Friday, December 10, 2010

Stove Distribution

November 25, 2010 – December 12, 2010

Greetings again! This is Saint Catherine’s Day and therefore a big Fiesta and procession in Santa Catarina.  I was invited for a midday meal by Rodolfo who helps with our stove project there and has a very empty house right on the main street which he doesn’t live in (yet).  The traditional soup called Pulique was served, this time with just one piece of chicken and no pieces of vegetable. But very tasty.  I ate this meal with 3 men and we talked about religion and the state of the world but mainly Guatemala.  And the rest of the family ate in their house way up high in the village, where I couldn’t go because of my knee (good excuse, it’s a hell of a climb)!  I have also had an invitation for a good old US Thanksgiving dinner tonight….. or some variation of it.

Two days ago we had the stove recipient’s meeting for women in the afternoon.  We used the main room in the Centro Qa Winak and it was full, the children could play in the outer room with books and puzzles.  It went well and nearly all the women took pamphlets on birth control with them on the way out!  I had a long chat with Juana, a widow whom we helped last year by buying materials to build her and her 5 young children a home.  In return she was weaving small table cloths for us that we could sell in Canada.  It seemed like such a brilliant idea last April……  Her house and all the things she wove, and wove with, were destroyed in the September mudslide…….. She brought me pictures, the whole family compound was wiped out  She wants to start weaving again so I will lend her enough to buy threads and then buy some of her weaving.

In the evening, the men´s meeting was held - the first one of its kind that we have initiated; attendance was low but a good start.  A woman from an organization in Solola called Asociacion Xocomil came to facilitate and she did a marvelous job and got the men interacting, studying pictures depicting family situations (above), writing what they thought and felt about them and then presenting that to the rest of the group.

The following Tuesday we had similar meetings in Santa Catarina but only half the women showed up (even though this time we wrote the schedule down and gave it to them) which meant we had to schedule another day……….  And some women who ‘forgot’ about the meeting in San Antonio were given a second opportunity to come to Santa Catarina (there were 5).  Between the two meetings all the women appeared…… we are fairly strict about the need for them to do this part….. or to send someone in their place.  The men’s attendance was much poorer than in San Antonio…… only 3.  We shall just have to keep working on this.  Many have voiced that they would like it if the Xocomil organization came regularly and worked with young people…. Something our Centro could probably organize.

The 4th of December the normal activity with children in the Centro Qa Winak´ was cancelled because a group of 3 psychology students, Guatemalan women (non indigenous) who have gone back to school and are just finishing up came to the Centro for the fifth time since the Agatha disaster.  They have been teaching a group of people including those working in the Centro, techniques for healing trauma and helping folks to help themselves.  Part of what they are teaching was a rather amazing parallel to what we do at home, using Circle principles, a candle to begin, each person getting to say something, honouring the 4 directions and traditional Mayan ways. As well as a lot that I was taught in Capacitar training. 
That was followed by the women´s group learning how to make empanadas!  They sure worked that dough to death!

In the meantime there has been a lot of organizing. First, for the stove demonstration for the installers from both villages.  We have 3 new members of the 4-member team here in San Antonio.  And 3 people came from Santa Catarina.  Scheduled for 2pm, it started about 3:30 when the last 2 from SCP arrived.  We had to quit by 5:15 because some had other commitments……. So we never got to try cooking tortillas. Something new this year from HELPS International is a one-year guarantee for each stove.

Our scholarship student from Santa Catarina is on that team (as well as her Mum)…….  However she looks suspiciously pregnant.  After the demonstration I decided that I just had to ask and she said no that she had just gained a lot of weight during her first year of high school!  I must  say I am not sure what to think… it poses a bit of a dilemma!

And then next, the stove deliveries. (See photo at top). And the delivery of the concrete blocs.  We changed the location of delivery in SAP to the dust bowl down by the docks as there wasn’t really enough room above in front of the market.  Because we would be right next to the place we buy the concrete blocs I got a little indefinite about the delivery time – thinking we could just say: now, please.  However their truck was otherwise occupied for much of the time and it was touch and go whether or not they would arrive before the stoves…….. Aaahhh, the stoves. They were going to be picked up by the Municipality, scheduled to arrive at 2pm but didn’t arrive until just after 5pm.  So we JUST managed to get the blocs all dispersed before the stoves came.  It was a long 3 hours and everyone was quite patient. I am not sure what happened except that there was a long wait to load them at the factory and then there was construction on the road. 

