Wednesday, February 28, 2018

NIñas de Guatemala, Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala, February 28, 2018

It's my last day in Antigua, so farewell clear blue sky and lovely Volcan Agua-

Fuego is always putting on a show.  Volcan Acatenango is to the right- 

I've said it before but I can't get enough of Arco de Santa Catalina with Iglesia La Merced in the background-

I read that it was possible to visit a chicken bus factory and Sheny knew nothing about it so I booked a $60 tour with Niños de Guatemala. They are a Dutch Guatemalan non profit that, like almost every other NGO, want to make lives better, especially for the children.  They have two elementary schools and one high school that cater to 480 sponsored children.  I'm already a madrina at La Familia de Esperanza so my tour donation would be the only money they would get from me.  They also have Good Hotel, which is nothing like anything Guatemalan.  A beautiful double room costs $136/night-

A suite, complete with loft is $209/night-

Besides the tours, Good Hotel is a fundraiser for the project.  Vases and glasses, made from recycled bottles can also be purchased-

In order to visit the schools, we took a chicken bus to Ciudad Vieja which was the second capital of the country until 1540 when the wall of the water filled crater of Volcan Agua broke and flooded the city.  The church is bright and beautiful but reconstructed-

Iximche was the first capital but in 1524 the Indigenous rebelled.  They didn't want their city used in that way.  The third capital was Antigua Guatemala until numerous earthquakes in 1773 forced the final move to Guatemala City.

Ciudad Vieja is home to many tallers including this one making furniture-

The back design of the chesterfield-

When we crossed the street to visit the chicken bus fabrica, I started to laugh to myself.  I expected a factory, a real factory like the Corvette plant Nico and I visited in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Hello!  You're in Guatemala remember!  And besides, they don't make the buses here.  They come from the United States.  There are many families who have chicken bus companies.  They buy the old buses; these are from the 1990s, and bring them to Ciudad Vieja to first shorten the chassis - most are too long to make the tight corners on the streets, and then soup them up.  Seats are removed and sometimes recovered and then replaced but much closer together so they can really pack people in-

Working on shortening the bus-

The family or owner decides how they want it painted-

and they love chrome-

It takes 2 weeks to shorten the chassis and re-install the seats.  It's another 2 weeks to paint and add chrome-

The municipality decides which route the owner gets.  The owners hire drivers and give them a set amount that they have to earn daily.  Anything above that becomes their wage.  That's why they drive like maniacs and pack the people in.  At busy times, there is usually standing room only.  There are 2 men working in the bus - one driving and the other yelling the destination and collecting the money.  I took a chicken bus back and forth to La Familia de Esperanza every day.  I could catch it 1.5 blocks from my house and if I heard it coming I would start to run, well, okay, a slow run.  The yeller would always see me and stop the bus and holler where they were going.  Often it was to "Guate", where I wasn't going so they would carry on.

Our next stop was at one of the elementary schools of Los Niños de Guatemala called Nuestro Futuro-

It seems very well run, complete with a recycling program-

and instructions in the bathroom-

The teachers had good control of their students who were on task.  Class sizes are also manageable.  In public schools, there can be up to 70 students in one class-

They also appeared to have lots of supplies, including a computer lab-

Next door is the high school where there are 150 students.  Naturally, an indoor gymnasium is not required in this climate-

The view from the staff room is great.  Reminds me of the Comp!  Not!

One can't forget the poverty that's just next door-

The surprise part of the tour was a visit to a taller of cajas de mortos-

They sell anywhere from $100 for the cheapest and $900 for the most expensive-

unless you want an Americano and that costs a few thousand dollars-

The fancier ones are painted with car paint in an autobody shop-

Then polished-

Wood chips are placed inside to make a nice soft bed.  Some people want a big chunk of foam instead, as if the corpse can feel anything-

Then material is sown onto the walls and bottom-

Some have little doors that open.  They're decorated with verses from the Bible, praying hands or vases of flowers-

Ornate hinges and corners are added.  These are plastic and come from Mexico but you can also pay more for metal-

They sell 20-25/week.  Sometimes people come in and pick one out, other times they just buy them through the funeral home.  Pine coffins last 5 years in the ground.  There are 70 coffin tallers in Ciudad Vieja!

I walked slowly home, enjoying the architecture and crazy sites like this travelling fruit truck-

Tonight I took Marta and Patty to a restaurant that is just around the corner, but one of the best in Antigua.  It's called Porqueno?  Why not?  Unfortunately Lynn from Common Hope and Sheny, my teacher, couldn't come.  We had a good time anyway-

I had camarones con arroz en una salsa crema con tomate.  I don't know what the funny looking shell was about-

I'm not looking forward to my 5:30 am departure tomorrow to Quetzaltelango but I am looking forward to seeing Magdalena and Mexico.  Adios Antigua!  A mi me gusta!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Antigua, Guatemala, February 27, 2018

I'm not sure what happened today but I sort of hit the wall.  I couldn't wait for class to be over; in fact I told Sheny at 11:45 that I'd had enough.  That's never happened before.  Usually before I know it it's noon and class is done.

