University of Maine at Augusta

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Last night together in Antigua

Yesterday we were early to rise to spend our day at one of only three active volcanos in Guatemala. Pacaya is 8,371 ft above sea level and was approx. a 2 hour hike from the base. We climbed all the way to the hot lava and what a sight to see. Pacaya begain the active phase in 1965 and continues to flow lava down the side even today. What an amazing experience to touch and be one with the nature of an active volacno and its lush country side. Climbing across the rough landscape put our team work to the test!
Tonight we celebrate the last night together in the city in which it all began, beautiful Antigua. Today we left behind Panajachel with its beautiful lake Atitlan and bustling streets. We made our journey back toward Antigua and on the way stopped at the Mayan ruins. The ruins we visited today was the town of Iximche of the Cakchiquel Maya who were powerful warriors and skilled builders. This town of Iximche is known to have an elaborate market where the shops were, taxes were paid and local government disputes were settled. The Spanish invaded Guatemala on July 25th 1524 and make this the capital of Guatemala. This was quite an experience to stand in the town center and just imagine the history under our feet. The ruins are still in amazing condition considering the time and natural disaster that has come through this area.
As we leave behind this amazing culture and landscape we take with us the knowledge we gained, friends we made and memories to last a life time.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pictures, round two

Artisans visit Common Hope:

Preschool at Common Hope:

UMA faculty, students and staff unload donations brought to Common Hope - thanks to friends back at home!

Grinding coffee after picking, drying, and roasting:

Artifacts found during the planting of the crops:

Ellen Taylor with Literature students, Juli, Jessica and Michelle:

Loading panels for the house to be built this week:

Shoveling and moving gravel for the foundation:

First day's construction crew with the homeowner and crew leaders, Pablo and Felix.

View from our patio at Common Hope (yes, it's active!)

The entire UMA team!

Travel Learning Continues

Today (Thursday) we had planned to go to Safe Passage in Guatemala City, but because there has been unrest there lately, the directors have recommended we revise our agenda. When traveling, one must be flexible!

A few days ago the drivers of the "chicken buses" went on strike to draw attention to the violence in the street, and there has been some concern that the unrest would escalate. Now the buses are running again, and it is pure precaution for us to stay out of the city, but I appreciate their concern for our safety.

As a point of reference, last Monday when the strike began, our wonderful liaison here, Liz, put us in what we fondly called "lock down," (a word sadly known all too well by school teachers in the States.) Living in a walled compound surrounded by concertina wire makes us very safe, and again we appreciate everyone's attention to our safety.

In lieu of the Safe Passage trip, we will help organize the donations here. Twenty one people on this trip brought clothing, tooth paste, dental floss, shampoo, wash cloths, pencils, art supplies, and other miscellaneous hygiene and school supplies for the families of FE/CH.
Many hands make light work!

Thank you all for reading ~

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wednesday on the plantation

Today we went into San Miguel and met with the Coffee farmers. We started in the town square where school was in session and listened to some history of the volcano where the coffee plantation is. The volcano had flooded the town once upon a time and a Spanish man came and helped rebuild the town, this is why it's called San Miguel.
After our history we walked up the streets, up onto the volcano into the coffee fields. We learned of different crops grown on the fields to make them more profitable. They grow trees to shade the plants like banana trees, avocado or macademia plants. These plants provide another resource while fertilizing the soil and providing other products.
Once we got to the plants we were able to do picking of the coffee fruits. This was a wonderful experience to work among the field workers and imagine the life of a woman in Guatemala walking miles up the volcano to work, probably pregnant and with toddler in tow. This give us new admiration for the women in this culture.
After we picked our bean fruits we took them to the processing to take the beans out of the fruit part. This is done by a bicycle attached to the husking machine.
We learned the process of fermenting, drying and roasting coffee. We had lunch in a home of one of the farmers. This was exciting for us to sit with a family for a traditional meal. We were able to roast some coffee and have a sample of the coffee. There is nothing like fresh Guatemalan coffee. We went down to the town and discussed economics of coffee farmers in Guatemala.
Today was a fantastic day to be in the sun, working together and learning the culture and structure of Guatemalan coffee production.
Here is a link to the website of the company we worked with today and how you can buy amazing coffee directly from the farms.

Facilities at Familias de Esperanza/Common Hope (FE/CH)

The facilities at FE/CH are outstanding. We have a fully stocked kitchen with a sign that says "Leave the Kitchen Cleaner than you Found It," which I take to be a challenge. Daniella and I are talking about cleaning out the fridge later today...

We are on our own for breakfast, but there is cereal, bread, milk, coffee (Yum - local), and eggs. Robert Rainey, our photography faculty, has been making us "eggs in a basket" in the morning, fruit smoothies, and most people are considerate enough to refresh the coffee pot and help with dishes (although in every family, there are always those who do dishes, and those who don't.... and we are now one big family).

Concrete walls and a single coil of barbed wire surround the complex, though we feel less restricted by it than secure knowing nobody is getting in (or out). This is likely improved by the flowers growing on the wall and wrapping around the wires. There are large living spaces for gathering throughout our building, with fireplaces, comfy couches, and a veranda that wraps around the entire second floor. We look out on the volcano, which has been actively spouting smoke in the morning. We have gardens, jacaranda trees, and bougainvillea all around us. A large library is off the kitchen, but there are book shelves tucked in the hallways. Rooms are suites - four bedrooms with another living room in the center and a shared bath, and a shared shower in another room for each suite. All incredibly is so quiet at night - the only sounds are birds singing in the morning before the church bells go off.

