Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Guerrilla radio, or what we do when the lights go out

Monday morning, December 12, I came back home from my daily walk up into the mountains around my little village, and turned on the shower... to find that it was freezing cold. At first I thought maybe something had gone wrong in the little water-heater that is attached to the wall just above the shower head. So I thought I would go heat up some water on my little electric 2-burner hot plate. Nothing happening there. Ergo, there was no electricity in the house. Perhaps my landlord did not pay the electricity bill. After all, I had found it on the ground near the gate that opens to the street, and then had it on my desk for a few days before giving it to him.  I called Modesto but he didn't answer. Not a surprise; some days it seems that no one in Guatemala, or at least none of my friends, answers his or her phone. There are lots of possible reasons. She forgot to charge her phone. She left her phone at home. She is in a meeting. She left her phone on vibrate. Whatever.

Then I got out of the house and drove the long way out of town, thinking I might pass Modesto's store and talk to him, but I soon  realized that no one had electricity. Well, it was a little hard to tell because a lot of businesses have open storefronts and thus do not always switch on overhead lights during the daytime hours. But no one seemed to have lights on. I called Jeanet to make sure she was at the radio so she could let me in (there is a gate at the entrance to the property, which is closed with a chain and a lock, usually when one of us is here alone, we put the lock on the gate). She didn't answer. I tried a few times, thinking maybe she had just left the phone somewhere not so easy to reach. Still no answer. I called her husband. No answer (see what I mean?). I called her mother who said she had left a while earlier for the radio.  Then my phone rang when I was halfway to the next town. It was Sebastiana, one of the coordinators of Ixmukané. She wanted to know if Jeanet was at the radio. I told her that I was still in transit and that I had called and Jeanet did not answer. I was not sure whether she was calling to monitor what Jeanet and I were doing or for some other reason. The call went dead; I had arrived at the one little stretch of highway between my town and the next one where there is absolutely no cell phone signal. This is a space of about 500 meters. So I drove on and then tried again, and had to call 2-3 times before she responded (see above).  I said I would call once I got to the radio. She said that there was no power in Chichicastenango and thought that the power outtage was for the entire department.
Making community radio in the community: my
colleague Jeanet recording Doña Reyna

As I drove I made some more calls and eventually reached Jeanet's husband who said she had not charged her phone and had taken it with her to the radio to charge it there. Which meant that she wouldn't have a phone for all intents and purposes. I called the phone we have at the radio, but we don't always remember to take it out and turn it on as no one ever calls except one of us calling the other. No answer there either. I drove into the deeply rutted and rocky dirt road that leads from the paved highway to the radio station (ironically, we are located next to the department of roads, go figure; they are located on possibly the worst road in the city). By some miracle, Jeanet came out of the radio station, which is about 200 yards from the entrance, and saw me, and came to open the gate. She had been at the radio station for about 2 hours, unable to do anything as there was no power. We chatted about what we could do so as not to waste the entire day. We could write scripts for some public service announcements that we would later record (we have been running most of the same "spots" since the radio started and are beginning to get a bit tired of them; also, I made a commitment on behalf of Radio Ixmukané at the last training session we attended for the community radio movement to record some spots that we could share with other stations). Jeanet said she was thinking about planting some of the seedlings that people had brought the previous week (a few months ago we had a long meeting about the functioning of the organization and the maintenance of the facility where the radio station is located, and it was agreed that everyone would bring a few plants since there was no budget for the maintenance of the property; a few folks had brought plants but hadn't planted them and they were languishing alongside the little bunker where the radio station is located).  I suggested it would be a good idea to see if any of the staff members were out doing workshops in the communities, and then we could go and do interviews with the women.

It has long been a goal of mine to find a way that the voices of the women in the rural communities where Ixmukané does a lot of its work can have their voices represented on the radio. There are no funds allocated for this purpose, so bringing women from these communities to the radio is not feasible, although it might be ideal. There are about 60 women in different places who received training to be radio announcers, basic training, but there was never any funding allocated or raised so that they could be brought to the station. Most of them are quite poor and some live several hours away, so travel is not only beyond their means economically but also not very practical, as many have kids, and so they would have to bring the kids with them or find someone to care for them. Another idea was to set up a "community reporter" program, and provide some very rudimentary training to women in some communities so that we could then call them once a week and have them give reports. But the trainings were never set up. Then I suggested that we train the staff members who go out to the communities.. but again, this was never actually done. So, when we have any kind of activity at the center that involves women from the communities, we always try to get a few to come into the station and talk a little (at leas I very vigorously try to do this).

This seemed like a golden opportunity, since I have a car, which means that paying for transportation isn't a problem. So we called the office and told Sebastiana what we were thinking; she checked to see who was out in which communities, and told us that Doña Reyna was in Pachaj, a community of Patzité, and Ixchel, another staff member, was in one of the communities of Chiche. There was really no reason to choose one over the other, but I suggested that we go to Patzité mostly because I had never been to any part of that municipality. And so we set off, calling Doña Reyna to let her know we were coming.

