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Muy buen día

Breakthrough with a student

semi-overcast 85 °F
View Turtle and Barracuda go to Guate on BenjaminE's travel map.

This morning at the Centro I experienced a breakthrough with one of the students, Israel. He is one of the fairly lower functioning boys that hardly ever says even one word to anybody. But today, he asked me two questions in full sentences! He asked me how my father was and then where my father was, albeit both questions were in Tz´utujil (I figured out what he asked me with the help of other students). The fact that he wanted to interact with me is a huge step and just that he recognized that even I, an extranjero, have a father is great progress for him, according to one of the teachers. Now it´s up to me to build on this progress by learning some words and phrases in Tz´utujil so I can interact with him better.

Posted by BenjaminE 16:39 Archived in Guatemala Tagged volunteer Comments (4)

Centro Maya

El trabajo es difícil pero vale la pena

sunny 85 °F
View Turtle and Barracuda go to Guate on BenjaminE's travel map.

We just finished our sixth day working at Centro Maya. The first week has been a bit up and down. Until we get to know the kids better, it´s going to continue to be difficult. We also discovered quickly that we need to be proactive with the teachers to make sure they tell us what the overall goals are when working with each kid. (I guess I shouldn´t keep saying kids as some of them are as old or older than us). After we started being more proactive, the activities started going better. Knowing what we´re trying to achieve with each student makes a big difference. Still, many are in only their first or second year at the Centro and are thus having to get used to learning after spending up to 20 years or more mostly at home. While the work can be frustrating at times, it is extremely rewarding when the students get it and make progress. Plus, we got to have some fun this week, going to the beach and having a party on the national Día de los Niños (Kid´s Day).

So far, the best thing that has come out of working there has been our new living situation. On top of the 8 members of the family living there, there are two other extranjeros, one from France and one from Spain, both of whom started out as volunteers. Both have stayed so long that now they are like part of the family. The youngest girl has taken quite a liking to Kim and has started to hang out with us almost every night, even helping Kim with her Spanish homework. It has been and I think it will continue to be a great opportunity to practice our Spanish. While I can only really speak for myself, I think we´re both feeling much more comfortable here and we´re both improving our Spanish every day, especially Kim.

Posted by BenjaminE 15:53 Archived in Guatemala Tagged volunteer Comments (3)

Hemos encontrado nuestro nuevo hogar!

rain 75 °F

After a week of spanish classes for four hours a day and much searching for volunteer opportunities around the lake, we have finally found a good place for us to help out. It seems that some ¨volunteer opportunities¨here are kids held captive at spanish schools in the afternoon so spanish students can spend two weeks experimenting on them by ¨teaching¨ënglish¨¨guitar¨or ¨insert any other half developed skill here.¨ The organization we are going to work for is a center for kids with disabilities (everything from autism and blindness to spina bifida and any other developmental or physical disability). Kids come to the center in San Juan but the center also reaches out to kids around the lake whose parents cannot transport them due to cost, time, or lack of resources. Since the school system here barely accomodates regular kids, these kids might not get many chances to connect with the larger community. We will be working there until the end of their academic term, which is December 15th. We also got set up with a small inexpensive apartment owned by one of the parents who is very involved at the school. We have only worked one day so far and still do not know all the details, but we will be working one-on-one to help the kids with their therapy, playing games, and just being available. It is exciting to finally move out of the hotel and make some real connections in San Juan!

Posted by KimJay 15:29 Archived in Guatemala Tagged volunteer Comments (3)

Lago Atitlán

Tratando de escapar de los gringos

sunny 85 °F
View Turtle and Barracuda go to Guate on BenjaminE's travel map.

After two days in Antigua, we decided it was time to move on to Lago Atitlán where the Spanish classes are cheaper. Kim is anxious to get started with classes but her confidence and speaking skills have grown quite a bit already just talking to people in town. To get to Lake Atitlán, we took a shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel, which is on the northern shore of the lake. As soon as we got out of the shuttle, we were bombarded by locals trying to get us to take their boat to San Pedro. One even tried to tell us it cost $25 instead of Q25 (quetzales) or about $3. After getting all of that sorted out, the boat left and we were on our way to San Pedro.

