Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010: Earth Lodge & Dinner with the Girls

It’s the first morning of no field school. No more waking up to walk to some sort of obligation. No more Casa Maria. No more Spanish classes. But most of all, no more field school students roaming the streets of Antigua. It was strange walking around this morning because most of the students took early flights out so the normal day to day running into people was not the same today. I didn’t see anyone I knew which felt so odd and a little scary because I really feel like a foreigner now. It’s like day 1 all over again.

A few stragglers did stay behind including Sue Coppola (the OT Practice Supervisor), her daughter Josie, Joy, Ellen, Jessica, and Nicole. We all headed for a day trip up to Earth Lodge, an Eco-Resort a 15 min drive up a hill near Antigua, which we did standing in the back of a pick-up truck. It was a sight to see and when we got to the very top of the steep mountain, we saw people living in a place that didn’t seem possible. Here we were trying to get away and be in a more primitive environment as a change from the norm, and for these Mayans, it was the norm.

Anyway, Earth Lodge is a cute little place on the top of a steep hill with magnificent views of Antigua and the surrounding areas. We played Farkle, ate amazing food, playing with the resort dogs, and just lounged in the quietness of nature (with our laptops of course!). I liked it so much that I booked a night for my amigos who are visiting for the week so we have a guaranteed getaway in one of their unique treehouse rooms where we can just enjoy doing nothing for a change.

At 3pm, Joy and I headed back to town to have dinner and drinks with Mary and Jennifer, an OT student from the pediatrics component. Now that the field school is over, we all got together to discuss our thoughts, feelings, and impressions of the whole experience, which I have to say, are mixed. When you bring people from different backgrounds, experiences, and with different expectations together, they all have different experiences no matter how much you try to make them the same. That’s my way of saying that some people loved the program and some people didn’t. I can see both sides, but I guess I liked it more than I didn’t and I don’t think we’ll know what we’ve gotten out of this until we get home and start putting our new skills to work.

Brian comes tomorrow!!! So much to do… can’t wait to see him!

Friday, August 13, 2010: Last Day at Casa Maria & Spanish Graduation

We had a Despedida (or Farewell Party) today at Casa Maria. It was the first time I think I realized that these people actually like us. It’s weird because the residents started crying when we announced it was our last day there. I don’t know why it was so weird so me or shocking, but I just felt like we were simply another group of volunteers to them and I didn’t entirely understand that we meant so much to them… until the tears started to come.

Did I mention that I’m not good with emotional good-byes? I don’t do them… it’s too hard. So I shook a few people’s hands and then went and sat with my little woman who always says things in such a distressed manner but she’s really just saying “hello” or “it’s nice to see you.” But by the way she talks, you’d think she was scared to death when she’s not. Today she asked me to take her somewhere in the same voice so I took her to a chair about 10 feet from her bed and just sat with her. I asked if I could have a picture to remember her and she said yes. Then I showed it to her and she was a little confused by the look on her face in the foto. She looks terrified like always but that’s just her. I’m so going to miss her!

After the party we went to the Tecun Uman graduation where we all got graduation certificated and Don Mario served us carrot cake. This was our chance to say goodbye to everyone and again, I sort of chickened out, shook a few hands, gave a few hugs and snuck out the back way. Goodbyes really aren’t my thing since I’ll stay in contact with the people who I’ve connected with the most. These days with Facebook and email, you really cant hide from anyone.

Lisa, Erika, and I spent the rest of the evening in the market, bargaining for the mejor precio (best price) and trying to convince people that another man offered the same item to us for less. After 2 hours in the alleyways we were exhausted and  worn down from trying to get an extra 5Q off an item, the equivalent of 70 cents. It’s so absurd when you really think about it but it comes with the territory.

We ended the night at Lisa’s house, just hanging out, reminiscing, and watching Lisa pack. We were supposed to go to La Sala, a club where people were going to all meet to say their goodbyes, get a little tipsy, and dance. But we were all so tired and it seemed like the 6 weeks of work finally caught up with us. As much as we all wanted to say goodbye, we all felt like it was better to stay in and just spend quality time with each other…. It was perfect.

Thursday, August 12, 2010: Casa Maria, Transitions English Class & Dessert Party

This morning at Casa Maria we just spent with the people, hanging out and starting to prepare for the party on the last day. Ana Lydia pulled some of us aside and asked us to refrain from using the term “fiesta” when talking about the party tomorrow. She thought the residents were getting too excited and wanted them to not expect too much from us. We did plan to deliver on our “fiesta” though, since any sort of party we have would be more action then these people have seen in quite awhile.

