June 6, 2013


Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Guatemala and Peace Corps volunteers were invited to a special meet and greet. Unfortunately, I woke up at 3am with a high fever and various other symptoms that informed me I had eaten something that was not properly disinfected. Little to say, I did not get to meet the Secretary of State but my fellow friends did. Peace corps volunteers came from all over the country to greet him. 
 He was also welcomed by the US ambassador Arnold A. Chacon 
that's him on the right

 and once again, second to the right.

Intestinal bugs have been a daily struggle while living here in Guatemala. All vegetables and fruit have to be disinfected with bleach before consumed or else you'll be regretting it for days on end. Fortunately, I have strayed clear from street food and was never hit with Montezuma revenge until yesterday. Many of my friends have spent many days in their service as a Peace Corps Volunteer battling illnesses, intestinal problems and gnarly infections. I even had a friend who's gums started to bleed because he had such a high fever/infection. Another friend currently has ascaris worms (google that) and goodness gracious nobody wants those. Things can get nasty real quick. So, although my sickness got in the way of some serious once in a lifetime plans- I am glad to have almost passed 2 years without the inevitable run in with the runs. 

The hardest part about being sick is being alone and sick. Having to take care of yourself with a fever seems like the worst thing in the world. Also, riding the public transportation with with a fever... let's just say I won't ever do that again.


June 4, 2013

Comida Chappina

La comida chappina, the Guatemalan diet. Corn, beans and sweet drinks are the basic to any guatemalans diet. The beans and tortillas really took a toll on me at first but now I don't know how I will manage back at home without these beautiful corn tortillas sold hot on the street at all hours of the day.
Lately I have been able to see the beauty in the basics of the rural cuisine and I want to share with you a few of my favorite dishes as well as some of the amazing and exotic fruits that one can find in Guatemala.
Buen Provecho!

Tamalitos Siete capas.
Seven layer little Tamales.
I have a very thoughtful friend who constantly brings me watermelons from his farm, fresh bread that his mom bakes and local typical food fresh off the comal. He recently brought me these one evening after I had already eaten dinner. I told him I would try them the next day but they were warm and tempting so I decided to try one while it was still warm- then, I ate 2 more.
It is basically the corn tortilla with beans rolled up inside and a nice sauce called chirmol on the side. Beautiful swirls and beautifully basic. Thank you Guatemala!

It is bean season down here and everyone is harvesting their crop. Beans are quite the staple food down here and they are delicious when fresh!
speckled beans

about an hours worth of bean shucking 

lovely colors

Flor de izote

This is an edible flower that they put in soups, tamales or scrabbled up with eggs. They are a little bitter but there is just something intriguing about eating a flower. 

Queso Fresco, fresh country cheese wrapped in a banana tree leave. Makes a beautiful presentation.

Mango pico loro (Toucan Mango) 

Beautiful and resembling the Persimmon, zapotes are quite the indulgence. 

Manzana rosa, (rose apples) which have a taste of rose petals to them.

April 23, 2013

Chickens. Chickens. Chickens.

Never have I ever experienced such a concentrated amount of fowl life. Chickens, in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors have a dominating presence in Guatemalan households, streets and unfortunately local modes of transportation.
This past weekend while I was riding back to my town on one of the used school buses, packed with 3 people to a seat I fell asleep for the very first time! (This in itself is a rarity due to the numerous pot holes, overcrowding and the loudest music you've ever heard playing.)
After a few minutes of sleeping with my head pressed against the window I was woken by wings flapping, clucking, and a lady yelling in her native language (Q'iche).
I might mention here that I've had a bit of a fear of these strange looking animals for quite some time and even though I am more comfortable with them now I would have to say that this was the scariest way to be woken up from my little bus nap.
This chicken that found its escape from the grip of a young girl and began flying around the bus making all sorts of ruckus left me gasping and startled.
Chickens are very common on buses and I've heard loads of different stories, some of my friends have even been pooped on but a chicken on the loose was something surprisingly unexpected. Everyday in Guatemala is a new adventure.

