Visit to San Juan with Rick: May 28

With Rick here, he is energized and motivated to go see the kids as much as possible.  Monday night we call Jose to see if there is a possibility of stopping by and doing some filming.  We know that some of them have school in the morning and others in the afternoon.  We don’t know if they will be interested, but we try.  Rick calls and coordinates with Jose.  The plan is to meet the girls in the morning and the guys in the afternoon.   Education is not segregated here, it just happens that the boys are the same age and so are the girls.   Jose and Elias, we find out, go to school in a neighboring town. They, along with Norma, attend a school that prepares teachers.

Tuesday morning we leave a little later than we wanted to.  We end up getting to the other side of the lake around 10:30 instead of the 10 AM planned time.  Waiting for boat to leave (more specifically – waiting for 12 people to get on the boat) our schedule it tied to the pace of people coming across the lake that day.

Docking in San Juan, we exit the boat.  On a typical day, I will have the same discussion with the launcha (boat) drivers. Veinticinco, they will say. No, cada vez pago viente quatzales porque yo tengo trabajo aqui.  We go back and forth before sometimes it is a quick exchange other times it is more of a fight.  See gringos and the locals pay different prices for riding lauchas.  They are the only way to get across the lake and all the boat captains work together under the same pretense.

Today’s fight is not so bad.  Without much interaction, I give the money to the captain. Rick and I walk through the doc and are asked by several men, tuc tuc a centro?  No thank you, we’ll walk.  Up the very steep hill we go.  After a right, a left, two blocks and one more right, we are almost at Carlo’s house.  We expect to find the girls there, but we are late. We have no idea if they waited for us.  Instead of the girls, we find Carlos leaving his house to return to school.  He greets us and we greet him.  We ask if he has seen the girls and he says no.  He asks his mother.  No, she replies.  What else she said, I’m unsure as she and her son talk in Tz’utujil.

They finish their conversation and Carlos offers to walk us to the house of the girls.  We walk – first down the hill to the right.  Carlos stops at one house.  I wonder if this is the house of Norma, Lucila, and Juana.  Carlos asks a girl if she has seen them.  The girl replies that they are not here.  I ask if this is their home.  No, Carlos replies, it is their cousin’s home.  We continue on.   We pass the school.  A group of boys looks on.  They say something to Carlos.  He doesn’t hear them.  I often wonder what people think when we are walking through the community with these kids.  What are they wondering?  Is this difficult peer pressure for Carlos to be seen with gringos or does it give him a certain position or power?

I can’t help but think of Marcos.  Was it the peer pressure that tore him away from the project?  I still am not sure that I will ever know, but I only wonder – is there also a stigma of “being white”, what do these communities think of strangers coming in to work here?  My mind wanders again to the first time I met Carlos. He seemed skeptical and distant as if to say, what is your agenda here.  Why here?  Why us?

Since that day, Carlos has opened up and embraced us – perhaps not fully, but more openly for certain.  These thoughts run through my mind as we continue on roads in San Juan that I have never walked.  We continue on up a small hill and into a dirt path.  It is surrounded by trees and it feels like we are going into the woods.  Then a moment later, we are on a stone road again.  We stop at two more homes before we meet the girls in their home.  Their neighborhood has about eight houses. It is very quaint, quiet, and inviting IMG_4884 IMG_4841.

Inside Norma, Juana and Lucila’s House

First Norma and Lucila welcome us, followed shortly by Juana.  Today, we do not work on their stories nor do we take video.  Instead, we enjoy a visit, which turns out to be a small snapshot into their world.

I walk in and there are five more girls in addition to Norma and her sisters.  I ask if they are all family. No, they are their friends.  The friends sit around a large table and at the end, just slightly above eye level a TV plays.  Novellas.  Around the table they are doing some work – homework perhaps.  In their hands, cell phones.

Norma is doing her own homework.  She attends a school in San Pedro (the neighboring town).  She aspires to be a teacher so she is preparing a sample lesson to teach niños English.  The cards are interesting.  Being interested in the construction and deconstruction of media, Rick and I find the subtle messages associated with learning English very interesting.  Here are some examples of the cards.

