Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 24, 2011

Greetings from Antigua: four days left to this leg of the adventure

Just when we thought it could not get better, being here this week has been amazing.  Our friend Johnetta spent the morning with us at our favorite boutique hotel in the neighborhood, enjoying tipico Guatemalan breakfast, then we kissed her good-bye and continued our day here, visiting with teachers, school administrators, and skyping with Adam and Catherine.  I had the great fortune to visit another public school, this time a pre-school in Jocotenango. The tuk tuk driver took me to the primaria of the same name, so through successive approximation, I made it up the steep hill to the school where I witnessed the glory of the youngest ones in the public school setting.  My host teacher was a woman I met during semana santa, but never heard from again, although she knew I was seeking opportunities to observe as much public school as possible. We met in the grocery store last week, and by Monday I was there with her and her lovely children.  Mostly I learned there that teachers work diligently with these young children, fostering learning, care, and safety in all ways. It was a brief experience, a few hours, but have garnered an invitation to return, which I hope to do in the future.

Tuesday I had the grand opportunity to visit a school in Guatemala City that was part of the Guatemática program that took six years to develop. The lead teacher in this school had been in the meeting I attended at the ministry of education ten days earlier, where I learned of the program.  I was so jazzed by what I witnessed in this school.  Every teacher in the school used the hands-on methods proffered by National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in the US, which align with the Guatematica curriculum. Every child had their own manipulatives, engaged in active learning, showed marked understanding of the topic, and communicated openly about their math learning. The students were up at the board, showing their reasoning, and the teacher served as a facilitator, rather than a sage on the stage.  This observation showed me that children in tough situations can be trusted to learn and do not need rote practices as the only means of instruction and engagement.  It was very meaningful.  After the observation, I spent the afternoon with my friend Maria del Carmen's family in Guate, and gave some assessment instrument development assistance to her daughter who is working with the private school Maria owns in Antigua, where I did most of my observations.  Afterward Maria and I goofed off in Guate, shopping, and just visiting.  She is turning out to be a very nice friend and colleague.

At 7:15pm I met Tom at the Guate airport where we waited and then greeted two UNT students from the Alpha Chi group I sponsor at UNT. Bonne Sei and Cordell Cunningham are two pre-med students who are delightful to spend time with.  We had saved a bunch of things for ourselves to do in our last week, so the four of us have been working the list. On Wednesday, we drove from Antigua to an active volcano, Pacaya, which blew last year, but is still producing lots of steam.  We hiked through the national park, straight uphill, for about two hours, and arrived at a crest that overlooked a completely black landscape, with pockets of steam rising from the ridges of molten lava. The crevice in the top of the mountain was foreboding, gaping from the pressure of spewing rocks, lava, and steam, barely a year ago.  We went on a "night hike" to roast marshmellows with heat from a steam vent, explored a cave created by the explosion, which felt like a sauna, then hiked back to our campsite in the pitch darkness.  It was exciting and scary all at the same time. The guides cooked the thirteen of us a delicious rice, vegetarian dinner.  We all flopped into our tents fairly early, as the plan was to watch the sunrise at 5:30, but the fog was so thick, no rise ever appeared, so we rose in the glow of the morning, had a quick bagel, then headed down.  The sunset the night before was so spectacular, it made up for the lack of a rise the next day.  One of the most interesting things about the hike was the need for an armed guard to protect the hikers, as there have been many robberies of cameras, money, cell phones, etc, among hiking tourists. It is unfortunate, but real. Back in Antigua on Thursday, we had a hearty breakfast, then returned home for showers and a sleepy afternoon. We all dined at La Fonda, at typical Antiguan haunt we tried our first week here.  It was nice to come back to Kak 'ik, a Mayan soup.

