Santa Clara

 June 15:

dockSanta Clara is a mountain town above San Juan.  For me, it takes the most stops and most forms of transport to get there.  From Pana, I first get on the boat.  The first one of the morning leaves at 6:30 AM.   I need to be on that one in order to make it to the 8:00AM meeting time.  This boat is a local boat and can take some time to get from Pana to San Marcos (where I get off).  In the mornings, there are many people on the boat going to different pueblos on the lake to work.  The boat usually stops in Santa Cruz, then Jabolito, Tzununa, and then San Marcos.  However, in the mornings, there are often additional stops to small hotels or other businesses along the water.

tuks About 45 minutes later, I arrive in San Marcos.  I pay the local price as I step up from the boat onto the dock and then walk up to the town center to grab a tuk tuk to San Pablo.  On the way to San Pablo, I usually have a conversation with the drive and usually it comes back to how much he and his family struggle financially.  Yet, like in other towns here, it doesn’t change the upbeat and positive spirit of the people that I have met along the way.

The driver stops at a córner about a block away from where I catch a pick up to Santa Clara.  We say “mucho gusto” as I pay him, we smile and each go on our way. I step over fruits and textiles to cross the street and get to the pick up stop.  The local market on Sundays in San Pablo brings many people to the street.  They look at me as I walk, carrying one backpack on my back and one in front.  There aren’t many tourists that spend time here in San Pablo.  So I stand out each week that I pass through.

pickupAt this stop, both camionetas and pick pus pass by.  I prefer the pick ups because you stand outside in the fresh mountain air and enjoy the amazing views as we wind up the steep curves that come into Santa Clara.  But Sunday transportation is limited so I will take what I get.   Today I’m lucky.  I see a pick up and off we go.

Some how it always works out and we make it close to the 8:00 meeting time.  This morning, before I walk to the house, I visit my favorite chuchito and tamal lady.  She’s very happy to see me.  You’ve returned?  When did you arrive?  I tell her I’ve been here for about a week and I wouldn’t dream of missing my favorite breakfast spot while I’m here in Santa Clara.  I get one of each item, including atol – arroz con chocolate – para llevar.  Those of you who know my distain will say, chocolate?  What?  Yes, the chocolate here is real cocoa – it is not sweet at all.

I start my walk up to the house where we meet.  Benjamin, one of our students, opened his house to us, when Maria’s family could not longer allow us to meet at her home – there were going to be a women’s group meeting at the same time that we meet.

I’m about half way up the road and I feel a tap on my shoulder.  It startles me a little because I’m not going thinking that it could possibly be anyone I know.  It is Chema.  He tells me that there were no buses and he got a ride from the shuttle.  It was me and all gringos he tells me.  We laugh.  You have the best luck Chema.  You always seem to find the best ride.  Just about a month ago, we were standing and waiting for what seemed like forever, for transportation back down to San Juan.  There was nothing and all of the sudden Chema spotted a police truck.  His eye widened and he said, I wonder if they are going to San Pablo.  They were.  He asked them if they could take us and they said yes.  We jumped in the back seat of the truck and off we went.  Apparently, Chema tells me, police are required to take citizens with them if they ask and they are not allowed to take money for this service.  That day we had a free and comfortable ride back home.

We arrive at the house and find the TV on.  The world cup is this week and Benjamin is watching.  He is the only one there.  We wait for a little more time, but no one else shows.  Chema and I go off to visit the houses of the missing students.  We get to Jesika’s but no one answers.  We walk back and there is Marvin, walking toward the house.  Will your brother be coming too?, I ask.  He didn’t have time to come.

marvinI ask Chema to go ahead and work with Marvin and I’ll go see the others.  Edwin 1’s store is closed so I’m not able to find him.  Edwin 2, I have no idea where he lives but I know he often goes to church on Sundays.  I go to Maria’s house, she is cleaning.  I can’t come today because I need to help my family she tells me, and then she assures me that she’ll come next week.  She tries to reassure me more telling me that her interviews are translated and she is ready to edit.  I give her a hug and tell her I will see her next week.  I remind her to please call when she can’t make it.  It is kind of a waste to take all of us – Chema, Carmen, and me up to the community when there is only one student.

By the time that I get back, Carmen is coming in.  It seems to be getting harder for her to get here on time.  It is because of the lack of buses, not because she is late.  It is becoming the same problem on her end as it is on mine.

I tell Carmen and Chema to go work with Benjamin.  He doesn’t want to continue in the project, they tell me.  I take a deep breath.  He is in his room talking to Jesika – the two of them seem to be great friends.  I ask her to go work with Carmen and tell her I would like to talk to Benjamin. He and I go outside and sit in the street.  He starts…. the problems that he sites include: school is far away and he’s back and forth between San Pedro and Santa Clara during the week.  He had a place to stay there, but it is not always good so he comes home a lot.  (It is a far way).  Then he tells me that he has lots of projects and he has to go to church and he really just wants one day free.