We are blessed to have such a comfortable place - it refresh us and every morning we wake up ready to go :)


Street Theater, sort of

Rob Kellerman here, posting on the various liturgical processions that we have seen in the streets of Antigua since we've been here.

Though it didn't occur to any of us when we made the plans for the trip, we are in Guatemala a week before Holy Week and two weeks before Easter. Given that this is a strongly, strongly Catholic country (despite the inroads that evangelicals are making in Central America), there have been plenty of processions in the streets of Antigua, and we keep running into them, whether we want to or not. We want t0.

The processions involve many, many floats of sorts that represent variations on the Stations of the Cross--falling Jesus, weeping Mary, and so on--that are borne by small boys, small girls, and adults, depending on the size of the float. Often the figures on the floats are especially gruesome or designed to evoke the greatest amount of pity--could there be a more dolorous mother than Mary, the Mater Dolorosa, after seeing Jesus with His blood streaming down His face? Around this, on both sides of the street, march boys and men in purple robes that are reminiscent of monastic attire, and a few in black that I suspect are monks. The processions take over the streets, and I mean that literally. The entire town comes out to see the processions, purple bunting is put up all over the buildings that mark the route, and each float is followed by a brass band that plays dirgelike music that is appropriate to the mood that the Passion of Christ is presumably supposed to inspire.

I am not sure that the whole mood really plays out the way the Church intends. On the contrary, the whole enterprise seems to be jolly and fun: little boys with incense burners loop-the-loop them all the way around and tease each other, the band players chat merrily with each other before they launch into their next dirge, and sweet mothers beam proudly when their daughters march solemnly or not so solemnly past, bearing one of the floats. It strikes me that this is what makes Catholicism so appealing in such a place: certainly the rise of liberation theology is a huge part of this, but it's also that Catholicism has traditionally found ways to engage people in liturgy that are, well, fun. It is fun, after all, to dress up and see your friends and smell incense and then stop off for a beer on the way home. The processions seem to me to be the essence of Catholicism here--both reverent and irreverent at the same time.

Day Two of Work

Dear literary travelers, today we saw the second half of our work at Familias de Esperanza/Common Hope.

While half the group went to our construction site, the other half visited FE/CH families who may one day be receiving a house. The web site at Common Hope explains this in more detail, but the short version is families are classified as A, B, or C, with A being the newest and neediest families in the program, B being a step along the way to better education and overall health, and C those who are doing service to earn a house.

Families are chosen depending on need: a few criteria include three or more children and willingness to agree to the following: half of the children are sponsored, and parent(s) must agree to send school age children to school, to submit report cards and educational updates, to visit the clinic for a health check, and basically allow social work supervision along the way.

OK, so Juli and I went with our wonderful worker, Louisa, to visit two C families. We are meant to be observers of the process. We were dropped off in a village outside of Antigua, San Pedro de Obispo, and walked up to a cluster of houses above town.

The first family we visited lives on the end of a road with houses constructed of thin panels of corrugated steel. My first impression was how clean the dirt streets are. There is a gutter dug out for water drainage, and no trash anywhere. At our clients' house, she has a little garden of tropical flowers in the front, and the entrance is decorated with geraniums potted in plastic Pepsi bottles hanging from the wall of steel.

The woman immediately pulled out benches ( wooden boards on iron piping) and plastic chairs, and covered them with a towel for us to sit in her little court yard, which is basically a living area behind two enclosures of steel and corn stalks for sleeping quarters, with blankets for doorways and privacy.

She has one girl, aged 11, who is in school, and was washing dishes in the outdoor kitchen in a bucket of water; and three little boys, ages 2, 4, and 6, who were running about playing with belts as though they were lassos. The father (who wasn't there at that time)suffers from severe headaches of unknown cause, and they make a living by selling goat milk.

In the court yard, we sat with their 3 or 4 dogs (one with puppies nursing), chickens and chicks in a small enclosure, and their two goats, Cenizas and Lodo (?- didn't quite get her name). Cenizas (ashes in Spanish) is a gray goat, and a protagonist in the following story.

After a conversation about general health of the children and the parents, as well as the presentation of a certificate for the daughter to attend a special one week computer class here at FE/CH, the girl wiped spotless three tall glasses. With the help of her little brother, who held Cenizas by the horns, the chica squeezed the goat's teats with one hand, while holding up a back hoof with the other (to prevent the goat from running? kicking?). A short time later, we were presented with three glasses of warm goat's milk, right from the udder.

We had been cautioned about consuming tap water or drinks from opened soda bottles, but none of this was covered...I looked at our social worker, Louisa, who gave me a "what to do?" look - she herself pleaded lactose intolerance, but to no avail, as goats' milk is entirely different, the woman told us, and no one ever get sick, etc.

So we took cautious sips, and I must say I have never tasted anything so rich and delicious that was unadorned with sugar or flavoring. The milk was warm and tasted as though we had stirred spoons of honey inside, and was thick as a milk shake. We drank it down and no one suffered any gastro-related illness...

This visit clarified for me the importance of the cement floor (our work yesterday) - while the woman made every effort to keep the ground swept clean, the family was sharing their dirt floor in their living space with animals' urine and feces from the goats.

This family is due to receive a FE/CH house in about a year:)

It was a eye-opening and touching experience to share the morning with this family...and will write more about it in another venue ~