Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More riding on buses (and what I did when I got there)

The last few days have been a whirlwind of visits, most of which involved long trips on multiple buses. Over the weekend I went to Momostenango, where there is a community radio station run by the Maya priests, to attend a workshop on locution, and from there to Xela to hang out with my friends, and also for a meeting of community radio stations (the meeting turned out to be scheduled for a different day, but that is another story). And then from Xela I was going to San Miguel Ixtahuacán, up in the mining country of San Marcos.

The original plan was, of course, to be able to do this all easily with my own car. But the car was not cooperative and so I did my best to go through with this on bus. With mixed results. But again, with much respect for people who make these trips every day or every week, and don't think it praiseworthy enough to blog about -- if they had the time to blog.

So Saturday morning up at 3:50 to catch a bus to Momos. Someone in Santa Cruz had told me there was a direct bus that would pass right by my home in Chinique and go to Momos. That turned out not to be the case, and I took a bus to Santa Cruz, then another bus to Cuatro Caminos (Four Roads) -- basically a crossroads on the highway, where the Panamerican Highway intersects with the road that goes to Totonicapán. It is crowded with throngs of people getting off buses, waiting for buses, running to catch buses,  people loading huge bags of belongings, produce, other goods that they are taking to market, or bringing home from market, plus food vendors, fast-food chain restaurants like Holandesa and Pollo Campero, Then from Cuatro Caminos, I caught the Momosteca, a bus line that runs to Momostenango.  Seeing Guatemala from the window of a bus is a slightly different vantage point than from behind the wheel of a car. 

Mostly the angle, since even though I usually sat in the first few rows if possible (one feels the speed bumps and potholes much more intensely in the rear of the bus), I never have a straight view out the front window as I would if I were driving.  I managed to get to Momos before 9 a.m., when the activity was going to start, and so was able to observe and participate throughout the day.

I had never arrived in Momos by bus, and so the bus let me off a few blocks from the central plaza; Julian, my friend from the radio station, had told me that the workshop was going to be held at the municipal building, not at the radio station (the radio station is in his home and it is kind of tight quarters, so it would have been hard to comfortably fit that many people). I was able to navigate to the muni (municipal building) and call Julian (where would we be without cell phones?) to find out exactly where in the building the workshop was being held. It was led by a professional radio announcer, one of the few Maya in the business. 
I actually saw him last year at the Rabin Ajaw festival; he was one of the masters of ceremonies.  The participants were mostly men. I know Julian has tried to involve more women in the station but it doesn't seem that the efforts have been completely successful, or if there are more women involved in the station they were not able to make the workshop. There were two young women, girls, really. One only stayed for part of the day, and the other said she was just observing and not yet participating in the radio, so she held off doing some of the exercises that required each person to stand up and say something.

The workshop began like nearly every activity I have attended sponsored by a Maya organization: with everyone present somewhat formally introducing him or herself. In this case since everyone from the radio station knew each other it was for the benefit of the workshop leader, but also part of the formality and ritual of such meetings. But I think it goes deeper than that: self-presentation is important, especially for people who have been silenced and marginalized.

Most of the people who are announcers are non-professionals with little education. The few exceptions were Julian's sons, all of whom have had more schooling than he did, and one man who introduced himself as an economist and sounded and looked like a Ladino professional. He did, in introducing himself, say that he had Maya heritage from his grandmother, but that it had not been emphasized in his family.  
The workshop was more about the technical aspects of speaking on the radio: correct ways to announce the hour (don't say "faltan 20 minutos para las 2" or "there are 20 minutes lacking before 2", use the 24 hour clock so that 1 p.m. become 13 hours -- all of this sounds more normal in Spanish, I assure you), how to project one's voice, breathing from the diaphragm.   We did some exercises that were fun: blowing a balloon using only the diaphragm, holding a lit candle at arm's length and exhaling so as to make the flame flicker but not go out.

I think the importance of the workshop was perhaps less in what was actually covered and how much of it people absorbed or were able to use and remember but in the actual act of participation. That is, attending a day long workshop on locution means that you are taking yourself seriously as a broadcaster -- and that others then take you seriously.  It is a form of validation and self-validation. And of course, this being Latin America, the workshop ended with presentation of little certificates of recognition for everyone who had participated: a sort of diploma issued by the professional association of indigenous broadcasters, that certified that one had attended a workshop and received training in X, Y and Z.  

I didn't get to visit the radio station; it was too far away for me to visit by public transportation if I wanted to make it to Xela by evening (since the buses don't stop anywhere close to the radio station and I would have to return to the center). The buses do not run late and they do not run frequently on weekends. And since everyone who participated in the workshop took off, there wasn't a lot of point to hanging out in Momos by myself, so I headed back somewhat earlier than I had thought. 

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