Ferria 2017 Pt III

On the last day of the Ferria, August 15, the city celebrated the Feast of the Assumption. Actually this is a Catholic celebration and although a good portion of the population are not Catholic, but it seemed to blend in seamlessly with the Ferria.

Two great processions filled the streets for this feast day. There was a huge wooden structure decorated with colored ribbons, small mirrors and hundreds of peacock feathers. Inside was a statue of the Virgin Mary. Behind that altar was a statue of ChristThe procession was led by priests, nuns, lay devotees and musicians. It wound in and out of streets and stopped traffic. It was wondrous.

Inside the cathedral, there were people in prayer each day.

But closer to the feast day, the church was prepared with flowers.

 

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After carrying the altar for miles, it was taken to the church. The man in the front left of the above photo must’ve been looking at the palo voladores. Who could blame him (see below)?

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Once inside the church, people made a line to the altar to pray to Mary. The actual mass to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption was packed, far more than in the images below. Altogether it was a week to remember forever and one to look forward to again, next year.

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Ferria 2017 Pt II

The Ferria crowns Princesses and Madrinas and other such luminaries. There were many events that I could not attend due to not knowing about them or because they took place after dark (curfew, ya know). But I did know about the two main parades that featured school children. Sabrina, my fellow PC mate, has a great view from her balcony as you can see below. The first photo is of the crowned women followed by many community leaders and then the schools.

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Above:  three of my work partners here in Guatemala at the beginning of the parade.

The two days of parade each lasted hours for the children that walked the miles of the route. Throughout the week there were other festivities in the main plaza as well as the costumed festival dancers.

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And on the other side of town, a carnival area was set up on the old airfield strip. It was packed with rides for children and adults, food stands and three ferris wheels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above:  At the end of the long runway of rides I came across this family group sitting under the hot sun. I love the lady using a basket for shade. That’s what I would have done!

See you next, at Ferria 2017 Part III.

 

 

 

Ferria 2017 Pt 1

Each Guatemalan town/city has an annual ferria (fair) and each one features its own specialty. When I moved to my first (temporary) Guatemalan home during pre-service training, I arrived during their ferria. It featured student musical bands from around that region. It was the best welcome I could have ever imagined.

After training I moved to the home where I now live, in the Guatemalan Western Highlands. I had heard about our city’s annual ferria for months in advance. I grew in anticipation of seeing the “palo voladores” (pole flyers) for which this ferria is known. I began to wonder if the ferria could even live up to my excited imagination. It did!!! It was spectacular!!!

I loved exploring every day’s offerings with my camera. I gasped at least a few times every day. Out of the hundreds of photos that I took, I’ve selected some to share here with you, starting with the palo voladores (pole flyers)!

I was surprised to find that the palo voladores had no set public schedule. For the first three days I kept asking, desperately, when they would fly and I kept getting different answers, “in the morning,” “in the afternoon,” “today for sure but…who knows?” and in fact, all three answers were correct. But finally I managed to get there when they were flying and after that, I saw them many times more. Each time I watched, I felt as though I was sailing in the sky along with them.
Photo above:  Folks watching the palo voladores from the steps of the cathedral.

When the two flyers begin their round-about descent on the ropes, the two at the top lay backwards and dangle leisurely. Sometimes they would lay on one of the four outer poles of the top structure, with their spines running alongside the poles, and nothing to tie them securely.

The young man above, had just finished his flight around the pole. A monkey mask is sometimes worn on the face. Once they finish their descent, they dance lightly around the pole, touching it to thank it and then they proceed to dance in a circle with other flyers in front of a man playing the marimba.

Above:  They pay their respects to the marimba and the others in the circle. It’s all very subtle and easily missed if one does not look closely. By the way, there were marimba bands  throughout the town!

Above:  Three separate groups of costumed dancers made merry throughout the town, pretending to tease each other with grand gestures. One group looked sombreros, another group kind of looked like winged pirates and the third wore colorful feathers. Considering the heat, it was amazing that they could wear such heavy costumes all week long. I only saw one female that was part of the costumed pageantry and hers in the last photo in this row. I cannot seem to continue to add new text after that photo so I’ll have to add a Part II to this Ferria 2017 post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Las Comadronas

There are 317 registered comadronas (midwives) in my municipality in the departamento (state) of El Quiché. The Centro de Salud (health center) conducts bi-monthly trainings that the midwives are mandated to attend. Today, nearly all were in attendance in the town’s main meeting hall.