Afterward, Peggy and the rest of the research crew (all 3 of us) headed next door to Finca Filadelfia, a coffee plantation/ resort that no one seemed to even know existed. We had frappacinos and walked around the beautiful grounds. It’s a stark contrast to the dreariness of Casa Maria and it’s right in the home’s backyard. I had pushed to be able to bring residents for strolls through the gardens there but nothing came of it. Hopefully in the coming year, the residents will be able to venture there.

At 4:30 pm, Devva invited me and a couple of others to a weekly English class that is held at the Transitions house. The guys come over after working at the factory and they learn basic conversational English. The Disabilities Studies team brought over pizza and pastries for their last day with the guys, and I just sat back and watched. It was interesting to hear the guys speak English the way that I speak Spanish. Finally I stopped feeling so bad for butchering their language because we were on a now level playing field.

Can I tell you the joy that I got out of hanging out with these guys? I guess from Casa Maria, I came to expect people with some sort of disability to be a little down, but these guys were joking, loving life, picking on each other, and just having fun. I loved that! I saw one guy move his legs and he was in a wheelchair so I pointed at it. He smiled and said it was a miracle. Then he told me he had polio when he was a kid and could walk little bits but preferred to use a chair. I felt a little silly really thinking a miracle could happen in front of me. Another guy with one leg invited me to watch him play soccer. When I asked how he was able to run around the field, he said he just can… I have to see that.

One of our missions as an OT is to help people live fulfilled lives, so I can’t tell you enough how amazed I am that these guys are doing that. They’re living with a disability, but they aren’t disabled by it. As a therapist, I feel like these guys have more to offer me than I could ever offer them… they’re just inspiring. I’m coming back next week with my friends so they can meet them.

As part of our final farewell, the NAPA-OT group hosted a Dessert Party at a beautiful hotel for us. Everyone in the field school came for a dessert bar of cakes, mousses, and coffee. It was so delicious. We followed it up with a piñata in the shape of a clown which survived all of 4 people hitting it. We used the “torch” feature on our Guatemalan cell phones to light up the grass and find all of the candy. Afterwards, I snuck out since I’m not much for sappy goodbyes. I’ll see them all again soon.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010: Presentations, Shopping with Devva, and Meeting Old Friends

Wednesdays mean another day of Integrative Seminars. However today was special because instead of doing the same old PBL Groups (or Problem Based Learning), we all had a chance for our groups to present about what we’ve been doing during our time here. After all, it’s our last chance to all meet at Hotel Candelaria and what a better way to end it.

Ok, so maybe we started off with an hour long session of quiet time to fill out our program evals. It was interesting because everyone brought their laptops and went to little corners of the hotel to write about all their deep thoughts on how they would change things for next year. Hindsight is 20/20, but I didn’t feel like I had much to offer in the way of criticism. We’re here to learn… everyone’s here to learn… you’re bound to mess a few things up in a 6 week period of learning right? Who are we to tell people that we could do it better?! I guess a few people wanted to change things so we took a long time filling out these long evals.

The presentations were interesting. Pediatrics talked about working in the hospital with the kids and then visiting their homes. Of course many of the girls fell in love with their patients. How could you not? Guatemalan kids are so cute! Then we Gero people talked about our experience at Casa Maria. The Disabilities Studies team talked about advocating for people and the rights that their supposed to have but no one does. (Welcome to Guatemala, the land of many laws that no one really follows because there’s no money to enforce them). The guys from the Medical Anthropology surprisingly did not talk about getting robbed at gunpoint at one of the largest slums in Latin America, but they did say a lot about clean water and the lack of it in Guatemala.

Did I miss anything? Honestly, I spent a lot of time just taking pictures and feeling the hope that we all had in the room. It’s like we each got more out of talking about what we did than anyone else got out of hearing it. When you’re in the moment and doing the everyday tasks, you forget that you’re really accomplishing something pretty huge. I think when we had a chance to put it into words, we understood that we weren’t just enjoying the beauty of Guatemala, we were actually making a pretty big impact. I wish people did their presentations before they filled out those silly evaluation forms because I think many of the negative statements that were written (there were a couple) maybe wouldn’t have been there because people realized that they got more out of the experience than they’d hoped to.

So after lunch, Devva, Lisa and I headed to the markets to shop for some last minute gifts. Did I mention how much I love hanging out with Devva? We watched Lisa haggle and get amazing deals on coffee, bookmarks, and rum. Devva pointed out where the products were made, most of which were from India. We gossiped a little and then walked her back to her house in the rain.

We were supposed to have a Despedida (Farewell Party) at our host family’s house tonight for me, Armando, Jackie, and Sharon… my current roommates from the group. I attended it for the first hour and Don Mario, the owner of Tecun Uman, our Spanish school, came over for the BBQ. At 8pm though, I asked Armando to walk me around the corner to Erika’s house so we could walk to visit Jorge and Marie (our first host family). Are you following all this? Well, since Armando was already with us, Erika and I invited him to come along since it was dark out and he has a sense of adventure. We took a TukTuk to Jorge and Marie’s house and they were thrilled to see us.

