Sunday, March 27, 2011

Radio Ixmukané first broadcast: preparations

Tuesday, March 22 was the day of the first broadcast on the newly-established indigenous women's radio station. I've written about this in bits and pieces and will now try to do it more coherently, so I apologize for repetitions.

Although the organization has been holding capacitaciones (training sessions) for aspiring locutoras del radio for a few months, and the radio antenna was installed on Friday, March 18, no one had actually planned out the first day of programming (note: regular broadcasts have not yet started; I will let you know when they are scheduled to start).

After the installation on Friday, I went to one of the staff people who has been closely involved with the radio project and offered to help. She told me to come on Monday and work with Xuan, one of the staff members who was part of the radio team (he has been doing much of the technical work and is, effectively, the sound engineer), and the locutoras who were assigned to do the broadcast on Tuesday. I asked if there was a plan for the broadcast and she said not really but that I could come up with some ideas.

I spent a while over the weekend figuring out a proposal for broadcasting for 3-4 hours (no one had told me exactly how long the broadcast was going to be, so I just took a wild guess). It seemed to me that it wasn't fair to expect relatively inexperienced locutoras (I knew they'd been through training but assumed they probably hadn't really broadcast anything before) to talk for 3 hours, and just playing music interspersed with commentary seemed kind of silly. I also knew that on Tuesday nearly everyone we might want to interview on air would be busy with the presentation for the Programa Maya.  I tried to put myself in the position of a listener: what would I want to know? Well, first I'd want to know something about the organization that was sponsoring the radio. I'd want to know something about why they were doing a radio station. I'd want to know something about what was going on this particular day. So I sketched out a plan that involved pre-recording interviews on Monday, so that the locutoras would have a lot of pre-prepared material, and would mostly have to introduce and maybe comment upon the segments. I also proposed that they would do on-air interviews with each other -- since I thought if the ideal listener was a rural indigenous woman, she might like to know that the locutoras were women just like herself.

To that end, I prepared some "handouts" on how to do interviews -- this is something that I have taught nearly every semester in my anthropology classes, since I usually have an assignment that requires students to do a one-on-one interview, and most of them have not done interviews before (or what I would consider effective ones).  I figured that we could spend some time doing practice interviews so that they would feel less uncomfortable doing live ones on the air on Tuesday.

I showed up, and neither Xuan nor the locutoras were there, so I helped out for a while with the set up for the visit of the Programa Maya. We had to figure out how to set up tables and chairs to accommodate all the delegates from the Programa Maya plus the various representatives of Ixmukané's member organizations, and also to decorate the space.  We had a number of sut' (pieces of woven cloth) that had been either purchased or loaned by Ixmukané staff members, and they had to be allocated between table coverings and window coverings. The space is a high-ceiling concrete-walled room that looks like a hangar (or an unfurnished auditorium, take your pick).  There are large windows near the roof, and we wanted to cover them not only for decorative purposes but to darken the room for the power point and video presentations.  

So, we found enough matching weavings to cover the windows and set about arranging them (with safety pins) on long pieces of clothesline that would then be hoisted into place (by one of brave young male staffers who climbed up onto the window ledge and hung the clothesline with pieces of wire and more rope).  

Women hold up half the sky?
Hanging planters were suspended from other ceiling fixtures and long strands of fake pine or evergreen needles (probably intended for a Christmas display) were strung along the ceiling as well.  

Finally, Xuan showed up and we sat down and went over the plan; he thought it was fine, and we refined it a bit (I had brought my computer, and there was a printer on hand, so we were able to print out copies to review). I asked him when the broadcast was supposed to start and end, and then put in proposed times for the various segments.  Eventually one of the locutoras, Cati, showed up, her baby sister in tow. She looked uncomfortable and a bit nervous.  She is, I think, about 18 or 19 years old, although she looks younger.

We sat down, the three of us, and I gave her the "sketch" I had written for the program. Something I learned was that I needed to either make it more sketchy, or more like a script. What I had written was a hybrid -- it contained the titles of the segments and a brief description of what each segment was, but it wasn't clear what were "instructions", what was "description" and what was "hypothetical script".  I didn't really realize this until we were in the cabina broadcasting on Tuesday, when I had to clarify to the locutoras that no, they weren't supposed to read verbatim from the outline; the outline was merely a "guide" (guía) but not a "script" (guión). 

She didn't have a lot of comments to make, so I suggested that we work on practicing how to do an interview.  I suggested that she interview Xuan, and then we worked to brainstorm questions that she would ask. It was clear that she didn't really know where to begin.  I tried to help without doing the work for her; a tough balance -- trying not to give her questions but help her think about what a listener would want to know about Xuan (or anyone). I also tried to keep Xuan from feeding her too many questions -- she was the one who needed to figure this out, not him.

Finally we had a list of questions and then took ourselves outside so that she wouldn't feel self-conscious in front of the others (even though they were all busy doing other things).  We went through the interview and then I asked her to say how she thought it went, and what she would do differently the next time around, and then Xuan, and then finally I gave some feedback.  Then the lunch arrived and so I suggested we take a break and eat; I had hoped we'd have time for her to do another practice interview (I suggested that she interview me, and that she and Xuan could work on the questions). However, she said that she had to go to a meeting in her aldea (she lives in the municipio of Sta. Cruz del Quiché, but in an aldea; I don't remember now which one).

So, I set about identifying the people with whom I wanted to conduct interviews -- someone to talk about the history of Ixmukané, someone to talk about the radio station, someone to talk about the Programa Maya. I went around and got people lined up for later in the afternoon, securing promises that they would not leave without doing the interview (luckily I nearly always carry my handy compact digital voice recorder -- DVR -- in my backpack. It's the size of a cell phone and even without a microphone gives good results).  Then went back to helping clean/decorate.

Eventually I got Doña Matilde to sit down and talk with me about the history of Ixmukané. Interview went well and just about the amount of time I had calculated on my outline. Then Sebastiana about the radio: also without a hitch.  I had wanted to talk with Doña Mary, the director, about the importance of having the Programa Maya visit, and she had suggested that Jennifer, a K'iche'-speaking staff person, ask the questions so we could have the interview in K'iche', which I thought was a great idea. By this time I thought it would be good if someone else's voice were heard on the interviews and not just mine (I didn't want this to become the "Lisa Knauer radio hour"; I had done the first interviews myself because it was the most expedient way of getting them recorded, especially as everyone else was very caught up with set-up).  So Jennifer and I went over the questions and she wrote out notes for herself about how to say them in K'iche. But then when it came time to do the interview, there were two representatives from Programa Maya, who had come to help make sure everything went smoothly, and Doña Mary suggested we interview them.  As it turned out, neither of the women spoke K'iche' (one spoke Kaqchikel, which is related by not identical), so Jennifer's preparation was in vain. 

They were both articulate and well-spoken, and Jennifer did a terrific job.  I wanted to make sure we had all the interviews copied onto the computer in the cabina so we could sound check them and also have them ready to go the next day.  But this meant transferring them to my computer, then a flash drive, and then uploading them (why? I don't really know, maybe Xuan was doing something else at the time).

I thought we were finished; it was around 5:30 or so, and Xuan and I made some small revisions to the outline (since I had originally thought that Doña Mary would talk about the history of the group, and we hadn't planned on the representatives of the Programa Maya) so that the locutoras would have a more accurate copy to read from the next day. 

I was getting ready to declare that we were done for the day, and had packed up my computer and the DVR, and was heading back to the main building to see if there was anything else that needed to be done before heading off. 

