Sunday, October 31, 2010

I’m a Peace Corps volunteer now! Officially!

This is awesome, of course, given the amount of time and effort it’s required thus far. Friday began with a ceremony at the ambassador’s house, and we went out for the obligatory celebration in Antigua that night (I’ve attached pictures). The following is the speech that I gave:

(adlibbed joke) Some people asked me if I’d forgotten my speech this morning, and I told them that I’d remembered it, thankfully. Of course, I could have given the speech in the grand Alaskan tradition of simply writing the notes on my hand, but that wasn’t necessary.

So good morning to everyone – on behalf of my training class, I’d like to acknowledge a number of people. First of all, to Mr. Ambassador – an incredible thank you for receiving us in your house – it’s an honor to be here. As for the Peace Corps staff, I’ll begin by thanking Martha for our welcome here in Guatemala, for her patience and advice. To Wendy – your warmth and attention has been really accommodating. It’s inspiring to follow in your footsteps as Peace Corps Guatemala volunteers – I hope we measure up. To Craig – muchas gracias for your good humor and your outrageous stories. Whether it’s about carrying lamina in the rain, curious animals, growing a eucalyptus tree or that guy who lost his luggage when the tide came in, you’ve given us some excellent perspective. Be assured that we’ll be back in a few months with some stories of our own, and we can laugh it up some more.

Thanks to all our technical trainers and APCDs, to Carlos Julajuj, Salvador Morales y Flavio Linares - your support and direction has been indispensable. To our Spanish teachers – thanks a million. Puchica, I’d still be trying to “introducir” people to eachother if it wasn’t for Edoardo’s pity, kindness and direction. To our fantastic medical staff - we really appreciate your patience and attention to our well-being. To everyone else in the office, thanks for all that your contributions. And finally, I’d like to thank our host families in absentia, that they know how important they’ve been in our adaptation here in Guatemala.

I think I’ve covered all my bases at this point, so forgive me if I’m forgetting anyone. I’m going to shift the tone at this point, and take a few minutes to reflect on the remarkable experience that we’re about to begin, shortly. As Peace Corps volunteers, the next two years of our lives are going to be fairly crazy. Every single one of our days will be unpredictable and dramatic, full of secret joys and challenges that we never could have foreseen. It’s gonna be a rollercoaster ride, with plenty of highs and lows, but I’m pretty confident that it will be incredible. Why? Quite simply, there’ve been thousands of volunteers before us, and their enthusiasm and testimony has been nothing short of inspirational. So now, I wanna thank them, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who played an undeniable role in our formation. To my classmates, take a second and think about the RPCVs you’ve met in years past, the ones whose advice and enthusiasm urged you to where you stand today, about to pledge two years of your life in service. Do you remember their stories, their encouragement, their guidance? Maybe they taught you about camaraderie, or the vivid beauty of Peace Corps service. Maybe they helped you recognize the Peace Corps as a professional goal, or assured you that you were on the right track and had nothing to fear. For me, there was one RPCV’s advice in particular that was really meaningful. I met her only briefly, and I don’t even remember her name or country. She smiled while I fretted about leaving the U.S. for two years – I was worried about what I might miss while I was gone. When I trailed off she told me matter-of-factly, “Justin – you’re not going to miss ANYTHING. Two years isn’t that long, and nothing that happens in back in the U.S. while you’re away could ever take the place of this experience.”

And with that I had a great realization; U.S. life was always going to be more or less the same, but an amazing and brilliant experience was waiting for me somewhere else. And now, incredibly, it’s finally here, just about to begin. After years of dreaming and months of training, we are about to swear in and it feels exhilarating. Congratulations – I hope you remember this moment for the rest of your service and the rest of your lives. Be proud, love eachother, and go do good work for the people of Guatemala. Felicidades!

And with that, I’ve got nothing else to say, except thanks to the United States Government for making this possible.


Here's a copy of the oath I took - almost exactly the same as the marines, armed forces, etc.

Entering the gate to the ambassador's house

The ambassador's house is gorgeous; yes, that would be a pool, a tennis court AND a huge garden....

Two of my really good friends - Carmen on the left, Carolyn on the right

That would be Stephen McFarland, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala

Receiving my official volunteer certificate - Mr. Ambassador on my right, Carlos Julajuj (the Associate Peace Corps Director for the Municipal Development program, my immediate supervisor) to my immediate left, and on my far left, Martha Keays, Peace Corps Guatemala Country Director.

our entire training class - Food Security, Ag. Marketing and Municipal Development

Daniel made me make this funny face

We're official!

Going out....