Friday morning we were up early and on our way with Don Rene, a nice van driver for the Doña Baetriz, the neighborhood hotel, to the beach on the west coast. We returned to Maria del Carmen's beach house as a fivesome.  We played at the beach, got knocked over by the waves, ate a bit of black sand, swam in the pool, shared a light lunch of terrific pates from Claudia's shop in Gaute, and just had a grand time being beach bums. That evening we met Ron Wilhelm's NGO Dallas group for dinner at a restaurant, where Cordell learned about how we in Alpha Chi could possibly do similar outreach in the near future. We had a grand time with Ron, his young friends, and the ladies of his church, learning about their encounters with the artists of San Juan and contributions they made to the village.

Saturday morning B and C slept in, then we were off to San Antonio Aguas Caliente, a chicken bus ride up the mountain and into the valley southwest of Antigua to shop in the Mayan coop market there.  It was a glorious adventure to be in the market with the ladies who weaved the fabric we bought, bargaining, visiting, admiring their work. B and C had a grand time negotiating their purchases for family and friends, and Tom had a grand time doing the same. We all ended up with some terrific items and were excited about our trip there.  We jumped a chicken bus back to Antigua in time to get some lunch at Pollo Comparo, after which time we directed the students to the mercado, on market day, a wild and crazy time, then headed home. They were in charge of getting fruits and vegetables for dinner.  We made it home just in time to Skype with A and C and really enjoyed seeing and talking to them, as always.  The four of us sat around with candle light, snacking, drinking, and talking into the night, and went to bed content and ready for the long anticipated adventure of Sunday.

In the early morning today, we went out in search of a tuk tuk, found a few a block down, and made it to the breakfast buffet at the Finca Filadelphia.  The morning was cool, crisp, a bit cloudy, but overall beautiful blue skies.  At 9am we joined a group of folks headed to a zip line over the forest, at the highest point in the finca.  We stepped onto the first platform, and in an hour had zipped along seven lines, the longest being 729 feet. The zip lines were well constructed, with double wires, and the guides provided the stops for the zippers, which made the ride even nicer.  We were excited about doing the really long ones next but were told we couldn't because there was a large group coming. However, we have learned here that you follow the Tom Tunks method of negotiation, continue to bump it up.  He spoke to one of the guides, who agreed to intercede, and did, then Tom spoke to the Jefe (boss), who lumped us into the group of 40 folks here on a mission trip for nutrition, and held the big reservation that had overshadowed ours.  We were so thrilled to go on this next set of ziplines, because they were very long and criss-crossed the valley.  We all yipped and smiled our way over the valley and thoroughly enjoyed the cool breeze, sunshine, and excitement of the ride.  We hiked up the hill to the truck, unharnessed, returned to the office of the finca, then hiked to the closest village, San Felipe, which has a market every Sunday, that is heavily populated by local people from the area. With the exception of Bonne, who is Cambodian/Laoation and looks very Guatemalan, we all stuck out like sore thumbs.  In spite of it, we had a grand time at the market, and bought some of their specialties of dulces and an antique coin from the finca which demarked the payment of two days labor, which could be exchanged for rice, beans, and maza, at the finca company store, as the coin was not a national monetary piece.  Cordell picked up a beautiful wooden carving of a cashew, his favorite nut, and some bags of coffee and other goodies.

We were unable to go to the Azotea, Mayan history museum, so made it back to Antigua on a chicken bus, at which time B and C shopped in the artisan market and made great deals again.  They were enjoying their bargaining skills, it was great to watch from the bench at the fountain.  We found some food for C then sat on the street in front of the cathedral downtown listening to seven marimba groups perform simultaneously, the great marimba hits of Guatemala, between speeches from the mayor, commemorating the glory of the saint of Antigua, Santiago de Cabelleros, and the anniversary of the city. The big day is tomorrow, but the centro was hopping with food, music, people, arts and crafts, and a big book fair.  After the concert the city lit off five large canisters of fire works, 20 feet from where we standing.  We hear these every day and night here, with people celebrating birthdays, weddings, whatever, but never see the lights. Well, today we did, and up close and personal. It was terrific. We ended our evening at a lovely Italian restaurant, Cafe Mediterranean. The proprieter is the father of two girls who attend Colegio Boston, and one is a girl I befriended when I was there. It was great to meet her dad.  We had lovely fish dishes, talked, and laughed.  We found a cigar for C on the way home, and the three of them visited with a group of Denton, TX firemen, while I visited with a young girl and her grandmother from Santa Catarina.  Again, a moment of excitement for me in that I could speak Spanish fluently enough to be understood, could field questions, and understand what they were telling me. It turns out they come here each weekend, selling their weavings, then return on the bus Monday morning, so the little girl can go to school.  It was a brief, but exceptional moment.

