September 6, 2008
Our time was up in Salacuim, we had to go. You can't really sum up what the experience has meant to you with words, how much it has formed you and helped you grow.
It was hard to leave, sad to say goodbye to friends: the kids that came to be so important to us, the customs. In the last weeks and days I wanted to savor it all, experience all the quirks of village life one last time--stretching out the 5 block walk from the NGO office to our house in to a 2 hour series of random visits instead of the usual 1 hour, joking around with my young buddies who loved to call me mamaá (the q'eqchi' word for old man) and wondering why the same old joke never got old, the afternoon tortrix® and elojito® snack breaks with Kari in the hammocks, the early morning fresh milk deliveries from our friend Hugo Tista on his horse that served as my alarm clock and daily weather report, the visits from Carlos Macz that never seemed to have a purpose, but always seemed to last at least an hour anyway, all of the visits from the group of neighbor girls that especially admired Kari and watching them play Uno or Jenga or draw pictures. Of course sometimes they just liked to stare at us and our strange foreign customs: cooking, washing clothes, reading books. How strange they thought we were:
¿Que es esto? ................A headlamp
¡Que bonita su reloj! ......An $8 Target special
¿Que es esto? ................A garlic press
¡Tienen 3 bombillas! .....The extravagance and excess of our lifestyle
I also wanted to absorb for one last time, all the special daily experiences that life in Guatemala had afforded me. The meals at the local comedor where the Medina's treated us like family and we felt the camaraderie with co-workers from the local NGO. The trips in the "poprocho", the old Toyota that always need a good shove and a slight incline to get started. This was the same vehicle that tossed the driver around like a rag doll on every bump as the seat wasn't attached to the rusted frame. The trips to the river, walks in the jungle, our outdoor jungle shower that was oh-so sweet in the warm evening air, unannounced visits to families where we were always greeted warmly and offered food or drink and made to feel like we were important, celebrations where we were given a big bowl of Caldo de Gallina, the pinnacle of local fine dining. Of course the Caldo was hard for us to choke down, and if I finished mine, Kari would always have seconds to put on my plate when no one was looking: This was all part of the experience!
I'm proud of what we accomplished during our 2 years in Salacuim. During our time there, we motivated and organized a local group to take steps toward development an income generating eco-tour of their community including a boat trip through "el Peyan" canyon, we trained leaders from the local youth group in grant writing and community project planning which cumulated in a project to improve the community library which was planned and executed by the youth group members themselves, we made connections with individuals in the US to make it possible for 19 local students to go to school in 2007 and 14 in 2008 through a scholarship program that will live on past our peace corps tour, we helped to plan future tourism in the Laguna Lachuá National Park (including new interpretive signs, remodeling of the eco-hotel, and the purchase of kayaks that are available for rent), we developed a website promoting sustainable tourism in the Laguna Lachuá region, and we work on lots of smaller projects that we hope made some kind of positive impact for the rural indigenous village of Salacuim where we served.
But that list of projects isn't what we did.
Although it sounds like a cliché, what was so much more important than the projects we worked on were the less tangible things...
We took walks over the dark muddy paths to visit families in the evening. We spent Christmas eating more than the recommended number of tamales with some of our favorite families. We spend several early mornings sitting 30 people deep in the 4:00 AM van built for 15 people to make a trip to Cobán trying to sleep despite the blaring ranchera hits such as "el chofer" or "tin marin" or "te vas arrepentir" over the bumps, mud, and flat tires. We sat and visited with families and friends in their humble homes and felt a part of something, a community.