28 06 2007

A few things of interest, at least to me…

Monday was Teacher´s Day in Guatemala. What did that mean exactly? Well, school was cancelled, and because I live in a house with about five or six other teachers, I was greeted all day with hugs. Everytime someone said, ¨Happy Teacher´s Day!,¨ a hug followed. This town has a rocking cantina, and I also think the teachers used the day to partake in the sugar alcohol of choice. I´m thinking of initiating a similar practice back home.

There is a strong Israeli presence here. It´s strange, but I see it mostly in lots of Arc de Noe hostels, Hotel Kibbutz, or the El Shaddai Gym. This is partly because Israel had or has some invested interest here, and partly because after the U.S. wanted to publicly extract their economic support for the Guatemalan government, they channeled funds and arms through Israel. Lovely.

I made a guest appearance yesterday. One of the women in my house invited me to come visit her fourth-ish grade class, and when I arrived, she declared, ¨They are ready for you to teach. What have you planned?¨ So, all thirty-five children can now count up to twenty in English. When I asked for questions, they were incredibly interested in the names in my family, so all thirty-five spent fifteen minutes reciting, ¨El-lee, Tomas, Em-ma-ry and more.¨ We then learned to say words that were closest to their daily experiences (robber, soccer ball, and blouse). I was told I am to return Friday to administer a quiz.

This place is cold, and I broke down and bought a $10 sweater from the local thrift shop. My selection was between fleeces covered with heavy metal band pictures, Taco Bell ads, skateboarders symbols, or Nautica signs.

I have sadly developed a necessary and healthy fear of dogs here. Though I love the species, the dogs here become angry at night, sometimes angry during the day, and I often fall asleep to the sounds of packs of dogs fighting outside in the street. I now carry rocks whenever I hike and/or hide behind others. I´m going to need re-programming therapy…meaning I am going to need lots of times with the various kind and gentle dogs that I love in Boston. Get ready.

We continue to hike each morning, and we often pass men out gathering wood. It is incredibly common for the men to stop, break into a huge smile, shake our hands and remark, ¨You´re out just taking a walk! Ha! You´re out walking! Just a walk!¨ I´m not clear if it is the practice of walking…like…why would you walk if you don´t have to…or the idea that we have way too much free time on our hands that makes them chuckle. I find the whole exchange endearing.

More to come.


Living the Questions

26 06 2007

I arrived in Todos Santos on Sunday night after five hours of sharing the back seat of an old American school bus with three others. The dirt road climbed and twisted to 12,000 feet before it plunged to our village, which rests somewhere around 8,500 feet. The weather was cold and rainy, and after meeting my new family, which includes four generations of twenty plus people, who range in age from two to eighty something, I decided to take a nap. In all honesty, my first thoughts were, ¨What have I gotten myself into?¨ I tend to have this feeling the first night I am in a new place here, a feeling of, ¨Where am I again and who do I think I´m kidding?¨

However, after waking up Monday morning and viewing the majesty of these mountains and the people, I realized I had stumbled upon a treasure. This place will do just fine.

It feels good to be off the beaten track. My school consists of five other students, and there are a few other tourists in town, though none are American. The town is sleepy and the men all wear traditional dress: red striped pants, an embrodiered shirt, a bamboo like top hat, and some other things I can´t really describe. Being as we are in the highest non-volcanic mountains in Central America, I have already hiked two times, though not without difficulty. This morning, I hiked up to 12,000 feet, and the change in altitude was palpable. However, the views were amazing.

It is also a good place for me to do some reflecting. I find that after three weeks of learning about the history of Guatemala (in addition to Spanish), I have a lot to process. I have never been in a country before where I can so clearly see and understand how the consumption of the U.S. has negatively affected a country´s past and present. It´s not a tricky thing to understand; we first had a huge fruit company here that essentially bought up most of the arable land and paid nearly nothing for the property or the labor. This company was closely aligned with the U.S. goverment…sort of reeks of a Halliburton story…and when our presence was challenged by an emerging democracy and local demand for fair treatment, we both broke up the corporation into our old friends Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita and trained Guatemalan military to overthrow the new democratic Guatemalan government, leading to decades of civil war here. The stories I have heard of burned villages, torture, kidnappings, disappearances, and downright terrorism are horrifying in their own right and because of their close connection to our military training and to our generous supply of arms.

