13 February 2013

5 Months to COS date!!!

5 Months to my COS date!!! I'm not counting down, I'm counting up... all of the amazing experiences and relationships I've gained by living in Guatemala as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

5: My amazing host-family in San Marcos that I LOVE oh so much! The family that adopted me here in Quiche and all my Guatemalan friends and boos!!!

4: My Peace Corps besties that will be a part of my life for the rest of my life! This experience has taught me so much about life, relationships and what it means to be a friend! I can say that I have grown a lot, but if I didn't have you all, I definitely couldn't have made it...I'm thankful for you!!!

3: Experiencing how challenging Development work is... es dificil pero todo es posible con Dios a su lado! I always knew that development work is "hard" but didn't really understand the concept until now! For me, development work had been difficult because technically its soooo easy...but little/simple things get in the way. Simple things to me, but to other people of a different culture with different values...I guess its not so simple. And of course, that's based on my experience of doing a simple project...I can't even imagine running a non-profit and really being responsible for behavior change.

2: Solidifying my career path: I appreciate where I've been and now know where I'm going! I came to Peace Corps knowing that I had a lot of interests but I really wanted to gain an understanding of not just what I'm passionate about, but how I can make a difference... I think I may have found a way...now I'm just waiting for God to reveal his plan...I hope I've gotten it right! haha

1: Achieving most of the personal goals I set for my self.... I haven't had many large goals I've set for my life, but becoming a Woman of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc., being fluent in Spanish, and joining the Peace Corps were basically my top ones! I have a few more that I have to tackle, but what this experience has shown me is that I can literally do anything I put my mind to with the faith in God to help me achieve them in His name!

So I must Thank God for this experience... it has been very difficult and I must admit I haven't always understood why I was placed in Guatemala and how I'm making a difference. But I realize now that all the little things add up to big things and over time you notice the difference, you notice your impact...and most importantly, you notice the change in your heart... that has been my biggest revelation thus far!

Soooo 5 more months.... I have A LOT to get done in these next few months! But I had to write a blog post just to document how excited I am for this experience and proud of myself for not giving up when the going got tough...and it did...many many times! =)

and btw: early Happy Valentine's Day everyone!!!!

03 December 2012

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Or maybe the better question is “Why is there even a chicken on the road?”

So I have to say this blog post is waaaay overdue because I’ve been struggling with this question since I got to Guatemala (1 year, 7 months, and 7 days… to be exact). And when I say chicken, I actually mean every kind of animal you can think of: cow, horse, dog, pig, turkey, goat, sheep, I mean the list could go on…

So while I’m sitting in my camioneta (public bus) or the peace corps shuttle ... I like to look out the window and see all that this beautiful country has to offer ... the lovely green grass that grows all around and around (but only in rainy season), the awesome volcanoes, the beautiful strong working women with children on their backs. I mean, this country is amazing, in so many ways.

I definitely understand that this is an agriculturally based country and that most of the money made is based on raising animals and growing food. However, why o why do I have to see these animals on the sides of the streets…or in the middle of the road blocking traffic! Seriously? AND there have been several times where the animals are roaming without their owner.  And I definitely understand animals on the roads in and between towns… but what about on the sides of highways? Really… I just don’t understand…. At all!

I know you may be thinking, why  I even care about this. And that’s a really good question actually.  But I just can’t stop thinking about why there are so many animals everywhere.

I have to say, as a city girl, I NEVER came in contact with so many animals. At first I was terrified of them, I mean, especially the horses and cows everywhere.. they are HUGE (which is super dangerous while walking from a small village and a cow is stampeding towards you-thankfully he saw me and turned his direction)… but now I feel a little comfortable with them. I don’t know if I’ll ever touch one.  But sometimes when I encounter them while walking to work…I greet them: Good Morning Mister Cow… Nice to see you Mister Horse. Hahah They look at me like I’m crazy…which I may very well be.

So anyway… the moral to this post (there really isn’t one) is that animals have become my new friends… because they greet me with a smile (not really), they don’t harass me for English classes, the don’t randomly touch my hair, they don’t force me to eat meat (actually they love me because I won’t eat them)… hahah Hope this post put a smile on your face…

A few pictures of the animals i've crossed paths with here in Guate:

My 1st Chuchu (stray dog) sighting straight off the plane!

Walking to an aldea (small villiage) ...

Cute.... Black Pigs!!

