June, 1998

Here's an update for a bit of April, May and most of June. Sorry I've been a lax writer as late. Important, please change all your e-mails to allanoliver@usa.net. Right now I'm probably not going to renew this e-mail at centramerica.com and the other is good forever.

Peace Corps: What I have learned so far....

Human relations mean everything. Grease of good relations is the glue that bonds us
...Community is both real and cool
...Seeming nosiness and intrusiveness can also be genuine concern about your well being and health
...Spanish is a beautiful language
...Population is the fundamental problem- there is not enough land to farm, inefficient practices which require and increasing amount of land, which cut into natural and wildlife preserves.
...Learning guitar is hard
...Boredom is another word for too much space
...family is a fortress which keeps us human and integrates us into the whole
...Little by little is the only way to go
...An open door is better than a closed one.
...That campesinos work hard and that I simply cannot keep up with them
...nothing in Guatemala gets done by the fax or phone. In person is the only way, and it is a better way.


April 22, 1998 Earth Day-- Journal entry

As I sit here, filthy jeans, rosy sunburned face and stinking under a profound layer of sweat-- reclining in my hammock listening to the background of the ranchero music and dueling crickets, while the gulf stream wind cools my wounds, I am better. Better than yesterday where I dreamed of confronting a very slow PC bureacracy on the overpromised and delayed SPA grant for my ecotourism project.

But for every yesterday, there's a today. Up at 5, I showered, ate, and chatted with my neighbor who was to work on my house as I headed up the volcano. I went via the village of Chapparoncito. This village is somewhat infamous for population problems, fighting the protected area and generally a stubborn attitude. Instead I found them strikingly friendly, Manuel Gonzalez sent a neighbor's 10 year old to help the hapless gringo follow the right trail. Eventually, got to the top, and to my surprise over 100 students were there.

Sure they were expected because the Superintendant of schools had told them that they had to go up for Earth day. But they DID it.

It was a cold day and so all the students were huddled up. Having anticipated the usual hot Chiquimula day, they were in shorts and t-shirts. They began setting fires to warm themselves and their tortillas. Of course most of these fires were in the forest on a bed of pine needles. I was incredulous, students and teachers starting illegal fires in a protected area on Earth Day. I expressed my frustrations to one of my favorite teachers, Cokie Pena.

His answer, "It's custom"

For one of the few times in Ipala I got mad and said "If I can't change your mind and your actions, as one of the teachers, how am I going to convince them (the students)?"

Cokie was stunned. What to him was simply humorous before, became serious. He stopped laughing at what before seemed to be my inability to adjust to Guatemalan custom and began to reflect on those customs. In a moment he was running off and telling students to put out the fires. I came along, but let him do all the talking. I felt like I finally got through.

After waiting two hours my counterpart showed up to give his talk on the protected area. The superintendent, the president of the Environmental Education Committee and a new extentionsist from Intercap all gave talks. I was the last and proud to say, a hit. Despite living in the shadow of the volcano all their lives the students really didn't know anything about it. We talked about the growth of the forest, and the formation of the volcano and the lagoon. I followed with the water contamination theater which also was a big hit. Anything with humor works well. After the presentations the kids, teachers and I picked up trash, leaving the entrance a little bit cleaner than when we found it.

In Service Training

At the end of April, my environmental management group went to Selempin, Izabal for our in-service training. As the name implies, this training is done during the 2 year service of the volunteers to sharpen skills and update volunteers on new techniques as well as to have an opportunity to share failures and successes. As for me, it was a chance to finally get my hands dirty. Selempin is biological station within the Bocas de Polochic, a huge wildlife preserve maintained by Defensores de la Naturaleza a very rich non-governmental organization. It hosts a number of eco-tourists each year, although right now their program is small. Our group, under the direction of Edgar Godoy put together a basic interpretative trail to be used to educate the general public. For me after, 3 months of training in the theoretical and several months in the field working mainly with discussions and theory, it was great to put the knowledge into practice.

In-service training also allowed us to have some fun. We played some fierce games of soccer with a 2 quetzal plastic oddly bouncing soccer ball and two foot ketchi kids begging for passes with grunts of "Us, Us."


May is the burning season. Rosa is the official term here. This is when the majority of the farmers in Chiquimula "clean" their fields to prepare them for their crops of beans or corn. It also means spectacular LA sunsets of red and orange as the burnings fill the sky. The worst hit was the northern region of Guatemala, El Peten. Several PCVs took Peace Corps option to take a literal "breather" in Antigua, just to breathe other than ash filled air. Some of the burnings have been set by farmers in protected areas. Their thinking is that if the land is cleared of forest, then CONAP - the national comission on protected areas will be forced to sell the land. This is not the case.

