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.

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