January 24, 2013

Checking in with reality

Comfortable. That's how I feel in my concrete apartment with a tin roof and neighboring rats that like to peek in on me. I feel comfortable with my host mom who gives me remedies while I've been sick this past month. Comfortable enough to let her give me a full body massage and drop bitter medicine down my throat without asking for either one. I feel the same about my town and the people I work with. I feel good and safe and straight up comfy with my life here in Guatemala.
Then, out of all the comfort comes an eruption sending me back to reality. Like the lynching that happened in my friends town not too far away from where I live. A brutal attack on two young men who stole money from a house. Apparently the quantity was equivalent to around $50 which was enough for the town to take action and take the lives of these two delinquents by beating one to death and setting the other on fire, drenching him in gasoline.
A picture from the newspaper- Prensa Libre.  Different lynching from the one mentioned above. 

It isn't uncommon to hear about lynching here, it is actually very common. Lynching a person is usually a way to gain justice when a town has lost faith in the local police. They lynch for a variety of things, usually stealing, but also for murder and other crimes that the locals feel unjust. I have a friend who honks his horn continuously while driving on a certain road near my town, to give off a sort of warning that a car is coming. A preventative measure to keep any dogs or children from running into the street. I found it strange the first time I rode with him- I thought he had some type of compulsive disorder- so I asked why he was honking his horn obsessively and he bluntly explained "here, they lynch people." Simple as that, the honking continues, keeping the children out of unintended harm and us away from a lynching mob.

It's that type of thing that I try to forget about after becoming so adjusted to the life here in Guatemala. I convince myself and try to shove down those fears of danger or extreme discomfort.  While I was riding on a bus recently with bullet holes in the windows and a pilot with a death wish, I had to tell myself that everything was going to be fine. Even though my mind and body were tensed up with fear, thinking that the next curve was going to be my last, I had to say- Sasha, you're going to be A-OK.
And I was.
There was not a shoot-out to add additional bullet holes to the buses elaborate facade, nor did the bus flip over. But on that 2 hours bus ride of pure fear, with images out of a flipped over bus passing through my head, I was trapped in limbo between reality and manifestation. Trying to convince myself exactly what the reality of the situation was proved to be extremely hard, especially without knowing which fate I had in store.

Of course there is nothing I can do to make communities stop their lynching habits nor can I change bus culture- it is something I will deal with until my time is done here. When one has to live with these type of incidences and dangerous circumstances on a day by day it becomes the norm and not something that falls out of the ordinary. At least that's what I tell myself, that's what everyone who has transplanted themselves in Guatemala has to tell themselves.

October 12, 2012

Peace of mind

Home. Yet again! Enjoying every (other) moment of being home. I say every other because it is more of a work trip than just a vacation. Plus, the weather isn't your typical 75 and sunny and I miss that a lot.

I am recently LOVING on this site to help me describe my experience in the Peace Corps. Totally hits my thoughts and feelings on the dot. Hope you find it as hilarious as I have.
Life in the Peace Corps

While I'm at it, I will just throw in my new favorite song that I heard at a bar in Santa Monica while drinking a nice cocktail with my number one, LA, gal pal :-)
...loving america....

September 12, 2012

One year down, one more to go.

