Thursday, March 29, 2012

San Rafael

A few weeks ago, we spent a day in the indigenous village of San Rafael. Common Hope has been working with this village for the past 4-5 years. It's in the hills, an hour's ride from Antigua, and is totally agrarian. It was a sobering experience to see rural poverty, as most of the villages we've seen before are close to Antigua and, thus, much more urban.

Being an indigenous Mayan village, the women and girls still wear the traditional clothing, and the people speak a Mayan dialect at home. Being rural, it is much more isolated - a doctor comes 1 1/2 days a week, dentists arrive sporadically, the only work available besides farming is a job in the local co-op. it's very dusty and stray dogs are everywhere. The majority of the home are cornstalk walls, dirt floors and tin roofs - and the majority of the children don't continue school past third grade. Being the dry season, it was between crops, a time when hunger is a reality if the last harvest wasn't good.

Ever so slowly - poco a poco - Common Hope has been making improvements. Affiliated families are working sweat equity hours towards cement block houses with cement floors. Families are seeing an advantage to partnering with Common Hope to keep their sponsored child in school. The nimber of children continuing in school for fourth, fifth and sixth grades has almost tripled. Half of the children graduating from primario continued on to basico (middle school). One sponsored child has continued on to diversificado (high school)which necessitates going to a school outside of San Rafael. This is a major triumph, but 30 children finishing sixth grade is also a triumph.  Photos won't do this justice, but here are some, anyway.

Medical costs - US$1 = 8Q

The dentists are coming!

Main Street

The primary school

Typical cornstalk house

Common Hope house

Mother in affiliated family - weaving

Spay/neuter clinic was being held for local dogs

First grade boys bellying up to their snacks

Sweet first grade girls - and me!

3rd grade - ages ranged from 8 to 13

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Coffee- two experiences

Last week we took an afternoon to visit a small family- run cofee farm (finca) south of Antigua and located at the base of Volcan Agua the largest and most prominent of the three volcanoes that ring Antigua .It was a bit of an adventure getting there. We hadn't been that far from Antigua on our own  via "chicken bus' ( see earlier posts on chicken busses).  But we arrived without a hitch at the small village and found our way to the farm.
We had made arrangements to meet an English speaking daughter of the family for our tour.We arrived on time but she didnt (well, that is according to our definition of "on time")  Not to worry, there were two very nice mujeres weaving on hand looms and brewing coffee on an open fire which they shared with us.
Still no Englsih speaker. We were beginning to exhaust the topics that our spanish would  allow(weather, where we lived, the weather there, admiration for their weaving, their dogs, the names of their dogs, the language pun"Linda es linda" cracked them up.). We were fine: beautiful setting, volcano view, coffee. but the mujeres were quite relieved to see the English speaker finally arrive.
The finca is entirely organic with natural fertilizer and pest control. The mayans used these same techniques. The coffee husks are composted and used for fertilizer, the liquid from the compost is  sprayed on the leaves for pest control. Had more coffee on the patio after the tour, played with the dogs, former" perros de calle", that the owners had brought from the street. One was named Crusty by the English speaking daughter for its condition pre- rescue.

A second coffe finca experience happened the next weekend. No photos - sorry. I'm constantly looking for a place to run away from cobblestones and bus fumes. So one of the places Ive found is a coffee finca very close to our house  Its been locked the past couple weeks, because coffe picking is finished. But decided it give it a try and run by the tiny village near it. The formerly locked gate was open!
I had a great run among the coffee plants and trees that serve as canopy for the coffee. There were groups of Guatemalans working to trim trees  and harvest wood. They all smiled broadly and gave friendly "buenos dias" and "como estas". I stopped  to carefully go around a wood pile they had made and an older man asked me  the English words  "wood pile" and " farm'.
That night a conversation with a neighbor who has lived here a long time put a bit of a damper on the experience. Told me a Guatemalan woman who ran in the finca was warned by guards that they would shoot her if they saw her there again.
 Back to cobblestones.

Calla Lillies and Coffee

Coffee beans - red and ready to be picked

Vulcan Agua above the finca

Composting husks with help of special worms

Crusty - the rescued dog

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Our Little Girl

Last week we visited our sponsored child Jennedy.  We took Jack's brother, Carter and wife Joy along with us so that they could share in the experience.

This is the third year that we have visited Jennedy and her family.  She is now eight years old and just (in November) passed first grade.  This is a huge accomplishment for poor children in Guatemala, who often have never seen a book or a toy before they started first grade.  They can be forced to repeat first grade two or three times and often quit school entirely out of frustration.  Knowing this, we were relieved to hear that she has started second grade and is doing well.

She has grown taller since last year.  She remembered us this time and was not as shy as past visits.  We brought her a copy of The Giving Tree and were happy to see her able to read a lot of it, which she couldn't do last year.  Since she had told us in a letter that her favorite animal was the elephant, we also brought a stuffed elephant!

