Monday, January 27, 2014

What a Week!

I, my friends, am spent. 
And who wouldn’t be, after the week I had? 

To start with, last week I was in my 3rd Framingham class.  I’ve mentioned my masters classes a few times before, but never discussed them in detail.  The program that my school partners with for teachers to earn a masters in International Education from Framingham State University was one of the major reasons I accepted my position here.  I am now 1/3 of the way through the program. 
The way it works is really pretty cool.  A professor comes to Guatemala, and for two weeks, we have class Monday-Friday from 4-8pm.  It makes for a long two weeks because we still of course teach every day until 3pm, but it’s really not that bad.  I’ve loved my classes.  This last one was on Curriculum, and so it was completely applicable.  I was able to plan a few units that I am really excited to teach soon.  The class was also, of course, a little bit draining, so I’m breathing a sigh of relief that this week I’ll have my evenings free again.

But that was far from the only thing going on this week. 

We had a crazy messed up schedule at school, because Tuesday was a half day for students followed by an afternoon of professional development for teachers.  Then on Thursday, we took our first fieldtrip of the year to a plant where they sterilize fruit flies.  (The kids had been studying invasive species in Science class).  The day was great—beautiful weather, an interesting tour, and informative tour guides (even though the tour was all in Spanish and I didn’t catch the finer details)—but oh, was it tiring.  One of my highlights of the day, though, was watching the kids run around playing soccer after eating lunch on a field at the plant.  Soccer is such a big part of the culture here—some of those kids can handle the ball like they’ve been doing it since they could walk (because they probably have been).  It was pretty cool to watch. 
On Friday, classes were half as long as they normally are, and we had twice as many classes than we normally would in a day.  It was actually a refreshing change of pace, and I think most of the kids liked it too.

And then to backtrack, of course, there was the fact that last Sunday morning, I woke up and realized it was very difficult to use my left hand.  I couldn’t manipulate my fingers to put my hair into a ponytail, and when I went to give someone a high five, I realized I couldn’t lift the fingers straight into the air at all.  Apparently I pinched a nerve while sleeping Saturday night.  It was almost three days before I could fully use it again (which was lucky, because sometimes things like that can take weeks or months to heal, I learned).  It was frustrating more than anything, and I’m pretty sure my friends tired of hearing about it. 

I took this picture because I was really excited to be
able to do this with my hand again.

But the hand went back to normal, and on the same day, I had perhaps the most exciting moment of the week. I bought a car!  I am proud to introduce to all of you Moses, my new Volkswagon Parati Crossover.  (Why the Biblical name?  Last Saturday, I was out to breakfast with friends right before going to test drive it, and one of them asked what type of car it was.  I responded, “It’s a Passover…Crossover…something.”)  Moses and I have already taken several short trips together in the city, and I love him more each time I drive him.  I wasn’t really planning to look for a car until the end of the year.  I wanted one to just fall into my lap.  And then…this one sort of did.  An email went out at school, the test drive went okay, the people selling it are wonderful, and the price was right.  It’s so liberating to repeatedly realize that if I want to go somewhere, I can just go without checking other people’s schedules and seeing if anyone else has to make a trip.  And if my friends’ cars break down, now I can be the one to take us all to the restaurant or wherever we were planning to go. 

It's Moses! 

So that was my week, in a nutshell.  The Monday through Friday part, anyway.  On Saturday I went to a 4 hour training to be team manager of Destination Imagination (which I’ve already been doing for the past 3 months), did my laundry, finished my homework for my completed masters class, and joined friends for a night of food, laughter, and games.  Sunday brought me a leisurely run followed by 2 ½ semi-intense hours of Ultimate Frisbee.  8 of our 7th graders came and joined their teachers in playing!  We played one game of eight 7th graders vs six adults.  We tried to play fair…and coach the kids from the sidelines…but I’m pretty sure we beat them 5-0.  They probably needed to be taken down a peg anyway.  ;)  

I never bothered to take a picture with my camera,
but Carrie did! 

And now it’s Monday already again, and the new week has begun—though without Framingham to weigh down our schedules.    

