Fiesta Follow-Up

So this review is well over due since I meant to write it last November, but I will take this post and lead it into a synopsis of everything I am currently working on at this time as well so I hope you will all feel relatively caught up and have a bit more of an idea of the daily ins and outs of my fabulous Peace Corps job. The last couple of months have been super busy in site, as is typical of the tail end of any Peace Corps service, but before I jump into the closing details of service, let me rewind to October for the first part of this post…

October was a crazy month because I was trying to wrap up all my groups, squeeze as many sexual education workshops in as possible at Magisterio (the Institute for teachers-in-training in my town, mainly 16- to 21-year-olds), and plan TWO closing ceremony parties for the SAME WEEK. Never going to try that again. Both events turned out really well, but I was a nutcase and so were a bunch of my ladies. Lol. It was definitely a week that none of us will ever forget!

Starting with my Mujeres de Vida Saludable group, we had our fiesta on October 22nd in the afternoon. This was quite a party! Being that this group was my more “informal” of the two women’s groups, every session we had had was like social hour (or 2 hours) for them, and our party was no exception. These women know how to have fun! As a final activity, I paired the ladies off into two teams to compete against each other in a jeopardy-style course review game, the winning team earning “first dibs” on the little gifts I bought to give the ladies when I presented them with their participation diplomas.

Some of the ladies got rather competitive during our jeopardy game!

Some of the ladies got rather competitive during our jeopardy game!

Before we feasted on Guatemalan party food (tamales, meat and veggie tostadas, and cake), the women presented their own “course review” in the style of a beauty pageant where each lady wore her banner and summarized each theme. (We had a Miss Oral Rehydration Solution, a Miss Dental Hygiene, a Miss Protein, and a Miss Family Planning Methods!) This was their way of showing their appreciation to me for what they learned during the course, and even though Miss Protein talked about the importance of including fruits and vegetables in our diets, it was clear that these women were proud of what they learned and sad that the classes were coming to an end. Their presentation was an honor for me.

MVS Beauty Pageant

MVS Beauty Pageant

My ladies didn’t know that I was presenting them with little gifts (a spatula or big stirring spoon—and measuring spoons for those who had perfect attendance), but they loved them and were excited to use them. Likewise, they surprised me with a gift that they each pitched in a little bit to buy for me. It was a beautiful, hand-woven bag that was made in one of the surrounding villages in my town. It is sturdy and spacious, and I frequently use it for my trips to the market and for all the materials I need for the classes I give. I LOVE it!!!

Me, receiving my beautiful bag, a gift from my ladies.

Me, receiving my beautiful bag, a gift from my ladies.

We finished the afternoon with a group photo and a whole lot of food. Everyone left happy and satisfied. And I was relieved that we successfully pulled off our big celebration as a team. One party down, one more to go!

Mujeres de Vida Saludable (mas 2 hombres) group shot.

Mujeres de Vida Saludable (mas 2 hombres) group shot.

The next event of the week was on Tuesday, the 23rd. This is a day that can stand on its own as a Peace Corps success story. I had been working with my Health Promoter group in Pajquiej, one of the aldeas, or villages, of San Andrés, since the previous February or March. Our third major theme covered during the course was Reproductive Health and Family Planning. About a month beforehand, I had discussed with my group what a PAP smear is, why it is important, and how often it should be done. Of my fifteen Health Promoters—more than half of whom is indigenous, only one had ever had a PAP smear done. After that class, a few of my Health Promoters took the initiative to plan a day where all the women would go into town together and get their PAP smears done as a group.

Of course, there was hesitation because in the very reserved rural communities, practically anything private-part-related is taboo to talk about, but then—to take action and make a whole days’ event out of it? Unheard of!! But a couple of these women pressured the rest of the group into agreeing on a date, and then they really made it happen. On that Tuesday, fourteen of my Health Promoters plus two other ladies from Pajquiej who they talked into joining them for the activity showed up at the Health Center and waited until each one (except my one 14-year-old, unmarried Health Promoter) received her PAP smear. To me, that is success. I didn’t do anything but teach them about it and explain WHY it is important. Then they took the information and acted on it to begin forming a new, healthy habit. In my eyes, that is what all Peace Corps Volunteers want to see to feel like their service is worthwhile. That did it for me. And that is just one small example…

