Peace Corps: One Year Later

July 17, 2016 marks one year since I closed my service with the Peace Corps in Guatemala. Since I was a child, I dreamed of traveling to a remote pocket of the world with nothing more than I could carry. Living off the land, the people around me, and striving for something larger than myself, I forwent the trappings of modern life and headed south to the Land of the Eternal Spring.

I left the US naïve, full of idealism, and ready to play savior in the developing world. Little did I know, my two years in poverty would teach me more about myself and humble me before the kindness, compassion, and solidarity I felt from and with the people of my community.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of closing one of the most challenging, revealing, enlightening chapters of my life. Since leaving Guatemala, I have become a stronger, better, more self-aware version of myself.

In celebration of the two years I spent in the Heart of the Mayan World, I would like to share with you the most popular blog posts of my service—thanks to you my friends, family, and supportive readers across the globe!

Top visited posts during service:

  1. [food] Sweet Bread of Guatemala
  2. [food] Tamales vs. Chuchitos
  3. [culture] Who Let the Dogs Out? Guatemalan Style
  4. [food] Gringo in Guate: Paternas
  5. [culture] Mayan Superstitions

Celebrating Peace Corps Week:

Snapshots of Guatemala:

CHIditarod XI

Friends, family! I am happy to announce that I will be participating in the 11th annual CHIditarod.

CHIditarod is Chicago’s 100% volunteer-driven epic urban shopping cart race, charity food drive, costumed beauty pageant, talent show and chaos generator, all in one. It’s a micro-grant fundraiser for the CHIditarod Foundation, and probably the world’s largest mobile food drive, benefiting the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

I will be braving the ice and snow of Chicago’s winter to dress as Scooby-Doo with 4 other valiant RPCVs. As the Mystery Team, we gallivant about the world attempting to solve various social issues each member holds dear to their heart. Community gardening, women’s empowerment, marine conservation, and animal rights count among these causes. Together we unveil that behind each of these seeming intractable ails of the modern world- just like the other ghouls, goblins, and ghostly apparitions our town fears- there is a reasonable solution.

Mystery, Inc. is about to embark on its latest adventure, the quest to vanquish an alarmingly large villain in our own backyard: Hunger. Through their participation in the 2016 CHIditarod, we hope to raise as much non-perishable food for the Greater Chicago Food Depository as possible. To date, this event has raised over 100,000 pounds of food for our Chicago neighbors.

Chiditarod 2014 & 2015

Please support us by making a donation to the cause via our team’s page on Razoo.

Your generous donation supports grassroots, hunger-fighting initiatives. CHIditarod parters with food banks, urban farms, educational programs for children in Chicago Public Schools, mobile farmers markets, and more!  Thank you so much for your generous contribution, it makes a world of difference.

Upon commencing a sabbatical from Mystery Inc., the five members traveled across the world in pursuit of fulfilling work and the promotion of world peace. Their colorful history as a crime-solving team had oddly prepared them well to tackle social issues far and wide. Join the Mystery Team in their latest adventure against an alarmingly large villain: Hunger. ZOINKS!

As Peace Corps volunteers we engaged in the search for creative, fun solutions to difficult problems. After service, we remain committed to confronting hunger, a major issue in our new home of Chicago.

Fred Jones, worn out from the stress of Mystery Inc. and overwhelmed by the tightness of his ascot, set out for Senegal, West Africa, in search of a new experience. Upon the return to his motherland, Fred has enjoyed bicycling to breweries and pursuing the search for the perfect new ascot.

Miles Conant as Fred Jones

Danger-Prone Daphne, after being evacuated from Ukraine, has set roots in Chicago. Despite being back in the US, her love for vodka and adventure continues! Daphne can now be found marathon training with Scooby. By the way, after Daphne was evacuated from Ukraine, she returned to an active war zone to pick up her dog who now lives safely in Illinois.

Rachel Story as Daphne Blake

Velma jetted off to Morocco to solve a mystery when she lost her glasses back in the US! Luckily she solved the mystery of Moroccan Arabic and got a new pair. When she isn’t solving mysteries Velma likes sing with her choir, work on her cooking skills, and day dream about her next adventure.

