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]

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