The delivery itself is hard for me to describe because it gets so chaotic I can barely handle it.  I don’t speak Kaqchikel and because most of the women speak little Spanish they don’t even bother to listen to me as I try to create some order (HA).  I find the women here are only interested in getting the parts of their own particular stove, not in helping with distribution per se.  So this time I disappeared behind the truck for a while and just let it happen – best thing to do, it turned out just right and the stove team handled it really well.  I left them just after it got dark and the women were just in the process of signing for their stoves and carrying them home with the help of family members, picops, whatever it took.  The stove team came to the hotel about 7:30 and I asked Manuela to make empanadas for all.  It was a beautiful day and there is such a feeling of satisfaction when it is over!

The day after that I went into Panajachel to a little hospitalito and had an injection of an anti-inflammatory for my knee and was told to stay off it!  Which I did except for the next afternoon when there was the stove delivery in Santa Catarina in the afternoon! And what a contrast that was; the concrete blocs were distributed in the morning!  And only 40 stoves, for one thing, and they arrived EARLY, before the scheduled 2pm time! There was time to get things going before a lot of folks arrived and when they did it was amazingly orderly. There were enough men to get the heaviest pieces distributed (we make piles of complete stoves) and all the rest – chimneys, fire bricks, tubos, ladrillas, estantes, ganchos, planchas, codos etc – I know their names better in Spanish than in English – were distributed to all by women and children and then the women waited patiently in line to get the ‘arena’ or pumice-like sand that is used inside the stove for insulation.  Each woman signed (most using thumb prints) for her stove and carried it off and suddenly the square was empty.  Our scholarship student and her Mum did not show up and luckily Rodolfo was able to find a couple of others to help out.  Afterwards, one thankful woman brought us each a cold drink so we just sat and talked over how it went, in the cool of the late afternoon, again feeling a great sense of satisfaction.

Afterwards, I went to a rather nice hotel for an early supper since I had had no lunch. I was there a week or so ago for supper and as they are not very busy the waiter, remembering me, just went and got the pillows I needed to rest my leg!!  I had a lovely pasta primavera as the sun was going down and then caught a picop back to San Antonio Palopo. The driver, another Rodolfo, happened to be  a young fellow I wanted to talk to about translating for some of the team coming down in January/February who aren’t awfully fluent in Spanish.  He is one of the very few who speaks English well, and speaks Spanish and Kaqchikel too. The work he does is flexible so he said he would be delighted.  There is a very busy woman named Rosario, an old time friend of our group who also speaks all three languages and will be available some of the time. 

The other day when I took a picop to Panajachel I got talking with Mateo the driver (since my knee injury I tend to sit in front whenever I can).  He makes hackysacks.  A while ago I was actually thinking about hackysacks – I’ve never seen anyone use one here and I think most of them (in the world) are made around this lake (no research done on that!)  And I was thinking it would be a great kid activity and it doesn’t need a ball field.  So I asked him if he knew how to use them, either juggling (hand motions used to describe this) or kicking them (whatever that is called). No, but he has a friend in San Pedro who does, who would probably love to come over to teach kids.  So, perhaps we can get that happening through the Centro.

Today is Sunday the 12th of December. I stayed put all day and was visited by 5 little boys who wanted to draw and colour.  I had just received an electronic Christmas card from a friend (thanks Cheryl) so decided to show it to them and they were enchanted - we watched it at least 20 times and 3 of them decided to draw the scene. And the biggest surprise was just a bit after dark fell (6ish here), while I was eating my dinner. The stove team arrived to leave all the tools for installing the stoves! They had just finished their last one and it only took them 3 days.  Such fine hard workers.  Now I can pass the tools on to the Santa Catarina team tomorrow.