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Earth Lodge Adventure

Last weekend was my second full weekend back in Guatemala, which meant it was time to get out of the city for a night.  Amy, Kenra, Chris, and I therefore spent Saturday night at a place called Earth Lodge just outside of Antigua.   This weekend was kind of a milestone for me in Guatemala, too, because it was the first outing that I have planned and organized on my own.  Coming from Puerto Rico, where I was more or less the self-proclaimed group tour guide and planned most of our weekend trips, I had missed that comfort level and feeling like I could plan something the way I used to be able to.  This was just a small trip, but it felt good to be back in planning mode.

We left a little after noon on Saturday, after a productive morning that for me included a 5 mile run and test driving a car, and before we got to Antigua, we were hungry.  We stopped at a shopping plaza in San Lucas hoping for some frozen yogurt.  We were not disappointed…and in the process of finding the sweet treat, we stumbled upon these adult-sized toy horses.  So of course we had to take them for a spin, and that became what is now lovingly remembered as The Great Horse Race of Lai Lai. 
I hope we never let go of our inner children.

As we neared Antigua, Chris realized we had never been to see the giant cross which overlooks the city, and since it was on our way that day, we made the slightest of detours and were rewarded with a great vantage point of the city of Antigua.  We took some photos, and then we were on our way.

Finally, we reached the end of our road and a dusty parking lot where we paid Q15 (about 2 dollars) and parked Chris’s truck for the night.  From there, we grabbed our bags and made our way down the dirt road towards the lodge.  (The road is under construction and therefore cars are not allowed to drive all the way to the lodge).

The view on the walk was worth it, and we all remarked we were glad to be walking so we could take the time to take it in.  We live in a beautiful country.

When we got to the Earth Lodge, it was more of the same.  We enjoyed breathtaking views of the volcanoes Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango framing the city of Antigua down below us as we relaxed in comfortable Adirondack chairs and munched on chips and guacamole before dinner.

At 7pm, as the sun set in a glorious flash of pink and orange, we dined on a scrumptious vegetarian meal (meat could be added if desired, but there was plenty of food without that).  After a bit of conversation with other guests, we retired to our dorm room (Where we occupied 4 of the 7 taken beds) and had a “slumber party.”  We had a great time lounging in our comfy clothes and telling ghost stories and sharing our most embarrassing moments.  At one point Amy exclaimed, “A slumber party?!  I haven’t had one of those since I was like 25!” which had us all in hysterics.
I hope we never let go of our inner children. 

The next morning dawned just as beautiful as the day before, and we were graced with some rumblings and smoke puffing out of Volcan Fuego in the distance.  It was certainly a cool experience to hear/feel the rumble and see the corresponding smoke cloud from a safe distance.

Volcan Agua to the left, Volcan Fuego (covered by a cloud)
and Volcan Acetenango to the right

We didn’t stay too late in the day on Sunday because we wanted to beat traffic back into the city…and make it in time to watch the Broncos/Patriots game.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Shivering in Guate

Okay Wisconsinites…go ahead, shame me all you will.  I can’t bite my tongue any longer. 
I shivered my way through my first week back with my students in Guatemala this January, and last week as well.

Go ahead, say it.  Tell me how two weeks ago you in the Midwest saw high temperatures of -15 degrees Fahrenheit.  Tell me how your lows were in the negative fifties.  Ask me how I can complain in my tropical climate and give me that smug “Central America has made you soft” look. 
I can take it.

But hear me out first.

I’m willing to bet that last week, if you went out into the cold at all, it was bundled up in a winter parka, hat, scarf, books, and mittens.  I’m willing to bet you didn’t stay out very long, and when you came inside, it was to a heated building where you could shed most of your layers and remain comfortable. 

I know you’d kill for the 50 degree weather we had last week.  I realize if you hit a 50 degree day, you’d shed your coats and don flip flops and shorts and go out for a walk to the park. 

But I’m betting that even on that first 50 degree day of spring, you wouldn’t head outside in shorts, find the shadiest spot you could find, and sit there for the entire day.  No, you’d probably find a patch of sun and spend a little time there, then head back inside, where it would be a good 10-20 degrees warmer. 