Sheny has been the most patient teacher on the planet working with me and my Spanish.  I don't know how many times she has had to correct me for making the same mistake over and over and over.  It is possible to take private lessons from her via Skype and I may do that, although I thought I'd do that last time too and never did.  Antiguena Spanish Academy is one of the cheapest; apparently because they have a lot of students all of the time and therefore can keep good teachers and survive.  Even though it's a long way from Marta's, if I come back, I'll still study there.

Walking home was weird too.  I had the feeling that I was done with Antigua and won't be back.  After lunch, I went to the biblioteca where believe it or not, I got to work with a student.  She was doing homework that she'd been assigned a month ago that is due tomorrow and was just starting it!  And what homework!  She had to copy a page from a book.  What the hell for I'd like to know but it's like what my friend Lynnn from the biblioteca says- public education tends to be quite poor, almost as if 'they' want to keep the people stupid so they can keep carrying the bananas!  As a farewell, the four employees at the library graciously spoke about my time there, as did some of the kids.  Out of about the dozen kids that came for the free cake and juice, I had only worked with 2.  Such a shame because I could have had so much fun with them.  Oh well.  I told Erin, the Development and Hospitality Manager that I was disappointed with how my 2 weeks went.  I didn't volunteer to organize books on shelves, cut and paste or sort papers.  I came to work with the kids and according to Erin's description of a posting in the library, it's an opportunity to have a lot of fun with reading and homework groups.  That didn't happen but if I made life a little easier for them doing the mindless work I did, then that's what really matters.

After 'work', I went to the Rainbow Cafe where they often have speakers on Tuesday afternoons.  Sue Patterson, founder of Wings and her assistant spoke about their project.  According to their website, "Wings provides quality reproductive health education and services to the underserved, primarily rural Guatemalan youth, women and men".  (  They have trained a lot of locals to answer questions in their home villages to help spread the word.  Because Guatemala is such a Catholic country, it is a huge sin to not have numerous children and to even consider contraception. 

Did you know.....

     -  Women report they would like to have only 2 children, but the national urban average is 3.1 and rurally it's 3.7.
     -  1 in 3 Indigenous women have no access to health and family planning services.
     -  Guatemala is made of 50% Indigenous people and 50% Latinos.
     -  The Civil War lasted 36 years and ended in 1985.
     -  The government is democratic but they have no party platforms or policies.  There are many candidates and the winner depends on who bribes whom the most and is the most popular.  They've already got 17 candidates planning to run in the next election.
     -  Congressmen are not elected but chosen.  They work for the party that pays them the most.
     -  The prisons are apartments.  Prisoners come and go as they please, enjoy alcohol and women.  Most of them have not had a trial.  The main crimes are kidnapping and extortion.
     -  CICIG was established by the UN about 3 years ago.  There's a Columbian judge in charge and there are more than 200 people in jail because of their investigations- all for corruption.
     -  Guatemala has the worst economic indicators in Latin America.  These include a low GDP, high unemployment and low income and wages.
     -  Guatemala has the highest income in Latin America even though 60% of the people live in poverty.  75% of the Indigenous live in poverty and it's increasing.
     -  Spending on education is 2% of the budget.  It's 12-15 % in the US.
     -  Most kids have access to primary school but most drop out.  Girls quit by Grade 3.
     -  1 in 100 finish high school.
     -  1 in 100 can find a job with their education.
     -  Only 30% of the people have formal jobs.
     -  Teachers need grade 12 to teach!! Recently that changed and now they need 1 year of training
     -  50% of children and 80% of Indigenous children are chronically malnourished.  They don't get enough animal protein and this leads to height and cognitive stunting. 
     -  The mortality rate has been greatly reduced due to vaccinations.
     -  Half the population is under 15.
     -  Guatemala is the size of Tennessee and has a population of 16.58 million.  
     -  Women are paid 70% of men's salaries.
     -  There are more NGOs here than in all of Latin America combined.

Sue was an American Diplomat, working for many years here before she spent a few in Florence, Italy.  She worked at the embassy: handling visas, immigration questions and helping Americans in trouble.  I enjoyed the presentation and learned a lot about this poor but awesome country.

Marta made her best supper yet - quesadillas with pico de gallo and guacamole.

Tomorrow I'm going on a tour with another NGO - Niños de Guatemala.  We're going to the chicken bus factory and I am so excited!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Finding the Perfect Homestay in Antigua, Guatemala, February 26, 2018

As my time is winding down in this great city, I am feeling sad.  I love it here but I'm not sure if I'll ever be back.  I've enjoyed living with Marta - my room is nice and so is she.  She's also a fantastic cook and has done an excellent job making healthy meals - lots of meat and vegetables.  She's friendly and likes to visit and help me with my Spanish.  If I came back, I would definitely stay with her again.  Even though it's a half hour walk to school, at 7:30 in the morning the walk is easy because there are few vehicles and fewer pedestrians.  The sun is always shining and the winds are calm.  Coming home is a different story.  Sidewalks and streets are busy and even though it should take more time, it seems faster.  I usually stop at the mercado and wander a bit.  It seems I always have something to check out.

