The Tallest Peak in Central America

To culminate our time here in Guatemala, Sara and I climbed Mt. Tajumulco, the tallest peak in Central America.

I was pretty freakin’ excited to see snow for the first time in over 2 years!

On the second day, we started hiking at 4:30am in order to get to the peak for sunrise.

Tallest peak in C.A.- 13,845 ft

Tallest peak in C.A.- 13,845 ft

Saying Goodbye

I’m not one to throw a bunch of parties for myself, but I’m not one to go quietly either. These past two weeks have been extremely emotional as well as extremely beautiful with all of the different goodbyes. As I mentioned previously, the first goodbyes were all-day activities with teachers and students. Besides that, Patrick and I had a going-away lunch at our favorite BBQ place in Pana. To our delight, we had 15 fellow volunteers show up to celebrate with us. They even surprised us with a cake and cards! I loved how everyone has adopted the Guatemalan tradition of “giving words.” Everyone went around the table and said how proud they were of us and what we’ve been able to accomplish in our services or how we’ve inspired them. I am definitely not one of the more social volunteers, so to have this admiration expressed from my peers was really heartening.

To celebrate with my family, we had two dinners- one that they made for me, and one that I made for them. They made me burritos and pupusas- a traditional Salvadoran food that my host mom makes on special occasions. When I cooked for them a couple of days later, Sara came over to help me make lasagna from scratch. They surprised me by also making tamales- a traditional Guatemalan food made for special occasions. Normally, the whole family is never home at once because they have obligations in different places. It was really special that on this final Saturday, my whole family made the effort to be there. We exchanged gifts and “palabras” as well. We even toasted with champagne!

The hardest goodbyes by far were my students and friends.  I entered each of the seven classrooms and said goodbye to all 200+ kids. Sometimes you don’t realize whose lives you’ve touched until some 11 and 12-year-old girls are hugging you around the waist, crying, and telling you how much they’re going to miss you. My Espacio Amigable girls as well as my Zumba ladies all cried and begged me not to go.

The person I am going to miss the most is Luis- he started off as my Kaqchikel tutor but quickly became my best friend. We’ve been inseparable, and now, well… we’re separated. It’s hard… but that’s life, right? I’ve always had a hard time with change. I hate leaving, but I love arriving new places. Even though it hurts- I am leaving friends and family and loved ones- I am grateful for the opportunity to have entered the hearts and homes of these people, and I know that we will always care for each other and remember each other with fondness.

Today, September 3rd, is my last day in Guatemala. It is a monumental day- President Otto Perez Molina has lost his presidential immunity of prosecution and the Attorney General has ordered the issue for his arrest. Woo! I digress. 🙂

When I came here 27 months ago, I wanted to fully commit. I wanted to not go home, but to rather make here my new home. I can absolutely say that I did that. I’ve spent two Thanksgivings, two Christmases, two 15 de septiembres, two Semana Santas and a bunch of other holidays here. I’ve completed two school years, coached two dance teams, and taught two years of Zumba. I’ve held three camps and four parents workshops. I’ve made genuine cross-cultural friendships that will last forever. I am so blessed to have been placed here, and to have had the opportunity to explore the cultural and natural richness of this beautiful country.

I’m sad, but I am proud. The experience and skills I have gained here will take me far, but I know I will be back again to visit someday.

I don’t cry because we’ve been separated by distance, and for a matter of years. Why? Because for as long as we share the same sky and breathe the same air, we’re still together.”
Donna Lynn Hope

Celebrating my service with empanadas!

On Monday of last week, some good friends of mine wanted to send me off with sweet and savory delicious homemade empanadas. I arrived just in time to help make them, to the embarrassment of the host. I love learning how to cook new things, and this was new for me! The dough was already rising when I arrived, so I couldn’t tell you what exactly was in that. The filling was a mix of pan-fried ground beef, shredded chicken, hard-boiled egg, onion, red pepper, celery, and spices including lots of thyme and yerbabuena, a native herb with a sort of peppermint flavor.  I could have eaten the filling by itself!