Enough for the shaky history lesson. The point is, I am not clear where to go with this information or exactly what kind of responsibility the U.S. should own up to. It´s not a new story. Our country´s politics are often determined by our desire to control the world´s resources and by the resources that we have decided we need to consume. And as I consume certain products or demand a certain type of economic stability from our government, the ripples are felt here, by these people, my teachers, the families that house me, the women who offer me smiles and directions every day.

So, what to do? This country has many needs…economic, to be sure…but it also needs healing, fair land distribution and labor practices, clean politics, and a working justice system, to name a few. Arguably, the U.S. needs all these things as well, which is why we are not even equipped to lead the charge. One option is to at least shut down our school in Georgia which continues to train Central Americans and others in ¨counter-insurgency¨tactics, but that would just be the tip of the iceberg. (For more info, go to www.soaw.org). That might solve some of the future political corruption, but there are legacies everywhere of the past ills and corruption.

And then, on the other hand, the greatest source of income here is money earned in the States and sent back by Guatemalans. Is that some form of equity? I don´t know.

Enough deep thoughts for today.

Enjoy that world out there, folks.

Yo soy la ganadora

21 06 2007

 Every day in Spanish class, I get the challenge…I like to think of it as a challenge…to create sentences using the ¨verb tense of the day.¨It is an unspoken game my teacher and I play, much like a staring contest. My goal is to create a series of sentences that will make my teacher burst out laughing. Her goal is to simply shrug at my craziness, often muttering, ¨Chiquita Locita.¨

The truth is, I usually win….which has led me to learn many phrases in Spanish which proclaim my victory and dominance. One is featured above.

Yesterday was a full-out victory. Using my past participles, I started with: ¨You have never met anyone like me before.¨

Ana simply lost it. ¨That,¨she finally gasped, ¨is the truth.¨

My time in Xela is coming to a close, and I am heading to different mountains and a new school on Sunday. It´s the first part of my voyage that is both completely solo and unplanned, which feels both exciting and a little scary. I have found a school in a place called Todos Santos, which is supposed to be one of the more traditional towns, filled with Mayan culture and customs. The school is in the middle of the highest mountains in Guatemala, and I hear it is breathtaking. I know a few people who have gone to school there, and they say it is rustic and real. Here I go.

It´s not without reluctance, however. I have definitely gotten to a place of comfort in this city. At first, I felt jarred by the urban smells, congestion and busyness. Now, it feels like home. I have coffee shops and bookstores and friends and walks and I don´t completely feel like leaving. However, I know it´s time.

For me, this is turning out to be one of the hardest parts of this trip; I hate goodbyes. It´s always best to leave when things are good; the best comedy acts leave the stage while people are still laughing, after all. However, at this point, I have a great group to spend time with, people I really like and hope to see again. I told my family in the mountains and the one here in Xela that I will be back soon, but the truth is, I probably won´t.

Goodbyes have never made sense to me, which is why I still talk to all my friends from second grade. I just have a feeling we weren´t supposed to get rid of people in life; we should just continually enhance our collection. So, I´m still working on the Zen mindset. Wish me luck.

And the truth is, I am excited for what is to come. Goodbyes are hard, but the hellos around the corner make it all worth it.

These are a few of my favorite things…

19 06 2007

People here always greet each other in the street. Friendliness is underrated in the States…

Fresh corn tortillas.

This country happens to be gorgeous…stunningly beautiful. Lush, mountainous, and dramatic. Who knew?

The phrase for giving birth is “Dar en Luce,” which basically means “to give light.” My sister will give light in November, for example.

There are many little girls here named Yoseline. I fit right in.

I am average, if not a little tall, here. It´s a lovely change.

My hiking boots. So necessary. Thank you to my packing consultants. They are without a doubt the best thing I have…waterproof and able to traverse the crazy paths people here call trails.

Guatemalans love ice cream as much as people in Boston.

My teacher is about as loca as I am, which means our five hours go by in a blink. She appreciates all my jokes and plays on words in Spanish, whether they make sense or not.

Remembering what it feels like to learn a language.

One of my nonfavorite things is that it is really difficult to upload photos here. The computers are SLOW! I am working on it! Here are a few…most did not make it on the page!

Go to this link to see my slow progress in uploading photos. If anyone has any bright ideas, please send them my way!