That Wednesday, I spent the entire afternoon teaching a SexEd workshop in Magisterio, then Thursday, the 25th, was another hectic day. This was pre-fiesta day in Pajquiej. When I look back on this day, I am in awe of just how much these women accomplished on that day. First of all, we had invited the entire community of Pajquiej plus Peace Corps representatives (i.e. my bosses) AND Health Center representatives to the Health Promoter Graduation. In other words, we were planning to entertain and feed about 175 people. We had received a donation from the town mayor to help cover the costs of the food, and as far as entertainment was concerned, in addition to me giving an explanation of the purpose of the course, presenting each Health Promoter to the community, and handing out diplomas, I divided the ladies into three groups, each responsible for presenting a lesson to the audience in relation to each of the three major themes we covered during the course. Of course, the majority of these women had never spoken in front of an audience before so they were nervous wrecks, stressing out on Thursday over their group presentations.

We scheduled Thursday afternoon as a work and party prep day and we all met at Carmen’s house at 1 o’clock. We broke into teams, some women cleaning up the school (where the celebration was going to be held), others decorating; another group was chopping vegetables while I rotated work groups, making sure each group had their posters and activities all set up for their presentations. We were going non-stop.

Originally the plan was to get everything set up before the live chickens arrived at 4 PM, then we were going to prep the chickens and everyone was supposed to be back home by 5:30 or 6 PM. Unfortunately, you can’t count on anything arriving on time, and it’s not like we were waiting on dead, already skinned chickens so every lady knew she had to stick around to help once they arrived. Just before 7 PM in a village that was dark by 5:45 PM, the chicken delivery finally happened. What I witnessed next will live in my mind forever. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures because I was right in the middle of the action, but it was truly amazing.

As soon as we got the chickens off the truck, these women went to work, practically in the dark. Carmen took charge of slitting the chickens’ throats on one side of her pila, and then she passed the chickens on to someone else to wait for the necks to bleed out a little bit. The next station was on her unlit patio where a huge pot of water was boiling over an open-wood fire, waiting for the freshly-slaughtered chickens to be dunked into in order to make the de-feathering process easier. Then whoever had free hands available worked on plucking all the feathers off the chickens. (That’s where I helped.) There was no complaining despite the fact that many of the women had gone hours without eating; they just worked. I was so impressed. My last opportunity for a ride back to town happened at 8 PM so I left Pajquiej, thinking they would finish up soon. I found out the next day that most of the ladies left at 9, and a few of them stayed and worked until 11 PM, slept and went back at it by 4:30 in the morning. THAT is dedication!

The actual Health Promoter graduation day went off without a hitch. The ladies were fabulous! The water sanitation/diarrheal disease/hygiene group presented step-by-step different methods to purify water, and then closed with teaching the audience how to make oral rehydration solution (for when one has diarrhea). The nutrition/immune system group presented a charla on breastfeeding, and followed it with a participatory activity with the audience: whoever finished drinking milk out of a bottle first won a prize! The reproductive health/family planning group did a fantastic activity demonstrating how difficult it can be to support a family with all the necessities when there are many children and limited financial resources. I had to step in to help this group a little at the end when they were going to list off all the methods of family planning, both natural and not, that we covered in class and that are offered in the health center; they were a little embarrassed to talk about those things publicly…

Oral Re-hydration Solution demonstration.

Oral Re-hydration Solution demonstration.

Milk-chugging activity during the charla on breastfeeding.

Milk-chugging activity during the charla on breastfeeding.

I was so impressed with my ladies. They were so proud that day, not just for completing the course, but also for being able to TEACH what they learned to fellow community members. We all wore San Andrés traje típico for the special occasion, even though half of us are not indigenous. That was their idea, though; it was a way to unify our group. It was neat to have my two Peace Corps bosses at the celebration because it gave them an opportunity to glimpse my life in Guatemala and PC service. After the presentation of diplomas, everyone was given the opportunity to share some palabras, or words, if they wished, then we feasted on roasted chicken, ensalada rusa (mixture of cooked and raw veggies tossed in mayo, sort of like potato salad but with fewer potatoes and more of other vegies), a side of rice, and horchata. The attendance was about half of what we were planning for (~85) which was great because then the ladies who put so much time and effort into food prep had quite a bit of leftovers! All in all, the day was a HUGE success!

