Friday, December 30, 2011

Sobering year-end thoughts

Two statistics jumped out of the newspaper headlines today, one day before 2011 comes to a close. Over 30 thousand Guatemalans were deported from the United States this year; to be precise 30,855 persons. We know that under the administration of  Barack Obama, detentions and deportations have increased, and those most affected by these policies are Mexicans and Central Americans. Friends on both sides have responded to this. My friend Adrian from the migrant community in New Bedford sent around an article from the Guatemalan newspaper about the last flight of deportees, which arrived yesterday, and Valentín, a friend from the community radio station in Sumpango, Estereo Ixchel, commented on his Facebook page, "Regarding the deportees: Since this year 30,855 Guatemalans have already been deported from the racist country of the USA, even though these people went to serve as slaves in that country, it is recommended that one no longer go, there is work here, if they really want to work, there are several secrets: 1. Create. 2. Invent. 3. Produce. 4. Rent out your home. 5. Sell. 6. Resell. 7. Distribute."

The statistic is sobering. Even with the sluggish (to say the least) economy in the U.S., traveling as a "mojado" (usually translated into English as "wetback"; it more literally means "one who is wet") seems like a reasonable alternate to no jobs and grinding poverty here, especially in rural areas. I use the term mojado advisedly; I know that in immigrant advocacy circles in the U.S. we would not use the term "wetback", but here I am reporting as accurately as I can how people in my little corner of Guatemala discuss migration to the U.S. And nearly everyone here uses the term "mojado" to refer to migrating without papers. "He went as a mojado," or "If I went, I would have to go as a mojado" are phrases that I hear frequently. So I am not going to change how people here talk about migration.

These statistics take on personal meaning. I know at least one of those 30,855 deportees; in fact, I saw him last night. He opened the gate for me when I stopped my car in front of Doña V's house in La Cruz, a settlement just at the edge of the town limit of Chinique. I had unsuccessfully attempted to visit him earlier this year when I was briefly visiting New Bedford -- this was probably in late February. I had gone to the detention facility at his mother's request, only to find out that he had very specific visiting hours and they did not coincide with the day I was there. Then a few months later, when I visited Doña V again, there he was, seemingly resigned to the circumstances that had brought him back to Guatemala (he was not someone who was detained at the border; he had been living in the U.S. for a while and might even have children born there; I am not entirely informed about all the details of his life). I have not spoken to him in any depth about his experiences, since migration is no longer at the center of my research, but I might try to talk with him before I leave. I will certainly see the family again, as Doña V asked me to take some dried chiles back to the states with me, to give to her three children who are still there.

As I wrote in an earlier entry this week, a 14-year old boy from a rural community outside Chichicatenango recently went to the U.S. People do not leave casually, and while I appreciate Valentín's plea and commentary, I would argue that it is not always possible for someone to practice those seven secrets. People in rural areas that are only reachable from the highway by walking for two hours have a hard time selling things, unless to agribusiness concerns which pay very poor prices for raw goods, and if they do not have adequate land they do not produce surpluses.

The other sobering statistic that appeared in the summary of year end news was about violent deaths. In Central America, or the northern triangle of Central America (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador), 16,710 people died violently -- most often, according to the news reports, at the hands of narcotraffickers, gangs and organized crime. All of which paths, in the case of Guatemala, lead to the military and the police (even if their hands are not directly stained with blood, and even if in specific cases, people are killed by ordinary criminals or jealous spouses).

This does not paint a pretty picture of life in Guatemala, nor offer a lot of hope for the future. Both political parties that were in the run-off campaigned on issues of security (hard hand for the Patriotas and the death penalty in the case of LIDER). Most people I know do not have a lot of hope that things will change under the new regime; in fact, some think the situation will be increasingly precarious.  The outgoing president just raised the minimum wage slightly; not a bad move, although a cynical view is that he is simply trying to slightly improve his legacy -- a poll in the paper last week said that his disapproval rating was about 95% -- of course, there have been a lot of criticisms of this paper, Prensa Libre, and their polling techniques; many have noted that the paper has slid dramatically to the right in recent years.  But it is unquestionable that a lot of people on both the left and the right think he's done a lousy job. But in many areas the minimum wage is not enforced, and so many people, especially here in the highlands, do not work for wages. Most businesses in this town, and other towns, are small family operations, and I doubt they are covered by minimum wage laws. Market vendors are not covered, nor are peddlers, or women who braid straw into long rolls, or people who carry heavy loads of firewood trying to sell them, or shoe-shine boys. The coastal plantations barely enough for workers to survive; many are run as company towns, and charges for food and lodging are skimmed off by the finca owners, so that migrant workers often return home with a very small amount of savings.

So raising the minimum wage is not a bad idea, but I am not very optimistic that it will make a significant difference in most people's lives.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Institution fortification and collective dreams

Just a quick blog on what I'm up to in the last days of the year... we have been involved in a long-term process within the organization of reformulating the work of the Ixmukané. This has been sometimes a frustrating and at other times an exciting process. We have been working with an outside consultant, and the participants are the staff, the former executive board and the current executive board members. We have been doing some little games (ice-breakers or group-process, what are called here dinámicas), but also working on reviewing what the organization has done in the past, and what it should be doing in the future. One of the critiques of the organization (internally generated critiques) is that it works from project to project, or mini-project to mini-project, and then the project ends, and there is not always follow-through.  Also there is a huge amount of paperwork involved with each project since each is supported by a foundation or outside funder, and for each activity there seems to be a mountain of forms that have to be filled out to account for the money, and then afterwards written reports at the end of the project.

Today we are in the last part: developing broad programs and then figuring out projects that fall under those umbrellas, and the actions and indicators and people responsible.  This part is actually kind of fun, as we are brainstorming activities. We are just dealing with the first program, about health, and are now talking about promoting the growth of medicinal herbs in botanical gardens, documenting traditional knowledge, and also possibly commercializing. We are at the point of silliness right now, dreaming about opening spas and selling combinations of herbs. But also school gardens, family gardens.. to promote nutrition and also local economies.

Ceremonia Toj (a ceremony for the nahual Toj)

My sometime teacher of K'iche' (we rarely meet, and I have barely advanced at all) is also an ajq'ij ("sacerdote Maya" or Maya priest, not a very exact translation) and is part of an organization called Chilam B'alam de los K'iche's. Back in late October or November, he invited me to participate in a ceremony that was going to be held at a sacred site outside of Santa Cruz del Quiché. He was very eager to have me meet people from the organization and have me participate in the event, so I arranged to meet him in the morning so we could go together. However, at the last moment, he was not given permission to take the morning off from his job, teaching at the Colegio Bilingüe (the bilingual school), which struck me as unfortunately ironic -- part of the school's mission is the strengthening of Maya culture and language. He teaches K'iche' language and Maya mathematical systems. It would seem to
me that his participating in something like this ceremony would only add to his knowledge... but then I don't run a school in Guatemala, so what do I know?

But he accompanied me nonetheless to the headquarters of Chilam B'alam so I could meet up with the others. Their locale is on a corner about a block and a half from the central plaza of Santa Cruz, and I found a place for the car and we went inside. There were five or six people there, and Leonardo introduced me to everyone as an anthropologist from the U.S. who was living in Guatemala. We all shook hands, and I was invited to make myself some tea while we waited for everyone to assemble.

The organization is one of many groups in Guatemala that are involved in reclaiming, preserving, representing Maya cultural values. I am not 100% clear about how the group was organized and how it functions, but its goals seem to be bringing people together, revalorizing spiritual traditions -- many, but not all, of the members are ajq'ij'ab or "Maya priests" or "day keepers" -- I realize that there are many different types of "priests" and priestesses, and the term ajq'ij is probably an inexact generalization, but I don't have the time to really delve into the distinctions and then try to explain them to readers of this blog. A day keeper, as I understand it, is someone who specializes in interpreting the sacred calendar -- 13 months of 20 days each, and each day distinguished by a specific nahual (energy, spirit) -- and conducting the proper ceremonies that correspond to each. Much like in santeria, some Maya priests/priestesses primarily do ceremonies for themselves and their families, while others do consultations (consultas) for other people.

We were waiting for some young people to show up, and so there were a couple of phone calls back and forth to locate htem and then we piled into the pick-up and set off. It has been over a year since I headed out on the highway that leads toward San Andrés Sajcabajá.

The road is only paved for a short distance as it leaves the highway that goes from Santa Cruz to Joyabaj, cutting off sharply at the gas station. Then it turns to sand, gravel and dirt. This was during the rainy season, and the road was a bit slippery, and some pretty serious puddles and I was a bit anxious about how far up the road we were going and whether my car, which is not a 4X4, would make it.  But we made it and I parked the car and we unloaded the bags containing candles and incense and whatever else we were bringing and walked up a dirt path that was covered with fallen leaves.