Sitting at their kitchen table was just like old times. Marie served us Atol (a drink made from Plantains) and little empanadas cut in the shapes of leaves. They were so cute and Armando finally understood why we needed to see these people so bad. Although we only spent our first week in their home, Erika and I felt like we never left. They were so warm, welcoming, and just good people. It was nice for someone else from our group to see that too. We talk about them so much and it’s not because we were spoiled by them… they’re just a rare breed. Genuine. Warm. Amazing People.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010: Casa Maria and Transiciones

Party decorations! Remember those chains we used to make as kids out of paper? We made so many of those today at Casa Maria with some of the residents! This one lady who calls me “Mi Reina” (my queen) was so intent on cutting strips of painted newspaper the exact same size and width… I’ve never seen anyone concentrate so hard! Some school kids came by and sang us songs then handed out cookies to everyone. We asked her if she wanted her cookies and she said “work first, then eat when you’re finished!” Yes ma’am! I love her!!!

After lunch, I went to McDonalds for the first time here in Antigua to meet with a group on a presentation for tomorrow. Boy, the US McDonalds are so crummy compared to this place! It’s like a palace with an open garden and a covered patio with cozy chairs and couches. Clean, quiet, upscale! Three words that people never say about Mc Donalds in the US!

Next, I headed to the Transiciones house for the first time, in a Tuktuk. Neither I, nor the driver knew where we were going, but somehow we managed to find the place. The Transiciones House is the house that guys who work at the wheelchair factory live in. It’s completely accessible to suite the men’s needs, many of whom are in wheelchairs.

I assisted Erika and Devva in recording a focus group they held with the men who are from Transiciones. We had 10 men and our goal was to figure out what it’s like for them to live in Guatemala with some sort of disability, how they felt about it, if they knew what their rights were, and if they see things changing for them in the future. From what I heard, it seems like there are many laws here but no one enforces them, and there’s never funding for mandates that are imposed. People in Antigua are more considerate of people living with disabilities because of Transiciones’ presence in the community. However, most towns outside of Guatemala aren’t as open-minded and the towns are incredibly inaccessible. I was surprised to hear many of the men say that they consider Antigua to be an easy place to maneuver in a wheelchair. Cobblestone streets, foot high curbs, narrow sidewalks… nothing about this place is easy! It makes you wonder what “hard to maneuver” must be like!

One story worth hearing though- I met one of the founders of Transiciones today.  In short, they make wheelchairs out of bike parts and stainless steel so that the chairs last longer and can be fixed at any bike shop in the country. All of the employees have a disability and they learn the trade, with the goal to move on and start a new place or work with the skills they have learned. The man I met is 27, and contracted polio at the age of 2. He uses a wheelchair, but he is able to walk for short distances. He started Transiciones with 3 other guys at the age of 10! I was astonished when he told me this… The things this organization does is beyond incredible. I can’t imagine how a group of 10 to 13 year olds could come up with and continue to run a place like this, with a mission of helping people the way that it does. 

Monday, August 9, 2010: The Beginning of the End

I spent the morning at Rainbow Café, sending emails, and preparing for my upcoming wedding, hounding people for their addresses and researching some places to stay in the upcoming week in Guatemala. I want to see my grandpa in Chiquimula, find a place for Brian to surf, head to Semuc Champey to swim with a candle in my mouth, and see my cousin Kikix again. I don’t know how it’s all going to happen though. Guatemala is a small country but it takes so long to get everywhere because of all the mountains and volcanoes. I’m excited though to see Brian, Ana, Vin, and Andrea on Sunday. I really can’t wait.

We were supposed to watch Kelly from our research group give a lecture to the staff at Fray Rodrigo, but they had to cancel because someone died. So I had more time to research, plan, and most of all to relax, which was very welcomed after our busy weekend.

During the afternoon we interviewed Ana Lydia, the owner of Casa Maria for the second time. Devva and Erika from Disability Studies came and asked some interesting questions about the laws that govern senior care facilities here in Guatemala. Interestingly enough, there are many laws that Ana Lydia told us about, most of which she doesn’t follow. Her reasoning for not following them was this: The government doesn’t help her, so why should she follow the laws? They can’t shut her down because there’s nowhere to put all the residents, so Casa Maria gets to exist. It’s interesting to see that the government not providing help is reason enough not to follow the laws. I wonder what the US would be like if we all adopted that attitude. However, as astonished as I was at the things Ana Lydia said, Erika and Devva said that it’s a common thing they’ve heard in their many interviews here. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010: Market in Chichi