Health Promoter Graduation group photo.

Health Promoter Graduation group photo.

Here is a head-to-toe shot (finally!) of my very own, self-designed San Andrés Sajcabajá traje típico, finished product.

Here is a head-to-toe shot (finally!) of my very own, self-designed San Andrés Sajcabajá traje típico, finished product.

Post-Health Promoter Graduation ceremony in Pajquiej, with the women I am closest to in that village.

Post-Health Promoter Graduation ceremony in Pajquiej, with the women I am closest to in that village.

After that week was over, I think I finally slept. I knew work would be slow or difficult to find during the months of November and December since all schools are out from late October until mid-January, so I planned to use many of my PC allotted vacation days during that time while everyone else in Guatemala was “vacationing” as well. Also, my town’s Feria, or county fair, is always during the last 8 days in November, but it essentially means that everyone is partying during the entire month. Then in December, Christmas, posadas, and New Years sort of take over everyone’s attention for that month so getting people to show up for meetings would be nearly impossible. So I just decided not to schedule anything! After the turn of the New Year, things supposedly start to pick up, but really not until the middle of the month. Again, many jobs in this town are for one-year contracts only so people don’t know if their position will be renewed sometimes until the end of January.

My vacation time started just two days after the Health Promoter graduation ceremony in Pajquiej. I headed out to my best friend, Kathy’s, site to spend some time with her and help her with an HIV/AIDS workshop with her health promoters. Then I went back to site for a day to do a worms and composting activity with one of the families in Pajquiej (with the help of fellow PCV and friend, Eric, whose focus is Sustainable Agriculture). I turned around again to celebrate Halloween in Antigua with Kathy and a bunch of other PCVs, and then we went to the famous Kite Festival in the town of Sumpango on All Saints’ Day. This was the same festival I went to last year, but gigantic hand-made kites never cease to amaze. It was neat to walk around to admire all the various expressions of art and personal/cultural messages being conveyed in a carnival-like setting.

Sumpango Kite Festival

Sumpango Kite Festival

Standing close to one of the kites, you can get an idea of just how big some of them are!

Standing close to one of the kites, you can get an idea of just how big some of them are!

My favorite kite at  the festival.

My favorite kite at the festival.

The day after that, I flew back home to the United States for about 12 days. I didn’t really tell many people about this trip because I really wanted to spend time with my family. I was home for both my step mom’s and one of my sisters’ birthdays, plus I got to meet some very special new additions to my family and my best friend, Linda’s, family. I was able to make a trip to the beach with my step mom and go wine tasting and spend the day with my best friend, Elease. I was also able to squeeze in lunch with one of my college music professors, Lino, shopping and a breakfast date with Dad, dinner with the Bruin clan, and a chocolate fondue/girls’ night with a couple more best friends (Krista, Bethany, and Fiona).

My best friend, Linda's, two sons: Isaac and the new addition, Henry Dean.

My best friend, Linda’s, two sons: Isaac and the new addition, Henry Dean, born on August 23rd.

My sister, Ariana's, 3rd child and my baby niece: Hayden Skylar, born premie on August 11th.

My sister, Ariana’s, 3rd child and my baby niece: Hayden Skylar, born premie on August 11th.

Being in California in early November was the perfect time to enjoy autumn at the height of its season (and I managed to avoid being home for the holidays so as to avoid being pulled in too many directions). It was just beautiful! Autumn is a season that doesn’t really apply to Guatemala… Between family and good friends, I was completely refreshed to take on the last leg of my service in Guatemala. It was the perfect trip!

The Langston kids going out for family dinner in birth order: Christie, me, Zachary, & Lyndsie.

The Langston kids going out for family dinner in birth order: Christie, me, Zachary, & Lyndsie.

Girlfriends: Elease, me, & Tanya.

Girlfriends: Elease, me, & Tanya.

Within a week of being back in Guatemala, we were coming right up on Thanksgiving  vacation, for which PC gives us 2 more freebie days, so a big group of us headed to Monterrico, a beach town on the Pacific coast of Guatemala for a couple days to play volleyball, sunbathe, and eat as much seafood and fresh coconut as possible. One of Kathy’s sisters, Mara, was visiting Kath at that time so she was with us during our beach adventures. Considering how close Kathy and I have become, it was really neat to be able to get to know her sister some because they are so important to each other. I did miss my turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy and being altogether with family, but we managed to get our hands on a pumpkin pie (although it was referred to as “squash pie” from the place where we bought it) to share, at least. Plus, having a non-traditional holiday can be a lot of fun every now and then…

Post beach volleyball, me, Kathy, and Mara on the beach in Monterrico during Thanksgiving weekend.

