EMAIL 1: August 31, 2005
Departing for Guatemala
Well, where did the past few months go? I cannot believe it is almost September 1st and time for me to embark on my year abroad this year's Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellow. Graduation, Senior Beach Week, and "talk" about the fellowship seem like just yesterday. However, my days at Vandy have passed and now it's time to spend the next 12 months traveling to diverse countries and continents, meeting new people, learning new languages, trying new foods, and experimenting with new cultures.
My bags are packed and I am pleased to say that I have improved my packing skills and learned to put 1 year's worth of stuff (approx 85 lbs) in two bags. For those of you that know me well, I have failed as a "packer" on past trips to Spain, Costa Rica, and almost every vacation.
Another superficial accomplishment-- this fellowship has already provided me with a new skill in addition to packing. I have embraced networking! Before this fellowship, I dreaded networking- I found it awkward and uncomfortable. I did not like reaching out to people because I thought I was burdening them for help. However, this fellowship has taught be the power of networking after countless hours on the internet, emailing, and in DC/Chicago. I can't believe all of the contacts I have established.
On a more serious note, as many of you have asked me in the last few days... "How do you feel?"... And my answer is different than I would have expected two days before leaving. Before Monday, I was overcome with joy about being in Guatemala on Friday. Yet, as many of you know, our country as we know it has changed dramatically since Monday thanks to a "natural terrorist," Katrina. I have glued myself to CNN and FOX for the past 2 days watching Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama deteriorate. Guatemala looks like a paradise compared to those three states. They resemble so-called "developing" countries without running water, proper sanitation, electricity, food, good health and nutrition. The residents are homeless and life will never be the same. Not to mention the massive loss of life and total destruction of these cities.
I almost feel guilty going to experience the world and work with local NGOs when there is so much need for help right here in the USA. A part of me wants to donate my fellowship money to the Red Cross and spend the next year right here in the US to help our own displaced "refugees." It is my hope that our American citizens will rally behind Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to help them just like we did for 9/11.
Now that I have expressed my concern for our own country, I am sure you are all interested in what my plans are in Guatemala and the Traveling Fellowship.
I arrive to Antigua, Guatemala on Friday evening. Antigua is a historical and beautiful city surrounded by volcanoes 45 minutes outside of the capital. I will spend the weekend in Antigua reorientating myself to the Guatemalan culture and language. In addition, I will meet up with my cousin, Erin, and her husband who is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize. Her training is Guatemala and by coincidence her group will be in Antigua for the weekend. On Sunday, we are hiking up a volcano on Sunday. Clearly, my trip to Guatemala is off to a good start.
On Monday, I am heading to Santiago- Atitlan where I will start my volunteer work with my first non-governmental organization. I am working with Cojolya Association which works with Mayan women weavers. It encourages female empowerment by protecting the traditional textile weaving and selling these products at a real wage. I plan to live with a local family and I am unsure how long I plan to stay in Santiago-Atitlan. There are other organizations that I would like to meet with throughout Guatemala and a organic farm in Belize. ( www.cojolya.org)
I will provide you with more details about the organization and it's mission in my next update-- I realize this email is long.
Thank you all again for your support and words of encouragement over the past few months and days. I look forward to sharing my adventure with all of you! Please stay in touch. Finally, as many of you requested, I have attached a copy of my tentative travel itinerary.