Wednesday, February 25, 2009
This is the chapel at the Art Center for Peace in Suchitoto. It's spooky and romantic and beautiful. When funds appear it will be fixed up. Sister Peggy who runs the Center has lots of good plans for the future funds. They already have a hostel and offer art and music classes to the locals and show movies once a week, but once the building (which was a convent and has a rich history, including scary stories from during the war when the nuns were threatened and forced to leave) is paid for, it will become an amazing community space.
This is the lake right next to Suchitoto (which is think is called Lake Suchitoto). You can see it from a few places in town. Sadly, it's too polluted to eat from or swim in, though I'm sure people still do.
We took a boat taxi across the lake to the town of El Sitio Cenicero because we met a woman named Cami who is volunteer teaching at the school for a few months. She invited us to come visit.
While Rolene talked to the 6th graders, I hung out in the yard with the kindergarten class...
...and took cute and lots of silly pictures with the kids. They love getting into silly poses and then seeing the pictures I take of them. I wish I had pictures of them looking at the pictures I take of them because they crowd around the camera and crack up. I won't add the silly pictures because many of you don't care. If you are in the group of people who really want to see endless pictures of cute children, we'll get together when I get home and have CuteFest 2009.
Walking from the school in El Sitio to catch the boat taxi back to Suchitoto.
We went out to Rio Quetzalapa today and then walked the 6ish miles back home. It was a short walk, but so freakin' hot, and mostly uphill. Sweat was dripping down my arms and off my fingertips. We didn't mind the short walk today, especially because we were headed back to town for ice cold smoothies. Ahhhh, heaven.
The river was cold, as I am attractively demonstrating here. And, there were thousands of tiny fish that nibbled our feet and legs. It was really nice to walk with wet clothes, except that we were dry in about 20 minutes and then it was hot again.
Remember the pictures of the highway and the awesome ditches from Guatemala? Well, we haven't walked on a road like that for quite a while. We've been able to find small roads, some of which aren't even paved, with little traffic and beautiful scenery. I can't even start to explain how much more pleasant it is.
The view while we were walking today.
We're leaving Suchitoto in the morning, which makes me sad because it has felt like a mini-vacation these past few days. The walking has been beautiful, the town is safe and lovely, and I've thoroughly enjoyed connecting with old and new friends.
Unrelated point: I have many mosquito bites, mostly on my feet and legs. Why do mosquitoes exist? Are they a necessary part of the great web of life? I just don't see what function the serve and I vote to eradicate them...who's with me?
Monday, February 23, 2009
This message is stenciled on the wall of many houses here in Suchitoto. It says ¨In this house, we want a life free of violence towards women¨ This was a project started by Sister Peggy, a Catholic nun who has been doing work in El Salvador for like 30 years. She´s not just a nun...she´s a kick-ass nun! (Is it okay to refer to a nun as kick-ass? Oh well, she´s so kick-ass, she wouldn´t mind.) She runs the Art Center for Peace in town and is one of those all around great people who ¨get it¨.
Check it out, they put up signs so people would know Rolene and I are coming! Sweet.
These next four photos are from the land of a great family we met while walking between Santa Ana and Suchitoto. We were walking along and someone called out in English, ¨Hey, they look like Americans!¨ I don´t know what gave us away...
We went over to say hi and learned that Alex and his brother and parents were working on developing the land that has been in the family for a few generations. They all lived in San Jose, CA for about 30 years but in the past few years have all come to work on the land, planting cacao, coffee, and other trees. They dug out a pool and have started farming talapia and have lots of great ideas for making the land productive and sustainable. We got the grand tour and cold drinks. It was wonderful.
Alex and his parents.
I had no idea that this is how cashews grow. When it matures, a fruit grows above the cashew, kind of in the shape of a pear, with a seriously funky flavor. The fruit is called maraona (or something like that) and is just as important, if not more, than the nut here.
On the road near Santa Ana.
I love it when something useful is done with all the tires that usually end up in garbage piles by the side of the road.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
This is what Rolene and I look like when we cross in to El Salvador. I wonder what we'll look like when we cross into Honduras?
The beautiful Lake Guija. We camped on the public beach for our first couple nights in El Salvador.
We walked along the lake as far as we could before having to cut up towards the road. These women were doing laundry. I have to say that I love washing machines, but if I had to do my laundry by hand, I'd like to do it in the lake or river while chatting and gossiping with my friends.
The trail we walked up from the lake to the road. I love how they plant trees in straight rows to use as their fence posts.
That's Reina up in the tree picking jocotes (I have no idea if I'm spelling or even saying the name of this fruit correctly) for us. We met her earlier when we visited her school and she walked with us as far as her house, which was about a mile.