Just then, Doña Mary appeared and said, "Ya están listos para la entrevista?" (Are you folks ready now for the interview?).   I had thought she had forgotten about her original promise, but no, she was ready to go. So I found Jennifer (since I thought it would be a good idea if we had at least one pre-taped interview in K'iche') and said that we were going to do the interview with Doña Mary after all, but that we wouldn't cover what we had already done with the two women from the Programa Maya. Luckily I had saved the paper with her handwritten notes in K'iche' and we went back to the cabina and recorded a short (about 5 minute) interview.  And then we transferred it and I redid the schedule once again to reflect this new material.

So, it would seem that the title of Grace Paley's wonderful short story, "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute" is a good slogan for community-based radio.
Casi listo/almost ready
To come: the "day of"... two interviews with Rigoberta Menchú, and much more!

Politics as usual?

For the past several days, the media (and to a degree, public conversation) has been focused on the initiation of divorce proceedings by first lady Sandra Torres de Colom and her husband, president Álvaro Colom.

A bit of backstory: the Guatemalan constitution prohibits relatives of presidents (to 4 degrees of consanguinity and 2 degrees of affinity -- for all of you who thought those kinships charts you might have viewed in introductory anthropology would never come in handy, well, they might after all!) from running for that office. Sandra Torres de Colom (perhaps soon not to be "de Colom") had vocally expressed interest in running for president.  She has also, during her husband's presidency, helped establish some social programs such as Mi Familia Progresa, that distributes funds to poor families. I am not here passing judgement on the merits of these programs; it seems that what she's done is what First Ladies often do: work on family issues, "women's" issues, and so forth.  Also indisputed is that these programs - and Sra. Torres de Colom -- have come under attack, and that some of the attacks have undoubtedly been influenced by deep-rooted machismo. So have her expressed presidential ambitions been attacked, and also, in some cases, on very machista criteria (she doesn't really have any qualifications, she's just "accompanying" her husband in his programs).

Sandra Torres de Colom (still de Colom until the ink is dry on the divorce decree) made it clear months back that she wanted to be the UNE candidate for president (remember that the election campaign has still not officially started, placards and slogans painted all over the countryside notwithstanding).  She took her case to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE)  which determined that she could be a candidate in 2015.  

However, apparently not content to wait, the Coloms decided to initiate divorce proceedings. There was a public declaration earlier this week, followed by paid radio advertisements in which Sra. Torres declared that her adversaries had subjected her to personal calumnies designed to attack the social programs she had championed -- attacks in the face of which she had remained silent, that her love for the president was strong and had never been subject to any problems but that her love for the country was even more than that, and that she was making a personal and familial sacrifice.  The basic line of argument was repeated in the press conferences.  

Yet, the Coloms have also stated, on various occasions, that the divorce is designed to overcome the legal barriers to Sandra Torres de Colom's presidential bid.  And that's what has gotten a lot of people across the political spectrum upset.  Friends and associates, some of whom are on the left, broadly speaking (I don't ask people about their party affiliations if any, but judging from what I know about my acquaintances' past and current involvements, I'd define most of them as "progressive"), view this as a cynical maneuver.  The general feeling is that Colom, no matter what his pretensions, is a politician just like any other. The Coloms don't want to give up power, and this is a way to retain some hold on it.  Friends who are feminists, broadly speaking, are not in love with Sandra Torres de Colom as a candidate, although they agree that some of the programs she has championed (such as Mi Familia Progresa, that distributes funds to needy mothers) have benefited people in their communities -- although many would point out that a one-time Q300 or Q600 payment (the size of the payment varies with the number of dependent children) isn't the same as providing sustainable economic development opportunities.  

All sorts of folks have weighed in on the divorce. Bishop Ramazzani (whom I met when he visited the Boston area to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of Msgr. Gerardi) has opined on it. Radio commentators have mostly been critical, seeing this as an opportunistic ploy to get around the constitution.  Today's paper had an editorial from a legal scholar (I think; can't get the web page to load right now to check his credentials).  

Not sure what the long-term impact of this will be on the current elections, or on electoral politics in general. It does not seem to have increased people's confidence in their elected leaders or in the legal system -- again, I am judging from a small sample of mostly indigenous folks in Quiché.  And most folks I know around here are pretty cynical about politics and politicians in general. They don't love their local elected officials; they feel that mayors just listen to folks with money and politicians in general only demonstrate interest in rural communities when it comes time to getting votes. We have noticed that the bulldozers are out on the "highway" to Tapesquillo -- perhaps, given that this is an election year locally, the mayor has decided to But I haven't yet come across anyone who thinks this is splendid and marks a solidification of democratic institutions.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Blogging from the cabina del Radio Ixmukané 97.1 FM

So here I am in the cabina, a little concrete bunker on the facility of the centro de atención.  We are starting the broadcast. Very exciting, since at least one of the locutoras wasn't here yesterday. They went through the initial part, quickly; now we are in the first interview that I recorded yesterday.

Now back in the cabina; we had a delicious refacción prepared by our wonderful cook. Something similar to a tamal -- cornmeal dough, but wrapped and steamed in an edible green leaf (spinach? chard? some variant thereof) and served with a tasty sauce. 

Wilma, one of the locutoras, is giving a commentary in K'iche' about the interview we just heard, about the history of Ixmukané, that I did with Doña Matilda, one of the founders. Then she passed to Cati, and they are conversing in a mixture of Spanish and K'iche'.


Well, that was a nice idea but not very realistic. We had had too little preparation and there were too many things to do, and instructions to give on the spot, for me to continue live blogging, since I ended up sitting at the table with the locutoras the entire time they were on the air (and during many of the breaks when we had put on a recorded interview -- giving them feedback and suggestions and talking through the next segment we were going to do). I did manage to post an album of the photos on Facebook, but not to finish blogging.

One of the many interruptions that was productive for the program but not for blogging was the opportunity (well, a created opportunity) to do an interview with Rigoberta Menchú.  The occasion for the inaugural broadcast was a visit to Ixmukané from the Programa Maya, as I think I wrote in an earlier post.

There were I don't know how many representatives of the Programa Maya but they included representatives of the three UN agencies involved, the Norwegian Ambassador and some other Norwegians, maybe embassy staff (how to spot Norwegians at an event where most of the other attendees are Maya? They are the tall blond ones.) I didn't really get to hear or interact much since I was in the cabina most of the time with the women, although I did do some running back and forth.

In any case, one of the dignitaries present was Rigoberta Menchú. She is, to some Guatemalan human rights activists, a bit of a controversial figure -- not for the reasons outlined by David Stoll (to which Greg Grandin has provided what I think is the definitive response). They don't dispute that she and her family suffered in la violencia, but they do feel that she hasn't done as much as she could for the cause of human rights and indigenous rights within Guatemala. Others are somewhat critical of her political ambitions (and point out that when she ran for president, not only did she receive very few votes nationally, but she did not win a majority of votes in her home town).

However, to many rural indigenous women, she remains (and I think rightly so) a heroic figure, an example of an indigenous woman (and for folks here, the fact that she is Maya K'iche', that her mother tongue is K'iche' and that she grew up in Quiché, make her symbolism even richer). So everyone was very exciting and honored by her presence and I have to say that she was completely gracious, generous with her time and very professional and compassionate throughout.