The dogs even attend my meetings...

A horse, chilling on the side of the road...

Passing a house and saw these chickens

Another horse, on the side of the road..

A pink pig too

The only picture of an animal, at its Home, where it should be!

A cute little family of chickens

13 November 2012

“¿De Donde Eres?”

Very few days pass without someone questioning where I´m from. When I first got to Guatemala, I immediately would respond with "Los Estados Unidos"…. But now, I like playing the game of where do you think I´m from… haha

Most people are like Cuba (because they are so used to all the Cuban doctors), however, I´ve gotten a few responses like Puerto Barrios, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Africa (of course), Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and most recently the Dominican Republic.

I, once to my surprise, even got an “I really don’t know because of the way you speak” - of course this one REALLY made me smile… to think that my Spanish has improved so much that it confuses people on where I might be is just fabulous! Hahah

Anyway, back to the topic at hand… I think it’s quite interesting that people are so interested in where I’m from AND that the United States is NEVER the first thing to come to mind. And when I respond with my proud stance of being an American, some people haven’t believed me. I mean, come on…would I really lie about it. No, but I find myself pondering why this is… Obviously, the first response is people from other countries only believe white people with blue eyes are Americans… but I seriously doubt this to be true. I mean I clearly haven’t asked (yet) what kind of people do you think come from the States… but people have to know Americans don’t all look the same.

But then I wonder is it just Me?…. But then again, I consider myself a very normal looking African American, with curly-natural hair, brown-skinned, and  a not-so skinny body type. I guess I should, and I do, take it as a compliment that I could be considered a Latina, which is really weird typing it…haha but it is cool! But why is it so hard to be considered an American?

Being Black and a Peace Corps Volunteer and then Being a Black Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala are topics I never once considered before coming to Guatemala. However, since I’ve  been here, I have definitely thought about it, a lot. Clearly, they both present different challenges, just like being a minority in the States-being a minority in Peace Corps is the same. One of Peace Corps’goals is to “help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.” And I guess I’m doing that (on top of answering all the weird questions about what kind of food we eat, what the weather is like, do we have to buy land or just the house, etc) by just being my friendly self and responding to that awesome question by a simple “Los Estados Unidos”

13 July 2012

COS date: July 13, 2013!!! (One Year Down ... One Year To Go!)

Soooo my COS or “Completion Of Service” date is actually one year from today!!! How exciting right? And to commensurate my 2nd year of serving Guatemala, I gave an awesome presentation to the Area de Salud or Department of Health for my area. It was a great presentation because it spoke to my passion… lots and lots of data! Haha… it’s crazy how alive I become when I have data… I am definitely a researcher at heart and a true Public Health Professional!  I presented on the community diagnostic I did for 4 of the rural areas in my town. It’s amazing to show how many people use the bathroom in their backyards because they don´t have latrines, or the amount of families that don´t have access to water in their homes, or the amount of mothers that cook with open fires. It’s definitely amazing, I don´t know how so many of them do it… Guatemalans, especially the women, are so strong, stronger than they realize! I´m definitely blessed to be here, serving them, and making their lives just a little bit better. 

Anyway… Soooo I guess now is as good a time as ever to catch you all up on my happenings and what nots… well not really! Lol .. I prefer to just skip over the last five months of my life because they haven´t been the best! I have definitely tried to write a few posts several times (no lie) but I just can´t get myself to write negative things, for the life of me… I know it´s not good to only portray the good things of my service, and totally unfair to those of you interested in becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer… I´m sure you want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly right? Well, just let me know, I can forward you to plenty of other people´s blogs so you can get the low down… but from me, I´m choosing only to focus on the positive. I will say, however, that my last 5 months have been filled with the typical questions, like Why am I here? Why don´t I feel appreciated? What do I have to give to this country? Etc etc… and the amazing part about all of this doubt and uncertainty is that most of my fellow volunteers are asking the same questions… so I know I´m not crazy! Haha

I´m excited to write this post.. knowing that a year from now I could possibly be in my home… or in another country…or still here in Guatemala … SABER where I´ll be… but what I do know, is that a year from now I will be able to say I DID IT!!!! I completed the hardest job I´ll ever love… I overcame the dark months, the disappointments, the frustrations, the loneliness... I overcame it all and served 2 amazing years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala! I know, also, that I´ll be able to say I contributed so much to my community, I changed lives, and I made a difference!

