It was hard to coordinate everything before I left, and this being Guatemala, whatever plans I had made beforehand were not extremely relevant once I got here. Or, perhaps I should say, this being fieldwork. People have a way of changing plans, taking decisions that are not necessarily to the convenience or benefit of the researcher. I arrived and my car was not yet ready. That, perhaps, is to be expected. I had agreed to carry a large suitcase containing thread for some weavers in Sololá. Plan A was that I would drop the suitcase off in Los Encuentros. Plan A was based on my car being ready. Luckily I was able to learn before I arrived in Guatemala that we needed a plan B: thanks to Facebook I was able to get a message to the friend who was taking care of my car and who was going to drive to the airport. So, Plan B was that one of the weavers would come to the airport and get the suitcase (which weighed nearly 50 pounds; I was only bringing a carry-on for myself, half of which was occupied by a backpack I had bought for another friend, plus my backpack with my computer and camera). We managed to find each other and together mounted a bus heading to Los Encuentros, where my friends came with the car and we did the hand-off, over a couple of ears of grilled corn enjoyed in the pouring rain. The rest of plan A was to go to Xela since I had thought I had a meeting on Saturday (I arrived on a Friday) with someone from the community radio movement who lives in San Mateo, just outside of Xela. I didn't yet have a phone but I used the phone at the home of my friends Humberto and Ana, where I stay when I am in Xela, to call my colleague from the community radio movement and the Asociación Mujb'abl' Yol (one of the main organizations of truly community-oriented radio stations), who informed me that he couldn't meet the following day as they were hosting some visitors from Michigan (which I had known; I thought my meeting them was part of the plan) and that he was taking them on a trip to somewhere (I didn't catch the name as it was unfamiliar) leaving at 7 a.m. and returning at 5. The thought of hanging around all day in Xela was not appealing (well, in the abstract, sure, but given I only had two weeks and work to be done, not so much). He said that I should come to the meeting of the directors of the radio movement on Tuesday in Sumpango (down closer to the capital), and we would talk there. The meeting was to discuss the idea for a book -- something that I had proposed back in the fall. The reception was pretty lukewarm when I presented the idea (well, one or two people liked it but most didn't see it as a priority), so I dropped it.
Fast forward to March, when I accompanied a delegation from Cultural Survival/Community Radio Movement to the radio station Snuq' Jolom Konob' in Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, to give them a donation of equipment. As we were handing over the equipment, we convened a meeting with key people from the radio station and they began to talk about their experiences. Tino, my friend from Mujb'abl' Yol and one of the national leaders of the radio movement, looked at me across the room and said, "Lisa, you were right. Now I can see what you were talking about. We really do need to systematize and share the experiences of the different radio stations." So the book project was revived. Tino and I exchanged a few emails over the intervening few months but it was clear that this would take at least one face to face meeting, and so I was very persistent in the days before my departure to try and schedule it as early as possible in my stay.
Now the scheduled meeting with Tino was postponed. So I started to make calls to see what I could do to salvage my Saturday since I had traveled all that way. There were a few radio stations I had not visited, that seemed to be kind of along the way back from Xela to Quiché. The other ones that I have had contact with and had perhaps thought about visiting again, were off in other directions. I wanted to get back to Quiché so I could at least briefly visit with my friends in Chinique, and I had been invited to a lunch on Sunday in Santa Cruz by my friends Jeanet and Nazario. And I also was eager to visit Radio Ixmukané; it wasn't clear how much collaboration they wanted from me at this point. When I was here in March we had met with the newly-appointed coordinators of the radio station, two very young but enthusiastic people, Ixchel and Diego, and I had promised to give them as much support as I could long distance. However, we never managed to establish a real mechanism for that, and I had scarcely managed to communicate with them via Facebook and email before my departure to tell them my dates and request that we find a time to meet. I will go into more detail about this later; so many interwoven narratives and chronologies that it may be hard to follow but a little backstory hopefully will give some context as to why I set myself up to do these crazy jaunts around the country.
About a dozen calls to a radio station in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán in Sololá proved unproductive, although I had exchanged emails with them via Facebook and had two telephone numbers, but no one ever responded to my calls. I rummaged through my notes and found a number for another radio station in Sololá, Stereo Juventud, and the compañera whose name I had, Olga, responded right away and invited me to stop by, explaining that they were very near to the intersection of highways at Los Encuentros. I stopped to fortify myself with a few pupusas (my favorite pupusería, Pupusawa, was not open but there is another place a few yards away, so I got my fix for the road and set off).
The radio station was, literally, right along the highway, in the home of some of the founders. They were very gracious and sweet when I stopped by, and I am very appreciative of how in general people have received me warmly, even when, as in this case, I am someone nearly completely unknown who just calls out of the blue and says she wants to come by and talk. My appreciation of this generosity comes from an appreciation of the unfortunate history of the relationship between "outsiders" and Maya people in Guatemala (which of course reflects the history of relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people's world wide). How would anyone know, just because I say so, that I will treat what they tell me respectfully, that I will not simply take what they share with me and use it to harm them, or to benefit myself and not them, that I will not sell the information for commercial purposes or hand it over to the CIA or the Guatemalan government? And so I don't take for granted that I will be welcomed with open arms wherever I go.
I spent a couple of hours with them, talking and then being interviewed on the radio. The station is about 14 years old, and is located, as I said, in a home. The home also contains a pharmacy and a medical office: Santiago, one of the founders, is a nurse/health promoter, specializing in pregnancies and childbirth, and has a pretty constant flow of people, mostly women, in and out of the home. Some come just to get medicines, others come to consult with him.
I wanted to get to Chinique before it was too late, and I had finally managed to contact Diego from Radio Ixmukané, who told me that Ixchel would be at the station, so I called her from the highway and stopped by the station - -in the new location, at the entrance of Chichi -- and listened to the last part of the evening's broadcast. I was thrilled that they were on the air 7 days a week, and that now they also received a lot of phone calls from listeners, which we had never had when the station was in the outskirts of Santa Cruz.
So, I've been able to re-establish some contacts, forge some new ones, and I think advance some on the collaborative project. I've committed myself to go to San Miguel Ixtahuacán, the community where the infamous Marlin Mine is located. The radio station there has been off the air for a while, and in conversing with folks from Cultural Survival and the community radio movement, they seem to think that the station isn't doing anything. So I am hoping I can help them more clearly formulate their strategy for re-initiating.
My own research -- well, it hasn't been so clearly focused. I need to come back with more time, to be able to do some more systematic observations at radio stations, and think about how to integrate all of this in the larger framework of the attacks upon indigenous people and the overall grim situation in Guatemala today. More reflections on this in days to come, I hope.