Saturday, April 2, 2011

Guatemala - Take 2!

Hi everyone -

So I'm finally getting around to updating my blog after almost 9 months - and what a 9 months it has been! For those of you that don't know (I think most of you do), my sitemate, Brittany and I were involved in a pretty serious bus accident back in September while traveling with our health center. After being medically evacuated to DC on a private jet (thank you tax payers!), an 8 hour surgery, almost 2 weeks in the hospital and 4 months of physical therapy, I finally arrived back in Guatemala about 2 weeks ago, on March 15th.

And it sure has been a busy 2 weeks! After being picked up at the airport by my sitemate and a Peace Corps driver and spending the afternoon in the PC office getting re-sworn in by the Country Director, I was taken back up to my same site, San Juan Atitan on Wednesday along with all my furniture that the PC was storing for me. For the time being I'm staying with my sitemate, Brittany until my new house is ready (hopefully within a month). After spending a few days getting reacquainted with the health center and NGO that I work with and reassuring the locals that, contrary to the rumors, I hadn't died, I was back on a bus headed to Antigua for the welcome back party that my friends threw for me and the Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary Party at the Ambassador's house in Guatemala City. It was great to see so many friendly faces at the welcome back party and I really appreciated so many people coming out - I definitely felt welcomed! Although getting up the next morning to make it to the Ambassador's house was not as much fun - but most of us made it!

The Peace Corps 50th Anniversary party was a really cool celebration. It was neat to get to see the Ambassador's house with so many people there supporting the Peace Corps - there were over 400, including a group of new volunteers that were sworn in. The key note speaker was the PC Chief of Staff in DC, Stacy Rhodes, who also happened to visit me with PC Director Aaron Williams while I was in the hospital in DC, so I got to schmooze with him a bit. It was a great event all around and we even made the front page of the national newspaper! (see below - but it's in Spanish!)

After a fun-filled weekend, Brittany and I headed back up to site for out town's Cuarto Viernes Feria (4th Friday of Lent Fair). It was the first time I've been in site for a feria and it was very...interesting. The parades and cultural dances were fun to watch, but after about 800pm the only people still out were the town drunks (whose numbers quadrupled during feria!) and blaring music, ringing church bells and fireworks continued throughout the night all week. And since we live right above the main square, that part got old pretty quick. Just gotta chalk it up as another interesting cultural experience...and then be glad when it's over!

To end the feria, we had a surprise visit from the President of Guatemala, Alvaro Colom. Brittany and I woke up Friday morning to find a truckload of armed soldiers spreading throughout the main square (normally not a good sign in Guatemala). Luckily we were told they were there because the President was coming to inagurate a water and road project funded by the European Union. It was an interesting event to witness, although funny to note that A LOT more people showed up for the parade earlier in the week than for the President's visit.

So after a few busy weeks of traveling and partying, I'm looking forward to actually start working with my NGO next week. The communities that I'll be working in to create and train groups of health promotors has changed, so I'll be working on presenting myself and my project to the communities' town councils (known as COCODE's) and get their approval before organizing my groups. I'll be sure to keep you all updated on my progress!

I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support over the past few months - both in the US and here in Guatemala! Without all of your encouragement and kind words I know there's no way I'd be back here so quickly and so excited about continuing with my Peace Corps service!

Here's a link with some pictures of the past few weeks! Enjoy!

Monday, July 19, 2010

It’s Official: I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Hola everyone -

Sorry it's been so long since my last post...the last half of training was crazy! We were traveling more than we were in our training communities. But now that I am an official Peace Corps Volunteer (woo hoo!), I should have a lot more time (maybe too much free time) to update this blog more regularly. But I'm going to try to update y'all on the past two months pretty quickly:

Field-Based Training
As part of our overall training, everyone went in groups to visit different volunteers for a week. I went with 6 others to visit PCV's (Peace Corps Volunteer) Abby and Lauren in San Marcos, a department in the west that borders Mexico. It was absolutely beautiful! We spent the week giving different charlas (educational talks) to different groups: middle-school classes, health promoters, food vendors and womens groups. The highlight of the week was when we gave a 4hr workshop on HIV/AIDS to a group of 70 high school students. It was pretty entertaining...especially the condom demonstration. See some pictures by clicking on the link below:

Site Assignment and Site Visit
On Thursday, July 1, after much anticipation, we all found out where we'd be spending the next two years of our lives. I'll be living in San Juan Atitan, Huehuetenango (pronounced way-way-tin-engo) in the northwestern department of the country. I was VERY excited with my site! I'd had a feeling ever since getting here that I might end up in Huehue. It's very mountainous, very indigenous and is kind of known as the wild west of Guatemala. I was also excited to find out that I'd have a sitemate living in the same town as me, Brittany. She's from Oregon and I think we're going to get along great! It's a brand new site for the Peace Corps, and there's a lot to be done, so they decided to assign two volunteers to the town.

