EMAIL 3: Date: 17-Sep-2005 10:59
Subject: Panajachel, ADISA Fun, and Independence Day
Without a doubt, this week has been 100 times better than my first week in Guatemala and Santiago. Everything has been wonderful and this week has gone by so quickly that I cannot believe it is already the weekend.
Sorry if this email rambles a bit. I did not have time to write it out ahead of time and the internet connection is fading. There are only three internet places in Santiago and when it is cloudy...there is almost little chance of a fast connection.
To start, last weekend I crossed the lake to Panajachel to meet up with the Belize Peace Corps volunteers. We had an absolutely great weekend. It was relaxing and I have decided that all PCVs only talk about food, hot showers, or any present illnesses that anyone in the group is facing. They were all so kind to welcome me into their group for the past weekend. I felt right at home with my friends going out and mingling with other travelers. Sad to say--mingling with locals in Pana is rare because Pana is filled with tourists or hippies that never left the lake area.
However, Panajachel was far from the highlight of my week. Throughout the week, I was busy observing Cojoyla and Ayudamos and their construction projects. Five Ayudamos volunteers from Canada came this week to begin the construction of 2 new homes for two of Cojoyla weavers. One of the homes is for Andrea. Andrea is 18 years old and she has been the primary source of income for her family since she was 11 years old when she started at Cojoyla. Ayudamos is building her a separate house behind her family_s home. The other home is for two other weavers, Andrea-the mother and Dolores-the eldest daughter and their family of 6. Until now, all six members of the family slept in the same bed which is made of a wooden board on top of concrete blocks. Moreover, there house is only 1 room which is not any bigger than 10x10 ft. This room is their bedroom, wooden fire-kitchen area, chicken coop-which takes up a large portion of the room-and two small wooden stools for the children. Both families have been gracious for their new homes and active in the building process. The men of the homes help work on the construction and the women have helped clean the construction area or at least provide observant company to the volunteers.
I have enjoyed getting to know both of these families throughout last week and watching the progress of both of the houses. Both homes are nearly complete. Ayudamos hopes to build or rehab 10 homes in total before Janurary. They have clearly bettered the quality of life for the Cojoyla weavers and I only hope that the other social projects in the works will be as successful.
In addition to the construction projects, I have been able to work closely with ADISA. ADISA is an organization that was founded by my host parents here in Santiago. It is an organization that works with handicapped children in the community. When you think about it, ADISA is an exceptional organization and revolutionary for most develop_ng communities. Most communities do not offer programs, assistance, or care to handicapped persons because their is a lack of funding, education, or people willing to help. My host parents, Argentina and Francisco, have brought handicapped issues to the table here in Santiago. They had a daughter who was handicapped who died in her early childhood. Currently, Argentina teaches the Special Education class at the public school. Moreover, ADISA offers physical therapy, prescription medicine, specialized visiting nurses or doctors, special field trips and workshops, and a sense of belonging and acceptance for these children.
This week I had the opportunity to meet the kids and young adults of ADISA as well as participate in their cooking workshop and Independence Day festivities. The cooking class is directed by Amanda, a Peace Corps Vol who extended her time to work with ADISA this year. The workshop allows the kids to go out into the community to buy the supplies needed for the week_s cake or pastry. Then we all get together and make the pastry together and delegate responsibilities to each student. This week we made an apple based pastry. All of the kids were so enthusiastic! After the batter is made, Amanda take the cake home to bake. The following morning the students sell the cake to the local community in front of the school. Every week everything sells quickly. This is truly a unique program that allows the children to participate in the production and selling of their product. Not to mention that they have so much fun together!
Since my arrival, everyone-including locals and travelers- has talked about the Independence Day celebration in Guatemala. Independence Day was yesterday and the festivities were quite elaborate. As almost everyone knows at home, 4th of July is probably my favorite holiday. So, I was just as excited to involve myself in the activities here. First, there is a tradition that occurs on Wednesday night across Guatemala. Kids around the country go to a neighboring town to carry and run wtih a lit torch back to their community. I had the opportunity to go with ADISA to San Lucas to participate in the event. It was incredible! The kids loved waiting in anticipation for their torch and those who are capable or running started the journey back to Santiago. Luckily we did not run the whole way back! I would have died....as many of you know I am not a runner. Although, I ran more than I ever thought I could especially up hill and on a gravel road. When we arrived to Santiago border, we ran again to just before the town center where everyone is waiting to greet the kids. We let everyone off the truck and walked to the town center so that we could go together as an ADISA team including those in wheelchairs or with physical troubles walking. It was an emotional moment when David - a severly handicapped 18 year old-- proudly carried the torch to our town mayor and Argentina!
The other big part of Independence Day is the Parade or desfiles. All of the local schools and classes have spend the last week preparing for the parade. Each group has a skit, costume, sign, or musical performance to display at the parade. ADISA decided to join the parade as well. Although some of the families of ADISA kids did not think it was appropriate, it turned out successfully. Those families did not was to display their children_s disabilities to the community in _parade form._ In the end, I think the 3 gringas - Lisa, Amanda, and myself- were the parade. We wore Traditional Trajes-- or traditional Tzutujil Mayan Clothing. This includes a hupile top, a corte wrapped skirt, and a belt. Most of the community was shocked because it is quite rare to see tourists or gringas in traje. Alot of the community got a good laugh out of it, but as Argentina said they also find it as a sign of respect that we have for the community. They were more surprised than ridiculing us.
I enjoyed wearing the traje because it is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I was glad to take it off because it was extremely hot under all of the heavy weaving.
That about wraps up my week! Santiago and my host family have been a true blessing. I can already tell it will be hard to leave here because of my family. They are incredible people with huge hearts. It is obvious why everyone knows them in Santiago. Moreover, Santiago is so pleasant. Everyone is welcoming and so warm. I can see why 55 foreigners have already decided to call Santiago home.
Tentatively, I plan to stay here for Friday night and tomorrow I would like to visit San Pedro to attempt to climb the volcano or go kayaking. However, I am already exhausted from 2 hours of hand washing my clothes on a stone board. Next time I wont wait for 2 weeks of laundry to pile up!