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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!


  1. Wow, what a look back! It's fun to make memories eh? Looks like you can afford to indulge in the nuttella, you look like your wasting away!!!! :) Enjoy the next chapter of your trip!

  2. Glad you finally learned how to use a tortilla!