Saturday, September 22, 2012

Chicken Bus

The cheapest way to get from one city to the next in Guatemala is by chicken bus. It is also a very unique experience and you need to use the system at least once if you go to Guatemala.

I was able to get from Comalapa to Antigua for less than $2 and it required a transfer in between. The chicken bus system appears--at least to the ignorant eye--to have no system or schedule. Yet, somehow it works. Luckily the first time I used the system I went with two other volunteers, one of which had prior chicken bus experience.

What a wild ride. Chicken busses are school busses painted in funky colors. I think the seats are made longer so they can uncomfortably fit three adults. The busses are operated by two people, the driver and another.

The other has to yell out the open doors where the bus is going to as well as to climb on the roof to put the bigger luggage. Did I mention he does this while the bus is moving? He also collects the fare. I am not really sure how he knows who he has collected from or not as he does not collect it at entry. He chooses--to me--a random time and collects from those he has yet to collect from.

After our first bus we hopped on a bus in Chimaltenango. We were fortunate enough to be able to sit down at the very front of the bus instead of having to stand the whole way. I watched out the open door as one young Guatemalan hopped on the bus and either decided it was too crowded and got off, or he fell off. I saw him fall on his backside and smash his head on the tire of a parked car. I have no idea if he was okay or not as the bus just kept on going. All I saw was some kind soul making sure he was okay. I decided at that point that the further inside the bus the better. I made sure one of my hands was touching my wallet at all times in that close of range.

The bus itself winds at high speeds up and down the mountain. It doesn’t really stop for those getting on or off; it just slows down enough for the transaction to take place. Sometimes the only thing in between objects and a chicken bus going at high speeds around sharp corners of the mountain is the sound of the horn on the bus.

There is no such thing as personal space on the chicken bus. With such a cheap fare the busses need maximum capacity in order to operate. In order to find maximum capacity on the chicken bus, you just have to add 3 people to every seat and then load the aisles up until you are no longer breathing oxygen, just the carbon dioxide from others as they exhale. Once you reach this point, you only need to add about a dozen more people to achieve maximum capacity.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Life of a Volunteer

Being a volunteer in a third world country opens your eyes to a lot of things. One of which is just how much we take for granted. I thought I was mindful of certain luxuries that I have become used to, like for example the internet. While staying in Guatemala I found there are even more basic things I take for granted.

To start this post off however, I want to mention everything about the life of a volunteer, at least at Long Way Home.

The 'working' day starts at 7am and finishes at 4pm. I use the word working loosely, as we didn't work nearly as hard as the Guatemalan staff. That isn't to say we didn't work. We certainly did. We also enjoyed having a fifteen minute break extend beyond a half an hour and our hour long lunch extend beyond the hour most days anyways.

Living in a commune, other house keeping and living tasks were divided among the volunteers. Things such as keeping the kitchen, bathroom and outside living area clean are tasks we would be used to at home, as well as the cooking. The cooking however had it's own challenges.Without a fridge, we wouldn't be able to keep things cold. Anything that needed to be refrigerated had to be purchased the day of consumption.

This also meant that other things you commonly expect to be cold--drinks, for example--had to be consumed warmer than usual. I found this to be an unexpected thing I take for granted.

Some things can be kept cool in the pilla. A peela is the special sink that we had to use in order to help preserve water. The pilla served as our multipurpose sink. Beyond refrigeration, it also was used to wash dishes and wash clothes.

The pilla has 3 compartments. The centre stores water and a special bowl called a palangana. That bowl is the only thing that should retrieve water. On the right side is where you store dirty dishes. On the left side is where you put clean dishes. It also is where you wash your clothes. It shouldn't be a surprise that there are no washing machines here. The right compartment is the one that gets the most action. If you ever need water to rinse a dish, or your hands, you get it from the centre area and pour it out over the compartment on the right. It took a little to get used to it.

Then there is of course going to the toilet. Do you know how natural it feels to throw toilet paper into the toilet once you are finished with it? Well here, you need to throw it in the garbage instead. It shouldn't get flushed. At the school, the toilets even have two holes, one for your wet waste and one for your dry waste. This toilet didn't flush, you just would pour a little water to wash down the wet and cover the dry with some sand.

That brings us to some daily chores that are unlike what we are used to at home. The only garbage we really make is the aforementioned toilet paper. A daily chore is to burn it. Instead of making garbage, we have found other uses for it. Anything that can be composted is, any left over food is given to the dogs and the rest of the garbage we make, we cram into plastic bottles which are used as alternative building materials. Bringing the finished bottles to the recycling centre is a daily chore.

Things as a volunteer seem so simple. There wasn't a lot of the hustle and bustle that technology seems to bring to weigh you down. You had to rely on good old fashioned socializing to help the down time pass, or reading. I did a lot more reading this summer than I have in a long time. I read 5 books the month I was in Guatemala, some of which were nice sized books. It feels good to have rediscovered the lost art of reading.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Parque Chimiya

Long Way Home is also partnered with a local Guatemalan group to take care of Parque Chimiya. This is a park that people of Comalapa can come and visit. It has a soccer (football) field and a basketball court. Both the field and court are very nice and I regret not using them more with my fellow volunteers, although we did use them more towards the end of my stay.

The volunteer house is also located at the park. While I was there a new Guatemalan family moved into a house on the property. Living there was the man hired to look after the park. To prepare for the move, we spent some of the working days away from the school and at the park doing different odd jobs.

One of the jobs was to rebuild and extend a bamboo fence to give the family a little more privacy.

We also worked hard on installing a evapotranspiration field (ET field) for the house. To do this we had to dig a large trench about 5 feet deep and maybe 15 feet long. We then lined the bottom of the trench with big rocks, followed by larger gravel and then smaller gravel. Finally, to top it off we put sand and covered the top with some of the original dirt and grass we had dug up.

In the bottom of the trench we put a plastic pipe leading up to the sink. The ET field gathers waste water and the gravel and sand help to filter the water so it does not contaminate the land when it evaporates.

Most of the volunteers lived in the volunteer house and a few of the volunteers lived in the cabanas. We referred to that as upstairs as you had to walk up a steep hill to get there (we were on a mountain after all). In between the volunteer house and upstairs was the new family's home, a parking lot and some gardens where fresh vegetables were  grown and used by both the staff and the volunteers.