So now, I will take this time to reflect on my 1st year as a PCV and all of the challenges (i.e. having my site changed, health issues, missing my family, missing my host-family from my old site, counterpart issues, etc.) and focus on my 2nd year and all of the excitement and aspirations I have ahead of me! I will save the details of what I´ll be doing for a later post (more so because I have NO idea), but I do know that it will be exciting, it will speak to my passion, it will help me learn more about myself and it will make a difference! On top of creating groups of health promoters in my 4 communities and working with families to improve their health… I am going to do something exciting  that also ensures professional growth. God has some cool things in store for me… I can´t wait to share them with you, once they are more concrete! Until next time… (I PROMISE, it won´t be so long next time)!

Much love from Guatemala!!!!

Enjoy some pictures from the last few months.... 

Look at how we move in Guatemala... haha, me and my new sitemate´s things!

My 1st appearance on the local radio show Susan started!

With Susan! The awesome volunteer I replaced!

At the kick off meeting for my Community Diagnostic!

Out in one of my communities doing house visits... look at this view!

A view of another community while doing house visits

Another view from a different community!

At In-Service Training: Mixing concrete for the stove

And then filling the gaps of the stove with the cement...
Working on the base of a latrine...

Making the sides of the latrine... nailing! ha!!!

Day 2: Puting the finishing touches on the stove...

Ummm yeah... Sawing off the extra wood... Go Me!!! haha

The happy family and my IST group after we finished the improved stove!

The happy father with his new latrine!

IST Day 2: The dirt floor before we poured the cement.

The finished cement floor!

19 March 2012

New Year … New Beginnings (Part II)

The title of this post could not be any truer. And with new beginnings means a lot of changes. The next day after I received the email from Peace Corps Guatemala (PC/G), I went to talk to my counterpart and tell him that we have to cancel the meetings for next week. Well I told him I had a meeting and couldn’t be there. He stated that we could just reschedule for the following week, and I said well that’s a great idea, but let’s just cancel it for now and we can find a date to reschedule the meetings after I get back. So he was immediately alarmed because there had been a lot in the news about PC/G closing. But I told him not to be alarmed just yet, and that I would keep him posted on what was discussed after the meeting.

As soon as I left talking to my counterpart, I got a call from my PCVL or volunteer leader for my program and department. She said, “Hey Shantrice, … I was calling to see if you had heard that San Marcos is NOT included in Central Western Highlands.” And I responded, “Well didn’t you want to call me with some good news.” But good news was far from the picture. The call caught me completely off guard. I was devastated; tears even fell down my face. She explained that she was calling because she did not want us to find out in the meeting the following week. And to be perfectly honest, I am so glad she did. However, she comforted me by stating that our APCD or my boss over my specific program has been working hard to come up with possible sites if they do decide to close my department, which is San Marcos. I stated well that’s a relief. I’m glad to know he is so on top of things. I took the news a lot better than I expected. I remember the day before when I received the email, I stated very firmly that if they make me leave San Marcos, I am going home… I can’t leave my family and all the awesome work I’m  doing. I was very adamant…. But the next day, when there was no more speculation and it was more of a fact… I suddenly had a different perspective and was much more flexible than I knew I could be. I knew that me leaving does not help the people of Guatemala, and that’s why I‘m here!

Thankfully, I had a dear friend call me from Africa to distract me from all of the drama, confusion, questions, and anxiety in my life. However, while conversing with him, I was informed (through text msg and a call) by PC/G that I was being evacuated from my department for the weekend due to issues with drug traffickers and the police. Well let’s just say, that is one clue that my behind should not be in San Marcos… but  in my town… all is well. My family is amazing and take care of me better than I take care of myself. And my town is really calm, barely nothing happens there. But anyway, so I had a few hours to pack my stuff and get to the nearest big city, Xela, through the weekend and until the conference started.

