Friday, March 30, 2012

One month done--some thoughts on health care

First, I would like to thank everyone who has read this blog anytime throughout my service. I was mainly writing it so I would have a record of things I had done and because I enjoy writing. I hope that I have helped others gain a better picture of life in Guatemala and in the developing world in general (which can also be gained from past posts in Ecuador and Uganda). I'm sure I will continue to reflect on my life in Guatemala as little things here in the States remind me of my former life (eating some delicious mangoes, buying Maseca in the grocery store, finding a great Latin music radio channel). I will include these reflections while I continue writing about more mundane things as I face a few months in Ohio with little to do.

Two months or so ago, I probably wrote something about only having one month left in Guatemala. Well, now I've been out of Guatemala for a month and it's gone pretty slowly. My English still fails me sometimes and I am not yet ready to hold academic conversations with other people. But I went to a mock law class a few weeks ago and actually was able to follow the entire class and even enjoyed it. I haven't been busy with much of anything concrete. Mainly I've been reading a lot, watching some tv shows I haven't seen before, travelling a little. I can't really get a job right now because there aren't any around here and because I don't know yet whether I will start school in May or in August. And I've had two doctor's appointments, which is what I am writing about now.

Healthcare is in the news lately. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not to uphold the Obamacare mandate. I haven't completely caught up on everything yet so I don't have the full picture, but I am hoping that the healthcare mandate makes it through. Health insurance and health care reform is necessary, mainly to make health insurance available to more people and to improve the coverage provided through health insurance (so pre-existing conditions and prescriptions are covered, among other things). Many Americans continue to go without health insurance. I have been to see a specialist twice in the past two weeks, who after the second appointment told me there is likely nothing seriously wrong with me. Each visit would have cost me $150 out of pocket if I didn't have insurance. My insurance only requires a $25 co-pay for doctor's visits in their network (hopefully--I am dreading getting some invoice in the mail saying nothing is covered). Anyone without health insurance probably would live with their problem until it became impossible to ignore, worrying that the cost of doctors' visits and cost of treatments would be overwhelming. This is why it is important that people have health insurance, and why health insurance should be affordable enough so everyone can pay the monthly premiums. This is why things have to change. With the new requirements that everyone purchase a health insurance policy or pay a penalty/tax, it will make the pool larger which will hopefully give normal people more say in what their insurance will consist of and will also hopefully lower the costs of health insurance. Now, I am no expert, but I want to urge people to read up on this new mandate and get a better idea of what Congress has been dragging their heals on.

That's all for now. I'll write about more goings-on in the weeks to come.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

And, just like that, I'm back

After a long day that at the time seemed to go very slowly but really went by pretty fast, I'm back in the States. Yes, I have been back twice during my service, but this time there is a sense of permanence because I will not be going back to Guatemala. The tears started coming as the plane got ready to take off and lasted through when I imagined Guatemala to end and Mexico to begin under the plane (probably about half an hour). I successfully kept most of it in so the people next to me wouldn't think I was an emotional wreck, but the truth is I kind of was an emotional wreck. I knew I wasn't going to be super happy in the States after living in Guatemala. The feeling kind of started at the airport when everyone circled around the people checking us into the plane and made it difficult for anyone outside of their circle to get in. I am talking about this literally, but it could also work as a metaphor. Anyway, despite the fact that we all had assigned seats and the flight people were calling us by groups clearly marked on our tickets, people did not have the patience to sit down and wait for their group to be called. It reminded me of Guatemala, especially my town on market day, when people will make a tight circle around the front and back doors of the bus so they can push their way in when it comes time, making it extremely difficult for the people getting off the bus, so that they can get a seat. There are no assigned seats so it makes sense first come first served. But in this instance, they were calling us in groups to have an organized filing onto the plane. Of course the girl in front of me in line was in a group they hadn't called yet, but when confronted she didn't care, insisting that it should be her turn too, she had waited around enough time and group four was close enough to group 5 anyway. This is an attitude I know I'm not going to like, but it's one I will have to get used to.

After arriving in Dallas and waiting to board my flight to Cleveland, a few times I remembered just how things work in Guatemala. There was a moment after using the bathroom when I had no idea what to do with the toilet paper. I glanced around for a trash can and, not finding one, remembered that our plumbing can handle a small piece of toilet paper. Then, after washing my hands, I waited for them to fully dry before eating my crackers. This is necessary in Guatemala due to there being fecal matter and parasites in the tap water and eating with wet hands may just make you sick. But here in the States, it doesn't matter if I eat with wet hands, or drink a nice glass of cold tap water with ice (which was delicious, but the way). It's just simple little things like this that will slowly help me insert myself back into life in the States but also remind me daily of what I left behind. For the next week, the biggest reminder will be the itchy giant bedbug bites I have all over my body, much worse than the last time I got them. My stuff is once again quarantined in the garage and I will have to deal with it all today, figuring out which stuff I can roast in the dryer (yay-dryer) and which stuff I will have to bag up for 6 months to a year.

It's good to be back with my family, and the heating is kind of nice, especially because my first sight stepping out of the airport at Cleveland was a bunch of snowflakes flying by. And this morning I woke up to see snow on the roofs and a little on the ground. So it's pretty cold out there, but at least I saw snow this year. And there's this super fast internet, which will inevitably turn out to be a time waster. But I have time, for the first time in a while. I always had a ton of stuff to do right up until the very last day in the country, where I was running around to get everyone's signatures to sign off on my COS (Close of Service) tasks. But now I can just leisurely sit here, read a book, surf the web, maybe run errands with my mom later (I figure shock therapy is best to treat my culture shock, so off to a sale at Khol's for a new iron). We'll see. I guess I'll keep writing about life in the States and thoughts and feelings on that front.