I am a bit too tired to completely detail the day, but will get to it tomorrow or the next day. For now, I'll just say that nothing went exactly to plan (why should it have?) -- that is, for the broadcast -- and there were a lot of plans that other people had, apparently, that were not fully transmitted to us in the cabina... but all in all, it was a terrific day and the two young women who were handling the broadcast, Cati and Wilma, did a wonderful job for their first time out. After all, it's not everyone who, on their first day broadcasting at a community radio station, gets told  they going to do an interview with Rigoberta Menchú with less than 30 second to prepare (no exaggeration; I literally ran up the path ahead of Rigoberta to tell the locutoras that they were going to interview her and should each come up with two questions right away).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quirky little annoyances

This is not about the "big picture" things that bug me (racism, poverty, corruption, violence, governmental impunity) but about smaller "idiosyncrasies" (the English word doesn't quite mean the same as the Spanish idiosincrásias, but it's close enough), aspects of daily, vernacular life that are annoying, troublesome, or both. I will try, where I can, to not just launch into a litany of complaints but suggest some ways that these are tied into "big picture" concerns. We'll see how that goes.

1.     Garbage.  In much of Guatemala there seems to be no systematic garbage collection. Consequently, people just dump garbage by the side of the road. There do seem to be socially recognized "garbage dumps" even if they are not official. Just this morning driving into Santa Cruz del Quiché, I saw a man on a bicycle stop by side of the road where people had already created an informal garbage dump, and empty a large black plastic bagOf course, there are signs all over the highways that say "No tira basura, multa Q50." (Don't throw garbage, Q50 fine; sometimes the fine is higher: 500 or 1000). I have yet to hear of anyone being fined for littering.

 How does this fit into a "bigger picture"? This speaks to both lack of social infrastructure in many communities to take care of basic needs like sanitation (Chinique, least, has no garbage collection), and also a sense that what one does individually doesn't matter much, and that there are no consequences to one's actions.  The government provides no sanitation, people have to get rid of their garbage somewhere, so they "invent", make do.

2.    Littering:  This is related but separate. Many people, including some acquaintances, friends, and good compañeros and compañeras, think nothing of tossing a tamal wrapper or the wrapper from a package of Tortrix (a favorite national snack: I'll get to junk food later) out of a car window. People litter in the street all the time.  One day I was driving back from Panajachel and there was a pick up full of people in front of me, all of whom were eating tamales and other snacks, and one by one they tossed the wrapping and the paper packaging over the side of the truck onto the highway. I recently found half a corn cob (from which all the corn had been eaten) in the back seat of my car, obviously left by one of the many people whom I offer rides. Carelessness? Perhaps.

My thoughts about why people litter have to do with the same sort of social dysfunctionality I hinted at above. Society is in crisis; there is a lack of confidence in social institutions; people don't feel responsible. So you can have people who profess concern about the environment, about water, about mining, and nonetheless litter. I don't mean to suggest that littering is a symptom of social ill in the same magnitude as the reckless extraction of minerals.

3.   Overabundance of cheap plastic: Markets and many stores use thin, fragile plastic bags to package most things. Most vendors tie the bags in tight little knots which makes it hard to open the bag without ripping it (making it hard to reuse). I try to open packages without ripping the plastic and save the bags to reuse; I'm sure there are others who do this, too, but sadly, the vast majority of these bags end up as garbage (i.e. in an untended dump by the side of the road) or litter (just dropped on the dirt or pavement somewhere).

4.  Not much organized recycling or composting:  as in many other parts of Latin America (and elsewhere, I imagine) people do creatively reuse a lot of things (cardboard boxes, some bottles). However, a lot of things just go to waste and get thrown out.  And I only know of a few places (like the university where I teach) where there is some kind of organized recycling of plastic, paper and glass. People do sometimes break up stale tortillas and mix with water to feed to animals, bones and skin and other food leftovers are often fed to dogs. However, I have not seen many people separating their organic waste and compost (2 or 3 people I know compost).

5.  Sugar, sugar everywhere:  Outside of major cities it is impossible to find juice. By "juice" I mean liquid extracted from fruit that does not contain added sugar. That's what I define as "juice". In small towns, like mine,  if you go into a store and ask for "juice" you will be directed to beverages that are about 20% juice and the rest water and sugar.  To get juice with no added sugar I have to go to the departmental capital.  I bought a quart of what was billed as homemade, natural, unflavored yogurt in Antigua and wondered why it wasn't very tart; in small print, on the side of the container, "honey" was one of the ingredients (I did eventually find unsweetened yogurt).

People start their children on sweetened beverages at an early age. Many people (as in Cuba) sweeten milk, so that children grow up rejecting just plain milk without sugar. People give soda and highly-sweetened heavily processed fruit beverages to very, very young children (i.e. babies who are still drinking from bottles).  I think this is true in other parts of Latin America. So children start at a very early age craving sweets. This sugar fixation is unfortunate in a country with extremely high rates of diabetes; on the radio, it was recently announced that 16 people die every day in Guatemala from complications of diabetes.  And a lot of people do not make it to their 30s without losing a few teeth. 

In addition to sweet beverages, that are served with every meal, Guatemalans (at least the ones I know) eat lots of candies, pastries and cakes. Every morning, a vendor comes around to the Ixmukané offices offering a few different varieties of pay (a phonetic spelling of "pie" -- a lot of bakeries use the English spelling, which I found confusing because the Spanish word pie, pronounced "pee-ay", means "foot", and the first time I saw a bakery sign announcing "pie de queso", I tried to think of what "foot of cheese" could possibly mean, until I realized that they meant "cheesecake"),  and many if not most of the compañeras indulge. Some do go out to the market and bring back fresh fruit, but most also eat sweets. At many of the meetings I've attended, someone has handed around a bag of hard candies to fortify participants if the gap between the refacción and the meal is too long.

Throughout the countryside and cities, one sees hand-lettered signs advertising 'Choco-banas" (chocolate-dipped bananas), and helados (ice creams). One also sees (and hears) itinerant ice-cream vendors; usually middle aged men who tote around a thermal box (or wheel around a small cart) , incessantly ringing a small bell (even during marches or outdoor events where people are seated and listening to speeches. I don't think anyone earns a very secure living by doing this, but they seem to do a pretty brisk business.

How and why sugar took hold as capitalism developed has been well treated by Sidney Mintz and others.  So this is not a critique of Guatemalans as being morally weak; the reasons that sugar has become so entrenched in the national diet have to do with colonialism, capitalism, the development of the plantation system, commercial agriculture, and so forth -- it is very much a "created" taste.  

6.  Sugar, sugar everywhere, part 2:  An example of the way that sugar consumption has become very normalized is that "agua" (which, according to the Spanish we learned in high school or elsewhere, means "water" -- ie. H20, a clear beverage that comes from the earth) does not mean water in Guatemala. At least not in the highlands. When I have been invited to eat at people's homes, at some point in the meal, usually the host or hostess will ask, "Quieres agua?" (which I would understand as meaning "Do you want WATER?" again, H20). However, if you answer "yes" you will find yourself being offered cola or another kind of soda. If you want to drink WATER, you have to ask for "agua pura" (pure water). But really (in the world according to Lisa) you shouldn't have to specify "agua pura". "Agua" should be the default setting; and artificially colored, flavored and highly sweetened beverages that contain water among many other ingredients should be called "soda" or "refresco" or something else.

