Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Here are a few pics from recently. The first few are taken outside another volunteer's house in the early am before a hike down to the lake. The next few are from the hike, then some from the Mother's day celebration at one of the schools I work at. These pictures just took forever to upload so that's all I have time for now. I'll write more soon.


Sunday, April 26, 2009


I’ve been in my town for about a month now and am slowly adjusting to life here. I’ve had a lot of free time lately because there basically haven’t been classes in the schools for the whole time I’ve been here. So I find ways to fill my time so I don’t get too lonely or homesick: I walk around town and introduce myself to strangers (“Thank you for selling me this mango. My name is Crystal and I’ll be living here for two years…”). I go to the cake shop that has a juice bar and chat with the woman working there while people watching and drinking fresh made pineapple, banana, orange juice. I wash my clothes by hand, which usually takes at least all morning (I am going to have such buff arms after two years). I read. I watch the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Dvds Laura gave me. I take a pick up (my main form of transportation these days) to the lake and enjoy the sun, the water and the tourist targeted grocery stores that sell such wonderful foods as peanut butter and whole wheat bread. I play tag with neighborhood kids. I chat up the local tienda lady. I kill the spiders in my house.

This week is Olympics week for the elementary schools in the district which means they all compete in sports tournaments the whole week (thus the fourth week of no classes. Last week classes were cancelled to prepare for the Olympics). Monday was opening ceremonies and I went to watch the parade that all of the schools walked in around town to take pictures of my schools and ended up being forced by one of the school principals to walk in the parade which was a little awkward but I guess it was good to be included. After the parade there was a talent contest for the niña deportistas (girl athletes). One girl is nominated from each school to perform a dance with some of the teachers from the school and then they each have to make a speech (in Spanish and Kaqchikel) about how sports are good for your mental and physical health and keep the youth out of trouble. My favorite was a girl who came out on stage with her female teachers and they were all dressed in traditional indigenous dress and doing a traditional dance and then the music stops and they take off the traditional dress and are dressed in basketball jerseys and sweats and finish with a hip hop dance.

Well, that´s all for now. How are you?

I love and miss you all!


P.S. Here’s my new address for in case you might want it (because… my birthday’s coming up? you love me? you’re a good person?):

Crystal Sand

Voluntaria del Cuerpo de Paz

San Andrés Semetabaj,

Sololá, Guatemala

Things I would appreciate:


Pictures of you

Words of wisdom

Good books

New music

Magazine and news clippings you think I might be interested in

Tips/ ideas for cheap ways to set up my house/ garden

Anything from Trader Joe’s

P.P.S. I have a history of being really bad at correspondence but I’ve made a pledge to myself to correct that so please send me your addresses so I can send all of you postcards/ letters/ etc. Also I do have a cell phone here so send me a message if you ever feel like giving me a call and I will send you my number.

Friday, April 3, 2009

And now it begins...

Training has ended and real Peace Corps life is just beginning. Last weekend we had our “swearing in” which is basically like a graduation ceremony and our host families get to come and we dress up and take lots of pictures. It was held at the ambassador’s house and we all got to feel important for a day. Though, they did make us use the outdoor bathrooms. Swearing in was followed by a weekend in Antigua with my training group drinking beers, eating good food, dancing and enjoying each others company before we all parted ways.

Now I find myself in the community where I will be living for the next two years. Life is very different from training. We were “bodies without choices,” as my friend Mark likes to say, during training and then we were pushed out of the nest and left totally on our own. I got to my site and sat in my empty house and thought “Shit. What do I do now??” Everyone says the first three months in your community are the hardest and that there will be highs and lows, and if the first five days are any indicator, I would have to agree. Poco a poco (little by little) I’ll adjust though.

You all should definitely come visit me. I really lucked out and got placed in an amazing site. I live twenty minutes from Lago Atitlan, a beautiful lake surrounded by volcanoes. The town is really tranquilo and buses don’t enter which is such a beautiful thing to me after living three months right on the highway. There has been a long presence of Peace Corps volunteers here so people know what I’m about for the most part. Pretty much everyone here speaks Spanish but most also speak Kaqchikel, a mayan language, so I’ll probably be learning to speak some of that as well.

I’m slowly meeting people in town and becoming comfortable here. I have a lot of eight year old friends. They’re the easiest. A few games of freeze tag and you’re in. Next it’s the mothers who take pity on this poor gringa whose been sent away from her country and family to live here on her own for two years. Meeting people my own age will probably be the hardest as most are married or work away from home. A lot of the teachers I will be working with are in their twenties, though, so once I start in the schools I’ll hopefully be able to build relationships with them. I have also been invited to join a women’s basketball team so I’m thinking of doing that, but once they see me play they might rescind the offer (I was not blessed with the Mohr women’s basketball skills). There’s also a guy here who was a PC volunteer in the mid eighties who never left and now has a Guatemalan wife and daughter. He’s already been really great and helped me buy a stove, had me over for meals with his family and lent me a bunch of stuff until I get my house all set up. Apparently there’s also a volunteer from the Japanese Peace Corps somewhere in this town but I have yet to meet her.

