Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Years!

Over the New Year I went to a farm nearby in Santa Anita that was started by a group of 30 ex-guerillas and their families.  After the peace accords were signed in 1996 they were able to get a loan to buy the land--which had been abandoned during the civil war--to farm collectively.  So they have organic coffee and banana production and work with a company in Madison called "Just Coffee" to distribute their coffee via fair trade.  It was interesting hearing a little bit about their challenges living and working collectively and also how owning and farming their own land, while a dream for so long, has not really provided them with the security they had hoped.  The loan is big, the interest is big, and coffee production does not pay well.  They bring school groups in to supplement income, but even as they work to improve the opportunities and education for their own children, the kids who become educated will probably leave and go to school and find better opportunities than farming...so it is is hard to predict what will happen to the community down the road.  There is a really great film about the community you should look for if you're interested called "Voice of the Mountain".  The filmmaker happened to be at the farm over the new year with a group of high school students from CA, he is currently working to update some of the information in the film and should release a new version soon.  Here is a link to the film: http://www.voiceofamountain.com/en/film

On New Year's Eve night we danced in the basketball court with locals from this small rural community, had another fireworks bonanza, this time turning into a quasi-war situation with the kids from the community.  The kids had most of the fireworks stock and managed to keep the foreigners in a state of hysterical-terror for a good 2 hours.  On New Year's Day a couple of us harvested corn with a local family and sat at their house shucking corn, playing with the kids, and talking for a couple hours during the hottest part of the day.  We helped a little bit on a mural that was being painted by the high school students from CA and after that we walked to a beautiful waterfall on the property and took a refreshing "shower" under the powerful stream.  It was a lovely couple of days and inspiring to meet some local activists who are working to bring positive change to their communities.  The families we met were so welcoming and generous and the food was delicious!  Also, the best and strongest coffee I've had in Guatemala!

We wrote New Years Resolutions,  put them in a pile together and lit them on fire!


The mural in progress

The view on our walk to the waterfall--just a couple hours outside of Xela, but so warm and tropical!!


Monday, December 27, 2010


Christmas Eve

Yes, I know, this is really late!  Time has been flying!

Aside from the even vaster numbers of people and things than usual, the thing about the market that I noticed to be different on Christmas Eve day than on a normal market day was the prevalence of pineapple, papaya, coconut, apples and purple grapes.   While I normally see all of these things in small quantities, on this day they were the primary fruit to be found with many stands specializing in just one of them.   I knew there must be a special holiday reason for it, and I felt a little sad that I wasn't living with a Guatemalan family to find out the answer.  Fortunately though, I go to a very small Spanish language school that is located in the home of the director, where she lives with her mother and her teenage daughter.  I found out soon enough!

That afternoon, in the middle of my Spanish class, the director, Rosa, came to say hello and to make sure I was coming back later that night for the Christmas party.  Talking to the locals, it seems that Christmas Eve night is when families get together to celebrate the holiday, and Christmas day is for relaxing and recovering.  When I told her that I wanted to come to the party, but that I was starting to get sick and wasn't sure if it was a good idea, she immediately dragged me into the kitchen to show me the giant cauldron of simmering fruit punch on the stove, called ponche.  Standing on my tip toes I peered in to see cut up papaya, coconut, and pineapple swimming in a mixture of water and juice.  It smelled delicious and Rosa said that if I wanted to try it I would have to come to the party later that night because it wasn't ready yet.  She didn't have to twist my arm anymore as the punch was enough to make me come back; however, another teacher then came in with a bottle of rum and poured me a small shot with the excuse of trying to kill whatever virus was trying to make me sick.  I found out later that night that ponche tastes best "con piquete", or spiked with rum.

Christmas Eve night involved a lot of drinking of ponche con piquete, dancing, playing silly games with new friends: Rosa and her family and other students at the school, and waiting for midnight when the whole city leaves their houses to light fireworks in the streets.  There are 3 things to note about this fireworks tradition: 1) If you didn't know that's what was happening, you'd think you were in a war zone.  The sky is lit up an eerie yellow, there is residual smoke streaming over the building tops, and there are erratic and jarring booms and whistles of firecrackers and other much more dangerous fuegos artificiales.   2) The fireworks here are crazy dangerous!  I swear they would all be illegal in the U.S...and probably for good reason.  My favorite souvenir I kept was a wand-shaped one that says: "Warning shoots flaming balls".  After that it says: "Do not hold in hand".   Following the lead of the locals,  I held mine high and proud as magical flaming balls appeared at the end of my wand and disappeared in an arc of rainbow color over the brick wall in front of me.  I'm not sure what was on the other side of the wall, but as far as I know nothing started on fire and no one was hurt.  After my wand finished I felt pretty happy and giddy and satisfied that I had participated in this Guatemalan tradition.  Little did I know that we were just getting started.  Rosa just kept producing giant packages of unknown fireworks potential.  There was one guy student there and she kept making him set up and light the fireworks, (because he was the guy!), while the rest of us cowered in the doorway so that we could make a run inside if necessary.  After one of the biggest fireworks began shooting fire-light, straight-up, 100 feet into the air, before tipping over on its side and shooting the flames right at us, I decided sexist or not, I was okay with the guy lighting the wicks.  3) It was really fun and beautiful to see the whole city participating in this tradition at the same time.  Aside from being outside in the freezing cold, feeling hungry and a little tired, and also concerned for our physical safety,  it was fun to be apart of the tradition and easy to see why everyone looks forward to this day; kids love it!!!  It was also good to eat tamales after the fireworks were done because we were all hungry and tired after a long night of drinking ponche in anticipation of midnight.  I went to sleep happy.
(Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera to the Christmas party:( So no photos to share... )