The sugar industry advertises heavily (at least on radio; I don't watch much Guatemalan TV). The radio ad I hear the most frequently makes it sound as though sugar is the cornerstone of a healthy society. The text goes something like:  

Announcer: What is contained a spoonful of sugar?
Different voices (each word or phrase is narrated by a different person or group):  Health! Education! The environment! Employment! (all sounding very excited, hence my exclamation marks)
Announcer: Azucar de Guatemala. Development for everyone.
So consumption of sugar is conflated with one's patriotic duty (as well as one's concern for the environment, health, education, and so forth). These ads are just about as nauseating as the ads by Montana Mining Company, which operates the Marlin Mine.

7.  Junk food:  The simple fact of junk food consumption is  not unique to Guatemala. However, the reasons people eat a lot of junk food in Guatemala (read: highly processed, packaged foods with a lot of additives, high in either sugar or salt or fat or some combination thereof) are the same reasons that "progress" and "development" in developing countries are usually tied to a decline in diet and health. It's also tied to the emergence of a whole new retail sector of small stores, often in the front room of people's homes, even in the most remote rural aldeas and caserios -- a development that is in turn tied to migration and remittances. Part of the package of goods that capitalist  "modernity" sold to developing countries (back in the 1940s, 50s, 60s) was that chemical was better than non-chemical, packaged was of more reliable quality than fresh, formula was better than breast milk, and so forth. Even when that ideology was no longer directly promoted, people still buy into the notion that consumption of packaged, store-bought goods is part of launching oneself into modernity -- an important objective for people who have been denied full citizenship and often effectively written out of the nation's present.  

Those who have migrated to the U.S. have been able to experience modernity full-force (and nearly everyone in rural Quiché is convinced that it is much more alegre -- happy -- in the U.S. than where they are). Those who haven't can get a little taste at the local store. And the local stores, as I noted above, are everywhere. Many are owned by indigenous families -- a shift from earlier periods when all businesses were owned by Ladinos -- since many Maya have migrated and either returned to invest their savings or sent money to their families (the two stores I know in Tapesquillo I are owned by returned migrants).  Due to their remote location, limited electrical grid and refrigeration, and the fact that most people nearby are subsistence farmers, small stores in rural areas carry little in the way of fresh produce. Some staples that store relatively well (onions, lemons and limes, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes). But I would estimate that 90% of their stock is packaged foods, cleaning supplies, toiletries and single packets of medicines (individual capsules of a variety of remedies).  So, lots of packets or cubitos (cubes) of bouillon and other seasoning mixes. tubes or jars of mayonnaise and hot sauce, soda, instant packets of beverage mix, and dozens of varieties of candies, other sweets, "chips" and other packaged savory snacks. You can buy coffee, oil, salt, sugar (of course), usually eggs, powdered milk, packages of rice or oatmeal -- that is, some things that would qualify as "real food". 

An informal index of the consumption of junk food would be an examination of garbage. Although I have not done any kind of thorough archaeological analysis, in my walks around town and the nearby countryside, a lot of the garbage that I see seems to be junk food and wrappers, and sweetened-beverage containers. 

8.  The way people drink coffee:  I think I've already written about this but it goes on the list here too. A teaspoonful of coffee grounds to half a liter of water would be strong coffee by rural and highland standards.  This might come from entrenched poverty and the need to extend a modest amount of coffee as much as possible; however, it has also become a preferred taste (when I offered to treat friends to coffee in Panajachel, not a single one would try cappuccino, even with flavored syrup). 

9.   Dogs:  There are a lot of dogs in rural Guatemala. Nearly all are unleashed, including the ones that belong to people, and consequently dogs wander into the road all the time. In some areas dogs actually sleep in the middle of the road. And no one seems to try and keep their dogs out of the road. So a lot of dogs are killed. Virtually every time I drive I have to crunch on the brakes at least once to avoid hitting a dog that is standing idly in the middle of the road, or that has decided to amble across from one side to another. I am not certain all other drivers will make those concessions.  I did hit a dog once: an awful experience. I was caught in a sudden, heavy downpour just after dark with thunder and lightning, and almost no visibility, on a very curvy downhill stretch of highway, and with no warning, a dog darted out from the side of the road directly in front of my truck, giving me no time to react. Because of the heavy rain, the slick, steep and winding road, I couldn't slam on the brakes or swerve sharply (I wasn't going very fast because of the weather) as I would have done in daylight and dry conditions lest I end up in a skid, and thus in a ditch on the side of a mountain. 

Also, I have rarely seen people in rural areas treat their dogs with affection except when they are very small puppies. A few people I know have tiny little "pet" dogs that are allowed to live inside their homes, and some of the wealthier families in town have dogs that look to be fairly well groomed and kept on the property, but most dogs out in the countryside are not really treated as pets. To be sure, people provide their dogs food, and I have not seen people harshly mistreat dogs, but in general they do not pay their dogs any positive attention. Instead, they spend a lot of time and energy yelling at the dogs to get away from the table or to go outside the house; the verbal anger is often accompanied by kicks, threats with sticks or hands, occasionally tossing small stones. A lot of houses in rural areas are not fully enclosed buildings, but instead are structured around an open patio or courtyard, around which there may be one or two adobe buildings (sometimes the kitchen is separate, and the other building contains bedrooms). There are not always doors, or they are often kept open during the day, and sometimes the family might eat on a table outside, so there are not clear boundaries for the dog (I think). So,  I have not seen anyone beat a dog, but neither have I seen many poor rural folks show a lot of care and concern for the animals. 

Ixmukané takes to the air, part II

The work on the radio station had begun, apparently, some time before. A few weeks ago, maybe longer, I had attended another day-long meeting organized by Ixmukané with women from all over the region, and part of the meeting was devoted to small groups practicing how to do a radio program. Before I had arrived at the meeting, apparently, the women had been working in groups, off a basic format that was written up on some sheets of newsprint taped to the wall.  Humberto, a jovial, rotund man from Xela, with a couple of decades of experience in community radio, had been leading a capacitación (training) for "locutoras de radio" (radio announcers). 

I spoke briefly with Humberto, who had traveled to the U.S., and seemed to have an interesting background and set of experiences throughout Guatemala. There had been some discussion at other meetings about finding radio outlets or what have you, but since I wasn't intimately involved in the planning of meetings, and didn't have much of an overview of what the group was doing, I hadn't realized until I arrived at the "centro" in Santa Cruz del Quiché (I am going to abbreviate this as SCQ) on Friday, March 18, that they were actually setting up their own radio station.

The meeting was called for 8 a.m. but that was for breakfast (when poor rural women travel several hours to attend a meeting, you had better believe that they are well fed; I'm not sure what proportion of Ixmukané's budget goes for food, but at every meeting I have attended, the women have been served at least a mid-morning refacción (snack) -- usually chuchitos (tamales filled with sauce and either chicken or pork) and atol (a cornmeal-based beverage) -- and a substantial lunch.  For some reason, today's meeting also included breakfast, so the actual agenda didn't get started until around 9.

So, when the plan for the day was rolled out, Sebastiana (one of the staff members) announced that one of the agenda items was to go outside and help put up the antenna. 
Humberto, some of the young men on Ixmukané's staff (the office staff is majority female but there are a handful of male employees, all fairly young), and a few others had been up much of the night preparing the antenna -- Humberto showed me his paint-stained hands.