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Before any of the training or logistical information was shared, we began with a Mayan-Catholic ceremony. A Mayan elder created the circle with other elders, then those of us in the circle lit the candles.  Once the fire (or candles) are lit, the Mayan elder typically begins the ceremony. But in this case, a young priest was present to offer prayers. There is a curious integration of Mayan and Catholic practices and I can’t tell what is what, even though I was raised Catholic.

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Let’s just say that everyone knows the sign of the cross and kneels at appropriate times. But there were women who lit their candles in a way that was indicative of indigenous ceremony.

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After the ceremony, Sebastiana (woman below with the mic) led the training. She introduced the new health center staff (there were at least ten present). The new staff members will each be assigned  to staff a health center outpost. And the midwives will be assigned to communicate with whichever staff member is at her nearest health center outpost.

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Due to the ceremony and the logistics, there was only time for about an hour and a half of training which included a film and a demo by one of the comadronas (below).

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It takes a long time to do attendance. Each comadrona must show her I.D. to a staff member and give her signature or finger print.

attendance takers

I used my time to meet comadronas who might be willing to be interviewed by me. Juliana (below) has been a midwife for over twenty years. She speaks both K’iche and Spanish so we were able to have a nice conversation. I hope to interview her for this blog in the coming weeks. nl res w border Juliana w comadronas behind_Fotor

It’s Friday as I write this and now I must attend to creating a charla (talk) for next week. Be well. ❤️

 

The Grace of Being Alone

I used to think that being in Guatemala would feel like being a hop, skip and a jump away. After all, it’s easy to pick up a phone, send a text or use video chat. But instead, home feels light years away. I have written family letters and this blog, but for the most part, no one writes back with missives about their lives. I’m not complaining, I’m just trying to say that technology has not bridged the distance and I feel very far away.

I feel far away even from people here. I feel like I’m walking around in a bubble due to my limited Spanish and because no one accepts me as a Latina–it’s blown my whole identity out of the water! In terms of my Spanish problems, I am always struggling to translate things in my head. I have not reached a level of comfort in any conversation because I can hear my own mistakes which make me ponder corrective options while I’m still talking! At the end of each day when I retire to my study, I soak in the rest and quiet of my space.

Let me digress a moment.

Once I was on a two week artist retreat out in the countryside in Connecticut. During the days, I would walk along green fields from the house where we stayed to the art center where I worked on a collaborative theatre project with two other artists. At meal times I enjoyed listening to the handful of artists that were also there on retreat–accomplished dance and theatre artists with many stories to tell. I found myself listening deeply but barely talking. During the second week, I plunged even deeper into my work, creating a video segment that would fit into a larger theatre piece. By the end of the retreat, when I returned home, I noticed how much I had been in silence even while being in the company of larger than life artists. The silence that had come from simply keeping my mouth closed for those two weeks, felt cleansing, freeing. It had freed me from some of my own ego.

Returning to my present time here in Guatemala…. Due to all this “aloneness” there has been an odd but welcome unlayering of myself. Here are a few ways to describe how it plays out for me:

I’ve been more aware of patterns of conditioning in myself, in my thoughts, speech and behaviors. I would have thought that this would place me in choice of how I want to think, speak, or behave but instead, the moment of awareness leads to a dropping away — a feeling of an energy shift. It’s subtle, so subtle that I wonder if I should even write about it.

When I go for walks and hear my busy thoughts, it’s easier to drop under them, like dropping under incoming waves at the beach. It’s only momentarily that I can walk peacefully like this, but moments add up. Thank goodness for the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the mindfulness walks I’ve taken with him and practitioners at Deer Park Monastery.

I’ve had moments of spiritual witnessing in which I am aware of myself (my body) not needing my thoughts to drive my actions. I am reminded of spiritual teachers who have said that we are not creating our lives, life just is; life is living itself. An example of this is when I am thinking of whether I should first eat breakfast or take a shower. My thoughts might be swirling with the options when I suddenly notice that I’m entering the shower. I chuckle because it proves once again that my body is living the life and the thoughts are needless banter.

