02.09.2014 - 10.09.2014
Through a jumble of flights, buses, taxi rides, and extremely broken Spanish, I have made it to my first destination. The village of Pachaj is a short bus ride away from Quetzaltenango (often referred to as Xela), which to me, seems like a smaller, safer, happier, and more historic version of Guatemala city (even the McDonalds seems oddly cultural amidst the worn-down cathedrals). My home in Pachaj is simple, but effective. It´s also home to the entire 10-or-so-piece family of Armando, my host and head of the project for which I´m volunteering. To be honest, I have very little of an idea on how anyone is related to one another, and the members of the family are constantly changing and fluctuating in number - but really, that´s what makes it all the more interesting.
Being the only English speaker of the family, I´d like to think I´m living a somewhat authentic Guatemalan lifestyle, from bucket showers in the corner, where Armando Jr (the youngest of the family) decides to put plantains in my shower water while it´s heating on the stove (I don´t know if I feel cleaner or not afterwards), to using children´s old drawings as toilet paper, which I really feel bad about sometimes, due to the surprising artistic ability portrayed in some of the drawings. By the way, if anyone ever finds themselves having a bucket shower in the mountains of Guatemala, do NOT choose to take it at night. The luke-warm water does not compensate for your semi-hypothermic state. Regardless, the entire family is absolutely wonderful and treats me as part of the family. This of course includes the four-month-old puppy, Fuego, who I thought for sure was going to become my best friend, but then realized he must be named after his flatulence. Nevertheless, it goes without say that EVERYONE in Guatemala finds it amusing that I look like Jesus. I don´t think I could get more stares if I walked around in a robe performing miracles.
As for language barriers, some of my interactions in Spanish have been somewhat successful, which really do make me feel awesome about myself, until I have a conversation where I mistake ordering tea for a tomato, or say ¨thank you¨ to someone who just told me a story, or give the customs officer a role of toilet paper when he was expecting my customs declaration forms (why would a customs officer want to see my toilet paper? I don´t know, I was just following what I had heard). Indeed, there comes a point where ¨getting by¨in Spanish with basic conversation is not all that satisfying, and all you want is to have a detailed discussion with someone, or give your opinion during dinner discussions on Monsanto. Give it another few months of awkward interactions and I may just get there.
I even have my own Guatemalan cell phone, which consistently sends me Spanish text messages I struggle to understand. One of these messages actually informed me that I had already received 10 text messages, all in one day since buying the phone (all of which were, of course, sent to me by my phone).
Before leaving Canada, I was warned about the masses of rice and beans that would ultimately be my diet. However, it may just be the especially fantastic cooking of Claudia (the mother of the family), but I never expected Guatemalan food to be one of my favourites. The dishes are simple, but are all cooked with such amazing flavours, loaded with chilli salsa, and absolutely everything is eaten in a tiny freshly-made soft tortilla. With three of these meals a day, and my main source of hydration coming from tall glasses of weak (but delicious) coffee, I can´t see myself missing North Amercian food anytime soon.
And what is it I´m acutally doing you ask? My first week has been a mix of working for Armando´s project, taking Spanish lessons, and relaxing big time. The work involves maintaining and planting small trees on the mountainside, which is needed to maintain the clean water supply for the village and surrounding area. By the time afternoon rolls around, so does the thunder, lightning, and incredible amounts of rain, meaning it´s time for Spanish lessons. This is where I get some much appreciated one-on-one time with my Guatemalan teacher, and rather incoherently tell her about my life. After a while, you get used to having a teacher who speaks no English. Indeed, every day is a little different, but ultimately, I get to cozy down in my woolly bed and rest, so long as I can sleep through the howling of every dog in Pachaj, which typically lasts ALL NIGHT.
All in all, things are going very smoothly, excluding the inevitable shampoo explosion in my bag (although realistically, I shouldn´t have used a dollar store ketchup bottle as a container). Considering my poor decision making abilities, I feel like staying with Armando and his family has been a decision I won´t soon come to regret.
For those who get bored without pictures, I apologize. My internet source does not accommodate for such a thing. But they will come.