We went to the market in Chichicastenango today. It was so huge, with tons of alleyways and Joy and I almost got lost a few times. We found some cute things though and I got started on my Christmas shopping way too early this year. I’m now known as “the bag lady” in my group because all I buy are bags. How can you resist when they’re all so beautiful. I love it!!! I guess my biggest issue when I get home is going to be letting go of them because I want to keep everything that I’ve gotten. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010: Market in Chichi

We went to the market in Chichicastenango today. It was so huge, with tons of alleyways and Joy and I almost got lost a few times. We found some cute things though and I got started on my Christmas shopping way too early this year. I’m now known as “the bag lady” in my group because all I buy are bags. How can you resist when they’re all so beautiful. I love it!!! I guess my biggest issue when I get home is going to be letting go of them because I want to keep everything that I’ve gotten. 

Saturday August 7, 2010: An 8 Hour Boat Ride

Last night we had dinner at an amazing Uruguayan restaurant! I’m not sure what Uruguayan food is, but it tasted like really good steak and some other red stuff. It was so good! We liked it so much, we all decided to go back as a group for a typical breakfast. In Guatemala, a typical breakfast consists of eggs, black beans, plantains, tortillas, and ours came with bacon! During this trip, which is sponsored by the field school (they’re paying the bill), we all have to eat at the same place on one check. It’s hard enough to decide what I want to eat, let alone get 14 other women to agree on a place. Thankfully, we all love the Uruguayan place, so we’re headed back for breakfast tomorrow too!

After breakfast, we all followed a man to his boat for a journey around the lake. The plan: Santa Catalina, Something Atitlan, San Pedro, then Panajachel again. Santa Catalina was cute and we stopped at a weaving coop where the kids and their parents make things to sell and raise money for their school. Everyone bought a lot of stuff, for charity of course! Then we visited some church, then a local family in their house to show us what it looks like. They didn’t have beds, clean water, a fridge, or proper floors, but they did have a TV and some chickens. The family is Mayan and they live the way their ancestors live, however I have a feeling their ancestors didn’t watch TV. All in all, it was interesting to learn more about their lives and meet a really family unit who lives in the village.

Next we headed to something something Atitlan. I don’t remember the name. But I did see another church. Not that I don’t like churches, but I wanted to see the town and I got annoyed that our guide was so excited about spending all our time in a church. One interesting thing did happen though. As we stood around the guide outside the church and he was saying something about it in really fast Spanish, a young lady dressed in Mayan dress of the town came up and gave him a big hug from behind. She must’ve been about 18 and she had Down’s Syndrome. She’s the first indigenous person I’ve seen with it. Next, she came and gave all of us a big hug each. Then she settled on our coordinator Ellen, called her “Mi major amiga” (my best friend) grabbed her arm and accompanied us on our tour of the church. She was so excited to be in the middle of our group and I was more thrilled to have her nearby too!

As far as the subject of this young lady goes, here might be a good place to address some beliefs of the Mayan culture. First, there’s many different tribes, 22 I believe, so customs and beliefs are unique to each tribe, just like the pattern of their weaving and dress. Over 50% are malnourished, medical care is hard to come by, and the lifestyle is based on traditions passed down through the generations. It’s not uncommon for families to have a couple of children die. Many believe that disabilities are a punishment from God so they get embarrassed and don’t bring the kids out of their house. This is why I was surprised and excited to see this young lady come up to us and hang out for the tour. 

Friday, August 6, 2010: Journey to Atitlan

We left at 8:30 am for a much needed Gero group vacation for the weekend. After loading into 2 camionetas (or vans) we headed out to Lago de Atitlan for a little getaway. Atitlan is a famous, amazingly beautiful lake set between 3 volcanoes, with towns of different Mayan tribes surrounding the lake. Many of these towns are only accessible by boat or on foot, hiking through the steep hills and cliffs. The lake is also a spiritual retreat for people of many religions like Catholics, Mormons, and Muslims.

During the 2 hour ride, we encountered quite a few mudslides and places where the road was washed away, leaving a small patch to cross with a view straight down the edge of a cliff where the rest of the road once was. I’m not a fan of heights or crazy road trips, so I was a little nervous. The driver seemed to know what he was doing though, so I was able to remain calm.

We arrived in Panajachel after a ride down the side of a very steep hill. Immediately the place just felt calm and serene. Something about being near the water mellows people out. Our group leader told us we had to triple up in rooms, so I decided to stay with Joy and Nicki, people I haven’t yet mentioned. Joy is from New Mexico, she’s in her last year of OT, and she’s done some crazy jobs in her life like working on an Alaskan fishing boat (who does that?!). Nicki is an OT student at St. Louis University, super sweet and one of the youngest girls in our group… 21 I think.

