Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Plant Nursery on Guatemalan Mountainside

One day up in the villages with AFOPADI, I made the trip with several of the agricultural facilitators to check-in on a nursery being created up at about 8,000 or 9000 feet high. We arrived to find a group of women and their kids (check out babies on backs) filling plastic sacks with compost. The next step was to transplant the small seedlings into the sacks. Luckily, our timing was good. One of the facilitators demonstrated how the filled sacks lacked enough structural medium to keep the seedlings upright.  He showed how you could simply add some of the surrounding mountain soil to strengthen the seedling mix.

Better to learn sooner than later, but I would have been bummed because all the bags needed to be emptied and then earth needed to be collected and sifted and then added to the compost. I could not believe the women.  Immediately, half with kids slung across their backs, they leapt up and began to hoe. All the while smiling and joking and sharing their task. Incredible.

This community on this side of the mountain was new to me. Not only did it have sun, but it also had water!!! There is a nearby spring which meant that they were actually irrigating some corn. The soil up here is rich and people have enough of it generally.  The problem is that usually the dry season lasts from November through April. But up in this community, it's a different story. One with possibilities...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back in Evanston

As I unpack and catch up on all my modern electronic devices, I will try to manifest this energy and sustenance.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Back from the mountain villages, still Guatemala

After six days I`m back in Quetzaltenango. Still with AFOPADI, but no longer up in the mountain villages where they work. After seven years of annul visits, I am starting to make sense of some things. It`s really true that the more I know, the less I know (especially in English since I`ve been thinking in Spanish).
This time, I feel the poverty very strongly. It is always there, but with the global economic crisis and the drop in funding from international donors all over the world, the effects of poverty are intensified here. It`s not that we don`t have poverty in the States....it`s been so hard for so many people in the States these past four years...but most of us in the US have not only things (clean water, light, heat), infrastructure (roads, schools, hospitals) and services they are mostly not corrupt (government, police), that we don`t experience the poverty of life here that is a given for most and worse for the poor.
Because of this the services of AFOPADI are so vital. Not buying commercial fertilizer, learning how to make organic compost to increase crop yields, growing medicinal plants for the daily sicknesses that visit those who live with incredibly minimal sanitation....living on the edge really manifests incremental differences. 
There are so many details to describe. The funny ones like the free-range geese who now wander the compound and make the broom my best friend. The sad ones like the brother of a facilitator who began having epileptic fits recently (in his early 20s) and is only now in the hospital because the family doesn`t have the money and only believes in traditional medicine. The inspiring ones like the same faciliator, a woman, who is now the Cocode (the leader) of the village. The ones that give me hope like the woman who suffered from depression (the first time after the army executed her brother in front of the whole village and the second time after her father died) and is back to normal, whatever normal means.
As always, I am grateful for the education in sustainable ways. I am grateful to learn the ways in which one adapts to loss and change. I am grateful to learn about sustainable methods that are a matter of business mostly in the States, but are a matter of life and death in Guatemala.
Everybody here that I work with through AFOPADI is so open, sharing and transparent.  I realize that it is this transparency that attracts me. Life is short and in the States, with Capitalist competition, the ruling factor is to rarely share one`s challenges.  But, of course, the real way to grow is to understand we are all the same and to share our struggles and successes.
I don`t idealize my friends here, they manifest the same human struggles we all endure, but what inspires me is that despite the ups and downs, they continue. And in the process, life in the company of others is a joy. Lucky me. Now I have "only"to find creative ways to report and to engage friends and donors...this is the time when giving/sharing makes a real difference.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hola de Guatemala

Hello from Guatemala where it is a different season from Chicago.  The dry season yes, but some crops are still growing in various parts of the country, especially the Pacific coast. I have had wonderful mangoes, pineapples and papayas.  Trying to load up before I leave for the mountain villages where fresh produce is hard to come by. I am in the western part of the country in Xela, a city ringed by mountains and a volcano. As long as you don´t see the poverty or the increase in militarization since the new President, Otto Perez (a former general during the time of the war with much torture and many disappearences), took office in January: the view is beautiful.

I am eager to get to the villages where AFOPADI has projects in Health, Education and Agricultures and see the changes.  As always, some will be inspiring and some sad.  I have heard that the global economic crisis has really taken a toll here.  Also, that the Obama administration has altered the way funds are administered. From what I understand, they now go through the government instead of directly to NGOs...and that means the money doesn´t end up with impoverished people who need it.  Just think of how Chicago has worked with patronage and you can imagine where the money goes.

Despite everything, the people I know here are always amazing, warm and fun. Plus I love speaking Spanish...even though where we go, the native language is Mam.

Per usual, I will add photos to the blog after I return.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sweetgum: Sure Sign of Spring

Most states east of the Mississippi (except maybe not you in VT, NH or Maine) can grow this interesting tree: Liquidamber styraciflua or Sweetgum.  We have many mature ones in the parkway in the blocks near my office. It's a bit unusual since they are known for beautifully formed leaves and the Sputnik-shaped fruit that makes a mess when it comes down after winter.

The fruit pleases me, although I am not responsible for cleaning it up.
I took these yesterday when we hit 58 degrees on Leap Day.  Today we are back to that grim gray, but it's fitting because normally that's what March is...and this winter: it feels as if it's been March since Autumn. The ground never froze here so it's going to be one interesting year in terms of plants, pests, disease and people.  The cycles will be off and I hope I can be unattached to the results.