Norma, focused on making her flashcards.  She shows us the cards and we share the name of the objects in English and Spanish.  She is very proud both of her work and of the words that she knows. We move from standing around a table to sitting around another one.  We help Norma prepare her cards and talk a bit about many different things.  Juana plays with my iPhone.  Lucila looks on.

I’m usually very work-minded when we visit with the youth groups, but today, we just visit.  I come to the realization that this social aspect is just so important.  These visits reveal the pride that they take in showing who they are and what they think.  Norma, for example, is posed and confident when she tells us more about her story idea.  Last week she wanted to film butterflies and this week, she goes back to her original story idea – temescals (Maya saunas).  Stay tuned for their importance and significance to this community and culture.

In our conversations around the table, we also hear about an upcoming event happening on June 21 in San Juan.  Communities here have what they call feria.  They are local fairs.  All towns in Guatemala have a saint associated with their name.  And any town with the same name will have a celebration during the same week.  Here the name of the town is San Juan La Laguna, on of many San Juan associated towns.  The feria to commemorate St. John begins on the 21st of June.  On that night, there will be a traditional dance.  Lucila’s topic is traditional dance so we make a plan to film that night.  I can see by the light in their eyes as they talk about it, that it is a night of importance to them. I tell them that I will stay here and help with the filming.

We spend about an hour and a half in their home before we leave.  They need to prepare for school in the afternoon and we want to give them time to do that.   My ideas return a moment to the realization that work did not really happen today – work in the sense of checking things off a list or making visible progress.  But in this work, socializing with these group is very important.  Social interaction time with these groups is part of the work and as important as the “academic” time.  Seems like perhaps… I’m letting the Guatemala demeanor seep in little by little.  Here, things will come in their own time.

Carlo’s House

Rick and I take our own break and have lunch in a small restaurant overlooking the water.  When we finish lunch we make our way over to Carlo’s house.  We find him there with Perdo.  The others haven’t shown up yet.  We aren’t really sure if they are coming.  We start the conversation with Carlos and Pedro.  Pedro is rather quiet today and Carlos is somewhat serious.  Carlos tells us about how he tried to video a person working in the field.  The man refused.  Carlos was frustrated and confused.  This is hard he said.  We empathized and agreed.  Some people do not like to be recorded, some people will be suspicious, and some will accept willing.   Here is an excerpt of our conversation with Carlos (subtitles to come).

Essentially we suggest trying to explain the purpose of the project and the interest that Carlos has in telling it from within the community.  We propose various other strategies, being inform or being formal (it is a matter of reading the audience) or we share, you could go in a group where it might be more comfortable.  Carlos liked the idea of going in a group.  He recalled that this was very natural when they interviewed people in the town about their thoughts regarding the Rios Montt case.

It was a productive afternoon.  Like the social rewards of visiting, frequent check-ins are helpful.  These provide an an opportunity to catch challenges and frustration early in order to brainstorm solutions together.  I recall feeling almost guilty (yet fortunate) for having the ability to do that with this group.  I did not have the luxury of doing this with Chirijox.  Between the physical distance and my holding a “9-5” job, this just wasn’t an option.

But in this moment, I also reflect on the similarities between the groups.  The kids did not film as much as I wanted them to in Chirijox, at least not in the beginning.  After walking in the field with them, I realized that it was not because they didn’t want to, but rather it was because they were timid.  They didn’t find people who did not want to be interviewed like Carlos had, but they did feel more comfortable going out as a group.  What is more, I see similarities between Carlos and Carmen.  They both have strong leadership qualities.  They both have a very strong sense of self.  It is rare for either of them to show their vulnerabilities.  In this moment, Carlos reached out.  His willingness to discuss possibilities for approaching his topic and successfully interviewing members of his community with us, is a sign of maturity and a sign of his passion for his work and his theme.  Every time that I converse with him, not unlike my times with Carmen, he impresses me more and more.


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