After we had finished the ceremony described in an earlier post, we started the exchange of experiences. The women from the Peten had come prepared with a presentation about the conditions in the Peten, and also the formation of the group. The women in the group were mostly from the communities that had been displaced by the war and had sought refuge in Mexico. The woman who made the presentation, Maria Eulalia, said that she had lived in Mexico for 15 years, and then when the peace accords were being negotiated, they began the process of figuring out how they could go back to Guatemala and negotiating with the government for the kinds of support that they might expect to be able to restart their lives. That was when the women first started to organize, in the process of planning resettlement.
I can't capture all the details of the presentation; it was very thoughtful, elaborate and precise. The group has been in existence since 1994. They include women from several different communities in the Peten and one in Alta Verapaz. Their key issues are not that dissimilar to those of the women in Ixmukané Quiché -- sustainable economies, domestic violence, lack of services, lack of access to land. The women from Quiché listened fairly attentively, although the meetings are often hard to hear as the sound echoes ferociously in the large cavity of the building, the corrugated aluminum roof is frequently pinged by passing birds, there are trucks entering and leaving the department of roads ("caminos") all day long, and there are nearly always children scurrying underfoot and infants crying.
Another social difference between the two groups -- or at least the representatives of Ixmucané Peten who visited us (that is, their leadership) and the selected members of Ixmukané Quiché who were in attendance (not the staff, but the socias) is in literacy and also language. The presentation was in Spanish and aided by a powerpoint with fairly fine print, since they put a lot of text on each slide. All the members of Ixmucané Peten were literate, and many of them had more than minimal literacy. They took notes rapidly on their laptops during various parts of the two-day meeting. The women from Quiché had varying degrees of literacy; very few read and wrote fluidly and rapidly. Some had small notebooks, the kind with soft covers, containing about 80 pages of lined paper, the kind that children use in schools here, and painstakingly took some notes. But it was necessary to have someone translate, or at least summarize in K'iche', each segment of the presentation.
I was in and out, since we had responsibilities at the radio station, just to keep things running, and also helping out with other logistical matters, troubleshooting, and of course taking some photographs. The women from Peten had brought t-shirts for all of us, and we had some small bags made up with the Ixmukané logo to give to them (but those were not handed out until the last day).
The second part of the day, in the afternoon, was a presentation by Don Felipe about the Maya cosmovision and the importance of spirituality. I didn't get to hear much of it (there has now been so much that has happened since then that I don't exactly remember why I wasn't able to hear much of it, but probably preparing my 3 p.m. radio broadcast, and then going on the air is a good guess for what I might have been doing).
There was more the second day, but I'll leave that for another blog entry, hopefully before too long.