Not a half-bad place to camp, I'd say. Lots of bugs, but few of them were mosquitos.
The rest of the photos are from the two classes we visited. Azacualpa is a tiny town on the lake with only a primary school with once class in the morning (1st-3rd grade) and one in the afternoon (4th and 5th grades). The first picture is of the three younger grades. When Rolene does her talk for little kids she brings those great masks along and does an activity called "Council of all Beings," which is borrowed from the work of Joanna Macy. The kids wear the masks and then Rolene talks to them as Mr. Crocodile, Ms. Dolphin, Mr Bird, etc. She gets them talking about their habitat and how they live and then goes into asking them about how they feel about the polution, deforestation, and destruction of their homes. Finally she asks them what they would like the humans to do to make things better. It's a really good way to get the kids talking and thinking about the environment. As soon as they become an orca whale, some of the shyness goes away and they get excited about answering questions. They were so unbelievably cute, I couldn't help but add a bunch of pictures of them.
The kids are looking at the tiny seed of the Sequoia, which they have just learned is the biggest living thing on earth.
I know Guatemala as few know it…actually, possibly only Rolene knows it the way I do. Not that the way I know it is better or worse than any other way to know this country, but I can’t imagine that many foreigners know the highway as intimately as I do, nor have they been to as many schools or evangelical churches. I got to see great beauty and serious ugliness. I was welcomed into several families for a few days at a time and left each one with a heavy heart, sure I couldn’t possibly meet another family as kind, warm and generous. I was proven wrong again and again.
I started off thinking I would walk across every kilometer of Central America and the perfectionist in me didn’t like how often we skipped sections in order to get somewhere on time or avoid dangerous or very unpleasant walking. But, I suppose we are only human, after all. We have this support vehicle that helps us get where we need to go, houses us, and makes us freakishly conspicuous with the locals. It seems a bit ironic to have a car for a project called Walk With Earth (especially since we’re asking people to eliminate the use of gasoline within 10 years), but again, if this trip is to succeed, perfectionism needs to be left at the door.
I don’t know how I might sum up Guatemala. I usually know a place by the friends I make and the snapshot memories that stand out in my mind, which makes it hard to answer questions like, “How was Guatemala? Did you like it?”
It was nice and, yes, I liked it.
I was struck by how different it felt to be in the western highlands the first two weeks as opposed to the eastern section of the country for the last couple weeks. The climate was different (high-elevation mountains in the west and low-land, semi-Mediterranean in the east), but I don’t think that the climate accounted for much of the difference. Most of the indigenous population lives in the west so their cultural influence was obvious, but even this isn’t necessarily the difference. The simplest way I can say it is that the air in the west felt sadder and angrier than in the east.
My sense is that the 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996 with the signing of peace accords, weighs heavily on the psyche of the people in Guatemala, and most heavily in the west, which suffers much more poverty and indigenous discrimination. During the war, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, hundreds of villages were exterminated and more than 100,000 fled north to Mexico and the US. To add insult to injury, they had a series of natural disasters that left tens of thousands dead and homeless. So, they have reason to be traumatized and it is unsurprising that people were more closed off, more suspicious, more inclined towards a sideways glance than I remember from my other travels. Not that the people in the east were not affected by the war, but it seems that their more middle-class status either spared them some of the horrors, or has allowed them the resources to rebuild life more quickly. Of course, these are generalizations and should be treated as such. The individuals we met and stayed with were as open-hearted as any people I have ever met and the joy I felt in their homes was more acute than the dull depression of the general population.
That said, it was a relief to get to Zacapa and Chiquimula in the east because the sadness that settled into my bones in the west was lifted a bit and I can’t deny that it was nice to have the comforts of a more prosperous area. It was also nice to put my long johns away because we were finally out of the chilly mountains and into the hot, hot, hot climate I expected of Central America.
Our time in Chiquimula was pretty jam-packed. Christian Sosa had set up numerous appointments for us to be on TV, radio, and talking at about 20 schools and churches in a week. I didn’t go to all those appointments because, as I said in my last post, I was fried and opted out of some gigs. While I really love the Sosa family who generously put us up for 4 nights, it’s also nice to have a break from the expectant and obligatory socializing and the many meetings with conservative and evangelical folks.
Christian with his sister, Landy, and his brother, Lester.
Their parents, Edwin and Amanda.
With his grandma, Amanda. I tried to add a photo with us with the whole family, but it didn't load.
I’m not sure if anyone from Guatemala is reading this, but if you are please accept my deepest gratitude for your warmth in welcoming me into your lives and your patience with my insufficient Spanish (which I’m glad to say is actually measurably improving) and foreigner’s misunderstandings of social etiquette. I will remember this fascinating country in all it’s natural glory and all it’s faulty humanity and can only hope that the rest of this trip is as rich as my time in Guatemala.
