Cross-dressing, Floats, and Possible Alcohol Poisoning

So what celebration allows usually homophobic men to get trashed while strutting around the streets of a town in short skirts and dresses? Give up? It's the Convite! (-Insert sarcastic hoot of joy here-)

Okay, I'll begrudgingly admit that it is a little more than that. 
At the essence of the holiday, a town celebrates their  Patron Saint with a town-wide parade, a dance, and lots of other activities.

Sara and I decided to watch the main event, the town parade, from my roof with a wide-array of snacks and mugs filled to the brim with tea. And while we were the only ones who chose to watch from above, I have to say, we had the best seats in the house.

Here we begin with men making fun of the same ol' Mother in Law/Suegra trope (really, again?)

Apparently we were also a part of that Antonio Banderas movie, 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico'

The Cast of Harry Potter showed up with pretty cute costumes!

And finally the Homoeroticism/Bro-Love was out of control, but it's okay... they were drunk so it doesn't count (sarcasm).
So it wasn't too bad. Although I was biting my tongue the whole time during the drunk homoeroticism, I did have fun watching the dances, floats, and costumes. Well done. Just next year, can we stop with the mockery towards women (including, and I joke you not, Rigoberta Menchu). Thanks.

Lessons of the Year

No, this is not another post about the New Year and how Suzie Q wants to go back to the gym and how Peter Parker is cutting back on the snarky comments for 2011. Nope. This is a post celebrating the fact that I have been in Guatemala for a mother flippin' year! And with that, I'll share some knowledge I've gained since deciding to drag two backpacks on an airplane and forget about the luxuries.

What I, Linda, have learned in a year of Peace Corps service in Guatemala:

  • Malaria, Going Deaf, Bleeding from the Inner Ear, and Gastrointestinal Amoebas are not just diseases/illnesses/afflictions you study in High School Biology: they happen.
  • A huge percentage of the towns/cities/municipalities/etc. are named after saints: Santa Apolonia, San Francisco La Union, San Andres Xecul, San Juan Comalapa
  • Holidays play a huge role in Guatemala---and despite the name, Mother's Day is a month of motherly love.
  • Know the bus drivers and have them know you. If the bus picks up a pervy, drunk or simply annoying drifter, the driver and the ayudante will have your back.
  • Sexism is everywhere---you have to learn how to defend yourself against it.
  • When it comes to your project, gain the trust of everyone you're working with by being approachable and honest. And it doesn't hurt to throw some humor into the mix.
  • Everyone, and yeah... I do mean everyone, will poop their pants during their service.
  • If an horchata (rice drink) tastes fishy, make your work partner/sitemate try it because if you know you're going to Diarrhea-ville, take them with you!
  • Make connections at your site, sometimes they can lend you a hand when you're in need.
  • Dating in a machista society? Yeah... no.
  • Your first aid/med kit will become your greatest ally.
  • Your emotions are cranked up---be honest with yourself about them and you will survive.
  • Do not miss 'snack hour' no matter the circumstances. This is prime 'connection building time'.
  • You don't need TV to survive, but if your internet is as slow as mine... stock up on DVDs for your laptop.
  • Your phone will FAIL 80% of the time.
  • If you're a woman, your community friend base will be made of girls younger than 18 and women older than 35.
  • Sing while you do your own laundry, by the time Party in the U.S.A. has been on repeat for an hour, you would have done a load.
  • Since you'll be behind on pop culture, you will have certain guilty pleasures (ex: Baby by J. Beiber or Party in the USA by M. Cyrus) because those songs will be used in all advertising attempts.
  • Advertising in Guatemala means blasting music across the whole town and announcing the 2 for 5Q chicken pieces at the local Chicken Little fried chicken stand.
  • Love your sitemate, they'll be there when you're most vulnerable.
And finally,
  • Although it's been a year, you will probably feel like you've only just arrived. Time flies, so enjoy it.
So Happy Freaking Bloody First Year to ME! I'm coming back soon America.

In other news, since there has been a Military Siege in the Department of Alta Verapaz due to Narco Trafficking (yeah, I won't really get into that because I'm still confused and partially afraid of what that means to Peace Corps as a whole), I have had the pleasure of hanging out with a fourth 'faux' sitemate: Whitney! Check her out (as well as Sara and I). We're all tired and halfway into PJs, but hope you appreciate the pictures I forced them to take!

Stuffing, Vacation Vacations, Pyrotechnic Specialists and Hugh Hefner

Oh the holidays!

The themed, Christmas-centric, commercials (Santa proposing with diamonds, polar bear Santa treating the cubs to a Coke, Santa saving the day with a tampon [oh wait, I just made up that one up---apologies], etc.), the holiday decorations flooding the stores, and the smell of pumpkin, turkey, and pine in the air.
Let's take a minute to enjoy those things, shall we because I did not get to experience any of those---well, except the pine smell but that is the visual marker that a party is happening here and now so get your butt in here, stranger! But despite my pumpkin latte withdrawals and the lack of commercialism in my life, I have had a great holiday season.