After lunch and getting settled in our room, Joy, Nicki, and I went out to see the strip of stores and market stalls along the main road. This man saw us admiring his ashtrays made of Coke cans, so he started talking to us, trying to sell us something. We immediately noticed he was wasted, so I asked him if he knew of a good bar in the area. He reached in his pocket to offer us a drink of his ethanol-flavored liquor, when it slipped out of his hand and shattered on the floor. We took that as our cue to run, so we left him looking so sad that he couldn’t finish whatever he was drinking. I’m sure that was for the best because it didn’t look like he needed it!

Thursday, August 5, 2010: Dinner with the Director

Once a week Gelya, our program director, hosts a Mix and Match Dinner at her house with students and faculty from each of the components. Tonight it was my turn along with 2 other gero students, a pediatric OT, the Med Anthro professor and her student, along with 2 women visitors from the Human Rights Foundation, based out of Washington DC.

The ladies from WA DC were so interesting because their purpose is advocating for human rights here in Guatemala by changing US foreign policy to affect change. They talked about femininicide here in Guatemala; the brutal killing of women that goes on here and that often goes unprosecuted. They also talked about the US policies that are intended to assist people, but often just enable a corrupt system to function and often unintentionally support corruption even more. There’s so many things going on here and people come in with good intentions, but intention isn’t everything and moves need to be made carefully here because the situation is so complicated.

So we got to talking about our experiences here, how our thoughts and experiences in Guatemala have changed us, and how we will look at things differently. It’s interesting to see the differences in people’s values, past times, work conditions, and child care… among other things here. Although life here is incredibly simple, people work hard to have the tiniest amount of possessions. It’s not uncommon to hear about people working 7 or 8 days a week (here they say there’s 8 days in a week, but don’t ask me what the 8th day is), and the simplest of tasks in the US is incredibly time consuming here. For example, washing clothes. No one has a dryer, and only the rich have washers, so most things are done by hand. Dishes- no dishwashers, and food is so complicated to cook here so there’s piles of dishes all the time. Anyway, my point is all this is to say that what we value is the US is so different from what people value here. I still don’t entirely understand how everything gets done, but I will say that my fiancé is not marrying a true Guatemalan woman because I will never do as much at these women do.

Thursday, August 5, 2010: Early Morning at Casa Maria and Spanish

We left for Casa Maria extra early this morning to see what happens during the shift change. The gero practice group planned to catch workers during the overlapping time in order to conduct what is known as a case conference. This entails picking out a patient that they either have difficulty with or simply want to understand more, and we’d assist by talking about things that might help that particular person, and hopefully this assistance will in turn assist other patients.

Well, when we got there at 6:45 am, the nurses were busy as usual and they told us we’d have to wait until 9am when they had more time. Instead of waiting around, we asked if we could help them do some of their tasks, which turned into all 15 of us in the gero group feeding patients and serving breakfast. It was a lot of fun- way more interesting than sitting on damp couches in the lobby (don’t ask why they’re damp because the answer is gross).

When the staff finished their tasks, we all gathered in the lobby area and Sue, the OT supervisor of our group, told them how much she admired their work and how great all the employees were. Then we asked them if there’s anything we could offer, or that they thought would be interesting to know about. They responded: techniques for handling aggressive patients, and how to lift someone without hurting yourself. Sue was great about turning the conversation into a positive one by encouraging the staff to tell us how they handled the situations, then she told them again what a fantastic job they were doing despite having questions. She went on to encourage all of us to share techniques that we’ve learned and all in all, everyone was able to share so much. We learned from them, they learned from us…. It was just so great!!!

My last day of Spanish was today as well! I was a little sad but welcomed having one more thing crossed off the list here in Guatemala. Our Spanish school offers trips that the teachers are free to join in on, so I invited Jessica, my professora, to Aguas Calientes, a town 20 minutes out of Antigua where they are known for weaving patterns that show up on both sides of the cloth. The school took us to a weaving cooperative and the women there gave us a demonstration on how their weaving works, what the patterns mean, and then they had a demonstration of a typical wedding ceremony. It was really fun and cute to watch, and the things these women made were unbelievably beautiful. Jessica and I had a great time there, and it was the perfect ending to my time in Spanish school.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wednesday, August 4, 2010: Integrative Seminar and Transiciones

Wednesdays are integrative seminar days. They’re long, interesting, sad, and can be a bit boring. Josie was our facilitator today as Gelya was a bit preoccupied with some secret meeting. We talked about a man who had dementia which turned out to be just an infection. Then we discussed what happens when Americans think they know just how to help, but end up wasting money. For example, in our case study, an NGO bought a bunch of people mattresses to assist them after Hurricane Agatha. They didn’t buy bed frames though, in an effort to buy more mattresses for more people. But in the shelter where these people were staying, the ground was soaked, so all the mattresses got molding and were moldy and unusable after one week. So the family again had nowhere to sleep, and much of their small temporary shack was taken up by a moldy mattress. The moral of this story- if you’re going to help, don’t cut corners and make things worse.

