New country, new decisions. It took me 4 minibuses, 5 hours, the slowest driver in the world and ushering away a heard of cows to get to the border with Honduras (which seemed a little devoid of traffic as there was no personnel manning the immigration desks) after which I got to Copan Ruinas in a swift 30 minutes.
Leaving Guatemala meant that I didn’t have to see the election campaigns anymore, which was nice. The elections are coming up on September and vegetate you go there are billboards, painted Walls and even painted rocks. Most people I spoke to re educated enough to know it’s all a bunch of lies – to the degree that the current president & his wife split up so that she could run for president for their party, thereby not disobeying the rules.
I was very sad to leave Cabanas though. The weather seemed to have changed to more regular rains, even some during the day with overcast skies, meaning the temperature was more pleasant. I had started feeling at home in my little room in Lucy’s house, and was always extremely grateful for her open-mindedness about my lack of religion (even people who were religious and didn’t go to church had a hard time understanding that I didn’t believe in God). Two of the three weekends in spent in a little village in the hills called El Arenal with a new friend, Rafita.
They were so great with my stomach situation. I had these cramps and the kept on getting worse. It was pretty painful but Rafita’s family went out of their way to try and find different medicine that would make me feel better, which eventually one of them did!! I think it was a simple case of travelers diahrroea and after being careful about my food intake for a little I went back to normal. I bought them all cake the second weekend I was up there! I did, however, come out with a new life skill – being able to tortilla (yes, in Spanish here they use it as a verb). Theyre different from wheat tortillas, mug smaller and thicker, but theres a special clapping technique to make them. I’ve perfected it by now :).
Something I’ve noticed talking to women here is that a) a lot of them suffer from depression, but they’re very aware of it being a medical condition that you can get treatment for and are not afraid to be open about it. B) almost everyone has/had several relatives in the US, some with papers and some with not.
The next week, my first full week, saw me in the recycling center on Monday morning, cooking classes Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and keeping the library open on Wednesday and Friday. All of the afternoons of that week I was teaching a beginners computer class to these cute kids, the oldest of which was 12. It was tough, coming up with what to teach, then coming up with the Spanish for it! But they all seemingly understood all of my instructions, and by the end they were googling all kinds of stuff, and even using it in their free time!! That gave me such satisfaction, especially because they wanted to do it, and if they were still a little insecure they’d just ask me what the website for google was. At the end we had a little ceremony with certificates for the group, and they all hugged me and sad they didn’t want me to leave. That really touched me actually. Some of those kids would be great for sponsorship, and id love to help out once I have a steady income again.
Working in the library and seeing the kids come and reads books made me realize how low the level of reading is. The 11 year old kids still read books for 6-7 year olds and they only learn the alphabet in elementary school. It was a little shocking considering I’m used to kids reading 200 page books by the start of their teens!
The second weekend I was back in El Arenal making a local dish (a little like the way we make burritos) called garnachas, which were really good, and something else called chepes, which is basically fatty corn dough (of course corn!) with black beans (of course!) boiled. I was given a lot of these but I never warmed to the taste. On the sunday morning I headed back to Cabanas as I’d been invited to a family gathering by Annie at a place with a swimming pool, the latter being extremely welcome in the heat. I had a great time especially hanging out with Annie, her husband and her kids, all of whom are just lovely! I don’t think anyone could have made me feel more like a member of the family.
My last week was more irregular than the 2nd. We bought materials for big advertisement signs for the recycling centre and put a base coat on. Tuesday we went to one of the local schools to build a wall with plastic bottles, a technique everyone at asivesca wants to practice so they can make houses and benches out of them in the future! It was very interesting to see the public school and it’s resources, or lack of it. The principal couldnt have cared less that we were there, and there wasn’t much control around. Teachers teach for the moony rather than the kids, and even up to 15 years of age they finish school at 12.30 in the afternoon. And when a teacher can’t make it, the whole class is off for the day. They have uniforms, but it’s voluntary up to 12 or 13, and kids who don’t have one to wear aren’t allowed to participate in some of the activities. I feel bad for those kids, as they seemed pretty nice when we were doing the wall.
On Wednesday I had a minor heart attack as I’d accidentally formatted my memory card (what camera doesn’t WARN you that you’re about to erase your photos!!) and spent the rest of the day recovering my photos, successfully luckily enough. Thursday and Friday were excursion days out to two reserves, both with local guides. The first guide was in training and he seemed a bit nervous, me being his first foreigner to guide around but he was very knowledgeable about the area and the reserve had an easy, well-constructed path. I thought it was very enjoyable and would do it as a tourist. The next day we went to do some bird-watching. I was hoping to get a nice photo of a motmot, which is the national bird of Guatemala and has this beautiful tail. We desperately tried to find some for photo ops but no luck. Annie’s husband, Yemo, was super nice and he offered to take me out again on Sunday to make sure I’d get a shot and not leave disappointed – we went out in the pouring rain but it was a successful trip.
My last few days with asivesca and in Guatemala were coming up so on Saturday morning I went with Annie and her husband to Zacapa, a town bigger than Cabanas, about an hour away with a big market. It was nice to see, though I think preferred Cabanas. But im seeing a trend in Guatemala of having massive churches painted in white in every town.
And then it was my last day already! How the 3 weeks flew by. In the morning we managed to finish painting one of the 3 signs which turned out really nice in the end. Heading over to Annie’s place for my final dinner I was surprised by some other local volunteers, my hosts and Rafita along with Annie and her family with a surprise party! I was so touched by all their lovely words, and occasional tears. it was with a heavy heart that I go on the bus at 6:30 the next morning to head off on my next adventure. But i hope to be back there at some point soon enough.