I tell him that I can empathize.  I work everyday and meet you all here on Sundays because that is the day that works for the group.  It’s ok for me, I tell him, because I want to be here working with you.  We talk a little more and come to a compromise.  I always see a spirit in Benjamin and the wheels are turning when we have discussions and show examples.  It was surprising to hear that he wanted to drop it.  But I think that I helped him feel more at ease knowing that we could find another time that is more flexible for him and for his schedule.  I’m secretly hoping to encourage them to meet in smaller groups during the week so that I too can have a Sunday off – like “normal” people! 🙂

Oh, one thing to remember is that Jesika was doing homework between moments.  She had to write the same word on six pages – to improve her handwriting.  I remember these kinds of assignments, but so long ago and now more than ever, I question the time used – for what purpose I keep asking.  I know what they tell me, but at the same time, I think that there are so many more useful and challenging things that they could be doing!  breath.  recognize your ibas… for me though, it is yet just another example of the focus of education here and in other communities with similar socio-economic challenges.

jesikaThe rest of the day is dedicated to working with Marvin and Jeskia.  Marvin works through his edits as if he were a pro.  Occassionally he would ask a question, but for the most part, he remains focused.  Jekia needed a little more attention.  She seemed a bit scared to work with the program.  I reassrued her that it gets easier and it isn’t has bad as it seems.  She enjoys herself after some time, and by the end has a nice introduction going.

vanBy 12:30, Chema, Carmen, and I start packing up.  While we do this, Carmen asks the youth to talk about what they learned today and what their goals are for the next weekend.  We say our goodbyes and plan a time for the next week.  Chema goes waites for his pick up to get him back to San Juan.  Carmen and I get on a minibus for 148.  She and I split, Carmen returns to Chirijox, and I head to Antigua for the night.



Photo Credits:


June 14

In San Juan today, I tried to come early, but the express just wasn’t cooperating!  Not one single person was there, so I took the local.  This one takes longer, but the risk of waiting for the express just wasn’t worth it this morning.  It feels a little strange to be back in this community.  Instead of waking in the wonderful home that I once occupied, I take the lancha from Pana once again.  I take a deep breath when I exit the lancha and let the positive energy of this wonderful little town wash over me. 

I walk up the hill to arrive at Carlo’s house.  It’s a little before 8:30 and I know that I’ll be late if I don’t walk quickly. I’m going to be later, I realize, when I pass by Gloria’s restaurant.  Gloria is one of the women in Chema’s video – she paints and owns a restaurant.  She was cleaning her restaurant and just happened to look up at the very same moment that I was walking by.  Our eyes met and there was no way I could not stop  “Donna, I missed you very much”.  She gave me a hug and I told her I was late. “You have time for a juice” she said.  I could hardly say no.  She was very excited that she has her juice maker now and her restaurant is looking more and more like a cafe each day.  Yet the customers are not coming.  There really aren’t any right now as it is the rainy season.    And now, including Gloria’s there are four cafes on this hill up to town.  How or why the people decide what business to start is still an enigma to me.  I can’t imagine how these families survive every day.  A lot of money comes out of the pocket of the individual families to create these spaces but not enough comes back in to truly make it.

I enjoy my carrot juice with her and we talk a little about the paintings that were sold, her husband, and her children.  I also talk to her about my favorite juice bar in San Pedro has very interesting combinations of vegetables and ginger.  She asks how much they charge there and we talk about the different prices depending on the ingredients and the size and of course the tienda.   I quickly finish the conversation and tell her that I will see her on the way out.  We hug and she smiles as we say goodbye.   

I make it Carlos’ and enter the house.  The first things that I see are cinder blocks piled up in two stacks.  I see his mom first, she is talking to another woman and then I see Carlos coming down from the hill above.  I ask him about these and he tells me that he and his brother are building a house up the road.  Wow!  Lots of work and lots of blocks. 

Carlos and I talk a little bit and catch up.  Aside from last week’s group workshop, we haven’t had a chance to talk.  In particular, I wanted to hear about how things were going in San Juan.  Carlos said, I don’t know, my students don’t come. 

Ahhhh a similar challenge I faced in San Juan. It is something that Carlos and the other leaders haven’t learned yet.  That is, they can’t just expect the kids to come they have to be the motivator.  You have to inspire them, I tell him.  He just smiles.  But I am serious, the time that I spend sitting on the floor with the kids in the first group, talking to parents, chasing down kids in their homes to get them to come was more than anyone would expect.  It’s one of the things to discuss at the upcoming leadership workshop.  Another thing to discuss is the informes.  I ask Carlos if he’s done his and he says no, I don’t have the time.  Ah yes, my favorite saying! 🙂  None of us seem to have time for things that we don’t like to do or that perhaps we don’t fully understand.  I want to address this with all of them at the same time.  So right now, all I say is that it is part of the job and when a job has requirements then they have to be done or we might lose that job.  He agrees.  

