Monday, August 30, 2010


Well here I am in the middle of what feels like nowhere. Headed up in to the Chuchumatanes like I said and am almost out on the otherside. I started my trip in Huehuetenango and then headed close to 2 and a half hours to Todos Santos, a really cool very traditional town where even the men wear the traditional clothing... for the most part in Guatemala you only really see women wearing the indigenous clothing. While in Todos Santos I went on a really incredible hike up into the hills kind of following this path and then veering off it when there were big mudslides blocking it, I eventually made it up to the ridgeline where I was able to look out over both vallys it was so beautiful, the way the clouds move up the hillsides is just endlessly entertaining. The next day was market day which is always a great event to stumble upon and wander through. While it seemed like many of the other markets I have seen, aside from the clothing people were wearing,I stumbled upon this one back section where poeople were bartering in hushed tones over bulk purchases of potatoes and maiz... it was the kind of sceen you can imagine has gone on the same way for quite along time.

After 2 nights in Todos Santos I continued on into the mountains, on my journey of 3 different bus transfers, I met a man on one of the microbusses I flagged down who had lived and worked in california for 9 years... it was great to talk about places back home and I think he really enjoyed the opportunity to practice his English. After finally arriving in San Mateo Ixtatan... it was a beautiful bus ride though valleys, up mountains and along ridges... I found that the immigrant story is fairly common in the area. Especially in San Mateo Ixtatan, a town about an hour on a dirt road from the nearest junction, it seemed like some families had made it big while their neighbors were living in poverty. Turns out the huge cement houses some people occupied were built largely from the money kids and family members had sent back from the US. It´s really interesting the way people talk about the US in the area, not only are there american flags painted on everything from houses to tomb stones but people seem to view making it to america as their key to wealth and comfort... I dont blame them seeing what some people have been able to do for their families after only a few years working in the US, even with all I know about immigrant issues in the US I actually have started to think the same. I talked to one girl in a coffee shop and she told me that the price to cross the border is 12000 Quetzales or roughly 1,200 USD a hell of a lot of money for these people but an investment they believe they can pay off with only a few months work in the US. Given the chance I think most would risk the corssing.

In San Mateo I again was lucky enough to arrive for a MArket day getting a look at the big blocks of salt the women were selling, harvested from the salt flats down the valley. I also got to see some of the most beautiful huipiles (woven traditional tops) I have seen since being here. The older women in San Mateo wear these long almost knee length huipiles thattake a year to weave and radiate outward from the head in really intricate patterns. San Mateo also has some unexcavated ruins on the edge of the town that look out into the vally perched on a really incredible cliff. I sat under the moon and sun on one of the mounds and watched as the clouds slowly crept up towards the town... again with the clouds- they are just so magical!

I also heard about a loclal NGO and the next morning went and talked to the local director about the work they do finding out that one of the biggest difficultes they run in to is a distrust of foreighners... no wonder considering the indigenous populations history with outsiders. Alot of their interventions... mostly geared towards education, the NGO runs a school in the town... face a slow participation rate that they overcome with slow baby steps and with the help ofcommunity leaders they can engage as sort of cultural mediators. The NGO also had some interesting approaches to becoming self sustaining- the director talked about selling vegitables from a organic garden and running an internet cafe and restaraunt in the town in hopes of generating revenue.

In addition to the school there was also talk of a reforestation project- dependent on collaboration with another NGo- and a water purification project-that seemed to have stalled as the price they were charging for filters was beyond the means of most of the people living in the village. Like I said the main focus was education the school was focused on offering kids a more well rounded and complete education than the governemtn provides... they train their teachers and also have several that have come from different countries to offer their skills and teaching strategies. Another NGO that has found education to be their method of choice for breaking the cycle of social issues in this country.

Now today I find myself in a town Barillas where I think I am one of very few gringos who has passed through...poeople stare at me quite openly and the hotel guy even went down to my baraganed price because in his words ¨its only once a year.¨ The bank people also had a hell of a time changing my travelers check I think it is the first one they have ever had to deal with and they had no problem passing it around so everyone could get a good look at it. This town, for as few gringos may have been here, is actually quite big even having 2 totally useless stoplights on the central square. Its a good 2+ hours from paved road but definitely a center for the smaller surroudning towns in the area, driving here we passed through a few that were very poor making me wonder what those off the main road are like. Tomorrow I plan to take a back road to a town called Playa Grande, a path I hear is quite exciting. Will hopefully write more in a week or so.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Long time no write... am finishing up my month here in Xela... LOVED it. Made some great friends and had the opportunity to talk to some local NGOs, see some of the education workshops many have going, visit several clinic, see some of the surrounding villages (a totally wild animal market one Friday- the market not the animals being wild), watch a performance group as they taught kids in a nearby school a new more creative way of thinking, and a performance put on by a local group that that shook up quite a few of the accepted beliefs surrounding gender roles. Also have gone on some fantastic hikes... one where me and 2 roommates- after bushwacking through a corn field- came across a Mayan alter with what look like some Mayan ruins and stone carvings... only in Guatemala.

Needless to say the last few weeks have been a blast and have given me some insights in to the multitude of projects and organizations in Xela some working more effectively than others. One I got the chance to observe in action is a group APROFAM- the international branch of Planned Parenthood. They have a clinic here in xela where they offer very cheap family planning methods and clinic consults. The clinic also has a space for adolescents where they can go spend time get free exams and again, nearly free, family planning meds. The clinic also has a branch of educators that go from school to school offering sex ed talks, something that the schools are not required to give and some schools are quite hesitant to allow... religion has a strong hold in this country. I sat in on several of these talks and got the chance to see how subjects are broached and what focuses are deemed culturally appropriate... focuses on sexual violence, cleanliness and bodily changes where primary and only with a few of the sessions was the educator allowed to talk about condoms... and even then it was in terms of STD prevention... for family planning only the natural counting method was really discussed although the educator made a point every time she could to tell kids female fertility in Guate was (something like) from 12 to 46 years making them calculate how many babies they could end up having if they weren't careful... emphasis on being responsible and frequent mention of the clinic in Xela.

One surprising topic was sexuality and gender which the educator brought up only with a smaller group of older students, her approach to presentation was very much focused on group participation in those instances making the topic a difficult one to bring up in the larger class settings- I was impressed as these are very controversial and hidden concepts in Guate.

From the educator I learned about the high rates of sexual and physical abuse in many of the rural areas and how difficult it is to bring in discussion of family planning when the topics discussed are dictated by the school principles. The clinic and the services it provides are well needed here- I really like the joint emphasis on education and prevention as well as clinical treatment.

I also had the chance to visit an organization that has a health clinic just outside of the city proper. The organization makes roaming clinic trips and also has a health education program affiliated. Like most NGOs here the funding like the volunteers is foreign. Came away with an interesting opinion on this clinic...

Spoke to some other NGOs finding out about the work they do and their reasons for selecting specific target focuses and interventions... Have a very diverse set of opinions and approaches and each with its own pile of difficulties... nothing is fast and easy.

Very brief summary of a fantastic month here, am sad to be leaving but at the same time am eager to see more of Guatemala. Plan to go to the famous Lago Atitaln- according to my guide book a energy gyer... hmm we'll see- for a few days and then head way the way out there to the very indigenous highland mountains to see what I come across... may have some peace corp contacts thanks to a roommate but really just want to see what types of projects there are way out and how they work.

Again I'm going with stream of consciousness, sorry if I make little or no sense! Can't believe I'm almost through August, where did the time go!?