The feeling of isolation that I’ve had for a few months now, means I don’t have to act in any particular way to impress or defend myself or be accepted–all the things that humans do in a subconscious way. This is partly an outcome of getting older, too; if I can get out of the house clean and fed, I call it good.

It’s also been easier to sit and meditate rather than to fight it like a child.

A psychic friend told me that here in Guatemala, I would be happier than I could imagine. It’s true, it really is. But the happiness is occurring in a way that I had not imagined; it’s welling up from within. Sometimes I feel the expansion of joy so much that I need to process it–because my head has not registered yet, that this much joy is possible. Processing (with EFT or Ho’oponopono) allows me to let out the steam of any suppressed energy in my body. If I don’t process it, my programmed response might be to use the internet or sugar to stay in my normal comfort range. There’s no growth in that.

In spite of the common connotations of  aloneness and isolation, I would say that my aloneness and isolation have been a source of much of my inner peace. Because aloneness is not the same thing as loneliness and I am not totally isolated; I am surrounded by people everyday. But still, I’ve had just enough aloneness and isolation to feel the grace of what comes from untethering to my thoughts and to people while retaining my tether to Creator. I have a strong connection to Creator (use whatever name or theology that suits you) so there is no possibility for me to feel truly alone or isolated. And I feel utterly connected to my family and friends here, even with the simultaneous feeling of distance. At least I’m no longer waiting for anyone or anything. Everything feels soft.

All of this is to say that the unlayering of myself has been a way to let go and allow the goodness of what moves me (what moves us all) to be better revealed and flourish.

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Terremoto

I never knew that Guatemala does not have four seasons! Instead it has two: dry (November – mid-May) and rainy (mid-May to October). All through the dry season I wondered why Guatemala was not as radiantly beautiful as I had pictured. Beautiful, yes, but dry. Then the rains started and within days, the country transformed into a radiant and glorious green!

Still, it’s beauty comes with some risks. Lately, Guatemala has had over a week of heavy rains, flooding, landslides and now, terremotos (earthquakes)! I am very safe where I am as long as I stay home and do not travel unnecessarily.

At times the Peace Corps Safety & Security office sends us text alerts with updates. When something puts us at risk, they ask us to send in our statuses and whereabouts. I appreciate that they are always looking out for us.

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Today, June 22, 2017, the earthquake rattled at 6:30am while I was awake and trying to get myself motivated to get out of bed. The earthquake helped! Eight days ago, at 1:29am, we had a 6.9 earthquake. That felt smoother, like a waterbed (yes, I’m that old) rather than today’s jalopy-like experience. I guess this is what it’s like to live in Guatemala and I’d better get used to it. California earthquakes are one thing but earthquakes in a developing country are another.

Below: view from our roof, looking down onto the fallow corn field below. Our house is against an incline so the backside is up high whereas the front is level with the street.

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Speaking of the corn field in the back, look at it now during our rainy season!

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Over the decades, Guatemala has suffered many disasters  from earthquakes and floods and landslides. The worst of the recent damage from landslides and earthquakes have been in other departments (states). A recent landslide in another department buried homes, a microbus and a car. It’s horrible what people suffer from catastrophes! We have had no flooding of the streets in our town but the woodworker next door lost his roof to recent windy rains. I have no idea who else in our pueblo or surrounding communities have had problems.

Over the past seven years in NYC, I experienced hurricanes, a tornado, superstorms and blizzards. Life is not so fragile, right? It’s pretty hardy, considering. Nonetheless, I will pack an emergency bag just as I’ve been told to do by the Peace Corps. It helps to have so little to cling to but I don’t expect I’ll ever have to use it.

To change the subject, today marks the beginning of school break. I have a lot of big goals to accomplish during my break and I’m very excited about all of them. I’m all about goals and achieving them. Collages help me pave the way. Below is my latest collage. It includes my priorities for now which includes writing, community engagement, activism, connection to Tonantzin (Aztec Mother Goddess, more popularly known as Our Lady of Guadalupe), trips to the lake (the bedroom image), staying fit & meditating, and of course, beaded necklaces. So here goes!nl res cropped collage.jpg

 

 

Quetzales

Friends sometimes ask how much money we make in the Peace Corps and whether it’s enough to live comfortably. People also want to know about the cost of traveling here. So let me offer a few bits of information here.