The Aftermath:  Fireworks residue left in the streets on Christmas morning 

Christmas Day 

I traveled to a nearby town called Totonicapan, to watch a convive, or party/carnival, in the streets with a friend from my Spanish school.  All we knew was that there were going to be people in costumes dancing in the streets.  Apparently the community has been doing this for many years, (although I forget how many, maybe 50 or so?), and many of the costumes represented some Hollywood movie character from the year's biggest hits.  It was a little bizarre, many of the characters were frightening to look at, but it was fun and high-energy, and I remember laughing a lot and I kept thinking my cell phone was ringing in my pocket, but really it was just the vibration from the giant stack of speakers we were standing next to!  Guatemalans love loud music!  Here are some photos from the street party and from the nativity scene in the church:

Yes, those are Avatars in the background

The giant stack of speakers!
If you didn't know...you might guess we were in Disneyland, rather than in Guatemala on Christmas Day..

I love this photo:  Buzz Light Year is just turning around and the guy is either protecting his ears from the loud speakers, or trying to talk on his cell phone, but it looks like they are fighting about something and, like a little kid, the guy has decided to end the conversation.  Photos never lie!

Elaborate nativity scene: the more lights=the better.

Candles in the Church

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 2: Day of the Dead and la feria

Slow start....

I am realizing I may not have what it takes to be a good blogger.
Ie: brevity and consistency.
Each time I sign in to finish the posts that I have already started I get a little overwhelmed by how long and rambling my previous entry seems.  I assume part of this is also due to my inconsistency.  The less often I write, the more I have to say.  In my defense, I would like to point to the inconsistent internet situation and the lack of rhythm in my life at this point.  In the 3.5 weeks I have been in Xela I have already moved 5 times.  For approximately 2 weeks of my time here I have stayed with a family and did not have internet at the house.  Yes, it is true that wireless is fairly ubiquitous here, (I do have my laptop with me), however, that requires going out to a cafe and purchasing something each time I want to use my computer--and the worst part is that my computer is getting a little old and no longer shows any interest in holding a battery charge.  I have already been scolded a few times for plugging my computer in at aforementioned cafes/restaurants.  I am told electricity is very expensive here.  I believe it and I regret not buying a new battery for my computer before coming.

Anyway, no more excuses for my undisciplined ways.  Here is a quick update:

It has been a bit of a rough/slow start.  The reason I have moved 5 times already is because I want it all.  It's probably a combination of:  getting older and less flexible about my living situation, a laissez-faire attitude toward advanced trip planning, wanting to work on my Spanish with a family, yet also wanting internet where I live, wanting other people to cook for me, but kind of hating being on someone else's schedule; and of course the fact that I'm from the U.S. and I have a right to have the very best in life, right?...if a situation doesn't meet my standards: time to move on!

So far I have stayed in a hostel (bed bugs!), with a family that was dishonest to me and to the language school about giving me a private room and instead put me in the kids' room, (with the kids), until the other student they were juggling, (in order to maximize profits), vacated what should have been my room; then back to the hostel because I was mad about the family situation, then to a guesthouse with a shared kitchen and bathroom, then another attempt to live with a family, and now back to the guesthouse where I am happy to be once again (has wi-fi!--but not quite hot showers, everything is a trade-off:) 

I have attended 2 different Spanish language schools and am averaging 2-3 hours of class/day.  I started volunteering at a reforestation project in a rural indigenous community about 30 minutes from Xela.  I travelled to a rural hospital 2 mornings last week to observe in the pediatrics (baby ICU) and emergency departments.  I played with a violin for a couple days last week, have gone to the local steam baths--steam from one of the many surrounding volcanoes, attended weekly yoga classes, visited the cemetery on November 2 to witness the local custom of Day of the Dead, and have had some interesting conversations with my Spanish teachers:  including a discussion yesterday regarding safety in the city and examples of locals taking justice into their own hands because the police and government are so corrupt that no one trusts them to do anything.  Both examples included locals beating up, tying, and then setting the "alleged" robbers on fire.

I attended a beautiful little candle-light potluck Thursday night at my school, something that usually happens once a week to celebrate the "graduation" of students finishing up their language studies.  It was good to talk with some of the other students and realize I'm not the only woman traveling alone, with a one-way ticket, and an open mind.  I have shopped at the local markets, tried to navigate the world of saldo and cell phones (saldo is the credit or minutes you buy for your phones--still working on getting my head wrapped fully around this one--more complicated than I wish it was), have been taught the Spanish words for: kite, pencil sharpener, pencil/crayon case, deadbolt, and the little white cotton fuzzies that stick to your clothes, all from little kids.  A slow start, but everyday is a blessing. 

I will write more soon!

p.s. I'm sure you are all wondering how I am tolerating being way from Wisconsin during football season:  thanks to my dad I have managed to watch all but one of the Packer games--it's not the most beautiful system, but it's all I've been able to come up with so far--my dad points his webcam at the t.v. and we video skype for the 3 hours or so that the game lasts...Go Pack Go!