We are all settled in for the evening, awaiting the adventure of learning about hospitals, NGOs, and participating in the city-day celebration in the afternoon.  We plan to take it to the limit until we board the plane on Thursday morning. The students leave Wednesday morning, and I head to Guate for more meetings about education, and at some point, we'll have to figure out the packing, but that is another day.

I hope all is well for you and yours.  Love Jeanne

P.S.  Pictures from the current adventure will be up sometime this week, whenever we slow down enough to get it done.  Look for these in several new albums on facebook.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17, 2011

Greetings from chilly, wet Antigua

This was a bonus week here in Antigua.  Our friend Johnetta Hudson came to see us starting Thursday afternoon.  Her trip in was a bit delayed, and her luggage never arrived, even though she is leaving tomorrow, but we pulled together resources of what was in the house and got clean clothes on her, along with the other things needed to make it for five days, and we had a blast together. We also got to spend time with Janet Ray and her husband Mark and their medical team that was here doing outreach work in the villages.  More about that in a moment. 

Early in the week I continued with my observations in the public school and continued to be fascinated how much these teachers can do with so little.  The students were so sweet and kind to me, offering me their snack foods, and sharing some ipad time with me when they finished their work.  I got to observe lots of student teachers teach this week, although the school was only in session for three days. Teachers were in in-service staff development on the other days.  The math teaching continues to mostly be rote delivery and repetition, although I did witness some word problems at the third grade and responsiveness that indicated an eagerness to extend the learning further in the form of addition problems presented to the teacher during break time.  I got to witness some excellent use of the recess time which is generally overly loud. Some teachers used the time to let students have snacks, then sent the out to play during the 30 minute time slot allotted.  It was a clever us of this loud-school time.

Tuesday evening we met Janet and the Dallas medical team for dinner at Ponza Verde, and swapped stories of visits to villages and life on the road of helping others.  Janet and Mark have been coming here for many years, so have been instrumental in sustaining a single family for many years. An abandoned mother and her four children are now able to sustain because the Rays supported her and the children until the mother was able to slake the father and start her own business making tortillas. After 15 years, they are on the mend and doing much better, health and life better.  Janet and I met to talk shop and worked out some interesting integration for science and math methods courses this fall.

Since this week was the last for all the student teachers, there were grand celebrations on Friday, with lots of food, music, games, etc.  The class I was situated in was a second grade class and the group sang happy birthday to the student teacher, who on this day turned 17.  Tomorrow she is a certified teacher, ready to take over a classroom of young children.  It is quite a phenomenon.

This day marked the last day of our Spanish classes as well.  In the morning, Tom and Johnetta went on a walking tour of Antigua, after which I met them for a cool drink, followed by a trip up the mountain with our Spanish teachers for la cena at the restaurant on the hill.  We had a terrific time eating, drinking, laughing, watching the fog/mist come over the mountain, as it grew into a steady rain.  We made it back down the hill, then headed home for an evening at the apartment.  At one point I looked out the window and saw Volcan Fuego spewing red hot lava, which flowed down the mountainside.  The three of us stood in awe of the magnificence of the event.

Saturday morning we headed out on a crisp morning for the Finca Filadelphia for breakfast before our tour of the Finca.  It was a clear, cool, crisp morning and we witnessed even more puffing of Fuego, although it was mostly steam and big white and grey clouds.  We had a very well informed and attentive guide and enjoyed his talk.  It was disconcerting to witness the six ladies who were building the 100,000 plant starters, since they were surrounded by quite a few children, who seemed pretty carefree, but from the site of things, were not formally schooled, and will probably only ever learn the work of the finca. There seems to be no effort to change this situation.

