Friday, November 30, 2007

Behavior Change...

[At 10,000 feet in Guatemalan village without many outhouses. Toilet is land just beyond hut.]

[Deluxe composting toilet in outhouse in Guatemalan village of Casaca at AFOPADI project.] what counts for the long-term, but is not sexy (especially to funders) in the short-term. This morning, I heard a radio report on the BBC about lack of toilets and poor sanitation leading to childhood death in Cambodia. I believe the figure cited was 84% of the population do not have access to toilets. The woman interviewed (Barbara Evans?) said that you can't just drop off toilets; change comes from behavioral change over the ribbon cuttings, just slow progress over time.

Of course, this is the same struggle as the Earthways project I work with in Guatemala. All three aspects (Education, Health & Agriculture) of the AFOPADI project are integrated to such a degree that you can't separate them. With toilets, the improved sanitation effects health in a positive way. When people recycle human wastes into organic compost, that improves the crops which leads to better yields. When people use silos to store the harvest, that leads to fewer rat intrusions in the corn and better health (more food, less poop). None of this can happen unless people are available for behavioral change. Think how hard it is for us to change on a daily basis. Then imagine you had recently survived a 30 year long civil war during which the military and government forced you to rape, torture and murder your neighbors. Your entire communal society was violated. Now, would you be very trusting and open to change?
I believe we must work with people after establishing relationships and honor their differing capacities for change.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday Prep in Guatemala

Inside the fancy mall in Xela.

At the nursery in Antigua.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Human Sunrises"

If you go back to my posts from Guatemala between Oct. 26 & Nov. 13, you can now see the images I have added. During the next weeks I will post more pictures.

Meantime, I received a card from Martha Pierce who heads a group I worked with during the 1980s when we worked with Guatemalan refugees, the Chicago Metropolitan Sanctuary Alliance. Martha quotes the novelist and poet, Alice Walker, on "Human Sunrises."

"When it is all too much, when the news is so bad meditation itself feels useless, and a single life feels too small a stone to offer on the altar of peace, find a human sunrise. Find those people who are committed to changing our scary reality. Human sunrises are happening all over the earth, at every moment. People gathering, people working to change the intolerable, people coming in their robes and sandals or in their rags and bare feet, and they are singing, or not, and they are chanting, or not. But they are working to bring peace, light, compassion to the infinitely frightening downhill slide of human life."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lake Atitlan to Chicago

In less than a week, I went from a tropical volcanic lakeshore to the Windy City in fall.

When I awoke the next morning and saw that most of the leaves had fallen and the few left (as on this pear tree) had changed into vivid hues, I felt as if my lungs had opened and I stood tall (pretty conceptual from my towering 5' 2" status).

Going from a third world country into Thanksgiving celebrated in the States was lovely, but challenging. I noticed that I was the only one at the table who finished everything on their plate. Watching my mom's and dad's dogs chomp away at their big butcher bones, I couldn't help but be reminded of the discrepancy between them and the packs of skinny non-species specific mutts who roamed and patrolled the village and whose barking filled the night until the sound of the cocks' crows an hour before dawn.

I am always happy to be home amidst loved ones and plumbing. Upon returning from Guatemala, I usually take longer to adjust to what's taken for granted in the empire.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On the tourist trail

Back in Antigua for a few days. I admit it`s nice to have a toilet seat and some hot water. Plus I have a friend who moved here 15 years ago, supposedly upon my advice. Even when I studied Spainish here in the late 1980s, during the war, this was a tourist town. Beautiful colonial buildings surrounded by volcanoes, lots of Spanish schools and cafes. Now it is about 30 times more touristy and all about buying. The place crawls with twenty-somethings. You can usually tell what country they`re from by hairstyle, posture and attitude. They have time, money, youth & options. Even when I was their age, I was more interested in action & social justice than in hanging out; I never had much capacity for coffee or beer anyway. After several weeks with the reforesting project in the village, there is a bit of culture shock. However, I am so grateful for food and freedom. Not many trees here although the bouganvilla seems always to be in lush flower.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Race, Class & Gender

The way discrimination plays out with these aspects seems fairly similar to their manifestation at home. People of color are lower on the hierarchy. Which in Guatemala means the indigenous people. The more Spanish blood you inherit, the higher the probability of a better quality of life. Guatemala is the only country remaining in Central America that has a majority indigenous population. Needless to say, they don´t own enough land to grow enough food to support themselves. Land, work, education, health care and opportunity are in short supply for the native people. When you visit Tikal and see the capacity of the Maya to create a complicated society, racism makes no sense. Unless it evolved out of fear, greed and the usual assortment of menacing creatures that often fly around the heads of afflicted people in Goya´s later prints.

The power imbalance between men and women in poverty always seems more extreme than in other classes. This was the same when I taught welfare mothers in Chicago in the 1990s and can be linked to many reasons but the lack of work, education and mobility appear to be determining factors. I am very grateful not to be a poor indigenous woman in Guatemala. I would be subject to sexual abuse by employers or husbands or random men. Then, if I got pregnant and wasn´t married, there is the double-standard (sex OK for men, but women are easy). And most of one´s time would be taken up by child-care, cooking and washing by hand endless dirty clothes and dishes. Not much room for a landscape business!