"Reflecting on this past year is going to be difficult", I told myself on the bus ride last weekend. I tried to think about all the highlights of my year and all the strange stories I could share. It didn't help that there was a man sitting next to me who held a sack in his lap from which a crying cat continuously attempted his escape. Eh, typical bus ride, I thought.
On my anticipated arrival to Guatemala I can honestly say I had no expectation what-so-ever but I knew I was finally beginning the challenging 2 years of service I had always dreampt of accomplishing.
The first step of actually getting on that plane was the biggest step of my life. Thank goodness I have reliable and awesome friends who took such good care of me with all my pre-peace corps jitters.
After 3 months of training I was finally ready to begin actual work in my assigned location. I was placed in a legendary site in the northern part of the country to work on an organic tea cooperative. Not only was the location amazing but the fact that it was the only organic black tea produced in Guatemala made it just that more special.
A lovely friend of mine recently pointed out that no matter where you live there are going to be daily difficulties and hardships. In one of my last blog posts I realized that I portrayed quite a negative outlook on daily Guatemalan life and I want to clarify my, all but thankful, tone of that post.
I like to write about all my experiences while living down south and one of the most important things I have learned from these experiences is how wonderful my life is and how much gratitude I should have for it. Although, I am ungrateful for the lack of hot water, the uncomfortable transport and various other things, I am all that much more grateful for those things that have made me stronger and made me appreciate what home has to offer. I share with you, sometimes through a regretfully complaining tone, in hopes that my hardship will remind you of that basic beauty in everyday life.
I do not wish to only show you the bad parts of my days but to be honest there are a lot more bads than goods.
When the goods come along they are quite simple and ever so heart lifting. Without those kind gestures, great conversations and spectacular successes, I wouldn't be here right now. Besides the fact that I have become ridiculously emotional and have a strong desire to cry for the most absurd reasons (whats that about?) everything is honestly good.
I have seen such beauty that it takes my breathe away, and witnessed such horrible things that I shall never talk about. I don't know just quite yet how this experience has changed me but I do feel it inside. I could not be happier with where my heart has lead me. I could not be more thankful for my family who are so supportive and giving. I could not have done this without my friends and their endless support and motivation.
(care package shout outs: Kira :-), Jenna Pizzo! Ryan, Mrs. M, Daniel, Victoria, Kendhal, Suzanne, Mom & Pops and the lovely Meredith)
They say this is the hardest job you'll ever love. Right now I just think its hard, but the love is coming, I can feel it.

Here are a couple pictures from one of the first projects I took part in- solar panel installation for a community without electricity. This was back near the tea coop, a beautiful, beautiful part of the country.
A local carrying solar panels for the community

rain in the cloud forest 

September 11, 2012

State side bliss

Returning from my two week vacation in California proved to be extremely difficult. More so than I could have ever expected. Spending time with loved ones, enjoying the warm sunny weather and indulging in fine food, wine, and lifelong friends was how I chose to spend most of my days.
Triple desert at Beau Bo in Ocean Beach

One of the nicest things about San Diego is the array of accessibility to whatever it is you want to do, see or eat. In two weeks I saw one of my new favorite artists at the Birch, went stand up paddle boarding, practiced yoga a top mt. helix, went rock climbing, ate delicious, delicious foods, enjoyed air conditioning, got a hair cut, went to a mall, and drove a car- all very exciting things that aren't so common in Guatemala!

La Jolla Cove 
I had almost forgotten how nice it is to have the ability to go to the store at any given moment for any little thing one might desire. Here in Guatemala it is quite the contrary. The supermarket is a 2.5 hour bus ride away and  the local market only comes around on Thursday and Saturday. It isn't a huge problem but lots of planning is needed in order to have a decent array of cooking ingredients for the week. Forgot the butter? Too bad. Here you just can't run to the store. Plus, they only sell margarine.
So. As much as I wish I could recreate the edamame dumplings with truffle oil and gluten free mushroom pizza from True Food Kitchen, it simply won't be possible to find ingredients and make those delicacies. Plus, some things are best left to the masters. (if you haven't been to True Food Kitchen, I highly recommend it!)
But there were two simple things I really enjoyed: iced espresso with almond milk and spicy red pepper hummus. Simple, and always available at most grocers in the states, but never to be found in Guatemala. On my arrival back I decided that those simple things I enjoy from home need to be here with me in Guatemala. With a little creativity and adaptive kitchen skills, I am pleased to say that homemade almond milk and spicy red pepper hummus are now in my fridge.

Within the first 24 hours of being back in Guatemala I felt the wrath and the beauty of living in a developing country even more so than before. The first thing was the landslide that occurred outside my town that they had been trying to clear for a few days. The normal travel time of 2.5 hours to the nearest city had turned into 6. 