Post beach volleyball, me, Kathy, and Mara on the beach in Monterrico during Thanksgiving weekend.

Once I got back to site in December, I spent a lot of time just doing informal house visits, hanging out with families, and participating in cultural activities such as the Christmas posadas and 13 Bak’tun, (the end of the Maya time period)—both of which I have already written about. Then I used some vacation days for my trip to Belize, which I covered in my last blog post.

My favorite kids in Pajquiej: Yessenia, Chavela, Jonathan, Yaser, and Emilio.

My favorite kids in Pajquiej: Yessenia, Chavela (a nickname for Isabel), Jonathan, Yaser, and Emilio.

When January rolled around, I was still in vacation mode, hosting visitors and taking more small trips, but I did get back to working by the middle/end of the month. In my next post, I will summarize the work I focused on in site from February through the end of May as well as talk a little bit about my upcoming COS (close of service) and the processes that come along with that…

Chavelita and I, in Pajquiej.

Chavelita and I, in Pajquiej.

Love,

Alexandra

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Karl
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 16:53:46

    Love your traje tipica!

    Reply

  2. Cynthia Peterson
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 17:30:05

    Love the post, as usual. Thanks for the update! And, ditto on the traje tipico – absolutely beautiful! I think when you get home it’d be a fun project for you to organize a kite festival…huh? Oh, and a dinner party – your posts always make me hungry! :0)

    Hugs,

    Cynthia

    Reply

  3. deaconjimmcfadden
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 19:19:53

    Dear Alex,

    What an amazing, self-giving adventure/ministry you’ve experienced the nearly
    two years. A Troubie alum is applying to the Peace Corps. May I connect you together?

    Look forward to your return. Much gratitude for how you’ve responded to
    God’s call.

    Peace and good will,
    Deacon Jim

    Reply

    • Alexandra
      Jun 08, 2013 @ 20:15:48

      Hi Mr. McFadden!

      Yes, please, you may connect her with me! You know what? I just met a SFHS alumna here in Guatemala a couple days ago! It is Lauren Brunner; she just swore in as a new PCV in April, AND she informed me that another girl from her class, Hestia Rojas, will be coming in with the next training group. So that means there will be 3 SFHS alumnae serving in Peace Corps Guatemala at the SAME time! Crazy, huh? I’m going to make sure we get a picture together and send it to St. Francis because that is pretty cool. 🙂

      Thanks for reading! More to come soon…

      Alex

      Reply

  4. alisakrinsky
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 09:26:37

    Hi Alexandra,

    I cannot believe your time in the PC is wrapping up. I have followed your blogs during the past few years and your experiences have been quite astounding. I know your transition back to the states with be bitter sweet and a cultural shock to some degree. Paul and I are very proud of your accomplishments and will look forward to having you over for lunch or dinner sometime to share more of your adventures.

    Are you already back home as you indicated wrapping up your service at the end of May? Look forward to hearing from you. Kachina and Valentino say “woof, woof”.

    Love, Alisa and Paul

    Sent from my iPad

    Reply

    • Alexandra
      Jul 02, 2013 @ 12:50:50

      Hi Alisa!! I finish today, but I won’t be home until mid to late August, probably. I am SO looking forward to catching up with you and Paul and the pups upon my return. I will keep in touch!!

      Reply

  5. Elease Ayala
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 10:55:10

    Ally! Thanks for the update ! You have so much energy and dedication to your work. I’m so proud of your accomplishments there. Love you

    Reply

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Common Peace Corps Acronyms

PC = Peace Corps (sounds like "peese kor")
PCT = Peace Corps Trainee
PCV = Peace Corps Volunteer
PST = Pre-Service Training
ET = Early Termination
COS = Close of Service
NGO = Non-Governmental Organization
HH = Healthy Homes, the PC program I am in.
YD = Youth Development, the other program in my training group.

Disclaimer

Anything that is written or views expressed on this blog are mine personally and do not represent the Peace Corps or the United States government.
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