Friday, January 6, 2012

Cosas de la vida

[This was started on January 6, Friday, in the evening, but I didn't finish it until the 9th].  So, through a series of circumstances, I have ended up with two friends, one visiting from the U.S. and the other one of the young men from the Red de Jóvenes de Iximuleuw con Conciencia Social, in an upscale restaurant on the third floor of a five-story shopping center in Totonicapán ... one that has wifi, of course, which is how I  am managing to write this. We are sitting amid flashing Christmas lights, with a beautiful view of the cathedral and the newly refurbished and landscaped park in Toto, watching the Maya middle class enjoy themselves for a night out. This is a white tablecloth restaurant, with waiters wearing crisp button-down shirts and ties.
We are here because my car has been acting up, more precisely the radiator, and we had to leave it in an auto service place outside Toto and find a way to entertain ourselves for 2 hours while the repair was completed.

This morning as we left for Momostenango -- the object of today's trip was to visit the community radio station in Momostenango, Estereo Maya La Abuela Ixmukané -- we got as far as the approach to San Pedro Jocopilas when the car stopped running. It stalled once on the wide sweeping turn leading to the town, and I managed to get it started again, but it just died out about 50 yards from the first street. I popped the hood and a rush of steam and smoke poured out. Obviously something with the radiator.  I'd had a leak in the radiator a few weeks back and had paid for a patch job.

My friend Babette has been visiting from the states this week and I have been trying to find things that both serve what I need to accomplish in the small amount of time remaining to me and be interesting to someone else.  So I decided to visit a few community radio stations where I could do some interviews and participant observation. I've been to the radio in Momos twice before, but wanted to go again (although actually I didn't see a whole different this time), and I also though Babette might enjoy the countryside on the trip out and back.  Yesterday I was doing a training session for the young people, whom I am trying to get involved in the radio project and mentioned that I would be visiting a radio station in Momostenango and that if any of them wanted to join me, I would happily take them - as long as they were able to get to Santa Cruz del Quiché.

Mario, who is the president of the Red de Jóvenes and very chispudo (alert, eager to get things done, on the ball), sounded interested and said that he would call me later. It wasn't until the morning as we were getting ready to leave the house that he called and said that he would be able to get to Santa Cruz by 8:30 (it turned out that we were not able to get there until 8:45; preparation time seems to expand when there is more than one person involved). A few phone calls back and forth got us to find a convenient meeting point (the gas station at the entrance to town; I was trying to explain to him how to find Café Blintz, which is closer to the park where he was when he called, but he seemed resistant so I let it drop). We stopped for coffee and then headed north on the highway that goes to San Pedro Jocopilas... and then the car started to drag on one of the uphills and stalled out. Not a good sign. I restarted it carefully, and then we made it up another curve or two -- I was hoping we could get as far as San Pedro and then see what was going on.

 He wasn't sure they would have a replacement part as my car is a Mazda and not a Toyota. He went back to the shop and we stayed on the side of the road near the car and waited. And waited.  We went back to find out what was up. He said that he was looking for the part, that he thought he had something that would work but he would have to test it out. He made a few trips to the car, we tried to pass the time calmly. I've learned that getting upset about things like this doesn't resolve the problem and so while I was not pleased that something had gone awry with the car, I tried to just let it slip. Luckily Mario is very typical of Guatemalans, or at least the Guatemalans I know in the altiplano and just took this all in stride as did Babette, a seasoned traveler and not someone who freaks out easily. And a good thing, as this was not the only catastrophe to befall us this say.

Eventually the mechanic improvised something; he found a part and jiggled and fiddled until it was inserted into the radiator apparatus and seemed to work.  Then off again to Santa Lucia de la Reforma and from there to Momostenango.

The first time I had gone to Momos I had been told to go to Santa Lucia and from there find the highway to Momos. I didn't realize there were two highways to Santa Lucia so I took the first one I saw just before San Pedro Jocopilas, only to find out that it was entirely dirt and that there were several points at which one had to make a decision about which way to turn that were not marked at all. And it was isolated, barely a human being in sight. Beautiful, strikingly beautiful, but very isolated. I had had to call Julian a couple of times (thankfully there was cell phone reception) and ask for directions along the way. When I got to Santa Lucia, finally (the longest 11 kilometers I ever drove, it seemed) I saw another highway, this one paved, entering the town.  Hmmm, I thought. Then one day I was on the highway that passes through San Pedro Jocopilas and Sacapulas, and several kilometers beyond where I had seen the sign for Santa Lucia la Reforma, there was another highway to Santa Lucia, and this one looked paved. So I filed that information away for another occasion. Which turned out to be this past Friday.
We got most of the way to Momostenango before the car  started to act up again. I had forgotten how rugged the part of the road between Santa Lucia and Momos was -- nothing paved, and dramatic curves and slopes and very sparsely settled. On a slope a few kilometers outside of Momostenango the car stalled; it was overheated again, and we poured in whatever water we had for drinking and managed to get into town, where I found a store that gave us a bucket of water so I could add more, and then we headed to the radio.