We entered into a clearing among the trees. At one side there was a space where the marimba musicians arranged themselves. There were a few dozen people there, mostly gathered under the trees as it was alternating between heavy mist and a very light drizzle.

There were some people already there, gathered around a fire. The fire was built on a circle of candles and incense, around which there were four triangles made of flower petals, forming the entire assemblage into a 4-pointed star.  At first I didn't realize that they were a different group, but when they finished their prayers and offerings, and started to leave it became clear.

The people who were directing the ceremony waited for the other group to leave and then started to arrange things on the altar -- there was a half-circle or horseshoe-shape made of stones that had been piled up, and inside that arc or half-circle people arranged flowers and pine needles, along with some candles.

Then they spoke about the importance of the day, its significance, and also the importance of reclaiming sacred sites such as the one we were using.  Toj is the nahual that corresponds to fire, and also to offerings. All ceremonies involve building a sacred fire and making offerings, but in a ceremony devoted to Toj the fire and the offerings take on an especial weight (this is what I could understand). I was introduced at one point and invited to speak and introduce myself to the people present. I was a little surprised since I hadn't expected to be included in that way; I realized, of course, that I could not exactly be a fly on the wall here -- or anywhere in highland Guatemala, for that matter.

There is no way that I can be invisible or inconspicuous. In many of the social circumstances in which I find myself, I am usually the only non-Maya present and nearly invariably the only extranjera (foreigner -- that is, in most of these settings, there are rarely any Ladinos). No one makes me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, but I often feel highly visible. When my friend Caterino's two-year old son Brandon, with deep brown skin, decides he wants to go to the local market with me, and toddles along holding me by the hand, prattling to me as I select tomatoes or cooking greens, we attract stares from both Maya and Ladinos in the market square.  But this is a subject for a different blog entry, perhaps.

I hadn't prepared anything to say, and I was self-conscious about my extremely limited vocabulary in K'iche', so I said good morning and introduced myself in K'iche' and then apologized for not speaking the language and switched to Spanish. I explained briefly what I was doing in Guatemala --that I did a lot of work in the U.S. with immigrants, particularly with Maya K'iche' in New Bedford, which was how I came to Guatemala in the first place, and that I was working with a Maya women's organization in Quiché, and that I was grateful for their invitation, and felt privileged to be able to participate in something so important. All of which was true...

I realize, reading this, that it sounds kind of pre-packaged, like what one is supposed to say on such an occasion. And that it is, to a degree -- I am aware of what is expected of me in certain settings, what is appropriate, and I have become a little bit familiar with rhetorical styles here. But that makes it no less heartfelt or authentic. I am privileged and honored. Anthropologists, tourists, white folks in general, gringos and gringas in particular, have an unfortunate history here. Fear about cultural appropriation, misrepresentation, ripping off, foreigners trying to profit from Maya culture is not a paranoid fantasy but well-founded. And so I am grateful that people are willing to look beyond the  nationality and skin color and social class and allow me in; that they are willing to take a chance that event though I am a gringa anthropologist, I might be different from the other güeras (white folks), gringas and anthropologists they have come across.

I asked permission very carefully about taking photographs -- to be perfectly respectful. Leonardo, my teacher, had told me beforehand that I could take photographs, but since he was not there, I made sure that I asked very specifically again before taking out my camera, although there were many people usig their cell phones, and at least one other person from the organization using a camera.

I was allowed to take photographs and shoot videos up to a certain point, during the preparations, and and then once the ceremony formally defined started, they asked me to stop -- this was fine with me. Ironically, afterwards, they asked me for photographs, and the person who came to copy my photographs from my hard drive onto his flash drive said he regretted that I had not taken photographs during the ceremony, because the ones
he had taken had not come out that well,  and now they didn't have all the photographs they wanted to document the activity.

There is a wide variety of views about the appropriateness of photographing ceremonies. Some people believe that it interferes with the energy (which was why Doña Fermina and Doña Matilde asked me not to take photographs when we went to do a ceremony the week before the election (or at least not after they had set up the altar and started to make the offerings).

 On the other hand, the ajq'ij'ab (plural of ajq'ij, or Maya priest) who work with Ixmukané and who have done the ceremonies at the center do not mind (I know because I have asked them; even when someone has told me once that he does not mind if I photograph a ceremony, I will always ask again the next time because it is possible that different kinds of ceremonies have different kinds of energies, and different sets of restrictions might apply).

The ceremony was run by Juan Ixcop, but there were several others, mostly men but also at least one woman, who were actively involved. The participants were mostly people from the area surrounding the sacred site -- that is, from some rural communities along this highway.

It was not that dissimilar from other ceremonies I have attended, except that there was a live marimba, and then also a musical ensemble of about 4 young people who played one song at the site, and then more later when we had repaired to the headquarters of Chilam B'alam for lunch. The fire was built and lit and stirred, petitions and prayers offered.

The weather was cool and misty, and the ceremony went on for a few hours. Toward the end, the marimba played a son (a musical style or rhythm, not related to the Cuban son), which is a kind of music that is relatively danceable, Juan directed everyone to dance around in a circle that then spiraled inward and then again outward. The ground was uneven, and it was hard to keep balance and also keep the rhythm. There are several different ways that people dance son, or rather, different relationships to the somewhat stately beat, and I am undoubtedly committing the sin of pride to say that I think I do a pretty good job of staying on rhythm.
After we had spiraled in and around and back out again, the ceremony was officially over. However, individuals made personal petitions, either at the horseshoe shaped altar or at the fire.  They also pulled out cell phones and other cameras to snap photos of the altar and the offerings and perhaps themselves, as this man in the photo on the left is doing.

At the very end, before the fire was put out, people cleansed themselves in a set of gestures that I easily recognized, and again, the similarities to Afrocuban religious ceremonies were striking. They removed a piece of outer clothing -- a scarf, shawl, or jacket, and swirled it around in the smoke above the fire, and then put the clothing back on.
Although I was pretty sure I could "read" these actions, I asked someone why she was doing this and she said to cleanse herself of any possible negative energies released in the ceremony. In santería ceremonies, a participant will usually take a piece of fruit from the altar, and then go outside, and swipe the fruit over his or her body in rapid strokes (down one's arms, torso, legs, and even the soles of the feet) and then discard the fruit at the corner.

Most of the people were from the immediate area and so they walked off. We returned back to Santa Cruz and to the headquarters of Chilam B'alam, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch (chicken pepián) and music performed by the same young people who had been at the ceremony. There was one young woman who played the flute, primarily, but also guitar and percussion; she was quite talented and also had a lovely singing voice. I now no longer remember what they sang -- a few nuevo canto songs, and a few traditional Guatemalan sones, transposing marimba music into guitar, flute and drum.
Over lunch I chatted with a few people; one man who sat at the table with me had spent some time in the U.S. and so we talked about the difficulties immigrants face.

Writing this entry is a lesson to me: I have to write stuff down more immediately after it happens otherwise I forget too much and the entries just ramble on without a lot of interest. Of course, not the most useful revelation to have three weeks before my departure .. or rather, three weeks before my departure is perhaps not the most useful moment to have this revelation....

Sending off the spirits

In mid November, when I was in Canada for a conference, I got word that a relative of some of my friends here -- Matilde and her daughter Jeanet -- had died. It was Jeanet, who is my colleague at the radio station, who first told me that her grandfather (and thus Matilde's father) had died -- I am friends with both mother and daughter, but these days am in daily contact with the daughter. I only met Matilde's father once, at the luncheon Matilde had held at her home a few week after the September 11 election, to thank her family and friends for supporting her. He was a bit frail and ailing; we sat at the same table and I spoke with him briefly, but he and his wife left relatively early. Over the intervening two months, I have heard through both Jeanet and Matilde that he was not doing well, and so it was not a complete surprise when Jeanet told me, via a chat message on Facebook (yes, that is often how we stay in touch when we are in different cities or I in a different country) that her grandfather had died. Since Jeanet's father abandoned Matilde and the children when they were all fairly young, Jeanet said that her grandfather was really more like a father to her, and that everyone was very sad, especially her grandmother.

When I returned I called Matilde, but her voice was bright and cheery when she answered the phone. She has, in general, a very positive outlook on life, very philosophical: I blogged about this earlier when I reported on the post-election luncheon, at which she talked about not having gained a seat in Congress, and described it not as a defeat but as a learning experience. And I know that with her, those are not just words repeated mindlessly, but they truly express her belief and her approach to life.

