Monday, August 8, 2011

Leaving the Nest

I’m writing this while airborne, somewhere over Central America, en route back to the states. It’s hard to believe my Fellowship is over, but I’m excited to finally be heading home and to have some time to reflect on everything I’ve learned and thought about this summer. The past week has been a blur of showing my parents around Pana, wrapping up all of our projects, transferring files, preparing for OB’s Celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, and of course, last minute shopping and saying goodbye to all of my colleagues and friends.

My parents arrived in Pana last Tuesday, and I took Wednesday and Thursday off from work to catch up with them and show them around. We spent Tuesday evening at OB’s office, observing the first of what will be weekly English lessons for OB’s facilitators, taught by my friend Joanna, a volunteer with Mayan Families and with the Manna Project in Sololá. On Wednesday, we town-hopped around the Lake, wandering around San Juan in the morning, and spending the afternoon in San Pedro. Then, on Thursday, Andrea helped me arrange a visit to the Chuacruz community so I could have the opportunity to show my parents one of the communities where I’ve spent a lot of time this summer. The morning started with a short presentation about OB and its work, and then, accompanied by Lety, we headed to Chuacruz, where the women put on a wonderful presentation for us about their community, their group, and their weaving. The translation was exhausting – first the women would speak in Kachiquel, then Lety would translate into Spanish, then I would translate into English – but it was an amazing final community visit for me, especially since Chuacruz was the very first community I visited in early June! After visiting the community a few times and spending the day with the group in Guate a few weeks ago, I feel like I have cultivated some real relationships with the group, especially with a few individuals, and this was a great feeling to share with my parents. After the visit, we returned to the office where Andrea and Lety joined us in the garden for a lunch of pepian chicken, a traditional Guatemalan dish, tortillas, and rosa de Jamaica. 

With our big event coming up on Saturday, on Friday I sent my parents to the Atitlan Reserve to go zip-lining and check out the hiking trails while I returned to the office for one final day. I was put in charge of setting up a display about OB’s mission, vision, and various programs, and to assist Mildre in setting up and coordinating the food sales. But because OB’s such a small NGO, everyone had to help out with everything – setting up tables and chairs, decorating the office, distributing flyers around town, writing press releases, making posters and signs. Though the day was exhausting, it was wonderful to feel like I was as much a part of the OB team as Andrea, Ramona, and all of the facilitators. Though I could never really show how appreciative I am for how much the entire staff has welcomed me to the OB team – some old ipods that we had lying around, which the facilitators are going to load up with English music and podcasts to complement their English lessons, and matching Cal hats for all of the facilitators. 

Saturday morning was all hands on deck, with everyone rushing around to complete last minute preparations and a whole score of minor crises that, thankfully, were all resolved by the time the event began. The day began with a forum about indigenous issues and concerns regarding the upcoming election – the turnout for the forum was amazing, with tons of women from all of OB’s different cooperatives and from the surrounding communities as well. We also had traje displays, product demonstrations, traditional food tastings, traditional dances, and more, and I spent the day wandering through all of the exhibits, chatting with the facilitators and with many of the women whom I’d met or interviewed in the communities, and helping Mildre with food sales. The whole day was a blur, but I can’t think of a more exciting way to spend my final day in Pana. At the end of the event, Andrea presented me with a beautiful card that everyone in the office had written for me, and hugs and kisses goodbye were exchanged for nearly half an hour. After one last Deli dinner with my parents, I spent the rest of the night dancing, laughing, and saying goodbye to all of my Pana friends, and woke up early for my last shuttle trip back to Guate and two long flights before arriving home. 

So that’s that – hard to believe that the summer’s nearly over, and that I’ll be returning to Berkeley in just a few days! Though my stay in Guatemala has come to a close, however, I feel like my real work is just beginning. Next semester, I’m taking IAS 196, a reflection seminar for other Global Poverty and Practice students, all of which who completed their Practice experiences this past summer, working with different NGOs and projects all over the world. I’m also brainstorming ideas about a possible thesis – perhaps analyzing the impact of the various models of fair trade, or exploring sustainable development in NGOs like Oxlajuj B’atz’ – and planning on staying involved with both Nest and OB. But for now, I’m taking a few days to decompress, spend time with friends, and take advantage of the last few days of summer before heading back to California and starting what’s sure to be another busy semester. And who knows, maybe I'll make it back to Guate sometime soon...

"Soy mujer! Soy Guatemalteca!"

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