Reflections from Guate

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/centralamericaandthecaribbean/guatemala/11457584/Why-Guatemala-is-one-of-the-worst-places-in-the-world-to-be-a-child.html

http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2015/03/12/392174520/meet-the-15-year-old-from-rural-guatemala-who-addressed-the-u-n?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150312

Two articles emphasizing the extreme difference between the highs and lows of growing up in Guatemala. I was so saddened and disturbed by the first and so inspired and amazed by the second.

I can’t count how many times I’ve talked to girls here who don’t understand the value of education. Parents are ok with sending one son,  usually the youngest, away to school but inevitably he finds a wife, marries, has a family and forgets about the people who gave him that chance. While that may be a broad statement, the young girls don’t have that option in most houses. However, once they do they tend to see what they can now do for their family and community. I have seen this because some of the women I work with were discouraged by their parents yet they worked for Sharing the Dream until they could earn enough to continue school. Their work ethic is strong and their desire to create a better life for themselves pushes them to achieve more and more each day. It makes me happy to see them gaining confidence and independence. For those who don’t want to study I simply say that education is the one thing that no one can steal from you. I hope that over time more people will see the value in this investment as opposed to what brings them immediate financial gain.

Once again, I’ve let my thoughts and passions wander. One day I hope to apply the same teachings in the field of medicine. Women’s health is sometimes a taboo topic but one that is incredibly important for the wellbeing of the community. Women’s empowerment doesn’t mean that men are valued any less, it simply brings everyone to a higher level–an equal level– from which to continue improving.

I do hope you take the chance to peruse the articles. For me, Guatemala is so much more than the drugs and immigration problems that we hear about in the states. It is a country of contradictions, a country of diverse and breathtaking views and it is a country whose history has turned it upside down yet still continues to hold on to its cherished traditions and culture. Guatemala drives me crazy but tonight while I was sitting on my stool at Lola and Chonitas waiting for my eggs, beans and fried plantains I heard a spanish singer on the radio and listened to the chatter of Tz’utujil rising about the background noise. The walls were bare and the furniture was simple but I felt peaceful and content in the companionship and laughter. Food and friends, laughter and hugs.  That is my Guatemala.

Feliz noche! Y que Dios les bendiga. Abrazos desde Atitlán.

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Esteban helping the scholarship students with their homework

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Computer donations in action

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Artesa wood group in Santiago.

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Making boxes in the shop. They found a piece of wood on the coast that is purple!

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Yulia drilling holes in the beans for our new line of coffee jewelry!

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Ribs at Quilas!

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Bamboo scarf group

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Dying the bamboo thread

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Wandering around Solola

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My ride back to Pana

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Friday night in Pana

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Lake towns are always on the side of a mountain

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Which of these houses looks different?

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My nahual, Mayan birth horoscope. Surprisingly spot on. Says I work within my community, I'm a leader, organized, a person who helps guide others and someone who has a lot of energy...also the first 3 letters of my name which is probably why the elders call me ya kat (sounds like cot)

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International Women's Day at one of our partner fair trade stores

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Firemen and a piñata

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Bright scarf. Wild hair. Saturday night out in Pana. Feliz fin de semana!

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Came home to this.

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Right above the kitchen window. I broke a plastic stool trying to kill it but it escaped.

And I’m back to taking worm/parasite killing pills. Hopefully this time it kills everything and I stop being sick.  The highs and lows of living in paradise are extreme. No matter how careful you are it’s impossible to escape the bugs you can’t see. Today I’m chilling out at home so I can read, do laundry and bake a little. Hopefully my banana bread turns out ok.

Yesterday I took a lancha to three lake towns. San Marcos is the yoga/meditation/natural medicine hub. Not too much happening at 9 in the morning so I went in the search of a bathroom. The community is set up within the trees so there are only little paths between places so it’s already a challenge to find things. Then, in Guatemala,  if you don’t know where something is you just point in whatever direction you feel like. This trait is particularly annoying when you’re looking for a bathroom! I did find one no thanks to the locals and paid my Q3.

Next we went to San Juan where I bought a beautiful table runner that I had seen a couple weeks prior. The textile was made using indigo as the natural dye and then done on a backstrap loom using jaspe weaving which is one of the more complicated techniques but it’s how they can put figures and their stories into the piece. Mine includes the waves of Lake Atitlán which is indicative of a weaving from San Juan. It also has cacao, basket, grapes, corn,  beans and the quetzal. I’m pretty excited about it and hope that I can find a large enough table!

