Friday, August 20, 2010

burn, baby, burn



1. Get elected to make coffee for everyone working because no one believes you can cook.
2. Arrange coffee, pitcher, pot of water, and stove to your liking.
3. Spend five unnecessary minutes trying to figure out how to turn the gas on.
4. Light match. Watch helplessly as it flies out of your hand and goes arcing end over end through the air toward the tank of gas.
5. Stomp out match as quickly as possible when it lands on the floor and breathe sigh of relief. Prepare to endure teasing about this for the rest of your two years of service.


1. Become totally fed up with the wasps living in the cardboard boxes in the room you work in. Decide to Take Action; enlist stung coworkers for help.
2. Cover all holes in the boxes and carry them outside. Carefully lift top falps until you locate the nests. Get someone else to remove the styrofoam with the hives and put it into another, disposable box.
3. Burn the box with the hives; carry original boxes back inside after cleaning them.
4. Realize too late th at when your coworker says, "Let's get rid of the nest in the corner of the ceiling," what he really means is: "Let's tie some paper onto the end of a stick, light it on fire, and burn the wasps out." Watch in horrified fascination, convinced the ceiling tiles will catch fire and figuring out which things to grab when they do.
5. Sweep up all the debris after nothing but the nest goes up in flames. Spend the rest of the afternoon ducking dive-bombin, pissed-off wasps.

also my knuckle is the size of an jocote

Bruised Confidence in Self-Sufficiency: Washing Double-Size Sheets

First, decide your sheets are dirty enough to wash. Then analyze your pila. Is there enough water? If not, return to step one and reconsider. If they really can´t stand another day without washing, consider going to the river. Try to remember where the path to the river is and whether the river might be too full to be safe.

Set up everything you need on your little bitty concrete slab: soap, bucket, smaller bucket for scooping water. There's no place to put your sheets, so wrap them around your neck like an overgrown scarf.

Wash your pillowcase first. It´ll take you about three seconds. Feel accomplished.

Begin your first sheet. Soak it in the bucket and start soaping it. Lose track of where the ends of it are and accidently let them drag in the mud. Re-soap them a little more viciously. Scrub the sheet as much as is p ossible with lots of fabric on a little space.

Try to rinse the soap out of the sheet. This functions much like Zeno´s Paradox: no m atter how much water you use, you will only ever be able to get half the soap out. Get frustrated. Decide to hang the sheet up to dry anyway. Accidentally drop it in the dirt when you reach for your clothespins. Resist the urge to stomp on it.

Re-wash the sheet, muttering at it and deciding not to care about washing all the soap out this time.

Consider your second sheet. Return to step one. Decide it really is dirty enough after all and wash it ver slowly, because at this point your hands are protesting the harsh soap, you have at least one bruised knuckle, and your arms are definitely not in shape enough to really have at all this wet, heavy fabric.

Give your other laundry waiting to be done a long, betrayed sort of look. Wish fruitlessly that it would do itself. Finally do half of it, and celebrate with a fresh guayava.

NOTE: Keep an eye out for sudden thunderstorms. Do not get so caught up in enjoying the sound rain makes on the roof that you forget you ever did laundry until everything is soaking wet and unsalvagable.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dear Taxpayer


Please find attached my very first Official Peace Corps Report, which sounded exciting until I sat down to actually do it, when it turned out to be excruciatingly tedious. There was a lot of frowning and squinting at scribbly numbers, I am sorry to say, because I am an impatient adder at the best of times, and when the only pieces of scrap paper I seem to have anymore measure about an inch square maximum, things get much more squishy on the handwriting front, which is never a positive thing for my math skills.

Here are some of the things you have been paying for since January:

- a Spanish dictionary, two grammar books, and a baker’s dozen of technical manuals

- enough training in Spanish that I no longer sound like a three-year-old with a serious vocabulary problem, praise to all the powers that be

- two different kinds of parasite medicine to treat one very stubborn parasite

- a lovely water Filtron to store water when there isn´t any and to filter it when it´s brown

- the opportunity to try lots of different food, mostly made of corn: fresh (corn) tortillas, elotes (corn on the cob), güigüilas (“green” corn tortillas), tamales (corn mashed, wrapped in corn husks, and boiled), nacatamales (corn tamales with meat in the middle), rosquillas (made of corn and cheese), empanadas, enchiladas... (we are in the middle of the first corn harvest. I have been given six elotes and two tamales in the last two days. I may, just perhaps, be currently experiencing a corn overdose.)

- a little less than $200 a month, which provides me with a nice little room in a house with a lovely family and a completely useless softie of a guard dog; trips into the city for internet, groceries and the occasional ice cream; and my bi-weekly splurge on peanut butter

- learning how to wash my sheets over a tiny slab of concrete and not immediately drag them in the dirt

- roughly 29082731829 awkward moments (and counting) of sudden, painful cultural understanding or head-first collisions with the language barrier

- long days sitting in the health center, navel-gazing

- long days sitting in the health center, defining a vision, goals, and objectives for a desperately needed community-based birthing center in order to apply for Peace Corps project funding (courtesy of USAID)

- snacks for a youth group of young health promoters, training to educate their peers about STDs and teen pregnancy and a whole host of other health-related topics

- the opportunity to live in a different country and experience new and exciting types of confusion every day, a fact which mostly makes me a big hit in town because everyone loves a little schadenfreude

- capacity-building for local health workers, health classes in the secondary school, and all the paper, markers, and tape that entails

So thank you, taxpayer, for everything, because even on the navel-gazing days, even on the days I can’t help but stop and wonder if anything I do is actually making any kind of difference, I’m starting to love the work you make it possible for me to do.

Cheers; here’s to twenty more months of sun and rain and good days and bad days and indifferent days, all mixed together until everything balances out.