Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26, 2011

Greetings from chilly, wet Antigua,

We arrived back in Antigua Wednesday evening and leave again tomorrow for Lake Atitlan, but many adventures have occurred in the interim, so here is the scoop.

A bit more about the Garifuna people I alluded to in the last post. This is a population of Caribe descendents, who mixed with an African populations, brought to St. Vincent Island in the 17th c. Through time and battles between the Spanish, French, and English, many of the Garifuna, now freed "Black Caribes", lived on the coasts of Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala. The Garifuna of Guatemala live in Livingston, on the edge of where Rio Dulce flows to the sea.  Although they have been here since the 19th c, and fished and worked this small spit of land, following the Guatemalan civil war, when many Guatemalan's sought refuge from tyranny, Livingston turned from a fishing village to a tourist destination, serving as a jumping off point to both Belize and Honduras, Rio Dulce, and interesting river travel. The Garifuna have been marginalized, living in ghettos at the east side of town. We voluntarily went on a tour with a man from the ghetto, who wanted to show us the life.  It was devastating to see the level of poverty and sitting around, with seemingly no hope. In contrast, on our last day we went kayaking and the driver of our transport boat, a Garifuna man, who told a different story of Garifuna who work, are part of the community, and choose to live the lives they have. Interesting experience altogether. We did witness many, many Mayan folks coming up and down the river to attend the political campaigns on Saturday, and many Garifuna men and women sitting around the park listening, however not really mixing together.  We were there too short a period of time to know what to know or believe. Another time possibly.

On Sunday we headed away from Livingston on a long boat ride to the town of Rio Dulce, up the canyon, along the river, through the lakes, and to the bridge. We met our next driver, Fredy, who took us through multiple military and police check points, through the Peten region to the Jungle Lodge, at the opening of Tikal, the site of the tallest Mayan pyramids, set in the jungle.  On our first afternoon and night we walked around a bit, had a light dinner in the restaurant, and readied for our 4:30am hike through the jungle for the sunrise over Tikal.  It was spectacular walking in absolute darkness, albeit the head lamps, listening to howler monkeys starting their day of territory marking, birds screeching above our heads, and the rustling of the leaves in the jungle.  We arrived at the fourth temple, which is about 10 stories high, climbed the wooden steps, and found a front row seat, overlooking the jungle to the first, tallest temple.  Although there was no sunrise that morning, there was a grey glow and rising of mist from behind the pyramids 1&2, which began to cover the pyramids, then the jungle top, and eventually over us on the steps.  It was far more magnificent than a sunrise, although that would have been nice as well. After four hours of hiking, history lessons, and study of architecture with our high school hiking buddies from Wisconsin, we found breakfast at the Lodge, readying ourselves for our second hike with the same guide, to see the rest of the park, now in the light of day.

Our guide was Antonio Ortiz, son of one of the original archeologists who began the uncovering of Tikal.  He had grown up playing in these jungles, so shortcuts through undergrowth were part of the tour.  We hiked, climbed, and stood in awe at the uncovering of a civilization that had collapsed before the Spanish arrive in the 16th c.  It turns out there was a ten year drought, and no amount of animal or human sacrifice by the rulers could coax the rain gods, so the commoners, the uneducated ones, killed off the ruling class, and disappeared into the jungle to live and survive. Because they had been the farmers for the rulers, they could subsist on the farming they knew, and remain the uneducated people of Guatemala today, from everything we see and read.  There seems to be a move afoot to change that, but it will take much time and energy, as these were the same people who were brutally killed in a genocide move by the military and guerrillas, who were there to protect the Mayan people, but when the people would not serve either militant group, were killed by both groups.  There seems to be some effort underway to rectify this atrocity, but change is slow.  Just last week the brother of one of my new Guatemalan friends was murdered in the barbershop.  He was running for political office that was bent on bringing about change, but others had designs for less change. And so it goes here. Ron Wilhelm works with villagers throughout parts of Guatemala, helping them tell their stories of the tragedy of the Guatemalan civil war and the pain of lost people, who may or may not ever be recovered.  His skill as an ethnographer is of great use and help to the people he meets and works with, no doubt. Releasing that kind of pain takes many hands and years to bring about.  Here in Antigua there is an excellent photographic exhibit in the EspaƱa cooperativa about the civil war and the photos tell the story of mass burials, very young boys with guns, and Mayan women pleading in groups for answers, retribution, and salvation.  The Maya, it seems, left more than pyramids.

