Saturday, August 11, 2012

Home

Many of my RPCV friends will tell you that I overused the word "Home" during my PC service.  I used it to describe pretty much wherever I laid my head that evening, or wherever we happened to be at the moment.  When we were out visiting different places home was often the hotel we were staying at, or the neighborhood we all knew best.  When we were out on day travel and people were heading back to sites home was my actual house in Santa Lucia Utatlan.  When I was in Guatemala I used it talking about the US of A, and when I was visiting my parents, home is what I called Guatemala.  It was kind of my way of saying where I felt most comfortable at the moment, or where I had once been comfortable, or where I will always be comfortable.  Peace Corps service makes you really think about that old saying, "Home is where the heart is".

Is my home with my family in my parent's house in the suburbs?  Is home with my old host family in Parramos, Chimaltenango?  Is home in Xela, Lago de Atitlan, or Antigua?  Is home being with my RPCV/Gringo friends?  Is home living in a small house next to Dona Chrisitina?  Is home in Tierra Linda with the Vasquez family?  Is home Santa Lucia Utatlan?  It's hard to tell anymore.

I left my site on March 18th, 2012 and I made it back "home" a couple weeks after that and have slowly began my transition into American life.  Being with friends and family and having the luxuries that I lived so long without have made for some interesting situations.  It's great to be back but I am overwhelmed by the feeling that the whole thing never happened.  Part of it is that I was here at my parent's house before I left and part of it is that it went by so quickly.  When I walked back into my old room, it felt like walking back into that room the day before I left for Guatemala.  The calender on the wall was from 2010 and had April 23rd circled with the words "Peace Corps" on it, the book I had just finished reading was on the desk, certain items I decided not to take with me were still laying aroud, and every little thing was in it's place.  It was strange and I suddenly became overwhelmed with the feeling that nothing had changed here, it was all the same (for the most part).  It made my experiences in Guatemala seem like a dream, something that happened in one night and I woke up a new in my room again.  I knew that it wasn't true, but that didn't make the feeling go away.  I felt that way for a long time and one of the main reasons for it was the short attention span of Americans.  I figured I would come home and everyone and their mother would want to see photos, hear stories and try to get a little information about my time in Guatemala, and it was like that for a short while.  I'd say the first week.  The very first time I would see family or friends they would ask questions and want to see how things ended up and how it felt to be back in civilization, but the interest wains quickly.  I get it though, everyone here is so caught up with whats next and what they have to do tomorrow, and what they have to get done for work or school, it has to be hard to stay focused on one thing.  Truthfully, it doesn't even bother me that I don't speak about it much, most people wouldn't understand where I was coming from and I still can't even describe it.  My inability to describe it to anyone, other than the often repeated "Oh, it was great I had a lot of fun", doesn't give my time in the Peace Corps the justice I know it deserves.  I have always had trouble speaking about my thoughts and feelings, it always comes out jumbled and sounding like I had rehearsed it for weeks, but I have always been able to put them into words.  While I was in Guatemala putting my thoughts into words was easy.  I would come home after something amazing or unusual happened and I started writing, and it is always easier to write when the images and feelings are still fresh.  Now, being faced with having to sum up my two years into one blog post, or one conversation seems almost impossible.  The truth of that statement can be verified by the fact that I started this blog the first week I got back, and I am finally finishing it almost four months later.  But, I have to give it a shot, right?  

Hmm.... guess not.  My PC service was indescribable and by definition cannot be described any further in this blog.  If you are interested page back and you can read about the things I did, the people I met, the friends I made, the adventures I shared, and the experiences I will remember.  Of course, I didn't write everything that happened during my service in this blog and most of the time I gave the very tame version of events.  If you really want to know what PC is like, go join up, I would recommend it.  I can't believe my service is over and maybe getting this final post out of the way will be just what I need to make myself realize that fact.  I am eternally grateful to everyone who shared this experience with me whether it was my parents back home calling to check up on me, my friends making sure I was still enjoying myself, the Peace Corps staff who were always there to help when I needed it, my PCV and NGO buddies who shared the highs and lows, my co-workers at the schools in Santa Lucia Utatlan for helping me find my way and allowing me to help their communities, the students who hopefully learned as much from me as I learned from them, the wonderful people who let me into their homes and into their lives, the store owners who let me buy food on credit when I was running low on cash, the kids down the street who stopped by all the time to watch movies and talk about America, and all you people who followed this blog!  You were all here with me, whether I saw you everyday or once in two years, the love and support I felt always got me through the rough patches.  I am officially retiring this blog and trying to move onto the next adventure maybe I'll catch some of you along the way!

