Sunday, December 30, 2012

Learning to wish properly - community radio in Momostenango

I write this from the studio of Estereo Maya/La Princesa Ixmukané, a community radio station in Momostenango, Totonicapán, that was founded by a group of 60 or 70 Maya priests about 23 years ago, and is now run out of the home of Don Julian Velasquéz. This morning when I was readying myself to set out from Chinique for the journey to Momostenango it was raining lightly, as it has rained lightly throughout the night, the drops falling rhythmically on the corrugated tin roof of my friends' home. I thought I'd wait a bit to see if it cleared up, and the sun did peek out from the clouds several times, although it got pretty grey by the time I turned off the highway that leads north out of Santa Cruz del Quiché and leads to Santa Lucia la Reforma in Totonicapán; from Santa Lucia, there's another road that goes from Santa Lucia to Momostenango. But these highways, if we can call them that, are nearly all dirt. And not just dirt. They wind up and around the mountains, perhaps not quite as steep as the roads outside of Chichicastenango, and without those deep ravines below, but since there is almost no pavement, and it's the dry season, the curves and ascents are often covered with several inches of loosened sand and dirt. So it's very hard for one's tires to get a grip, especially when it's uphill on a curve. 

So I would have done better to have wished for a little bit of rain -- a little rain, not a lot. Because that road is also nearly impassable when it rains a lot -- all those inches of thick, soft dust on the surface turn into thick, soft mud that sucks at the wheels of your car and makes passage even more difficult. But just enough rain, to wet down a few inches of dust and pack it a little, that would have helped.

However, no such luck. And I didn't mention that the road is not only a dirt road, with a lot of steep curves, ascents and declines, but it is also extremely lightly traveled and there are stretches where there is no human habitation visible. That is, it is a lonely, isolated country road. I don't worry about physical safety during the day (this is a road I would absolutely never travel after dark), but I do worry about traveling alone and having some kind of mechanical problem (I don't even want to tempt the fates by enumerating a few possible such mini-calamities) and not being near to anyone who could help. 

No mechanical problems, but there was one very steep, dusty ascent that almost defeated me, to the point that I thought i might have to turn back to Santa Lucia de la Reforma and then, I wasn't sure what. There are two other routes to Momostenango, one of which is fully paved. It involves going to Los Encuentros, which is just over an hour and half from Chinique, and then to Cuatro Caminos (another hour), and then going up past San Francisco  los Altos to Momos (another hour) -- so about 3-1/2 hours. That was why I'd chose the dirt-road route in the first place. To then have to turn back and drive another 4 hours was a depressing thought.

The road from Santa Lucia to Momostenango isn't marked at all, so I had to rely upon sense-memory, which fortunately worked. There's one real fork, and there was no one nearby to ask, but I sort of remembered that it was the left fork, and then I saw a car coming in the other direction and flagged him down to make sure I was in the right direction. He warned me about the dust, and he was right. I came around a curve, where there was a descent to a small concrete bridge, and then the road wound up steeply, with a sharp curve to the left and then another one higher up to the right. I could see even from a distance that there was a thick layer of dust. At times like this I sometimes think that it would be useful to be religious. Not that it would solve anything, but I could at least feel comforted by crossing myself or praying, or invoking the spirit of an orisha or an ancestor to guide and protect my path. 

But I can't really fake it so I had to trust to dumb luck, the constellations, the new moon, whatever.  Oh, and did I mention that my spare tire seems to have taken itself off to points unknown?  My friend who had been keeping my car thought it might be in the garage in Chinique, the famous Taller VL (but called locally Taller Willy), where he had taken it some time back for some maintenance. He thought they had probably taken the spare out of the pick-up bed (where I usually keep it whenI travel), and he hadn't remembered to get it back from them. I tried calling Willy yesterday to see if he had the spare, but he didn't answer his phone and I got caught up with other things. So I was just hoping that all would be okay, and drove a bit more cautiously than usual. I did have some passengers for part of the trip - having some weight in the back of the pick up helps when there's not a lot of traction - but they had gotten off a few kilometers before this particularly treacherous slope.  

