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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


It is Carnaval season here in South America and Monday and Tuesday of this week have actually been national holidays so there has been no school. Though there is no Rio-style celebrating here, they have been ‘celebrating’ for over a week now. For the first few days we were in Otavalo, far as we could tell, celebrating mostly consisted of water fights with your friends and foaming each other with giant cans of what looks like shaving cream. It seemed a bit odd but harmless enough.

As the week wore on however, these cans of foam appeared for sale on every street corner, throughout the market, and in every tienda. People with water balloons were now showing up on street corners launching unprovoked water bomb attacks at cars and passer-bys alike. Thursday Troy was foamed in the crotch on the street by a random five year old and on Friday Erin (a fellow volunteer) and I were targeted from across the street and were literally chased down the street by kids with water balloons.

At first we found this a bit odd that it was perfectly acceptable to launch attacks on friends and strangers alike, however we were forced to accept this as the norm. By the weekend, we were leaving the house only when necessary and felt like secret agents, ducking in and out of buildings and under canopies, keeping our eyes scanning doorways, storefronts, and the all too often forgotten rooftops, for people with the dreaded water weapons which by now had increased to water guns of various sizes, buckets, and even the odd hose. Troy’s arm hanging out of an open window of a moving shuttle was invitation enough for a sharp shooting bucket wielder on a rooftop and won Troy a soaking wet lap on Sunday afternoon.
On Monday a group of us decided that if we can’t beat ’em, we might as well join ’em. Erin, Kate, Aviv, Elysia, George and I headed out to the Peguche Waterfall which was promised to be the location of the water fight to beat all water fights. We went armed. With water guns and cans of foam in hand, we set out to meet our fate. Half the fun/challenge was actually getting to the site. This required about a half hour walk along part road, part path, part abandoned railway tracks, along which we were water bombed and foamed from the backs of pickup trucks, kids with buckets and various water carrying implements lining the road, and others also on their way to the falls. Since we came with limited ammo, our attacks were all purely defensive. No need to waste our precious resources instigating fights. We worked as a team and when one of us was attacked, we would respond mercilessly in defence which usually involved foaming, aimed strategically at the face of the attacker, and fleeing in the opposite direction.
When we arrived at the scene of the actual action, it was no holds barred! We couldn’t help but notice that the fact that we were gringos and, for the most part of the female variety, made us particularly appealing targets. At one point people lined the path with buckets, scooping up water from the river and dousing everyone who dared pass. We knew what we were in for but couldn’t turn back now so we bravely marched on. It was at this point that we heard the fateful words “Touristas!”. As all the bucket wielders turned their attention on us, it was all over…
Once soaking wet and foamy from head to toe it only seems fitting that people should start adding flour to the mix, right? Right. Kind of like a tar and feathering I guess. To add insult to injury, a nice doughy mass was created in my hair from the mixture of water, foam, and yes flour.
And of course I can’t sign off without mentioning food… We emerged from the battle grounds into the welcoming aromas of the local vendors eager to fill our cold bellies. I started off with some warm blackberry colada (being soaking wet from head to toe is a little chilly after all) and a cheese empanada, followed by a grilled corn on the cob on a stick brushed with butter and rolled in powdery cheesey goodness. To top it all off, I went for some fried potato balls of goodness and some bbq’d ’meat’, all served gourmet-style in a plastic baggy (as is the norm for street food around here) with a spoon.
It is now Wednesday and all signs of Carnaval have magically disappeared from the streets. It’s a little eerie, the calm that has followed the madness. We can once again walk confidently down the streets. I think I will miss feeling like a secret agent, just a little.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fuya Fuya

On our quest to eventually summit the snow capped volcanoes of Cotacachi and Cotopaxi, at altitudes of about 5800m, Sunday we began the process of working our way up. We pulled together a group of ten and, together with our guide Claudio, hiked up Fuya Fuya Mountain with its peak at an altitude of about 4200m. Unfortunately the view from the top was cloudy to say the least but we all felt great and look forward to the next step up!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bienvenido a Larcacunga

While we are based in Otavalo, I will be working as a GVI intern in the small community of Larcacunga. Some of the volunteers also assigned to Larcacunga will be consistent throughout my placement while others will come and go. My role as intern is to support the volunteers in any way necessary, helping them with lesson plans, coordinating and communicating between the teachers, the volunteers, and the GVI program director, inducting new volunteers into the program, and generally providing support for the Larcacunga volunteers.

