Tag Archives: Pop Wuj

3 More Weeks!

So, it’s official! I’m going to stay in Guatemala for 3 more weeks! I’ll now be returning on the 27th of July. I chose to stay longer because I’m enjoying improving my Spanish, I like participating in all the projects, and (duh) I love it here.

Along the lines of the projects, I’ll post an update on the stove project. The stoves are built in three steps. Step 1 is the base, step 2 is 3 rows of bricks, and step 3 is adding the plancha, chimney and smoothing a concrete border. I learned how to complete step 3 a few weeks ago. Even though the stove is officially completed it needs to dry for two months before the family can use it.

Completed stove

Mynor working on the stove, showing us how to smooth the concrete

Our team learning the art of step 3

So, after learning from Mynor, Stacy and I got to become jefes! That’s right, we were in charge of step 3 all by ourselves! I had a great group of volunteers who were very energetic, and helpful when it came to problem solving. Our stove was flush to the wall, which is kind of unusual, so we were unable to use a frame for the concrete border. We ended up forming one from spare wood that the stove recipient provided.

Mike sawing through our temporary framing in front of an audience

It was very satisfying to complete a stove, and it was doubly so because I was directing the process. It makes me feel good that I actually am helping at least a little bit, rather than just aimlessly going around participating on various projects. We only have two or three stoves left, and they will be completed soon. This coming week Stacy and I are going to help go around and interview people who want stoves in their homes, and we are going to see if we can scrape any money together. Funding is such an integral part of this project, as without any money we can’t build any stoves, no matter how many volunteers there are.

'My' stove, before framing and cleaning up

We piled in the bed of a pick-up to get to Tierra Colorada one day. What we'll do for a free ride...it was way worse than the chicken bus.

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Soooo…Gas or Electric isn’t an Option?

As I believe I’ve written, my days are pretty full. I volunteer in the morning, and take Spanish lessons in the afternoon. The volunteer projects vary throughout the week, and we’re assigned a few days, but basically allowed to participate in whichever ones we choose, with the expectation that we’ll work at least 3 mornings a week.

The fire where all food is cooked

One of the ongoing projects that I’m assisting with is building stoves for the community. Many people who live outside the city proper use a configuration of large stones and wood to cook their food. They burn trash, wood, furniture, plastic…basically whatever they can get their hands on that will burn. The fires aren’t very efficient, and they contribute to localized deforestation. So, Pop Wuj social work group has a project that builds stoves out of cinder blocks, terra cotta bricks, clay, cement and a few other materials. These stoves burn more efficiently and they keep the smoke out of the house. They also help prevent burns, which are fairly common over the open flames.

This is our group mixing clay.

Here's how they mix clay.

The family we were helping today was very grateful. The matriarch is an 80 year old woman and she insisted on helping us. Even when we tried to tell her she didn’t need to help. It’s an interesting experience for the families when a bunch of gringos come in and starts some construction. Stacy let the children play with her camera, which was also a big hit.

The stove we were working on.

Sometimes large groups come to work on the stoves, but if it’s just Pop Wuj students volunteering then there’s only one day of work per week. It’s a slow process, but it will make a large change in these families lives.

Some of our helpers

And they had PUPPIES!!!

Wait, is this Vermont or Guatemala?

The outside of our compound

So, when I signed up for this experience I guess I forgot some of the key elements of school. Like structured days. And constantly putting new information in your head. And having your brain hurt because of the altitude. And not speaking the native language. Well, the last two don’t have as much to do with school, but they are fun little factors affecting this experience.

Stacy and I live in a house with Marina de Barrera. Her daughter, Patty, is actually my Spanish teacher. Small world. The house is about a 10 minute walk from Pop Wuj, and we walk to school in the morning, home for lunch, back to school in the afternoon and back home again for dinner. Marina is a pretty good cook. We’ve had pancakes and eggs and beans for breakfast, chicken and rice and vegetables for lunch and the dinners vary, generally consisting of rice, meat and beans. Every meal also comes with tamales and hot sauce, without fail.

The Guard Dogs

The climate is kind of like Vermont (or at least the way I think of the state). It’s chilly at night, like I wish I had a comforter, and I sleep in socks every night. The days can get nice and warm, t-shirt weather generally. Often times there will be an afternoon shower to add to the excitement.

School has been pretty interesting. All week we’ve had cultural competency lectures in the morning to kind of help us be aware of the cultural context of this country. Basically we have learned that it is important to throw our expectations out the window and simply help with the programs where we are needed. We can’t fix everything, and there are thousands of roadblocks along the way. I’m hoping to work in the stove program, if I do I’m sure I’ll explain it later.

Stacy has been cooking for the school all day. She volunteered on our first day to cook for the weekly Thursday night dinner. This week it’s for 50 people…she definitely didn’t know what she was getting into when she volunteered, but she’s been having fun with the experience. Hopefully we’ll enjoy the food as much as she enjoyed cooking it!

Inside the compound, view of bathroom/kitchen region.

Some grafiti on our street. Its an animal of legend.

Also, I got a phone! 011 502 4033 7013! llamame!

Heading Down Guatemala Way

I am right now in the final days of preparation before heading off to GUATEMALA!!!

I will be refreshing my spanish language skills and volunteering in Quetzaltenango (Xela, pronounced: Shay-la, for short), Guatemala for 4 weeks this summer.

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (probably technically under the 'Guatemala' label for the capital city).

I will be heading off with one of my college friends, Stacy, so I’m sure you’ll hear her name a bunch in future posts. Right now we are editing our backpacks. Although we will both be spending 4 weeks living with our respective host families we are hoping to change our return flights and do a little traveling. Luckily, despite many homes in Central American countries being featured on House Hunters International (HGTV Channel), it is still an extremely affordable place to travel and stay, even for two broke PhD students. We want to make sure we don’t have too much extra junk in our packs if we’re going to be hauling them around for a week or so.

We will be learning Spanish and volunteering through Pop Wuj (pronounced: pope woo). I’ve mentioned them previously, when I hinted at this trip. For less than it costs to live in New York City for one month we will be provided with a private room, 3 square meals a day, potable water, Spanish lessons, wireless internet (it is 2010 after all), social work experience and, of course, a great life experience.

Sinkhole in Guatemala City

My parents are somewhat worried about the state of affairs in Guatemala, what with the huge sinkhole, the landslides due to tropical storms and volcanoes erupting. To appease them and for peace of mind (and because I didn’t get any vaccinations) I purchased a travel health insurance plan for the duration of the trip. Although I typically don’t purchase any of type of travel insurance, considering I’ll be spending a month in a location where hepatitis and typhoid fever are possibilities (although unlikely), it’s better to be safe than sorry. Plus its great because I can use it for anything, not just emergencies. Instead of suffering through a cold and missing out on any great experiences I can just hop over to a doctor for some medicine and it’s 100% covered. And it covers lost luggage which is excellent considering I’m nervous about our luggage making the connection.

I finished my most important pre-excursion ritual Thursday (Manicure/Pedicure at my favorite salon in the Shoppes at Blackstone Valley Plaza), so now I’m going to finish packing and run some last-minute errands before heading south on Sunday!