Deforestation is the main cause of most landslides
The beauty of it was that I met a very nice young lady as we trekked through the muddy forest to get across the landslide. The lack of communication in Guatemala can be very difficult, especially for a foreigner. This day specifically was a challenge because no one knew where or when the buses were going to pick us up. Whether we needed to stay on the far end of the landslide or cross over and walk 2 miles to the river. We ended up walking the two miles only to find that the bus was on its way back to where we had just come from. Frustrating as it was I was glad to share that experience with other locals and not feel like the only one who was out of the loop.
My destination was Xela, the second largest city in Guatemala. I had been convinced by friends to climb a volcano the following morning. Santa Maria proved to be one of the best and stupidest decisions I've ever made. I had just gotten off the plane and not 24 hours later would I be climbing the second tallest volcano in Central America at 3 in the morning with only 3 hours of sleep! I have no idea what made me to agree to do this, but I did. We began at 3:50 am on a hike that was deemed to take a maximum of 4 hours to reach the summit. 2 hours into the hike, in complete darkness, we were lost. 3 hours in, we had almost made it to the peak but we knew we needed to be on the other side of the mountain. Long story short we added an extra 2 hours to our hike just trying to get back on the trail. It turned into a 10 hour hike in total including one personal, 5 minute, emotional breakdown. The lack of sleep, stress of traveling and whirlwind of emotions I felt after leaving the states all hit me like a wall in the midst of ascending this seemingly unconquerable volcano.
Matt, Casey, Yo, George, Kelly, Kim and James at the base of the volcano. 3am Saturday morning.

I had a nice support team who helped me reach the top and it was amazing to see the views at 12 thousand feet. After taking a look around I completely passed out on top of a rock. Best 20 minute nap ever!
A view from half way up

12, 375 ft up

sunrise off the beaten path

Yoga atop a mountain in Guatemala... missing mt. helix and thinking of you, Rose!
So now that I am back in my town and recharged from my vacation I have a lot of things to look forward to. Projects are starting and my last year in Peace Corp seems like its going to be filled with good people and wonderful experiences not to mention loads of hard yet very fulfilling work.
A huge thanks goes out to each and everyone of you for all your support!

June 26, 2012

A day in the life

Yesterday, my counterpart and I went on a little trip into the mountains to visit a small community called Yerba Buena. (good herb aka. Mint) I was really excited about this trip as we had been invite to attend a meeting where they would teach us how to make different medicines, pomades and shampoos from plants. I was expecting nothing but the best, of course, yet highly amused by the dynamic of the meeting and how the events shortly unfolded.

Just to re-cap on Guatemalan culture and more specifically what its like here in Pachalum I'll run you through the basics.
A. Here in Pachalum we travel with the metro police. I regularly have a police car outside my house waiting to take me somewhere. Yup, that's my possy.

B. When a meeting is planned to begin at 8 am it begins at 9 am, or later.
C. Guatemalans are the best on-the-spot-speakers I have ever encountered.
With that little information you can assess the following.

My counterpart and I show up to this small community with our possy in the hills of Guatemala and begin to ask for directions. We get lost in the forest because it was super foggy and ended up in a cow pasture. Ran away from the cows an finally reached this danky house where the meeting was being held. That was at about 10am and the meeting of course was to begin at 8am.

A guy proceeded to explain his job and the basics of food security in the local mayan language of Achi' with bits of Spanish here and there.
However, this poor fellow was wrongly informed and honestly blew me away by his presentation- not in a good way.
He asked a couple questions and then proceeded to say that broccoli, coliflor and cabbage have little to no nutrients and we should not eat them.
That was the jaw dropping moment. Mostly because I have spent the last 10 months explaining to people why they should eat broccoli, cabbage and coliflor.

Here was this guy, who lived in this community, who held a position of authority, who was suposed to be educated, who had a decent job and who the community actually respected and he was killing it! Absolutley ruining the basic principles of educating people who suffer from malnutrition! I wanted to stand up right then and then and say "people, eat ALL your vegetables!" but I didn't. I didn't know how to react, how to express myself while simultaneously respecting their culture, the speaker, the village. Respecting the fact that ONE, I'm a foreigner and TWO, I'm a woman. In any other situation, in any other country these two factors would have actually lead me to speak up and represent. Guatemala, Peace Corps and other personal reasons kept me from doing that, and wow was that a strange feeling. Learning to hold back.

So that was the conclusion to this mans talk, but it wasn't over just yet. He kindly proclaimed that the remainder of the time was allocated to us.
Like me and my counterpart?
The invitees to YOUR talk?
Yes. Us.