We rolled up the empanadas with the help of super-chef teenagers, and then fried them nice and crispy. The savory empanadas were served with salsa dulce (ketchup), mayonnaise, and picamas, the eerily green hot sauce that you find on everything here. The sweet empanadas were prepared with fresh pineapple caramelized and blended. Yum!

I feel like I say the same thing in every post I write, but it holds true again- I am so grateful for this experience, and for the people I’ve come to know and love. It took us a while to cook, so we finally ate dinner around 8:45pm (normally I am in bed by then and sleeping by 9) and stayed up talking until 10pm when they drove me home. I’m so happy to know that no matter how much time passes, I know I’ll always have a home to go back to and friends and family to visit in Guatemala.

Celebrating my service with students

Two weeks ago, the students “surprised” me with an activity that they organized on my behalf, a day to celebrate my going-away. The morning was spent playing sports or watching movies. In the afternoon, there was a small ceremony for me including some performances- a couple of students danced, I played marimba with some students, and once class sang Bruno Mar’s “Count on Me” with the help of the two English student teachers. To finalize the activity, I donated two piñatas, and the kids went nuts!

Celebrating my service with teachers in Pana

In order to celebrate my service with all of my co-workers, by Director surprised me by canceling school one Friday two and a half weeks ago (sorry, kids!) to take me out to lunch with all of the teachers in Pana. First, we stopped by the Sololá fair to play some games.

It was an absolutely beautiful day, so my site-mate and I took two of my friends kayaking for their first time (one of whom doesn’t know how to swim!). After kayaking, we all had lunch down by the water. Their going-away gift to me was an over the shoulder purse made of traditionally woven fabric. Saying goodbye sucks, but it is also pretty amazing to celebrate the special relationships and all the times we’ve shared over the past two years.

Inolvidable

Three weeks ago, my best friend invited me over to his house to help bake bread (again) and to cook for his family. This time, we made lasagna and pizza completely from scratch.

It was so wonderful to have a second opportunity to share American culture with this Kaqchikel family. Some of the family had never tried lasagna before and they loved it! One of my favorite moments was with my friend’s mom. She doesn’t speak Spanish, and I don’t speak Kaqchikel, so we can’t really communicate. Nevertheless, she invited me into the backyard where all the flowers and peach trees are, and she picked me a bunch of peaches to take home. It’s moments like these I will never forget!

VI Aniversario INEB

With 37 days left until I ring the bell, I am cherishing every last moment at my school. The relationships I’ve formed in my community with teachers, community members, host family, and friends, are by far the most special aspect of my service.  These past two days were filled with more memories!

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I participated for the second year in a row in the activities of the 6th Anniversary of my school (can’t believe it’s already been a year since last year!). This year, we left at 5am to travel to some Mayan ruins, chill out in some pools, and stop by the mall in Xela before coming back to Sololá for the symbolic “running of the torch.” This year, I ran with the students! There is no activity quite like this to boost school spirit, with community members coming out of their houses to watch the activity and toss water and rice on us. It was an all day activity, with the festivities finishing up around 9pm.

The next day was all about the intramural dance competition.  We started the morning off with games, and finished with an extra-special performance… the teachers! I will remember this moment forever. You know you’ve come a long way when you can get your co-workers to do this (reference video below!)!! 😉

Happy Anniversary, INEB!

Regional HIV Workshops 2015

A defining aspect of my service has been my involvement on the HIV committee here at PC/Guatemala.  Just like last year, our big activities for this year were three regional workshops that took place in Quiché, Quetzaltenango, and Chimaltenango.  At the workshops this year, we trained approximately 75 volunteers and community partners on the concentrated epidemic of HIV in Guatemala, stigma and discrimination, how to teach about the virus using innovative and dynamic materials, and a sample of methodologies used when working with key populations.  We hope that these service provider and volunteer teams will go back out into the field to replicate HIV education activities in their communities, whether it be with kids, moms, youth, or community leaders. It’s amazing the difference a year makes- I was so nervous for these workshops last year, but felt like an old pro this year. These workshops were my last big activities as a volunteer!