14 06 2007

Quick note…yes, there was an earthquake..yes, I felt it and it lasted for like two minutes….so long that I got dizzy! The center was MUY far from here and there is nothing to worry about. Gracias for your concern, mis amigos.

In the big city

12 06 2007

One of my goals for this trip is to get myself to live in the present. Last week was ideal for that, both because I only learned the present tense in class and life was punctuated with simple moments that made me stop and just smile.

However, things are changing. It is time to develop my verb tenses, and with that comes lots of talk of the past and future. Oh well. The real trick is to keep living in today despite all the tenses that may come my way.

The rest of the week at the mountain school was just great…lots of memorable times with my family, fellow students, my teacher, etc. After class was over, I spent the weekend hiking. On Saturday, we hiked to a waterfall. It was a great hike, but there had been so much rain that the ground on the side of the river was incredibly soft, or actually downright unstable. We fell many times through deep holes and I ended up with scratches and bites and plant stings galore. Still, it was wonderful, and the three dogs from the school were ecstatic about the chance to play in the river.

On Sunday, we hiked up a dormant volcano which has a lake in its crater….Laguna Chicabel. It was a beautiful (and steep) hike, though switchbacks would be a welcome addition to the vocabulary of this country.

Now here in Xela, life is definitely faster. It is a city, and there is much more to do and see and digest. The school here has the same spirit as the mountain school; it is incredibly devoted to the community. The school was born out of a need for political and social change in Guatemala, and my tuition here funds both of these movements. Our orientation yesterday was a history of Guatemala, particularly of U.S involvement in the agriculture and government of the country. Just when I think I could not be more sad about the actions of our country, I get more fodder for the fire. I feel like I am constantly, both before, and now during this trip, trying to figure out how to amend for all these wrongs.

The school offers lectures, documentaries, and discussions about many aspects of Guatemala. Yesterday, we learned about military training at the School of the Americas, today we can hear about issues around domestic violence in Guatemala, and tomorrow, there is a talk by an ex-guerilla. All of these are optional, but it is nice to have so many avenues to understand the context of my experience. It is also a great way to learn Spanish–talking through issues that matter!

Gotta go do some homework! Working on the pics!

Escuela de la Montagna

6 06 2007

I might as well start with the part my parents will dislike the most, in the hopes that by the end of this note, they will have forgotten the first part. The beauty of aging.

We just rode standing up in the back of a pickup, holding on to some iron bars of sorts, and driving on windy and steep roads to a little town about ten kilometers away from the school. I was reluctant to leave our little community,  but the town of Colombo is just as sleepy and friendly as our village of Nuevo San Jose and Fatima. Life is good.

The school is, in short, fantastic. We live in a little cement house with ten other students, and we are each assigned our own family to eat with and our own teacher. My family here reminds me of my family in Mali; we play games and discuss politics, life, the weather, and religion, each time with their faces waiting patiently for me to produce some semblance of Spanish. There are between three to seven kids in my house at any given time, so I have many opportunities to quiz them on school, examine their textbooks, or beat them in jacks. I have also started bringing childrens books in Spanish to the meals, which even the mother seems to enjoy. Yesterday, I brought a old favorite…Bread and Jam for Frances (Pan Y Mermalada por Francisca). It was a hit. After that, Syvester and the Magic Pebble…Mirai would be proud, right, Em?

The best part of the village of Fatima is that the families here founded the community after organizing on their coffee plantation to fight for their rights to land, fair pay and health care. After suffering for five years under the hand of an oppressive owner, they now live independently. They just got running water after six years of waiting, and this week, they started working on electricity.

It is a civil rights story in my own backyard. I have been listening to story after story of the secret schools and churches they established after they were forbidden to congregate. I feel like I am meeting future Facing History speakers at each meal, and I am in awe by the humility and quiet strength of this community; they have achieved so much with so little.

As for the Spanish, I am loving my teacher. As my Spanish improves, so does my Italian, unfortunately. French is out the window. However, I now speak an interesting mixture that people seem to understand, and it goes a long way during a game of soccer with the kids in the village.

The rain comes each day, providing time for naps and homework. I feel my pace slowing with each minute. I have a feeling I will spend more weeks here than planned…back to the mountains at the end of June…enshallah.

No pictures yet, but the area is mountainous, lush and gorgeous…best land for growing coffee in the country.

Enjoy and more soon!