Probably around 11 or 11:30, after we had finished the first couple of agenda items, we all trooped outside to where the antenna was lying across the roofs of two small concrete outbuildings on the grounds. The men who had been working on the installation were split between the two rooftops, and fastening ropes and wires so that the antenna could be hauled into position.  Here in the photo you can see the base of the antenna on the rooftop on the right (closer to you).  The base would have to be lowered onto the ground, and then held securely in position while teams of people on the rooftop where the base HAD been, pulled on ropes to haul the top of the antenna (on the opposite rooftop) into an upright position.  

So, first the base was lowered, into the waiting arms of the women who had arrayed themselves on the grassy space between the two buildings.  Here you can see two of the workmen holding onto the top of the antenna to try and ensure a smooth landing.

The women held on and tried to guide the base down; however, it had to be readjusted a bit since it was important that the base be lined up on the concrete foundation of the building and not the grass (as later the base would have to be bolted into place on the concrete).  

Now, there was a need for volunteers who were willing to climb up a kind of rickety wooden ladder (rough-hewn pieces of wood nailed together; no more rickety than most of the ladders I've seen in Guatemala, but certainly no sturdier). Since most of the women were wearing cortes, this also meant protecting their modesty while navigating the climb. About 10 or 12 women (including one or two who were wearing pants) braved the climb, and took their places alongside the men who were already up on the roof. I would have joined them, but I was on the opposite roof and there was only one ladder, which had been taken over to the other building. So someone would have had to have carried the ladder back over for me to have descended, and then I'd have had to carry it back over to climb up to the other side, so I contented myself with taking photographs.

Finally, slowly, the two teams (one for each rope) on the opposite rooftop pulled while the group on the ground held the base firm and the antenna moved slowly skyward.  

It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day, and the women who were not actively participating in installing the antenna (about 1/3 or 1/2 of the sixty or more women present) sat on the grass at a little distance and watched the goings-on.  I was, of course, not the only person taking photographs; at least 1 or 2 of the staff members have digital cameras (whether these are personal cameras or they belong to the organization, I don't know) and they usually document the group's activities -- however, I always copy all of my photographs either onto one of their computers (if one is handy) or onto a flash drive so that in case I photographed anything that they missed, or they like some of my photographs better, they have a full record of what I photographed (so all the photos I took of the installation, only a few of which are on this blog, have been turned over to Ixmukané).  

Installing the antenna is only one step in actually establishing a functioning radio station -- although a critically important one. This way the women will not be dependent upon begging airtime from already established radio stations but will have their own airwaves. However, they will have to work out a mechanism for programming and staffing the station -- and I'm curious to see how that works out. When I spoke with Humberto, he told me that the long-term plan was to have programming for several hours a day -- not round the clock. Mornings would feature a couple of hours of music, then news and talk programs for several hours. Some afternoon hours would be given over to young people, including some time for "their" music programming.  

Aligning the antenna
The first official broadcast will be on Tuesday, March 22; Ixmukané will be visited by representatives from the Programa Maya -- an initiative established between the Norwegian Embassy in Guatemala and three UN agencies (UNICEF, the UN Development Program, and the High Commission on Human Rights). The Programa Maya (I'm just getting this stuff from their website; I don't really have a lot of independent information about them) was set up a few years ago try and overcome centuries of exclusion of indigenous communities, and that they have access to systems of justice, education, and political participation.  

As far as I know, Ixmukané didn't solicit this visit; they were contacted by the Programa Maya. So a group of women have been selected -- a comisión-- who will serve as spokespeople for the rest of the organization, and will present their concerns, preoccupations and perspectives to the representatives.  I don't know all of who is supposed to be present, but apparently one of the the visitors will be Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú.  Her name elicits mixed reactions among the members (as it does among the indigenous population in general). On the one hand, the fact that she won international recognition, that she is a Maya K'iche' woman who has a presence in the international arena, means something. However (and here I'm speaking specifically about activist indigenous women like the members of Ixmukané, not the population in general), women feel that she could be doing more for indigenous women specifically. One of the women (I now don't remember who) said that she had met Rigoberta a few years ago and had asked her what she was doing to address the needs of indigenous women and Rigoberta's response was that she wasn't focused on women. 

So, while I'm not entirely clear what will be the broadcast on Tuesday, I think part of the plan is that the broadcast will be piped into the large meeting room -- in this photograph, you can see a largish bunker-like structure in the background. That is the auditorium that is used for meetings -- it fits over a hundred people.  The "cabina" (broadcast booth) of the radio station is going to be in the small concrete building next to the antenna.

 I mentioned to two of the staff people, as we were standing around reveling in the satisfaction of having set up the antenna, that I had a background in radio and also had a lot of experience doing interviews. They asked if I could come on Monday and spend the day working with the two or three women who will be handling the initial broadcast. I eagerly agreed, and now should really finish this blog so I can think about preparing some handouts for us to work with.  But one last photograph: the proud new dueñas (owners) of the first woman-operated community radio station in Guatemala.

Friday, March 18, 2011

More live blogging: Ixmukané takes to the air

So, I am again spending a Friday meeting with compañeras from Ixmukané -- this is a meeting that is a continuation of a process that began several months ago, of a "social audit" (auditoria social). It seems to be a process of taking stock of what has happened in specific communities, each of which has had its own "auditoria social", and then sharing ideas. There are representatives from I'm not sure how many communities: Chinique, Zacualpa, Joyabaj, Chichicastenango, San Andrés Sajcabajá, San Bartolomé, Cunén, Patzité, and perhaps others.  But potentially the most exciting part of today's work is the installation of a radio antenna so that the women can begin their own pirate (or DIY) radio station.  

Radio is an important mode of communication in rural communities throughout Latin America, for a variety of reasons. With high rates of illiteracy, radio is much more accessible than printed news. For isolated rural areas, radio signals often reach where other media (TV, for example) might not -- at least before the satellite/cable explosion.  In areas that  do not have complete electrification, a transistor allows a rural household to have some access to news and information (or entertainment). Also, a radio is much less expensive than a television, so it's relatively accessible in terms of cost.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Impunity on the electoral front

So, electioneering is in full swing even though the official campaign is not supposed to start until May. As with much in Guatemala, the laws and the constitution are one thing; politicians just basically do whatever the hell they want.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that the parties have been painting up the landscape throughout Quiché; each passing week seems to bring out more and more paint. The parties paint rocks, the sides of mountains, utility poles, trees (this is illegal, I think; hard to keep track of what is illegal and what isn't since the laws are regularly flouted). For example, on March 8 or 9 (I was really sick last week and so missed a few days of news), Sandra Torres de Colom, the wife of the current president, announced that she would enter the presidential race as a candidate for the UNE (Unidad Nacional para la Esperanza: National Unity for Hope). This notwithstanding the fact that constitution prohibits relatives of the president ineligible to run for the office.  So, she has been running campaign ads regularly (I hear the ones on the radio). In her ad she claims that she is running in response to popular demand (she has not mentioned how she will get around the constitutional exclusion). The gender politics of the ad are interesting (if not entirely surprising): her vision of hope is a country where children can go to school; where mothers can take their children to school and to the health clinic; and where men can find employment.

Now, the part about children going to school is very interesting, and I'll tell you why. Over the past few weeks, there have been a series of billboards, carrying the imprimatur of the UNE (the ruling party, remember) posted throughout the country (well, through the part of the country through which I drive), each one featuring a winsome photograph of a young Guatemalan child (I have one for you to see).
Sorry it's not a great photograph but this particular billboard is on a very steep curve on the highway between Chichicastenango and Sta. Cruz del Quiché that had a very small shoulder just below the sign; to have gotten a better angle I would have had to have stood in the middle of the road.  The sign says, "The best election is to continue helping. Julio Alvarado no longer has to work in order to eat." With the insignia of the UNE at the bottom.  By reading this sign, you would think that because of programs that the UNE has sponsored (and Sandra Torres de Colom as First Lady has been instrumental in the current administration in developing some programs that help rural families -- or so she and the party claim), this child, Julio (and it is his real name) was able to STOP working and go to school. Hip hip hooray.

