much ease. (It´s also a challenging one for telemarketers--they almost always come up with a pronunciation I never fathomed.)

But Adriana is a common name in Spanish, so I have enjoyed telling the kids my name and seeing the immediate recognition on their faces. It is a name they know, and I feel like maybe it makes me more familiar to them, more approachable.

This rebirth of my real name made me start thinking about names, and how they determine who we are, if they do. I am wondering, is the Adrianna I am here different from the Anna I was at home? Is she quieter, a bit more reserved, less likely to be at the center of things and more likely to be on the sidelines? Have I changed because of my new name or was this change coming anyway, a result of three months without a home-base, without a direction, without a sense of what comes next?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Children of Camino Seguro

This Monday actually felt like a Monday. It´s because I´m working. Volunteering, yes, but working all the same.

I started at Safe Passage (Camino Seguro) on November 3rd, but I haven´t had time to write about it since then because we work long days (on the bus at 7 am and off it again at 6 pm). Also, because I am trying to formulate exactly what I want to say about the experience.

Camino Seguro is a place for some of Guatemala City´s poorest children to come for food and love. While they´re there, they also get help with school, the chance to play lacrosse and go swimming, and do other things that kids like to do, like create art projects, science experiments, watch movies, and play games on the computers.

When I first started, it seemed like the kids were normal kids--they hang out with their friends, laugh, joke, sometimes misbehave, etc. But these kids are a little bit different. They live adjacent to the city dump--the largest in Central America--and that is where their parents and neighbors work every day, jumping on the piles of freshly collected garbage in search of treasures to recycle or resell. The kids used to work there, too, and some of them probably still spend some of their weekends there, collecting cardboard or aluminum cans.

One mother of some of our kids told a coworker recently that she worked for 11 hours in the dump a couple of weeks ago. When she went to sell the items she had collected, she ended up with a net of 7 Quetzales, not quite $1 US, for a whole day´s work.

So, at Camino Seguro we are trying to break the cycle of poverty that surrounds life near the dump. The project has three arms--a Guarderia for pre-school aged children, the main school reinforcement site for elementary-high school aged kids, and an Adult Literacy Program where some of the mothers of the children learn to read and write, up to a 6th grade level. I help teach English at the main school, and I am working with the coordinator there to re-organize the office and teaching resources before the new year begins. Check out this great YouTube video of some of our students! It´s about 8.5 minutes long, but they say everything a lot better than I can in writing this! (And the whole video was made by one of the school´s volunteers, too.)

In addition to the extracurricular activities and tutoring help, Camino Seguro provides scholarships for all of the items the kids need to attend school--uniforms, school supplies, etc. And the families of the kids enrolled at Camino Seguro receive food and clothing supplies to compensate for the income lost because the kids are not working to help support their families.

I did visit the dump. It is hard to describe--immense, gaping, hot, and swarming with vultures. A couple of months before I was there, a huge landslide of trash collapsed because of a methane gas build-up beneath it. No one knows exactly how many people were buried.

So, some days I have to remind myself when I am filing papers and coaxing 14-year-olds to say, ¨She is studying,¨ that it is important work.

I would say more but it´s about bedtime.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Being lost

I am probably lost in more than one way. . . but during the past week of living in Antigua I have been lost about 12 times. The city seems simple--it is a grid, with Avenidas running north and south and Calles running east to west. But then in certain sections of the city they don´t call them by their numbered names--they call them by their street names, so suddenly Primero Avenida becomes Calle de San Marcos or something, and my whole navigation system is shot to hell.

And so. I looked for the gym this morning for 45 minutes (didn´t need to work out by the time I found it because I was power walking around town for so long beforehand). It would be understandable if I had never been there before, but I was there. Yesterday afternoon. My roomate, Julie, showed me where it is and I thought, ¨OK I´ll come back tomorrow morning and sign up.¨ And then I walked in circles for 45 minutes.

Anyway, I passed a Guatemalteca on the street and asked her in my much improving spanish if there was a gym on this street. She said that she didn´t think so and went on her way. So I circled round again and started to get really frustrated. And then I saw her again. Picture me in my soccer shorts and headband, sweating in the early morning sunshine. And she smiled. And I smiled.

Another lap. I am near tears with frustration. And then I see her coming my way, and we both bust out laughing.

And I finally found it. And she made my day.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Back up to November 1st

November 1st was Dia de los Santos here, and I spent the majority of the day in a cemetary. It wasn´t like Memorial Day, though--I did not witness much mourning or sadness. In fact, there were ice cream trolleys and pizza deliverymen and kids of all shapes and sizes running over and around the graves. Families picnicked next on top of concrete tombs and the gringos present shot photo after photo of the hundreds of homemade kites, some of them 6-8 feet in diameter, flying above the buried bodies of their family members, neighbors, and friends.

In the little town of Santiago, about 40 minutes from Antigua, the local residents create and fly their kites in order to send messages to their loved ones in the cielo. Although I am not usually fond of crowds and being herded from place to place, this festival was worth every minute of the crowded tourist bus packed with gringos. We (two good friends from my Spanish school and I) were there for 4 hours, and I ate street food with abandon, took photos like the turista that I am, and sat atop a tomb watching the experts fly their kites with much passion and effort. It truly felt like a celebration. (Photos coming soon, I promise!)

There is, however, a darker side to Dia de los Santos. That evening, just after dark, we arrived (via the back of a pick-up truck) in the village of El Hato to stay the night at the Earth Lodge. The church bells started to toll as we arrived and all of the townspeople were gathered in the central part of the village just outside of the school. Adults, the elderly, and the children were all there, standing in lines. My friend Betsy, from my Spanish school, told us (although she didn´t remember her source) that All Saint´s Day is the day that the children who died in the past year come and select the children who will die in the coming year.

Kind of gives, you chills, huh?