Food storage project gains local support by Luke Saunders, a 1994 Prairie Farm graduate, in his sixth month of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala.

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By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, July 01, 2001 - 3:15 pm: Edit Post

Food storage project gains local support by Luke Saunders, a 1994 Prairie Farm graduate, in his sixth month of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala.

Food storage project gains local support by Luke Saunders, a 1994 Prairie Farm graduate, in his sixth month of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala.

Food storage project gains local support by Luke Saunders, a 1994 Prairie Farm graduate, in his sixth month of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala.

Food storage project gains local support

Editor's note: Luke Saunders, a 1994 Prairie Farm graduate, is in his sixth month of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala. He has promised to keep his hometown updated on his adventures. This is the third installment of a continuing series. He will be in Guatemala until December, 2000.

March 1999: On the bad days, I feel isolated and lonely and my thoughts turn to home. The guys calling out "goot-bye, mister!" set me on edge, the stares seem to bore through me from the women, as if to say, "What are you doing here, rich gringo?" Potatoes and eggs taste bland and I wonder what I used to eat back home. My site-mate hassles, my counterpart is domineering, and I long for the tranquillity of my little house, where I can re-collect my thoughts.

But then my mood begins to swing back as I settle into the routine of cutting vegetables, heating my beans and then wolfing them down as my tortillas heat one by one. Now papas and huevos don't taste so bad. New music sent from home fills my little house. I reflect on the small victories of the day; the easy half-hour conversation with the guys in front of the muni, the new words I've stored away, the smiles returned when I greeted the women in Q'ek-chi (a Mayan language), the confirmation of funding for my silo demonstrations, the beauty of the sunset and then the rising full moon over the slopes of Baja Verapaz. Yeah, I guess it was a good day, and I realize it's the same sun and moon reflecting off the snow of Wisconsin. My thoughts turn to home, but I smile and relax. It's another good day in Purulhá.

What to write home about. What is newsworthy? What's new? I decide to play the number game, using random figures I come up with to give a look into the shape of my days here.

0 - Number of spoonfuls of sugar that go into my coffee. Black coffee never ceases to amaze Guatemaltecos. Why wouldn't you want 3 tablespoons of sugar?!

1 - tray of eggs does me for a week. I do all my own cooking - eggs, beans, and tortillas are staples in my diet, and I wolf 'em down "con mucho gusto."

5 - estimated number of cups of coffee that flow through daily. Some days more. I've gone through 4 bags of coffee, all different brands. The used bags adorn my kitchen walls, demonstrating my lack of interior decoration. Good coffee has been one of my splurges here and I will continue to refuse to settle for the sugar-drenched, mixed with roasted grains, poor excuse for coffee that most Guatemalans drink. Actually much of Purulhá is coffee finca (plantation) land, but the people who work on the fincas can't afford to buy the product they harvest. Like broccoli, it's a cash crop here that isn't widely consumed locally.

6.8 - Quetzales (the Guatemalan national currency) to one US dollar. When I came to Guatemala over 5 months ago, the exchange rate was 6.4, indicating how rapidly they are devaluing their currency. This means harder times for Guatemalans, at least the ones I work with. It also means that Guatemala is a very cheap place to visit for tourists and that my cost of living seems ridiculously low. I rent my house for Q250 per month, less than $37.I now think in Quetzales, not in dollars.

8 - communities outside the pueblo of Purulhá, but in the muni, that I will be doing projects with this year. In all of those communities, Spanish is a second language for the majority and most of the women do not understand it. Two indigenous languages are spoken in Purulhá communities - Pocum-chi and Q'ek-chi. Filled with guttural sounds and catches far back in the throat, these languages will be part of my life for the next 2 years. I plan to do formal classes at least in Q'ek-chi.

10 - more gringos in Purulhá for the next 6 weeks. These Peace Corps Trainees will be taking Spanish classes, training on environmental projects such as ecotourism, and living with Purulhá families. They arrived last Sunday, and I've enjoyed having more people with whom to speak English, hang out, play basketball. One of these trainees will serve in Purulhá with me after swearing in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer.