There are two roads that go to Patzité, and we started out on the first one which is right near a place at the entrance to the pueblo of Santa Cruz del Quiché called la Garita; it is the south entrance to town -- if one is coming from Chichicastenango then this is the entrance. For us, it would be the exit. In any case, there is a road that heads to Patzité, but we did not get very far, as within a few kilometers we came to a community that was preparing to celebration the Virgen de Guadelupe, and the road was blocked off. So we had to go back to the highway, go another few kilometers to the south, and enter through a different road. As the road wound around, Jeanet explained to me that the "highway", which was mostly dirt, was listed as being a paved highway according to the government. But the officials who had been responsible for the highway construction had absconded with most of the money, and therefore only a very small part of the road had been paved.  As we drove, there were two or three non-consecutive sections that were paved and I wondered aloud about why certain parts and not others.
We arrived in Pachaj and saw Doña Reyna standing on the steps of the church surrounded by a group of women seated around her.  I parked the car and we got out and walked over. I could tell that my presence was a bit of a novelty (I was wearing pants and a shirt; the weather has been very variable, it sometimes is warm and sunny in the daytime but invariable quite chilly at night; some days have been cloudy and cool, and even when it is sunny outside, it is usually breezy, and often quite cool in the shade).  Reyna greeted and asked if we wanted to do the interviews right then. We said no, we'd rather hear the rest of the workshop and maybe record some of it and then interview the women when it was done.  We had come right when the snack was being served -- chuchitos (small tamales, wrapped in corn husks), and it turned out there was enough for us to have some as well. I sat down on the steps along with the other women and ate, and then Reyna looked for a shadier area to finish the rest of the workshop, and found one on a nearby terrace (it might have been a school building). We all moved over and then she spoke for about another half hour about sexual and reproductive rights. She seemed to move pretty quickly, and mostly just imparted information. There was not a lot of questioning or discussion from the women. A few times she posed questions that caused laughter or got the women to respond a little. But it wasn't very interactive, and it was hard to tell how much could sink in, since she covered everything from hygiene to condoms to IUDs to natural methods of family planning -- all this in half an hour.

We recorded it, since it seemed like it would be good to broadcast, especially as she spoke in K'iche'.  So Jeanet held the digital recorder and I took photos (not only for this blog but also to keep as a record of what we do).

Once she finished, we asked for volunteers to do short interviews. The women tittered and only one stepped forward. Reyna gave a bit of a pep talk about how it was important for them to learn how to speak up and express themselves, and somewhat reluctantly two other women agreed to participate.  Reyna took care of the paperwork; every workshop or meeting has an attendance sheet, since all of these activities are sponsored by funders, and everything has to be documented. Sometimes, in fact, the compañeras complain that they spend more time doing paperwork than actually presenting information.

The women were all a little nervous, especially the second and third interviewees. The first woman, who had been the first to volunteer, was clear spoken, although very succinct. Since the interviews were in K'iche' (and yes, after being here a year, much to my shame, I still barely speak any) I couldn't offer suggestions to Jeanet on how to push a little more, nor could I intervene and ask a question.  One of the women asked us, after we'd finished, when the interviews would be broadcast. Jeanet replied that she thought it would be Tuesday or Wednesday. The woman said that she listened to the station, and we were gratified, since we have no way of knowing if we have any listeners, since no one ever calls in. We also have not been sure about the reception, since we have not been able to go out and monitor a lot.
We waited for Reyna to finish, and then thought we would go see if we could do some interviews at the office. Several people from Ixmukané's staff had been on trips out of the country over the last few weeks, and we had planned to interview them about their experiences, but had not yet been able to do so. One plan (which did not seem very feasible) was that we would interview them during the day of the general assembly, which took place on December 7. It never seemed very realistic to me because there were going to be over 100 people at the assembly, and I assumed that everyone we would have wanted to interview would be very busy with arrangements, making sure things ran smoothly. So when the director proposed to Jeanet that we do the interviews the day of the assembly, I was pretty sure that was not going to happen (which I said to Jeanet). And for better or worse, I was right.

So we called the office (well, Jeanet called) and we spoke with Sebastiana, who was one of the people who had been out of the country, and she said she could speak to us in the afternoon. So we drove back to Santa Cruz to eat lunch at the cafeteria of the Department of Roads (Caminos): I will have to write a blog about the cafeteria sometime. It is run by a very lovely woman named Estela and the food is good, relatively abundant, and very reasonably priced as it is highly subsidized. Employees pay Q6.50, and we pay Q10 (about $1.25). Perhaps the best part is that the tortillas are nearly always absolutely fresh (at some restaurants they have been sitting around for a while, and there is a palpable difference between those that are fresh off the comal and those that have been kept warm for a while by being wrapped in a cloth). And they make fresh hot sauce every day, and a different variety. So we are always thrilled when we pull the first tortillas out of the basket, steaming hot and slightly crisp on the outside. As long as I have fresh tortillas, salt and home-made salsa picante, I'm good.

So we ate and then traveled back to Chichicastenango, and Jeanet and I were able to interview Doña Fermina, who had been in Panama at a conference, and Sebastiana, who had been part of a delegation to Nicaragua.  Interviews concluded, back to Santa Cruz, where I dropped Jeanet off and then headed to visit with a friend, and then home.

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