As I stepped out of the airplane, I was trying to create a mental picture of what the airport looks like from my memory of last year.I could not wait to get my luggage and start my journey in Guatemala. Once I stepped out of the airport, I was so happy to see some familiar faces, the Mata family (our driver). I ran toward Christian and gave him a hug. He gave me a drawing. He still remembers me from last year!! He has been driving his parents crazy by asking “where is Allison? Allison?” a week before I arrived. Then he told me to not looked at other boys around in Guate. Found my true love.
1. J&J (Jose & Julio) my dear friends from Guate who helped us so much and made this trip so unique.
3. Kids (Christian, Robin, & Lucas) Some of you might think I was trying to kidnap them, but in reality Christian was trying to kidnap me. He even made me a drawing and gave it to me once I arrived the airport.
4. Our workshop in Xela.
5. Waking up before 7 am to discover more of Xela’s gems.
6. Staying a night at the village. It was freeeeezing, but it was worth to experience what it is to sleep 10,000 ft above sea level.
7. Discovering new things from my traveler friends. Alec and I started coming up with things we started learning from everyone. Apparently I brought the “sassiness” while he brought the “grandpaness” to Guate.
9. Having more genuine conversations with the people in the village.
10. Our van getting stuck in the highway for about 30 minutes because the alarm went off and the car wouldn’t start again.
**Building a wind turbine**
Traveling to Guatemala for the third time led me to believe the idiom, “been there, done that.” Something about this trip being the third trip, held me tight to that belief. Well, as anyone could have told me, I was wrong. Each experience abroad is independent of all other experiences, which for me, makes the journey much more exciting.
Before the trip, I wouldn’t have predicted that I would experience culture shock yet AGAIN, improve my Spanish skills, eat avocados larger than my fist, or even wake up before 7 am every day! But, there are times like in “Alaska” where you feel like the community is watching your every step, times where you would like to have a simple conversation with a Guatemalan during lunch, or times where you find the local shop that you wake up early to go to before breakfast.
Each year has created enrichment which I truly appreciate and brings me back to Guatemala. The first year gave me an appreciation for individuals who live in sparse environments where water does not pour out of the faucet at any given minute. The second year gave me an appreciation for local non-profits and their effort to improve communities within Guatemala. This year has given me a fuller understanding about how appropriate technologies are developed and the impacts made by working with a community. All three experiences have strongly influenced my plans post-graduation as that time nears.
The demonstration of our project functionality in the first year
The team celebrating at the Mayan Ruins after a successful week of adventures
This trip concluded with a bittersweet emotion. Personally, I had to come to terms that this is my last trip traveling to Guatemala with Woven Wind. But fortunately, I have grown a love for the country, so I am happy to return on my own travels. Additionally, there were some significant goals that the team was able to complete, and I am proud of all of the effort from the team members during the week.
Even though I could go on and on reflecting from my experience, I’ll conclude with a couple of thoughts. Like I’ve said before, there is nothing like experiencing a different culture. Traveling allows individuals to feel vulnerable, and it is the individual who makes the decision whether to understand the awkwardness, or to ignore it. Feeling awkward, in some respects, is the amusing part of traveling. It creates funny, long-lasting stories for the future. Additionally, by understanding cultural differences, I found myself to live simpler. Although this “simpler” life may not sustain, I find that traveling to Guatemala (or really any developing country) acts as a refresher to live simply. The second thought I’d like to conclude with is that Woven Wind now has a clear vision. The toughest part about working with outside communities, is understanding a problem, and working with the community to create a solution for the problem. After several end-of-the-day discussions, I think the new members of Woven Wind are prepared and excited to move the group in the best direction.
Although I will still be slightly involved with Woven Wind in the following year, I wish the team the best of luck! Involvement with BLUElab has provided me the opportunity to understand community development, teamwork, leadership, my love for traveling, and a great set of friends/travelers.
The team in our final night in Xela, Guatemala
Saturday May 11, 2013
After an Epic Battle with MOTHZILLA in the hostel (Genevieve, Evan and Jae can provide more details!) … and having “the last breakfast”, some of us departed to the shop to load up the pick up truck and make our way to the top of the mountain. We went up to Alaska on a back-of-a-pickup ride that included a few friendly car honks, unfortunate chicken-bus smoke, and a glam photo shoot. At the village, we were welcomed by neighbors and children of the community who were excited to learn about our project.
Members of the two families we worked with, Don Victoriano and Manuel, welcomed us and thanked everybody involved in the projects. The projects were presented at Manuel’s house, a small house with a few rooms, where Guatemalan solar showed the fruits of their work during the week. They successfully installed a passive-solar heating system in the house using locally available materials, and will be collecting data for evaluation. We then presented our finished turbine, and explained how the energy from the wind can be harnessed and converted in order to charge cellphone batteries. Adults and children alike seemed very excited to learn about the system. The children’s curiosity was palpable, and talking to them revealed their enthusiasm to explore exciting opportunities in their future.
While we would have loved to stretch out the morning, spend more time with the kids, and continue our enriching conversations with community members, we had to depart the village. We said goodbye to our dear friend Julio, and the hospitable families who we worked with, and began the route towards our next destination: Antigua.