We talk a lot about what people who come here to help are really accomplishing. One speaker made a joke that is really true. She said: “Every time I hear about people coming down here to build churches, I have to laugh. The last thing Guatemala needs is more unskilled labor.” It makes you think about all the missionaries here…. There’s a lot of them! But, are they really helping out here? Or are they taking away jobs from other people? Wouldn’t it be better to pay some of the guys here to build the church instead of buying plane tickets so some American can feel good about himself? There’s so many guys here looking for work! Sorry, but now that I’m here, a lot of things we do seems really backwards.

Anyway, after lunch, we headed to the Trancisiones Wheelchair Factory here in Antigua. The abbreviated backstory goes like this: A special ed teacher from the US took a tour of Hermano Pedro, the local hospital, and met a man in a wheelchair who needed surgery for bedsores. He arranged for the man to get an operation in the US. The man stayed in the US and studied graphic design, then came back to Guatemala and paid for his friends to get surgery in the US. This group of guys, all in wheelchairs, started a wheelchair factory in Antigua that makes wheelchairs out of stainless steel and bike parts so any wheelchair can be fixed in any town in Guatemala. Now they provide wheelchairs to tons of people here, and they teach people in wheelchairs skills in this factory so they can go out and start their own factories or work elsewhere. Really cool! My professor Kim will love this, so I took lots of pictures for her!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010: A New Room

I spent the morning trying to catch up on field notes, sending emails, and planning the next couple of weeks as we wind down. When I arrived home, I noticed that the family here had cleaned my room and the furniture was moved completely around. My dresser was on the opposite wall, with the bed and desk moved too. It’s a nice change, but a little unexpected. I know that my room is clean now, but it’s a little odd to see all my belongings in a different area.

For Spanish class, I talked more to Jessica about the speaker from last Wednesday. The speaker said something to the effect that people here are malnourished because they just like to eat rice and beans all the time. This made me a little angry because many people here have so little, so it’s hard to believe that they only want to eat rice and beans. I explained this to my Spanish teacher and she said it is actually a little true. She said for many people here, corn is a major part of their diet, and a big study just showed that when people consume corn, their bodies absorb fewer nutrients from other foods.

Many people start feeding their babies corn tortillas at 3 or 4 months of age and the mothers stop nursing so the babies are malnourished and many of them die. Between 7 months to 2 years of age, kids eat coffee and bread for breakfast, and few fruits are given because of the belief that kids will be parasites from them. I’m not sure how true all of this is, but it’s still interesting to hear. I should also mention that my Spanish teacher has attended 8 years at the university level so she’s not a completely unreliable source. Nevertheless, the info is so different from our US customs that it would be interesting to look into more.

One more thing… There’s something here called the Canicula. It’s a period of a week in the rainy season without rain. We are not in it, but it’s supposed to happen sometime soon and we’ve all been waiting for it to happen. My feet are constantly soggy, whether I wear shoes or not, and there’s maybe been 3 days in the past month without rain for at least part of the day… 2 of them were this weekend (for most of the day). After a long winter in New Jersey, I was so looking forward to a beautiful summer, which this is definitely turning out to be. However, I do wish that the Canicula would start sometime soon because I love wearing dry clothes!

Monday, August 2, 2010: Casa Maria and Spanish

When we arrived at Casa Maria today, we found out that 2 people had passed away over the weekend. One of them was a man who was overly friendly with the ladies and I feel a little guilty that I have spent most of my time trying to keep an arm’s length or more away from him. I don’t recognize the name of the other man, but it’s very sad nevertheless. I’m curious as to what people were told about their passing, and since most are unable to leave the facility, I wonder if they got a chance to say their goodbyes.

The atmosphere was livelier today, and I watched several interesting interactions in the back room. One man was playing ball with the OT practice group and it’s the most I’ve seen him interact with anyone. Other residents were painting crosses and a group of men were talking while sanding some wood. This was so different from the regular arrangement around the perimeter of the courtyard, and the residents seemed to enjoy themselves, smiling and happy, showing off their artwork. It was a dramatic shift from the norm, in a great way.

Afterward, we interviewed a man more in depth and started listening to his story about how he came to live in Casa Maria. It was really sad, like a soap opera, with so many twists and turns to it. I’ve been reading the book by Rigoberta Menchu, a Mayan woman who learned Spanish so she could tell her story and then she won the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m halfway through the book, and I wish I would have read it sooner because it tells a lot about what people go through here. It’s not really Rigoberta’s story, but a narrative about her people.