There are, I think, a total of four "poster children" for this particular campaign of the UNE. However, there's a small problem with this picture -- and the other three.  

None of these children, according to their parents, were child laborers. I repeat, not a single one of the children was working and not in school. They are all enrolled in school. Whether the UNE can take credit for the existence of public schools is another matter entirely. According to a story in today's paper, the parents said that "people from the government" showed up at the households of these families and said they were taking pictures of the kids. According to the parents, they were never told what the photographs were for, the government people just took photos and left (perhaps they signed release forms, not sure about that, but they probably wouldn't pass the "informed consent" smell test).  Most of the parents have not seen the billboards but they heard about them.  

A spokesperson for the UNE who was interviewed in the paper gave a very mealy-mouthed response.  

So this is just a little taste of the low level of politics and political discourse in Guatemala.  

A radio report today noted that 10 of the 16 parties that had submitted their campaign budgets to whatever the proper ministry is already spent close to the ceiling (Q51 million) of what they are permitted by law for the entire election -- and the official campaign, as I mentioned, has not yet begun. We are in "pre-campaign" mode. I did see several men carrying UNE stencils and quarts of paint along a stretch of highway this afternoon (right after hearing this news report) -- so politics as usual....

So this all seems to function on a level of absurdity; a kind of alternate reality inhabited by politicians.   

There is a political movement -- not a political party -- that has been putting up billboards that are critical of the entire electoral process. A few weeks ago, I was listening to the radio on my drive between Antigua and Quiché and there was some live coverage: in the early morning hours, along some stretch of the Panamericana, someone had placed a billboard saying "Los políticos son una mierda." (politicians are shit).  A reporter called the phone number on the billboard and got the representative of this political movement on the phone to explain why they had put up these billboards (of course, they did not say the "m" word on the airwaves, but instead, "a word that begins with an M" or "that word"). The guy who was interviewed was great; his response was "Well, that's the truth, or at least this is what a lot of people in the country think about politicians, and we just wanted to put it out there." 

This was a few weeks ago; the representative said further that the billboards were not financed by any group but by members of the movement; that there were people in the group who had carpentry and graphic skills and they had just made them themselves. Refreshing to hear that kind of DIY approach. They had plans to put up 500 to 1000 billboards throughout the country.

Well, they finally reached the stretch of highway that I traverse, so here is a sample:

"The politicians are for shit; we're fed up."  

There was another billboard with a different slogan but it was impossible to slow down and pull over to photograph it without risking life and limb, or even to read it very closely, so this is what we have for now.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Electoral politics

It should come as no surprise that electoral politics was not part of my original research plan. I'm not a political scientist, for one thing, although there are anthropologists who analyze this sort of thing, I'm sure.

However, I happened to arrive in Guatemala during an election year, and the electoral process has been one of the dominant aspects of the cultural and political landscape.  I wish I were a Molly Ivins, or a Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to do justice to some of the theater-of-the-absurd aspects of Guatemala's electoral politics.  It does seem to occupy a kind of alternate universe. For example, the wife of the current president, Sandra Torres Colom, is postulating as a presidential candidate. However, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared that she cannot be a candidate in this year's election but has to wait until 2015. Nonetheless, she continues to have campaign ads on national radio. So there seems to be a major disconnect between what the law says, and what people do. When I pointed this out to Doña Reina and Doña Anastasia this morning on our way in to a workshop about the electoral process, they laughed and said, "No one pays attention to the law. They just do what they want."

So this sense of lawlessness or impunity is pervasive.  The other day supporters of the Partido Patriota (far right) and the UNE (Union Nacional de la Esperanza -- a center/progressive party) in Zacualpa started throwing rocks and came to blows when they encountered each other on the street painting signs.

All of which is a long introduction to why I am live blogging (sort of) from a day long workshop on the electoral process.  

There is a profusion of political parties: hard to keep count. Somewhere in the 30s. New parties come into being and others die out pretty regularly.

We have now arrived at a few themes about the department of Quiché:

  • political violence (the above noted incident in Zacualpa; apparently there was an effort to get the two parties' leaders to talk but that didn't happen.
  • manipulation of basic needs of the population
  • militarism in the imaginary of the population
  • alliance between the UNE/GANA and FRG (FRG is the party of el genocidio Rios Montt)

We are at this workshop because Ixmukané is concerned with the participation of rural indigenous women in the electoral process (not to advocate for a party). So it's actually a pretty interesting analysis.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tales of a sick anthropologist/free health care now (part 2)

So we left our heroine in semi-delirium on Monday, tossing and turning in her sick bed, occasionally managing to sit upright for long enough to drink some water and then collapsing back down from the effort. I had no appetite and little energy to eat but I forced myself to eat about 3 almonds (I do try to keep almonds on hand for when I don't have time to eat: high in protein, calcium, vitamin E, magnesium). Eventually the sky darkened and I reached over to the wall switch and.... nothing happened. Tried again. Still nothing. This was not good. Was it just the switch in  the room, or the whole house? Learning the answer meant mustering enough energy to walk into the other rooms and check. I did, and the news was discouraging. No power.  

This meant, most immediately, no easy way of heating up water for some tea (yes, there is a wood burning stove but I wasn't sure I had the stamina to stand upright long enough to get a worthy fire going).  Was power off on the block?  I looked outside; hard to tell. Street lights were on, but I couldn't really see the neighbors. I called my landlord, Modesto.  The electric bill had arrived -- or at least I had seen it -- Sunday. It was just tucked underneath the gate that opens from the street, very inconspicuously. However, I'm sure it was only there on Sunday. So the power company cut off power one day after delivering the bill? Well, there wasn't anything I could do at 7 p.m. other than bitch and moan. Too little energy for that. Another 2 almonds. Back to bed.

My part-time room-mate arrived and was very solicitous, wanting to know if she could make me something to eat. I had made chicken soup the previous night so there was a big container of broth, vegetables and a few pieces of chicken, and I asked her if she could light the fire and heat up some soup. Back to bed.  A little while later (hard to keep track of time when there is no light and you are light-headed with illness) she told me the soup was ready. I dragged myself to the table and, tried to muster the appropriate enthusiasm for the task. For some reason I could really only deal with the broth and the vegetables. I tentatively stripped off a small piece of chicken and tried to eat it but it lacked taste and texture. Although my throat was very, very sore the cooked vegetables (carrots and a zucchini-like squash) slid down fairly easily so I figured I was at least giving my body some fuel to fight off the invading microorganisms.  I took a bit more broth and then apologized for being an ungracious hostess and staggered back to bed. 

At some point night turned to day; my room-mate got up to leave for school, asking if I wanted anything. I just asked her to pump out some water from the 5-gallon jug and leave it for me and then fell back on the pillows.  The day passed, somehow. I didn't really sleep, but wasn't really in the swing of things either. I called the landlord a few times to ask about the lights; he was in Guatemala City but said he had sent his sister to Quiché to pay the bill. I started to obsess about this (as I had a fair amount of food in the fridge, not that I felt like eating any of it). The day ended with no more power than when I started. I spent most of it lying down in a kind of unpleasant fugue.  I was able to send some emails (my USB modem doesn't require any power) letting students know that I wasn't going to make it to class on Wednesday -- I was clearly in no condition to drive 4 hours. 