I am likely showing my colors here as a product of the first world...but that is my perspective, one born of my history and fortunate birth in a fortunate society at the inception of the 20th C military-industrial complex.

Thinking outside the box

Cultural differences determine the simplest actions & outcomes. During several workshops, I observed that the campesinos were responding differently to the process of counting off in numbers (1, 2, 3) in order to divide into groups. Not only were they not understanding how to count sequentially and repetatively, but once asked to separate according to the numbers, the groups always ended up unequal and imbalanced.
When I mentioned this to the Belgian nurse in AFOPADI, she told me how she finally achieved success with this process. Instead of counting, she asked everybody to imagine that she and the other two health promotores had very fast pick-ups that were ascending the mountain. She pantamimed the vehicle´s course complete with sound track and very quickly the group divided into three equal parts.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Another comment about guatemalan elections and fruit

Here is another strange southern fruit: Anona or Custard Apple. Marvelous flavor somewhere between pear & pineapple to my taste buds.

Today I learned why there was so much more violence (not that there isn´t way too much on a daily basis) before last week´s election. Apparently robbery is the method most practiced to finance candidates. Today we bought fresh passion fruit on the roadside. You remove the top (Like my dad used to do with an upright boiled egg) and then slurp out the seeds: muy saborosa! Blended with water, the fruit makes a nice refreshing drink.

City girl again

After two weeks in Casaca, I returned to Xela (Quetzaltenango) today. We are amidst a valley ringed by mountains and a volcano (Santa Maria), but my hosts say this is not one of the active ones...those two are near Antigua (Picaya) and Guatemala City (Feugo). At 2300 metres it often rains however today we are blessed with sun before the clear night of chilly cold and endless stars...actually I don´t know if we will be able to see the stars since this city numbers about 800,000 and has much more electricity than the village. Last night in Casaca, the stars created such a mantle, I understood the arching space above the earth. One feels very insignificant and very lucky.
Now that I am back amidst familiar creature comforts, perhaps I will detail some of the daily routines in the village. With AFOPADI, I was treated to a room with a cement floor. Also, a composting outhouse, solar electricity and an ecolfilter that made drinkable water. About 3/4s of the inhabitants now have these compostings latrines. The impact on health is profound plus their use recycles human waste into organic compost. As I´ve mentioned, land is the big factor here. In most areas people do not own enough to grow enough crops to survive. Also, much of the land has been severely degraded by chemical fertilizers over the past decades. On Tuesday I attended a workshop about silos up in the village of Papal. The inhabitants there are finally wanting to purchase silos through the project (at an affordable price...this is extremely important since the campesinos do not generally value gifts as they have not attained them by working). Always they lived with their harvest...and the rats and the rat feces in the corn. Only recently have they understood the connection to better health and longer retention of their crops. There are many things to learn about proper maintenance of silos in order for them to function well...I am reminded of garden design at home and how much depends on quality maintenance. With the silos you have to elevate them for good aircirculation, make sure the points of entry and departure are properly sealed, take care not to store items on or near the silo (especially chemicals), and make sure you clean the silo in between uses by turning it on its side, entering and washing out the silo with water. There are two sizes, one is 30 and the other 18 but I can´t exactly translate the measurement. The larger one is about 6' tall and 3' wide. Also, before filling the silo with corn, you must apply the correct number of pills and wait at least 3 days. These pills kill any insects or eggs that might be inside. Otherwise, your corn harvest turns to dust. Maize is the universe for the Maya. Not only do most subsist on tortillas or tamales, but corn figures in their understanding of the cosmos, of the origins of man and of our purpose here on earth. Seeing the stars last night, I understood why the Maya were pioneers in astronomy and mathematics (they invented the concept of zero). And when you meditate on the stars, this comprehension of a larger whole forces you to reflect on your place, your purpose, your connection with eternal cycles. Forgive the waxing poetic: the sun is just now setting perfectly between the crest of two shadowed mountain peaks. Illuminating their silhouette are pastel orange rays that lighten the high clouds and darken those closer to earth. And on earth tonight, I will not need shoes and flashlight and fortitude against insects if I drink a cup of tea before bed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Election Results + Colors!

I was wrong about the election. Actually Colom won. Those I speak to say things will be ´menos peor,´ less worse. Still, it is better not to have a general who was in power in the army during the genocide of the 70s and 80s.

The larger problems continue (poverty, racism, in equitable land distribution) regardless of the party, because, economic interests control the situation...just like in the states...perhaps fewer corporations and more drug lords here but basically the balance is in favor of profit for a few at the expense of many. Of course, the difference between the third and 1st world continues to make me both grateful and appalled.