Anyway, the man I interviewed today, his story was a striking parallel to her story told in the book. It went from words in a book to suddenly becoming real, and it’s terrifying that anyone could live a life like that. An example I can give is about working on the coffee farms (or fincas) here, or at least in the past. Hundreds of people live on the finca, sleeping on the floor of a covered patio with no walls, with animals and children, no bathrooms, and very little food. They stay here for months, work incredibly hard for fractions of a dollar for a long day of exhausting work. Their kids die on these fincas from malnutrition or illnesses, and then the people are docked pay for the burial expense, then may be asked to leave if they miss work to mourn their dead child. This is what is said in the Rigoberta Menchu book, and it’s not the far off from this man’s story. It’s sad to hear, but I’m glad he shared it with us.

On a lighter note- I returned to Spanish class with my teacher Jessica, and we went over something else in Spanish. She’s teaching me parts of grammar and told me that I say things that long way, which is sort of correct, but that I sound funny. So we went over pronouns or something of the sort. I never really know what to call them, but it helps shorten my sentences and I can understand more of what people say to me so I guess that’s a good thing.

Sunday, August 1, 2010: Food and Some Info

I feel like this was the weekend I got to learn about Antiguan cuisine. Anita and I spent the morning searching for a breakfast place and we ended up at Dona Luisa’s, a place with phenomenal fresh baked banana bread, among other things. We shopped in an Artisan market, walked around Antigua and searched for places to stay when our friends arrive at the end of our field school.

At 3pm, we had a charity comedy show for Casa Maria, which we had been encouraged to sell tickets for and to help out at the door. So, Anita and I went and met with a group of other gero students. Sadly, there were very few people there and the only thing we could do was sit in the audience and wait for the show to start. None of us really wanted to see the show though since it was all in Spanish and we weren’t going to understand it. So Amanda, Anita, and I decided to leave after one hour. We came to help, offered our services, and then left when we could be of no more use. Some of the other students stayed behind and they said they regretted it because they didn’t understand a thing and thought the comedians were making fun of them.

 Maybe here is a good place for a bit of a dose of reality. Of the people in our group, there has been some dissatisfaction with the organization and management of our field school. I say this not to be negative, but to demonstrate that there are 2 sides to every story. Some people are struggling with our overall purpose here and they’re questioning whether the amount of money that has gone into it is really being recuperated in terms of knowledge and experiences on behalf of the students. It’s not cheap to be here particularly when you consider the field school tuition, Spanish school, homestay costs, incidentals and weekend meals, plane tickets, and school tuition for those getting fieldwork credit. So the question is, what are we really paying for and is it worth it?

So I can’t entirely answer this question for anyone but myself. This is a field school in a 3rd world country, and so there’s bound to be issues and blips on the radar. This comes with the territory. However, any issue that I’ve ever brought up has been promptly addressed like my toes, my homestays… I guess that’s it. Additionally, this experience is about exploring OT abroad as much as it is to learn about my roots, so my view is much more skewed than students with no ties to Guatemala. There are some other things that I wish were slightly different, however I will address those in a more private forum. Overall though, I feel like this experience is what we make of it, and no one can make things happen for you. There’s so many things to see, to learn, to experience here… it’s easy to overlook everything that we’re absorbing, but at the end of the night, we’re all exhausted from taking in so much. 

Saturday, July 31, 2010: OT’s in the Capital and Antigua!

So one major thing I forgot to mention yesterday is that in between the search for tiramisu and the actual party, I went to Skype Brian from my professors’ house which has internet access. While I was chatting with him, my favorite professor Devva, whom I’ve described before, was seated nearby so I invited her to meet my fiancé. Both of them were equally as excited to see each other, and I was even more excited because here were two of my favorite people in the entire world getting a chance to meet face to face. Thank you Skype! I don’t think you can get a real sense of what or who Devva is just over the phone. You have to see her expressions, her mannerisms, her enthusiasm, and her entire demeanor to understand why she is like no other person you’ve ever met. She danced on the camera, patted my nose, and was just amazing. Later Brian told me he could tell why I am so enthralled by her, and he was equally as thrilled to meet her. He invited her to our wedding, which is a huge surprise considering our limited space, but I really hope she can come.