The Peace Corps was established by President John F. Kennedy (Executive Order 10924) on March 1, 1961 and authorized by Congress on Sept. 21st of that same year. The Peace Corps Act clarified its purpose as:

To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.

It is important that as Peace Corps Volunteers, we live a lifestyle that is integrated with the people with whom we work. In other words, we should not make a higher wage nor have greater access to things of a higher standard of living.

Basically, I make the equivalent of a beginning level teacher. Keep in mind, I don’t have a family to support and I’m not creating a home full of furniture or needing a car or moto since I’m here for the short term. I’m able to take care of all of my needs as long as I pay attention to my ongoing expenses. I keep a little book for that purpose.

Our rent is covered by the Peace Corps. Our only other main costs are food, clothing (I lost weight and need new clothes!), incidentals and travel. Great, fresh vegetables and fruits are readily available at low cost in the outdoor market three times a week in my pueblo. Below: an indoor market in Chichicastenango

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There aren’t many places to spend money except for the cafes, stationary stores, and a jewelry/cosmetic store which is very inexpensive. Let me give you an idea of some random costs but first I’ll give you some exchange amounts:

Anything less than Q7 (7 Quetzales) is less than 1 US dollar. Q10 = $1.36.

avocado Q2; broccoli Q5.25; apple Q2; oranges (bag of 6) Q10; papaya Q7.9; fresh corn tortillas (pack of 4) Q1; chard Q1.65; cantelope Q6; eggs Q23.9

Restaurants and cafes vary from very inexpensive (Q15 to Q20 for a meal with a drink) to more expensive (Q50 to 70 or a complete meal w/drink. I love eating out but I can’t do it often because the costs add up. I can however, have a nice plate of healthy tacos w/drink for less than $3 or, if I want to splurge on a Sunday, I can have an incredible breakfast with coffee for $4.77.

Travel is inexpensive in Guatemala. The large carreteras are usually crowded beyond comfort and you feel every bump in the road. But the cost and accessibility makes them worth it. For me to travel from my site to Lake Atitlan, three hours away, is only Q30 ($4.09). That’s about 4 bucks to get to heaven.

Lake atitlan w feather

Once you hang out a while and meet people, you find the best prices for hotels in each city. You have to know people. I recently found a nice, modest hotel for Q100/night in Panajachel (sorry I can’t give you the name since I stay there). But you can also get a very inexpensive room at the beautiful hostel, La Iguana Perdida, across the lake with a more secluded setting. Otherwise, on the cheaper side, hotel rooms are about Q150 per person and they are very modest and without a view. More money means more space and a view.

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In terms of the hand woven textiles, they are priced well below their true value but at the same time, more expensive than I can usually afford. A rebozo (shawl) is about $20+ and a larger one that is used as a falda (skirt) can be Q400+ ($54.51). I bought a couple of used huipiles in Chichicastenango. That is definitely the place to go for weavings. Mine are a little worn but gorgeous nonetheless.

Until this month I’d been complaining to my inner self about the money situation. But then I met another Volunteer who told me how much she spends a week (very little) and how much she saves–enough for flights to the U.S. and her upcoming wedding! That was humbling. Then a few days ago I realized that I had forgotten about Q800 ($109.02) of money from this month’s income. Apparently I had hidden it from myself! That might sound like very little to you but to a Volunteer, it’s cause for a happy dance! So, yeah, I’m doing fine.

Below: clay bowl, crystals, textiles and quetzales. 

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Two last things to share with you is that the Peace Corps does not allow Volunteers to work extra jobs in Guatemala. They don’t want us to receive any money from Guatemalans, which makes sense. Secondly, the Peace Corps sets up a savings account for each Volunteer so that at the time of Close of Service (COS) after two years and three months, you will have something with which to re-settle in the U.S. Instead of telling you an actual amount, I suggest that you speak with a Peace Corps Office staff member. They can help you with that information and much more.

I highly recommend the Peace Corps experience. For any kind of service, what you give aways comes back double. In the case of Peace Corps service, it comes back a hundred times more.