We spent a hot, restless night of bugs and mosquito nets, since the electricity is turned off in the evening at the Jungle Lodge. The next morning we toured the two museums on the grounds and were met with beautiful pieces, which were unlabeled, and without documentation of any sort. The pieces were magnificent, but viewing limited, due to the limited knowledge of where and how these were brought here. The ceramic museum was a bit more welcoming, with some sinage, and a great display of the first kings' bones with his 6 kg of jade we had heard about. The pieces were well reconstructed, but again, without documentation, objects behind glass. In the afternoon we left for Flores, the town south of Tikal on the lake.  Our hotel, Peten Esplindida, was on the shore of the lake, across from an island, connected by a short bridge from Flores.  After the amount of sweating we had done in the past week, between Livingston and Tikal, we opted to hang out in the room, catching up on emails, and waited for the cool of the evening to go down for a dip and dinner near the pool next to the lake.  Some folks we had met from Vermont, touring Tikal when we were there, wandered over and had dinner with us. It was a pleasant evening of chatter and story swapping. They are in the medical field and had originally planned the C American trip to Honduras to do medical relief. but the trip was cancelled due to fear.  So, they created their own trip, and here we were. They were headed to Antigua, so we gave them some tourist advice, and agreed to meet at the Welten for dinner Saturday night. We spent the next day hanging out by the pool, watching movies, and readying for the short flight to Guatemala City.

The flight was short, but the wait quite long. Our 5:00 flight turned into a 7:00 flight, due to an overburdening of the airlines by a group of 120 Japanese tourists, who had chartered all six planes leaving from Flores. Unfortunately, they had overlooked the nature of the slowness of Guatemala and arrived at the airport, just 25 minutes before their scheduled flight, so all flights got delayed, since it took nearly an hour to get checked in past the ONE person checking passports, airport tax stickers, and tennis shoes.  We arrive in GC, picked up our transport, and arrived home at the apartment around 9. Such is the way sometimes. The next day was my workshop at the school on the learning brain, so I reviewed my materials and found that what I had sent forward was what I needed, so put together some notes, and crashed.  Tom had gotten so worked up over the lateness of the flight and the circumstances surrounding it, that he was exhausted from frustration.  He crashed the minute we had unpacked.

Thursday, I showed up at the school early to watch other presenters, just to take note of style, to sort of see where I fit in. Needless to say, I didn't since everything was ppt, written in Spanish, and spoken in Spanish. The teachers were receivers of information, with limited, if any interaction or feedback.  I knew I was an outlier, for many reasons. I also discovered that I was an add in, an expert from out of town who had been squeezed into the schedule. I had originally be given a 90 minute session, which in writing was 60, and I was the last presentation of a four day week of constant sessions.  I decided to honor the 60 minutes, used no ppt, engaged the teachers throughout, turned the learning over to them, and surprisingly, spoke in Spanish the entire time.  I had three interpreters at the ready, who threw me words now and again, but between what I knew how to say, hand gestures, drawings on the board, and interactive learning, we got the job done, and everyone left seeming to understand what went on. But, as with all 60 minute workshops, at the end of a long week, when you wish you were somewhere else, who really knows what went in and stuck.  I had prepared well, given back the gift of time to a place that had given me so much time and freedom, so walked away feeling ok.  After the workshop a woman with whom I interfaced daily at the school invited me to her 18thc hacienda in the city for lunch.  Like two little girls, we sat at a small table on the porch, telling each other stories, while I listened to the story of the death of her brother, her father's military background and his political affiliations, and the life of a Guatemalan woman living in Antigua.  It was glorious.

Tom and I were invited to breakfast with the teachers and administrators, which involved getting across town, meeting a school bus in front of one of the Catholic churches, and riding north through the mountains to a lovely log structure, where we had breakfast with about 50 people from the school.  It was loud, wonderful, and tasty. Along the way there and back we saw fields and fields of vegetables, fruits, and people in them tending the produce, trucks being loaded with large bags of avocados, etc.  It was truly amazing, with the exception that you are reminded that the people working these campos/farms are workers, not owners of this land, and in all likelihood will never own the land.  Such beauty and sadness mixed in a single place.

Saturday I worked all day writing on an article that I am trying to send off for publication on the Fiesta Math Night project.  Although we have several short pieces in publication now, this one involves the report of the findings from four years of narrative writings by the students on the FMN experience, from start to finish. There were some amazing things learned, so the publication is warranted. Hopefully today it will hit Tom's careful editing fingers, and the publisher by the end of the week. Today is a great day, because we get to skype with Adam and Catherine and my mom. We plan to take ourselves to Panza Verde, a restaurant in town named after the people who stayed in Antigua after the 1773 earthquake that emptied the city. They got this name for surviving on avocados, hence the term, green bellies.   We are off tomorrow for a four day jaunt to Lake Atitlan, where more adventures and new learning await.

BTW, pictures from the first three and a half weeks of June are posted on facebook, so enjoy, I know we did.   Hope all is well for you and yours. Love jeanne

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