Jeanet told me that the family was going to do a novena; for those of you who are not Catholic, a novena is a series of prayers held on nine consecutive days, and when someone has died, there is usually a series of prayers that culminates on the ninth day.  Jeanet told me that they were going to go to the cemetery on the ninth day, and place the stone on her grandfather's grave, but that it would be a "novena Maya" -- a Maya-style novena, and not a Catholic novena. Her mother, Matilde, is an ajq'ij (a "Maya priest"), and so I would have been a bit surprised if they had told me they were doing a mass. She invited me to accompany the family, and I gladly accepted; although I barely knew the grandfather, I am very fond of both Jeanet and Matilde (and the other members of the family whom I know -- Jeanet's husband and two daughters, her brother Juan and his wife Sandra). She told me they were going to leave for the cemetery at 8 on Saturday morning and I said I would stop by and pick them up (Jeanet and her family, and her brother Juan and his wife Sandra all live in the same compound as Matilde).

Then Wednesday afternoon, I received a phone call from my friend Javier in Xela, inviting me to come to his home on Friday for a Thanksgiving dinner. His wife is from the U.S. and he lived there with her for several years, and so they had invited people, including our mutual friend Humberto, to come to their house. I was very touched by his invitation, and although accepting both invitations would mean a lot of driving (it's 2 hours to Xela, and so I calculated that I could leave Quiché on Friday afternoon, spend the night, and then leave Xela at 6 a.m. on Saturday and get back to Santa Cruz by 8). I had plans to be at a public event for the international day of no violence against women (November 25, which was Friday), since we were going to transmit it on the radio station, and Javier had told me they were going to eat at 3. The story of the Thanksgiving dinner is a bit separate so I will write about it in a separate blog, but for the purposes of our present story, let's just say that I was in my car on Friday afternoon tootling along the highway from Santa Cruz to Totonicapán, and Jeanet called to tell me that there had been a change in plans. The family was going to the cemetery on Sunday, not Saturday, but they were going to do a ceremony at 5 p.m. until midnight on Saturday, and Matilde had suggested that I accompany them. I accepted with alacrity; attending a very private family ceremony is a privilege not extended to everyone, and I took it as a sign of the family's (and especially Matilde's) affection for me that I was invited to be present.

I had not planned to spend much of Saturday in Xela (since we have a lot of pending projects, I often like to leave open the possibility that some combination of us can meet, but it usually doesn't happen), so I made my routine stops on the way out of town. Xelapan is a local chain of bakeries and restaurants. It has become a custom for me to pick up some treat for my friends in Quiche. Sometimes I get some cookies for the radio station, sometimes I have gotten a loaf cake for Jeanet and her family. And I usually pick up some foccaccia for myself. This is the only place I have seen foccaccia for sale in Guatemala -- they are small, round, individually sized. While they lack the sprinkling (or drenching) with olive oil that I recall from the foccaccia we ate in Liguria, along the Mediterranean coast of Italy's north, the texture of these is the closest I have found to the dreamily fluffy ones we found in Luguria. I also usually fill up on cappuccino for the road (quality varies depending upon who is behind the counter). Then next stop is Pupusawa, a place that sells pupusas (basically stuffed tortillas -- typical fillings are cheese, chicharrones, mashed black beans). I developed a liking (to put it mildly) for pupusas (another blog on that) from my friends in the Salvadoran community in New Bedford, and that liking turned into something closer to an addiction when I was in El Salvador, as I was able to taste for the first time pupusas made with nixtamal, freshly-made dough, and not Maseca. As a small illustration, the day I left for the U.S. we got up early and made a stack of 15 or 20 cheese pupusas that I then packed into my bag, and put into the freezer when I got home, and doled out in small doses over the next couple of weeks. I make pupusas de queso at least once a week, a great quick meal, but the pupusas at Pupusawa are much better than what I make (I think it's the masa, and also the stove that they have).

As much as driving is sometimes exhausting, I find it hard to stay in a cranky mood for very long when my drives take me through breathtakingly spectacular landscapes. Also, interestingly, I have yet to find myself fighting sleep at the wheel, as so often has happened in my weekly treks between Brooklyn and Rhode Island/Southeastern Massachusetts as I commute to my job at U Mass Dartmouth. But here I am always alert, even when I have had alarmingly little sleep. Maybe it's driving a standard instead of an automatic, on roads that have a lot of speed bumps and curves, necessitating a lot of shifting and manuevering. Driving here demands a lot of attention, as opposed to the relatively flat super highiways in the northeastern U.S. Cruise control would be worse than useless here. The drive between Xela and Quiché is one of my favorites, and I always find myself mentally refreshed and spiritiually nourished, as ironic as that might sound, although it is also a very lonely stretch of road. I perhaps will write a separate blog about the road since I spend so much time on it.

I had enough time to stop back in Chinique and drop my things. I also was not entirely certain where I was going. Jeanet had told me it was close to Doña Fermina's house,which is along the highway between Santa Cruz and Chinique. So it took several phone calls to Jeanet to figure out a meeting place and time. And then I got there and waited. And waited. I try to be punctual (I do not always succeed) and since we had agreed upon a time, I did my best to be there. I was running a few minutes late and so called Jeanet en route. She told me that she had not left home yet and that she had to run an errand. Well, it made no sense to turn back (I was already more than halfway to our meeting place) so I got there, parked as best I could (there are not really shoulders on any of these roads, mostly drainage ditches with a very narrow area between the paved surface and the ditch) and listened to the radio while I waited. Finally Jeanet and her husband arrived and I followed them, down a narrow dirt road about a kilometer or two.

There were several cars along the road near the house and I added mine and then we walked into the compound or homestead (there were a couple of small structures, I wish I were better at spatial or architectural descriptions), on a narrow dark path. We passed the main house where Jeanet's grandparent lived, and then came to a small two-room adobe brick house that was separate from the main house. There were about 15 people inside, ranged around the edge of the room. Most on chairs, a few seated on the floor and some stretched or slumped on a bed in one corner. They were nearly all relatives and a few neighbors or friends. I was the only non-Maya person and the only non-Guatemalan present (I just add that as an observation).  Space was tight, but Jeanet insisted that I sit on one of the chairs, so I did.  Later Matilde, her mother and also my friend, came in and sat in a chair near me. Jeanet pointed out her uncle who lives in the U.S. (she had mentioned to me some time back that she had two uncles who lived in the U.S.).

The floor, which was packed clay, was covered with a blanket of pine needles. Two or three men, one of them Matilde's brother who lives in the States, were trying to arrange a plank of wood so that it would form a kind of table in front of the altar which occupied the center of one wall. The altar reminded me of many I have seen in Cuba and in the Afrocuban religious community in the U.S. -- a table covered with a white cloth, upon which were arrayed some glasses of water, candles, some flowers, and photographs of the deceased, along with photographs of other deceased relatives. The men were trying to balance the plank of wood so that it jutted out from the table perpendicularly into the room, and they laughed and joked in K'iche' as they discussed the best way to balance it. Finally they got the wood arranged and covered it with a cloth, and then took handfuls of pine needles and heaped them onto the plank so that they roughly formed the shape of a human body (head, torso and limbs), which they then covered with another cloth.  more pine needles were strewn on top of this human shape, and then heaps of flower petals arranged as well.

Jeanet explained to me who some of the people were in the pictures on the altar: there were a few of the grandfather who had recently died, but also a few photographs of young women. Jeanet explained that those were aunts, sisters of her mother, who had been killed during the armed conflict. The war is never very far away, it seems. Jeanet's grandmother, whom I had met once before, entered the room and I went over to greet her and offer my condolences. I embraced her and she started to sob and so I continued to hold her and say what I could to comfort her as we stood in the doorway for a minute, and then she stopped, wiped her face and went to sit down.  I recognized Mario, a young linguist who works with the group Chilam B'alam de los K'iche's -- an organization that is dedicated to preserving and promoting religious and other cultural traditions. They had invited me to a ceremony some weeks back at a sacred site, Tzojil, on the highway between Santa Cruz and San Andrés Sacjabajá, and then Mario had come to the radio station to copy the photos I had taken onto his flash drive.  I walked around the crowded room and greeted them. Then a little while later I took a closer look at the ajq'ij who was officiating (he hadn't been in the room when I had arrived) and realized that he was Juan Ixcop, also from Chilam B'alam, and so then Mario's presence made more sense (Mario is not an ajq'ij). Juan asked the children of the deceased - Matilde, her sister and brothers -- to arrange some flowers in containers on both sides of the "corpse" that had been created on the plank of wood; there was one container of flowers on each side, about at the midpoint, and then two at the "head" -- which was the end of the plank that extended into the room. Then the children were instructed to take candles and line them up on the floor, melting the ends so that they would stand upright. I am not sure if there was a specific number of candles that each person was supposed to have; they seemed to be counting them out but I couldn't really tell. Then they lit all the candles, so the plank representing the corpse was surrounded by flowers and lights on the floor. It was quite beautiful.