We met our hostess at her house in the mid day, then rode with her to her beach house on the west coast.  We enjoyed the breeze from the ocean, sunset on the black, volcanic beach, and swam in the pool until we pruned.  The same occurred, with the exception of the sunset, on Sunday, returning to rainy, cool Antigua it the early evening.  We met two amazing women at the beach house. The first was the woman who was the person who established the Ixchel textile museum in Guatemala city that we toured in February with Adam and Catherine. She was an exceptional woman and her story of how she and seven other women restored, curated, and displayed the work was fascinating. We felt when we were there, but to talk to her heightened the experience more.  Today we met another woman who teaches at Universidad Francisco Marroquin, where the textile museum and others reside, and who also heads an organization that studies the government's support of the commitments they make to education.  We had lengthy conversations about what is possible in the world of educational research and support for improvement in Guatemala.  I will meet with her on Tuesday and extend the conversation further to what might be possible between us, UNT, SMU, and Marroquin.  It was intriguing indeed.

We came back from windy, balmy, sunny beach to flooding in Antigua and surrounding pueblos.  Luis got us back safely, after which we walked in the light rain to Welten for a light cena with Johnetta, where we toasted lost luggage, a good visit, and plans to keep the fires burning.  It will be interesting to see where this takes us in the future.  It was great to spend so much uninterrupted time with Johnetta and we hope she finds her luggage before she gets home.

Hope all is well in your world. Ten days until we head north for a few days.  Love jt

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 10, 2011

Hi there,

Well, we have 17 more days in Antigua, and still loving our life here. We will be glad to back in Dallas for a few days to see the family, do a bit of work, and go to the Greatest Show on Earth, the circus. Thanks to Adam, we have been going back to the Ringling Brothers event since 2002.  The party will continue.

During our week here in Antigua Tom has been out exploring possibilities for shopping wood items and we hit pay dirt today with a visit to two villages outside Antigua. The artists in Jocotenango and San Filipe are known for their woodworking resulting in beautiful bowls, platters, and particularly fruits and vegetables that are painted and shined to be amazing replicas of the real thing. This is down down to the seeds in the fruit and the intricate lines in the seeds.  We had a quiet, peaceful morning walking through the villages, after our lovely breakfast on the hill at the Finca Filadelphia coffee farm, where we watched Fuego Volcano puff huge belches of white, grey, and even black smoke.  The mountain has been active all week, but today was exceptional. We were a pretty safe distance from this activity, so it was fun. Up close might be another matter. We will find out soon enough, as we plan to hike Pacaya in a couple of weeks.

My week here has been filled with school visits, but this time in public schools, Monday through Thursday. The school is in Jocotenango, a small village 10 minutes ride in a tuk tuk from where we live.  It is at the foot of the mountain, so is nestled in a bit closer as a village, whereas Antigua is a bit more spread out in the valley. The school is a primary schools with grades K-6.  Each classroom is approximately 15x30, into which approximately 36 desks are set, crammed together in 5 columns.  As in the private school, the students are in uniform, though considerably simpler than the private school I observed Feb - May.  There are no, nada school supplies provided by the school through governmental agencies; no books, no paper, no materials, no overhead project, no computers, no pencils, pencil sharpener, no nothing. The teachers have a textbook that was issued by the government in 2002, and includes all subjects the teachers are to teach, so the materials are basic and limited.  The classes consist mostly of the following steps: 1. the teacher talks about the concept being taught.  2. The teacher dictates what the students are to write in their notebooks about this topic.  3. The teacher gives a few examples on the white board (the only supply). 4. The teacher gives an assignment, either for in class or homework.  Students sit in their desks from 7:30-12:30, with the exception of a 30 minute break to play on the concrete playground in the center of the school. The wild thing is that the half of the school that is not at recess, get to hear the wild, fun squeals of the children who are, hence the noise in the alternate classrooms hits 90 - 95 db when the other group is out.  Que lastima.

