Knox In Guatemala
category: Emilys Guatemala


A bright spot in the last few weeks was switching to work on the third goal of Peace Corps: promoting a better understading of Guatemalans on the part of Americans. I have a good friend who was once my Spanish professor at Knox. She was the director of the Barcelona study program while I was there, and went on to be my honors thesis advisor in my last year at Knox. She and her husband were so supportive of our goal to be in the Peace Corps that they invited Fletch to sit in on their college Spanish classes, and then wrote letters of support for him during our very long paperwork process. Now she’s head of the Global Studies department as well, which works in close coordination with Knox’s Peace Corps preparotory program. From the moment we got to Guatemala she was looking for a way to come visit us, and she made it here in July for an investigatory trip to bring students back in March. And March finally arrived, bringing with it Robin, Andy, and 12 Knox students.


My friend Alice, another Knox grad now a grad student in New York, was also on spring break and had been trying to make it to Guatemala since we got here. She actually arrived 2 days before the Knox group. It was, again as always, great to see someone from home. We’ve been penpals these two long years, so we didn’t have to catch up on too much lost time. She was in the small group of friends (which included Robin and her family) that helped us keep our sanity as the Peace Corps paperwork stalled, and then they accepted us, and then rejected us, and then they decided they’d let us come to Guatemala after all! And we hadn’t seen one another since our departure from Galesburg.  

We had two choices for the trip: either meet up with the Knox students in an area of Quiche we’ve never before visited and only see that area and Antigua before Alice went home, or see the lake and bring Alice to our site before getting her back to Antigua to fly home. She came dedicated (like our previous guests) to seeing our home, way out here in the mountains. I have to give her credit; I hadn’t tagged her as that hard core before this. As she admitted to me as I explained the complicated and honestly annoying way we wash dishes, she’s never even been camping. I would say we are just short of camping here. We showed Alice around the area by taking hikes up the valley to see the views, and down the valley to see the river. She even accompanied me to an HIV talk in Yulais where she was a very proficient tape dispenser for the very tape-dependent activity I was leading. For the few days we were in site Fletch was busy in town, so she was my charla side-kick.

IMG_0863SM.jpgShe gave me the opportunity to have something I frequently miss here, girlfriend time. I like Fletch a lot, but it’s really just so far from the same thing. We had a Saturday spent lounging on the decks at Casa del Mundo and dining in their cafe, while Fletch hung out in the much-less-expensive backpacker hostel we were staying at, the Iguana Perdida. It’s also great in its own right; it just lacks a great swimming area. I have to say, after two years, I feel good about doing Peace Corps as a married couple, but we both comment frequently on how we miss our other friends and alone time, me being alone with my bad self/Jaime being alone with his bad self. So Alice’s visit was a gift to both of us. Jaime got some uber relaxing alone time at the lake.

She was glad to have made it all the way to Temux, and equally glad to make it back to Antigua. The buses were miraculously kind to us on Alice’s account. We made it to Antigua almost 2 hours faster than we’ve ever managed to do before! Bathing and cleaning up in general was our top priority when we arrived, as the stones of the chuj had collapsed the night we arrived in our village… so there was no more bathing for us during her stay at our house.

As I made sure Alice got on her shuttle to the airport, Jaime met up with Norm and Steve. They delivered us to Panajachel in order to make it back to the Iguana where the Knox group was hanging out, thanks to my suggestion during Robin’s July visit.

Robin’s co-director for the program is Andy, a Knox grad who along with his wife served as Peace Corps volunteers in El Quiche (central Guatemala) from 2004-2006. We met Andy and Erin about a month after we recieved our invitation to Peace Corps Guatemala. Galesburg, IL is not a big town, and after 3 different people we know (and who don’t know each other) heard we were going to Guatemala and mentioned they knew a couple who’d just come back, one of those friends decided to host a dinner and introduce us. Turns out they lived about 8 blocks from us. Andy helped organize the Knox trip and he did the driving. He worked on some eco-tourism projects during his time here, and lived quite close to Rigoberta Menchu’s birth site, so going back to his site was literally a trip to take the students to the heart of Guatemala. They also had time to spend the day with a bunch of PCV’s we don’t know, because we live too far away from them!

When we stepped off the dock at the Iguana, Andy and Robin were miraculously right there to greet us, ahh, another slice of home! We promptly took up the couch with a lake view. My friend and fellow volunteer Charlotte (blog listed in the side-bar) also happened to be stopping by the Iguana because her brother was in town. Robin and Andy decided to have the class practice their Spanish that day by having a post-dinner Peace Corps panel in the lounge room, so one former and three current volunteers got to answer lots of questions about why we came, what we love, what we don’t love so much, what we miss now, and what we will miss when we go home, among other things. The biggest challenge for me was speaking slowly, heh.

I have that problem in English as well. Rewind a second. Alice’s flight arrived two hours late and I was in the park waiting for her for quite some time. We were both so relieved when she arrived that we were talking like crazy. I took her to the bank to change her dollars over, and we had to wait in a ridiculously long line where we didn’t waste a second catching up with one another. After about ten minutes the man behind me asked, “Excuse me, are you speaking English?” in accented English. I told him yes. He sighed as though he’d been holding his breath for quite some time, “You speak so fast,” he said, bewildered. Alice and I are both relatively fast talkers with a tendency to mumble; we understand each other. I think eavesdropping was a lot more work than that guy had bargained for.

IMG_0874_sm.jpgFast forward back to the Iguana. It was a really great night, and not just because the owners of the Iguana gave us our room for free because we brought them all the business. 😉 No, really, it was great because it was humbling and calming. Often times we feel way out here, all on our own, trying to make things work by sheer will. As detailed in my last post, a lot of times stuff doesn’t work in spite of our best efforts. But that night, with all these Knox students interested in what we’re doing, my former professor turned friend, Andy who (along with Erin) shared with us what he knew about Peace Corps and Guatemala before we left, my friend Charlotte who I’d have never known if not for Peace Corps–I was completely aware of my small part in something much bigger. Nothing relies entirely on me; we’re all just doing what we can and sharing what we know. We are all part of this bigger thing, of a college that I loved, of a service organization that called to me from the time I was 17. I remember when getting to these places, Knox and Peace Corps, were my goals. And there I was, having made it. I’m part of so many things that came before me and part of what is to come after me. It’s nice to feel so profoundly that none of us is really standing alone, you know?  

The next morning we had breakfast with Andy and Robin as they prepared to head to Antigua and Tikal. We headed back to Panajachel to meet up with Norm and Steve who took us home. I must say, I think we rocked third goal work last week.

Posted by: emily