In amongst all the big events there are myriad smaller ones, impossible to keep track of!  Such as December 7th when the devil gets burned – be it an effigy or just some garbage – to clear the way for the Christmas celebrations. (Lots of firecrackers). And yesterday there were 2 great fireworks displays as well as lots of firecrackers and bombas, to celebrate the construction and decoration of the village Christmas tree.  I think that next weekend the Posadas will begin.  The turkey down in the garden is getting fat. The weather is much colder at night and there is lots of wind -- it´s howling as I write!  It was -2C in Quetzaltenango..... frost on the cars.

And I want to wish you all the best for the Season and a warm and wonderful Solstice.  There is still time to give a gift by making that all-important donation to the work being done here – stoves, school supplies, scholarships, urgent relief and our Centro Qa Winak´. Every little bit helps.  You are making a huge difference to these villages. 
With heartfelt thanks,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stoves, Scarves, Schools and Survivors: More from Kathy in San Antonio Palopó

November 6-21, 2010

Good news that comes from one of our team in Victoria: Miguel Granados, Director of Productos ONIL at HELPS, confirms that by replacing an open hearth fire with an ONIL stove we are saving 3.4 tonnes of emissions per year from entering the atmosphere.  In terms of carbon offsets it is at least two return flights to Guatemala! And I will add in terms of health it is saving lives and suffering from dreadful illnesses.

Greetings all,
Lots of catching up to do.  I got a little distracted when friends (Melanie and Michael) arrived in Antigua to celebrate my birthday!

To pick up where I left off:
While I was in Antigua I managed to do not only the Stove Fair, with a large amiable group of Rotarians from Oregon and California, but I went to the offices of WINGS/ALAS ( to find out what information they have regarding reproductive health and family planning and what tools they might share for teaching it.  We ask every one of our stove recipients to come to a meeting that includes this subject as well as nutrition, health and hygiene.  WINGS is a gold mine and they have an educator that will come for one of our sessions.  This year we will also have a program for men in each village and are in the process of organizing that.  I have no idea what the outcome (meaning attendance) will be.

Women demonstrate the Ecocina Stove
The Ecocina stove looks good.  It is smaller, very portable and is less costly, seems to do the same job as the Onil although I don’t know if it saves as much wood or reduces the carbon output as much.  Research to be done.  The day was fun, began with breakfast at Fernando’s and getting to know a few people.  Then a few hours at the factory, including a traditional dance performed by local children, women selling their woven products, a tour of the factory and a demonstration of how the stoves are built.  One good thing is that in reality they can’t be tampered with or altered (unlike the ONIL with which there is a tendency to enlarge the opening of the fire box in order to put in larger pieces of wood and get a bigger fire going – which can crack the concrete and if used correctly really isn’t necessary).  After this we were transported to a restaurant that fed us Mexican food and then to the main square where the stoves were being set up, lit and eventually women were cooking pupusas (a filled tortilla specialty from El Salvador) on them.  And there were some folks interested in the stove itself but it seemed that it was mostly our group in the square for a long time.  All in all it was an informative day, albeit long.

Two days in Antigua was very pleasant but enough, so I returned to San Antonio with my friends in tow.  And during the week they were here I got some work done and they saw parts of it, and some of the surrounding villages around the Lake as well. They helped me buy scarves to ship back to Canada, had fun in the Bomberos’ market buying old huipiles and fabrics, visiting the market in San Lucas, breakfasting at the Hotel Toliman, picop and boat rides to different places like Santiago and Santa Cruz, all this while I was attached to my cell phone wherever we were so my ‘work’ could continue.  We all went to a young gals high school graduation family gathering and were served the traditional Pulique. 