The following Sunday, everyone in the Healthy Homes project traveled together with our trainers and project directors to Quetzaltenango (or Xela), known as Guatemala's second city in the western highlands. We all spent the night in a hotel and on Monday morning all of our counterparts from our different sites came to Xela to meet us and for an orientation meeting. Each PCV is assigned to an individual counterpart who works for the Ministry of Health in their community. This ensures that there's communication and collaboration between us, the volunteers, and the local health centers. Most sites just send the one counterpart to meet their PCV, but Brittany and I were very surprised when an entourage of 6 people showed up to our orientation to meet us: 2 from the health center, 2 from the local NGO that I'll be working with, and 2 representatives from the municipality. The muni reps were both dressed in the traditional dress that everyone, including men and children, still wear in San Juan. So everone was very jealous of us! Even other Guatemalan counterparts were having their pictures taken with our muni reps in their traditional clothes. After the meeting, our entourage drove us up to our site with ALL of our luggage in a bus. It was definitely an interesting ride! Our town is only 12km off the main highway, but it took us 1.5hrs to go those 12km because it was literally straight up a mountain on an upaved road. The views were absolutely amazing (we're at about 12,500ft), but it's going to take some getting used to! As soon as we arrived, we were rushed into the muni building to meet the mayor and many other people whose names we wouldn't remember. Everyone seemed very excited to see us and curious why two gringos were there with so much luggage. San Juan isn't used to getting tourists, so just being tall and white, we definitely drew a crowd!

The rest of the week was spent getting to know the town and our counterparts. Brittany will be working with the CAP, the 24hr health post and I'll be working with a local NGO that covers half of the outlying communities. We were both assigned to 2 different aldeas (small communities) outside of San Juan that we'll be working with. Normally at a new site it takes several months to get settled and talk people into working with the strange new gringos, but that doesn't seem to be the case here at all. We already have our first several months planned out, including what topics wee're going to cover with the womens groups, projects with teh schools and a health fair. So we left feeling very excited, but at the same time a bit anxious about all that there is to be done! San Juan has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the entire country, so that will be a big focus with the womens groups that we'll be working with. We'll see how it goes!

This past Friday, July 16, 46 of us were sworn in by the US Ambassador as official Peace Corps Volunteers at the Peace Corps headquarters. It was a great ceremony! I was also honored (and VERY surprised) to be elected by my training group a couple of weeks ago to give our swearin in speech at the end of the Spanish!! I didn't vomit on myself or the ambassador, so I considered it a success! Brittany recorded part of it, so I'll see if I can post it on here somehow. All of our host families, the Peace Corps staff and a rep from the Guatemalan government were there, so it was a big to-do! Afterwards, we all went to Antigua for the weekend to celebrate. It was a great end to training!!

Well, I guess y'all are caught up now. I arrived at my site late yesterday afternoon without any problems. I'm staying in a hotel now until my bed that I bought last week is delivered to the house that I'll be living in for the next few months. I'm living with another family, but it's a bit different than during traiing. I'll cook for myself (I bought a propane stove) and my room is somewhat separated from the family. Not to mention that only the children speak Spanish, everyone else in the family only speaks Mam, the local Mayan language that I'm going to have to learn. But I'm still pretty excited about it!

Here are a few random pics from training. As soon as I take some of my site, I'll be sure to post them.

Thanks to everyone for your emails! and for the bday cards! It was like having my birthday all over againi since it took them all over a month to get down here! I'm going to be opening a PO box in my town, so I'll let everyone know the new address once I have it.

Miss y'all! Be sure to keep in touch!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Hey everyone -

Sorry it's been so long since my last post...I've been keeping busy! Two weeks ago we were moved to our temporary homes for the next 3 months. I'm living with a family of 10 in a town called San Antonio Aguas Calientes. It's an awesome little town of about 10,000 people. So far the family has been great! I'm living with a couple around 50, Don Francisco and Doña Esperanza, who have 6 kids ranging in ages from 30 down to 7. One of the sons, Hugo, who is my age is married and his wife and 5 year old son also live in the house. I have my own room, which is nice, but I do share one bathroom with the 10 other people! Luckily we all have pretty different schedules, so it's working out okay so far. We do have electricity, running water AND a flush toilet, so I'm not doing too bad! The shower is cold in the morning, but I'm just happy to have a shower and I don't have to take bucket baths every morning. The family has been very welcoming and inclusive...they're making me feel right at home. And I'm definitely eating well! Breakfast normally consists of coffee (instant - they export all of the good stuff!) and freshly baked bread. For lunch, the biggest meal of the day, we normally eat some type of meat - normally chicken, black beans and rice or pasta. And then for dinner we normally just eat something small - tortillas and beans or some type of soup.

My first Sunday here I went with one of my host brothers, Marvin, who's 13, down to the basketball court to shoot some hoops with this friends. We ended up drawing quite the crowd! For some reason the sight of a big white boy playing basketball isn't the norm down here. And the best party was they all thought I was the best basketball player they had ever seen! I'm pretty sure this was all due to my amazing bball skills and had nothing to do with the fact that I'm a foot and a half taller than the average Guatemalan. One kid even told me I was like a white Michael Jordan. I guess all those years playing church basketball really paid off. GO PUMPKINS!!!

