Tuesday, February 10, 2009

(October 2008) Time for a Break . . . in Guatemala!

Stove construction is off! I don’t know how . . . but once we started construction, everything worked as it was supposed to! All the parts fit, I didn’t screw up the first stove (too badly) and all of a sudden 36 women are trained and making stoves all over the place that I can’t even keep count of who has finished and who hasn’t! In the last two weeks of October, I was helping make two stoves a day, 6 days a week. In general, I helped make two stoves per group. The first time facilitating construction and the second time watching to make sure they for sure get it. So by the end of October, I was exhausted but in a good productive way. The way that makes you want a vacation but also feel like you really deserve it!

So my friend, Susan, (Municipal Development volunteer) and I decided to go to Guatemala for a couple of weeks after a Halloween party in Copan Ruinas. Unfortunately, I got my camera stolen and so photos of the trip are going to have to come later when I can get them from Susan.

One of the highlights of the trip was getting to visit an orphanage in Antigua, Guatemala. Susan has a friend who works in the orphanage and offered to let us stay at his place while we were in town. Our first night in Guatemala, he picked us up in downtown Antigua and after dropping our stuff off at his apartment, we went out to a bar to drink and chat. Orlando is head of the orphanage which is called “Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos” (Our Little Brothers). He has worked there for eight years and the orphanage has over 300 kids ranging in age from babies to adults. The great part about the orphanage is that it offers various workshops in carpentry, baking, and other activities so that when the children grow up and decide to leave the orphanage, they will be able to open a small business or have some experience to be able to find work. There is a basic school inside the orphanage as well and if the students want to continue their education, the orphanage pays for them to continue on to middle school or high school.

To my surprise, none of the kids can be adopted from the orphanage and, in general, it’s very hard to adopt children from Central American countries. I asked Orlando why it was so tough because, really, if families here don’t have the funds to take care of their children, there should be the option to adopt so the child can have a better life. I would have never guessed his response. Orlando explained to me that it’s dangerous to put kids up for adoption because . . . and yes, this reason stopped my heart too . . . people will adopt kids and then sell their organs on the black market. The next day, I found a Guatemalan newspaper and the front article was about an adoption agency that was a hoax. Basically, some people were claiming to be a valid adoption agency and had collected thousands of dollars from North Americans who wanted to adopt Guatemalan children and then disappeared with the money. It’s amazing what people are capable of and how much I’m still so naïve about.

(So I will try to get photos of the trip up as soon as possible. Sorry!)

(September 2008) Finding Friends When You Need Them Most

Finally, we got funding for the stoves project after 7 months of waiting and being lied to and I had all the materials except the “plancha” which is the large metal sheet that the women cook on. This is also the most expensive part of the project. The mayor, who was providing the plancha, said he would have them on a Friday. I was a little nervous about the fact that my first stove was to be the very next day, Saturday. But he told me to trust him. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even in Nueva Esperanza during this time. I was still in Tegucigalpa in the doctor’s office doing all the official stuff for mid-term meds. But all I could think about was getting back and starting building. We only learned how to do these projects during one day of training which was over a year ago, so it would not be an exaggeration to say that I was scared out of my mind that something was going to go wrong. What if the materials were the wrong size? What if everything doesn’t fit together? What if I don’t even have all the materials? What if I screw up the first stove and everyone thinks I don’t know what I’m doing? What if they don’t work once they’re built?

I left as soon as my meds were done and arrived home after dark and exhausted from the 8 hours of travel. The next morning, Friday, I walked to the municipality just to make sure we had the planchas. When someone is about to tell you an excuse or is about to tell you that they are going to let you down, they start the sentence off with “Fíjese que”. I held my breath just hoping those weren’t the first words. But sure enough, the mayor told me, “Fíjese que, we don’t have them”. Usually it’s not worth it to show how disappointed you are because frankly you get disappointed a lot here. But I couldn’t help but let the mayor know how much I really didn’t want to hear those words. I hurried over to the house of the lady who was first in line to start building her stove to hopefully catch her and tell her not to undo her old stove. But I was too late, she had already been cooking outside since Thursday. When I told her we wouldn’t be able to make the stove, her son got angry with me and told me to just show him how to make the stove because he was a bricklayer and could make it on his own. I told him I couldn’t show him because: A) We didn’t have all the materials B) No other women were going to show up to help build (there had to be a minimum of three women building each stove) and C) This was a women’s project and his wife had to be there to build. When he told me he came representing his wife, I told him he was more than welcome to come and learn, but his wife was the one in this project and thus I wouldn’t teach him until she was present. At this, he muttered something along the lines of I didn’t know what I was doing and this project isn’t ever coming and then left.

This incident pushed me over the edge. For almost a year, this project has caused me constant stress and anxiety trying to find the balance between keeping the wheels turning and also keeping everyone involved by assigning jobs to others who don’t come through when they are supposed to. I know I could have done everything faster myself but at the stake of the sustainability of the project. And when the mistakes or inaction of others comes back to reflect poorly on me and only me, it takes a lot of tolerance and patience to resist taking everything into your own hands. So getting yelled at after months of hard work was the last thing I needed. I felt like no matter how hard I tried to make things work out, it was to no avail. And how backwards is it that someone was basically telling me I was doing a poor job of getting them their free stove? Good grief what the heck am I doing here?!

Here, I find it’s easy for a small dilemma to grow out of control and become more overwhelming than it should be which is what was happening. As volunteers, our work environment is also our living environment and the lack of distinction between the two means we lose it easier. Being alone also definitely does not help and even though I really wanted to talk to someone, I felt like I didn’t have anyone to call. I started to think about how much I left behind in the states and how long it had been since I had been away from my family and friends. And for what? So I could live alone in a country that doesn’t respect women and work on a project that no one seems grateful for and get lied to and yelled at by machista men?

There was a full moon out which lights the roads really well so I decided to calm down and take a walk. That was definitely the best thing I could have done because I really needed someone to talk to and I ran into my neighbor, Juan Ruperto. I was too upset to talk to him at the moment but when I came back an hour later, he came over to make sure I was okay. We went on a walk again and he just listened, which is all I needed. After a couple of hours, I felt so much better. He made me realize that there are people who care about me and that I should be proud of the accomplishment that the whole town has accepted me and supports me. Sometimes things go unlike we anticipate and it’s important to not take to heart what a few individuals say because as he observed, the majority of the women in this project are motivated and organized. And since there has never been an organized group of women in Nueva Esperanza, there are more ways to fail and more challenges that come with it. But in the end, he told me that all the hard work and problems I encounter will make this project even more worth it and even more rewarding. It takes very little effort to become frustrated with work and the way things are here, so it feels great when someone from this country can remind me why I actually love being here. I think Juan seeing me in a state that no one else sees created a confidence between us that I don’t have with any other Honduran, man or woman, and I’m thankful for this friendship that came about when I least expected it but most needed it.