The first to go

RPCVs, Guatemala '13-'15

RPCVs, Guatemala ’13-’15

On Thursday, July 23rd, 2015, exactly 23 months after swearing-in as volunteers, 10 volunteers from my cohort closed their service (2 not pictured). Most of the rest of us found an excuse to travel however many hours it takes into the office in order to see their final presentations and Ringing of the Bell ceremony. As trainees over two years ago, we had the luck of being able to witness bell ringings of older volunteers who were finishing up their service. Every bell-ringing I’ve seen has been so emotional- young professionals finishing up services of 2, 3 or 4 years, who were completely touched and changed by their experiences. The Ringing of the Bell is almost always tearful and joyful, and is a ceremony unique to Peace Corps Guatemala. This ceremony always seemed like something so far off in the future, something that other people did but that we couldn’t imagine ourselves doing. While I still have 41 days left, my peers have done it! They rang the bell! I wish I had a copy of our country director’s speech to share with you all. However, I do remember this line: “You may never be a PCV again, but you will always be an RPCV.” Congratulations Bak’tun 2… you did it!

Two Years

So, I’m pretty late for this, but on June 19th, 2015, I celebrated two years in this wonderful country. As my time is winding down, I’m starting to think about heading back home to all my loved ones who have missed me over there. Thank you for the constant support and for forgiving me for never visiting. I’ll be home in 4 months!

Going- away party, June 16th, 2013

Going away party, June 16th, 2013

“Leaders of the Lake” Departmental Youth Camp

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and be better, you are a leader"

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and be better, you are a leader”

June 24th-26th, 2015 saw the realization of the three-day “Líderes del Lago” department-wide youth camp that was a collaborative effort between 10 volunteers and ~15 host country partners. Five months of preparation culminated in an awesome activity where ~85 students from 7 different municipalities came together to meet and share experiences with youth from other places. Youth were trained on topics of self-esteem, healthy relationships, alcohol use and abuse, teamwork, leadership, and sexual and reproductive health including human anatomy, pregnancy prevention, and transmission and prevention of HIV. Of course, there were also fun activities including team-building games, soccer, capture the flag, a bonfire, hiking, and a talent show.

Camper and facilitator group picture on the last day

Camper and facilitator group picture on the last day

Overall, we pulled the camp off without a hitch, showing off months of hard work and preparation, and how much we’ve learned through previous camps along the way (reference camps one, two, three, four, and five!). The youth had an amazing time and learned a lot, and we were so lucky to be able to take advantage of this funding before PEPFAR pulls out of Central America! This was the last project that I will do with my wonderful department-mate Patrick and it was a great way to wrap up two years of collaboration!

5ta Marcha de la Diversidad Sexual

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Just like last year, this year’s Gay Pride Parade, the 5th for the city of Xela, was a blast and was an awesome occasion to celebrate our brave Guatemalan counterparts who are out and proud or who are allies with the sexually diverse community.

PCPP Desk Project Success!

Last week saw the culmination of our extremely successful desk project with a “Thank-You” Ceremony put on by the Parents Association. The local mayor, the governor, the Ministry of Education, and yours truly were recognized for being institutions that contributed to the project. It was very heartwarming to hear how much it meant to them, and gave me a great sense of closure. And free lunch!

Before this project, 65 students didn't have a desk to use during school.

Before this project, 65 students didn’t have a desk to use during school.

To recap the project:

The middle school director had been trying since 2013 to get new desks donated to the school. In February of this year, in a meeting with the directive of the Parents Association, myself, and the local mayor, the mayor said there wasn’t enough money to buy all new desks, but he agreed to go half and half on 100 desks if I could raise money through Peace Corps. And thus, my Peace Corps Partnership Program project came to be!

Desks from the local government arrived first.

Desks from the local government arrived first.

Once the link was finally posted, I was amazed to raise the money, about $1,000, in only a week! Even more surprising was the fact that at least half of the donors were not friends and family but rather RPCVs and Peace Corps supporters from all over the country.

It took a while for the check to come from Washington and get deposited in my account, but the satisfaction of going to buy 56 new desks and then turning them in to the excited kids made it worth the wait.