Wednesday I felt incrementally better in the morning and called Anastasia. She told me that the International Women's Day Activity was starting at the outskirts of Santa Cruz del Quiché and I decided, foolishly or intelligently, to go. I had not planned to go as it was scheduled during my class time (when I would normally be in Guatemala City) but I thought, well, if I can make it there, it might be interesting to see. 

So I drank some water, filled up a bottle, sponged myself off and set off for the 25-30 minute drive. I parked my car in the center, found a microbus and rode out to the other end of town. I walked with the marchers throughout the town, and into the square. Someone had saved me a seat and although there were a lot of women from rural areas who had been walking too, I unapologetically collapsed into the seat. I made it through most of the program and then realized that I just needed to get back in bed, so I made my apologies and found my car and cautiously drove back -- it was a beautifully sunny day and the road was pretty clear but I was kind of hanging on. 

Back into a horizontal position for the next several hours... and then finally, after 2-1/2 days of bed rest (well, with one real break-out) and Chinese herbs, I decided to take myself to the health clinic.  I pass the Centro de Salud on my daily walk; it's on the last paved street on the north end of town. I didn't trust myself to walk so I drove.  There was an elderly Ladino man with a cowboy hat and blue shirt; he looked at me quizzically. "Que quiere usted?" (What do you want?) I would have thought that the answer was obvious by looking at me -- I'm sure I looked as sick as I felt. But there are no foreigners in town, and he probably thought I was from some visiting delegation or other. "Necesito una consulta" (I need a consultation). They took a sheet of paper and wrote down my name, my age and that was about it. Then the nurse or PA took me and did vital signs: temperature was 39.5 (around 103).  Pulse and blood pressure normal.

The doctor took me nearly immediately: she took one look at my throat and one listen to my lungs and pronounced a bacterial infection and sent me on my way with some prescriptions. The pain reliever/fever reducer they actually gave to me there; the other prescriptions (expectorant and antibiotics) I had to take to a pharmacy.

The cost of this treatment?  Nothing.  Did I mention that Guatemala -- as corrupt, dysfunctional, poor and violent as it is -- has a constitutional clause guaranteeing free health care for all citizens? I guess that covers visiting foreigners too.

The saga doesn't end. but this is a convenient stopping point.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tales of a sick anthropologist/free health care now (part 1)

Actually, the title of the initial blog in this series, which promised three additional cranky blogs, is not that far off, as cranky must be related to the Yiddish word for sick, khrankh (which is probably similar to the German word, which is probably the root for the English one -- I'm spelling the Yiddish word phonetically; my parents spoke words and phrases but I never saw them write Yiddish - which has its own alphabet, similar to Hebrew). 

So, sick I was. Sick as a dog, as we would say in los estados, although the phrase doesn't really have the same meaning when translated directly into Spanish: tan enfermo como un perro (or tan enferma como una perra -- it would have to be gendered as male or female). 

I am not sure how the sickness arose, as I noted in the earlier blog. I'm generally healthy, and in my various travels around Latin America and the Caribbean and Central America, have avoided most of the usual maladies that befall travelers (which I won't tempt the fates by enumerating).  I do get colds, even in unlikely times and places like Havana in the middle of August when it's over 90 degrees in the shade -- my body's way of reacting to too little sleep, too much information, too much stimulation or movement or stress.  They are rarely severe, however. My digestion seems pretty resilient; I drink bottled water (and a lot of it), but I can pretty much eat whatever looks interesting: deep, rusty-red acaraje in Salvador de Bahia (black-eyed pea fritters that get that lovely color from dende a/k/a palm oil), stuffed with okra, shrimp and other delights; mouth-puckeringly sour sliced green mangoes sprinkled with ground roasted pumpkin seeds, chiles, lime and salt in El Salvador. Well, I could go on about street foods of the world, but that would distract from the main point of this entry: some reflections about health care in Guatemala versus the U.S., occasioned by my interactions with the local health care system.

Clifford Geertz, in one of his most famous (and cited) essays, "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight", writes, "Getting caught, or almost caught, in a vice raid is perhaps not a very generalizable recipe for achieving that mysterious necessity of anthropological field work, rapport, but for me it worked very well." I love the Geertz essay (you can read a version of it here ; the color photographs are not from the original publication but add useful illustration), and I use it every time I teach an introductory class, in part to help students understand something about the unexpected nature of field work: you can only plan so much, but then you wind up somewhere and shit happens, or, as in Geertz's case, it doesn't because no one wants to talk to you because they don't know who you are and you might be with the CIA or some other suspicious and shadowy entity. None of which are unreasonable conjectures about foreigners in a place like Guatemala, where the heavy hand of foreign interference has been felt over the past century.  I have been to Chinique three times before, although I haven't lived here, and even after two months people are still figuring out who I am -- the usual question is "Are you with the Medicos Descalzos (barefoot doctors)?" since they were one of the few NGOs that actually worked in Chinique, and there haven't been any foreigners in town since they left some years back (except the nuns, but they are in a different category). 

I had thoughts of Geertz in mind when I fell so seriously ill and my illness seemed so unresponsive to bed-rest, liquids, and the herbal remedies purchased in NYC Chinatown on my recent visit to los estados, that I knew I would have to go the health clinic. For Geertz, his accidental venture into the world of illegal gambling (he and his first wife Hildred, herself a formidable anthropologist, were at an illegal cockfight when the police raided and they were taken in by a couple they'd never met) opened up a window into many aspects of Balinese society (some that Balinese would rather not discuss with foreigners because they didn't consider them "culture" or important). 

Not that I expected any such dramatic revelations. I am not sure a local centro de salud is a "total social fact" in the same way that the cockfight was for Balinese. It's not ritual, it's not performance, it's not something people do for enjoyment. But I did think it would offer at least an inside view into an aspect of everyday life in a small town.

I do not recommend getting seriously ill as a way of getting to know town life.  I don't recommend getting seriously ill at all. It sucks. Sorry for anyone who was hoping for elegant prose: there may be glimmerings here and there, but why mince words about being sick? It's not fun or elegant; it is not,  in and of itself, necessarily enlightening (yes, perhaps if I were a medical anthropologist I could go on some about how different cultures view the body, classify ailments, group together different symptoms and make them into a specific "ailment" or "illness" with a label). Well, that stuff is actually kind of interesting but hard to appreciate when you are so weak and woozy that sitting upright for a moment to drink water requires at least 5 minutes of lying down before venturing another bold move like trying to stand upright so you can refill the water glass. 

The ailment started on Sunday.. that is, I started to feel like something wasn't quite right. I started taking the "preventive" Chinese herbs and slept a few hours, but woke at around 2:45 and was unable to really get back to sleep. I had set my alarm for 5:10 (and of course I managed to get back into fairly sound sleep just before that) since I had to meet Doña Anastasia at 6 so we could go together to the offices of Ixmukané in Chichicastenango and be there by 7. I, of course, didn't have to be there at 7. I am a trabajadora voluntaria and don't have a set timetable; I had been told that Monday was a good day for me to come, and since I always try to offer people who don't have their own means of transportation rides whenever possible, I'd asked Doña Anastasia and Doña Reina (both of whom live in the Chinique area and both of whom occasionally work out of the main offices) if they wanted rides and they told me they had to be there by 7. So I whined internally (not to them -- to meet me at 6, they would both have to get up earlier than I would) and agreed to meet at 6 at La Cruz, which both refers to the community right at the eastern edge of the town, an actual green cross at the roadside, and the large gravelly area between two stores where the road to Tapesquillo starts -- this is where inter-urban buses stop, where camionetas let people off, and so forth.