There are currently myself and five volunteers assigned to Larcacunga. The Larcacunga school is a national school with a school director and one teacher. There are apparently 44 or so kids on the roster, though this week we maxed out at about 34. Chicken pox is apparently a factor. The kids are aged 4 to 12 in grades one through seven. There are about 3 first graders, 8 second graders, 8 third graders, 8 fourth graders, 6 fifth graders, 2 sixth graders, and 8 seventh graders. There are two classrooms located in separate buildings. Grades 1 thru 3 share a classroom, and grades 4 thru 7 share a classroom. Our volunteers plan and deliver lessons each day to the first, second, and third graders while the teacher, Senorita Nancy, teaches the older grades. The director, Senorita Lucilla, floats between them all.

We (GVI) have only just recently re-entered this school and the teacher was also only recently hired so until about a month ago, the director was teaching all of the grades herself. This boggles my mind and as I was helping the seventh graders with long division on Tuesday, I tried to wrap my head around the fact that they had actually learned something like long division with only a seventh of the teachers attention on a daily basis.

A typical day puts me on a local bus at about 7am. The ride is about 20 minutes and takes me just outside the City to 4 Esquinas (the 4 corners). This is literally the end of the line where the bus turns around to head back into town and is located at the intersection of four dirt roads. From here, we walk for about a half an hour up one of the dirt roads (and I do mean up!) to get to school. Along the way, we pass lots of locals on their way down to either attend school in town or go to work or to the market or wherever. In this rural area, the folks are very friendly and we are always greeted with a Buenas Dias, as was the case in Guatemala, however here they say it one time for every person they meet! It is adorable. Some of the kids also want to shake all of our hands, and on one occasion a group of little boys gave us flowers. Too cute. This week, we had torrential rains for three of the five days and the climb was basically slugging through mud. I am enjoying the daily forced exercise routine though! On the one clear day we did have, the views were amazing and actually getting to see the lush green surroundings and the volcanoes and the valleys that surround the school was beautiful!

We, and the children from the surrounding ’acreages’ as I call them, arrive to school at about 8am. They are then served a drink of colada which kind of looks like warm milk only with a lot of sugar and sometimes some oatmeal in it. Classes get going at about 8:30 and run until 10:30, at which point lunch is served. The local moms take turns coming to school to prepare the lunch meal. The government supplies (usually, and especially now as it is election time) some staples such as rice and sugar and on occasion other interesting things like canned meatballs (??) and sardines (mmm mmm). GVI supplements the government food program, through the donations of the volunteers, with meat twice a week, lentils and fresh fruit and veg daily. On Monday afternoons we do a big shop for the week’s food at the outdoor market in Otavalo and on Tuesday mornings we ride up to school in the back of a pickup truck with all the groceries. Unfortunately it was raining this Tuesday morning…

Recreo after lunch lasts for about a half hour during which chasing the kids around is usually a big hit, not to mention nature walks which usually culminate with bouquets of flowers to be displayed proudly. Classes wrap up for the day at 1pm and we send the kids home with full bellies and a piece of fruit for the road.

The walk back down to Otavalo is again filled with greetings from the few people we pass. But this time it is “Buenas Tardes”.

No bodily functions stories, just thought I´d share a day in the life. Buenas Tardes :)

Just above the Equator

We have been in Ecuador for one week now and have been learning the ropes and the ins and outs associated with not only being in a new City but also a new country, now in South America. From the currency and food, to the language and the expressions, to the clothes and the constantly changing weather, not to mention the internet access (or lack of Wifi anyway), it is all new! It has been fun getting to know a new place and meeting the group here with which we will be working for the next while.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dudes are dudes!

