Monday, February 27, 2012

Close-of Service: Part 1

Writing from my parents' kitchen in quaint little Clayton, California while sipping the fresh ground Guatemalan coffee I brought back with me...

So the last two and a half weeks went by in a whirlwind of tearful goodbyes, cheerful story swapping, self-congratulatory speeches, too much traveling, souvenir shopping, and nervous glances into our respective futures.  It was as much of an experience as the rest of my Peace Corps service put together.  And I didn't want to just leave this blog without giving it at least an attempt to address ending service and readjusting to life back at home. 

About a month ago, after so much eager anticipation and countdown ("Only four months until I go home...! " "Only 3 months and 17 days until I go home....!"), I started to feel strange.  I started viewing the normal daily activities (walking through the streets; buying produce at the market; engaging in idle chit chat with tienda owners and co-workers; practicing English with townsfolk) with a growing sense of nostalgia.  And I started to get sad and a little panicky at the thought of leaving.  I'd never really left a place before with such finality-it may be many years before I would visit Sija (if ever), and even then only for an afternoon or a couple of days before rushing on to a (let's be honest) more exciting/beautiful/warm destination. 

The sadness and anxiety at the prospect of COS'ing (stands for Close of Service or finishing your commitment to Peace Corps after 27 months-Peace Corps LOVES acronyms, like any good government organization) was surprising.  I had been looking forward to:

a) finishing my commitment with Peace Corps in good standing and
b) re-uniting with friends, family, and boyfriend

for so long that I didn't expect this dichotomy of emotions that popped up.  I didn't know it was possible to feel such a sense of loss and feel so sad to leave, and also so excited and happy to return home, at the same time.  And so I bounced back and forth between the two extremes as the day to leave once and for all approached rapidly. 

to be continued....

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Closure...You're doing it right

It's 4:30 am and I can't sleep so I'm going to write about my day instead =) 

I think I can't sleep because I'm SO freaking EXCITED that my favorite cousin ( with no offense to the rest of my cousins)  Kerry is going to be here on FRIDAY! One last chance to show off my Spanish and travel-savvy in Guatemala before I leave.  

Oh, yeah-that's probably the other reason I can't sleep.  This is the real, honest-to-god, can't-pretend-its-not-happening-anymore, COUNTDOWN to my much anticipated return to the US of A.  (sorry for the extreme use of capital letters, like i said I haven't been sleeping much. at all.)  In 15 days.  I'll be home.


In other news, my program director Flavio was here to 'close out' my service officialy with my counterparts and groups that I have worked with over the past two years.  The Park Admin group had a lunch banquet in my honor.  People went around and gave really, really nice speeches thanking me for my work efforts and friendship before begging Flavio to send another Volunteer to replace me.  That made me feel... good.  Sometimes we PCV's don't realize how much we're appreciated and recognized until, well, it's time to go!  But now that I got my ego massaged a bit, I leave with the verbal assurance that I've made a small impact here in the lives of the people I've worked with. Then it was my turn to try to give a nice flowery speech expressing my profound gratitude to have lived here, made friends, gotten work done, and become a part of the community.  Words really fell short, but i felt a lot of good vibes flying around the room as we fell quiet to demolish the huge plates of carne asada, longaniza, chorizo, grilled green onions, refried beans, and lots of tamalitos, tortillas, and salsa. 

In the afternoon, I showed Planet Earth on the projector while we (somewhat) patiently waited for the new mayor to meet with us. The whole room fell silent as panoramic views of the arctic tundra, a mother polar bear and her cubs, the drama of a wolf hunting a caribou calf played out on the screen.  This was accompanied by gasps, sighs and a scattered commentary as I tried to translate some of David Attenborough's narrative.  It was cool to see that the impact of a documentary like Planet Earth is universal.

Finally, the mayor came (about 2 minutes into us deciding to go ahead with my presentation, naturally) and I had some pictures of the different projects and activities I've organized and participated in during my service.  I followed this up with challenges-mainly the county not having enough employees for the Park to reach its full potential-and ended with a list of recommendation to continue working in the future.  God Only Knows what they will accomplish in the future but I wish them the best of luck and remain hopeful.