Final stop for me was San Pedro which always involves a stop at the health food store for cheap hummus. Once returning to Pana I began planning my 12 day adventure in the jungle, coast of Belize and Antigua during Semana Santa. Can’t stay in one place for long!

Happy International Women’s Day! 

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Photography lessons

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Our store. I also gave lessons on to set up products and display them. I don't have a marketing degree but I can still sell!

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Visiting an elder

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Dogs dogs dogs...everywhere and very vocal at 2 am

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Another one of our elders house burned down a couple days ago. Like many it was made out of the same material shown in the picture. She has no family and now truly has nothing but her traje.

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Yulia learning how to take good pictures. Even an old camera can take an ok picture with proper lighting!

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One day I will write more than a few sentences but the days are flying by. I have plenty to do now which makes me happy and I’ve even organized my own groups and networking meetings. The catalog is finally done after redoing prices, descriptions and pictures not to mention finding products they forgot to include. One thing is for certain: I’m looking for a nice used camera. As truly novice photographers and busy people they need something simple but guaranteed to take a nice picture even if lighting isn’t optimal. I’m also trying to foster their inner creativity but realizing there are differences. Trying to explain how to artfully display products so it’s not overwhelming is tricky. If you go into most places in Guatemala they are filled to the brim with products…picture any flea market you’ve been in. They want to make a sale so desperately that they put everything out for you to see…the problem being that you’re so overwhelmed that you can’t process anything! Anyways they trust my judgment and perceptive to my suggestions. It’s fun working with them because they are curious about my culture and often laugh at its oddities.

I’ve also decided that my apartment is going to look like you’ve just had your passport stamped in Guatemala. Today I bought 2 paintings (prints) for $40 and spent only $0.50 for a dinner of popcorn,  an avocado and a mango. I wouldn’t be surprised if I came home with more in addition to weavings. I love Guate.

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Views from the Elder Center

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Lent procession in Pana on Friday night

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Photo bombed by a lancha

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Diana and I

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Miguel

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Cayucas

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San Antonio

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Lovely weekend spent binge watching House of Cards, going to the pool, making pita bread, swimming in the lake and getting my nails done by Diana. Even though I lost my favorite piece of jewelry (silver ring that I bought in Peru 3 years ago that I never take off) we’ll see if a local Italian silver smith can make a suitable copy. I showed him the knot design and he said he could do it!
Busy busy week ahead with a few meetings and days spent in Santiago. Welcome to March!

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Bead Group: working on the catalog

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I’m in Santiago working with Bernavela on the new bead catalog. I was finally able to delete some of the less popular designs and clean it up a bit so I was happy about that. They have put time and energy into each design so they’re reluctant to take it off the list. However I think our newer designs will be much more successful. I also redid the store and made it look more professional so hopefully next week when a new group comes they will want to place an order. I’m excited about it because I found the organization and arranged everything. They will serve the elders and then meet the bead group so that they get the “big picture.”
The goal for the bead group is to be sustainable and independent while also providing fair wages to women. With their profits they are able to pay the director’s salary, the rent for the Elder Center as well as the utilities. This means that Sharing the Dream is in charge of finding donors to sponsor an Elder (100% of the money going to the elder). Sharing the Dream covers any extra costs incurred or elders that are without support.
I will also have to give some photography lessons because I have had to re-do almost all of the pictures. Granted their cameras aren’t the highest quality but lack of light makes things even harder. Since there is only one light bulb for the office I told them that they should go outside to take them.
Back to work!

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http://m.motherjones.com/media/2015/02/child-migrants-guatemala-photos-katie-orlinsky

The pictures capture lives that I don’t always feel comfortable taking pictures of. Sometimes it’s because we work with them and their families and other times it’s because I feel intrusive; how would you feel if someone was always taking pictures of your day to day tasks and family yet never receiving anything in return?

One interesting picture shows a cemetery in Guatemala City.  The ones in Atitlán are extremely colorful and ornate but they all require a monthly payment: rent for your resting place. If the family cannot pay it then they break open the cement grave and throw the body out. Examples of this can be seen in that picture.

