Independence Day
category: Jims Guatemala

uncleSam.jpgHappy Independence Day, everyone! It’s time to celebrate the birthday of our great nation. So how does one DO that in Guatemala? With a party, of course. The biggest party of the year. It’s an old tradition at Peace Corps Guatemala, that all 200+ volunteers come together from the far reaches of Guatemala to attend a giant conference and barbecue.  

We spent the first two days at the “All Volunteer Conference,” a symposium of workshops and speakers centered around the theme of professional development. They had classes on the Foreign Service Exam, preparing resumees, getting Foreign Service jobs, grad school entrance, things like that. It was very useful for Emily, but since I’m a “nontraditional” PCV and am at a different point in my professional career, it held less utilty for me. What i DID get a lot out of was the networking with other volunteers. I met several who are working with artists’ co-ops, and picked their brains about the co-op we’re working on here. I also talked to several volunteers who specialize in agricultural work, and they gave me a lot of good advice about my greenhouse and gardening efforts.

IMG_6123_smOn the 4th, we had the actual party. The American Ambassador to Guatemala, Stephen McFarland, even showed up! He’s a big supporter of the Peace Corps; this is a good thing, as he’s technically our boss. He and his entourage rolled up at about 10am in two unmarked (but very conspicuous) GMC suburbans. The doors of the first one flew open and a half dozen bodygaurds poured out, canvassing the area, then he got out to shake some hands and be friendly. In the picture, you can see (from left to right): a bodyguard in body armor, Emily in her jersey ready for the soccer match, the Ambassador, and Sarah Furman (a fellow volunteer).

While people were milling around, I got curious and chatted up one of the bodyguards. He was reasonably friendly, and I was able to learn from him that he is actually Guatemalan, and has been permanently assigned to the US Embassy detail for the last 15 years. They bodyguards are a branch of the PNC (Policia Nacional Civil), the Guatemalan equivalant of the FBI.

The first thing on the schedule was the staff vs. volunteers football (soccer) game. It seems the Ambassador is a big soccer nut, and showed up to help out on the side of the staff. He changed into his football apparel, complete with a jersey from the US National Soccer team, with his name and number on it. He was given it by the team on their visit to Guatemala, and all the players signed it. Classy.

soccer_ambassador.jpgEmily, being a huge soccer nut as well, was all over it. Here is a picture of her going head-to-head with the ambassador. He had some skills, but apparently still managed to rake Emily with his cleats, much to her annoyance. But he is a really nice guy, so we will forgive him that. I even got to play, which went better than I’d imagined it would. Though I’ve not played soccer in over 20 years, I discovered that the strategy and gameplay are almost exactly the same as ice hodanckey, with which I am far more familiar (I played league hockey for a few years before Peace Corps). The battle was mighty, but the staff beat us 2-1. Our goalie, Dan, did a really good job… he’s well practiced, as he’s the portero for his town’s team in Huehuetenango. He made some awesome saves, but couldn’t stop their second goal in the last few minutes of play. It was a masterful shot, bending around the defenseman (me) and goalie and dropping just inside the top corner of the goal.

ankle.jpgEmily and I were both a little worried about the possibility of getting hurt; the policy is that if somene gets hurt and cannot recover in 90 days, they get fired. In the last two years, a few volunteers have gone home for that. So, we took it easy with the football. Some were not so lucky; this unfortunate volunteer (Audrey) sprained her ankle in the volunteer basketball tourney the previous day. Not too badly; she will probably get to finish her service.  

tb.jpgSpeaking of health issues, this month everyone in our training class is getting their midservice medical exams. Emily and I are going at the end of the month, but a lot of people are doing it this week, to save on travel to headquarters (since they are here anyways for the conference). Here is a picture of Lynn, who is very sad. The red spot on her arm is a positive TB test. You remember a TB test, right? Little needle prick in the arm, that never comes up positive? Here in Guatemala, it sometimes does. The good news is that thanks to modern medicine, it’s no longer a death sentence. The bad news is that the treatment takes NINE MONTHS, and the drugs preclude you from drinking alcohol or caffeine the entire time. As you can imagine, all these beer-drinking, coffee-chugging volunteers live in abject terror of tuberculosis. Do Emily or I have it? We’ll know at the end of the month. I think probably not, but most of our friends that have contracted it work in the same general region as us, so that is not encouraging.

IMG_6139_smOnce the football game was over, we moved on to the barbecue. And none too soon, I was starving! To my delight, they were grilling real, American-style hamburgers. There was also beer: a staggering 10,000q worth. Zach, the volunteer who did the ordering, said that the folks at the Gallo brewery were so happy about our order that they donated several circus tents and two beer coolers to our party.IMG_6143_sm Here I am, in my team jersey with Makali, the security chief. We hooked him up with a team jersey, too, since he’s cool enough to be an honorary Huehuetenango volunteer.

IMG_6146_smOnce the party was in full-swing, the DJ gave it up to the live entertainment. It was surreal and amusing to hear a Guatemalan band brutalize Clapton’s “Cocaine” while drinking. Hey, at least they knew the words in English. The best part was the guitar solo later in the show… the guitarist picked up a beer bottle and used it like a slide. I caught it on film (cick to enlarge). All class, man.

tim.jpgBut as is turned out, the Guatemalan band was just the opening act, and several of the PCVs were up next to display their talents with guitar and mandolin. I was pretty impressed. Here is a picture of Tim, one of our buddies from training. I didn’t know that guy could play! He was really good, and I always have to take my hat off to people who can play guitar and sing at the same time (I can’t).

IMG_6154_smI will leave you with a funny picture of Emily, joining the “happier” members of the party as they danced in the pila, or giant washbasin/ water tank.

As of today, we are back in our site after a thoroughly enjoyable fourth-of-July weekend, and are settling in for a really crazy week of helping the new Quixabaj volunteers get adjusted. But more of that in the next post.

Posted by: jfanjoy