I wasn't feeling well at all; I managed to down about 3 spoonfuls of oatmeal (I normally eat a very healthy-sized bowl) and something told me I needed a thermos of hot rose hip tea with honey and not a double latte.  But since I had agreed to give Anastasia a ride and I know that rural indigenous women, and especially those who have children, do a lot under very adverse circumstances, so I decided to go through with this rather than call and tell her she'd have to take the bus (in retrospect, the hard part for her is getting to La Cruz; once there, buses pass pretty regularly so I was just saving her money, not necessarily time or convenience).  So I wasn't as essential as I thought. Oh well.

As I was walking in the dark chill morning to where I keep my car, two and a half blocks away from where I live, my phone rang. Doña Anastasia. Saying "no tengas pena, voy a llegar a las 6:20," ("oh, don't worry, I'll be there at 6:20"). In other words, as though she were cutting me a break by arriving 20 minutes later than our agreed-upon time of 6 (it was 5:45 when she called me). As politely as I could, I explained that I was already out of the house and taking the car out of the parking space and that there was no point in my going back home so I was just going to have to sit in the car and wait for her (I guess I could have walked back home and done, I'm not sure what, drink tea, read the paper online, something).  "Ah, no tengas pena", she replied gaily, either missing or choosing to miss my meaning.

Now grumpy as well as sick, I managed to get my car out of its spot with no mishaps (three "cars" -- usually mine, a Toyota sedan and a Kia flatbed share the space wedged between two houses and it's sometimes a very tight squeeze), and drove to La Cruz. What to do for 20 or 30 minutes? I tried to lean back and doze. That didn't work well. I listened to the radio (motor off but battery on) for a little while. I tried to see if I could wedge my laptop onto my lap underneath the steering wheel so I could work. That wasn't entirely unsuccessful. I tried to observe my surroundings and note the morning activity (hey, I"m getting paid to be an anthropologist right?) Counted how many people were waiting, mostly men, several wearing straw cowboy-style hats, and so forth. Catch up on field notes. 

Eventually Anastasia and her 15-(or 16-) year-old daughter arrived (her daughter is going to be staying in my spare room -- and a good thing this turned out to be this week when I was too sick to heat food or water for tea).  We dropped by my house to drop the daughter's things off, and then when we emerged, there were three other people waiting -- Anastasia's brother, his fianceé, and a child who was probably the fianceé's younger sibling. We drove, or rather I drove. All but Anastasia and I were stopping off in Santa Cruz del Quiché, which is about midway between Chichicastenango (where Ixmukané's offices are) and Chinique. I made two stops in Santa Cruz; the brother and his group got off near the central plaza, but the bilingual colegio that Anastasia's daughter attends is actually about 2-3 kilometers on the road towards Chichi.

Reina, by the way, had decided not to wait and had gotten a ride from her husband who has a motorcycle. 

I parked my car on the street in front of the office; the previous time I'd used a parking lot that one of the women had recommended and it not only set me back Q40 but we had to wait over 5 minutes for the attendant to get change for me.  I staggered upstairs and went into the work room. Reina and two of the full-time organizers who work out of the main office, Lucero and Sebastiana, were there; Reina was huddled into her sweater and white crocheted scarf and I saw that she had a roll of toilet paper on the table and was pulling off a length to blow her nose. I sat down, greeted everyone, pulled out my computer and set it up and then waited for someone to tell me what they needed me to do, taking swigs from my rapidly depleting travel mug of rosa jamaica tea.  Reina and I commiserated about our ailments; she'd been sick for a week, she said. This did not bode well, as it would turn out.

Between swigs of tea (I had brought my own honey) and nose-blowing sessions, I finally gathered that they wanted me to figure out how to analyze the results of a survey of women's organizations in the Chinique area. I'd helped write the survey a few weeks before and now we had eight responses. I took the sheaf of papers from Anastasia and immediately saw some confusion in how the interviewers had marked the forms. Partly because of some confusion in how we had designed them (oops). On some questions we had put the line to check off the response to the left of the response(s): 
QUESTION QUESTION QUESTION?____yes _____no____maybe

And on others, it was to the right of the response:

QUESTION QUESTION QUESTION?  yes ____ no_____maybe___

The person who had filled out the forms (they were used in interviews with leaders of the organizations; I don't think the leaders filled them out themselves) had decided that, regardless of what we had on the form, the correct place to check off a response was on the line to the RIGHT of the key word. Once I figured that out, I was able to make somewhat more sense. And made a note to myself to be more conscientious about that sort of thing in the future (in my defense, I did not think when I handed over the draft I had done, or my revisions on a previous draft, that it would not be given back to me or someone for proofreading before it was used).

I realized soon after I started that I was not going to make it through the day. When I arrived at the office, I thought, "I'll stick it out until noon." Now I was worried if I could make it to 9:30. Well, I decided I would finish the task at hand and then leave. I had brought the second bottle of Chinese herbs, the ones you are supposed to take if you are already sick, not trying to ward off a sickness, and decided it was time for a dose. 

I managed to create a spreadsheet with summaries of the responses to what I thought were the essential ones of the 32 questions we had on the form, checked over my work, saved it, and then said I was leaving (I had told people earlier that I was starting to feel very sick and would finish the task and then leave).

I got one more thermos (my trusty Coffee Exchange on Wickenden St. travel mug!) full of hot tea for the road and set off with a sinking feeling. Why had I come? Why was Chinique so far? If I lived closer I would leave the car and come back for it. If anyone I knew drove I'd ask someone to bring the car back for me and take a microbus. None of these were available to me so I girded my loins (figuratively speaking: literally speaking I put on my seat belt, something almost no one in the highlands does unless they are a passenger in my car and then I have to fasten it for them).

It is not entirely clear to me how I made the trip home safely. I was feeling feverish and congested and weak. I tried to drive more slowly (and yet somehow I managed the trip in under 50 minutes). I ticked off milestones: a bridge between two screwy hairpin parts of the road; a stretch without speed bumps; a lumber yard near the outskirts of Quiché. The bus station -- halfway point? Exit from Quiché in the direction of Chinique. Speed bumps. Stretches without too many. Gulp tea. Tienda de Luky (where there used to be a humongous pothole that finally got filled in). Chiché. More speed bumps. Finally hitting the green and white, and black and white road signs that marked the final few KM into Chinique. The ironical (to me alone) ZONA URBANA sign and up the hill, make a left at the tope and then two short blocks, luckily there are not six cars in front of the garage across the street and I have a space for now.

Grabbing everything from the car (I have a bad habit of taking out my phone or wallet and then leaving them in the car) I staggered down the concrete ramp, unlocked the door, put down my backpack, checked that I still had hot tea in the mug and took that and my phone and a water bottle into the bedroom, a pack of tissues and undressed and threw myself into the bed. From which I only arose intermittently over the next nearly 48 hours (it was around 11 am when I got home, and the next time I left the house was around 7:30 Wednesday morning). But that's for another blog.

Let's leave me laid out flat, achey, congested, now fully aware that my throat is very, very tender, not quite able to sleep, too weak to do much else other than lie in bed and try to rest and relax....