 

 

Corpus Christi

On Thursday, June 15th, 2017, my town celebrated the Catholic feast day of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi–yes, that is the correct spelling here, too–is also known as Día del Corpus. There was another reason for this celebration which was to honor immigrants.

[The biggest Catholic holidays pretty much take over this town. If there were other such large scale events, I would document those, too.]

Corpus Christi is a commemoration of Holy Communion and “Corpus Christi” means, “Body of Christ.” The celebration of a Catholic Mass includes the miraculous act of Transubstantiation, in which the chalice of wine turns into the blood of wine and the holy eucharist, in the form of round, white wafers, turns into the body of Christ. Catholics believe that this is not just symbolic but actually real.

I add the following information in case a reader might want to travel to experience this feast day in Guatemala. According to Wikipedia: “Corpus Christi is a moveable feast, celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or, in countries where it is not a holy day of obligation, on the following Sunday. The earliest possible Thursday celebration falls on 21 May (as in 1818 and 2285), the latest on 24 June (as in 1943 and 2038).

So are you ready for the photographs? It was a remarkable visual treat! These alfombras are very different from the ones for Semana Santa because these do not include colored sawdust carpets. These were made from pine needles, flowers, leaves, and sometimes fruit and other random resources (see cardboard chalices below). They were made in the early morning hours before the procession’s starting hour at 9am.

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main street alfombra

It’s rainy season here, and although it did not rain during the desfile (procession), there was evidence of the rain from the very early morning hours.

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Below:  this is an image of a chalice with a holy eucharist rising from it.

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I’m always amazed by the artistry of everyone here. There are no galleries in these smaller towns but their artistry is everywhere in their celebrations and traditional clothing.

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Below:  as the priests and others from the lay religious community walk by, an altar boy swings a thurible which is a metal incense holder used for burning frankincense.

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You can see the length of the procession in the photo below. Over three miles of alfombras were laid down for the procession. nl res long procession

I missed being able to show this in the photograph below, but the man with the red belt is actually barefoot. This is somewhat common amongst elder people in more rural communities outside the pueblo.

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Below:  the priests stopped the procession every so often and everyone would kneel down on the wet, muddy streets in prayer.

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Musicos

As the procession wound around the last few streets, I walked ahead to photograph the inside of the church. Below is the main plaza in front of the church. It was a market day so vendors filled most of the space except an area that featured a bandstand with an amazing group of musicians that had been playing great cumbias all morning. No one except for three men danced, though I was shaking it up in my mind. They stopped before the procession arrived at about noon.

Traditional weavings and huipiles (traditional women’s shirts) were laid down in the last part of the alfombra which led up to the church steps, .

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I was so happy to have been able to see the inside of the church before the throngs arrived!

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huipiles before altar

Below:  one of about ten free standing statues. They are all adorned in traditional traje (clothing). I am not sure who this is but it might be St. Michael the Archangel, judging by his wings and sword.

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I am always surprised and warmed by the openness of devotees who speak their prayers aloud or raise their arms in praise.

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Peace be with you. Thanks for seeing/reading this blog. Feel free to leave any comments or questions.

 

 

 

 

 

Semana Santa 2017

Before I let it go any longer, I want to write about Semana Santa in my town. It was in March (and now it’s already June). It was a vacation week for me and I wanted to travel but I had not planned it properly. Whenever we take off for even one night it requires advanced permission requests from our local supervisor and our PC program manager; hotel and shuttle reservations; notifying PC Whereabouts and hand washing enough clothes to pack. I was still green with that whole process so I blew my chances to leave. But wouldn’t you know it, staying home was a surprise gift because the processions here were wonderful. During the weeks leading up to Pascua Resurrección (Easter), Catholics in Guatemala have many processions, especially on Friday evenings and the last two days before Easter.

There is a huge cathedral which sits in the main plaza, across from the municipal offices. In the weeks preceding Easter, the eyes of most of the religious statues inside the cathedral were covered with purple cloth. Most churches in fact, were adorned in purple drapes. Purple was the color of the robe placed on Jesus before they crowned his head with a wreath of thorns and gave him the cross to bear.

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Below, Mother Mary wears traje (traditional Mayan clothes) and beads.

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Desfile, means procession. Some desfiles were small with groups from particular communities and some were huge, as in the ones on the weekend of Pascua.