So, first time I didn't make it as far as the first curve when the car started to spin its wheels. So I carefully backed down to the bridge (did I mention that I really do not like driving in reverse on a road that curves and slopes and is very slippery??), and a little bit back up the slope leading down to the bridge so I could get a bit of momentum. The second time I made it  past the first curve, which was a sharper curve but a gentler slope, and then started to plow my way -- literally -- up the straighter but steeper second curve. The second the wheels started to spin (here they called it skating -- patinando) I stopped. Even more fun going down backwards this time, I assure you, as I was on a slipperier, curvier, steeper part of the road. The third time was no better. I pulled back down part way again, and turned the car off and sat and thought. I called Julian, the person at the radio in Momostenango, but he didn't answer. I couldn't really think of what I could do.  Going back was admitting defeat, and it also meant having to do some major rearrangement of my schedule since, as usual, I am trying to fit a lot into limited time. 

My original plan was not to come to Momostenango today, Instead, I had planned to set out yesterday for the town of Santa Eulalia in Huehuetenango and a radio station called Snuq Jolom Konob' , but I had also wanted to include three other stops in Huehuetenango, to the town of Santa Cruz Barillas where the townspeople have risen up, so to speak, against a proposed hydroelectric project, to the town of San Juan Ixcoy (which is on the way to Santa Eulalia) and possibly to Todos Santos Cuchumatán. When I called my friend Lorenzo at Snuq Jolom, he told me that the trip to Barillas was two hours at least from Santa Eulalia. I realized that it would be hard to squeeze all of that in, since I was invited to a ceremony on the 31st at the house of friends in Santa Cruz del Quiché. Also -- true confessions time -- I had some grades I still had to calculate. The final straw was that I had wanted to spend some time with my friend Ixchel at Radio Ixmukané - the radio station where I had worked in 2011 and which had launched me, so to speak, into the community radio movement. I have promised to help out as I can supporting Ixchel and Diego -- the coordinator and co-coordinator of Radio Ixmukané -- and when I called Ixchel to find out when we could spend a couple of hours together meeting and working on some plans for next year, the 31st seemed like the best time. So I decided to postpone going to Huehue until I could have several consecutive days, which meant sometime next week (as I don't yet have plans between the 3rd and the 13th), and then figuring out how to fill the  time productively.  

A quick call to Julian in Momostenango assured me that he would definitely be around today, and then I got the phone number of Glenda, a young woman who had traveled with me, Ixchel and one of the volunteers from Radio Ixmukané to visit Radio Ixchel in Sumpango on Friday. Glenda holds three different titles in the various competitions for "indigenous queen/princess/daughter of the people" -- there are a lot of competitions, at community, municipal, departmental and national levels, so it is possible for one person to hold several titles simultaneously. She had impressed me with her articulateness when we were at Radio Ixchel and so I thought it would be interesting to interview her, since I had formerly been interested in the whole spectrum of "indigenous queen/princess" pageants in terms of the representation of Maya women. She was available on the 31st, so my plan was set, and I spent Saturday (yesterday) taking care of tedious but necessary tasks like grading and cleaning up my hard drive.  Labors lightened, of course, by the consumption of a couple of lattes in my favorite upscale café in Santa Cruz (it's the only one, so it has to be my favorite). 

So, I was really determined to get to Momostenango. It was already about 10:15 when I stopped my car and sat and thought, and if I turned back I wouldn't be likely to find another station near enough to visit -- even  if I could find someone who was able to receive me. So, I looked and saw that there was a very small area that was sort of flat, at the top of the first curve, almost a shoulder, and I pulled back onto it, sat a few minutes, and then mustered up whatever I had, revved the car. I decided to go kind of hell-bent-for-leather, hoping that if I floored it at the right time I'd make it up... and I was right, although there was a moment after the second curve when I thought I was going to backslide once again. 

Then another several kilometers of dirt road, with a few small patches of pavement occasionally. About a kilometer and a half after my near-miss, there were two men who flagged me down. I only wished I'd had them on board earlier as the weight would have helped. They went with me as far as Momostenango, and I've been here often enough that I was easily able to make it to the radio station, which is in Julian's home. This is not uncommon for community radio stations, since the stations run on a shoestring, and are mostly staffed by volunteers, so unless there is some institution that wants to donate space (this is the case in Santa Eulalia: the municipality has given the station a small space in the back of the municipal building).

I'll leave it at this for now, and start another entry about radio more specifically. 

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