Thanksgiving was surprisingly traditional with overeating, board games, and unbuttoning pants (and no, I'm not talking about that kind of unbuttoning). The day was filled with cooking, laughing, and making Guatemalans confused with our ability to eat and eat in a slightly competitive manner. I have never seen so many confused faces as ten or so of us PCVs would stuff our faces with turkey, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese then hurry off to the buffet table to snag another plate-full of food. Unlike us, the Guatemalan guests had half a plate of food and skipped the pumpkin pie desert! And to the wonderful American restaurant owner who took us, poor souls, in for the sacred holiday, thank you! Thanks for the space and the mouth watering stuffing! Why yes, Oliver, you may have some 'mo (If you fail to understand that reference, I officially disown you---joking)!

And speaking of 'mo, my holiday spirit wanted to crank this vacation into hyper mode, so it, and I, went up north for a little while---to Mexico! Seriously, Peace Corps Washington, if you're reading this: please create a volunteer exchange program in which I trade places with a volunteer in Mexico for a few days! I will love you forever. But let me step away from the groveling for a minute to just tell you that the places I visited (San Cristobal de las Casas, Puerto Escondido, Palenque to name a few) were beyond my wildest dreams. There was so much to do, so much to see and I was conveniently there during the celebration of La Virgen de la Guadalupe, the largest holiday in Mexico! Oh and if you are ever in San Cristobal, you have to eat at El Caldero, especialy if you are a huge Caldo fan like me! I am in love. San Cristobal de las Casas is now listed under one of the cities I would love to live in (right below London and Marseilles)! Who wants to go with me next?

Well, while many people aren't jumping to travel to Mexico nowadays, I was as happy as my thirteen year old self with a new Tiger Beat during the Christmas season because my lovely Mother and sister came to visit! We travelled, we bickered, we hung out with my lovely PCV/local friends and all in all, I hope they enjoyed their stay. I know it was a drastic transition from Los Angeles, but hope it wasn't too boring for them (though I can hear my sister reading this and giving a sarcastic retort).

And beyond enjoying my town and one specific restaurant in general, I know they enjoyed the fact that Christmas Night, every house in town has as many pyrotechnics as a KISS concert! I mean, we feared for my house since there were huge bomb-like fireworks shaking my thin walls, Fourth of July-esque fireworks that seemed too far from the skyline and too close to my roof and people yelling and screaming until about two A.M.. On second thought, I think KISS can't afford the pyrotechnic specialists that flooded the Christmas air with explosives! But overall, miss you guys! And I know I'm not alone on that sentiment since Frijolita, after heavily bonding with you guys for a few days, sat by the door for hours waiting for you guys to come back. Somehow, I managed to pry her away from the waiting with a few kitty treats---thanks for those too Mom/Sis!

And finally there came New Years Eve! Overall, it was a pretty fun holiday! Fireworks, sparklers, tamales (some even made by Sara), BBQ, dancing and a Block Party that lasted until 4am. It was definitely a fun way to ring in the New Year! And since most of the available/attractive folks were over an appropriate age to kiss, I decided to skip out on that one pesky tradition (though many tried and failed that night---huzzah). After all, Hugh Hefner would be the only grossly older gentleman that I might take advantage of and he recently became engaged to his 24 year old girlfriend (ah, we're the same age), Crystal Harris, in which he proposed with a Little Mermaid ring box*. And fun fact for you guys out there, Mr. Hefner was already 63 when the Little Mermaid was out in theaters for the first time! So keep that in mind, Mrs. Future Hefner. If you were able to keep your food down and are back with me... Happy 2011 ya'll! I wish you all peace, harmony, and love to you and yours! And hope you didn't have to kiss anyone who was old enough to be your grandparent when you watched your favorite childhood movie in theaters!

P.S. If you still haven't checked it out, and have made a resolution that has to do with blogs/art/etc., check out AntiRetrograde today!

*Oh and seeing as how Hugh Hefner's 'romantic practices' have been leaked (pun intended) on the internet--- I feel no desire to actually be with such a man. Here's a few hints: kleenex, baby oil, and a lot of mimicking of a dead fish. Blegh!

Catching Up with Pixels

October 31st: Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
While Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year, mostly because you seem to find glitter/body paint/hair dye in weird places for several days after the fun, I decided to keep it low key in 2010. Instead, the sitemate and I decided to join in on the local festivities. And I even made a few friends who had never seen a camera---and decided to take mine out for a spin.
Families visit loved ones at the cemetery

They celebrate by flying kites, lighting candles, and painting the tombs a new shade of color.

New friends who took my camera for a ride.
November 1st: Todos Santos (All Saints Day)
After consuming a coffee filled IV drip and slathering some sunblock on our appendages, the Santiago Kite Festival group was off to check out the (in)famous Kite Festival. Although weary at first, I have to admit that even if you do not care for kites, you have to go if only to see a horde of humans try to prop a massive kite that is (awkwardly) held together by a pile of bamboo sticks. *Teaser alert* 3 out of 5 kites fail to even make it upright!
In Santiago, Sacatepequez (the birthplace of the Kite Festival)

In order to honor the souls of the deceased, many fly kites. 