Friday, February 13, 2009
One of them held my hand for a while. I almost put her in my pocket to take her home with me.
We were joined by Lynn, Vivian and Marilyn on Thursday and Friday. It was really fun to have the company and their local expertise.
The family we stayed with in Zacapa. Walter and Noemi and their son, Oscar. On our last night with them, Rolene played harp, they lent me a guitar, Walter played keyboard, Oscar played his drum set and Noemi sang. We were quite the little family band.
On the road to Chiquimula. Oscar (age 9) didn't have school on Friday so he walked with us. What a trooper! He must have sweated half his body weight, but didn't complain once. It was HOT today. I drank like 3 liters of water while walking and still felt dehydrated.
We had a little time to kill on the way to Chiquimula so we stopped at this school, which ended up being a military school. We didn't expect to be let in, but they were very welcoming. We interrupted the boxing matches they were having for physical education. That's the students agreeing to plant trees.
We met Keenan and Jeff on the road today. They are biking from Canada to Argentina with Ride for Hope. They are raising funds to help the people in the Dominican Republic who were affected by the recent hurricane.
We were led into town by a group of girls from a school in Chiquimula. They had signs and posters and sang songs, honked their horns and cheered as we walked the 1/2 mile to the center of town. It was sort of awesome and sort of embarrassing. There were supposed to be three groups of kids but the others came too early and waited almost 2 hours for us and gave up. We were also supposed to be welcomed by the mayor, but he was called away on some last minute business.
Instead of the mayor, we were welcomed by a man from the evangelical Quaker church, Edgar Madrid. We got a trophy with our names on it. We are going to put it in our trophy case as soon as we get a trophy case. The whole day was hilarious and sweet and overwhelming and confusing.
I put myself on timeout today. I reached a point this morning where I was tired of meeting new people, tired of learning new words, tired of eating strange food, tired of feeling confused, tired of not feeling like I can be myself. We are staying with incredibly kind families who range from somewhat to very conservative and who are all evangelical. This reality is so far out of my experience, I just needed a break from it all. So, I skipped out on the two TV interviews, layed on my bed and watched a movie about black guys and white guys playing basketball together for the first time in Texas in the '60's. I listened to music and wrote in my journal and watched Rolene on TV. It was a good day.
It is very strange and pretty difficult to be on a journey that is both physical and spiritual. The difficult part is constantly adjusting to new people, places and things. The strange part is that while I am in a part of the world where everyone I meet is devoutly religious, I'm not sure how to relate my spiritual reality to/with them. We have very different assumptions about the world and I'm not sure how much to share about what I believe. I don't like feeling like people think I need saving because there is nothing about my spiritual path that has anything to do with "saving" myself or others. On that note, I don't feel a need to save them from their beliefs either, so I'm left in a funny place of realizing that it's assumed that I believe the same thing they do when I don't share my differing views. Partly, it's a language barrier--I don't even know how to have that kind of conversation in Spanish. Though, even with English speakers I am reluctant to have that conversation because...well, because it's tiring.
Hence, my time out today. I'm tired. After my break from the world, I'm feeling much better. I'm hoping/assuming I'll feel better tomorrow and will be willing to venture out into the world again.
I'm trying to both challenge myself and be gentle with myself...a hard balance to hold onto.
Send me happy and loving thoughts and I'll send some back to you all. Right now I'm going to go eat a pupusa. Yay!
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The Quaker church we visited last night.
A monument by the side of the road to those lost in the big earthquake in 1976.
In general, Lain America has really compact cities. When we were leaving Guatemala City, we were only 10 miles from the center of town (population 3 million) and already in rolling hills with very few houses. But, Guatemala has discovered the wonders of gated suburbia...coming soon!
We walked 10 miles to find this world famous international night club...darn.
As you can see, our route has been pretty beautiful over the past few days. We are off the main highway, headed east towards Chiquimula. It's wonderful to have a break from the heavy traffic. Also, we're out of the big mountains and in warmer climates. It's sort of desert-y and sort of tropical, but whatever it is, it's hot. I love it! I was so tired of being cold, and it felt even colder than it probably was because we didn't expect to be that cold for that long.
After leaving the Nazarene seminary, we stayed at a nice hotel for two nights. It had a swimming pool, which was wonderful, considering our newfound heat. We are now staying with a family in Zacapa and have 4 days to do 2 days worth of walking, so we're relaxing for a bit.
Okey dokey, I think Christian is here to pick me up, so I'll sign off. "Talk" to you soon!