Our Gero and Disability Studies groups took an early morning private shuttle to Guatemala City to meet a class of OT students who attend San Carlos University. On the way there, our driver stopped on the side of the road to “pick something up.” That “something” was his buddy who needed a ride to somewhere, so he joined us. Very interesting…

We arrived at San Carlos University’s Cultural Center, off campus from the actual school. We later learned that the OT program is part of the psychology school and this week, the students took over the building in protest, because there are too few teachers for their classes. Our morning consisted of presentations by the San Carlos OT Program, the our program, then a woman from Peru who said things about reintroducing people to the work environment. Devva was upset because the woman told us about an “innovative” program they had that you just punch in people’s abilities after they’ve been disabled and then a recommendation for a job comes out of the computer and that’s what the person gets to do for their new career. Initially, I thought it was a cool idea, then she mentioned how dehumanizing it was to assign a person a career without their input. On second thought… I think I agree with Devva.

Upon returning to Antigua, we went eat lunch at a place called Sabe Rico which has some of the best food ever. I had a a curry chicken sandwhich and watermelon juice with ginger and lemon. We loved it so much, we decided to go for dinner. Before though a group of 6 of us gero girls went shopping in Antigua to a cute indoor market called the NimPot. It’s got pottery, jewelry, textiles… an indoor swapmeet with everything. We returned to SabeRico for dinner and our OT Practice supervisor joined us with Dr. Perkinson (aka Peggy), Devva, my old housemate Erica, and Lisa from Disability Studies. It was equally as delicious, and I’m not at all embarrassed about going there twice in 5 hours.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010: 2 Meetings and a Party

Our Gero Research group met at Café Rainbow this morning to continue going over our notes. I won’t bore you with the details, but rather tell you that it’s tedious and sort of boring. We read, then ask questions, then read again. We end up with an endless supply of questions, and no real answers because we’re observers of this culture and can only make general theories about what goes on here and why. We don’t entirely know the whole story for sure though- hence all the questions.

After lunch, we met with the Gero Practice group to ask them some of our many questions and then they presented us with follow up questions. This is what qualitative research is like. We try to get to the bottom of things and just when we think we’re there, we realize we have so much further to dig!

My new housemate Sharon and I decided that we would celebrate our house dad, Nacho’s, birthday tonight since it is tomorrow and some of the other students will be away. During lunch, we asked Nacho what his favorite cake is, and he said tiramisu. So after our meeting this afternoon (Sharon is in the Gero Practice group), we went on a mad search for tiramisu in Antigua. After checking a few reposterias, we found a tray of Nacho’s favorite dessert at a cute place near the park called Café Condessa. It came in a Pyrex baking dish which we had to leave a deposit for and promise to return, but it was well worth it.

Dinner time is 7pm and we arrived in time for our Chile Rellenos but Nacho was nowhere to be found. His wife suspected he was out celebrating, but he walked in the door 25 min late with a fresh pineapple and crema de coco (coconut cream) to make us fresh pina coladas! Here is was his birthday and he was so concerned about having a cute girly drink for us. They were the best pina coladas I’ve ever had! Afterward we sang happy birthday to Nacho (who is 65), and his friend came over to drink some more. I went to bed, but I heard them celebrating until well into the morning.

Thursday, July 29, 2010: Casa Maria and Espanol… Again

Another morning at Casa Maria. We’re prepping for more formal interviews so we’ve started our informed consent process, which means reciting a lot of words to residents who just want to tell us their story. They don’t entirely understand the formality of the paperwork that lets them know they can withdrawal at any time, or get complete confidentiality… they just stare at us until they get to talk. There’s a lot of healthy people at Casa Maria and they seem to crave adult conversation with someone new.

So afterwards, I went to Spanish and I started talking to my teacher about the speaker from yesterday. I asked about family planning methods and cervical cancer rates and she said a lot of what the speaker told us- that Mayan women have a lot of traditions which they hold onto and they’re not about to change because things have been that way for a long time. Their faith in the Catholic church prevents them from using birth control, and their husbands think if they get checked for STD’s it’s cause the women are sleeping around (the husbands are usually the ones to be concerned about though).

There seems to be this idea that Mayan women and their families are ignorant, but I really just don’t believe that. There’s more to it because these people are resourceful and great sales people from what I’ve seen in the markets. Here in Guatemala, there is so much diversity : 22 Mayan tribes, 2 Garafuns, and Ladinos who all speak a different language and have different customs. It just seems like they don’t entirely understand each other’s ways. It doesn’t seem right to me to characterize a culture as ignorant though.

As Devva (my favorite professor here) says in regards to disabilities- “Disability does not reside in the person. I can’t give it away to someone else. I myself am not disabled if I can function in my own way. Disability lies in the interaction with another person, or the environment.” This is the same way I think about all of these different cultures. Within the same tribe, their customs make complete sense. They’re not ignorant; they’re following tradition and cultural norms. However, when another of the many cultures sees that here, it may seem different from their own ways. That doesn’t make them any less of a person or an ignorant or maladaptive culture, it’s the interaction between the cultures that creates the issue. I hope that sort of makes sense to everyone because that’s how I’ve processed it in my head.