The ceremony started with prayers and giving thanks. It was almost entirely in K'iche' and Jeanet, who had invited me, was in and out of the room as she has two children, both of whom got a little antsy from time to time, and she was also helping with food preparation, so when I asked her, a few days later, to explain to me what had happened, she wasn't able to give a full explanation. But the rough idea that she gave me was the ceremony was essential to ensure the smooth transition of the person's spirit to the other plane of existence.  That was why the priests constructed a representation of a human body. If this ceremony were not performed, then there was a danger that the spirit would linger, and not be at peace, and also the surviving family members would not be at peace. It sounded roughly similar to the very little that I know about Navajo death rituals... that the spirit must be properly sent on its way.

The ceremony was held in two parts. The first part was in the small house where the simulacra of the body had been created. It went on for about two hours, and then there was a break and we were served tamales accompanied by tortillas (yes, double doses of cornmeal masa... the dough part of the tamales is kind of liquid-y, and you can use the tortillas to scoop it up and transfer it to your mouth. Or just use your fingers if there aren't spoons. Or both). There was a lot of conviviality during the break. I wandered outside to where Jeanet and her husband were at one of the fires, toasting tortillas.

Then the ceremony reconvened in another part of the homestead, a room that was made of wood or bamboo, with a row of benches around the edge). There was no light except for the candles we held and perhaps someone had a flashlight. At the front of the room, there were some candles on the floor. It was cold, as the walls were not solid, and we all huddled on the benches and then later Juan Ixcop, the ajq'ij, made a fire in the center of the room.

As the fire grew, we had to turn our faces away, as it got very hot, and the women pulled their aprons or shawls over their faces, as the heat was intense.  Juan spoke some, stirred the fire, and then everyone put our candles in the fire. It was clear and cold when we finished. I offered to give a ride to several people who were going back in my direction, and said my goodbyes, and extricated my car and we took off. The road was dark and bumpy, the stars shining in the cold night air, and we reached the highway and then my passengers got out a little ways up the road, and then I took myself home to an almost silent town (with the exception of a few barking dogs).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Rural youth

One of my goals recently has been to involve a group of young people in the work of the radio station. There is a newly formed organization in Chichicastenango called El Red de Jóvenes de Iximileuw con Consciencia Social (the Network of Young People of Guatemala -- Iximileuw is the original name of the country in K'iche' -- with a social conscience). I have met with them on several occasions and attended some of their events, and they have impressed me (at least the ones with whom I have spoken at some length) with their dedication and their energy. They are all from rural areas in the municipality of Chichicastenango; it still takes a bit of effort for me to make the distinction. When someone says to me that he or she is from Chichicastenango, I have to stop myself from assuming that means they are from the town proper. Chichicastenango means the entire municipality (the equivalent of a township in the U.S.) which includes 86 communities, and a pretty sizeable geographical area that stretches down to touch the Panamerican highway south of Los Encuentros (the major "intersection" where the Panamerican veers off west to Xela and beyond, and the more minor highway that leads through the department of Quiché starts.

Since meeting the young people, I have wanted to involve them in the work of the radio. We have been struggling to find volunteers, and we have not been that successful. No one lives right around the station, most of the women who are part of the women's associations that form the base of Ixmukané live in rural communities, have several children, and either cannot or will not travel unless their expenses are paid. So it's been an uphill climb and very frustrating. When the Red de Jóvenes was founded, or rather when it floated across my field of vision, I thought they would be excellent candidates to work in the radio because they are very passionate, and doing community radio, I am convinced, requires a kind of fire in the belly about communicating one's message to the world that I have not seen among the women of Ixmukané. This is something that has struck me about the founders of the several radio stations that I have visited -- they all founded radio stations because they had an almost desperate need to get their message out to the world, to make their voices heard. I have not seen that same sense of urgency among the women in the local women's associations who make up the base of Ixmukané, nor among the staff. They all like the idea of the radio, some think that it is important, but no one seems to have a sense of urgency about it. That's my observation based on nearly 8 months of working with the radio.

So the young people from the Red de Jóvenes seemed to have that passion and intensity that was lacking. I have been trying to figure out how to get them involved in the radio; the chief obstacle was the distance they would have to travel, since the radio was in Santa Cruz, half an hour by bus from Chichicastenango (and that would mean getting from their rural communities to Chichicastenango to get the bus). The radio doesn't have a budget, so we could not promise them bus fare. And so things stood -- they were interested but the logistics and economics were against us. The interest of the young people was part of what inspired me to make a strong argument about 10 days ago to the director of Ixmukané about why I thought we should move the radio to Chichicastenango.  If the radio were in Chichi, then it would be more possible for the young people to get there and do programs on a regular basis.  We only have had two people at the radio in the past month or two, and one of them is me, and I am leaving. Well, we have one group of volunteers who do a program once a week, and my friend Caterino had been interested in taking a regular spot on the radio, and had come in a few times to fill in when we needed help, but that wasn't enough.

So once Doña Mary had taken the decision to move the radio to Chichi (we just moved the equipment inside the station; we haven't dismantled the tower yet and have not figured out a new locale for the radio), I contacted Lucelio and Mario, the two leaders of the Red de Jóvenes who had been most interested in the radio, to let them know and also to try and push for a training session before I leave. Not because I am the most qualified to do a training session on radio (with the exception of the two training sessions I attended in San Mateo, which mostly focused on making radio spots, and also some education on human rights and sexual and reproductive rights, I have not had any formal training in radio, and before starting to work with Radio Ixmukané in April, it had been years since I had been on the air -- probably about 16 years ago was when I did my last broadcasts at WBAI). But I have the freedom to make my own schedule and I have a lot of experience in teaching and leading meeting, and I have the urgency and determination to make it happen. I am very passionate about community radio; I do feel as though I am on a mission to make our radio happen, to make it viable and make it a success. I've probably internalized this too much -- taken it too deeply to heart and have invested too much emotionally in it. I realize that it is not "my" radio, but I also recognize that because I am not bound in the same way that rural women or Ixmukané employees are, I can make a certain contribution. I've had the opportunity, because I am "free" to travel around the country and to do what I want, within reason, to participate in the community radio movement, visit other radio stations, and get more of an overview of the challenges and possibilities at a national level.

And so I have been determined to find ways to get other people involved in Radio Ixmukané. I pushed the young people from the Red de Jóvenes and we finally agreed upon the date of December 26 for a training session, and I put together a brief outline. In the meantime, Lucelio, the person with whom I've had the most contact (since he attended the last training session/workshop on sexual and reproductive rights in San Mateo, together with me, and we had time to talk in the car on the way back), had been asking me to come visit the community where he lives, Semejá. I realized that it was important to him, but wasn't sure when I would be able to do it.  We had a meeting about a week and a half ago (I am now losing track of exact dates) that I thought was going to be a training session but only Lucelio and Mario came so we used the time to plan the training session that took place yesterday, and I was saying that I wanted to take a temescal (a traditional Maya sauna) before I left and Lucelio said, "Come to my house today and my mother will make you one." I said that I couldn't but that we could do it the day of the training session.

And so yesterday, December 26, after spending several hours working with a group of 7 young people (4 men, 3 women), giving them a basic orientation on media, radio and how to develop a program, Lucelio, his brother Alvaro and I set off in my pickup for me to have my temescal and visit their home. It wasn't until we had turned off the highway and started towards their home that I realized fully, empirically, how much effort they have to expend to get to Chichicastenango for meetings and how much it has taken for both of them to finish high school and "sacar un título" (literally, "get a title" or "get a certificate", meaning receive a diploma). Their community is up in the hills off the highway that leads between Chichicastenango and Los Encuentros, and while a small part of the road is paved, it is mostly dirt. And not just dirt, but deeply rutted and grooved washboard that climbs around hills, hanging closely to the slopes. There are several places, around some tight curves, where the road has been eroded by the rains and is barely wide enough for a car to pass, and there is no guard rail or any kind of protection that would prevent one's car from plunging off the cliff into a ravine or valley if one skidded, for example.  I have driven on a lot of sketchy roads, but this was one of the sketchiest - if not the sketchiest. I don't scare easily (if I did, I wouldn't be able to move around Guatemala the way I do) and I wasn't frightened, but I did not feel that I could let my attention flag for one split second.