Melanie (below) did a mandala drawing workshop with nearly 40 children in the Centro Qa Winak’ and started it with Capacitar exercises. The gals have now organized 2 more mornings for groups of children during the school vacation. All in all it was a lot of fun, more or less ending with a delightful walk up to the Catarata or waterfall, high up above this village on a very beautiful day. 
There is still a lot of water coming over, more than I’ve ever seen before.  The terrain was much changed since I was last there. That is true of many of the paths in the village too. 
I went to a grade nine (Basico) graduation at the school (Instituto) as we had two scholarship students graduating and they wanted me to take pictures…… and the Director surprised me by asking me to get up on the stage and give them their diplomas!
As soon as Melanie and Michael left and I realized how much time had gone by, rapidly, I did something to my knee that basically has greatly limited my activities.  It’s gone from canteloupe size to a large grapefruit, with rest and applications of vinegar or aloe, turmeric and traumeel (internally), and use of pressure points.  Let me tell you it is a real handicap in terrain such as this.  BUT the benefit is the stove groups are doing most of the work and I am not playing mountain goat as usual….. and they are getting much more accomplished more quickly than they would with me accompanying them.  Also perhaps, this is the way it should be….. with them deciding and running the show with an ICO representative for oversight and asking the questions that are important to us.

Already the date for meetings with stove recipients had to be changed because of Santa Catarina´s Fiesta day Nov. 25 (St. Catherine´s Day) – nothing will get done for a few days on either side of that.

Two evenings ago, on my balcony, I met with a small group of 6 women weavers from the group that lost everything including family members, in the Agatha mudslide.  We were trying to figure out a way to help them get back to work.  The Hornby Island weavers gave a nice sum of money for women weavers affected by the disaster so this seems like a perfect fit. It was nice just sitting here with them, listening to them discuss things in Kaqchikel and then explain to me a bit of what they had said.  Some spoke no Spanish. However, I think I have mentioned before, the pain and suffering is often almost palpable. 

The next couple of weeks will be taken up with stove meetings, trainings, deliveries and installations; getting some computer classes running at one of the schools (part of our Centro Qa Winak’ program), upgrading the temporary school, checking up on scholarship students who don’t seem to be doing their volunteer service at the Centro, and spending more time with families and assessing needs, for future ideas in the Centro Qa Winak’.

Meanwhile the weather has been beautiful. There is a wee bit more activity on the tourist front in spite of the fact Americans (and maybe Canadians) have been warned not to come to Lake Atitlan for the next month because the main road from Solola is closed for major repair since the land slide and an older route (which involves fording a river where the bridge was washed out) is being used which ‘they’ say is very dangerous (meaning robberies).  I have taken that route with no problem and Guatemalans are making sure it is safe.  So, if you have plans to come don’t change them….. the Mayans need you and your business.

A couple of nights ago I was woken by a very loud and strange sound emanating from just outside my room.  It turned out to be a Taquacin, 2 in fact, squabbling over something.  I only saw the tail ends which looked hugely ratlike.  Evidently they are marsupial, related to possums.

And for now you have read enough and enough has been written.  Bless you for your interest.  Hope you get to take advantage of scarf sales in Victoria, sounds like they will come in handy for the weather!

Warm regards from beautiful Guatemala,

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Christmas is Coming - consider these cards for your family and friends

This Christmas season, instead of searching through the malls for the perfect gift, have you thought about giving an ICO gift card? Your family and friends will have the joy of knowing that money has been given in their names to buy a clean-burning stove, to help a child get an education, or to help a community move ahead. We're happy to send you a number of cards for one contribution. For example, if you want to send a donation to buy a stove ($110) we could send you 2 or 3 cards which you could send to different friends. Several families we know have decided to put in together to buy a stove, or to make a contribution to education, rather than to give presents to each other.

And a great benefit is that you will receive a tax receipt (Canada only) for your contribution. 

For more information on how to receive these cards and make your donation, email
These are samples of the cards that are available:


Thursday, November 4, 2010

After the Mudslides with Kathy in San Antonio Palopó: Eating Alone, Kite Making and Flying, El Dia de los Difuntos, Scarf Buying, Cemetery Vigils, School Reconstruction and Stove Fairs.

November 2, 2010
Hello all, time to catch up!

The last few days have been full of meetings and visits.  I helped hand out threads and pots and pans to families who lost everything in the September slide last Friday. In the summer we raised money to buy looms and weaving equipment for the families who lost everything and this evening I will meet with a representative to see samples of what they have been weaving.  Hopefully there has been some quality control so things are saleable.