Lexy Huber as Velma Dinkley

Shaggy, having been surrounded by a perpetual haze all of his life, awoke one day to find his aspirations dissipated into smoke. Realizing nothing of merit had been accomplished in his life thus far (beyond training a dog to giggle); he joined the Peace Corps and took off to the other side of the world. He’s recently moved back to Chicago. Shaggy has since donned a tie, got a haircut, and found a real job while still attempting to maintain that hippie spirit.

Mike DeLadesmo as Shaggy Rogers

Scooby Doo recently arrived in Chicago after pursuing good food and cheap beer in Guatemala. Between snacks, he can be found pursuing his passions for scuba diving and marine conservation.

Yours truly as Scooby-Doo!

For those of you in the Chicago-area, the CHIditarod will take place on March 5. You can come out and support Mystery, Inc. in the battle against hunger!

Please support us by making a donation to the cause via our team’s page on Razoo.

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What Goes Up Must Come Down: My Guatexit

Molten rocks are hurled out of the Fuego Volcano’s crater, spewing a column of fiery ash into the stratosphere miles above the ground. As the lava flows down the side of the mountain, it oozes at a much slower pace—several meters per hour and begins to cool, forming igneous rock in the volcano’s lava fields.

The process of a volcanic eruption is highly analogous to my time in Guatemala stemming from an intensely hot, high-pressure drive inside me and manifesting itself through my deeds and actions on behalf of the Peace Corps mission. As with the ash and rock ejected from a volcano, I too was sent at high-speed, barreling towards adventure 757 days ago.

Saying goodbye to my friends and family, I left the United States to embark upon what has been a life-changing journey full of adventure, self-discovery, and the surmounting of the most difficult personal challenges I have experienced in my life to-date.


While my experience has provoked immeasurable personal growth, I will be closing my service with the United States Peace Corps this Friday, July 17—three weeks ahead of schedule. My reasoning for this decision stems from the worsening security situation in Guatemala and the risk that Peace Corps Volunteers run of being victims of serious crime. Recently in Antigua, one of my favorite places in Guatemala, there have been at least three incidents of aggravated robbery—the most recent one resulting in one of my colleagues being stabbed multiple times in the chest.

While most have come to Peace Corps to do a job and perform a service for Guatemala on behalf of the American people, some PCVs continue to engage in high-risk, and frankly, immature behavior that places them at increased risk for these types of serious crime incidents. As a result of these recent events, orders from Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. have imposed highly-restrictive policies upon currently-serving PCVs which impede many aspects of the individual liberty of qualified, professional adults (like me).

Rather than live my last few weeks in Guatemala unable to travel, visit my favorite places, and say goodbye to my Guatemalan and ex-pat friends, I have decided to take a one-time offer from Peace Corps/ Guatemala’s administration to close my service early with the full benefits of RPCV status such as education credit and Noncompetitive Eligibility for employment in the Federal Competitive Service.

While my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer is drawing to a close, Guatemala will always have a special place in my heart. In the meantime my plans for the immediate future involve returning to San Juan Comalapa for one week in order to pack up my things, say proper goodbyes to my host family and dearest friends. Thereafter I will travel to Honduras’ Bay Islands via the ruins at Copan. I intend to complete the coursework to become a certified rescue scuba diver and return to Guatemala at the beginning of August. I will then pick up my friend and colleague, Ryan Koch from the airport in Guatemala City and he will have the pleasure of coming to the Peace Corps office to watch my official Close of Service Ceremony (I’m only signing the papers on Friday). Immediately afterwards we will make our way into Mexico and road trip back into the United States of America!

Keep checking the blog, or even better subscribe, as I will have updates and insights from my travels along the way. Thank you, loyal readers, for two years of love, support, and encouragement. Your page views, comments, and subscriptions have motivated me to keep this blog alive and updated with fresh, informative, and engaging content. See you Stateside!

The Ferris Wheel (#43)

Jaw clenching, my head plummets to where my feet were a fraction of a second earlier. I tense my abdomen- hoping to still the bottomless sensation of falling. During the feria or “fair” in town, one of the biggest, loudest, and most popular attractions is the ferris wheel—rueda chicago as it’s referred to in Guatemala. Unlike its American counterpart, the rueda is a whirling wheel of terror that strikes fear into the hearts of men (and probably women too).