While we drove, Lucelio told me that he and his brother were two of the only four people in the community who had finished high school (and one of the other two is a cousin) and that most people did not even finish sixth grade. He had done his practice teaching in the community the year before (he graduated with a degree in teaching -- here, you can teach elementary school with only a high school education if you take a specialized course in teacher training), and said that only 15 had graduated sixth grade, and this year only 11. The community only offers education up to sixth grade, and in order to continue his education he had to go elsewhere, which meant walking two hours each way to school (I now don't remember if that was for junior high school or high school). He said that school ended at 6 p.m. and then he would have to walk two hours back in the dark along this very rough road. Some stretches are pretty desolate-looking, although he assured me that people in the community kept watch out for robbers and delinquents and there were not many attacks. We passed people standing on a bridge over a small brook, surrounded by small heaps of dirt dotted with orange. I thought they might be road workers or those might be leftovers from firecrackers, but then Lucelio said "This is what people do here, they cultivate carrots and other vegetables and come here to wash them." I didn't stop to take pictures, except of their home, in part because I was anxious about getting there in a reasonable amount of time.  I had not decided whether I would stay the night or try to leave after the temescal, as I had planned to spend the following day -- that is, today - at Estereo Ixchel, the community radio station in Sumpango, starting in the early morning. I had wanted to arrive at Estero Ixchel during the early morning program (6-8 a.m.) so I could watch as much of the broadcast day as possible, and also because the person who does the early morning slot, Valentín, is one of the founders. We have developed a kind of friendship, mostly through online chats and messages, as we have only met in person a few times, but I have long wanted to interview him, and since he is a farmer, he leaves right at 8 and spends the rest of the day in the fields, with the only time off being Sunday afternoons, and so the only way for me to talk with him was to come to the radio station.

We finally bumped up the last curve and they told me, "That's our house," so I pulled over. It is nestled on a gentle slope below the road surface, and we carefully climbed down a pretty steep dirt path with my suitcase and backpack (the former in case I decided to stay).
Their father works at the first gas station that one encounters after turning off onto RN-15 at the Los Encuentros interchange, about a kilometer or less along the road. Their mother stays at home and tends to the house and, undoubtedly, the fields as well, although they do not have a large area of cultivation. I met the father at the gas station (we went to Los Encuentros first so Lucelio could pick up some things he needed for his small business, and stopped at the gas station to use the restroom and so I could be introduced to their father; he was still at the gas station when I passed through around 7 in the evening, so I don't know when he comes home or how he gets there. Lucelio told me that the tuk-tuk drivers charge 15 Q from the highway to their home, each way, and that would be a large sum of money for someone of modest means.

Theirs is a small family, by Guatemalan standards: 4 children. Neither of the parents completed primary school but were determined for their children (at least the sons) to study: there is an older daughter, but she is married and I am not sure whether she lives with her natal family or her husband's family and did not get to ask how far she had gone in her studies.

Lucelio and Álvaro both seemed very pleased by my visit; I am not trying to claim that I have done anything all that special, but I have learned that is very significant for people in rural areas, in communities that have been marginalized, ignored and forgotten, when one comes to visit in their homes. I was going to say, "when one makes the effort", but really, my effort in driving my car along that road was so much less than what Álvaro and Lucelio do nearly every day to get to school or to work or to a meeting.  I was chatting online with a friend in the U.S. about class politics, and noted that I am acutely aware of the importance of class, or the intersection of class and race, spending time in the predominantly Maya, predominantly rural highland communities of Quiché. There is a world of difference between my living situation even in one of the smallest towns in the department, as I live in the center of town and even if I didn't have a car, I would only have to walk two blocks to catch an inter-city bus, and the situation of Lucelio and Álvaro, who would have to walk two hours to get the same bus.And so, once again, I am thoroughly humbled by my friends, and what they do as part of their normal routine, and their determination to try and do something for their community, and their people more generally.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The politics of the gift

During my time in Guatemala, I have been the beneficiary of the generosity of so many people, who have shared their time, invited me into their homes, fed me (sometimes apologizing for the meal being only beans and tortillas). I have also, in my small way, done favors. Many times when Ixmukané has activities at their center in Quiché, I give people rides back into town, or take the folks who live in Chinique back. Whenever I am at the office in Chichicastenango, I ask if anyone needs a lift back along my route and sometimes wait 5-15 minutes for someone to finish up so I can give her a ride. And if I am going to Chichicastenango, I will often call people who live along the way to see if anyone needs a lift (not everyone goes into the office all the time).

However, I give rides so often and to so many people, that I do accept contributions for gas. When I have given a lift to a group of women who are not close friends, one or more will ask what they owe me for the ride, and I will usually say that if they can give me 1 or 2 quetzales that will be fine, and if not, that's fine too (this is about 1/3-1/4 of what the standard fare is). If someone calls me and asks me if I can take him or her somewhere (this has happened a few times), I try to come up with a fair price (it costs me more in gas than what they would pay for a bus ride).

I frequently give rides to complete strangers, especially on lightly-traveled stretches of highway. People stand on the side of the road and flag down (or attempt to flag down) passing vehicles. In those cases, if it's a short distance, and especially if it's a woman with children or an elderly person, I tell them they don't owe me anything (if the person insists, I will take a quetzal or two; gas is expensive). For longer distances, I will ask the person what the normal rate is, and then quote them something much lower than that.  The other day, as I was leaving Todos Santos, about 8 people were standing on the main street of town looking for a ride and I took all of them. Two of them who were obviously (to me) returned migrants (as they spoke English) insisted on giving me more money than I asked for (probably to demonstrate their relative wealth to both me and the other passengers); I tried to give them some change but they waved me off  and walked away; I didn't think getting out of the car and running after them was a good idea (it might have been viewed as humiliating).

With my friends here in town, a few times people have given me home-grown produce, and twice I have been given some home-made cheese. If I am giving a friend (as opposed to someone I pick up on the highway) a ride and I stop to get myself a latte, I will buy one for my friend (which means that I don't stop for a latte if I am giving rides to more people than I can afford to treat). My co-workers at the radio station (there have been a few since we started back in April) and I lend each other lunch money frequently since the cafeteria where we eat does not always have change for large bills (lunch is 10 quetzales, and sometimes we only have 50 or 100 quetzal notes), and I have made some small (for me) loans to friends (100 to 200 Q) which they have paid back fairly promptly (and one more substantial loan).

It was a bit of a surprise when I had a small birthday gathering for friends in Chinique (it was one of three birthday celebrations I had) and they nearly all brought gifts for me. I certainly hadn't expected that, and I was both very touched and a little uncomfortable that they had spent money on me (perhaps I could have specified "no gifts" but I still am not clear about all the social codes here, and I'm not sure how a statement to that effect would be received).

Since I don't live with a family here, I do not know what the codes of gift-giving are. When we were in Chichicastenango earlier this week for the fair, I spent an hour or so with Jeanet and her family (we met up in the mid-afternoon) helping her mother in law buy shoes and a sweater that would be her Christmas presents -- these were hardly surprise gifts. This was a pretty laborious process as there were dozens of stalls set up along the streets and the mother-in-law wanted to try on at least a dozen sweaters and a couple of dozen pairs of shoes at a variety of stalls.

I decided to purchase some small gifts (well, small in monetary value from my perspective) for Jeanet and her family and Caterino and his family - the two families that had invited me to spend time with them over the Christmas holiday.  . I didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable with the gifts (as I knew that most people couldn't afford to give me anything and I neither expected nor wanted anything) so nothing too expensive (my sense is that people would have felt bad if they knew I had spent a lot of money since they couldn't reciprocate and I hoped that if the gifts were nice but not very costly people would feel okay accepting them).  So I shopped while I was in Todos Santos -- there is a shop that works with local artisans and collectives, and also sells locally produced coffee. I bought some hand-woven belts (fajas) that women use to tie their cortes for Jeanet, her mother, Caterino's wife Sandra, Jeanet's oldest daughter and Caterino's daughter-- the traditional ones in Todos Santos (and even some of the more "modern" ones) are fairly distinctive looking. I found small water-bottle holders made of hand woven cloth for Nazario and Caterino, and little crocheted balls for the two youngest children. The coffee was only available in 1-pound bags so I bought 2 and divided the coffee up into some small bags as I realized that I wanted to visit a few other friends; buying more than 2 bags seemed like overkill.

Since among the families I know there doesn't seem to be the same Christmas Day gift exchange as in most US families that celebrate Christmas, I gave Jeanet's family presents on Noche Buena (and once I realized we were spending the day at her mother in law's, I got another gift for her, as I hadn't included her in my original round of gift-buying); there wasn't much ceremony, and I hadn't wrapped them.

Christmas Day I went up to Tapesquillo, an aldea outside of Chinique, to visit some people whom I haven't seen for a long time. Caterino had wanted me to visit with his family, and his in-laws live in Tapesquillo so he, Sandra and the kids were there, and then there are a few other families (interrelated) who are relatives of my friend Adrian, my closest Maya friend in the U.S.  I visited the home of Don G. and Doña A., and also Doña T. (who is Don G's mother).  I gave them both some of the coffee. Doña T. sounded upset that she didn't have anything to give me but I picked some turnip greens and lemons from her garden.

And really, that was as good a gift as I could have wanted -- fresh produce (especially after having eaten a couple of lard-laden tamales).

Radio Xobil Yol (traducción a español)

NOTA: Las fotos están en la versión en inglés solamente.