I learnt a valuable lesson today in school and that lesson is that dudes are dudes. No matter what country your in, what the age group and no matter the culture you have been raised in, dudes are dudes. I know this because today in front of a group of 4 boys at the school, I dropped an eraser on the floor, turned around, bent over and dropped a huge fake fart. Well these kids were in stitches and for the next 10 minutes, myself and another male volunteer (Aaron from Colorado and yes he is a Bronco fan), had a great time as we, along with the 4 aforementioned boys, had a great game of fake farting (may have been 1 or 2 real ones in there somewhere but who´s counting) and couldn´t stop laughing. As I said, dudes are dudes. Anyways, it was a great way to end the week of school. And just so you know, the kids here call a fart a soupi. If your a dude, no matter how old you are a "soupi" is still funny as all get out.


talk to you later and if for some reason this happens to be my last blog, it has been fun.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

have a HEART day

We spent four beautiful, relaxing, sunny days in El Remate; a sleepy little town on Lago Peten Itza in northern Guatemala. Actually Troy spent four days relaxing, reading, and writing and I spent three days discovering that relaxing is an art I haven't altogether mastered, and one day relaxing, reading, writing, and lying in the sun, evaluating the progress I had made. We arrived in Quito, Ecuador yesterday afternoon and met up with six GVI volunteers and the Ecuador project manager. Troy and I will be shuttled off to Otavalo this afternoon. We look forward to learning more about our role here and exploring what will be our new surroundings.

Hope you all get to squeeze the one that has your heart today.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What we didn't say.

We are on our last day of "vacation" in El Remate and have loved our relaxing time here. It has given us time to talk and really reflect about our experience so far. We have thought about our blog and what we have shared with you all to date. We have blogged about our weekends (and don't get me wrong, they have all been great), we have blogged about food (and don't get me wrong it has all been great), and about the fun times we have had with the people we have met (and don't get me wrong they have all been great). You see, words come easy to describe these types of experiences.
On the other hand, we have found it difficult to describe and express our day to day surroundings in the small community we came to know, the experiences we shared by being a part of it, and the impact it had on us without somehow sounding inappropriately shocked or disrespectful toward the way of life we would describe. It is difficult to strike the balance between wanting to share our experiences with the world and wanting to respect the privacy and dignity of those we cross paths with. I find the people here amazing, well weathered by their way of like and am often tempted to try and capture in pictures what I see as simple and beautiful. And while taking photographs would speak volumes, we have hesitated to do so outside the school as I can only imagine my reaction if someone felt it a novelty to come to my hometown and photograph my life. However, in trying not to cross boundaries, I believe that it is in not expressing these things that we have erred on the side of conservative., highlighting our weekend adventures and not quite sure how to put into words the rest.

What we have not blogged about is the conditions we have seen here, the personal stories that have pulled our heartstrings, and the simple lives and displays of strength that we have witnessed, specifically in the people and the children of Itzapa.

Though we only scratched the surface of getting to know the kids, getting a glimpse of what it means to grow up in rural Guatemala has been eye opening to say the least. Funny how what is initially shocking becomes accepted as the norm once a significant amount of time is spent getting to know a place. We have not written about the houses that the children live in, often a few sheets of plywood or concrete block walls built up around a dirt floor and tin roof shared with extended family and livestock alike, or about the distances some of the rural children walk to school each day. We have not written about the racism experienced by indigenous people which, in some cases, results in refused entry to public school. We have not written of the family situations we have been made aware of, only to say that these kids are tough. Nor have we written of the malnutrition we have witnessed and what that does to the children’s skin and faces, only to say that they are light and easy to throw into the air. We have not written about the way that some of the children don’t eat their snack so that they can take it home for their moms, only to say that for some it could be their most substantial meal of the day. We have not written of the young kids we passed each day, machetes in hands, following behind their livestock on the way out to the fields, set to put in a days work. Nor have we spoken about the sanitation, or lack thereof, the streets ripe with the smell of refuse and supporting the stray dog population.
And yet, in the face of all these obstacles, I think the kids we met here continue to show up for GVI school incredibly early each day, because they get to be kids and the people there make them smile. Simple enough. Sure, there are the incentives that encourage the parents to send the kids to this ’extra’ school over and above national school, like the food and fertilizer programs in place, but I like to think that it is the opportunity to check their responsibilities at the door and be a kid that keeps them showing up early and eager.
Helping increase the odds of academic success, giving these kids a chance to laugh and smile and letting kids be kids. For that we count our time in Itzapa as time well spent and are proud to have been a part (no matter how small) of positive change.
We have not written about these things as it is these realities that are difficult to put into words. It is difficult to do justice to and pay adequate tribute to those who, without even knowing it, inspire us to truly appreciate the things with which we have been blessed.

