Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Greetings from Guatemala

Dear dad,

It's difficult to write from a hammock, so if my spelling gets worse, that's where i lay the blame.
greetings from the edge of Fatima, along the road to Santo Domingo in the municipality of San Marcos Sacatepeque. To say this is the middle of nowhere is an understatement, as is saying it's a lazy little hacienda surrounded by coffee plantations and fields of maiz. The Mountain School is just off the main road, along a cobblestone street. a block further lies the hamlet of Fatima; another block later is another hamlet Nuevo San Jose and further still is Santo Domingo. the poverty is disturbing and reinforces my opinions that Cuba is a great place.

The school is a little hacienda, the teachers are nice, the kids from Seattle are very good. Among the five other students is a Jesuit priest and a couple your age from Stoughton. Briana and I have lessons in the morning, the kids in the afternoon, which isn't the best of plans but oh well. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner we wander into the villages to eat with assigned families. My family is Elisa who has four small children, the oldest, Maria, age 9, the only one who talks (and she does so often, quickly, and very animatedly). The husband is in Houston working. the poverty is immense: today at lunch i left early because the smoke was too intense: behind my back in the kitchen where i ate was the stove, a bunch of sticks burning freely between two thick bricks. they built the shack again the cement house of her sister-in-law. the walls and roof are tin and the frames are a sort of bamboo, and along the dirt floors run baby chicks and ducks. I later learn that Elisa is 23 years old.

Now it's afternoon, the kids are having their lessons. Our lessons this morning were spent with the group on a side trip to a coffee plantation. It's everything you'd suspect a coffee plantation run by the descendants of 18th century Germans immigrants would be: huge hacienda (there's that word again) with a stunning view (in the distance is the ocean, but it's a little hazy to see it) basil, citrus, avocado and guava trees, all surrounded by concertina wire. They say they're trying to sell to Starbucks, who have stricter requirements: workers get 40 quetzales per 100 pound bag of beans instead of 35 ($1=7.5Q) and there's a limit to the amount of chemicals they can use.

That was our morning, but no account of our first day would be complete without mentioning the rain. It's raining now. it rained all last night, and not that tepid drizzle you think of Seattle, but authentic tropical deluge with thunder and lightening. it'll probably rain like this until midnight. Yesterday (Monday) was a long day of traveling, first a four hour ride in a decent yet rickety bus from Guatemala to Xela (Quetzaltenango), where we briefly checked in with Joe and his half of the group. then we hustled over to the bus station to jump on a typical chicken bus that crept its way through narrow mountain passes to the school. But since the school is next to a tiny hamlet, there's no big welcome sign and difficult to spot, which we didn't, and the driver forget we were on board as well. it may have been for that tropical deluge pounding the windshield, or the constant hairpin turns, or aisle-packed standing-room only bus, but we went cruising by. I was suspicious though when a smartly-dressed, bespectacled group boarded (as opposed to the brightly-dressed Mayan women and worn second-hand US clothing that the men wear). I asked a woman if she was from the Mountain School, and she said yes, but we had passed it. They offered to help us when we got to the end of the line in Colomba, but first called the school to tell them we were lost (ah, the wonder of cell phones). the school told us to eat, as dinner time had passed. we arrived in Colomba -a real town, but a tiny one- just as a power-outage struck. All the restaurants were unable to serve, and the market was closing down. we finally found a tamale stand to get our only meal of the day. The teachers then found us a taxi to take us 10 km back to the school. I'm not sure if i can say it was the scariest ride I'd been on, but the minivan had all its windows tinted, except for a narrow strip in the middle of the windshield. We couldn't see out the windows, the rain was pelting like a fury of pumpkins hurling towards the earth; the roads windy and curvy, now augmented by nightfall and the blackout (I don't know if there were any street lights, but if there were, they weren't lit.) Luckily, the road was completely deserted and only two cars passed us the entire way. I call it a 10 second rain -10 seconds outside and you're completely drenched.
we arrived to a welcome of tiny flashlights and soon, everyone was asleep. There's not much to do here during the day, and when nightfalls everyone says its too dangerous. Crime is rampant, even in the boonies out here. unemployment nears 75% (every morning at 3,4, and 5 am trucks roll along the road honking their horns calling available labor to come out to look for work) and the women stay home to watch their kids or gather firewood to cook with.

Now the rain is picking up again. there's an active volcano they spews thin ash every 20 minutes, and “surprisingly strong but not destructive” earthquakes happen “often” (“how often?” I asked. “oh, once or twice a week”)

That's all for now. there's no wifi so I'll have to send this later. hope you're doing well!



1 comment:

elizabeth said...

e-mail me regarding this coming weekend. wondering if you are making plans... would like to do something regarding regarding august 18.
-elizabeth (delete this posting, if ya would. trying to be obsequious)