La radio comunitaria, junto con el resto de la vida, comienza temprano aquí en las montañas y los valles de Huehuetenango. A medida que trepó los caminos de tierra rocosa de Todos Santos Cuchumatán a las 5:30 am, para cumplir con mi amiga Dilma, que estaba haciendo el primer turno en la estación de radio, el terreno de juego-negro del cielo fue roto por el parpadeo de las lámparas de la calle, cuerdas de luces de Navidad sujeta a los techos y terrazas, unas pocas casas donde los residentes ya estaban empezando su día, o tenían luces en los exteriores de sus casa que podría haber estado en toda la noche, y un gran árbol de Navidad en una caja en la parte inferior de una colinita empinada que conducía a la carretera principal de la ciudad.El show de la mañana comienza a las 5 o 5:30 (dependiendo de quién está haciendo la transmisión), y consiste en anuncios, saludos y música de marimba (que parece ser un elemento básico de la radio comunitaria en las comunidades mayas: el día comienza con la marimba). He venido esta mañana para observar la estación en su rutina normal, y estar en compañía de Dilma, una de las dos mujeres que trabaja en la emisora ​​de radio todos los días como locutora. Hace frío en las montañas, por lo que las dos somos abrigadas contra el frío - ella con bufanda, una sudadera y una gorra y yo con un jersey de forro polar y una chaqueta con forro polar adentro. Ella, sin embargo, tiene las piernas desnudas y lleva sandalias (al igual que muchas mujeres mayas en las tierras altas: la mayoría no cubren sus piernas y mientras las mujeres hacen uso de zapatos cerrados, las sandalias son el calzado por defecto).

Esta es una comunidad agrícola, mientras que ahora hay caminos pavimentados en algunas partes de la ciudad (la calle principal está pavimentada y también lo son algunos otros), hay una gran cantidad de caminos de tierra y rocas que la gente usa para ir de un lugar a otro, y hay milpas que crecen cerca al centro de la ciudad. Esta mañana, mientras caminaba de la estación de radio de vuelta al centro de la ciudad para el desayuno, pasé unas pocas ovejas de pastoreo. Así que la gente se levanta temprano, por lo que hora la estación de radio se adaptan a las necesidades de la localidad.

Xobil Yol es una estación de radio que fue fundada hace más de 11 años, en junio de este año celebrará su 12 aniversario.Yo había conocido el fundador de la emisora ​​de radio, Rosendo Pablo, en la sesión de la primera sesión de capacitación para las radio comunitarias que asistí a finales de junio, en San Mateo, un pueblo cerca de Xela, en Quetzaltenango. Él era fácilmente distinguible en el pequeño grupo de gente de radio en su vestuario todosantero distintivo (Todos Santos Cuchumatán es uno de los pocos municipios en Guatemala, donde los hombres usan "traje típico", cuando visité por primera vez de Todos Santos, mi primera reacción fue que todos los varones parecía Rosendo). Yo sabía un poco acerca de la estación de radio de otras personas en el movimiento de radios comunitarias: se había presentado como un modelo de una estación que está profundamente arraigada en el apoyo de su comunidad. Yo había querido venir aquí antes: uno de mis planes de investigación original fue a visitar a 3 o 4 estaciones, sobre todo en el altiplano que representa (por lo que yo podría decir de las personas que participan de reuniones con ellos) diferentes trayectorias. Yo había visitado algunas de las estaciones, como Estereo Maya en Momostenango, en el departamento de Totonicapán, que fronteriza con el Quiché, y cuya población es predominantemente K'iche ', Doble Vía de San Mateo, Quetzaltenango (que está dirigido en gran parte por los jóvenes), y Radio Ixchel de Sumpango, Sacatepéquez (más cerca de la capital, pero un pueblo Kaqchikel Maya casi en su totalidad). Pero yo no había hecho la observación participante sistemática, a pesar de haber hecho un par de entrevistas cortas con Anselmo, uno de los fundadores de Radio Ixchel, y Julian, el fundador de Estereo Maya.

Como nos hemos cerrado temporalmente nuestra estación de radio (hemos decidido trasladar la radio a Chichicastenango, y tenemos que encontrar un nuevo espacio y traer la torre y la antena, y no hay mucho que va a pasar en Chichicastenango hasta después de 1 de enero), tenía algo de tiempo libre en mis manos, así que decidí tomar dos días y venir a visitar la radio en Todos Santos. Cuando mi familia se encontraba de visita, habíamos llegado a Todos Santos para ver el área y hacer algo de senderismo, y me detuve en la estación un par de veces mientras estábamos aquí, pero como yo no quería desviar Iván (mi hermano) y Aiyana (mi hija) demasiado en sus búsquedas de ocio, que no pasamos mucho tiempo dentro de la estación de radio.

Una de las cosas que sabía de la estación fue que lo hicieron casi todos los de su difusión en el Mam, la lengua materna de la mayoría de la gente en esta área. También sabía que los apoyaba en gran parte por las contribuciones de la comunidad. Así que esta fue una de las estaciones que había querido visitar, aunque sabía que no iba a ser capaz de entender nada de lo que fue transmitido. El único programa regular que se transmite en español es un programa de dos veces por semana sobre el medio ambiente presentada por la persona del Cuerpo de Paz en esta zona, pero alguien hace la traducción simultánea en Mam. También es uno de los lugares más hermosos donde he estado - la ciudad se encuentra en un valle como un recipiente hondo, rodeado por montañas cubiertas de frondosos bosques verdes. Es fácil enamorarse de determinados sectores de la paisaje aquí, o lugares específicos, y así me he encontrado con frecuencia. Esa no es la mejor foto que hay pero es lo que he podido encontrar de manera rápida.

Mi plan original era llegar hasta aquí para la fiesta de Todos Los Santos, ya que es la fiesta patronal de la ciudad, pero en retrospectiva, es probable que sea bueno que no he venido como la ciudad consigue la clase de invadida por frenesí inducido por el alcohol . De acuerdo con Lonely Planet de la ciudad está seco el resto del año (aunque hemos visto casos de Gallo que se entrega y venden en una tienda cuando estuvimos aquí en agosto, y me acaba de pasar una tienda que era la publicidad de Venado, una marca local de aguardiente ).Alguien me dijo que las mujeres de la ciudad pusieron sus pies colectiva por algunos años a causa de la consumo excesivo de alcohol y tiene una ordenanza aprobada en relación con las ventas de licor, pero tal vez que se ha relajado un poco.

Mi razón para posponer el viaje era simplemente que había demasiados viajes en muy poco espacio de tiempo. Me fui a Nueva York para Ocupar Wall Street el 24 y 25 de octubre, que iba a estar viajando en contra de una conferencia en San Diego entre el 3-7 de noviembre; entonces, hacer un viaje a Todos Santos (3-1/2 horas en cada sentido de Chinique) sólo se sentía como una presión excesiva en el organismo que ya habían sido maltratado por una gran cantidad de viajes y insuficiente sueño. Así que llamé a un par de días antes de que yo iba a ir hasta allí y le dijo a Rosendo que vendría en una fecha posterior. Yo no estaba seguro de cuándo sería eso.

Así que cuando parecía que tenía un poco de espacio no planificado en mi horario, me decidí a organizar una visita a Todos Santos a pasar realmente un poco de tiempo con la gente de la radio, para ver cómo funciona la estación y hacer un par de las entrevistas. Yo llegué aquí en el final de la mañana, pasando por algunos de los paisajes más espectaculares imaginables, las majestuosas montañas de los Cuchumatanes.

No llegué tan temprano como hubiera querido (también agotada de la fiesta en Chichicastenango y posada en mi ciudad) y por lo tanto no quieren dejar muy a menudo en el camino para tomar fotografías. Además, durante gran parte de la carretera en realidad no hay lugar seguro para parar y tirar encima. Había mucha bulla en Aguacatán, ya que era día de mercado, por lo que no fue hasta el 11 que llegué aquí. La ciudad no es tan grande y era fácil de recordar el desvío de la radio. La radio se apaga el aire entre 11 y 3 de la tarde (que emiten 5 a 11 y de 3 a 9), pero Nicolasa todavía estaba en el aire. Después de terminar, ella y Dilma trabajaron en grabar algunos "spots". Entrevisté a Dilma, mientras que Nicolasa estaba trabajando y después nos fuimos a almorzar y yo hablé con Nicolasa.

Nicolasa me había impresionado desde el primer momento que la conocí, a pesar de que en realidad no hablemos mucho en ese momento. Ambas mujeres estaban en el Encuentro de Radios Comunitarios de Guatemala en agosto, y yo había tomado una fotografía bastante notable de Nicolasa con una banda de negro atado en su boca y su bebé atado a la espalda, durante la protesta frente al edificio del Congreso.