So that was my a couple of hours I'm heading down the mountain to run some errands in Xela, drop Bella off with a friend, and head towards the city so I can meet Kerry Bright and Early on Friday.  Then it's off to Lake Atitlan for some relaxing, hiking, kayaking, botanical gardens........whatever we feel like doing, really! 



Monday, February 6, 2012

Ultimas Dias en Guatemala

I've been very neglectful of this blog as of late, partly because I'm unwilling to process the swiftly approaching Life Change and partly because the days and weeks are whipping by me with breakneck speed. Trying to keep up with the laundry to-do list that keeps lengthening as my time here gets shorter, and instead staying up most of the night thinking about it all while having extended Grey's Anatomy marathons.....

As much as I've tried to deny it, the time has Come to say my goodbyes, be grateful for the time and experiences that I've been given, the people and places that I've come to know.  My counterpart, realizing I had no weekends left here (ack!), invited me to Xocomil, the water park a short drive towards the coast from here.  It's been depressingly cold in Sija, having the effect of keeping me indoors to contemplate my imminent departure and preventing me from enjoying my site, project, and friends in my last days here.  So I accepted his generous invite, and we fled the cold at 8 am yesterday. 

So while you all were watching the Super Bowl and eating nachos and wings.....

Barely any people at the park, no lines on the rides-we rode everything at least twice!

Lazy River with Mayan themed facades

My awesome counterpart relaxing on the Lazy River

Workin it out on the lily pads

A Full day at the water park, partaking in some huge prawns and calamari

Stopping off at the fruit stand on our way home
After an exhausting day in the sun and awesome seafood, I came home and still layed awake until 3 am-during which time I could've been doing any number of things (writing reports, making a Power Point for my program director's visit on Wednesday, packing, writing this blog, cleaning.....the list goes on) but I felt entitled to a good slumber and sure that I would doze off at any moment. 

So now I'm up again after a powernap between the hours of 4 and 8 am.  Anxiety levels at an all time high, ambivalence about finishing Peace Corps, leaving my first real job and a life All my own without friends from high school or family close by.  But I have faith that the future holds many more amazing opportunities, and I assure myself that I will never forget the transcendent experiences that Guatemala has given me. 

The next (less than) two weeks-despedidas or farewell events that I (mistakenly) tried to guide towards outdoors, hiking, admiring the work we've accomplished in the last two years, as opposed to sitting awkwardly around, eating exorbitant amounts of (delicious) food and making small talk.  But Mother Nature laughed in my face on that one, with downright miserable cold drizzly weather since I planned those outings.  Exorbitant amounts of food and long winded speeches it is, then. 

A last hurrah at Lake Atitlan (in my top three favorite places in Guatemala) with my cousin Kerry of the San Luis Obispo County Moore clan (lol)  coming down to visit me in a trip planned months ago before I knew I was leaving the next week.  Fun will be had regardless, new ground will be covered, and I always love playing tour guide for a couple days!

The next 18 days, much like one of the water slides at the park yesterday, will be a rush of adrenaline and endorphins and over way too quickly. I'm just going to hang on and enjoy the ride!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Random thoughts

I hate writing "post titles" more and more as time goes on...  it may be a contributing factor to my less-than-impressive 75 posts during my two years here. Really?! Only 75??? Why does it feel like so much more? Maybe because it is more than I have written about myself and my daily thoughts, feelings, activities since that super-introspective phase I went through in high school.  I was really into the whole 'teenage angst' thing back then and felt that I was best expressed by moping a lot, dying my hair weird colors and wearing a lot of black, torn, mismatched clothes.......

.... On an unrelated note, if you notice my blog turning super introspective, its probably due to the fact that I'm approaching another Huge transition in my life. Gah!  Again! I'll probably be shocked about the impending end to my PC service every time I write until it happens. Sorry. 

Anyways.  I've been busy cooking super amazing meals (chopping vegetables is like a zen thing for me. apparently.), discovering Adele (where have I been??),  running, and slowly writing my informe tecnico reviewing the last year workwise for Peace Corps. 

It was unreasonably, ridiculously cold last Tuesday. I could see my breath inside my house.  Not. OK.  So I opted to stay in and made Roasted Carrot and Cheese Gnocchi with Herbed Butter.  They were AMAZING...