I will leave discussion of the radio for another entry: we talked with Julian, he interviewed both Mario and myself, and wanted me to interview him as well. I think it was an important experience for Mario, to actually see a radio station functioning, and one that worked with so few resources and so few people (they have a total of 5 people who handle most of the programming.

After we had spent time at the radio station, we set off back for Quiché. I decided not to take the same route back as I didn't want to subject the car and us to the drive over dirt roads with steep curves. I figured we could go to Cuatro Caminos (where the Panamerican Highway crosses the highway that goes to Xela in one direction and Totonicapan in the other) and go to Totonicapán and thence to Quiché. I stopped at a gas station outside of San Francisco el Alto to check the car and I could see that there was a small leak in the radiator (actually one of the tubes that connects to it) and so I thought we should stop and find a repair place heading toward Toto, so we could get the car repaired and meanwhile eat dinner (since it seemed we would not get back to Quiché in time necessarily).

I pass through Totonicapán relatively frequently, that is, every time I go to Xela. But I never stop. I just squeeze my car through the narrow streets and make my way from one end of town to the other and get back on the highway.  One day a few weeks ago, however, the town was crowded and the normal route I take through was blocked so I went a different way, and ended up at the town plaza. It was a sunny day and as you approach the plaza from the south, the church looms in front of you. The plaza itself had been recently landscaped and refurbished, and so it was lush with flowers. I parked my car for a moment and stood in front of the church to admire it and snapped some photos of the plaza -- a few close ups of the flowers, for a friend who had written something about "le kotzij rech Chiumekena" (the flowers of Totonicapán").

So, I thought we could walk around the plaza a bit and maybe go inside the church and then eat dinner.  The tree was still up and an almost full moon in the sky, making for a kind of Dali-esque scene (the photo is farther up in the blog).

 Mass was just ending and so we waited for the crowds to clear a bit and then walked up into the church, where we saw one of the larger and more elaborate Nativity scenes I have seen.  What was so interesting to me about this one was that there were dozens of small female figures dressed in traje típico that were all blond dolls. Since there are hardly any blond women in the entire country of Guatemala who wear traje típico, I wasn't sure why the person who had designed this had used blond dolls. And the few "blond" (white) women who wear traje certainly do not carry bundles on their heads like some of these dolls did (and like most Maya women in rural areas adn small towns do). The few "blond" women I have seen in traje are professionals (some women in NGOs wear güipiles over pants or skirts) and the only ones I have ever seen wearing complete traje are anthropologists.  Was it because that was what he or she had found available? Or did it represent an internalized racism -- the idea that blond hair and white skin are always more beautiful, more elegant, more special, more desirable?

So what had been just an activity designed to kill time provoked some interesting reflections about representation of Maya women.  We walked back out onto the square and asked around for recommendations about restaurants. We were eventually directed to a 5-story "centro comercial" (shopping center) and a restaurant on the third floor. Babette and I were clearly the only foreigners, the only non-Maya, and probably the only ones in the entire town. Here was the prosperous middle class of Totonicapán, enjoying a Friday night meal at an upscale restaurant (it even had wi-fi).

So we ordered, observed the families, checked our email, looked at Facebook, and I started to write this blog entry, which I am only now finishing.  Both my friends took it all in stride, didn't get upset or whiny or freaked out. In Guatemala, stuff just happens and you deal with it. Cars break down; buses don't arrive; and you figure out alternatives, or you just wait. We called the garage; the car was nearly ready, so we set off for the garage, which was 2-1/2 kilometers outside of town (we had come in on a mini-van). We ended up finding a taxi that already had two customers, but there were almost none that passed, so we took it and squeezed in. Mario and I joked about the fact that cars in Guatemala seem to always be capable of squeezing in a few more people. It was a subcompact, and there were six of us, but I pointed back to the very small trunk and said, "We could fit at least two more in there."

The car was repaired (at least for the moment) and so we took off on the isolated and winding (but not very steep, and certainly well-paved) road to Quiché.  Mario had to stay with us as there were no buses from Santa Cruz to Chichicastenango at that hour, so I called my friend Caterino to borrow a few extra blankets (it had gotten very cold, and I did not have enough blankets for all of us in this weather). I am grateful that I have friends I can call at odd hours with strange requests.  And so we took ourselves off to bed.

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