April 2008
category: Jims Guatemala

Greetings All

This is the first of what will likely become monthly reports on my Guatemala experience. I won’t flatter myself to think that there will be a lot of readers, but hopefully this will be enjoyable to the few of you who would otherwise want to know what’s going on with me (and Emily). First, a few administrative details.

Internet availability in Guatemala is sporadic, and these posts will be irregular. Do not worry if there’s a long period of silence; it only means that I was at a remote location for an extended duration. If anything bad actually happened to me, you’d have already been notified by Peace Corps.

If you want further details or have questions about anything I say, please email me. That’s also a good way to get a personal email to supplement these postings of general goings-on. Snail-mail is available, and i hear it is moderately reliable (unless you are sending valuables). The address you can use is:

Jim Fanjoy PCT
Cuerpo de Paz/ Peace Corps
Apartado Postal 66
Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepequez 03001
Guatemala, Centro America

When I get assigned to my permanent site in July, I will have a new and hopefully better address; I will keep you posted. There is also a phone number, but I don’t know how well it is monitored. It’s [502] 2384-3800 and anyone who answers it will have English skills as well as the expected Spanish.

Two years' worth of stuff? Right. So, after saying goodbye to family and loved ones, we started at the Indianapolis airport at 5:00 am on Monday the 28th. We were allotted two bags totaling 80 pounds of gear for our 2-year trip, with no single bag over 50 pounds. I took my trusty hiking pack as one item, and a footlocker with wheels as the other. It was actually 67 pounds at the checkin desk, but the airline lady was really sympathetic when she heard we were going for Peace Corps, and waived the overweight baggage fee.

The flight to Washington DC was relatively uneventful, except that when I got my footlocker off of the baggage conveyor in DC, one of the wheels was missing, ripped off somewhere in the hidden machinery of the baggage handling apparatus. ARGH! I was really annoyed; that footlocker was my secret weapon for effortlessly getting a lot of heavy gear around. Now, i must drag it. After stewing a bit, Emily pointed out that if that’s the worst thing that happens to me this trip, I’m really getting off light, and it’s nice to get the mandatory disaster out of the way early.

We met up with the other 31 trainees at a hotel in Crystal City (an extension of DC) and sat through a day of orientation, paperwork, and meet-n-greets. All of the trainees we met were really friendly and enthusiastic.

The second day we had a very unusual treat. President Bush invited our training group to the White House to meet us, and we were present when he gave a speech commemorating National Volunteer Week (this week). This is NOT normal for Peace Corps volunteers, and there was much to-do and circumstance. We had some training in the morning, then in the afternoon we all piled on a bus to downtown DC. We passed the Pentagon, Jefferson Monument, Washington Monument, Smithsonian, etc. in a whirlwind, and were dropped off on 15th street a few blocks from the Whitehouse. This is where the funny part started- none of the Peace Corps staff came with us, and no one was there to meet us. So, we milled around for a bit, then I decide we probably should figure it out for ourselves. No one seemed to want to take charge, so I walked up to a guard and explained that we were invited to a party at the Whitehouse, and would he please let us in, thank-you-very-much. I got a momentary incredulous stare, then a pause, then he directed us around the block. Off we went. On the other side, a spoke to a different guard, who directed halfway back where we came from, and eventually we found the right gate. Again, not much guidance, just a throng of dignitaries milling outside the inner gate on the Whitehouse lawn. A few minutes later, it opened and two guards with guestlists appeared, and people started milling inward. We were all sporting our new government-issue passports, so a few of us went through security (our names were on the list) then found out were were supposed to wait OUTSIDE the checkpoint and be taken in as a group. In a way, this turned out to be a fortunate accident, as we got to hobnob with several country directors of Peace Corps, who were really happy to see us.Marine playing piano

A few minutes later, an intern showed up, walked us through the security screening, and led us into the main space of the white house. There were a lot of suits, some summer camp counsellors, various military personnel in formal uniform, and Michael Baldwin milling around- quite an eclectic crowd. A marine played lounge music on the grand piano. After about 10 minutes of socializing and gawking at the décor, the 33 of us were assembled on the grand stair by the photographer, in anticipation of the president’s arrival. We waited. I knew he was close when a pair of secret service guys slipped into the room and gave it a very sly once-over, and then George W suddenly appeared, strolling onto the room completely without fanfare. It kindof caught us all off guard. He was smaller than I’d imagined he would be, and there he was, about 10 feet from me.

“Hola!” he said.

We responded with various hellos and greetings.

“So, you’re going to Guatemala,” he said. “I was just meeting with the President of Guatemala yesterday; I wish they would have told me I’d be meeting you today, so I could have mentioned it to him.” He then went on to talk a little, and he seemed very friendly. Then the funniest part happened. “So, are you the first group to go to Guatemala?” he asked.

Without missing a beat, Emily piped up, “No. Peace Corps has actually been serving in Guatemala since 1963.” Yep, that’s right. Emily just set straight the President of the United States of America. I don’t think I have ever been more proud. And if anyone I know would do it, it’d be Emily.

George chatted a bit more, we got a photo with him, then he had to leave. On the way out, he thanked us for serving our country. Then Emily thanked him for funding the Peace Corps (George W spent more on the Peace Corps than any president before him), and he smiled and they exchanged final pleasantries. Here’s a photo that appeared on the Peace Corps web site, and the back pages of a few news sources:

Hangin' with Dubyah

I know, it totally looks like he’s photoshopped in, but it’s the real deal. You can read more about it by clicking here. I was teasing Ellen (the girl over his right shoulder) that she should goose him, but she chickened out. Probably for the best; I am sure the secret service guys would have tackled her.

We then retired to another room, where we watched him give a speech about volunteerism to a gaggle of cameramen, reporters, and dignitaries. It was pretty cool. Here is a picture of Emily and I kissing during the speech, with W in the background:

Smoochin' in front of the Big Guy

Right. I am absolutely pooped, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. Look for a more levelheaded letter sometime next month.

Be careful out there.

Posted by: jfanjoy