And thanks to everyone for all the birthday wishes this past Sunday. I had a great first bday down here in Guatemala! The day started with my family waking me up with the Guatemalan birthday song at 600am - Guatemalans don't seem to understand the concept of sleeping in - even on the weekend! I then had the honor of picking out the chicken that we'd be cooking for my special bday dinner and killing it. Yes...I am now a chicken-murderer. Well...more like an accessory to chicken-murder...the freaking thing wouldn't die! So my host mom had to take it from me and finish the pobre pollo off. After that she showed me how to remove the feathers and clean it. The meal she made for me was awesome, it's called Pepillan and is the national dish of Guatemala. It was delicious....except for the chicken. For some reason it just didn't taste the same...

I've finally posted some pics for everyone below. We're starting to travel around more for training, so hopefully I'll be able to take more pics in the future. We're heading to Guatemala City on Monday with our language group to learn where the US Embassy is and how to safely travel in and around the city. Then we're headed to Antigua on Friday. Should be fun!

I've had several people ask for an address for me down here. For the next 3 months, you can send things to the address below, which is the PC Headquarters. If you're going to send anything, it's better to just send cards or letters, nothing bigger than a padded envelope. And using USPS instead of UPS or FedEx will mean I won't have to pay an import tax when I pick it up, so go that route if possible (remember...I'm poor now:) ).

Dirk Davis
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 66
Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepequez
Guatemala 03001

Thanks everyone for the emails and messages! Keep 'em coming!

Hasta la proxmia!

My host mom, Doña Esperanza cooking in her kitchen. Notice that she's cooking over an open flame. This is pretty typical of Guatemalan kitchens and is one of the main reasons respiratory illnesses are the leading causes of death among children and women here. One of my projects as a Healthy Home volunteer will be to help build covered stoves to help prevent this problem.

My other pictures are taking too long to upload, so I'll try again later!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Estoy aquí!

I made it to Guatemala in one piece!

After a short half-day staging event in Atlanta on Tuesday where I met the 51 other Healthy Homes and Youth Development volunteers (where I discovered there were only 6 other guys), we all boarded a plane on Wednesday morning and made our way to Guatemala City. Once we arrived, there were several PC staff members there to help us get through customs and very quickly escort us to the PC Headquarters in a small town about 40 min outside of Guatemala City. The PC HQ is an awesome little compound (literally-it´s surrounded by barbed wired and has armed guards), but is really cool inside with an awesome courtyard where we eat and have some of our classes.

We were all placed with temporary host families for three days while we´re here for orientation. I got pretty lucky with my family- a couple with 4 kids who are all pretty outgoing even around a big gringo (most of the kids here just stare at us). I think their house is pretty nice by Guatemalan standards - electricity, cable TV, several rooms. There is running water, but not in the bathroom, so that means a warm bucket bath in a shower and just dumping a big bucket of water down the toilet. It´s actually not as bad as it seems and I´ve already gotten used to it.

The past couple of days have been full of general health and safety information and determing our different Spanish levels. Today we were placed in groups of 4-5 with other people in our same project (healthy homes for me) and around the same level. I think I got pretty lucky with my group - everyone seems pretty cool. Tomorrow we will all move to different communities with our little groups where we´ll study Spanish together and receive our technical I´m looking forward to meeting my new host family for the next three months.

Guess I better run home for dinner. The foods been great so far...lots of black beans, fried plantains, tortillas, and chicken (which I like!). And the best part is...I still haven´t pooped myself!! Let´s hope it stays that way!

Hasta la próxima!

Monday, April 26, 2010

I'm going to Guatemala!!

Hey everyone!

As most of you know, I'm heading to Guatemala this Wednesday for 27 months as a Rural Home Preventative Health volunteer with the Peace Corps. In an attempt to keep y'all updated on my experiences and share some photos, I've started this blog that I will hopefully be updating on a regular basis.

The PC is something that I've been interested in since high school and I'm thankful to finally get this opportunity. The application process was long and challenging, but I'm sure it will be worth it!

As a Rural Home Preventative Health volunteer, I'll be working with community partners to teach health and hygiene and how to build five principal sanitary technologies in rural homes (water tanks, latrines, stoves, drainage systems and cement floors). These infrastructures will hopefully help combat diarrhea, respiratory diseases, and skin infections, all of which are associated with high infant mortality rates in Guatemala. The fun part is, of course, that I have absolutely no idea how to build any of these structures. Luckily the PC has a pretty intense 3 month training program that will begin this Saturday . We'll receive several hours of language training in the mornings and several hours of cultural, health/safety, and technical training in the afternoons.

I'll be flying to Atlanta for a half-day orientation tomorrow with the 52 other Guatemala trainees and then we'll all fly down to Guatemala City together from Atlanta on Wednesday. Hopefully I'll have some time to post some pictures and give you an update once I get settled in.

Thanks to all of my family and friends who have supported me through this process so far! It's been great spending time with everyone here in Charlotte this past month!

Til next time!

What 80lbs of luggage looks like!