Last week our Bak’tun 8 group had four days of Field Based Training (FBT). Each of us were assigned to Peace Corps sites in Guatemala. We were hosted by PC Volunteers in their sites. They helped us get a close-up view of the work we will soon be doing.
The 27 of us trainees began our journey by boarding a big bus, weighed down by backpacks but uplifted by our excitement and camraderie. I had to take 4 different vehicles (buses and micro-buses) over a six-hour drive. It was like being in a tumble dryer the whole time! The view was spectacular and I am grateful that I did not get car sick.
I couldn’t believe how many people fit into the micro-buses (large van). I counted 23 adults and 2 children in one of the micro-buses. Most people tried to sleep during their rides which I think was a way to counter nausea and terror. Those hairpin turns around the edges of mountains were daunting.
Arriving in site, I jumped out of the micro-bus and was overwhelmed by the surreal image of the fog and the image of the indigenous women wearing red cortes (skirts); red being their traditional color. It was beautiful. There was an unusual peacefulness, too, in sharp contrast to the 36 years of atrocities that the town had suffered during the Guatemalan war that ran from 1960 to 1996. The people are still in a process of recovering from the trauma and terrible loss of lives of their loved ones.
The town is small and somewhat isolated since the road only goes in and back out again; it dead ends there.
Market day is once a week and you can buy vegetables, meat and clothing (there are no supermarkets). As everywhere in Guatemala, indigenous women carry their young children in their rebozos. On market day, it rained and we wore our heavy jackets and raincoats. The indigenous women simply held their rebozos over their heads.
My host, Dichaba, is a lovely young woman and notably, a Harvard graduate. She showed patience in answering my many questions about Peace Corps life and work. She also let me take a lot of photos although there were many more that I didn’t take for fear of offending people or of being intrusive.
In the market, we ran into Dichaba’s host grandfather. He let me take a photo of his traditional jacket. He was getting ready to see the President who was supposed to arrive in town to inaugurate a local school.
Actually while Dichaba were ordering breakfast in a local comedor (cafe), about 20 secret service people arrived for breakfast, too. Whew, good timing that we got our order in first! They were so crowded that one of the secret service men sat at our table (NYC style). I told him that felt sorry for his mother because of his dangerous job. He agreed but said that he loved his work. I asked if I could take a photo of the Secret Service group at one of the long tables but permission was denied. I put my camera away quickly!
Below: we visited a small store that sold goods to support women against gender violence.
Returning to the main market area, we met a women, Isabela, who invited us to her home to see jewelry and cortes, rebozos and other things for sale. It is a common practice for women without access to shops to sell goods out of their homes. So we walked with her up and down the rocky streets to her house. Her children greeted us with curiosity and smiles. She had a huge pile of offerings from which I chose a rebozo. Living on a Peace Corps stipend, I had to be careful not to overspend. I could not out of good conscience try to bargain for a lower price.
Above: Dichaba and Isabela walking. Below: Isabela with my new rebozo.
If I had lived in that town, I am sure that I would have become good friends with Isabela. She was really interesting and luckily, she spoke Spanish as well as the Mayan dialect that most of the people in town spoke.
Walking in town later, I came across a woman selling large chunks of limestone. She was next to a man who sold huge dried corn kernels. I later found out from my PCT friend, Connie, that limestone has an important nutritional purpose:
“Mayans cook their corn in lime (derived from limestone) water which improves the nutritional value of the corn. It softens the kernel exterior, releases the germ, and converts nutrients such as niacin, B vitamins, and amino acids into a form easily absorbed by the human body. Long before nutritional research was available, the Mayans had figured it out. Cooking the corn in the lime solution also adds calcium, essential for strong bones.” – taken from A King’s Life blog.
I want to talk more about this community in my next blog post. Yes, I know that I have not given the name of the community. That is for security purposes, although I am sure that many Guatemalans will know the place simply by the color of the corte. Below: the road to Dichaba’s house on a drizzly day.
Until my second part to this post, here’s a shot of Pimi, Dichaba’s darling kitty, and a random duck who stopped by to visit. The streets were frequented by all sorts of animals including pigs, horses, chickens and chuchos (street dogs). Hasta pronto.