Sunday, 29 March 2009

In Guatemala - by Kathy Coster

(a volunteer with in Guatemala)
The villages, volcanoes and Lake Atitlán: photos by D. Millar

Feb. 2: Today saw the delivery of 50 ONIL stoves to Santa Catarina Palopó, the neighbouring town to San Antonio. [The ONIL stove is a revolutionary stove design and implementation system that services the poorest by protecting women and children from burn and lung disease, the number one killer for children under 5 years old, and by saving women 2 days a week gathering wood. This valuable time is then available for economic and social activity.]

I actually arrived on time – not an easy thing to do as I've gotten out of bed most reluctantly these last few mornings as it has been very chilly and windy and bed so cozy. Dressed in several layers, I had breakfast and set off to find a picop. [see photo below]

By the time I reached Santa Catarina I was peeling off clothing because the sun comes over the mountain by 9 am and the wind seemed to die down or it is more sheltered there. Very shortly after my arrival women started to drift into the square and we waited for the truck to arrive with the stoves, which it did shortly. I phoned Rodolfo who was in charge but hadn’t shown up yet and he was in Panajachel so the stove truck driver organized the people to unload the truck and this time we did it by making a spot for each complete stove, which consists of about 14 parts. That worked quite well (my experience had been to pile by parts and each woman was given the parts to her own stove as her name was checked off). With today's method, after all the stoves were complete the women were asked to stand by one and we went around and checked everyone off and had them sign for it. Still shocks me that so many can’t sign their names, even the younger ones, and had to use their thumbs.

Three hours later we still had two unclaimed stoves and 15 water filters. One woman never turned up though had paid for her stove, one was an oversight on my part in that we had received a stove for the demonstration and I had forgotten that and ordered 50 instead of 49. Rodolfo got someone to store the first one for the person and said he knew someone who really needed one and went and asked her and she happily paid for it and carried it away – with the help of many of her 7 kids and husband. The water filters -- I had completely forgotten to mention to Rodolfo that they were coming! There they sat. The intention had been to put them in the health centre, which turned out to be closed all weekend. Some Muni workers came by and when asked said it would be fine but they might get stolen if put in the Municipal building for the weekend. Finally Rodolfo asked the owner of the art gallery right on the main plaza and he said sure and they are hopefully safely stored upstairs in the art gallery!

And then I was off to Panajachel, went to a nice little outdoor garden restaurant near the lake and had a delicious avocado sandwich on homemade wholewheat bread and a limonada. Just as I finished a woman came to the table for some reason I can’t remember and said something about a project, I said where, she said Panabaj, I said are you Louise Sosa, she said yes. We have been corresponding for ages, planning to meet when she got here (she lives in Qualicum BC and works with Mayan families). It was great to meet her and I would say she's a person of remarkable energy and dedication and useful skills for projects...

Sunday... Interesting to see how my energy waxes and wanes. [Afternoon] going with Maria to visit a widow and see if there is any way we can help, and one possible stove recipient. I would like to talk with Francisca, the widowed mother of five whom we are helping, too but need to see if Adelaida, her niece who can translate, would come too...

Later, I went out with Maria and it was really nice and cloudy but warm then the clouds blew away and it got hot. Very strange weather! The hills seemed to groan as I walked up – oh no, guess that was me! When we got ‘up’ we then followed a water course down toward the lake to a house of a woman (and her family) who is going to get a stove and of whom, for some reason, we had no picture. Wow did she have a lovely spot- tiny lot, adobe house, dirt floor - overlooking the lake with nothing to spoil her view. After that we hiked up to the road and then all the way down to the south end of the main road in town and then hiked up again to the house of Petrona, a new widow. She has 4 children, 2 of whom are in school, one´s about 3 with a bad cold and one is several months old and cute as a button, in fact they were all cute. We were talking to her when her mother in law, who is also a widow but of several years, came and started asking for some help too. I said perhaps they could share some of the food! She actually has grown children and can go out and work when there is work washing onions and other things. In the scheme of things I wasn´t feeling very sympathetic toward her.

Anyway, this new widow´s main concern was schoolbooks and mochilas for her children which I said we would buy along with some maiz and a few other things. She speaks no Spanish and is 30 and we will be giving her a stove.

After being with her for a while we went to visit (much higher up) Juana, another new widow and as we approached her door we could hear her crying and she was kneeling in front of a little altar where a candle was burning. She beckoned us to come in and said she was crying because her 10 year old son had headed off to the coast the day before to sell vegetables like his father had done and was due back in about an hour. [Guatemala is still a very dangerous place due to robbers, gang violence and rightwing death squads - Ed]. I tried not to think about that but find myself worrying and hoping he made it back.

We sat and talked for a while. She is already signed up for a stove. She and her husband had purchased a little piece of land higher up in the village but nothing is built on it. She is living on her in-laws property and doesn’t know how long she will be allowed to stay there. She has 5 children, 3 of whom are in school.

She weaves so I ordered three 'servietas' from her and they will take her about 5 weeks to make. These are what the women carry with them all the time and use for shopping bags – a large square piece of material made of the same pattern that the huipiles are made here in the village. They wear them folded on their heads when carrying something heavy and also as a wind shield and a shawl. I think we can sell them for small table cloths.

No comments: