Hot Off the News Press
One of the most difficult aspects of life Peace Corps Volunteers must come to terms with during their service is the lack of access to current events.
Peace Corps Volunteers don’t necessarily need to become accustomed to the absence of news, but rather the shift in sources, veracity, and scope of bulletins as well as the effort one must exert to attain them. As a two-year volunteer in Mongolia from 2014-2016, I relished the disconnection that kept the chaos and squall that was the news out of my reach. Being on the other side of the world in a village with no regular internet access and a preoccupation with maintaining a constant heat source was my key to glorious ignorance. Nevertheless, when I signed up as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in the verdant highlands of Guatemala, I made a pledge to be a responsible global citizen and stay in the loop.
However, my rural, indigenous village and time-consuming job challenged my dissolve to stay connected. I came to accept the fact that there simply wasn’t access to what I had considered traditional news outlets. How would I know what was influencing the world without a nightly 10 o’clock news program or that podcast I haven’t been able to download in two weeks? Time and community integration brought that answer, as well as extirpation to the blinders that were my preconceived notions of news channels.
You see, villages such as mine may not have the New York Times or BBC but they do have at least two very reliable infrastructures for dispersing information that is pertinent to residents: the grapevine and the community encompassing ceremony.
Undoubtedly, the most prominent medium here in Guatemala is word of mouth. Some may consider it gossip, others hearsay, but the truth of the matter is that gathering information from firsthand, secondhand, etc. sources is the easiest and cheapest way to stay connected to local happenings. In my experience, children and elders tend to be the most unswerving outlets. One of my favorite encounters with this type of news came the morning after Guatemala had suffered a 7.0 earthquake.
Naturally, the tremor was the talk of the town and as a precaution, school had been suspended for the day. When I asked my bright-eyed six-year-old host brother about the suspension, he informed me with great alacrity that Facebook had stated that there might be aftershocks and it wasn’t safe for school to be in session. If that isn’t solid evidence, I’m not sure what is. In another instance, the group of women who always hangout on my street informed me that I should buy my avocados the day before our bi-weekly market because the main avocado lady was leaving to visit her daughter and they would undoubtedly be more expensive from other venders. That advice certainly saved me a handful of quetzals. While no news gathering routine is complete without the input of neighborhood children or your abuelita, it is important to take this information with a grain of salt and perhaps you should remain on the circumspect side regarding passing it on.There are few headlines more reliable than a ceremony in a small village. In places where processions, traditions, and parades are considered sacred, these spectacles are not to be missed. During my first week in site, a tragic accident resulted in the death of a young man who lived just down the street. While I knew nothing of this man or his passing, I was incorporated into the procession of trumpet players, mourners, and Tuk Tuks that seemed to span a mile. By the end, I had learned all about this victim, the cause of the accident, and the status of the one at fault. Tuk Tuks, or motorized tricycles that act as short distance taxis, are paragon indicators of an impending ceremony. Whether it is a funeral, police show-of-force, or town celebration you can guarantee that our village’s fleet of Tuk Tuks will be amidst the ranks.
In the end, from a global perspective, I may have failed to uphold my initial pledge. However, in my outlook, I have exceeded expectations. While certainly appreciated, fulfilling my service duties does not require a knowledge of the recent G20 Summit or the approval ratings of my home state’s senators. I am much more concerned with how the rainy season is impacting the growth of milpa, if the growing number of street dogs has resulted in more attacks, and if the municipality is indeed going to fulfill their promise of giving each family a chicken. These are the types of announcements that impact life as a volunteer and while perhaps lacking the international accreditation, it’s such an honor to have achieved access to these sources.