Take Care,

Kev

















Friday, March 23, 2012

RPCV

Today, I officially finished my Peace Corps Service and I wanted to thank all my fellow volunteers for helping me over the last two years. Also, my community in Santa Lucia Utatlan for making it so memorable.  If it wasn't for the people I got to know here and who changed my life I wouldn't have been able to make it.  I hope I am leaving my town having made some sort of a difference because I know they have changed me and will stay with me forever.  Paz Utatleco! 

ps- I am going on a trip to Tikal, Rio Dulce and the Bay Islands in Honduras starting tonight, I plan on doing a few more posts before I officially retire this thing.  But, I am going to wait until I get home to write those down.  Talk to you soon! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Despidida #1

Today was the first of my despididas (going away parties) in my community of Nikajkim.  It was one of my favorites schools and it was a lot harder to say goodbye than I thought it would be.  I'm going to miss the students, parents and teachers a lot, and I wish them all the luck in the world.  Here's to a full week of this.
























and I hope our paths cross again...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Looking down and Looking Forward

I have been in writing mode as things are winding down here, I didn't assume that I would write more than a couple blogs before I leave my site, but that seems to not be the case.  Today I went to my favorite school for the last time as just Profe Kevin, and not the center of attention for a going away party.  Just the kids and I hanging out, joking around, and talking about things.  It wasn't all focused on my leaving, although it did linger over the day silently in the background.  It was a good way to spend my last real day working with my students, although technically I didn't work and more just played sports with them.  But, the last month or so that is kind of what we have been doing anyways, so I will call it work.  After a few hours with the kids we left to head back for home and it was a particularly clear day out and it allowed us to see all the way to the volcanoes on the far side of the mountains.  I had forgotten you can see those from my community is Xesampual and it made me think of all the times I left that school with my head down in the back of a pickup truck turned transport for people in this rural town.  Listening to my music with the volume turned all the way up looking forward to getting back to my house and getting into my own little world for awhile to feel a little bit of normality.  A Peace Corps volunteers home often times is made to be a fortress of solitude, a place to hide from the outside world.  You don't have to speak Spanish or another Mayan language, you don't have to be stared at all the time, and you don't have to explain your behavior to anyone.  You can watch movies in English,  cook whatever you feel like eating, and be yourself for a few hours of the day.  There has been many a time during my service that going out into the world seemed to much for me and staying in my isolated concrete home seemed a far easier way to pass the day, so I stayed in.  It happened to me many times that I would leave my house and walk out my front door to the smell of burning corn stalks and the sound of children playing and suddenly realize that I am still in Guatemala, and not in the world I created for myself in my home.  Seeing the volcanoes today made me think back on all the times I tried to shy away from the attention you get by being the only American in a small rural village.  It made me think of all the possible things I may have missed in my time here, all the things that I wasn't paying attention to that would have amazed me or saddened me.  Like the group of children who follow me around town with their sun burnt faces playing with rocks in the field across from my house, or the workers in the fields with their torn clothes and old tools, or the family down the street working day in and day out making clothes to provide for their family and still being so friendly and happy.  I know that I rushed home to my house after a long day of work a lot during my service, but I also know that most of the time I didn't do that.  I guess that when you are trying to figure out something like finishing Peace Corps the things you forgot to do or the things you wish you did always come to mind first, instead of the things that you did do.  I plan on keeping my head up and leaving the music at home next time I leave the house, just to make sure I don't miss anything else.


* I wanted to thank all the people who have kept up on this blog and followed me on this journey, and for all the people who have sent me letters and messages in the last few weeks.  I appreciate it more than you know.



 









Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Maybe, Maybe not

I'm sure all of you can forgive me for not keeping up on this blog, mainly because of the fact that I have been extremely busy trying to close out my service the right way and trying to spend as much time with my fellow volunteers, friends in town, and my schools.  When I would see the volunteers who have already left the Peace Corps talking about the reports they had to do and all the stuff they want to finish, and at the same time constantly being out of site partying I figured that it wasn't as time consuming as it looked.  But, now that I am in the middle of it I realize that assumption was way off.  We have 4 reports to finish before we leave a Description of Service (which is the only thing anyone will ever see of our service), Termination Report in English and Spanish, and another Volunteer Reporting File.  All of which aren't all that difficult to put together but take a lot of time to finish correctly and with all the other stuff going on makes it hard to find time for.  Now that I am coming into my last 10 days in site, I find myself constantly torn between hanging out with my friends and hanging out with my community.  Both groups of people I will miss equally and I am highly unlikely to see any of these people in the near future, except for a few people which I already have plans with.  I understand how conflicted and stressed out other volunteers were when they were leaving PC, not only because of the fact that you are going back to the states and the worries that brings, but because you are leaving a place you have called home for roughly two years.  Who do you spend your time with?  The PC friends you have made and shared all of the ups and downs with over two years, or the people you came to help who have become a large part of your life?  Its a hard question to answer.  The closer I get to March 17th (the day that I will be leaving my site) the more often I am saying goodbye to people for the last time.  Saying goodbye to Guatemalans and to other volunteers.  Even though I am still here I know that I won't be making it back to certain places once I get to next Saturday and likely won't have another chance to say goodbye to those people again.  The whole thing is really making this transition even more stressful than I assumed it would be.  I thought I would just pack up my stuff say ADIOS in one big wave and be on my way back to the states and onto the next thing, it hasn't worked out that way so far.  Everywhere I go I am serenaded with "NO SE VAYA KEVIN!!"  or "Kevin Please Don't Go".  I have been invited to a ton of lunches and dinners and on little trips around town and I have been reluctant to refuse any of them, maybe it was to make up for the times during my service when I did refuse invitations and maybe its because I am starting to realize that I am actually leaving.  I've always had difficulty realizing that I was going to be leaving a place, just one of those surreal things that happens when you've been in one place for so long and you assume you will be right back.  It usually takes me actually arriving at my next destination for it to kick in that I am done with that part of my life and moving on.  I have been trying awfully hard to get myself to realize I'll be gone in a matter of days, and that started with the taking down and packing up of things in my house.  The things that made this place homey and comfortable are the things that I took down first, the stuff that made me feel the most secure had to go.  I started with the photos on the wall next to my bed.  Photos of family, friends, trips I've taken before, cards and letters from home that I have spent many hours looking at on sleepless nights from my bed seemed like a good place to start.  The next thing I did was go around the whole house looking for stuff that I wanted to keep and stuff that I wanted to give to the new volunteer who is replacing me or throw away.  That took a lot of work as well, because usually I like to keep everything I have and I can put sentimental value on just about anything to make me think its worth having.  With weight limits on airplanes and having to lug all this stuff around for a couple weeks I needed to be a bit more frugal.  I cut down a ton of clothes that I got at thrift stores and raced to finish a bunch of books so that I didn't feel the need to take them with me.  I think that I am at a good place with all of my stuff at the moment, but who knows whether or not that will be the case once I start packing things up.  I have enough confidence in my packing abilities to know that I can make it all fit, but I have a feeling that I will be paying a little extra once it comes time to get on the flight.  Even with all that, it still hasn't really kicked in.  Things have changed around here and I can see the change, but I just can't feel it yet.  I have essentially stopped working electing to visit schools and play games with kids when they have free time and finishing up projects.  The new volunteer who is replacing me moved in a week or so ago into the spare room in my house.  Volunteers who have been moved from parts of Guatemala that PC is closing are starting to move into town and the surrounding areas.  All my schools talk about is how I am leaving and how they are going to miss me and planning out going away parties, which are all next week.  Whether or not I am ready to end my PC service the end is not too far away, and I need to prepare myself.  I hate it when I have every minute of my days planned out for me, and that is how the next 10 days will be.  Planned to the T.  Despididas, Goodbye dinners, last minute projects, saying goodbye to my old host family, walking around town for the last time, giving the house a proper send off, packing up, and checking out the view of the lake one last time.  I guess if you made it through this jumble of a blog post you get that I am working through a lot of emotions at the moment, but two are by far the strongest; sadness that I am leaving this town and these people and excitement to travel around Central America, see my family and friends, but most importantly to be home.

-Maybe I'll see you soon, maybe not, but that's Peace Corps right?




















Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Dreams May Come

I started to write this post many times, stopping each time and thinking that it wasn't the right time to write it.  I was still too confused and had too many emotions flying around to write something that wouldn't be driven by them.  I realized tonight that those emotions won't be going away for awhile and it makes more sense to get them on page now before they do.