We will keep this letter received by one of our students as a reminder that even the seemingly small things just might matter to someone:

"Profe Troy and Seno Nicole,
Thank you for coming here and teaching me, you have tought me a lot. It has been fun to be in your class and I enjoyed when you would sing and dance in class. I am sorry for the times that I didn't pay attention to you. I hope that you and Nicole return soon and when you do, my families home and my arms will be open for the both of you. Safe travels and may god light the way on your remaining journey."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Antigua and Itzapa - A Look Back

Though this posting may be a little late, it has been in the making for the past five weeks and it is only now that our time in Guatemala is over that I look back and have decided to provide a bit of a recap of our time there for you, and also for us.
This is us, about three weeks in I’d guess. We still look the same. Troy’s hair is probably a wee bit longer now. Though the way he constantly runs his fingers through it, you’d think it was down to his shoulders already.

We have been living for the past five weeks in Antigua in an area called the Colonial Candelaria. We were hosted by a sweet woman named Sylvia who prepared fantastic meals for us and always made sure that Troy got enough to eat, usually about twice as much as us girls (he was the favorite). Which brings me to our roommate, Leigh. This is us together on our last night. Leigh currently lives in New York but she’s from the south and starts and ends her sentences with y’all. I thought that was great. Also great was the way she would kill cockroaches and leave them on her floor as a warning to the others…

We really enjoyed Antigua and it came to feel quite like home. I really enjoyed the colonial style buildings, though I’m sure Troy tired of my stopping to take photos of window boxes and front doors.

Things that once seemed strange or ‘different’ soon became common place and we got used to seeing the chicken buses choking out black smoke, tuk-tuks booting around the streets, pick-up trucks with a dozen or so people in the back (not including infants and livestock), and motorcycles and scooters like they are going out of style (and don‘t even think of wearing a helmet if you want to blend in). Chicken buses are pretty much retired school buses from the states that have been painted up crazy, are driven even crazier and are used as public transportation here in central america. There is typically a driver and then the guy who hangs out the door yelling the destination of the bus. Along with several dozen people on the bus, it is not uncommon to see people riding on the top or hanging on to the back for dear life. I bring you the chicken bus.

Also on the list of things that stopped being shocking is the fountain in the central park of Antigua. For obvious reasons (see picture below) the fountain became known in our circle as the ‘lactating fountain’. We got to walk by it at least twice a day on our travels, in various states of operation. Sometimes in full force, sometimes just dribbling, and sometimes completely dried up.
As I’m sure many of you could guess, inevitably the goal of certain members of the group (all male) was to get a group photo with, or rather in, the fountain. This clearly would not be permitted in the daylight, therefore, much discussion and planning surrounding the aforementioned photo op culminated in the photo below, taken well after daylight. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful at not drawing attention to ourselves. This photo was taken just prior to the police showing up…

While in Antigua, we made many trips to the local market and it was always an experience, especially on official ‘market’ days. I loved all the colors and sights and sounds but would always wonder how people got started in peddling their particular wares. I mean how is one to decide whether to sell fruit or stereo equipment? Handicrafts or cell phone cards? Colorful lentils or goldfish in a bag? Just curious.

We have been well fed while we have been here and I have also probably consumed my weight in tortillas since we arrived. As I understand it the recipe for a tortilla is quite simply cornflour and water and it is in the cooking method that the various tortilla products are born. There is the standard tortilla (like a mini soft taco shell, only thicker) on which you can spread beans or simply use as a vehicle to get food to your mouth, the tostado (the deep fried tortilla that eats like a chip, on which you can spread beans and guac, or simply dip in salsa), and once we had french fries wrapped in tortillas and deep fried but I‘m not sure what the official name for that one is. Probably YesPlease. Whatever, the form, tortillas are a hit here and you cannot go around a corner without spotting a tortilleria or hearing the slapping sound of dough being tossed from one hand to the other from inside a tortilleria. Tortillas are sold everywhere, in restaurants, on street corners and in storefronts and I still haven‘t been able to figure out how the demand could possibly equal the supply but what do I know? This little tortilleria is right next door to the school and I always thought that the colorful fruit outside made a pretty picture.