I allowed myself to be coerced into setting foot on this centripetal death machine.

I allowed myself to be coerced into setting foot on this centripetal death machine.

An iron structure, often sporting peeling paint and a healthy coat of rust, the wheel is erected in a traditional Guatemalan fashion. With little regard to planning, foresight, or preventative maintenance, a ride on the rueda costs the stalwart adventurer a mere Q5 (about 64¢US). Powered by a manual transmission diesel engine, the operator proceeds to rev the wheel up to its maximum rotational speed giving riders the sensation of freefall for the duration of the experience.

As if this wasn’t enough, just when you think it’s over, the operator throws the engine in reverse and zooms your equilibrium back in the opposite direction.

Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.

El Quiché (#59)

The Quiché department is Guatemala’s most populous and is predominantly Mayan. Named for speakers of the K’iche’ language, Quiché is part of Guatemala’s “poverty belt” which stretches from Huehuetenango, through Quetzaltenango, San Marcos, Totonicapán, Sololá departments. An area that was heavily impacted by Guatemala’s civil war and genocide, anthropologists and historians studying the genocide continue to exhume mass graves today. The Ixil triangle- an area in the north of Quiché- was made famous by the notorious dictator Efrían Ríos Montt who is allegedly responsible for ordering systematic exterminations of indigenous people. During the 36-year conflict, Mayan people suffered greatly at the hands of the US-backed, anti-communist military regime.

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Diego Luz Tzunux takes apicture with his cell phone of his brother Manul Luz Tzunux, who dissapeared in 1980, and now is being exhumed by forensic anthropologist in Uspatan, Quiche. August, 2009

Photo credit: Rodrigo Abd, see also: Optical Realities, Guatemala

Although some progress has been made towards undoing the damage done by years of conflict, “the Mayan people continue to face discrimination and live in grinding poverty,” especially in Quiché. Often afraid of and mistrustful of outsiders, social, economic, and infrastructure development is a challenge. While indigenous groups have historically been excluded from Guatemala’s socio-political context, poor roads, sporadic telecommunications, and unreliable public services make development in Quiché an even greater challenge.

Solitary houses perched upon a hillside.

Solitary houses perched upon a hillside.

This weekend I went to visit some friends and PCV colleagues who live in Quiché- they showed me a side of the department that doesn’t appear in the news or academic literature. After a three and a half hour journey, I met my friend Sergio in the department capital of Santa Cruz del Quiché. From there we journeyed another three hours north to San Miguel Uspantán, a town only accessible by dirt roads with no grocery store- but two awesome pizza places and a Chinese restaurant! The trip took us through the Sacapulas microclimate which is an almost tropical area perched high up in the mountains. The geography of the valley where Sacapulas is located allows for a much warmer climate than the surrounding hillsides.

An irrigation ditch.

An irrigation ditch.

The next day, Sergio and I, joined by Uspantán’s two other PCVs went for an epic hike through the mountains of Quiché to the town of Canillá- where Sergio lives and works. The journey makes for a Hobbit-esque tale. Aside from being physically challenging in every way possible, the eight-hour hike showed me parts of the Quiché department that I had never seen. The authenticity of rural life, while beautiful and rustic, underscores suffering in the poorest, most rural parts of Guatemala. Whether or not these people are aware- or empowered- to change this reality is a discourse that takes pages rather than paragraphs.

Regardless of Quiché’s socio-political climate and economic prospects, it is a beautiful countryside rivaled by few others I have seen.

The Río Negro, like the photographer, winding between mountains.

The Río Negro, like the photographer, winding between mountains.

A crumbling bridge spans the Río Negro, a seldom traveled road.

A crumbling bridge spans the Río Negro and connects a seldom traveled road.

Nature and Draz, pristine and picturesque.

Nature and Draz, pristine and picturesque.

Another view of the Río Negro. The crumbling bridge can be seen in the distance along with the road that continues up the opposing mountainside.

Another view of the Río Negro. The crumbling bridge can be seen in the distance along with the road that continues up the opposing mountainside.

A mysterious cave in the cliff face.

A mysterious cave in the cliff face.

A solitary church.

A solitary church.

Ruins of a house, half buried by time.

Ruins of a house, half buried by time.

A horse grazes around the stones.

A horse grazes around the stones.

Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.