A little background on the situation:  In the last week Peace Corps Guatemala has made the decision to drastically lower the number of volunteers in the country down to around 100, from about 220 that are here at the moment.  The group that came before me was told they would be leaving one month before their scheduled COS (Close of Service) date, which was March 24th and is now February 24th.  Shortly after they got their news my group received notice that we would have to leave four months before our COS date which was July 18th and is now March 24th.  Everyone else who is left will have to deal with stricter rules and possibly having to leave their sites.  Part of this whole process to make things safer involves a good portion of the remaining volunteers having to leave their homes, friends, and communities to be moved to departments that PC Washington feels are the safest.  The reasons they decided to take these actions is because of the increasing problems with drug traffickers and security incidents that all too often are felt by the volunteer community in the "Northern Triangle".  The Northern Triangle consists of three countries in the northern part of Central America; Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  There has been plenty in the news of the murders and drug related crimes going on in all three of these countries and as such it has been named "the most dangerous part of the world outside of an active war-zone".  All three countries are in the top 10 for most murders in the year 2010.  The staff in charge of Latin America in Peace Corps Washington decided that in order to continue serving in these three countries, all of the PC populations would have to be reduced in order to provide better security and safer services to its volunteers.

First of all, I would like to note that I feel safe in this country.  I haven't had a single security incident and have never felt unsafe to the point where I couldn't continue living here, but I know people who have been in serious incidents (i.e.- Armed Assaults, Bus Robberies) and know that they don't feel the same way that I do.  I also feel that, as much as I disagree with what is going on, that PC Washington had no choice but to take the actions they currently are to make things safer for us.  It is unfortunate that my whole group are the ones who are really losing out in this situation, being forced to leave 4 months early in the prime of our service, but the most important thing is that PC Guatemala will continue to exist and work with the people of Guatemala for as long as possible.  When I say in the prime of our service I mean it takes a long time for people in your community to trust you, to believe you are here to help and more importantly believe that you are capable of delivering the help that they need.  Factor in that for most people it takes about a year in site to fully master the language whether it be Spanish or a local Mayan Language.  The point is that where we our right now in our service is the time when you really get things done, when you really have the ability to reach out to all the connections and friends you have made during your service and get them to work together to strengthen and help your community.  Losing the ability to do projects that you have planned and worked on for months is hard to deal with.  Luckily, I will be able to complete my projects by the time I leave in March, but for some of my friends that isn't the case.  The worst part of the whole thing is that I have been telling my schools for almost two years now that when I leave someone will come in to replace me and continue working with them, and I just don't know if that is true anymore.  There is a slight chance that I might be getting a volunteer who is being moved from their site to another one, but its not looking too good.

When I got the letter a week or so ago from our Country Director that I would be leaving four months early I had heard about it from the rumor mill earlier that day.  So, receiving the letter finally didn't come as such a surprise, but it still affected me.  Right after I read the e-mail I got texts and phone calls from a lot of my good friends and fellow volunteers, all of us just wanting someone to talk to about something we had no control over.  I didn't really have any reaction to the news.  I knew that it meant that I would have to head home well before I was ready to do so, also that I would have to leave my house, community, friends, work and new life earlier than planned.  But, I didn't feel anything.  Not anxiety or anger, just nothing.  It was almost as if I was at peace with it.  Ever since we got the option to leave early a month ago I had felt that I would probably use it and go home sometime in May, just to take advantage and get some extra time to travel before I headed home.  Leaving four months early was something that I wasn't prepared for.  It put a kink into my plans that I am still trying to unravel as I write this.  Travel plans are being bumped up and so is the need to prepare myself for life in the US.  From what I understand going back home is somewhat difficult and it takes time to get back into the swing of things after having been in a completely different culture for such a long time, I expect all of that to be true, I just assumed I would have time to mentally prepare myself for it.

A few days after getting the e-mail we had an All Volunteer Conference in Xela for 3 days and it was basically to explain to us why these steps were taken and what will be happening to PC Guatemala in the coming months.  It was a good time to see a lot of the people I probably won't run into again with all the craziness that is going on for everyone at the moment.  Some people already left, some will leave in the coming weeks and some will extend for a third year.  I still haven't decided when I will leave, depending on when (or if) a new volunteer comes to my town I will decide then.  I am thinking I will COS on March 19th or 20th, then stick around Guatemala and Central America doing some travel until the middle of April, after that I go home and into the unknown.  I like being in the unknown, I seem to put myself there a lot.  Traveling around moving from place to place and the biggest one to date was coming to the Peace Corps not speaking the language and having no idea where I would end up and who I would meet along the way.  Its very possible that an even bigger unknown is the one that I face after I COS.  Once I am done traveling and being with my PC friends I will head home to try to figure out the next step.  Where will I live?  Where will I work?  What kind of job do I want to get?  Will I go to Grad School?  It's all kind of up in the air.  I think I like it that way.  Keeps me from being stuck in the same situation all the time, I could end up anywhere, the same way I did when I decided to join Peace Corps.