For my friends in Guatemala, enjoy the time you have left. It really is a treasure (I know, kind of sentimental and cliched, but how things really are). And enjoy the warm weather, fresh mangoes, and low prices. And everything else.

Take care, God's blessings, and I'm off to itch my bedbug bites.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


It's really kind of interesting that I find time to write blog entries despite this crazy wrapping up I have to do here. I have two schools left to visit, lots of neighbors and other community members to say goodbye to, packing, paperwork to fill out and reports to write. This blog has clearly become my procrastination crutch, offering me something to do when I run out of facebook updates or videos to watch on youtube. Saying goodbye to everyone is what takes so long. And I have to make sure I say bye to everyone or else in five years or so they will be telling whatever volunteer/gringo finds their way here that there was once a gringa (they might remember my name, or perhaps call me Ingrid like some of the kids did today) but she never said goodbye. And most people go into a bit of a tangent of how great we were, leaving our country and our family to spend time here in Guatemala, where life is really hard and there is a lot of crime and insecurity. Really though, this was my dream and I loved it here.

I did not, however, love the school visit we did today. We saved the worst schools for last just to make sure we could visit our best/favorite schools. And the visit didn't go super smoothly. Teachers were out and about wandering around, so they weren't in the classroom to help control the kids. Five classrooms didn't even have a teacher at school, so the principal was running back and forth between these classrooms. And the kids would just sit and stare at us like we were speaking jibberish. It isn't like we never visited this school. Overall, not a good visit. Hopefully we can make up for it with a good visit tomorrow, which I would feel better about if the principal would actually answer my phone to let me know whether or not there are classes tomorrow.

So today was the last time up and down the mountain. No more beautiful views of Xela and Olinte from up in the mountains to the north. Also today was probably the last time I will do English exchange with my friend Astrid. We watched You've Got Mail today (one of the few movies I have with English subtitles). I will miss our daily cooking/movie/talking interactions. And there was even a temblor today, maybe the last I will feel here in Guatemala. I have a night ahead of me filled with more sorting and packing, and some writing of post cards to send out when I stop by the post office in Xela tomorrow after another despedida, this time at my favorite Indian restaurant (for the second time this week!). And the last day of work as a Healthy Schools Volunteer. I may shed a few tears--I've been feeling a little emotionally unstable lately.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Ate some Japanese food with my Guatemalan friend Astrid today and it was quite delicious. I had some beef with eggplant and bell peppers in a curry sauce, accompanied by fried rice and miso soup. Too bad I didn't know about this restaurant earlier. I'm sure I would have spent lots of money there.

As far as work today, we met with the directors to introduce them to our replacement--Miguel. I forgot to mention this earlier--we're getting replaced!!! After the sad news that Peace Corps wouldn't be sending new volunteers here, Yuna and I kind of despaired that our work would just kind of putter out and die without a little bit of a force (through the PC volunteer) moving it along. Things have been kind of sustainable, but it takes more than two years to bring about lasting change. So when we heard that there was a possibility that volunteers already in country that would be forced to move from their sites would have the option to stay in country and move into sites already developed, we contacted our bosses and pretty much begged them to send someone. After lots of running around checking out houses, cutting down our list of schools from 21 to 12, making sure the security situation was still good, etc. we were told we would be replaced! Which means that there will be someone around working with Healthy Schools for the next year, and also means that we have a good chance of getting a replacement in 2013 after Miguel leaves. This is really such good news and makes me feel a little better about leaving. Also almost cried during the directors' meeting because our counterpart said such nice things about us and pretty much demanded that directors step up and take control of the project. This just goes to prove that he has actually been listening to us. He even put the spotlight on the schools we had mentioned were the best, even though he's biased against some of them.

Also had a lovely activity with the Preschool in the center of town that we love working with. All of the teachers are super fun and nice and sweet and they invited us to their anniversary celebration today. They celebrate their anniversary every year, so it wasn't something super out of the ordinary (today was celebrating year 23), but they included a really sweet, heart-felt despedida for Yuna and me. They talked about how we introduced them to rincones de salud, how we motivated them to make things better for the kids, how the work was hard but that it was worth all the effort, all of this in front of lots of parents and all the kids. Then they gave us these really beautiful purses made out of traje.

And I saw one of my favorite girls today. I used to see her all the time with her grandmother, who came into the center of town to buy bread and then carry up the giant hill to the community where they were living to sell it. She called out my name and of course her grandma was happy to greet us. After saying we were leaving, she looked sad and genuinely wished us well and gave us God's blessings. I am going to miss how genuine people are here--she really meant what she said. And I really will remember her and miss her and her granddaughter. I am feeling emotional just writing about it.

Things are winding down. I will leave site early Monday morning, so I really only have two more days of work, and three schools to visit in those two days. Hopefully the rumors aren't true and there won't be a meeting on Friday. I guess if there is a meeting and our last visit is cancelled, it would kind of bring this crazy two years full circle. It is Guatemala after all, and things are likely to change for the worse at the last moment.   Luckily for us we've already visited all of our favorite/best schools!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Sight of the day: The little girl in the seat in front of me on the bus today was playing with a Barbie doll dressed in traje that I assume her mom made out of some scraps. It warmed my heart. I love it when I see the culture living so visibly through the children. Hopefully the beautiful skirt and blouse that the women here will not die out with future generations (although all signs point to this as the reality).

Today was the last market day I will have in town. I only bought some avocados (three giant ones for Q10=$1.25 mas o menos). I also made some funfetti cupcakes with a friend and stopped by my favorite Q1 one last time and found some shirts and belts. One of my bags is packed and is ready to head into the office tomorrow on one of the shuttles. Ten days left. It's starting to look a little sad in my room. Good thing I have some roses in here to cheer things up a little bit. And some dark chocolate to eat.