I did get to see an exceptional thing this week, a teacher who talked about measurement, then allowed the students to go outside and really measure many things, including the length of the playground, the height of their partners, etc. The students loved it, worked diligently on the task, talked incessantly about the methods they used to complete the assignment, and were eager to do other measurements at home later. This was in a sixth grade class, which was an altogether new experience here in Antigua.  I felt like I was in Denton watching Amy Anderson's class. The teacher and I talked during the 30 minute recess time and I learned that she is studying to get her professor certification, which is equivalent to our bachelor's degree. She only lacks her final exam, so I hope she gets it soon.

The icing on the cake was a trip to Guatemala City with our hostess, Marie del Carmen, who arranged a meeting with a group of people in the Ministry of Education who have developed, tested, and implemented a new math curriculum for the country.  We met with the development team and the team of five teachers who were part of the in-school development team, who now work as deliverers of the curriculum nation-wide.  It was terrific to hear about their systematic approach to the development and the concerted effort they made to include teachers in the design and implementation process.  We left intrigued with each other, with the hopes of possibly working on a partnership of shared documentation.  The curriculum, both in recommended, objective form, also had teacher edition books and student workbooks.  It was grand, with the caveat that the government wants to roll this out as the Guatemalan official math curriculum, but has not offered any financial support to get books in every teachers' and students' collective hands. The original project, Guatematica, was supported by the Japanese government equivalent of Peace Corps, JICA, but that has a limited funding source, designed mostly for development and support. Hopefully, following the maddening election here in September, someone in charge will recognize the value of education and find some funds somewhere.

The rest of this week is the final run of our Spanish lessons.  This past week our teachers both decided that with so little time left, it's time to turn up the burners, so we have both been sweating a bit, but enjoying the sauna of the moment of more learning and improvement. Tom is light-years ahead of me, buried in pluperfectsubjunctive, while I am still sorting out por, para, ser, and estar.  We both speak Spanish here to all who will listen, and get better at it each day.  At the new school, no one speaks English, so if I am going to do one legged interviews, I have to jump in, which I do, haltingly, but doing it anyway. So far, it is working.  Also, our good friend Johnetta Hudson arrives on Thursday afternoon, and we have evoked the powers here to give us more than 24 hours in the day and night so we can do all the things we think she will enjoy during her four days here. 

Signing off as I look out at the light rain, clouds over the mountain, enjoying the cool mountain air, knowing that the heat of Dallas awaits.  17 more days of paradise, then we shift paradise to home.  Hope all is well for you and yours.  jt

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 2, 2011

Greetings from Antigua.

Well, we made it home in fine shape from our month long journey here and there and have even gotten all the current pictures onto the facebook in labeled albums, so enjoy.

Our journey this week took us to Lake Atitlan, a lake in the northwest part of the highlands of Guatemala. The area holds geological, cultural, commercial, and historical interest for many different reasons.  Geologically the lake was formed from volcanic action that resulted in a large lake surrounded by mountains, three of which are still active volcanoes, although they only seem to spew steam each morning. The lake itself is quite deep in the center, as the depth has not been fully determined.  It is fed by run off from the surrounding mountains and rain, both of which come in great measure during this rainy season. Due to the fish bowl nature of the lake, when the weather comes in, the water sloshes back and forth, going from completely placid to standing waves in a very short time. The villages along the edges of the lake are far enough apart to operate quite independently of each other, but connect through a system of ferries and launches that carry people and materials back and forth. Only a few villages have roads leading in and out to the rest of Guatemala. The water in the lake is quite clean, aided somewhat by the reeds and other plants on the shorelines that serve to as lake cleaners. There was very little trash in the water, so it seems that a clear effort is being made to maintain its beauty.