The ride on the van was going smoothly… until… swish-swish-THUMP! Charlie’s duffel bag slid from the top of the van and fell into the street! Thank God no cars came right behind us, so Charlie ran and rescued it!
However… while trying to re-tie the bags on the top of the car, the car alarm went off…. not only could they not shut it off… but the car would not start again! If you would like to put yourself in our shoes, please play this video:
on “repeat” for about an hour. We were on the side of a rather unsafe curve for about 45 minutes (either inside a very hot car, or under the burning midday sun- your pick) until a good Samaritan .. “the coke guy” pulled over to offer his help. A young guy on a coca-cola pick up truck, with his packs of coke (so called “pop”) in the back, came to our rescue and helped Ruben and company shut off the alarm and start the car again. And so… Coke Guy saves the day!
And so we continued our voyage to Antigua… which can be reviewed in another blog post! This way we ended the main part of our wonderful Guatemalan adventure, which I am extremely thankful for. We met extremely inspiring, friendly and genuine people who we will surely keep in contact with. We were fortunate to explore an admirable culture, full of hard working and eager people who are the authors of the improvement of their communities and their country. We are very lucky to have had this experience and are excited to see how the project evolves on the upcoming school year!
On Friday May 10, 2013 after a final visit to Xela Pan that involved the purchase of baked turtles and lizards, we headed over to the workshop to add the finishing touches on the turbine and assemble each subsystem. In the afternoon, after taking one of our pieces to a nearby machine shop and getting souvenirs from the market, we began the turbine assembly. Unfortunately we had issues with the generator, but besides that, the structure, blades and rest of the transmission was finished, and the circuit was working perfectly! We said goodbye to our awesome friend and mentor Jose and hung out in the rooftop, and thus finalized our last full day in the workshop.
The ride back to the airport seemed shorter than the ride coming here, and it feels like we started building the turbine just yesterday. Looking back, I remember all the bumps we had with the project and being frustrated with construction difficulties and breaking parts. Then again, I also remember how we collaborated with locals to overcome these challenges.
Julio and Jose helped us by giving advice and introducing us to their friends who owned a mechanic shop. Their friends provided us with solutions and supplied us with the perfect pieces of scrap metal we needed. They even welded the pieces together for us with amazing craft. Even though most of the team had a language barrier here, we still created meaningful relationships with the local Guatemalans.
When we parted, we weren’t business partners or colleagues but friends, exchanging small yet priceless gifts such as coins and Charlie’s screwdriver. Coming to Guatemala was an invaluable experience that I can never forget.
It’s day five in Guatemala and a day that I’m not going to forget for quite some time. We left the Black Cat at 7:30am and followed the scent of fresh bread to Xelapan, a local bakery that sells every variety of pastry imaginable. All the breads had local names in Spanish, so I ended up biting into a mini omelet when I was expecting a cinnamon bun. However, it was a fun and delicious breakfast, and our team discovered, surprisingly, our mutual like of the “pan con frijoles”, or bean buns.
We spent the rest of the morning working on the turbine. The blades are coming together. The women gave us beautiful hand-woven maize and blue textiles and we used epoxy to form them into the shapes of the turbine. The structure, transmission, and circuit are done; all that is left is integration. Baring any unforeseen issues, we should be done by early Friday- but on a project like this, there are always unforeseen issues haha
After a lunch at Cafe Red (fajitas with homemade corn tortillas and smoothies) we got in a van and left for the village. The drive up was breathtaking. We left the city and wound up the mountain, passing endless fields of corn and people winding dozens of yards of thread along the side of the road. All too quickly, the ride was over and we arrived in the village.
As seven large Americans stepped out of the van, I could feel every head in the village turn towards us. People didn’t glance at us and look away; they stared unabashedly. We took a walk around the main part of the village, and it was clear that people didn’t know what to think, and I think they may have even been a bit afraid. Some younger kids in the village gave us a tentative ”Hola”, but the general feeling was not welcoming. I don’t think the village has many foreign visitors, and our group, featuring six foot tall Evan, stood out like a sore thumb. We walked around the church and the school, then headed back to our host family’s house.
The family that we stayed with has a son named Lucas who is around five years old. When we first got back to the house, he ran and hid behind his mom’s skirt, but within the hour we had him playing a game of “futbol” with us. He was an incredibly talented little soccer player, and lead his team fearlessly to victory :) After a few hours, we were all hot and exhausted so we sat down and taught Lucas how to play “Go Fish”. It was hard to tell whether he preferred successfully getting a pair or getting told to “vete a pescar!”.
At around 9, dinner was ready, and Martina, the mother of the house, called us inside. She and Wendy had prepared a meal of black beans, rice and eggs, and hand-ground corn tortillas which were fresh out of the stove. Logically, I know it couldn’t have been the best meal I’ve ever had, but it certainly tasted like it in the moment.
After dinner, it was time for a talk and then bed. Our group had a lot to discuss; it was the first time in the village for most of us, and the feeling of being so completely alien in a place is something that I can’t describe in words. It wasn’t easy, but it’s going to give us the perspective to create a much stronger design. The night promised to be cold, but I learned more about the cultural context of the project in one day than I had in a whole year of work, so all in all, it was an incredible day. It’s a day I won’t forget for quite some time.
-Genevieve (or Gigi for all the Guatemalans who said “como?!” when I told them my name)