Guatemala Rundown (1)

October 27, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Antigua, Culture, El Salvador, Guatemala, Lago Atitlan, Mountains, Travel | 1 Comment
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So, in exactly 8 dias, my feet will touch U.S. soil once again.  Now, this usually isn´t a feeling I have when I´m traveling, but I´m ready to go home.  It´s not that I haven´t enjoyed Guatemala; it´s just that i´m ready to move on to the next adventure.  I have basically finished my Kiva workplan for FAPE (at the start of the fellowship 770 hours of work), and am (minus a couple of field visits) just bidding my time.

But before I go, I wanted to post a short series (and will help keep me busy) about Guatemala: my favorite and least favorite parts and what I have learned about life and microfinance.

Lago Atitlan. For anyone that has visited Guatemala, they would list this as a highlight.  Six years ago, I came to Guatemala on a high school trip building a school and besides the sacrificed goat on the steps of a church in Chichicastenago, the iconic image of three volcanos shrouded in clouds was forever burned in my memory.  And thankfully so, the film from six years ago was ruined and my camera this time was stolen before I could back up the pictures.  Particularly jumping into the pristine water from the cliffs in San Marcos and eating the fresh burritos and drinking coffee from a nameless café on the waterfront will inevitably be some of the highlights of my trip.

Antigua. Is it too touristy to say this? The pristine colonial city nestled in the mountains just minutes from Guatemala City was my refugee multiple times from the city.  There are more extranjeros in a 10 block radius here than the rest of Guatemala (ok, I made that up, but its true), and more cafés than natives, but the presence of an additional police force keeps the streets clean and I can´t think of a better place in the world to spend an afternoon drinking a coffee on the patio of a café overlooking its cobblestone streets.

Totonicapán. Or the Xela and the surrounding mountains. The only place you can get a real taste of Guatemala.  Small towns, beautiful churches, comedores serving a hot caldo de res (soup) on a cold day, and untouched mountains.  Where corn is more popular than McDonalds (and more prolific: think corn tamales, tortillas, atoll (corn drink), corn liquor, and whatever else you can dream of) and where hospitality is a way of life.  My two weeks living in a small village in Aldea Nimasac and being the first gringo that most of the kids had ever seen was unparalleled.

My reason to return to Guatemala: Tikal, the Mayan ruins in the Peten district to the northeast. Yesterday, someone asked me my favorite parts of Central America, I replied that lets take the food, culture, Lago Atitlan, Antigua, and combine them with the beaches in El Salvador.  Ideal.

50 Hour Weeks and Climbing Peaks

September 1, 2010 at 9:26 am | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Guatemala, Kiva, Microfinance, Mountains, Travel | 1 Comment
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Read this is you are really bored or if you care about me and about what is going on in my life. Contents: rainy days, movies, books, working Saturdays and climbing everything in sight. And a video of the valley I´m posted up in.

So, I only have two weeks here. Which means I have a lot to get done. On my workplan I have implement the “Cerise Questionaire” and do Borrower Verifications. All of last week I spent in the office trying to convince people to talk to me about social performance in the ASDIR office. Essentially, Cerise is a social performance metric that quantifies how microfinance institutions measure up against their own goals and mission.  This data can be used by funding institutions, can be used to benchmark their progress in the future in the field of social responsibility, and is a standardized measurement that can be used to benchmark microfinance institutions against others (a great tool considering the depth and breath of services that microfinance institutions can offer). Read here another fellow´s blog about the subject. So, I collect data and do interviews to fill out this 60 page questionaire.

My other job is doing borrower verifications. Basically, for a random group of ten borrowers, I check all the data surrounding their loan between Kiva´s system, the institutions MIS (read management information system), and the borrowers passbooks. It´s checks like these that allow Kiva to say with reasonable confidence that all the borrowers on the site are legitimate. So, there is my 50 hour week (even came in for a half-day Saturday!).

In my free time, I love Climbing Peaks around my house. If I don´t have access to sand, waves or the beach, I´d say that this is one of my favorite activities. Everyday after work, I change clothes, don my rain coat, pick an apple for the road and rise from 2500m to well over 3000m as I work my way out of the valley where Aldea Nimasac lies.  I drag myself up and slide down.  All for that great view at the end of the climb. Of sweeping fields, pine forests, and not one house in sight.

I come back as the sun is setting (although I never get to see it because of the cloud cover), and settle into the hammock with a good book or movie. And wait for Andreas to get back from work so we can chow down on his wife´s delicious cooking. Read: fresh tamales, tortillas, and platos típicos everyday. I know its a lot of work (helped chop wood for two hours for the word-fired stove and hot-water heater), but I could get used to this lifestyle.  If only I could stay for longer.


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