Lake Atitlán is incredibly beautiful. Imagine Crater Lake but with three 10,000ft volcanoes overlooking it, all covered by tropical forests. Pictures don´t do it justice. At some point we are planning on either climbing one of the volcanoes or another peak called Indian Nose where, according to the locals, we can get an even better view of the lake with the three volcanoes in the background. Taking a boat was definitely worth doing because you can see almost the entire expanse of the lake, which is completely surrounded by mountains.

Upon arriving in San Pedro, we realized quickly that what we had read about the gringo culture was true. The entire lower section of town caters to non-Guatemalans (extranjeros), many of whom have just come here to do drugs, listen to Bob Marley and take advantage of the inexpensive accomodations. (I´m glad I cut my hair before coming. It surely helped to minimize the number of times I was offered drugs. Otherwise it would have made for a much more stressful stay, constantly telling the venders that I was not interested). Many people also come for the cheap Spanish schools, but their presence is overshadowed by the hippie culture that dominates in what the locals refer to as Nuevogringotenango. As most of you would guess, that´s not exactly the atmosphere we were looking for during our immersion experience.

In spite of our initial reaction to San Pedro, on our first day, we checked out all of the schools and although they all seemed good, we decided to look at the schools in the other towns on the north shore of the lake. So, we spent all day yesterday travelling around on foot, in tuk tuk (motorized rickshaw-like vehicles that you also see in Asia), and in boat. After visiting San Juan, San Marcos, and Santa Cruz, we settled on San Juan because of its relaxed atmosphere. Both San Marcos and Santa Cruz provided spectacular views of the lake, but we both felt more comfortable in San Juan.

We took the tuk tuk from San Juan to San Marcos and our driver, Juan, was very nice, stopping at good viewpoints and explaining to us how the gringo culture was influencing the local way of life. According to Juan, the gringos had brought drugs, really starting about 20 years ago, although some have been here longer. The gringos started to recruit local kids to not only use the drugs but also to sell them, having a hugely negative impact on San Pedro in particular. (It made both Kim and I very angry to hear that the gringos had so actively tried to involve the children in the community). Juan said the town of San Juan was making a huge effort to keep that influence out of their community and that they have been relatively successful so far. This has seemingly created a much more laid back atmosphere for the gringos here, like us, who are not interested in participating in that culture that has taken hold in San Pedro, even though San Juan is only a 10-15 minute walk from San Pedro. Although we had planned to do homestays, the established homestays are in San Pedro, so we´re not going to be able to do one in San Juan. However, the smaller size of the town and the friendliness of the people (and lack of gringos) will likely make it easier to meet people during the day. We are also going to do some volunteer work, which will also give us a chance to practice our Spanish and make connections in the community.

So, now we are relaxing for a day in San Juan, making the final arrangements to start Spanish classes tomorrow. Already we are both more at ease. We´ll probably be here for a week or two, maybe more, then we´ll decide where to go next.

Posted by BenjaminE 15:00 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Hay Muchas Antorchas en Guatemala!

sunny 90 °F

Since we have been in Guatemala four days, we have seen no less than four parades. But the most exciting of the indepencia traditiones has been the carrying of the flame of independence. Mobs of adults (only men) and children--some as young as elementary school--run through the streets blowing whistles and carry flaming torches made from tin cans or cut PVC pipes taped to sticks and filled with flaming rags and gasoline. Traditionally, each village from around the antigua area comes to the city the day before independence day to light a torch from the flame of independence in the central plaza and carries it back to their village. Whether or not this ¨carrying¨occus on foot or more likely in the back of a Ford Pick-up with wooden sides I do not know. But I do know that they run around the city raucously for quite some time before leaving. The kids seemed quite excited. Despite the obvious liability issues involved with the flaming ball of gasoline, I think this would be a great way to boost kids´enthusiasm for excercize in the US. There was not a fatty to be seen. The pictures I took happened to be of mostly boys, but there were plenty of young girls running too.

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I tried to put up some more pictures of churches or buildings in antigua and the volcanos around antigua and lake atitlan where we are now, but failed miserably. I will try again in the future!

Posted by KimJay 14:56 Archived in Guatemala Tagged events Comments (3)

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