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.

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