My house is pretty sweet. I have three rooms, one that will be used as a kitchen, one as a living room/ guest room and one for my bedroom. I also have a bathroom with a shower that has an electric water heater. I have a porch with the perfect place to hang a hammock and a patio/ garden with a lemon tree. So it’s not exactly the peace corps home I had imagined but it’s pretty close. I'll put up pictures once I get it a little more set up. Anyway, that's it for now but here are a few photos:
First of many pictures to come of Lake Atitlan :

The leather boots my host brother gave me as a gift: With Jareau from my Spanish group rocking our new leather boots custom made by my host family (he paid for his) :

My spanish group with teacher Chepe:
With the ambassador and host fam:
My whole training group with country director Martha:

Paz, Crystal

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Field Based Training, etc

Hey y'all,

Here's some pictures to start:

First here are some fellow trainees (minus the guy in gray) and me in Antigua (that's a volcano in the background):

Some of the Healthy School volunteers on field based training after giving our first health presentations in an elementary school:

Just a few of the redheads in our training group:

At a mayan ceremony that the Peace Corps arranged for us:

So last week we got to go on a field trip with the healthy schools group to visit some current volunteers in the department of Totonicapan (Toto). Ten of the sixteen of us will be sent to work in that department and seven of us will be replacing the volunteers that we went to visit. It was cool getting to see everything we've been learning in training put in to practice as we visited a bunch of the schools, learned about infrastructure projects they are working on in the schools and participated in a workshop for teachers. Seeing the sites and homes of the volunteers gave me an idea of what my life will be like once I get sworn in and sent out to site. It was also some good bonding time for our group because all sixteen of us stayed in a hotel for the week while the PC staff stayed at another hotel. We felt like we were teenagers whose parents had gone out of town for the weekend and we took advantage of the opportunity for nightly dance parties. This may sound a bit juvinile but keep in mind that we have to be home by dark every night and we have our lunches packed for us and our laundry done by our host mothers. Basically, for all intents and purposes during training we are all twelve again.

I have to admit that visiting the volunteers that we will be replacing left me a little disappointed because the reality of the life of a healthy schools volunteer in Guatemala is quite different from the life I imagined myself living as a PCV in Central America. All but two of us will be sent to the western highlands which means my dream of hammocks and mango trees and layers of sweat from the tropical heat will be replaced with plenty of wool blankets to keep me warm in the mountain cold and layers of dust during the dry season. Also I was imagining roughing it out in some rural town in the middle of nowhere when in fact most of us will be sent to fairly large towns with plenty of buses and concrete buildings. The good thing is that I will most likely have a flushing toilet, a hot shower and electricity. Also, we will be working in 2-4 schools that are in small rural towns of the municipality where we will live which means we will have the opportunity to get out and see the natural beauty of Guatemala when we go to work. I guess I just have to adjust my expectations and realize that no matter what the site I am sent to is like it will definitely be a unique experience and an opportunity to challenge myself.

Next week we are each going out on our own to stay with a current volunteer for a few days to shadow them and ask them all of our burning questions like "how do you buy gas?" and "how did you find your housing" and "what do you do when you are going crazy from loneliness?" I am being sent to visit a volunteer about 45 minutes from here, which again I am a little bummed about because I was hoping to go somewhere further out there, but it will still be cool.
We find out our sites on the 12th of March which sounds like its soon but to all of us it seems like a lifetime away because we are all dying to know our destinies for the next two years. I guess this gives me time to adjust my expectations so I won't be disappointed when I get my assingment. The week after we find out we will be sent out to visit our sites with our host country counterparts (in our case the superintendent of schools in the municipality) and we will figure out housing, transportation, etc.

I'm still loving life with my host family. They took me and a friend to the beach a few weekends ago which was really fun. I still haven't gotten sick from any of the food and I now eat on average five tortillas with every meal (but somehow have managed to lose weight). I have eggs and beans every morning and have tried all sorts of yummy tropical fruits. Mango season has started and my neighbor gives me avocados almost on a daily basis so I am pretty much in heaven as far as food goes.

Anyway, all in all life is good and I am happy. How are you???


Sunday, February 1, 2009

A few photos...

Hey guys,

I've been really busy lately and haven't had time to write a complete post but here are a few pictures in the meantime. I hope you all are well and send me an email sometime to let me know how y'all are doing. Shoutout to Emily and Kris (and Grandma CeCe)- Congratulations!! Little Raye is beautiful (thanks aunt c for sending me photos!)