Durante el almuerzo, me dijo acerca de ser la primera mujer en salir al aire aquí, después de la estación ya había estado en existencia durante 10 años. Que había registrado por primera vez algunos puntos y había tenido la experiencia desagradable de oír su voz en el aire antes de llegar a ser un locutor. Su padre está en el comité ejecutivo, que es la forma en que fue invitado a formar parte de una sesión de entrenamiento.Después de conseguir más de sus temores iniciales, ella realmente le gusta, aunque tanto ella como Dilma siento un poco en inferioridad numérica.

Ella me contó una historia muy conmovedora acerca de una de sus primeras emisiones, cuando habló de la violencia doméstica y los derechos de la mujer, una mujer de una comunidad rural que había sido golpeada por su marido bajó a la estación para decir Nicolasa que había oído el programa y que su marido no había recibido ninguna cena de esa noche. Que había llegado a hablar con Nicolasa sin permiso de su marido (por desgracia, en muchas comunidades rurales, las mujeres tienen poca libertad y debe plegarse a los deseos de sus padres, esposos, suegros y los hijos adultos varones).

Ellas no han tenido mucha suerte conseguir a otras mujeres a unirse a ellos como voluntarios (que son a la vez pagado un estipendio modesto). El resto de las personas que emiten en la estación son hombres, lo que incluye a algunos miembros de la junta directiva y unos cuantos voluntarios otros que vienen a hacer los programas. Terminamos nuestro almuerzo y luego me fui a encontrar una habitación en un hotel y luego regresé a la estación. Después de que regresamos en la tarde, Nicolasa era un poco tarde y así  Dilma sólo colocó algo de música, y Nicolasa salió al aire por un tiempo y luego Dilma, y ​​luego se retiraron a su clase de Inglés y luego se hizo cargo de los hombres para el resto del día. Un hombre llamado Fortunato, quien es licenciado (lo que significa que terminó la universidad), hizo una hora de emisión, y luego salió antes de que tuviera la oportunidad de hablar con él, tenía otro compromiso en la ciudad.

Cruz, a quien había conocido también en el Encuentro en agosto, y es el presidente de la junta directiva, entró, y dos hijos adolescentes (sus hijos, resulta), uno de los cuales salió en una diligencia de algún tipo. Poco a poco aparecieron algunos otros, entre ellos un ex presidente de la junta ejecutiva. Esto se suponía que era el espacio del niño que se había ido, por lo que los otros hombres (Cruz y su otro hijo, mayor que el que la izquierda) lleno en el espacio.

Salí de la estación un poco antes de que la emisora terminó transmitiendo a las 9 ya que no estaba completamente segura de que iba a encontrar un restaurante abierto a esa hora. Hay alrededor de 4 o 5 lugares de la ciudad, pero yo no quería perder mi oportunidad como la primera vez que vinimos aquí en agosto, habíamos llegado hasta aquí tarde y sólo había dos lugares abiertos a las 8:30 cuando nos lleguemos. Fui al mismo lugar donde habíamos comido en la primera noche, en la calle principal, y había un poco de guisado de cordero muy sabroso (el mismo plato, también). Sólo había unas pocas personas allí - dos conductores de camiones no-mayas.

La radio comunitaria aquí sirve a la comunidad: cuando Dilma estaba a punto de terminar su programa de esta mañana, alguien se acercó a la entrada y gritó, y salimos a ver lo que quería. Era un hombre que estaba vendiendo algunas vasijas de cerámica de gran tamaño. Él había dejado caer su Documento Personal de Identificación (DPI) y quería que la radio lo anuncia para que podría ser devuelto. Y, por supuesto, al final del día, alguien la trajo a la estación de radio y otro anuncio fue hecho por lo que el hombre sabe para volver a recogerlo.

Voy a añadir algunas reflexiones más sobre la radio y más tarde de Todos los Santos ... llegado el momento de descansar un poco.


As I've indicated in previous posts, Christmas -- the Christmas season -- is a big deal here and the preparations began long before December 24. American-style decorations on houses are everywhere. Many of the decorations have sound tracks -- even the community radio station Xobil Yol in Todos Santos has a couple of strings of lights -- one across the front of their building and another inside the broadcast studio, all with tinkling musical accompaniment (American Christmas carols for the most part).

Tamales are the staple Christmas food here. One of the local radio stations (well, local as in Guatemalan) was advertising a tamale contest - bring in your tamale and we will give a prize for the best one. Making tamales takes an entire day and the labor of several people. My friend Jeanet invited me to spend the day of the 24th (Noche Buena) with her family making tamales, and so I accepted. I had no other plans (I subsequently received a few similar invitations from other friends), and I like Jeanet and her family a lot (I adore her two daughters and the feelings seem to be mutual -- the older one, Jocelyn, and I like to go off running around like crazy, and little Mati now seeks me out and crawls up into my lap or into my arms if I am around) and I have only seen parts of the tamale-making process. So, that was the plan. I then decided that I wanted to make latkes for them.

I was inspired to do something for Hanuka by the son of one of the friends who attended my Rosh Hashonah party in Xela. When I was introduced to him, he asked me if we were celebrating Hanuka. I was a little surprised since nearly no one here has the slightest idea about Jews or Judaism (some are not sure what kind of Christian a Jew is). I asked him how he had heard about Hanuka and he said he had looked it up online.  Unfortunately, for a variety of circumstances I was not able to make a Hanuka celebration that he could attend, but I did decide I would do something with friends in Quiché.  I had  thought I would have a small Hanuka party at the house of a new friend, Emilie, an Anglican minister who lives in Santa Cruz, since she has a large and comfortable home and, most importantly, a spacious kitchen with a 4-burner gas stove. She was also eager to have some potato latkes.  Jeanet gave me three pounds of potatoes that she had left over - she had over purchased and thought she wouldn't use them. However, it turned out Emilie was going to be out of town on the first night of Hanuka, so then I thought it was off. But she called me on December 19 and pretty much at the last minute, we decided to do something. She was in Cunén, a town about 2 hours away from Santa Cruz, with my friends Dania and Matt, at a screening of their film, and she thought they would be back in the early evening, so I said, okay, let's do it.

It happened to be the day we dismantled the radio station and moved most of the equipment to Chichicastenango (more about that later), so I wasn't in Santa Cruz, but drove back here in the early evening and set to work. There is no sour cream up here, so I bought some crema (thick cream) and some yogurt and hoped that would do the trick (not quite, but not bad). The potatoes turned out to be baby potatoes, but I was able to grate them without too much damage to my fingers. Meanwhile Dania and Matt whipped up some chilaquile (slices of boiled güisquil with a slice of cheese in the middle, dipped in a batter and lightly fried). Emilie found some candles and Matt and I sang the blessings and we dug in (at around 10 p.m.; it was 7 before I left Chichicastenango). There wasn't enough time to find apples and make applesauce and the yogurt turned out to have some sweetener in it (I like my sour cream just plain), but the latkes themselves were pretty tasty.

Since Jeanet had not been able to join us at Emilie's for the latkes (since it was late and last minute) I decided I would make some for her and her family along with the tamales (after all, you can never have too much grease and carbohydrates over the holidays).  I was also determined to do them correctly this time: with sour cream (or as close as I could get) and applesauce.   I had been in Todos Santos and had lingered on Friday afternoon, and so by the time I got back to Chinique it was nearly 9 p.m.  The only place to buy apples is at a weekly market-day, or else in Santa Cruz (where there is a public market all week long; there are just more vendors and more variety on the official market days).  So, I got up on Saturday and started to call Jeanet to make arrangements -- she had told me they were starting to make the masa at 8 a.m. but I knew I wouldn't come that early.

It turned out that the invitation was to spend the day at her mother-in-law's house -- that hadn't been clear, I had assumed I would be going to Santa Cruz del Quiché, where they live with Jeanet's mother.  I was glad that I had found that out before setting off, since her mother-in-law lives in Chiché, halfway between my town, Chinique, and Santa Cruz del Quiché, so I would have gone farther than I needed to and then have had to back track.  I hadn't had time to do any shopping, but Jeanet reminded me that it was market day in Chiché, so I could get everything I needed there. I took my time leaving home (lots of traveling lately) and made my way to the market, which was full of extra vendors selling seasonal sweets and fireworks (it will soon be the fiesta in Chiché, so that, combined with Christmas, means a lot of extra hustle and bustle).