Saturday I was invited by a family to their child’s First Communion (mainly so I could take pictures at the end!!).  There were 98 children from 12 to 15 years old being confirmed.  The children have been going to catechism classes for months and were quite prepared to answer the priest’s questions.  He spent some time just joking with them too.  I got quite dizzy from the heat and incense in the tightly packed, overflowing church so spent much of the time on the front steps watching the scene on the street! They invited me for lunch after this.  A traditional dish called Puliq.  It involves a tomato and chile ‘soup’ and a plate full of chicken and vegetables which you can eat separately or put in the soup. And a basket full of tamalitos cooked in corn husks --  mainly just masa with no flavouring.  They are filling which is about all I can say about them!  This meal was quite an experience, not new to me, but I’ll share it.  I was given my meal to eat way ahead of the rest of the family, and they told me not to let it get cold.  I was eating slowly thinking they would join me. One family member did sit and talk to me for a while before he got up and went into another room. Finally I was finished and decided to say my goodbyes and found them all sitting on the floor in the kitchen and another room, eating their meal. I joked that I liked socializing more than sitting by myself and next time I would join them!!  Interesting traditions.  At least I had a utensil to eat with (that doesn’t always happen, fingers are more common).

Sunday the Centre Qa Winak’ had a children’s program and about 25 children from ages 3 to 12 were making kites.  They were quite wonderful, very engaged in cutting colourful tissue paper, gluing it onto the sticks they had tied together with string, making decorations and streamers to add to them and then attaching the necessary string that eventually would connect to the long line they would need to fly it!  There were only 2 little boys who were acting up – they were quite a bit louder and running around – and of course they belonged to the coordinator!!

Monday, was All Saints Day.  I went to visit a young gal at her house after breakfast, not realizing there would be more food at her house:  the traditional elote and guiskil (corn on the cob and a green vegetable you won’t have seen unless you’ve been here)!  Both tasty with salt and lime juice.  This took me into a part of San Antonio I had noticed I was a little reluctant to visit, where the first mudslide took place.  The pathways (there are no roads in this area except down by the lake) are now quite treacherous, homes are left hanging or partly disappeared, what used to be gardens have gone, where there were terraces planted with onions, trees growing, in a lovely valley, there is now just a huge gully of boulders and rocks and the remains of a bridge and pathways, vacant areas where houses had been.
I finally had to tell myself to think like a new visitor here, seeing all for the first time.  Perhaps it wouldn’t seem so awful.

Today, Tuesday, is an unofficial holiday but it feels like Sunday!  It is called El Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the deceased) here. EVERYONE has been out flying kites, large and small and all a bit different. I took pictures of them in the sky, they are like dots.  But it was very festive and fun to watch mainly groups of boys and especially young men with huge homemade kites turning it into a contest to see whose kite lasted the longest….. there is great competition to ‘cut’ the other guy’s string.  The wind was really good for this today.

Last evening I spent some time in the cemetery with much of the village.  I went with Maria del Carmen, a young gal whose cousins, a family of four, were killed in the May mudslide. Everyone was sitting or standing near their deceased, in candlelight, with flowers, some in tears, some quietly communing with each other.  And others, getting quite drunk!  It smelled like someone was cooking hotdogs (for sale) too. Folks spent the night there; it was beautiful to look at from afar, as there were so many candles.

I ended my day (Tuesday) at a meeting at the Centre Qa Winak’, planning how to best employ our scholarship students who will be doing some community service, helping out with our groups of women and children.  During the school holidays we will have more opportunities for children to come and do planned activities. 

In the meantime I have been looking at some beautiful weaving, purchasing some scarves to send to Canada for Christmas sales.  I met with Antonio at the weaving Cooperativa to get Global Village´s order expedited.  Spoke with the Mayor about helping us by fetching ONIL stoves from the factory for us, so we don’t have to pay the freight. Celebrated the 6th birthday of Manuelito, the youngest son of Manuela, the hotel owner.  She made a chocolate cake that was quite hard (and she kept laughing about it, so we did too!).  I went to Panajachel to do many errands and forgot my ATM card and just did whatever I could so the day was not completely wasted.  Decided to ask for a bank draft to move ICO money from the Panajachel bank to a different one in San Antonio Palopó.  The process took about an hour and ended up with the teller having to cut a piece of clear packing tape a bit longer than the draft and then covering the front of it with the tape so it couldn’t be tampered with, then trimming the ends.  He was holding his breath that it would work, so as not to have to go through the whole process over again.  Ohhhhhh what we take for granted!!! 

Thursday, and nearly the end of this installment.  From 1pm on it has been like a wild stormy  mid- summer day on Vancouver Island.  Lots of rain and wind.  Loved it! But I don´t envy the people of the village whose fear level must have risen substantially during 4-5 hours of rain.

Before the weather changed, I had a long visit with the school director (of the condemned school) who has been working to maintain a school in less than ideal conditions (partly in the basement of an unfinished church – rather dungeon like).  We raised money to help construct doors and windows, to put in more (energy-saving) lights, to build shelves for a bit of a library, to buy shelving for classrooms,  and whatever else they need.  I am now waiting for him to cost out the list and prioritize – in case we don´t have enough for everything. He is extremely dedicated to the children and their well-being and wants to get all the work done during this school vacation (October to mid January) so as not to cause any more interruptions during school time.  He basically said this last year has been a nightmare. 

Tomorrow I will go to Santa Catarina and meet with our stove team there… get them working.  Saturday, after a couple of hours with children at Qa Winak´,  I will go to Antigua for a couple of days because there is a Stove Fair and the Ecocina stove will be presented there --- we´ve been hearing a lot about it.  It is supposed to be very efficient and have many of the benefits of the ONIL stove.

So, as you can see there is a lot happening here, too much to include without tiring you.  But thanks for reading this far!  It is great to know there is someone interested.
Abrazos, Kathy
To Contact Kathy: kpcoster[at]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dispatches - CBC - Designing a Smokeless Stove

Smoke-related illness from cooking fires is killing over a million people a year. It is the second-biggest source of global warming, so it's also attracting some high-tech commercial interest.The quest just got a big boost from a sixty-million-dollar initiative recently announced by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Click on the heading to listen to CBC's Dispatches with Rick MacInnes-Rae where he interviews American journalist Burkhard Bilger, who's written about  it in The New Yorker Magazine. 

This fall the ICO team in San Antonio and Santa Catarina is gearing up  to install 100 ONIL STOVES that are very efficiently burning 70% less wood than traditional open cooking fires and have chimneys to direct the smoke away from eyes and lungs. And more will be installed in the winter thanks to your generous donations for all or part of a $110 stove.


Kathy's second letter from San Antonio Palopo

Thursday, October 28
5 full days later.  Little by little I am taking in all the damage done - the hardest being what I hear in people's voices as I listen to their mudslide stories, and what I see in their eyes.  I've been out in a boat and counted up to 14 slides of varying sizes in the surrounding hills - just around San Antonio.  Santa Catarina has fewer but there is one major one - pretty scary.

On the 'up' side is the work that was just beginning to take shape as I left in April last spring.  We rented a space and hired 2 women.  One nearly full time and one part time, and working along with a 'board of directors' they began a 'social centre' called Associacion Qa Winak' (nuestra gente or our people).  The purpose was multifold.  To work with women to help them improve their Spanish, to learn more about health, hygiene, family planning, raising children, self esteem, and the environment and to work with  children in many different areas.  Some just come for some caring recreation, activities and games often related to a particular theme, to do handwork like drawing and painting and to work with various materials.  They are separated into 2 groups according to age, necessary because there are so many.  And then there are young students who come on the weekends to study mathematics and learn better studying techniques.  The women are really excited about the centre and have worked out some of the kinks.  Felipa, who is working as coordinator, says it was a challenge for her to be in charge (Jefe) as she has always just worked for other people. Brenda is enjoying it so much she has volunteered well beyond the hours she's paid for.  Felipa's husband Francisco is very involved on a volunteer basis.  I will visit all the activities in the next 2 or 3 days. We had a short meeting last evening and discussed ideas for the next 2 months, I got much more detail about what they have been doing so far, and look forward to getting students we have sponsored involved during their holidays.  Perhaps also expanding the children's program during this time.  Saturday morning Brenda and a sponsored student volunteer, Maria del Carmen, are going to make kites with the children.... many of whom can't afford them.

