Sunday, November 14

The original plan

The original plan

The original Guatemala plan was to live and volunteer at Nueva Alianza for two months before meeting up with my Australian friend Amy for a few days of travel. But, after almost a month in the community, we decided to go elsewhere. It was a frustrating situation for several reasons.

1. Our Spanish isn't good enough to make real friends or to communicate effectively in a work environment.
2. There weren't that many work projects we could do. We didn't have the language skills, resources, or authority to properly coordinate projects or acquire supplies.
3. We were paying money to stay in the hotel, and we decided we weren't contributing or enjoying ourselves enough to warrant "sticking it out" another month.

While I was often bored and frustrated, I'm thankful for such an intense learning experience. I'll elaborate on my new thoughts about international development in a separate post, but more generally, I learned:

1. Despite my desire to be low maintenance, my day to day happiness is still largely tied to material luxuries such as cold milk and disinfectants. Darn. I may be well traveled and flexible, but I'm still a dairy-loving American.

2. Lack of cold milk is one thing. But I absolutely
cannot handle not talking to other people. Communication with others is where most of my energy comes from. Forget being a productive volunteer or able to buy a pound of green beans in the market - I want to ask complex questions about inappropriate Spanish-specific jokes and complain about my day and tease and laugh and learn about people's families. But I was restricted to very basic questions and answers with everyone but Tara and Hannah; this made it difficult for me to stay energetic and positive. I will never (again) live in a non-English speaking community before investing in serious language training. (And I do really want to become bilingual.)

Good times in and around Reu

There were a few rays of sunshine during our last week in la finca. Last Friday Tara and I chicken bussed to nearby coastal village Champerico. The warm ocean water and fried fish were good for my soul. Tara's primary Peace Corps project is developing a tourist organization for Guatemala's underdeveloped Pacific coast, and during lunch I quizzed her on various obstacles to growing Guatemala's tourist infrastructure. We encountered one such obstacle, crime, when a local man chased us down the beach, warning us to turn around because of numerous assaults that occur south of town. We were already aware of the dangerous stretch of beach, but it was heartwarming having a local go out of his way to help us.

Later that evening, Tara, Hannah (who'd spent the day sick in Reu...), and I were riding
la camioneta back up the mountain. It began to rain and two men rushed around shutting the windows. My window wouldn't budge, but I wrapped myself in my sarong, content to get a little wet, watching the pink sunset and basking in The Moment.

By Tuesday, the refreshing Friday had worn off. I couldn't wait to leave that part of the country. We'd been in Reu using the internet for several hours, and upon returning to the mercado we realized that we'd missed the bus. It always leaves about 45 minutes after the scheduled departure time, but the one time we were ten minutes late, it left on time.
Typical, absolutely typical, I thought. We didn't have enough cash for a hotel room and we were wary of using a taxi on the obscure road to Nueva Alianza. But, long story short, we were saved by an old grandmother who sells snacks day after day at cuatro caminos, an intersection on the outskirts of Reu. We told her we'd missed the Nueva Alianza bus and we needed to get another ride, maybe with the agua pura truck. She let us wait under her snack shack and after awhile she helped us cross the street and told us to wait there. And in about five minutes the community's agua pura truck drove by and Ramón (ah, Ramón, how happy I was to see him) told us to hop in. He refused to take any money once we were back home.

The snack selling grandmother and Ramón redeemed the whole three and a half weeks. It was nice to leave with good feelings.

Where are we now?

taken from

We're in Parque Hawaii, a natural reserve on the Pacific coast between the beach town of Monterrico and the smaller village of Hawaii. An organization called ARCAS operates a turtle conservation program, and year round volunteers live here and work with turtles and other wildlife and do environmental education in local schools. We're currently in the middle of nesting season. Every night we patrol about 10km of beach, looking for mama turtles nesting their eggs and for local men who have already claimed a nest. If we find a turtle nest, we dig up the eggs and rebury them in our hatchery. If a local has already claimed a nest, we collect the legally required dozen egg "donation" for our hatchery and offer to buy the remaining eggs. Sometimes they sell to us, sometimes they don't. They'll eat the eggs themselves or sell them to other vendors.

It's interesting work. And it's amazing to see the mother turtles coming out of the ocean and the tiny squirming babies scrambling down the sand. During the day, we hang out in hammocks, eat fresh pineapple, swim in the delightfully warm ocean, hitch rides in pick up trucks to Monterrico to buy groceries and attend town meetings about
the upcoming turtle festival, and do various work around the property. Hannah and I plan on sticking around until the turtle festival in two weeks time, maybe longer.

Stay tuned for beautiful sunset photos and more thoughts on our Guatemala experience thus far.


Hugh said...

did you bring up *real* hawaii to the guatemalan hawaiians?

Mary Elizabeth said...

i did not. but, a native hawaiian (as in a man from the hawaii islands) introduced himself to me one day at the market. there was a period of confusion, but then i figured out where he was actually from and listened to him describe the hawaii of his childhood, before all the tourists and drugs and bad schools. (he was speaking spanish, so i didn't catch it all. but it had the classic old man days gone by feel to it.)