Jeanet, as it turns out, had to go to the market to get lard (tamales require a lot of lard; that's what makes the masa, or dough, so meltingly tender... while tasty and undeniably hand-made labors of love, they are very far from health food), so we agreed to meet up in the market so they could direct me to Nazario's mother's home, since I had never been there before. It took a few cell phone calls to put us at the same corner -- it's not a large town at all, but they as natives and I as a foreigner have different ways of identifying landmarks, or different places strike us as notable (with the obvious exception of well-marked places like the municipal building, the bank and the Calvario), and we finished up our shopping together and then set off, with me following Nazario's motorcycle. No, he doesn't own a helmet (like about 90% of the riders up here, and yes, the entire family of four -- Jeanet, Nazario, and the two girls -- ride on the motorcycle (with baby Mati strapped to Jeanet's back and Jocelyn wedged between her parents). They do not get on major highways this way; the motorcycle is used mostly for local commuting. Outside of Guatemala City (where police do ticket people for not having helmets) and off the major highways, few motorcyclists use helmets.

Nazario's mother and sisters live just on the edge of the town, right along the highway, so I was able to maneuver my pick up off the highway and onto their property and then climbed up to the house, made my greetings, and then we got to work. Since we would be cooking over a wood burning stove, and both tamales and latkes require several stages of preparation (I had to make the applesauce since (a) there isn't any commercially available, and (b) even if there were, I wouldn't buy it; I always make my own).  That meant a bit of planning and strategizing in terms of what would be cooked when and what would be eaten when. The first thing I did was to try and sour the cream -- two packets of the thick crema that is usually served on a breakfast plate (garnishing either black beans or fried plantains), and some fresh lemon juice, which I then put aside to sour. Then peeled and cut the apples, found an appropriately sized pot (several were in use, but those were huge cauldrons), and negotiated a space on the open-fire wood-burning stove. The peels and cores were given to the animals, so as much as possible nothing went to waste.

The preparations for the tamales were well underway when I got there, and because I was making latkes, I didn't get to participate as fully in the tamale-making since I was occupied. Actually, since the masa (dough) was made with rice, we were technically making paches (tamale is both a somewhat generic term -- meaning anything made of a dough that is wrapped in a leaf and steamed -- but more specifically refers to a wrapped bundle with a cornmeal base).  But it was a lovely afternoon, spent making food in the company of friends and their relatives. Nazario helped out some, cutting the pork that would go into the paches, and washing the large plantain leaves that would be used to wrap most of the paches (his mother and sister used corn husks for some of theirs, but Jeanet only used plantain leaves). It was mostly the work of the women, but I was glad to be in the kitchen with them, the children running around, ducks wandering in and then waddling their way out (usually before one of us shooed them away), and a steady stream of music from the sound system rigged up in another room. I plugged in my USB so we could have a broader selection of offerings, and grated potatoes and onions to the strains of Nirvana and an assortment of reggae in Spanish. English-language rock, pop, reggae and hip hop music are all popular in Guatemala and one hears U.S. hit songs (or songs that had been hits at one time or another) in stores, on the street, in restaurants.. but still, there was something every so slightly incongruous (but delightful nonetheless) about cooking over a wood-burning stove in a kitchen kitchen with a dirt floor and walls made of adobe, while listening to "Smells Like Teen Spirit"on full-blast.

I grated everything I needed to grate, and we agreed that I would cook the latkes before the paches were put on to steam, as the latter take about two hours. The stove is not really a stove by our standards: it is a square stone platform, in the corner of the kitchen, upon which a fire is built. There are two or three pieces of stone that are set at angles, like the rays of the sun, upon which you can balance a large pot, or a flat griddle upon which smaller pots can be placed -- pots too small to balance on the stone pieces.

Paches include three basic elements: the masa, in this case rice that has been cooked with water and an alarmingly large quantity of lard (trust me, you'd rather not know); the recado or pepián, a sauce made with dried chiles, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, tomatoes, tomatillos and garlic, all of which are roasted on the griddle and then ground up with some achiote and some water added (in this case, in a blender) to make a soupy reddish sauce; and some kind of meat (chicken or pork). Additional ingredients that are added at the wrapping stage include raisins, prunes, thin strips of sweet red pepper.  Even with a blender, this is an all-day operation.

The masa takes a long time to cook to the proper consistency, and since it has to be stirred almost constantly we all took turns. Then it has to cool before it can be handled-- so that was when I used the fire to cook the latkes. The leaves also have to be prepared (washed and trimmed so that they have at least one straight edge and are not too unwieldy).  I realized that I didn't have anything to absorb the oil from the cooked latkes. I usually use brown-paper bags, but I have never seen one here. Everything is plastic, plastic, plastic. Jeanet decided she needed more lard (I told you, you don't want to know how much goes into a tamal) and so Naza and I took a quick jaunt into town on his motorcycle and I  found paper towels.

Sometime later (but before I cooked and we ate) we went back into town and got wine and rum. We had been joking in the kitchen about needing something to accompany the food, and they said that we'd have to go to Santa Cruz to get wine, if any of the stores were open. I said I knew where to get wine in Chiché. They looked at me very quizzically and then I told them I had found a store that sold wine since I passed it all the time on my way to Chinique. I explained which store it was (it is actually a tavern that has a storefront) and Naza shook his head. "I'm from here and I had to wait for you to show me where to get wine." (He knew the store, but didn't know that they sold wine).

I've made latkes for years and I have to say that they are usually quite delicious (the secret, in my view, is to really squeeze all the liquid out of the grated onions and the grated potatoes, which means using your hands and squeezing, squeezing, squeezing... but also to keep them separate, and when you squeeze the potatoes, do it over a bowl to catch the liquid, and let the starch settle. You pour out the liquid but scrape out the fresh potato starch and put it back into the batter). But I'd never made them on a wood-burning stove.

The griddle was uneven, so one side of the pan had more oil than the other, and I had to fan the fire several times so that it would be hot enough to keep the oil sizzling so the latkes would fry nicely.  But I was eventually able to cook a couple of dozen latkes and then we took a break in pache-making to eat the latkes (since the paches wouldn't be ready until at least 9 or 10, it wasn't bad that we had something to eat earlier).

The sour cream was nearly sour enough, and the applesauce was properly chunky and cinnamon-y. The latkes were not piping hot: the traditional way to serve them is that the cook stays at the stove frying and then places them on people's plates. But since the "guests" in this case were all busy preparing food, we waited until they were all done and ate together.

Everyone liked them -- well, they said they did and there were not any left on the plates, so I think they were honest, and I was asked several times about how I prepared them. They have been dubbed "empanadas de papa"(they seemed very impressed by the number of eggs that I used  -- 10 -- but I hastened to add that I had used nearly 4 pounds of potatoes and at least 2 of onions)

Then we returned to making paches. You take two plantain leaves and put the spiny sides together, and line up the cut (straight) edge. Then you place a scoop of masa in the middle, and add a spoonful or two of the sauce and mix it into the masa. Then a piece of meat gets mushed in the middle. Finally two raisins and one prune (the prunes are very small and taste less prune-y than the ones in the states). Then it gets folded up -- inner leaf first, and then outer leaf (I won't go into details), so that it forms a flattish, square-ish package, and then tied with a strip of dried corn husk.

Interestingly to me, although they are all family, and everyone worked together, they kept the ingredients separate. Nazario's mother and sister had their batch of masa, their batch of recado, their meat, their plantain leaves, and Jeanet had hers. So everyone helped roast, stir, chop, and assemble, but when we started to assemble the paches, Jeanet said, "We're going to prepare and cook my mother-in-law's first, and then we will cook mine." I can't think of anything quite parallel in our culture.

However, there was no such division when it came to eating. When the first batch was done and had cooled enough to be able to handle, we all ate from it. Very delicious (I've had them before, but not quite this freshly cooked), although my system is still recovering from all the lard (a couple of days of fruit and salad should do it).

Then it was time to go to town again and get fireworks. I'm not sure why we had to wait until the evening to get fireworks but hey, it's not my holiday, it's theirs, and if they want to make a separate trip to get the fireworks, fine by me. This time everyone wanted to come so we piled into my pickup and drove into town.

They asked if I wanted to buy fireworks. I said no, I would be content to watch them set off theirs. Since fireworks are illegal in most of the U.S., I haven't had any experience setting them off and while I like the firework displays, I am not super-fond of fireworks that just mostly make noise. The kids were very eager to have some small fireworks. I couldn't follow all of the varieties, but they purchased what they wanted and then we trucked back to the homestead and sipped rum (well, at least I sipped, slowly) and waited for midnight, which was when we would set off the fireworks. At around 11, Jocelyn started to come into the kitchen every few minutes to ask if it was time yet.  We kept telling her "No, another 52 minutes." "No, another 47 minutes," but obviously all of these numbers are complete abstraction to her six-year-old mind, and she was a bit over the top with excitement.
Naza wanted to wait until 12, but obviously some of hte neighbors were getting a head start as we heard a lot of explosions starting around 10 minutes before midnight. Finally, around 3 minutes before midnight we went outside and Naza started to set off the fireworks. We could see and hear fireworks all around us, as far away as Chinique.  After they had all been set off I packed up the paches that had been set aside for me and went home.