Bought a ton of veggies in the market down in Xela over the weekend so I was looking for a different way to use them up. I landed on Spinach/Tuna/Bell Pepper/Black Bean "burgers". Basically a catch all patty of vegetables and tuna but turned out pretty good. Never eating a frozen veggie patty again, its pretty simple to make your own.

The first mangoes of the season are trickling into the market so I indulged (at Q3 or about .40 cents) and It Was Worth It.  Delicious.  Look, this variety you can peel like a banana, forgoing the nightmare that is peeling and slicing those big mangos you buy in the grocery store back home.

Oh, we received late Xmas presents last week-Bella was remembered by Grandma and Grandpa, and Mom and Dad. She's sporting her new collar and cuddling with her stuffed worm (?) that Grandma sent...

In other news, Guatemala's new president will take the reins on Sunday, along with the new mayors, etc all over the country.  I guess it's going to be a big deal.  Will keep everyone posted. 

Hope everyone is getting 2012 off to a great start.



Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bring it On

That was a fast - two weeks?!? I've heard Peace Corps compared to a Roller Coaster so many times...but that's because it's the perfect analogy.  And now, with 88% (24 months/27 months) completed, I feel like I'm about to drop off that big final drop, carried along as the weeks whizz by on that momentum of medical clearance, COS (close-of-service) conference, final reports, wrapping up projects, etc. and it will be over before I know it, truly, the last sprint to the finish. 

That is a lot to take in.  After all the aspiration and anticipation for years before finally getting on a plane and being dropped into a completely new and unfamiliar territory, adjusting and struggling to make headway in my assigned work, meeting new people, making new friends and family, and finally feeling comfortable in that once unfamiliar vocation and location *phew*  Now, in a blink of an eye, all of that will be...over.

How do I feel?  People around me are starting to realize that I'll be gone soon, to which they generally ask, "Y tu, estas feliz?"  or "Am I happy?" to be returning home.  The short answer-of course I am!  I can't wait to see my friends and family, drive a car, flush a toilet, drink water from the tap, turn on a damn heater when it's cold outside.... But I'm sad too.  Sad at the end of an era, to live a block from the wonderful open air market with fresh fruits and vegetables, to hang out with my host mom, to head to xela to go thrift store shopping with my peace corps friends and commiserate on the quirks of Guatemalan life, the conversations in broken english with total strangers who are so pleased to run into an American girl in the middle of the Gutaemalan campo....

I can't believe I'm about to be catapulted back into the hurried, consumeristic US culture in a couple of short months-its enough to give a girl a slight panic attack. 

But I'm not gone yet.  That's important. So I'll try to drink it all in in the short time I have remaining.  Enjoy the people and places that surround me, and try not to worry about it too much.  That feeling rising in my chest as the unknown approaches yet again is a good thing-it signals a new adventure on the horizon. 

Bring it on

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Tamales Day Two

This morning I returned to help with wrapping up the tamales to steam, less complicated and more labor intensive, while chatting with Dona Reina and Flopi, Lidelia's daughter.  |We wrapped the rice tamales that I helped prepare, then potato tamales that used the same sauce mixed in with mashed potatoes.  

A spoonful of cooked rice, a chunk of chicken, a slice of bell pepper, and raisins are wrapped in banana leaves

Here is the masa for the potato paches

Dona Reina with paches

Potato paches with chicken and a whole chili

Ready for steaming!
And so concludes my adventure in tamale making.  I hope to share the tradition with some of you when I get back!

Christmas Tamales Day One

My host sister's mother in law was gracious enough to let me invade her kitchen, snap lots of photos, and 'help' with tamale-making yesterday and this morning.  Here is an exhaustive photo journal of the process.

Day One involved making the sauce and filling for the paches

Preparing the sauce involved roasting all the ingredients.  Tomatoes

Pumpkin and sesame seeds

White bread, toasted and then moistened

Roasted bell peppers plus two different kinds of dried chiles simmering

Pumpkin and sesame seeds and cinnamon sticks get ground with a coffee grinder,
 then added to the chiles, tomatoes, and onions

And the bread, for thickening
Blend it all together

Me with Dona Reina, my host sister's mother-in-law and master pache chef

Heat up sauce until it simmers, then cook another ten minutes

To make the masa or filling, add ground white rice to boiling water in a ginormous pot

Over a wood fire

Stir constantly!

After the masa of ground rice boils for five minutes, we took it off the fire to cool for the next day.