Monday, February 8, 2010

23 in Guatemala

I turned 23 on Saturday and had a great day celebrating here in Cantel. My sitemates Kate and Travis along with another Peace Corps friend Sarah came over to my house for lunch and carrot cake. Kate even brought delicious rice krispie treats! My camera unfortunately got stolen a couple of weeks ago when I was on my way to climb Volcan Tacana (so frustrating!) but Kate posted a picture on her blog--

Then at night, my entire entire extended host family of about 25 people came over for a special dinner of tamales, hot chocolate and more cake. One of my host sisters made me a beautiful cross-stitched pillow case and I got to participate in the Guatemalan tradition of doing a ¨mordita¨, which means ¨little bite¨. The person celebrating their birthday gets to take a small first bite of the cake but inevitably someone pushes their face into the frosting-- unfortunately no pictures of that! It was a really fun night, though, and I feel so lucky to have found a real second family here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

English Classes

I taught a very non-formal English class to a group of Cantel kids last year, but this year I'm getting them started in a bit more organized way. The Muni bought me a whiteboard, the market is giving me one of the store areas to use as a classroom, and today I went and promoted classes at Cantel's biggest middle school. Giving the same speech 11 times made me really appreciate the intercom system for announcements that I very much took for granted throughout grade school and high school!

The most interesting part of promoting classes today was how many times I got asked questions like ¨What color pen should I bring?¨, ¨How many pages need to be in the notebook?¨, and ¨Should it be spiral or not?¨. After finding out where, when, and the symbolic sign-up cost of 5Q (about 75 cents, so that kids keep coming) these were the things that worried them about learning English. It's interesting to see how much emphasis is placed on details like these in the educational system here and less on critical thinking skills. I'm very excited about starting teaching next week and I hope people actually come!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Back to School

Classes just started here in Guatemala on Friday, with inauguration ceremonies at all elementary and middle schools. I went to the middle school where we're building the recycled wall to hear a singing of the loooooong Guatemalan national anthem, introductions of the teachers and staff, and general first-day-of-school excitement.

This year, the president of Guatemala made all public schools free. So, instead of charging a fee to enroll, the principle made it a policy that kids would have to turn in 5 filled bottles for our wall. Of course, not all parents were thrilled about this and some said they'd rather just pay. I think it was my favorite part of the day on Friday when the principal told me that some very enterprising kids had thus set up their business outside of the school, selling filled bottles for 2.50Q each (about 30 cents).

I've been a little bit sick lately, but have also had some good times teaching my friend the librarian at Cantel's public library to swim, having Peace Corps friends and a friend from the states come visit Cantel, and climbing Volcan Tacana-- Central America's second highest peak. This weekend, I'm excited about celebrating my birthday with my host family and sitemates on Saturday and then watching the Super Bowl with an American family who lives in one of our rural communities on Sunday. I'm not sure who I'm cheering for, but there will be American-style food, so it's bound to be a good time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Back in Guatemala

I just got back from a fantastic two weeks in St. Louis on Monday and am slowly readjusting to life back here in Cantel. December was a crazy month, with a good friend's wedding, building a recycled plastic bottle Christmas tree, hosting a World AIDS Day table in our plaza, and of course theater camp. (Check out Kate's blog for lots of great pictures and recaps of our final practices and performance!) Then, I was home for a whirlwind 11 days filled with seeing friends and family. Now that I'm back and life has slowed down from my busy December, it's a bit of a challenge readjusting to the slower pace of life here in Guatemala.

My host family gave me a wonderful welcome back dinner, I've had a great time sharing peanut butter M & Ms and telling people about Christmas and New Years in the States, and the weather is a welcome change from freezing St. Louis.... but still, getting started again is always difficult. Today I have a meeting with a group who does recycling workshops and helps set up recycling programs in towns near Xela, so hopefully something will come of that, and tomorrow I'm going with the market coordinator to find a market space to use for teaching two English classes. I'm also looking forward to school starting again in February and getting involved with putting our environmental eduaction plan into practice.

Today is also my one-year-in-Guatemala mark. It's hard to believe that a year has already passed. I've had some incredible experiences in this interesting and beautiful country, and can only hope that the next 15 months go as well!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Some Pictures

Where I live!