Now for some lovely plant observations....I came here during this time of year to see Guatemala green and ripe. But the surprise lies in the abundance of colors. Higher up in the mountains, patches of deep yellow interrupt the green and gold of the milpa (corn). Endless orange cosmos define these contrasts. Growing wild are blue & purple salvias, red-orange lantana, white sambucas and various yellow sunflowers. As we ascended up to the village of Papal yesterday (truly in the clouds at 2500 metres), bright red bromliads decorated the scraggy (forgive my English: I am between it, Spanish & Mam, the language of the indigenous groups near Quetzeltenango or Xela) oaks.

Upon returning, I discovered a book: Etnobotanica mam. How lucky we are for Linneus! The book has the names in all three forms (Mam, Spanish, Botanic) so I know some of the plants. It also details their medicinale and spiritual and food applications.

Only a few minutes here today down in the Pueblo: I was lucky enough to catch a ride on a motorcycle which shortened the walk from 30 minutes to 7.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

News from a guatemalan village

Today is election day in Guatemala. I am down in the town of San Ildefonso de Ixtahuacan where all the people from the various villages in this municipality (west of Huehuetenango, up in the NW part of the country close to Mexico) come to vote...and to go to the market. Through the eyes of a western consumer, the market offers multiples of the same things: thread to make the traditional clothes (trajes), fruits, vegetables, watch repair, plastic shoes, soap (very harsh to make up for the lack of warm water), flashlights (to compensate for the lack of reliable electricity), a few chickens and many many products with the main ingredient being sugar: candy, soda, ice cream, bread etc. I doubt that the results of the election will change the daily lives of the inhabitants. It is said that the candidate of the party promising´´Mano Duro´ a strong hand, will win...that certainly didn´t work before except for the few who gain much when the majority works hard and suffers. But maybe the violence will dampen a bit after the election.
Of course, in a country where a tiny minority owns most of the workable land, the only real change would be land reform. And if you attempt to put this possiblity into practice, your life may be cheap. For those of us who live in cities in the North, I think it is probably hard to feel this...we are so disconnected from our land and the sources of our food, houses and souls. I promised more cheer in my last post: since I was here a year and a half ago, 9000 trees have been planted in three villages up the mountain through the AFOPADI project! In January, they will take a census to see how many are living. How wonderful to be here when the plants are green! The milpa (maize) sways in the wind and towers about twice my height which is that of the average Mayan. Different other harvests happen and I am fortunate to try new fruits ( a small tart mango with a giant seed, good laxative) and vegetables (Pacaya...a minature broom or octupus in form & texture with the flavor of an artichoke: first you boil it a long time then you dip it in whipped egg batter and fry). The great excitement is that the silo project and the organic agriculture and reforesting projects are in full tilt. The organic plots produce higher yields. The silos function to protect corn from the rats (not only do they consume the corn but leave their droppings which of course leads to sickness) as well as conserve for a time when there is little food in the village after the harvest. During these months (Jan. thru April) only women and children and hens and pigs, sheep and a few horses remain...the men now go mostly to work in construction in Cancun or in the fields of Mexico. Coffee is no longer a big product here, sugar cane remains a big guatemalan export to the States. The really scary truth is that here, where maize originated (a sacred spot), I hear that all the corn is genetically engineered and the compesinos must buy seed from Monsanto since it is patented...just like most of the corn in the States. This is one of the many reasons I do not believe Ethenol is the solution to global warming. Instead, from here, consumption in the States looms large. Daily life here does not include many cars. Among other luxeries. Instead, the salvation of the pick-up. To walk from Casaca to Papal (the village up in the clouds) takes a campesino 3 hours but 1 in the pick-up crowded in the back like sardines. Papal is an amazing place. While very deforested, the inhabitants have much land on which to grow crops...the land is high, the slopes are great, water is scarce and the distances to cart organic fertilizer is great. But the results amaze...I will post photos of the reforesting, the organic parcels, the profoundly shaped faces when I return. We visited the nursery in Papal: tiny seedlings trying to survive the brisk temperatures amidst cloud cover. We saw experiments of fruit trees and reforesting, all examples of great physical and internal strength and hope. I am not sure I would have such fortitude in the midst of such extreme conditions. Food, education, heat, water, electricity, health care, human rights all are extremely lacking. The people I have come to know inspire me with their persistance, gentle manners and friendly hearts. I miss my family and friends at home but am not sure they would be comfortable here. Spiders loom large and daily comforts are of a different sort than at home in the States. Each time I return from Guatemalan, I am most impressed by my liberal consumption of water. The elementals are profound here: during a Mayan ceremony to initiate an agriculture workshop, we lit candles to honor them: Red for the sunrise; Black for the night; Yellow for water; White for the wind; Green for the earth and Blue for the sky that is infinite. Only we are the limit to infinity. I am reading extraordinary essays by George Sanders (I think that is his name, he won a MacArthur Genius Grant and the book is called THE BRAINDEAD MEGAPHONE). I hesitate to finish the last essay, but it is about a 12 year old boy in Nepal who has mediated for 7 months without food. The author does such a fine job of examining the people around him and himself through the same lens. He discusses those human desires that have corrupted men and the earth for thousands of years. Perhaps knowing bit of those other motivational forces can instruct me for my return to my daily habits.