For now, I am spending time with the people who have made an impact on my life during my time here, and those that I will miss dearly when I am no longer in Guatemala.  I am doing the work that I wanted to get done before I left, seeing the things that I had missed out on before, reading the books I didn't get to finish, going out when I don't really feel like it, laughing at the things that used to frustrate me, enjoying living in my house with concrete floors that is cold at all hours of the day even when its 90 degrees outside, saying hello to everyone I run into, talking with the kids who pass my house yelling PROFE KEVIN!!!, checking out the stars at night, stopping to appreciate where I live, hiking volcanoes I have no real interest in getting to the top of, enjoying being bored at all times, drinking with my friends, and taking some time to enjoy the sunsets I get to see every day and have not appreciated.  Soon enough I will be back home with my friends and family being able to spend time with my new nephew, see my brothers and sister for more than a couple days, hug my parents, play with my dog, speak English, get back to the CHI!, and find a whole bunch of other things that I will miss when I move onto my next adventure.  I look forward to seeing What Dreams May Come.  













Monday, January 16, 2012

Si, yo he ido por aqui...

Every Monday at around 12:30pm since July 18th when I got to my site in Santa Lucia Utatlan, I have made the 45 minute walk from the town center to my school in Nikajkim.  The walk in it of itself is nothing too daunting, sure it is a long walk and part of it is slightly uphill, but I'm used to it.  The first time I walked to my school I spent the entire time thinking how the next time I come here I need to figure out a way to get a ride.  Shortly after that, I realized there is no way to get a ride unless I happen to run into a friend who drives by or if I want to pay an obscene amount of money for a tuk tuk to take me there.  Both of which are very unlikely to happen on any given day.  After I got used to the altitude and my walking skills improved I stopped looking at the ground hoping that in one more step I'd be there, and I started looking where I was.  As soon as you leave town it gets real rural real quick.  The further down the path you go you come to a bridge over a river, no matter if it is rainy season or dry season you can always hear the water rushing down the mountain as if a fountain was at the top open all the way.  Right after the bridge there is an uphill section which cuts off views on all angles, all that can be seen is the road and the forest on either side.  Once you get to the top of the hill it is quite a site.  It is one of a few spots in my whole municipality that gives you a view all the way to the lake and the mountain ranges around it.  The first time I really took in my surroundings I remembered never wanting a ride again, I always wanted to be able to enjoy the vista every time I had to go to Nikajkim.  My town is in a valley between two mountain ranges in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Guatemala, so at any time you get a great view of the mountains, but in Nikajkim you are on a higher plateau and get to look down on them.  The clouds never seem able to cross the top of the northern mountain range, instead choosing to trickle down the sides little by little like the head of a beer foaming over a glass.  You can see for miles.  From the mountains that encircle Nahuala all the way to the volcanoes of Lago de Atitlan.  It's amazing.  For some reason, I forgot about it as of late.  I forgot to look around and enjoy where I was and enjoy the fact that no one I know back home will ever be able to see it.  I took this place for granted and I can't even begin to explain why.  I imagine it has something to do with how people get used to being somewhere and forget the things that draw you to it in the first place.  Today, I set off for Nikajkim again feeling tired from the first day of classes and having prepared for them the whole weekend before hand.  I felt the same way I did the first few times I made this journey, tired and watching my footsteps waiting for the school to appear.  Once I hit the top of the hill I looked up and remembered why I always walk to this school.  The title of this blog is the answer to a question that I get a lot here mostly from people who don't know me.

Have you ever been here before?  

Yes, I have been here before (Si, yo he ido por aqui)

With all of the uncertainty surrounding PC Guatemala at the moment I have to remember why I came here and part of it was to tell people that I had.  I have been to Guatemala.  I have been surprised at what I saw. I have lived in the middle of nowhere.  But, most importantly I have seen the view from the top of the hill in Nikajkim and it will stay with me forever.  

*To all PCV's- No matter what happens with PC/G no one can ever take away the experiences we have had, even if they can take us out of the country.