EMAIL 5: Date: 05-Oct-2005 09:55
Subject: Leaving Santiago and moving to the city . . .
Apologies for the delay . . . I was busy saying final good-byes this past weekend in Santiago, Atitlan and readjusting to city life in the capital. Please take a moment to check out the website in the upcoming week: www.vanderbilt.edu/travelfellowship/hogan . I hope to upload my Santiago journals soon and I was finally able to email my photos . . . so they should be on the website soon as well!!
First and foremost, a BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Kristin Fleschner, last year's Keegan Traveling Fellow, on her scholarship to pursue a master's degree at the University in Capetown, Africa where she will follow her passion for the African culture and women's issues.
Also, thank you, Kevin McGlothlin, a Vanderbilt Traveling Fellow, for coordinating my visit to Guatemala City and Gill Murrey for updating the website.
Where to begin? I am not even sure what happened last week. It was over so quickly.
For one thing, the rains have yet to cease. Everyone is counting down the days until the end of the rainy season, which is supposedly this week. I swear it is not going to end. It has been three weeks of heavy rains. Today, the Guatemalan President declared the country in a "state of emergency" because of the heavy rains and flooding which have caused numerous deaths and damage. (However, we have been fortunate since El Salvador and Mexico were more greatly affected.)
I spent a majority of the week on the computer compiling information about Santiago Atitlan and the organizations that I had the opportunity to visit and work with. The organizations included: ADISA, Co'joyla Association, Fundacion Ayudamos, and Puente de Amistad. (I am also happy to report that there are volunteer opportunities with ADISA, Puente, Co'joyla, and the local Hospital.)
In addition to putting together my thoughts and personal assessments, I had the opportunity to visit Puente and learn about micro credit and financing, attend a local municipality meeting about water filtration systems with the Ministry of Health representatives, visiting the Ayudamos' housing project one last time, and even more canoeing on Lago Atitlan. Over course, I spent the most time visiting with friends from Santiago and chatting with my host parents, Francisco and Argentina. (I also had the pleasure of finding 2 small brown rats in the kitchen once after dinner and once while I was eating . . . so much for the perfect family. They blamed them on the neighbors.)
I am not sure why I am having the most difficulty writing this email, it is almost as if I cannot gather my thoughts and reflections about this past week and the transition that occurred. In the past emails, I have narrated the adventures of the week with detail. However, this week I am not sure if I want to provide my insight about the organizations that I observed or my feelings about leaving Santiago, etc.
For starters, it was a difficult decision to leave Santiago, and it became even harder to actually leave on Sunday morning. Earlier in the week, I had received an email from a representative of the USAID mission in Guatemala. Although he couldn't offer for me to visit an on-site project, he offered me the opportunity to spend my last two weeks working in/observing the USAID office in the Guatemala City.
How could I pass up an opportunity to observe USAID? For those of you that do not know, USAID, in brief, is a US government agency that provides assistance and facilitates development projects around the world. They focus on programs such as education and health initiatives and the eradication of poverty.
An opportunity to work with an international agency of this caliber was one of my dreams of this fellowship because it would give me the opportunity to learn how a large-scale development organization works with other local and international organizations on various initiatives.
As a result, I relocated to the city on Sunday. Yet the drive to the city was pleasant because I went with my host mom who was already going to airport in a private shuttle. In addition to the shuttle trip, my host parents wrote me the nicest note with a gift. What they wrote is nothing less than what my own parents would write me. It will be something I cherish throughout my year.
In addition to leaving Santiago, I was not looking forward to the city because I had a negative image of what it would be like since everyone describes the city as dangerous and unfriendly to foreigners. Fortunately, Argentina called a friend in the city where I could live for the two weeks at an extremely reasonable cost. It turns out that my new host family is the exact opposite of Francisco and Argentina. I transitioned from a quiet, calming, and Evangelical value-based household to a home that I would describe as smoke-filled, lots of loud shouting out of excitement, busy because of a family restaurant business in the house and as typical family with 2 teenage daughters blaring tv's and radio.
Aleida's family is very welcoming and everyone is a delight to speak with, when I can understand what in the world they are saying because of their fast paced Spanish mixed with slang and swear words. It is also quite humorous because my host mom, Aleida, cannot say my name regardless how many times her daughters and I have repeated it. My new name is a cross between Charlotte and Shakira. Even more amusing is that my host mother is obsessed with random, bizarre collections. For example, the bathroom is covered with "frog" items like toys, stuffed animals, glass frogs, etc. Then my bedroom is covered in "Hello Kitty" and "Winnie the Pooh" collections; other rooms/walls have collections of angels, fish, butterflies, or "Spanish" figurines, etc. It is absolutely hysterical!
Aside from my living situation, I started work at USAID this week. Fortunately, I only have to take 1 bus to and from the office. Unfortunately, the bus dropped me off at the wrong spot and I was walking around Zone 1 instead of Zone 2 on Monday. Then on Tuesday, I left work around 6 pm and realized that every bus heading home was full. So, I took a taxi. My driver was incredibly nice and it was great to learn about him and his family. Specifically, when I asked him if he had children, he responded by saying 2 then said and 2 who died. There was an awkward moment afterwards because I was not expecting to hear this response in the city, which is common in pueblos. In addition, he happens to have 23 relatives living in Chicago. However, he had no idea where I lived so we spent time driving around zone 2 as well. It looks like Transportation Troubles will be my token issue.
During my time at USAID, I plan to learn about their past and current initiatives and how they plan to execute their projects. I will be quite content spending the next week and half reading everything I can about USAID's efforts in Guatemala and speaking to staff members about the projects. It is possible that I may do some other work that will be beneficial to the USAID staff themselves, but it has yet to be determined. It was strange to spend my first day in an office at a desk with a laptop with internet access after spending four weeks in a rural atmosphere where I was struggling with an irregular daily schedule.
The city is busy and loud and it lacks all of the culture of a pueblo like Santiago. You will rarely see women in huipiles and cortes and you most certainly won't find men in trajes like you do in Santiago. I only hope that I have the same good fortune with my host families and travel experiences in my next 11 months as I did in Santiago over the past month. If every month goes as smoothly, this year is going to fly by. And most of all, if I meet people half as generous and compassionate as Argentina and Francisco, this is going to be the most incredible year of my life. True community leaders like Argentina and Francisco only prove that anyone (big or small) can make an impact on someone else's life and that those around you will undoubtedly notice your leadership and selflessness. I admire their passion to help children with disabilities, their drive to improve the community, and their good faith that with time and perseverance Santiago will continue to improve. They even called me on Monday night to see how my first day went and if I plan to return next weekend. (There is no doubt in my mind that I will return to Santiago in the future and it is no wonder why so many decide to stay.)
I have realized one aspect of this fellowship that I most enjoy that I originally could not grasp. This fellowship allows me to learn about a myriad of topics and ideas that may not fit into one umbrella research category or topic. Originally this summer, I struggled with the idea of not having a "focus" and now I am embracing numerous topics that I did not originally think about. For example, now I am knowledgeable about biogas home water filtration systems, Mayan back-strap weaving and dress, and the USAID/AED's newest education proposal to increase investments in social programs and education on a national scale in addition to learning about "female empowerment/community development, human rights, and microenterprises."
Everyone have a great rest of the week and weekend! This weekend I am off to Tikal and then next week is already my last week in Guatemala and it's off to El Salvador next Sunday!! Below is a list of 10 memories of Santiago . . .