Sunday, March 20, 2011

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.

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