Last week Faith and I went to Honduras to visit Jen, another CAUSE intern, and to learn about CAUSE’s programs there. From Todos Santos we had to travel for three days to reach Ciriboya, the small Garifuna community where CAUSE works. We were absolutely exhausted from our journey, but thankfully people greeted us as soon as we stepped off the bus (bringing us umbrellas because it was pouring rain). Rosie, the program supervisor, Xiomara, the leadership promoter, and Paty, the business promoter, were incredibly friendly and made us feel right at home. Rosie had us over to her house several times so that we could try some delicious Garifuna dishes such as machuca (mashed plantains in fish soup with coconut milk).
It was really interesting to see the similarities and differences between CAUSE’s programs in Guatemala and Honduras. In general, the participants we met in Honduras were much more outgoing and open than those in Guatemala. The programs are fairly similar except there is no literacy program in Honduras because the majority of the women there can already read and write. The microfinance program for women is a new concept in Ciriboya and it is hard to expand the program because there are only seven Garifuna communities in the area and two of them can only be reached by boat.
We enjoyed a rather exciting meal in Ciriboya at the home of Cuban doctors. These doctors run the only hospital and are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. During dinner, a man showed up with a very serious machete wound in his arm. Because there was no power at the hospital (it runs on solar power which had been used up) there was no point in the doctors going there so they jumped up from the table and went right to work stitching up the wound on their front porch. It was a bit difficult to finish our meal because the patient was moaning and the doctors kept running through the kitchen with needles and bloody gloves. It was quite the evening to say the least!
While I had a great time in Honduras and would love to go back for a longer visit, I have to say that it’s nice to be back home in Todos Santos!
Vacation with Mom
It had been fairly uneventful in Todos Santos lately but this changed with All Saints’ Day on November 1st. Foreign tourists and Guatemalans from across the country come to see the famous horse races and folkloric dancing. It is common to see locals passed out on the street from drinking too much and being thrown in jail for the night. Almost every year a man in the horse race dies because he is so intoxicated that he falls off his horse and gets trampled.
Last week my mom came to Guatemala to visit me and I had the chance to be a tourist for a few days. We stayed at a fancy hotel in Antigua, a colonial city that has developed into quite the tourist destination. My mom treated me to a pedicure/manicure, delicious meals and shuttle buses (which are a luxury compared to the local chicken buses). In return I translated for her while she bargained in the market for souvenirs to take home. After spending some time in Panajachel, a town on beautiful Lake Atitlan which is surrounded by volcanoes, we headed to Todos Santos for the All Saints’ Day celebrations.
Although I enjoyed touring around Antigua and Panajachel, I can’t help but think that travellers who just visit the tourist spots aren’t seeing the real Guatemala. I understand that many travellers are only here for a two week vacation and want to see all of the main attractions. However, I have to say that what I’ve enjoyed most about Guatemala has been getting to see how people live, having meaningful conversations about their hopes and challenges and building long-lasting friendships.
My mom has done a lot of travelling in the past, but in recent years she hasn’t visited places that are quite as far off the beaten path as Todos Santos. She has gracefully put up with hiking up and down huge hills, using an outhouse, having no running water and freezing cold temperatures (with no indoor heat of course). I was a little concerned about how she would react to the All Saints’ Day celebrations where the main event is drunken horse races, but I think she’s really enjoyed her time here. For myself, I’m happy that my mom got to see where I live, meet the people I work with and have a better understanding of my internship experience. It will make the transition back home easier knowing that I can talk to her about Guatemala and she will actually understand my experience.
Friday was graduation day for participants in the literacy, leadership and business programs. Although things tend to come together at the last minute here, the graduation was a great success. Over 200 people attended with many having to get up before dawn to travel in from remote communities. Each community was responsible for doing some kind of presentation or activity. Some did a dance, others showed how they make tortillas or weave the traditional dress, and another demonstrated the coffee production process. Women came up on the stage and asked Faith and me to dance marimba with them in front of the entire crowd. It was slightly embarrassing but pretty hilarious.
It was really nice to see the graduates receive their diplomas. They each had a big smile on their face. Many of their husbands and children participated in the ceremony as well. I just hope the women continue to learn, build confidence and participate in their community. Being here has certainly made me appreciate the quality and availability of the Canadian education system.
I’m writing this blog with less than one week left in Guatemala. Faith and I have started saying our goodbyes and taking even more pictures than usual to remember our time here. It’s hard to believe that next week I will be in snowy, freezing cold Calgary where everyone will be speaking English and where I will be just a regular person rather than the ‘gringa’. Although I’m excited to go home to see my family and friends (and to have an indoor shower and toilet) I will miss the Guatemalan way of life and, in particular, the people I have met.
It feels like it was just yesterday when I was sitting in my mom’s house not knowing what to do with my life. I applied for a CAUSE internship not expecting to hear anything back, but was almost immediately contacted for an interview and less than three weeks later was on a plane bound for Guatemala. Although I was extraordinarily excited when I was offered the internship I was also pretty scared and had moments when I thought I was crazy to be going (or maybe it was more my family and friends who thought I was crazy).
These past nine months have been life changing and an experience that I will never forget. It has been my first real international development work experience and I feel like I have learned way more than I have been able to contribute, but that was to be expected really. I’ll admit that I’m a little bit worried about figuring out what to do with myself once I get back to Canada. I’m looking forward to spending Christmas with family and friends, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I soon feel restless and end up looking for opportunities abroad within a few months. Whatever I end up doing, I know this experience will stay with me always.