Also, because I'm in a homestay, all meals are prepared, except on Sundays.  This is good and bad.  It's cheap but it hasn't made much sense to go out during the week to eat in a nice restaurant, something I really enjoy.  Even though prices are inflated in Antigua, I've missed that aspect of travelling.  

Because of where I live, I've done a much better job of understanding where everything is.  Last time I lived in the north and going to school was only a 10 minute walk west.  I didn't have to pass any churches or scenic sights.  I had to make an effort to see them separately.  This time, I live right beside Iglesia San Francisco and it is the call to worship at 6 am that wakes me.  I don't mind.  

Patty, my housemate, has been looking for a different homestay; one with a garden view and/or terrace.  She has found a few but they are more money for less.  Most don't provide any meals and cost the same as here.  To stay here a month is 3000 Q = $520 Can.  That includes all meals except Sundays.  I figure it would almost cost 3/4 of Marta's payment to eat and that's not eating in gringo/tourist restaurants but eating from local food stands and the market.  I guess the way I look at it is that if I want to be able to stay away from winter, I need to be able to live as cheaply as I can and Marta's fits the bill.  Maybe I will be back after all!

Tomorrow will be my last day of classes and slaving!! at the biblioteca.  

Sunday, February 25, 2018

La Procession at Santa Ines, Guatemala, February 25, 2018

It's another sunny and warm beautiful day off!  My first stop was down to the mercado to have breakfast.  Lots of locals were eating here so I thought it must be a good place-

The restaurant is just one big room with the kitchen in the corner-

I had desayunos tipicos which is huevos, frijoles, platanos and chorizo.  It was 25Q which is $4.32.  I was surprised that it was that expensive so they must have charged me gringo price-

Afterwards, I walked to Santa Ines to see the alfombras.  They are 'carpets' made out of dyed sawdust.  There are many bags of different colors and lots of different stencils-

Bowls of colored sawdust-

First they make the background-

and do the border-

Then they work on the middle.  They put a stencil down-

and carefully add the sawdust-

to make beautiful images-

Once the procession starts, they will walk right over top the carpets.  This group started at 4 this morning and will finish just in time at 1 pm-

Near to the church was the booth where a person could pick up their card telling them what time they will carry the andas platform-

Once again there were a lot of food booths near the church.  These are empanadas filled with dulce de leche which is condensed milk heated until it has a caramel flavor.  They are then sprinkled with icing sugar, as if they weren't already sweet enough-

The Saint Ines Church-

also has alfombras in front of it- 

Inside the church were the andas platforms.  The Virgen Mary is with a few dragons that represent the devil-

She is always followed by San Juan (John) and Mary Magdalena-

On the other float, Jesus is carrying his cross.  Everything is made of styrofoam so it's really light.  Men carry Jesus and women carry the Virgen-

The Angel of Death follows Jesus-

Archangel Michael is stomping on the devil-

After leaving the church, I followed the road the procession would take to find a few more carpets.  These were made of dyed wood chips-


and vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, radishes and lettuce-

To prevent the sawdust from blowing away in the wind, it's constantly sprayed with water-

There are little dolls of cucuruchos - alfombras carriers for sale-

Dark purple is worn because it's the color of Lent which is meant to be 40 days of reflection, penance, and a time for spiritual conversion-

There were still a couple of hours until the procession started so I walked home for a rest.  Finally the Stations of the Cross were open.  This is the third-

and the fourth- 

Later on, while walking to Parque Central, the procession was in full swing.  There are two bands that play slow, sad, funeral music.  Each one follows an andas.  They don't get to switch off like the alfombras carriers.  They play from 1 pm until 11 pm, walking down the rough, cobblestone streets-

Mary Magdalena and the Virgen Maria-

The alfombras turned the corner before I was able to fight my way through the crowds to get a decent picture-

I spent an hour or so in Parque Central people watching and trying to avoid being shat on by a pigeon.  Yesterday they got me twice!  I met Lynn and we went for supper with a few other English speaking women.  It was a good day!

Marta Julia is 70 years old and has been hosting students and volunteers at Common Hope for over 25 years.  She is an awesome cook and has a very clean house.  She likes to visit and when she gets rambling on telling a story, it's hard to keep up to her.  I feel very comfortable here with her - she's very kind, friendly and helpful.  She has 4 children who live in Antigua and Guatemala City.  She has other extended family with whom she spends Sunday afternoons-

I only have 2 more days of school and volunteering!  Time has gone by so quickly!

  Cancun, Mexico to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,     December 31, 2023 I was up at 4:30 and walking to the bus depot by 5:30.  I wore my headlam...