12 - books I've read since coming to Guatemala. Reading takes up some spare time when I'm not writing letters, writing in my journal or practicing my harmonica.

24 - cassette tapes I've received in the mail here. Music fills the silences of living alone and the tunes I pick up at the Post Office on mail days have greatly expanded my musical library. Guatemalan music is either marimba, drum machine Latin dance music (fun when you're in the mood but not for just listening) or cheesy ranchero. I get my fill of the radio on the buses. I do listen to Voice of America every evening for international and national news and sports, but they don't mention Prairie Farm, so I rely on family and friends for "real" news. My support from home has been tremendous and many fellow PCVs are just a tad jealous of my mail.

41 -; campesinos signed up for my projects on both silos for basic grains (corn and beans) and for "tinacos" for collecting rain water from house roofs - all this in one very triumphant day - I was completely on my own in El Repollal. That morning I spent the one hour uphill rugged walk talking to community leader Felino, and by the time we arrived at the home of the president of the community, my nervousness had melted away. I sat amid flurries of Q'ek-chi until enough had straggled in to start my presentation. In between translations and discussions in Q'ek-chi, I explained my programs using as may visual aids as possible, hoping it wouldn't be a complete flop. When it came time to ask who was interested, I was interrupted by Felino saying, "We all want 'los dos,' tinacos and silos." I spent the next hour writing names and getting the signatures that will make it possible to get funding for these projects, proving that these certain people will participate in specific projects. Though I know that the excellent leadership and organization ahead of time had much to do with the success of the meeting, I couldn't help but feel some pride and an increased self-confidence. I had nearly doubled the numbers in my projects, formed a committee for and listed those interested in an improved stove project of a forestry agent working with us, and formed a women's group for my sitemate, Christy. Though the warnings of too much work flashed through my mind, I fairly flew back down the rocky trail to Purulhá, encouraged that I was getting things accomplished.

53 - number of pictures of home, family, and places I've lived and been that adorn my bedroom wall. My own little wall of fame.

90 - silos that I have committed to build in my targeted communities. These silos are made of cement to hold small harvests (1200 lbs. of maize). The harvest is presently stored simply in sacks or eaves of homes, where losses to rats, insects, and birds are common. Right now I am in a position to secure funding for this project. However, my patience is being tested by a host country agency that wants me to look into metal silos first. I think their higher cost makes them a worse option for these campesinos and am annoyed to have to wait for "approval" from an agency that appears to have monetary interest in selling metal silos, whereas cement silos are built more simply and with readily available materials. This is one of the frustrations of being a foreigner working in development; I don't want to step on any toes or contradict existing work, but I must question in whose interest it is being done.

110 - tinacos in demand in these same communities. These are built similarly to the grain cement silos, only with a PVC pipe and a faucet at the bottom to draw the collected water. This project ought to have immediate positive results - a great way to build "confianza" - confidence - with the people. These are communities where the majority of households get their water by the women walking long distances, carrying water from springs or streams. But rain water, in a place where it rains almost every day for 9 months, is an untapped resource. These tinacos will ease water problems in highland area where wells can't reach the water table.

150 - local community indigenous leaders that attended a 3 day conference in Purulhá. The conference was put on by an NGO (non-governmental agency) that seeks to create a culture of peace and democratic participation. It was powerful to see these often poorly educated people gathered to take active interest in concepts we take for granted in the States; liberty, justice… In a country recovering from 35 years of civil war, peace is a central part of their definition of democracy.

So this, "mas o menos," is my work and life here by the numbers. It's a strange and sometimes lonely life, but the majority of my challenges have been rewarding.

Goodbye for now and have a good day. - Ingles

Adios. Que le vaya bien. - Espanol

Cha wiil abip. - Q'ek-chi

Luke Saunders

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Guatemala; Special Inaterests - Food Storage



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