The director of CONAP was fired by the president of Guatemala for "mishandling" of the fires. The Director of CONAMA (National commission for the environment) resigned in protest. On May 9, these two gentlemen had promised big things for the Volcano of Ipala. Their departure leaves the many promises up in air.

COBAN race

I first heard of the Coban race from RCPV Guatemala in the states. Picture a race with 2,000 international participants running a 13 mile course lined with 10,000 Guatemalans screaming "Animo" (Spirit) or "Dale Canche" (Give it blond one). It was a blast. Seventeen volunteers took to the hills of Coban as the huge boom boxes lined the highway and blared the lastest Latino dance beat or "Eye of the Tiger" rocky-like music. I finished in an hour an forty minutes, the second in our group and damn surprised to be there. The photo at right is interesting in itself. For 2,000 competitors the official sponsor Quickfoto had 20 people lined the last 50 meters before finish line telling competitors to slow down to get their picture taken by the one designated photographer. Thinking they were crazy, I kept up my regular pace passing about 10 competitors in the process and getting yelled at by quickfoto people. They snapped my photo despite my quick dash by.


During our service, volunteers have the opportunity to take two weeks of additional Spanish classes. I took full advantage of this at the end of May. At the end of training, I squeaked out as a volunteer as an Intermediate-Medium, able to converse in simple discussions, make basic introductions and talk about the weather.

In the field my Spanish jumped. Instead of filling with the "ums" and "ahs" as my brain faltered for vocabulary, I now can move into a more rapid Spanish sometimes getting to a point where conversation doesn't have the jilt and pause as I wait to understand what was said to me, or them of me.

But there was still a giant pandoras box I had yet to open, subjunctive. The world of would and should. Guatemalans prefer the indefinite "Perhaps we should meet in the afternoon." "If I was working on this project I would"... The stiff present indicative of commitment is not how business is done here. Subjunctive is. Thus I spent the week learning an entirely new form of Spanish. Calidad (cool)


At the end of the week I turned 29. I had invited all my friends --and they all came, from all over the country. Some traveling 8 hours or more. I was elated. We went to dinner at Ajabeno, an italian restaurant, went dancing, and then went dancing some more. I even got a couple of gifts.



After the Coban race I sat down for a long, long time. I had a stich in my side that wouldn't quit. A two weeks later the occassional twitch in my side turned to serious pain. After consulting with the nurse Chris and Kathy(my savior), I started taking Ci-Pro, a anti-biotic and "wham-bam" I'm better. Bacterial infections are pretty common as the rainy season begins, the stuff that swills in the pila (washbasin) becomes potent.

PCV Visit

About a year ago, I was on my way to the Peten for my first visit with a REAL Peace Corps Volunteer. Now was my turn to be the host and I was pretty psyched. The hardest part about living alone is that I have no one to share my project with. Doug Booth, a trainee in the latest class would be my victim. After listening to my talk on the volcano to a group of high school students in Chiquimula, we bussed down to Ipala.

Doug has a fresh perspective on Guatemala, and a year into service I find that odd and funny things have become somewhat common. Doug is also a birder and on our trip up the volcano we spotted a number of birds -- including two hawks.

World Cup

Guatemala pretty much stops for the World Cup. Sure the buses run, but reluctantly and with the radio on. I learned that Guatemalans hate Mexicans, this is for two reasons. They consider them to be arrogant and many have had bad experiences with Mexican coyotes leaving immigrant Guatemalans stranded at the US border.

For me it was painful to watch the US lose. For one month, my Guatemalan friends teased me for the US's string of losses and worst record in the World Cup. My frustration did, at least, lead me to have one of my best soccer matches in El Sauce. Little Elmer a little boy who lives in the house on the corner sidled up after the game as I stride off the field (still a little frustrated)

"You played a really good game today."

I was stunned. He's a really quiet and shy kid who had never talked to me before. But somehow he knew about my spirit was down. I was hard pressed not to cry. I could only weakly said "Thanks kid."

Good quote:

"One of the greatest and simplest tools for learning more and growing more --is DOING more Mel Brooks

"What are you running from?" Quetchi man upon seeing PCV Kevin Coordt jogging.


Einstein's Dreams
The Long Ranger and Tonto Fight in Heaven
In Search of America: Travels with Charley -- Steinbeck

In Progress

Cry of the People

Popular Chiquimula lies...

"Yeah those are firecrackers"- upon hearing gunfire in the night.

"Those are his drivers"- upon asking who are the five men who constantly surround the mayor with large caliber shotguns.

Bad Food

Volunteers sometimes will go to the extreme length of eating something, usually something they can't quite recognize, for the sake of avoiding hurt feelings and confianza (confidence).

Sample things eaten


Anyway, that's life in the weeds. Hope all are happy, healthy and active. Write, I'll write back. Promise.