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