I dont know why the above text looks like a link but just disregard it. Anyway, here's the photos:

Here's when we learned to make tortillas:

Here's my house's bathroom (toilet on the left, shower on the right):

Here's my bedroom on the left, my host parents bedroom on the right and the boot workshop upstairs:

That's it for now! I will write more soon...

Hasta luego,

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

La vida chapina

Well, I made it to Guatemala safe and sound! I’ve been here for almost a week now but it already seems like it’s been ages. For the first three days I stayed with two other trainees (that’s what they call us until we become official volunteers in March) with a family in a town called Santa Lucia Milpas Altas, where our training center is located. The family was super nice and had hosted almost 100 volunteers and students in the past so they knew how to take care of us. After the orientation and group placements they sent us out in groups of four to different communities, all within an hour of the training center. For the next three months I’ll be living in this community and almost every day the four of us will have language/cultural orientation class with our teacher Sandra at one of our houses and Mondays and Thursdays we will have training.

My host family for the next three months consists of Doña Ana, Don Carlos, their son Armando who is 25 and his wife Ingrid who is 27. There are no kids living in the house which at first I was a bit bummed about but it is nice and tranquilo here. Also, the other trainees in my community have children in their homes so I can always go hang out with them when I need a kid fix. I live right outside of a town called Pastores which is famous for leatherwork, especially cowboy boots. Don Carlos and Armando run a shop where they sell their handmade boots. The other day Don Carlos showed me around the workshop (upstairs, above my room) and explained to me how they make the boots and showed me all of the different leathers they use. He told me I can design a pair of boots how I would like them and he will make them for me, which I’m really excited for.

Also, nobody needs to worry about me because Doña Ana worries enough for the rest of you. The first morning I woke up and she was washing dishes and she hurried toward me as I opened my door and asked me how I had slept. I told her I had slept well and she breathed a huge sigh of relief and told me she hadn’t slept the whole night because she was worried that I wasn’t sleeping well. She is constantly telling me to eat more and I literally had to force her to let me clear my plates from the table. She packs a lunch for me when I go to the training center and I worry that if I don’t eat it she might have a stroke. It’s nice to know that I’m so well taken care of but at the same time I don’t know how many more times I can say “No tenga pena” (Don’t worry).

Anyway, I have so much more to say but I feel a bit overwhelmed and very tired. They’re keeping me busy with training and when I’m not in class or doing homework my host family wants me to do things with them. I’ve already been to a wedding and a piñata (child’s birthday party featuring- you guessed it- piñatas) and this weekend I’m visiting the in-laws, going to a 50th wedding anniversary and possibly going on a roadtrip to Escuintla.

Here are a few pictures:

With my first host family and one of the other trainees:

With my orientation roommates on the training director´s front yard:

Here is the training director in his backyard with a few other trainees:

I’ll try to update as often as I can but in the meantime I would love to hear from you all! I miss you all very much!



Monday, December 22, 2008

I'm goin' to Guatemala!

Hello friends and family!

Well, here's my blog. I just figure it's a better way for those people who would like to stay updated, rather than flooding everyone's email inboxes with mass emails. Also, this way you can check this site at your leisure and if you're not all that interested then you don't have to check it! One thing I do ask of you, though, is to please drop a line in the form of a comment every once in a while. I want to hear from you all and it'll be nice to know that someone is actually reading this. This post will mostly just be an introduction to what I'm heading out to do, but future posts should be less boring and I'll try to include interesting stories, reflections and funny anecdotes.

Anyway, I think everyone reading this knows that I'm joining the Peace Corps. However, I have noticed some confusion about where exactly I will be going and what exactly I will be doing (i.e.: "You're going to Nicaragua, right?" "So, Crystal, when do you leave for Spain?" "Crystal, I hear you're being sent to Afghanistan?") So, here's what I'll actually be doing: I will be going to Guatemala with the Healthy Schools program (I have included a map of Guatemala and a map of Central America for those of you confused about the geography of all those little countries south of Mexico). As far as the work I will be doing: I will be a School Health Facilitator and basically I will be working with rural primary schools developing sanitation and health projects, working with teachers to promote healthy habits and to incorporate health lessons into their curriculum, and helping to identify and implement necessary changes with the end goal of certifying these schools as "Healthy Schools."

Here's the map of Guatemala, followed by a map of Central America:

So, I'm leaving San Diego the morning of January 5th and will be flying to Washington D.C. where I will meet up with the rest of my training group, which I guess will be about 30 people, and we will have a day of orientation. Then, very early January 7th we will all be flying to Guatemala! For the first three months we will have training and all of us trainees will be centered around a town close to Antigua. Toward the end of training we will find out our permanent sites, then we'll be sworn in as volunteers and sent out on our own!

I'm getting pretty excited about embarking on this adventure and so far not so nervous. It does help a lot to know I have great support here at home and I'm really thankful for everyone's words of encouragement and excitement! We'll be in touch!

Much love,