But apart from the small 'toy kites' there are enormous kites which are tested against the elements on Nov. 1st.

1st Week of November: Dogvention & Business Practices (with Guest Speaker A.K.S)*
Our little 'ol town in this here Guatemala had a visitor---Andrew, an MBA student who is doing his research around the world (I mean, he just came back from Africa, right Sara and Andrew?)! But while in town, he spent his time interviewing a number of business owners and learning just a tad about makes Guatemalan business owners tick. It was a blast having him! Come back soon! *Title is an inside joke, so apologies to those who are outside of the loop. [Photos courtesy of Andrew]
Andrew, Sara and I enjoying our favorite treat, Tortillas de Harina (a traditional food from the east)

Enjoying the Mercado (on a non-market day)

Helping to interview the Vet in town.
2nd Week of November: Sorpresas y Mas (Surpises and More)
After much planning, I managed to surprise the living cr*p out of my family with a visit home (and scaring each family member by jumping out from the car, pretending to be a neighbor picking up a package, and yelling surprise over and over again! I spent some quality time with the family, celebrated my sister's 21st birthday in style, and got to hang out with all my loves from NorCal! And a special shout out to Jeff and Nicole for letting me crash at your houses! Love you guys. Sorry if I didn't get a chance to see all of you--- but next time I will make ALL the rounds! Only negative of the trip was the usual TSA drama which means me being grilled by a TSA agent (this time, they gave me a Guatemalan TSA agent) to see if I was 'really' a Peace Corps volunteer. If anyone could tell me how I can find out if I'm on some sort of black list, let me know. I'm getting tired of the grill sessions which seem to increase in correlation to the amount of drama there is surrounding the TSA itself. Exhibit A: Naked Body Scanners.
First drink: Apple Martini. My sister is a classy gal.
Have you heard of 'Pika Pika'? Neither had I until I did it with Matt & Nicole! Thrilling and ridiculous.
Also managed to scare one of my amazing professors with the help of Misha.
3rd Week of November: Multimedia Bonanza
We have finally reached the present and the present is looking sweet. So far my life has been wholeheartedly consumed with teaching people from my town about the importance of self-expression through drawing, photography and film. I am partnering up with Sara to bring three different demographics: men, women, children/teens a FREE taller (workshop) surrounding Multimedia! So far the first few classes have not only been successful, but eye opening to both the teachers (Sara and I) and the students! And I still cannot believe the support we have gotten from the town itself: 600Q for equipment, a booth/space in our Feria (which slowly began yesterday and will reach it's climax on the 30th!), and a word of mouth campaign that beats Paranormal Activity's viral blitzkrieg advertising! Can't wait for the future classes and the chance of exhibiting the photos/film in an art space in Antigua (proposal is currently under review)!
Day 1: Perspective

Day 1: How I see the world
In unrelated, but somehow related, news--- Sara and I have a personal photography project HERE.
It is a photographic diary of sorts that features our town and our daily reaction to it. We don't tell each other what we're posting, so it is also a bit of a surprise to us to see how each other is feeling. Feel free to peruse and add it to your favorites. It's a sort of an experiment for us and we hope you like it!

Until next time, strangers.

To Market, To Market

For NY,  it is gallery openings and fashion shows. For LA: sushi bar reveals and movie premieres. And for Guatemala (my town in particular), it is market day.

Yes, these are social events where you go to see and be seen--- and sometimes, even allowing you some time to conveniently pick up your weekly grocery list!

Sunday and Tuesday market days are the social events of the week in my town. Vendors sell their best batches of fragrant produce, while townsfolk walk through the mercado lugging their costales (colorful, plastic bags) over their finest clothing.

Nothing better than fresh produce!
These are the days to catch up with friends and loved ones who live across town, snag a bit of town gossip, and even make new friends---friends who sometimes have the power to save you a Q or two.

Sara and I are now seen as a sort of Gringa Power Duo. We walk through the market in perfect unison---creating a whirlwind effect that can only be compared to seeing Kali, the Hindu Goddess, stretching her four arms across the market, purchasing wisely and with swift precision.

If time is on our side, we begin our journey with a cup of atole (deliciously made by one of the members of Sara's women's group) in the 'inside market' and then slowly make our way out to the veggies, fruits, and finally the grain section---exercising our 'haggling muscle' with every stop.

Sometimes though, our route and even our grocery lists go out the figurative window when something catches our eyes. For me, that usually means fresh lychee (which, yes, is apparently grown here in Guatemala) and for Sara, it is a fresh basketful of berries.

But no matter the route and no matter how late we are to the party, we make an appearance. Because, let's face it, if you can't show off your new MegaPaca (Guatemalan thrift store chain) shoes while hauling around three pineapples, a pound of onions, and a bushel of broccoli, then, what is the point! Oh, and maybe it doesn't hurt that you have two opportunities a week to cement crucial connections in town via a hug or a quick hello. Yeah, that too!