Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Guatemala 11: Three Botanical Notes

So here we are up at 5,000 feet in one of the growing plots held by a family involved in and using organic permaculture methods practiced by AFOPADI. Normally, this altitude would be high to grow this type of fruit. Limes, mangoes and papayas have also succeeded at this elevation in project plots.

And here we have Taro, used ornamentally in Chicago, but valued more for its edible properties, root & leaf, in Casaca.

Third, you can see a corn fungus attacking the plant in a neighboring field that is not using organic methods. Everything about the plant is stunted.

I had some interesting feedback from individual growers about corn. They sowed it at different times depending on the site. The goal is to plant it in concert with the beans so the latter does not overwhelm the corn before the stalk is substantial enough to provide support. These are beans that are not eaten, but they do fix nitrogen and therefore improve the soil.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Guatemala 10: Weaving

Guatemalans are justly celebrated for their amazing weavings on backstrap looms. While most indigenous men have worn western clothes for decades, most of the women still wear their traditional garb, the traje. The blouse is called a huipil, the skirt: a corte. There are intricate guidelines for headbands, cintas, I seem to recall that they can signify marital status.

Below you can see the coloring from the village of Casaca in material being woven for a corte. The first image shows a bit of the backstrap loom. Several months will be needed to finish this skirt.

The second shows a close-up of the spider motif on the weaver's corte: there are many nearby spiders to use as examples! In many mythologies, spiders are associated with weaving. I still recall the image of a spider weaving from a favorite children's book of Japanese folktales,The Spider Weaver. In Mayan cosmology, the goddess Ixchel is credited with inventing weaving. She is also the goddess of childbirth and medicine. In the 1980s, I wrote a play that featured Ixchel as a character so I did a bunch of research, most of which eludes my little gray cells now. The play was set in the Lincoln Park Conservatory. As a kid, I used to hang out there and in Caldwell's Lily Pond, which was known as the Rookery once upon a time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guatemala 9: Soil & Compost

The Guatemalan mountains are no different than Chicago because in both places you must start with the soil. A big part of the AFOPADI projects is teaching and creating the means to produce enough organic compost for people to amend the soil since the natural conditions are not fertile enough to grow most food crops.Each village has its own challenges; in Casaca, one of them is that there is not enough land to feed all the people, so getting as much yield in a sustainable fashion is a long-term goal.
Above you can see the condition of a newly-acquired piece of land on a hillside outside Casaca. The rock is made of a chalky substance that can, with much manual labor, be broken down.
Below are the fruits of that and much subsequent amending with organic compost. The bottom growing plot looked like the one above during my last visit a year and a half ago.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"A Year in Humboldt Park" by Dina Petrakis

Dina's Naturalist Photo Essay (August 11 - October 29) can be viewed starting August 11th at the Humboldt Park Boat House (1359 N. Sacramento Avenue in Chicago). However, the official opening is August 13th from 6 - 8 pm. Events run through October, her website lists details. Above is a photo she took during my May Walk/Talk. I will be leading another tour as part of the celebration on Sat. October 2nd from 1 - 3 pm starting at the boat house.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Guatemala 8: Medicinal Gardens

[Eating boiled peaches at break-time...peaches were in season]

During our stay, for two days and two nights, the medical arm of AFOPADI hosted a workshop on medicinal gardens. Twenty-nine women from all over Guatemala made up the group which originated in Chimaltenango with another NGO called FUNDEBASE. With many of the same goals of struggling against poverty with the campesinos, it was interesting to witness how the women compared notes on plants, health and organizing. We visited the medicinal gardens in T'umiche (about 7,500 ft.)and got to view more cisterns as well.
Unlike the regular AFOPADI programs where the common language is Mayan Mam, because the here women spoke so many different Mayan languages, the common language was Spanish.

[Health promoter in T'umiche shares medicinal uses of plants.]

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Green Corps: Field Trip to CBG

After an absence of several weeks in Guatemala, this morning I met up with some of the Green Corps participants to lead a tour of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Like another planet for all of us, but in different ways. The group really responded to the peaceful feeling in the Japanese Garden. Here are a few of us in the tea hut at the edge of the Zen Garden. A nice respite given the extreme humidity (5 inches of rain last night) and temps near 90.

Guatemala 7: Scenic Mountain Beauty

As our dear friend, Jeffrey (who writes the fabulous audio blog: HiFi Heroin) was departing for his return trip to parts South, I pointed out this postcard of Guatemala I had recently put on the frig. In a shocked tone, my husband commented that it was beautiful and asked me if that was where I had been. So in a proverbial wifely tone, I answered, "Of course, if you had been listening to me....."He then protested, "All you ever show in your blog is grey water or brown water. How would I know it was beautiful?" So, in deference to my better half, I show here some images of the Cuchumatanes Mountains in NW Guatemala where the villages AFOPADI works with are located.

Up in the clouds near Papal (10,000 ft): I think Wesley shot this from the back of the pick-up.

Looking through cornfield, outskirts Casaca (5,000 ft).