While we are talking the two of the three kids left trickle in.  Casper and Fisher walk through the door and greet us.  The time is a bit wasted in the beginning because Carlos has all the videos on one hard drive.  We spend a good deal of time copying files from harddrive to computer and hard drive to hard drive.  This, I tell Carlos, is one of the reasons that you need to do the informe.  It helps you to be organized for the students so that we make good use of every minute that we are together.  Again, he agrees. 

As we are doing the transfers, Franklin shows up as well.  I thought that he was editing at home so I didn’t expect to see him.   The files are still copying so we watch two trailers that Franklin is working on – for his own personal videos.  I continue to be impressed with him and his talent. 

I ask him to come teach the other some of his tricks as well as the basic functions of Premier.  He’s excited about this – we make a plan to meet on Wednesday to talk about what and how he might teach. 

The rest of the morning is dedicated to editing (Fisher and Franklin) and translating (Casper).  I’m also impressed with Fisher’s interests and abilities.  Yep, we are down to just guys in San Juan.  Just like the first group, there seems to be a surge of interest in the boys and a hesitation/resistance to do this work in the girls.  We’ll have to work on that and change that perception – and investigate why here that interest just isn’t there.  

The language dilemma

June 13:

It has been such a long time since I have blogged… My excuse is a good one.  I have spent the last few months writing a book and enjoying it.  So I’ve been a stranger to the blog, but then a reminder came….  

A few days ago I spoke with a UC student named Lacey (Hi Lacey!).  She found my project and contacted me.  When we talked, she said one of her favorite things was following the blog to hear how I’m traversing things in the country.  I thought, I better get back to this!!  

So here I am, back again!  Friday, June 13th we visited Chuacruz.  Chuacruz is above Sololá, and is one of the towns around the lake most effected by the 36 year internal conflict.  There, many men – fathers, uncles, and brothers were killed or disappeared.  The women here are just something else.  They are strong and beautiful.  The story that I heard about them is that they banded together one day and walked to Panajachel to meet Jane.  Jane, the founder of The Maya Traditions Foundations, began the organization to work with Maya backstrap weavers, assisting them with improving the quality of their work so that they could sell them through the Fair Trade market.  She didn’t start this work with the Chuacruz community, but somehow they found out about her and they were motivated to meet with her and find a way to work with her.  It tells you a little about the spirit of the community! 

Today in Chuacruz, where we work with three wonderful young ladies: Mirna, Carmen, and Ana Maria.    I’ve been in the US for a month, so this is the first time that I have seen them in their community.  I thought that they’d have their translations finished by now, but that wasn’t the case.  The day was dedicated to this. Carmen and I talked while they worked.  In the back of my mind, I thought, “There has to be a better way.”  I’m worried that if they continue to do translations for the next month, they will loose interest in the project or just become too tired of what seems to be a tedious task.  Yes, we do this in research, but we know that translations and being close to the data is very important.  They will come to learn this, as we saw with the last group, but at the same time, I want to keep an inspiration! 

The creative part is be filming and writing.  The hard and new part is learning to ask deeper questions and analyzing what they see in their interviews.  It’s hard to do one without the other.  I’d prefer this to be just fun, but as one of my own inspirations said, learning has to be hard fun. 

So as much as I don’t want them to be doing this work, we can’t move forward without them.  With the interviews in Maya languages, we just don’t know the quality of the interview or what else to help facilitate what more they might need to know.  We have to stay with the language.  There is just no question about it.  They are seeing more about how language is tied to culture and we want to stay with our foundational principal that the stories need to come from them.  They need to resonate with their own storytelling patterns and ways of knowing, not with ours. 

A thought that came to mind was to ask the students to record the translations in Spanish.  Then, when I have more funds, we can hire someone or find a volunteer to transcribe those.  This will go much faster.  

The tensions that I’m feeling right now are… on the one hand, we want it to move along and be fun and driven by them… and on the other hand… there are a mountain of things that they are learning at the same time – how to type, how to ask questions, how to tell a story, how to analyze what is said, how to ask deeper questions about their histories, and how to unearth a story that is emerging.    These critical thinking skills are happening at the same time that they are learning to move a mouse, to organize folders, to type, and to save.  Together we need to brainstorm an easier way to go about this where it doesn’t feel so heavy.

While I’m concerned about these burdens, I don’t see an ounce of concern in the eyes of these youth.  Rather, the gracefully and without complaint work through translating their interviews.  They don’t question, and don’t show any body language that suggests that this is difficult or something that they don’t want to do.  Thoughts run through my mind.  Do they do what they are told like they do in the schools – without question or debate – are they again cogs in the wheels.  This time takes away from their agency and empowerment but perhaps at the same time builds it?  Gaining these skills however slow, is it “catching” them up?   But this is not the goal, right?  It is to see through their eyes what their stories, language, culture is.  It is not for them to follow our rules. 

To do the work is a way to allow them to have the power and the tools to illustrate things from and through their eyes.  This is something to continue to reflect upon and explore what others have found doing this work.