On the subject of food, I also discovered a new favorite food here in Guatemala. Not exactly authentic cuisine but yummy nonetheless…. Nutella! I know, most of you probably discovered this ages ago and though troy has always kept it stocked at our house, I just never ate it. And now that I have, I can’t stop. It all started with this wonderful banana bread from the local bakery. Someone suggested eating it with nutella and a winning combination was born. Now, combine with that the Luna de Miel, a creperie we only recently discovered (thank god or I’d have to buy drawstring pants) last week that serves nutella crepes, and it’s all over. Seriously, nutella crepe with ice cream, you will never look back.

Indulging in such things were of course for weekends only as there was work to be done on weekdays! Every weekday Troy would be up before six, squeezing in a workout before breakfast. (All those who got to hear the chinup bar debate prior to our departure will be happy to know that there was a wrought iron arch on the terrace that facilitated the chinup portion of the program). I would roll out of bed with just enough time to get ready, and head out the door. There we would meet Lindsay and walk to the coffee shop together, where we would meet the other volunteers and get picked up by the shuttle. Meet Lindsay. Lindsay is from Ireland and getting her to say tirty tree and a tird (33 1/3) still has not gotten old.

The shuttle ride to and from the school was about a half hour long and was often eventful. Aside from narrowly avoiding collisions with stray dogs, pedestrians, and fellow motorists, inside the van it involved sing alongs, last minute lesson planning and usually games of “would you rather…“ which covered topics you can’t even imagine. The school street is pictured here. Can you pick it out?

Lindsay and I had a blast teaching kindergarten! I feel like we just got a good system figured out, and then it was time to leave already. Between driving the other classes crazy singing ‘Buenos Dias‘ at the top of our lungs every morning, encouraging them to chant each others’ names as they made their way to the chalk board to erase the appropriate letter in el alphabeto and scrambling to finish our craft projects on time every day, I think we did manage to teach them something! Here we are with some of our pupils. Not sure how we somehow managed to get so many of them to sit still long enough to get this picture…

Troy taught on his own in the morning and with Salia in the afternoon. He was always drawing crazy things on the board like the musculo-skeletal system or the digestive system. Who knew he was such an artiste? His favorite thing, (when he wasn’t wrestling with the kids ofcourse), was in creating Word Searches (or as he called them in span-glish, Soupa de Letras). He took great pride in making them so difficult that it became a competition among the students! Here is a picture of Troy and Salia and their afternoon class.

During the break between morning and afternoon class, we ate lunch prepared by a local community leader, Elena, and her family. They were quite shocked to learn that I did not do the cooking at home and offered to keep me on board for some lessons. I declined. Troy was always trying to get his hands into the kitchen however and even got to help prepare the meals on occasion. Here he is learning how to make tortillas.

Also during our break between classes, the volunteers participated in the daily ritual of consuming Choco-Fruta. Pretty much the best thing on the planet you can buy for 1Q (roughly 6 cents). Frozen fruit on a stick, dipped in chocolate, sprinkled with nuts. Can you say YUM! Popular choices being banana, pineapple, or strawberries. Okay, the picture does not do it justice. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover…

There were some volunteers at Itzapa that came and went while we were there but the group with which we volunteered for the duration are pictured below. From left to right is Mark (18 from England), me, Marco (21 from Australia), Lindsay (24 from Ireland), Salia (18 from BC), Andrew (22 from Australia), and of course Troy (yes, we were the old ones…). A great group of people with whom we shared many, many laughs! Missing is Nancy (29 from Australia) and Dario (37 from Italy) who left a week before us.

Our last day of school was on Friday and was an overwhelming day indeed. On days when volunteers finish their service, classes end a few minutes early and all the kids line up to say their goodbye and give hugs and even cards that have been made. It was awesome to feel the hugs from all the kids and receive the extra squeezes from those who came back in line for seconds. We will most definitely remember our time in Itzapa and the little faces that made it worthwhhile.