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Below:  On several occasions, the streets were lined with alfombras (carpets) made of flowers, pine needles and colored sawdust and fruits. The religious clergy and any andas (floats) walk along the alfombras. After the processions, they are quickly swept away by home and business owners. The alfombras were typically made in the evenings for the next day’s procession. Traffic was detoured from these streets (this is the town’s main street).

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Above, the photos were taken at night when the alfombras were being made. Below, is the beginning of the desfile (procession).

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The cathedral also has a smaller chapel which was used for this mass pictured below. This mass was in K’iche. When I stumbled upon it, I was overwhelmed with it’s beauty which my camera failed to capture. Believe me, it was extraordinary. The altar was in the shape of a mountain, covered with candles and figurines. People knelt and sometimes stood on the cement floors for hours; there were no pews or cushions for knees.

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On the day before Easter,  there were desfiles in which a huge anda  (float) was carried by two rows of men carrying Jesus and a second anda (of slightly lesser size) carrying Mother Mary, was carried by two rows of women. Every ten minutes or so, there was a change in the float bearers. The changes were swift and efficient with barely a pause in the procession. 20170414_082048

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As the andas entered the main plaza, they wound their way through the crowd and into the church.

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I did not photograph inside the church after each procession because it was impossible to see anything but hundreds of heads. Here is one image to show you what I mean.

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Semana Santa processions and devotional masses take place throughout Guatemala! It is a beautiful thing to witness and experience.

Día Internacional de la Mujer

March 8th was International Women’s Day. La Direción Municipalidad de la Mujer (The Municipal Administrative Office of the Woman) hosted a large event in our town in honor of International Women’s Day, although it was held on March 9th due to scheduling conflicts with another large event with the same theme. The event was held at a local recreation center (see the pool in the background) and the invited guests were indigenous women from our town and surrounding communities.nml res_dia de la mujer_

Martina Velasquez, Director of the Dirección Municipalidad de la Mujer, and her awesome staff and volunteers, did a great job of coordinating the logistics of the event. Over 200 women and children attended and there were many representatives from local organizations that participated. Martina had generously invited me and my colleague, Miho, from JICA, to speak at the event. Miho went a step further and arrived in her beautiful traditional Japanese garb.

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We were given fifteen minutes each to speak. Miho gave a short introduction to herself and her work as a JICA volunteer. I gave a talk on “The Four Keys to Self-Empowerment.” Can you tell I’m from California? The four keys to self-empowerment as I laid them out, are one’s voice, truth, breath and heart. I spoke about the importance of each key and led them in a short breathing exercise. Maybe the concepts were too Californian and not enough K’iche. But in crossing the cultural divide, one must try things and learn from one’s successes and mistakes. And if one is earnest and well meaning, it will count for a lot.

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nml res_me on stg foto by MIHO

Afterwards, a woman gave me a big hug and gifted me with a handbag that she had woven and that had been for sale on the vendor’s table. It was such a blessing to meet her and to receive her gift. See photo.

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The event was filled with actos. One was about domestic violence and another was about sexual assault. The dramatizations offered step-by-step instructions on what to do in the case of those emergencies. The actress that portrayed herself in crisis would visit a series of small tables with representatives from different agencies (police, hospital, health center, etc.). The representatives from each agency didn’t even have to act; they knew what to say in each situation. Watching the dramatizations helped women think about the choices they’d have to make and the information they’d need to declare.  In the photo below, it’s hard to see, but an actress is laying on a stretcher while attendants offer her care. nml res_wide view_dia de la mujer

During the event I walked around and met a few people. One was a woman selling handwoven goods. She showed me ribbons for the hair and to demonstrate, she had another woman braid the ribbons into a crown and place it in her hair. It was beautiful to watch.

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There was also a raffle with a lot of giveaways. One women won for being the eldest in attendance. She was over 90 years old and very capable!

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The event ended with lunch for everyone. I escorted the elder woman to the front to make sure she got served first. After everyone had been served and women were boarding buses for home, the staff rested amidst the empty pots and balloons that were being torn down by children who wanted to play with them. Marina (center in photo below) director, reina, capitana, super woman–she is all of those things. She and her team did a great job of honoring the women of this town.

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