Friday, April 8, 2011

Hasta luego, Guatemala

We're on our way home after our amazing two month adventure. Before signing off and getting back to our old life, I need to acknowledge an amazing discovery we have made - the Guatemalan people.

Life has not been easy for Guatemalans. Surviving a 36 year civil war, they are now mired in a cycle of corruption, crime and extreme poverty.

And yet, they are some of the kindest, gentlest, most considerate people we have ever lived among.  They are always quick with a smile, speaking slow and patient Spanish for our halting attempts at communication.

One of my cherished experiences - I was walking alone through Antigua and passed an old man who was obviously down on his luck - unkempt, unshaven.  I decided to be Guatemala-friendly and chirped "buenos dias" even though it was the middle of the afternoon (requiring a buenos tardes).  He smiled and said "buenos tardes" back to me and I stopped and acknowledged my mistake, saying "buenos tardes."  With this he launched into a long speech (in Spanish) on when you use "buenos dias", when "buenos tardes" and when "buenos noches."  I stood dutifully listening, even though I was well aware of my mistake.  When I finally said I understood and turned to go, he put his hand on my arm and gently said "poco a poco."  (Little by little!)   What a kind gesture from a perfect stranger.

So here are some wonderful faces from Guatemala.   Viva Chapines!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


On Monday we had the last of our eight Leadership Training workshops.  And it was time for review, discussion and then graduation!  Each of the twenty leaders taking the course was presented with a certificate, a pen from Boston and two hugs.  And then they gave us a certificate of our own (In whose office at home will it reside?  A travelling trophy?), and some lovely gifts.  And then there was cake!

It's been a great experience and we just hope that we were able to give a fraction of what we received!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


View from the Cathedral

Volcanoes in the mist
  They're everywhere you look in Antigua. Three of them - Volcan Agua, Volcan Fuego and Volcan Acatenango - loom over the town.  There's little that's more photogenic - they change with the arrival and departure of sun and clouds, day and night, and they just look powerful.  And Fuego ("fire") is prone to "burping" a plume of steam every once in a while.  Add to that Lake Atitlan, which is surrounded by it's own three volcanos. What you end up with is many, many photos of volcanos - which I am sharing now.
The streets of Antigua

Snow cone!


From Common Hope

A burp from Volcan Fuego

Sunset at Lake Atitlan

Monday, March 28, 2011

New Hope Village

New Hope Village (Nueva Esperanza) was built by Common Hope in 2005 in response to the terrible devstation experienced by Hurricane Mitch. Hundreds of thousands of people formerly living in gullies around Guatemala City were displaced with few options. Common Hope built a village in the hills outside Guatemala City and a built a school that is staffed and run by Common Hope. This school consistently surpasses national standards and is part of overall initiative by Common Hope to improve the quality of education available to affiliated families. For expample first grade promotion rate in Guatemala averages just over 70 percent whereas the New Hope school is in the high 90's.

The director of the project asked me to work with his team on some organizational improvements via some selected leadership workshops with his team of school leaders, education support leaders and administrators
A village on the way to New Hope

I met with him once a week in Antigua to plan the project and then traveled to New Hope on three consecutive Wednesdays to work with him and  his team. The trip involved two and a half hours through Guatemala City and then through increasingly poorer villages and rougher roads to this new village of block houses laid in neat squares with a school and playground at its base. It is indeed like reaching an oasis, not only physically but in the  hope shown on the children's faces. The Director gave me a tour the first day and we were repeatedly 'interrupted" by kids hugging and greeting us.
These were families among the poorest of the poor, in a situation made even worse by the hurricane and their children now have a chance to break the cycle of poverty

On the Road

On the Way to New Hope

The Leadership Team on 'Graduation ' Day

Houses at New Hope

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sweet Dulce

The road to Dulce's house
The front gate.
Over a year ago, our church, First Parish in Brookline UUA, decided to sponsor a little girl through Common Hope.  We chose an 8-year-old named Dulce.  Last April, our church vision team was able to meet her.  Our friends Anne and Jim, who are visiting us for a week, were on the vision team.  Rather than just being tourists, Anne and Jim worked most of the week at Common Hope, using both their brains - working with staff - and their brawn - working on construction.  One of the things we were able to do together was to visit Dulce and her family.

It was a short van ride to the drop-off point, and then a 20 minute walk up a steep path to their house.  Jack and Jim alternated carrying the very heavy food bag that we were bringing them and that they so appreciated. We were amazed that Dulce and the family navigated this every day.

Our visit with Dulce was lovely.  She is still the sweet, quiet yet poised little girl that we met last year, with big beautiful eyes and a shy smile.  She is now almost 10, in 3rd grade and doing well.  Her favorite subject is math and she still wants to be a doctor.

Looking a the tiny one-room house where five of them live, we saw the quilt on Dulce's bed that the people of our church had made for her, with "the shirts off our back."  Her mother also brought out the doll that we had given her.