When I was in the mountains and only an hour or so away from the Mexican border I began to wonder how many people on the chicken buses were headed to the states. Chicken buses are already uncomfortable, tiring and dangerous and the roads that they take are no different. I only got a taste of the terrain that they would have to cross but it’s enough to remind me that it’s truly an act of desperation and fear. They are losing anything that they can’t carry and have no idea how many loved ones they may lose or never see again.

In Todos Santos we were amazed at some of the enormous, fancy houses we saw but we were not surprised to learn that the money came either from the States or drug trafficking. Both are risky businesses that can result in jail or death yet the people are driven to pursue them.

Living here is taxing on my body and soul because while I may be a magnet for every bug, stomach included, I know that there others outside my door who live much harder. I don’t have the answer to this problem and I don’t believe that simply giving people everything they need will help. I do however believe that promoting education for both genders, providing opportunities to make money through fairly paid work and improving access to healthcare (cue in education again) will make a difference in the long run. In future posts I will address some of the facts and quotes I highlighted from Half the Sky by Nicholas Kriston and Sheryl WuDunn but for now I would recommend getting yourself a copy.

A little exercise that I do sometimes is calculate how much my outfit costs. Shoes, pants, underwear, shirt, sunglasses,  etc. Then I multiply the total by 7.5 (exchange rate for quetzales) and wonder how long I could live on that…realizing that a bottle of wine really digs into it. But finally I think about an average Guatemalan…a field worker might make Q25-35 a day if the crops are ready for harvest,  an artisan might make Q40-50 if they sell something. ..sometimes more but an elder begging on the street might make Q10-15 if they are lucky.

For me it’s another way to put things into perspective because I know that I’m pretty frugal-buying my things on sale or at second hand stores, donating what I don’t wear and packing lite for trips- yet even then I come out with a very high number. Just my shoes and sunglasses alone equal a good monthly income for a Guatemalan (2 items that were presents yet something I would still spend quality money on).

Anyways, if you’re looking for an activity to occupy your mind I would encourage you to do it. Makes you think…

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Valentine’s Day at the Elder Center

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Finally found one in a cafe here in Pana. It's about 2,683 miles from here

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Baskets for the employees

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Bead girls

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Passing out care packages

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Time for cake!

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Giving thanks

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Meals on Sandals

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Delivering food to Rosario

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The weeks are passing by and my research continues. I had an unfortunate and uncomfortable episode of scabies but thanks to permethrin I’m much better. On Friday we celebrated Valentine’s Day at the elder center. Many have never felt love or support from their families so this our opportunity to show them that they are special people. Each received a card, care package with hygiene supplies, a can of pop and a piece of cake. This was met with many shouts of meltiox, thank you, and a long prayer and honoring of all the donors who support them. It’s such a pleasure to share their laughter and hugs even though we may not be able to understand each other.
For now back to work!

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Sunsets here never fail to impress

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My new office

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Ceviche- one of my favorite dishes

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I paid $ 4.33 for everything on the left side and $20 for everything on the right. Eating fresh made easy in Guatemala!

Keeping busy as always! Last night I met an intern for a partner fair trade organization so I’m looking forward to working with someone my age. I also found a gringo center in town that has yoga, zumba and salsa classes and also has a bar that serves red wine and IPAs…paradise in Pana! I also did some networking with other gringas…unfortunately Sharing the Dream has done little to spread the word in Pana so I’m working to change that! Already found a couple people who are interested in learning more. This morning I took it a little easy because everyone has the day off. I had a strong cup of drip coffee at Cafe Loco, went to the health food store to stock up on probiotics and to the market to fill up on fruits and veggies. I will admit that the hummus and gouda, though pricey, was delicious. When Miguel and Diana get back from the capital I will have olive oil to bake the broccoli and cook the carrots and beans. 1 month down…time flies!

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http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/02/08/opinion/sunday/exposures-child-bride-mother-stephanie-sinclair.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1409232722000&bicmet=1419773522000

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-31231744

Guatemala is really making the news this week!

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Day 3: San Marcos Sacatepequez, San Juan Ostuncalco and Xela

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Alan please learn how to make these

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Women of San Marcos Sacatepequez

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Everyone is a part of the design process

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Women of San Juan Ostuncalco

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The women's office

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Xela

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