When it’s 50 degrees in Guatemala, I don’t have that option.  None of the buildings are heated.  So that means a 50 degree morning outside equals perhaps a 55 degree (maybe 60) morning inside, too.  My classroom has one complete wall of windows.  Windows, I might add, which have about a 1 inch gap between them and the ceiling where fresh air squeezes in, no matter whether the windows and doors are closed or not.  So last Tuesday,  I sat shivering, wishing for some fingerless gloves and a more substantial sweater, watching the thermometer on my weather app creep from 51 to 55, and finally to 60—but not until about noon, 5 hours into my teaching day. 

Okay.  My complaints are done.  You may resume your contempt for me and my plight.  It’s getting a little warmer here again.  It was 55 before I even left my house this morning.  My students are still wearing 2 sweatshirts to school, though…so it must not be all that warm yet. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Come again

Forgive me if this post is a little bit all over the place.  It’s been over 3 weeks since I last wrote.

Half of that time was spent in the United States, and the more recent half has been experienced from Guatemala.  So there’s a lot to cover.

When I was in college, I spent a semester in Mexico.  Before leaving, we were required to take a class to prepare us to study abroad.  In the class, we spent a majority of the time discussing culture shock.  Part of that discussion was devoted to something called re-entry shock which some people experience coming back from study abroad.  Basically when you suffer re-entry shock, you come home to your family and friends after this amazing experience and you feel like you’ve grown and changed as a person and are suddenly different from those you used to be so close to.  You may feel like no one wants to hear about your experiences, even though that’s all you want to talk about.  And so it can be frustrating.

I never experienced re-entry shock after my study abroad or upon coming home from Puerto Rico.

I think, though, that coming home from Guatemala this winter, I felt the first traces of that “re-entry shock.”  For the first time ever, I felt like I had so much to say, and some people just weren’t asking the right questions.  I could have supplied the questions for them.  I had so many stories to tell!  But something kept me from steering the conversation to myself too often in those situations.  Sometimes I did feel frustrated, and I finally feel like I have an understanding of what we talked about in that study abroad class.

Of course, mostly my trip home was just good.  I caught up with many good friends and family members, and plenty of people did ask the right questions, and I told quite a few of my stories in the 17 days I was home.  I saw some friends I don’t always get the pleasure to hang out with, and I spent lots of time with those whom I *need* to see every time I’m home.  And when the time came to fly back to Guatemala, I found myself wishing for just a day or two more in Wisconsin.

It’s a blessed thing, then, that sometimes you need to leave a place to realize just how much you love it.

I knew I loved my life in Guatemala last fall.  I feel like my friends must be sick of my gushing answer to the question, “How do you like it?”  “Oh, everything is so wonderful!  The school, the people, the country, just everything.”  I think part of my "frustration" over break sometimes came from feeling like that's all that I said to many people, without explaining what life is really like.  But when I got back here almost two weeks ago, everything I love about being here was reinforced in full force.

I love my house, with its open spaces and wide windows and white walls comfortable furniture. 
I love the weather.  (Seriously… 75F and sunny during the day, down to 55F at night to sleep?  You can’t tell me that’s not just about perfect for anyone).
I love my community of friends.  My first night back, I spent almost 2 hours unpacking and chatting on facebook with friends in the city who were eager to hear I was in the city again.  The next morning, I went out to breakfast with a friend, then met up with others to play Ultimate Frisbee, spent the afternoon shopping with another friend, and ate dinner with two of my neighbors.  I so rarely spend more than a few hours alone in my house.  There is always something going on, always someone who wants to hang out if you’re up for it. 
I love my school.  I love the beauty of the campus, the friendliness of the teachers, the innocence of my students, the time I have to plan and grade. 
I love that I can afford to buy fresh flowers, and that my house is always clean thanks to the wonderful woman who mops up after me each week. 
I love going dancing on Friday nights, and going for long runs in the woods on Saturday mornings. 
I love buying 12 bananas in the grocery store for less than $1. 
I love it all.
I just love life.

So yes, this turned sappy, and I apologize for that.  But it was good to be home, and it's good to be back, and I am a happy girl.