Commercially, several things are going on.  Each village is made up of Mayan people who speak different Mayan languages, who have cooperatives of weavers, ceramicists, painters, and wood carvers, who make and sell their wares in the villages, as well as in markets in other parts of Guatemala. The work is exceptional and old methods of dying naturally are maintained in several of the cooperatives we toured in San Juan.  There are fishermen all over the lake in small crafts of wooden boats, probably designed to work with the change in waves as the weather shifts.  We did not see too many fish markets, so either these are used for home cooking, or sold to restaurants locally. We did taste some Black Bass, a fish introduced to the lake by some US folks some years ago, and a prime catch for the fisherman.  Much of the commerce is tourism and shopping for Mayan goods.  We witnessed in every village, including Panahachel where we stayed at the Posado de Don Rodrigo.  Ladies with large bags of folded weaving, poised on their heads, walk the main streets, selling, talking, and encouraging the purchase of their goods. Some shops are in cooperative groups, whereas others are on the sidewalks. The men on the streets are selling boat rides around the lake to tourists who might want to see the lake, or visit a village. Some, as did ours, serve as tour guides as well as drivers. 

Culturally, each village along the lake has its own Mayan culture, including language, dress, music, arts, food, and weaving. The groups, even in ancient times, were not unified, and during the Spanish invasion of the 16th, several groups worked with the Spanish to overcome certain villages of differing Mayan groups. Eventually, the Spanish conquered them all, but initially, they were assisted by the Maya.  There is a strong vestige of Catholocism, particularly in Santiago, where the Oklahoma born priest who was brutally murdered during the civil war in Guatemala, is venerated in the church there. The church was built in the 16th c, and still stands and is a pillar of the community. Other religions, such as Maya and Protestant sects are a part of the communities as well, although fewer and fewer people are following the Maya religion strictly, although there is evidence of candles of certain colors, flowers, and incense in the churches that mixes Maya and Catholic practices. The protestant religious places were less evident in the villages. There is one village that is an enclave for US expats, and is called the Hippie village by the locals.  Most everything there is in English, and where we rented kayaks on our third day, since they seem to know what US tourists are looking to do on a weekday on the lake.

Historically the lake has been itself for some time, and the people have been primarily Mayan settlers for centuries, but the treatment of the people by others outside the villages has been one of brutality and now a certain calm.  The villagers, separated by mountains and a testy lake, kept to themselves, not necessarily increasing their reach beyond the villages for many years until the Spanish conquered and settled the areas with Catholicism and Spanish rule. The country came out from under this rule in the 19th c, and again the 20th, but put in place new governing rules that forced the people of the villages to work in the fields of landowners, named by the government, none of whom were Mayan.  A revolt in 1960-86 led to support groups in the form of guerrillas, who defended the Maya people, but eventually turned on them in some quarters, resulting in loss of life to many in the area. Since the peace accords were written, there continue to be struggles, but the people of the lake are finding some solace from the development of artisan coops, NGO support, and the support of people like JoAnn Dwyer, who provides a medical clinic in San Juan and after school tutoring.  There seems to be a certain calm among the people we met, with an underlying sense that nothing is forever. There are lots of opportunities for outreach, but what is important is that the people themselves have set the pace for what is important and hopefully that will endure as they find a way to maintain and continue to succeed.

We returned to Antigua and have been hanging out, watching the rain, and getting ourselves back to starting point with a trip to the mercado yesterday, a haircut at Franks Salon, and a taste of local food.  It feels good to be back home.  Well, with only 26 more days in Guatemala, as usual, we have filled our dance card with new and interesting things.  I start observing in a public school on Monday, Johnetta Hudson arrives on the 14th, departing the 18th, then two students, Cordell and Bonne, from UNT from Alpha Chi arrive on the 19th, departing the 27th, and in between we hope to see Ron Wilhelm and Janet Ray, both of whom are doing important work in Guatemala through NGOs.  We plan to hike Pacaya Volcano, take salsa lessons, and maybe hit the beach one more time.  Life is good here in Antigua. Hope all is well for you and yours.