We read The Cat and the Hat with her and she reads well.  Her older brother was also a sponsored Common Hope child and had just graduated from high school and is doing a computer course in college.   What a success story for this family.  What a huge difference Common Hope can make!  And Dulce has a whole church rooting for her.

Dulce's house

With Dulce and dog Pepita -
 Jim is holding the card she made for us

Only one room - Dulce's bed in the corner - note the quilt

With Dulce and her mom, Rosa

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Processions and Carpets

We knew that the festivities of Semana Santa (Holy Week) were world-famous in Antigua and were sad that we would miss them. What we didn't know was that every Sunday in Lent there's something happening. Each Sunday, one village near Antigua has a procession that begins around 1pm and lasts until the wee hours. The procession is 40-60 men carrying a very large religious "float". They carry it, alternating carriers, from their village into and around Antigua and back to the village - for hours and hours. Many local villagers make flower carpets ("alfombras") along the streets that the procession comes down. They get up early in the morning and work until the procession. Then the procession WALKS over the carpets. How very Zen of them!
Last Sunday we went to Santa Inez, the village of the week, in the morning and watched them making the alfombras. One group even let us help a bit! Then we watched as the procession left the church and trampled the alfombras. Later that evening, after our Boston friends Anne and Jim arrived, we all ran around Antigua finding and following the procession as it made its' way around town. It's even more impressive after dark, as the floats (called "andes") are all lit up.

Locals say that these Sundays are nothing compared to the BIG one on Good Friday and the festivities leading up to that. We'll have to come back some day for that.
Working on a carpet

stenciling with wood chips

Finishing one up

Working on "our carpet"

The big carpet in front of the church

"Our" finished carpet

The procession begins

The ande ("float") - impossible to get a feel for the size

The carriers

The procession heads out
Always interested in conductors

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Firecrackers, a rooster and church bells.

Hola blogees,
Sorry but this will be a posting with no pictures. As you read further, you will understand why. I'm describing events that we have never seen,and only heard. Boy have we heard them. Mostly we've heard them when we were sound asleep in the early morning hours, so getting up and taking a picture was far from our minds.Taking more violent action however has crossed my mind.

Now ( finally you may say) to the sources of the noise.
Church bells are probably the most understandable. In our first apartment we often heard bells very early in the morning as early as 5 am. The interesting thing is that, for the life of us, we couldn't locate a church nearby.
In our current apartment we have a rooster that likes to crow especially at 4 am. He is not a singular "cock- a -doodle" kind of guy. He repeats the crows endlessly  only to be stifled by closing the windows and an occcasional utilization of ear plugs.
The most curious noise however was firecrackers. We had heard them at other times in Guatemala, but of course it makes more of impression when one hears them in the early morning hours. Finailly Linda's Spanish teacher told her that friends may give the loving gift of firecrackers to wake you on your birthday. Candles on a cake would seem to be a far better form of combustion.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Using Your Head!

One of our abiding memories of Guatemala will always be the way women carry everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - on their heads.  It requires perfect posture, a lot of confidence and practice, practice, practice (although we've never witnessed a drop).  Jack has gotten good at "stalking" these ladies from behind to take photos - and here are some of the best.

First prize - eggs

Second prize - tomatoes

Our first prize goes to the woman carrying probably eight dozen eggs.  The photo shows here steadying it with one hand, but a minute earlier, she was hands-free.  Second prize is to the woman with the basket of tomatoes.  Honorable mention - not captured on film - is to the woman carrying a very large, unbalanced bundle of firewood!

A moment that I love is to see a woman - after alighting from the chicken bus - being helped by the bus driver, who carefully places the load on her head before she walks away.

Prize for the widest load

Boxes of stuff
Stopping to chat at the pool hall

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


A busy market

On Sunday we took a bus over the river and through the woods to Chichicastenango - called "Chichi" for short.  In Guatemala, the "-tenango" means "the place of" and is added to the end of many town names.  In this case, the Chichicas means "nettles" - thus "the place of the nettles."

Chichi has the reputation for having the biggest market - in Guatemala, Central America or the world, depending on who you listen to.  It certainly is big.  There are a lot of tourists and touristy things at the market - but also a lot of locals and locally things.  We especially liked wandering into the chicken/duck/turkey market (live, of course).  And the dried corn market.  And the chalk market - sold by the pound and used to pulverize the corn.

Flowers for sale for Mayan rituals

Traditional Guatemalan dress
The other interesting thing about Chichi is the harmonious mix between the ancient Mayan religion and the Catholicism brought by the Spaniards.  It's in an indigenous area where the Mayan influence and religion is strong.  The local Catholic hierarchy was able to accommodate them.  On Sunday morning we could see Mayan priests performing their rituals outside the church after Mass.  They even built raised areas inside the church where the faithful can burn candles and incense for the Mayan gods.  And the incense is thick.  Unfortunately, we were uanble to get any pictures, but our memories are vivid. Very refreshing to see two religions co-existing.

On the steps of the Cathedral

Selling chalk

Dried corn market

Anyone want a basket of turkeys?

A woman selling chickens - what a wonderful face.