Surprising us even more, two weeks after I bought the desks, the Ministry of Education finally responded to the request from 2013 with a donation of 60 desks, bringing the total of new desks we were able to fundraise to 166.

There is a lot more to do at the school. We need tables, bookshelves, textbooks, and appliances. But at least now we have desks!

Picking up my desks in Chimaltenango!

Picking up my desks in Chimaltenango!

Being recognized by the Parents Association; I was awarded a traditional woven scarf for my contribution to the community

Being recognized by the Parents Association; I was awarded a traditional woven scarf for my contribution to the community

PDML, round two!

After such an amazing experience at the Project Design, Management, and Leadership training in January, one of my work partners and I agreed to help replicate the same training in June for another group of volunteers and host country counterparts.  Over the course of my service, I’ve done trainings for service providers and volunteers, but this was the first time I co-facilitated a workshop that was three days long. It was a great professional development experience, and it was wonderful to see the volunteers and their work partners develop or fine-tune ideas for community projects over the course of the workshop!

My work partner, kicking ass!

My work partner, kicking ass!

Some of our participants presenting an idea

Some of our participants presenting an idea

The whole group of workshop facilitators and participants

The whole group of workshop facilitators and participants

 

Letter from my Trainee Self

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Dear Self,

First of all, congratulations! If you are reading this right now, I think it is because you have reached your COS conference and your two years of service are coming to a close. Were they two years, or three? I figured you would extend 🙂

As I write this, I’m sitting outside at Doña Jovita and Don Froilán’s house, locked out of my room because I got mugged last night. I am trying to picture how you feel about Guatemala. Right now, I feel violated. Personally insulted, skeptical and a little afraid. Do you love it here? Are you sad to leave? If so, you’ve come a long way. I’m sure you will love it.

In ten days from now, I move to site. San José- I hope that I am able to serve your people and your needs. I don’t know a whole lot of what else I should write. I came to Guatemala to find my purpose and direction for life. Have you found it? If so, great! If not, it’s off to the next adventure anyway.  Always remember that nothing can stop you. The happiest people are those that follow their hearts. There is nothing to be afraid of- charge into the unknown! You have made a huge difference and have changed a lot of lives. The life that has been changed the most is your own, and you’re a better person for it. The world is your oyster!

From your former self,

Laura K.

 

“Nada sucede hasta que algo se mueve.” –Alberto Einstein

“No sé cuál sea la clave del éxito, pero la clave del fracaso es intentar agradar a todo el mundo.” –Bill Cosby

Close of Service Conference

Well, two years went by in a flash! Last week was my cohort’s last official Peace Corps event together- our Close of Service Conference. Every single one of us has had a drastically different experience here in Guatemala. Some of us were in larger cities and some in small rural villages, as well as in different linguistic communities- Kaqchikel, K’iche, Mam, and Ixil. In our two projects, we all worked in very different settings- small rural middle schools, large schools, youth offices, health centers, health posts, etc., and had different struggles and successes. It’s a shame that there were some members of my group that I hardly saw or talked to during two years.  At our last event together, it was inspiring to hear everyone’s plans for life after Peace Corps, and to know that I will have a network of awesome individuals to reach out to all over the States. And then we went to the beach. 😀

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Earth Day

On Wednesday, April 22nd, I traveled to a neighboring department to help out some volunteers with their Earth Day Activity. It was a blast, and I was so impressed and inspired with what these girls were able to pull off!

Activities included:-A recycled materials fashion show, complete with a catwalk, with 4th, 5th, and 6th graders
-Learning how to repurpose styrofoam cups to plant vegetables
-Zumba, of course!
-Lunch with USAID officials, representatives of the U.S. Embassy, and Peace Corps Guatemala senior staff
-Learning how to classify garbage with kids and mothers


Read more about Naomi’s activity here!

Limpiemos Guatemala
On the Sunday following Earth Day, we did trash pick-up in my municipality. Even though my municipality has the reputation of being very clean, it is amazing how much garbage we still picked up.