Right now there are kites flying whenever the wind comes up in practice for Monday and Tuesday - All Saints Day and The Day of the Dead.  It is just lovely to see them dancing in the sky. Evidently last year there was no wind on those days.  It looks pretty good for this year!

And I must stop here and go visit some folks I haven't seen yet.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your incredible support.

Warm regards, Kathy

Letter from Kathy in San Antonio Palopó

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Greetings to all,

I arrived in Guatemala on the 20th and spent 3 nights in Antigua, recovering from an overnight flight and the tail end of a cold.  The weather is lovely, quite hot in the daytime, cooling in the evening.  Everything is green and comparatively dust free (usually I am here in our winter – the dry season, or summer, here).  Today I made the trip to San Antonio Palopó.

Most of you know that Guatemala was hit by  tropical storm Agatha last May and it apparently rained every day until the 4th of September when there was an unusual deluge that lasted 18 hours.  All this rain caused an awful lot of damage in the country.  Today I first saw the highway damage where quite often 4 lanes were diverted into 2 lanes and there were incredible gouges and drop-offs or mountains of dirt piled up.  Most credit it to bad engineering… where the roadway was cut into the mountainside the bank wasn't stepped but left sheer and the amount of rain finally made it give way.  One good thing is that there wasn't much traffic.  And right now it is dry although I do hear there is another storm coming.

Once we got to Sololá the descent into Panajachel turned into a one-way road where enormous boulders had fallen at one sharp corner near a waterfall.  In Panajachel when we crossed the river on our way to San Antonio, there were many buildings in odd positions and the road surface was deplorable.  All the way there were areas that were obviously washouts but have been cleaned up somewhat.  More huge boulders, piles of dirt, mudslides, etc. Occasionally, where there had been streams coming down the mountainside to the lake there are now huge boulder-strewn gullies. All very disconcertingly different from last April when I left.  The vegetation is so verdant and lush right now that it made the road seem much narrower!
Finally I arrived in San Antonio and it felt like the tide had come in!  The lake is about 7 to 8 feet higher.  It is odd to hear it lapping so close to the road and the hotel. San Antonio was perhaps the hardest hit village in Guatemala with 2 mudslides that damaged many homes, commercial buildings, roads, footpaths, waterlines, electric lines, and drainage pipes.  Even the new little sports field that the schools were using has been reclaimed by the lake. I am trying to take it in bit by bit.  Furthermore, people are living in fear of more of the mountain coming down.  It is a very changed place that is trying to get back to normal.  There are no tourists.  The Lake is still beautiful, although the algae is beginning to come back, I´ve been told, though this is not evident right here. 

After dark tonight I walked around the village and was warmly greeted by a few people I know; so wonderful to see them safe.  Shelter Box is much in evidence with their grey tents dotting the hillside.

I have a feeling my time here is going to be very full.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scarves for Survival

Here's where you can buy these beautiful handwoven scarves shown below - they make perfect Christmas gifts:
Crystal Singers Craft Fair - Sat., November 13, 1 - 3 pm, St. Peters Anglican Church Hall (off Quadra Street) in Victoria BC
Just Christmas Fair – Sun., November 21, 11:30 am - 3:00 pm, St. Aidan's United Church (near the corner of Richmond and Cedar Hill X Road) in Victoria
VIDEA Fair Trade Fair - Sat., November 27, 10:00 am - 4:00 pm, First Metropolitan United Church Hall, 932 Balmoral Road off Quadra, in Victoria.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Scarf labelling

The ICO Atitlán group banded together in Victoria this week to label and price the scarves hand woven in communities around Lake Atitlán. The sale of these scarves will help the villagers of San Antonio and Santa Catarina recover from the devastating mudslides.
Above: Susan, Jacqueline, Kathy and Linda at work on the tagging. Mary arrived to help a little later.
Photos by the newest member of the team, Tricia.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

News from the Cooperative in San Antonio Palopo

Antonio Pérez Pérez, Gerente de la Cooperativa, San Antonio Palopó R.L., writes that the weaving cooperative, with 142 members from the village, has suffered extensive damage. Many of the members have had their homes damaged or destroyed as well. Below are some of Antonio's photos: