on Temple II viewing Temple I
Tikal, Guatemala 7/97

Temple II
Tikal, Guatemala 7/97

North Acropolis
Tikal, Guatemala 7/97

from Temple IV, a view of I, II & III
Tikal, Guatemala 7/97

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July 1997

As we sat on the plane Jason, Raphael and I were laughing ourselves silly about the Jason's copy of wicked Spanish preparing ourself for the eventuality of complimenting a Guatemalteca woman on the beauty of her goat. Two hours after leaving Miami, we landed in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Thinking myself the itinerant traveler, I immediately began heading for the Peace Corps bus. Francesco from our training center, chases me down and politely points me to the pastel colored school bus with the stickers resembling busty females in the window in the opposite direction.

Training is a series or turns, good and bad. In a sink or swim integration, swimming is the expectation. Within two days I have a new host family of Dona Juana Garcia in the pueblo of Santo Thomas twenty minutes by chicken bus outside of Antigua and perfectly centered between the looming Volcanoes Agua and Fuego (Water and Fire). Sitting in my new room in the center of this middle class family household. I am introduced to the sixteen members of my new family. Their absolute attention is only diverted by the intrusion of one of their curious ducks ( Pado), which also becomes my new word for the day. The remainder of their compound consists of two living quarters, two pig pens, the mud floor kitchen, a trash incinerator, a tortilla oven room which is usually blinding with smoke, and a dirt center playpen area for ducks, chickens, geese, cats, dogs and small children and which transforms into a mud pond during the hard winter rains.

In the states, I simply don't get up before 6am unless they're is fishing to be done. Not so here. Five am is d'rigour and 10:30pm is an early night. World Learning in Saint Lucia Milpas Altas has us taking classes from Spanish to cultural training, from technical training to medical training. After Spanish, health is the second adjustment and almost every single trainee has gone several rounds with the big D, diaharrea.

The thirty some trainees are not what I expected. I admit that I expected a few sort of hippyish types. Not at all. These people, while fun, are all business. At least half have masters and a significant amount of work experience. There are definitely a few fresh out of college people, but it's a healthy balance. So too, the ages range from 19 to 73. Bill is our 73 year old volunteer, and this being his third time volunteering in Guatemala, he's somewhat of an icon for us.

On our second day in country, one Peace Corps Volunteer was raped and one embassy intern was beaten. The incident occurred in Zone 13 of Guatemala City. Two PCVs and one intern with the US Embassy were returning from a late movie to walk four blocks home. Under gunpoint five Guatemeltecos abducted one PCV and one male intern from the embassy. The other PCV ran away successfully and call the Peace Corps duty officer pronto. Three hours later the two were released and made their way to the home of a Guatemalan family where they called the Peace Corps emergency line. Within minutes they were picked up by the embassy security staff and the PCV was medivaced to the US. The incident had a profound effect on our group. In the last month six people have left, five of which were women. Most left citing pressures or other opportunities at home as the primary reason, but the thought of living in an unsafe country for the next two years was part of their reasoning. We still have about 14 women who are sticking it out. These are brave women.

Another aspect to these people is their committment. The per diem while in training is 10 Quetzals per day, or about $1.50. They are not here for the pay. And while as Volunteers they will be earning savings, that doesn't begin until we are sworn in at the end of September. T hat's not to say that we don't go have a good time. After all everything here is cheap. A room at a pension is 10Q, dinner is about 30Q, and most importantly a beer is about 6Q. A great night out on the town in Antigua is likely to only cost you $20 American.

One of my own coup d'etats was getting a free visit to the Peten. The Peten is one of the most important tropical rainforests in the world with mangrove trees, spider and howler monkeys, parrots, toucans and wild mountain boars. My excuse was a visit to PCV Wendy Haywood who is in the environmental management program. I also used the time to visit Tikal, some of the best preserved Classic era Mayan ruins. These ruins were the center of Mayan civilization for hundreds of years. What struck my about the trip was the noise of the differences between forests. Around the Peten cito zoo is a realitively young forest, maybe 70 to 100 years old, which while verdant is very quiet. Tikal is one the other hand is old-growth the noise of the locusts, the howler monkeys and the birds almost drowns out all your thinking.

Today I say goodbye to the family, only one month ago, who welcomed me into their home. I will miss my mother's fawning over me each morning making me say each new Spanish word which consisted of my breakfast. I will miss my sister's patient and impatient discussions of chisme (gossip) with me.

Tomorrow I am off for the Coban to the cloud forest, the home of Guatemala's native bird, Quetzal. I will have a new family, most likely from the indigenous group called Ketch-ki.

Hope all is well with everyone. Please write me. Love y'all .......Allan