So thats when my counterpart proudly stands up and starts daring palabras (giving words) out of her butt, practically, about anything an everything she can think of! It was great, and I enoyed watching how good she was. Then it was my turn and, well, that didn't go so well. I am not versed in daring palabras like Guatemalans are, but I try.
Learning to hold back and give in.
Can't really say that I am proud of these qualities quite yet, but one day I might be able to.

June 12, 2012

My Job

Lately I have been feeling a bit envious of my friends and family who are back home living a tranquil life with the common comforts that Guatemala doesn't provide. Like the simple act of driving a car, always having hot water, electricity, gas, supermarkets, etc. I have also been thinking a lot about just how strange my job really is.
Basically, I am paid by the United States government to make friendships with locals, to help communities, and to represent the US as best I can.
They pay me close to nothing, yet it is adequate enough for me to live month by month in a semi comfortable environment and work in Guatemala with locals. (stoked to be employed!)
It's awesome that I can chose what I do, when I do it and how. Not many 24 year old's can say that about their jobs.
(but props to those of you that can!)
I deal with weird things on the regular and surprisingly I have mastered certain techniques (mostly lies and blank stares) to show people I am not completely amazed, appalled, disgusted or repulsed by things that happen every day. Sometimes there are just too many things that happen in a day and my mastered facial expressions lose all respectability and most likely look like this dude's. So, this is by far the most interesting, frustrating and amazing job that I know of. Im finally getting to understand why there are so many rules and stipulations because this job isn't easy, it isn't a vacation and it isn't anything I had ever expected. 
So, on the not so odd days I work with women and right now we are right in the middle of  planting their gardens. It has been a struggle to get them to understand some of the key principles but mostly it is a rewarding experience watching the groups that have the gannas (desire) to work hard, follow organic practices and have a good harvest. Props to my girls in Agua Zarca!


happy cabbage 

forcing them to learn! 

And this little dude. 
 So, that's all I have for now. Take care loves!

May 19, 2012

Squealing baby pigs, scorpions, toasted ants. Just a few things I never came across back at home.
By far the worst sound ever is that of a squealing baby pig. Especially one that has just been bought and is being stuffed into a bag to be taken to its new home. Never fails to give me chills.

Scorpions. Also, a very new and scary addition to my life in Guatemala.  Even though they don't make much of a ruckus like those baby pigs, they still hold the ability to give me the willies. Everyone in Pachalum has had a run in with a scorpion that didn't seem to end well. It have been explained to me that....
"your body just goes numb and you might not be able to feel your tongue, but there is no need to go to the hospital" -phew, because I'm probably more concerned about the Guatemalan hospitals.
I was also told a story about this Grandma who got herself drunk one day and decided to go lay in a pile of corn husks. She lied in that pile for 3 days until someone finally decided she could no longer be drunk and that something more serious had happened. Turns out she was stung 8 times by scorpions and by the time someone checked on her she was in a coma. - yikes grams.

Ants. They never seemed to bother me back at home but here in Guatemala my daily activities have changed and therefore I encounter them much more frequently. The only difference is that here they are quite a bit larger and also considered a rich delicacy.-yum!
Every year right around the beginning of the rainy season (May 15th) a special type of ant comes out from its hole and the people collect them, eat them and sell them by the pound. I have yet to see them but tonight might be my lucky night. A special fly swarms the town the night before the ants are to come. Its a little indicator for the people to know that the ants are on their way. They come out around 3am and everyone is going to be waiting to begin the hunt. Apparently they are aggressive little buggers an their bite isn't something to mess around with. After you've collected enough zompoposyou roast them. Add some lime juice and vuala! buon appetito!

I was just thinking today how strange it is to be living here in Guatemala, working in development. From a first glace at the country one might see the facade that the elites have created and believe that Guatemala is in good shape. I agree that the abundance of fancy cars, shopping centers and wal-marts can be deceiving and one must think that there is money. However, it only goes to a small percentage of the population
 I am also one to blame in this as I fall into the consumer role and purchase from the big stores that sell fancy products that I miss from home (cheese and vino anyone?).
Its a strange place to live in because I don't feel like Guatemala should have fine wines imported from France while there are people who live in such poverty that they can't afford the pasaje (bus fare) to even get to the store. The divide between the rich an poor is extremely evident and considerably heart breaking. One doesn't have to go far to find it, you just have to want to see it.