The weekend was long, but good. It was long because I spent 3 days in a hotel full of Volunteers with all the same feelings. By the 2 nd day, I wanted to jump off a building… not really… but it was just too overwhelming.. I mean that’s ALL we talked about; what may or may not happen in this meeting, why we were here and where we were going. By the time the meeting got here, I was just exhausted about it all and ready for it to be over. However, the good part about all that time is that I had the opportunity to think about what I really wanted. And I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave Guatemala. I came here with the mindset of being here for 2 years. The fact that I would be offered all the benefits as if I had completed 2 years was appealing, I’m not going to lie… but it just wasn’t my time to go. So, I went into the meeting with a positive attitude, ready to hear the facts right from the decision makers. Our regional director flew in from Washington and some other support people were there to help us with the news and help us make the transitions we decided to make. Basically, they started right out with we are unsafe in this country (being that we are in the upper Central American triangle). They made the decision to pull all the volunteers out of Honduras and were reducing Volunteer numbers in El Salvador and here in Guatemala. Right now we have about 230 volunteers and they want, by the end of all these changes 100- 120 volunteers left in country. They spoke about a lot of the security data and how necessary it is to make these changes right now. I was shocked, I mean, I knew I feared riding buses (due to a number of my friends being robbed by gun point) but that was all that I was concerned about. Not to make this blog post any longer, I’ll just say we all had an “aha” moment by the end of the conference. We were not happy about the news, but we understood the situation and that there wasn’t any other option.

My program met, and we discussed all of the issues the group ahead of me was going to face, being that they were being forced to leave 4 months earlier than expected. The biggest problem is that they had already promised their communities projects (such as latrines, improved stoves and cement floors) and now they couldn’t even turn in their grant applications. Thus, another reason why I should stay. I, along with the rest of my group who are being forced to leave our communities, will be moved to the communities where the group ahead of us was. We had a lot of discussions, a lot of tears were shed, and a lot of words were said. I was surprisingly quiet through it all. I realized where my stance was, I was upset, definitely… but there was nothing I could do to change the situation. So I accepted it and let my boss know that I was not leaving Guatemala and that he should continue looking for me a new site. Only a few people from my group decided to leave, which was great. I was excited that we wouldn’t be losing a lot of people before our time, especially since there were so many people leaving from the other programs. And by the end of the meeting, my boss met with us again to let us know where our new sites would be. I was told that I was moving to El Quiche, which is 7 and half hours from my current site. OMG, almost 8 hours to visit my family!!!  I´ll tell you more about my new site in the next post. However, I was not happy to go back to my community and give them the bad news. It was very overwhelming and sad as well. I made promises to my community as well. I promised that I would be there for them for 2 years to work with them to improve their health habits and do other necessary projects. Now I had to tell them, well actually, I won’t be here for 2 years, and really, I won’t be here for another 2 weeks. 

The following week after the conference, I told the people that I could and packed my belongings. Within a week of finding out my site, I was on a bus for a site visit and to figure out my living situation.  I was completely overwhelmed by my new site. It´s HUGE, as compared to where I am now. For instance, my current community in San Marcos has about 5,500 people and 8 aldeas or smaller surrounding communities, this new community has 36 aldeas and around 12,000 people… OMG… and huge difference…  Also, the big thing that hit me during my site visit is that I will be leaving completely on my own. I mean, I will have a host family but I will be cooking for myself and I probably won´t have a lot of interaction with them, like I currently have with my host-family… I was devastated. I grew to love the life I was living in San Marcos, and in El Quiche, it would be a completely different life and PC service… I really didn´t think I could do it… I cried some more. I called one of my close friends here and let her know how I was feeling. She was very supportive and explained that my feelings are normal at this point… being that I really haven´t dealt with all of the changes that has come our way, just took in stride (as compared to other Volunteers) … and shockingly was doing a site visit the following week after getting the news… it was a lot and I needed to give myself time to understand it all. She told me I wasn´t in the right frame of mind to make the decision that I couldn´t do this move and that I couldn´t stay in Guatemala. I told her she was right…I needed a break from it all… which is hard to do in this country because all the volunteers are talking about is this big change! However, my APCD (program boss) wanted me to take Spanish classes for a week, being that I was in transition to a new site. I definitely followed his advice and took a week of lessons. It was a mental break, definitely. I had the opportunity to not think about my situation and of course think a lot about my situation. I decided that I would give this new site a chance. I wasn´t really excited about the new site because the volunteer that I was replacing did not receive a lot of support from her counterpart and the rest of the people in the health center, and I received a lot of support (for the most part) from my counterpart… and especially my host-family!

Well, this has been a very long post and it was well over due. So sorry for the delay… but as you can imagine, I´ve been busy adjusting to all of these changes and getting myself together, mentally for the most part. However, what you should know is that I definitely decided to stay in Guatemala… I´m not finished here and Guatemala isn´t finished with me!

Love and miss you lots!