Jennedy's mother, Feliciana, was very happy that they had just made their last payment on their cement block home (three rooms, outdoor wood-fired kitchen, no obvious bathroom) and now owned both the land and the home, which is a milestone for impoverished families - to know that they have a home that will not be taken from them.  She also was embarrasingly grateful for the tiny amount of extra help that we provided last summer (in the form of a few food bags of beans, rice, etc) to help when the father lost his job. 

Every year we get more and more bonded to this sweet little girl. This year, I couldn't stop thinking about her after we left. Our dream, of course, is that she graduate from high school - something so few in her economic class are able to do. But every milestone - like first grade graduation - is a step forward to a better life than her parents have had. And a comfirmation that Common Hope is working -   poco a poco.

The gang (except Joy) - family, social worker, translater, Carter and us

Raising her a Red Sox fan!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Every Sunday in Lent in Antigua there is a procession from a church in an outlying village.  The procession, consisting of a large float or anda carried by 50-100 purple-robed men, leaves the village around noon and processes into and around Antigua, arriving at the Cathedral after dark.  It continues back to the village, arriving around midnight.  Carriers are changed periodically.  It's considered very somber, since it's leading up to Christ's death, and the anda is always followed by a large, loud brass band playing Guatemalan funeral music.  Faithful businesses and families along the way create flower carpets or alfombras out of colored sawdust, flowers and vegetables.  The alfombras are trampled by the procession as it passes over them.  To really get the flavor of a procession, I'm posting two videos, one focusing on the anda and carriers, the other on the brass band that follows.  Also some photos of the ill-fated alfombras!

bye, bye alfombras!

Ladies float of the Virgin Mary follows

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

More food....

Wanted to post some more photos from our cooking class last week.  Food can be so photogenic - even with amateur photographers.
Roasting on a comal - we have one now

Guisquil - a new veggie for us - called Chayote in Mexico

HOT peppers!

Anne mixing the chili relleno filling

Wonderful batter!

Coating chili rellenos for frying

Finished chili rellenos

Chilaquilas (NOT chilaquiles as in Mexico) - guisquil y queso fresco

Mole ingredients

Mole con platinos

Embarrisingly misshapen tortillas!

The finished products

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lake Atitlan, Chichi Market and Guate Cooking

We've had a great time with our friends Anne and Jim for the past week. We've been busy working with our mentees, and Jim and Anne had projects connected with Common Hope this  past week that were very successful.
Atitlan Volcano View from our Hotel
Very fresh chicken at Chichi market
As Linda mentioned we travelled to Lake Atitlan with them last weekend and visited Chichicastanango on the way back to Antigua on Sunday.  We covered both those destinations last year on our blog so wont detail them here but are such favorites we decided to go back with Jim and Anne.
To market to market
We had a very comfortable ride for all this with the manager of the house that we are renting in his minivan. There were alternate methods of transportation that we observed on the road seemed less comfortable but got the job done.

The four of us took a Guatemalan cooking class on Friday, cooked a four course dinner and enjoyed the results in a lovely court yard at the restaurant.
Chile rellenos Guate style was my personal favorite.

Teacher and Student

Guate feast

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

We're Back!!!!

After ten months at home, we're back in Antigua, Guatemala and we thought we'd resume our blog where we left off last year.  We are still volunteering with Common Hope.  This year we each have six Guatemalan leaders of Common Hope that we are mentoring in business and English skills, plus assorted other projects. 

It has been wonderful to be back - and not just because (but a little bit because) of the weather!  We left many happy memories and good friends here last year.  In my experience, Guatemalans are very loving and demonstrative - and I don't think we've been hugged so many times in one day as on our first day back!

We have rented a house in the same neighborhood as last year - it's very comfortable, with good wi-fi and volcano views (our two musts).  Of course, the first weekend we made for the market to stock up on fresh veggies - particularly the wonderful avocados. 
Flowers at the market - bought a dozen calla lilies for 50 cents

Perfect avocados

Sox caps at the market - $1.30US

Our favorite bumper sticker!

Our casa - white house on the right - volcano in the background

banana delivery to the market

flower carpet for the procession

weekend breakfast - fresh tortillas, chorizo and eggs

We were aware, from last year, of all the traditional processions you see during Lent, but figured we were a bit early for it to start yet.  Little did we know that there are processions on February 2nd, marking the day that Mary went to the temple to be blessed, 40 days after the birth of Jesus.  This traditionally marks the end of the Christmas season.  The day here is called Candelaria, but, interestingly, around the world it's also Candlemas, Imbolc, and Groundhogs Day!  (and my sister-in-law's birthday).

The Candelaria procession

The band follows

This all happened at night, so the photos aren't great, but it went through our neighborhood and we met the neighbors who were making alfombra (flower carpets) for the procession to pass over.  During and after the procession, there were very loud - and very close - firecrackers.  Firecrackers seem to be a way of life in Guatemala and nary a day goes by when you don't hear a few.  Comically, we had a car in the neighborhood whose alarm was set off by the firecrackers.  So that night, laying in bed, we would hear a firecracker, hold our breaths for a second, and then hear the car alarm go off! 

Tomorrow our friends Anne and Jim arrive to work and play with us for a week.  We're all heading to Lake Atitlan for the weekend.  Stay tuned.