Every Friday ends with a bbq at the GVI intern house where all the volunteers meet up for a giant pot luck. Always good eats and we always eat ourselves silly. Our final Friday was no different. Naturally Troy has been in charge of the Farn contribution to the bbq and came up with a signature pasta dish that he brought weekly. It was a big hit. Here I am….helping.

The bbq's have been a great way to unwind after the week and in addition to the good eats, there is often spontaneous karaoke, dancing, and ofcourse plenty of laughs :).

The departing volunteers have a chance to say a few words at the end of the bbq and do a little dance-of-joy so to speak. Kind of like at camp so I of course love it! True to form, Troy had the place in tears for his speech....And then showed everyone his but crack during his dance. So proud :) .
The fun times had here will not soon be forgotten.

As we move on, we are excited as we look ahead to begin the next chapter of our trip in Ecuador!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


What a weekend! Certainly in my top 5 weekends of all time. And yes, I rate them. It all started out early Saturday morning, and I mean early. Nicole and I were up at 4 am (we didn't get to bed to half past 12 which turned out to be a terrible decision) as we had plans of summiting the 3rd highest peak in Guatemala, at a height of 3995 meters. We took a shuttle to the base of Volcano Acatanengo and began our hike at 6am. It was an amazing hike that was challenging and loads of fun. We summitted around 10: 05 am and were super pumped about the fact that it only took us just over 4 hours. We started making our way down about 30 seconds after we summitted because on top of volcano acatanengo was the windiest and coldest place on earth. We took 1 picture because that is all I could manage to take without freezing my fingers off.
We stopped for lunch just before noon and had an amazing vegetarian sandwhich, who knew a sandwhich without meat could taste so good and be so filling. Got back into town around 4pm about 1.5 hours ahead of schedule. The rest of Saturday consisted of getting ready for our trip to the Copan Ruins in Honduras, eating and sleeping, so a great ending to a great day.

Sunday was more of the same with a 4 am shuttle ride to Copan, Honduras. We arrived in Copan just after 10 am and set out to find a place to spend the night. Nicole and I, along with Jason and Nancy ( another couple volunteering in Guatemala) found a nice hostel that only was $12 per night to stay, so a good start to the day already. The four of us then headed to the Copan Ruins. The Ruins were super cool and very interesting, we had an excellent guide, learnt alot of history about the ruins and the mayan culture. This won't make sense to the female readers but I think most of the guys will understand my next point. The whole time walking around the Ruins, I couldn't help but think that the whole experience would have been alot better if I could have carried a spear around with me and then threw it at something at the end of the tour. Despite not getting to carry and/or throw a spear, the ruins were quite amazing and something I won't soon forget.

As we got back into Copan there was only one thing on my mind and that was ofcourse finding a place that was going to show the superbowl. Well as Nicole and the others ate, I went to scope out all of the options and then ultimately pick the best place to take in the big game. After checking out many opitons I settled on Big Jim's Pizza. The actual name of the place was Jims Pizza but Jim was huge, so I started calling him big Jim and only find it appropriate to tell you that we watched the superbowl at Big Jim's. I showed up at Big Jims about 2 hours before kickoff and was the only soul in the place. I was fine with this as it assured me the best seat in the house. I sat with Big Jim and shared some conversation and some beers waiting for the others to arrive. Well the game came and what a game it was. I have no allegience for either team and was just hoping for an entertaining game and man was it ever entertaining. The game was great, the pizza was unreal and I was in a bar in Honduras watching the superbowl, seriously, how good is that. To top the night off, we went to the red frog ( another local bar in Copan) where I ate nachos and got to play poker with 4 dudes from England and a guy name Pat. Pat was the owner of the red frog and if I were ever to make a movie, Pat would certainly be a character in it. So Sunday consisted of Ruins, food, the Superbowl, beer, Nachos, poker and a really cool guy named Pat, minus the whole no spear thing, it was truly a great day.

Anyways, miss you all and hope you all enjoyed Superbowl Sunday as much as I did.