I went to Todos Santos, Huehuetenango where they celebrate November 1st with their town fair and horse races.

The people of Todos Santos wear their traditional dress everyday. The men wear red pants and a blue jacket and women wear a blue corte and huipil.

Some of the women from the group Fe y Esperanza that I just started working with.

Middle schoolers show off the bottles they've been filling.

The recycled wall we've been working on.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Update and Request for Help

Things are going well in Cantel! Our bottle inaguration ceremony was a success last Friday, with the mayor pledging support for the project, a women's group that I just started working with coming out and bringing almost 30 filled bottles, and about 40 architecture university students lending their construction expertise. My Peace Corps program director came to visit on Tuesday and it was great to be able to show him our progress and get his advice on what to do in the future.

Besides filling bottles, I've also spent time this week teaching a women's group to make banana bread using a pot on top of their wood-burning stove as an oven, attending middle school graduation, and doing an HIV/AIDS workshop with a group of 24 midwives at the health center. The Peace Corps AIDS workshop is very participatory and a lot of fun. I've done it several times now with groups of middle-schoolers, but it was the first time I've done it with a group of women, the majority of whom couldn't to read or write. It was interesting to see how the dynamics played out a little differently but all of the women seemed to enjoy it and were very excited about recieving their diplomas at the end.

Kate and I are also busy planning a theater camp, 'Adolescentes en Accion', for the month of December. A couple of weeks ago, we dressed in costume to present the idea at four Cantel middle-schools. So far, we have 30 kids signed up and are hoping for about 20 more. Beginning November 30, we are hosting theater games, auditions, and rehearsals on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. Then on December 19, we will perform 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves' for the Cantel community. Of course, you are all cordially invited too! :)

I had a great time on speech team in middle school and can personally attest to the success theater has in inspiring self-confidence and public speaking skills. It isn't something taught in schools here, either, so we are hoping that by offering a unique opportunity for middle-schoolers we can help promote these as well as creative expression, leadership and teamwork. We are also throwing in some environmental themes and making sets and props out of recycled materials!

I'm very excited about this project and have my fingers tightly crossed that it will be a success. This is where you come in... we need your support to make camp possible! Without funds for paint, cloth to make costumes, and a few other materials Dorothy won't be able to make it to Oz. Just a few dollars goes a long way in Guatemala and Kate, the kids of Cantel, and I would all be incredibly grateful for any help you can give.

To make a tax-deductable donation, you can write a check made out to 'Friends of Guatemala' with 'Rebecca Allgire-- Cat. II' written on the memo line. Checks can then be mailed to:

Friends of Guatemala
P.O. Box 33018
Washington, D.C. 20033

The 'Friends of Guatemala' fund is run by a former Peace Corps volunteer who now lives in Guatemala. He will then deposit the money in an account that Kate and I can access to buy theater supplies.

Thank you so much and feel free to leave a message or send me an e-mail if you have any questions at all. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

P.S. Whenever I explain Halloween to people here, I always tell them you have to tell a joke to get your candy-- St. Louis style. I still can't get over that other places don't do that. Take care and enjoy the chocolate!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Under Construction

Construction is underway on our bottle wall! On Wednesday, the school director, an agriculture teacher, and I went to present the project at the Universidad de San Carlos here in Xela. Two sections of architecture students and their professors are going to come and help us out with the more technical aspects of construction. I was nervous about presenting to a lecture hall of students in Spanish but it went really well.

Afterwards, we ran errands for the director and went out for cake and coffee, even though the teacher's class was just hanging out at school not doing anything. I don't think I'll ever get used to the Guatemalan school system where it's no surprise at all if teachers just aren't there for class ....

Yesterday and this morning we've then been working on digging a trench for the wall's foundation and making sure the bottles are especially full with plastic bags. It's great to be able to see visible progress on this project!

My good friend and sitemate Kate, who lives in one of Cantel's surrounding communities, was nice enough to say that I could post a link to her blog on here. She's much better about blogging than I am and has some great pictures of Cantel. Her blog is: Thanks, Kate!