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Published: January 17th 2008
I have begun my year-long "adventure" in the lovely city Quetzaltenango (or "Xela), which I adore despite the smell of gasoline smoke and the sound of barking stray dogs at night. It is beautifully nestled in the mountains, which you can see towering elegantly above the cement blocked and brightly colored buildings.
First and foremost, I want to thank several people for their "apoyo" (support): my incredible parents, Gary and Shelley, who have been so supportive of me throughout this whole process; and the following generous people: Nick (whose continued activism in the chemical world amazes me), Joy (who taught me how to take on the difficult task of fundraising), Krissy (who I adore despite our distance of time and space), Devery and Jim (whose continued kind words and smiles always help as well!), and Mayme and Randy (who I have learned so much about theatre from). Without you all, I would not be able to do this work nearly as effectively or have a fulfilling experience to share with you when I return! Thank you.
If anyone else is reading this and wants to make a pledge of support to my work, you can follow one of the
1. You can make a tax-deductible contribution online by visiting this link: http://www.artcorp.org/sponsor.html and clicking on the Donation button (make sure you include "Robyn" where it says "special instructions").
2. You can make a tax-deductible contribution by mail by writing a check payable to ArtCorps with "Robyn" written in the memo line, and mailing it to:
8 Enon Street #2B
Beverly, MA 01915
(If you want to send a check to support me directly, drop me an email and I'll give you the address.)
I will also be sending out an email with more information about the upcoming project(s).
I have been in Xela for about a week and a half, and it was difficult at first to adjust to being "on the road again," but luckily I was blessed with an incredibly generous and lovely host family, and with some fantastic friends that I made at Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) Spanish school. My family consists of two sisters (Ingrid and Sara) and their mother (Anna Maria) and Ingrid´s 8 year old son, Alex. Anna Maria learned how to cook when she was working for a hotel
here in Xela, and thus makes some incredible food. She is also amazingly astute for an approximately 75 year old anciana. Ingrid is alternately serious and laughing at jokes, and held my hand several times for support as we crossed the crazy streets to weave our way through the busy democracia market to buy fish. Sara is an arduous lover of animals, and feeds the two cats and four small birds they have on the patio herself. All are eternally curious about me and always easy to have a conversation with, be it about culture, politics, or the events of the day. I will be sad to leave them, but I will hopefully return later this year on my way to México.
Madre Tierra is a small school that holds individual classes in a paradisical patio filled with plants, flowers, butterflies, and two cats and a dog. It feels like a different world compared to the city, and it is a wonderful, relaxing place to be struggling to recognize the differences between different tenses and subjunctives (los verbos me matan!). My teacher, Pedro, is someone who mostly keeps to himself, but when he has a guitar in his arms
and a song in his heart, he completely transforms. I have learned a lot of Spanish through learning political and romantic songs from him (both kinds extremely powerful). I admire him so much for his strength.
My other good friends who are teachers at the school are Fernando and Roberto. Fernando is currently at law school studying women´s rights law, and Roberto works at a school for niños de la calle (children of the street). I have learned much about different ideas and perceptions of guatemaltecos from them.
My extranjero (tourist) friends are Eva and Jess. Eva is from Quebec, and since she only speaks a small amount of English, we communicate constantly in Spanish. Jess is from Ohio, and she spent almost a year studying in Nicaragua and traveling around this area last year, and thus the three of us are at about the same level. They are incredible women with a breadth of different experiences, and we have an awesome time together.
I have taken a few side trips around Xela, the first one to Los Vahos, natural saunas from the geothermal activity of the nearby volcanoes. On Saturday, Jess and I visited a small
aldea on the side of a mountain where a family has been practicing traditional weaving and natural dyeing processes for four generations. We also went to Fuentes Georginas, natural hot springs that are snuggled against sub-tropical mountains and lush green foliage. Yesterday I experienced the festival of Cristo Negro for the first time in the small pueblo of Chiquilajá, where a band played marimba while masked figures danced and bounced along, according to how the soul of the mask interacted with the individual--there was obvious status within the masks, with the patrónes carrying bottles of tequila and cerveza. There was a line outside the door of the church to get an opportunity to touch the feet of the Cristo Negro at the main altar, and hundreds of candles lit the iglesia with an unearthly glow while merengue music blasted outside. It was a chaotic, hectic experience, with street vendors selling all kinds of greasy food (fair food), and a ferris wheel that spun much faster than I have ever seen.
As for other casual opinions and musings...
it´s crazy how so many people here have to live in fear of their own people. i´m definitely going to return
to the states with a more serious attitude. it is indeed very dangerous here, simply because people kill and rob people for no reason and people who have next to nothing. the gangs are very organized in the cities and have complex hierarchies, and people have to pay them taxes in order to keep them away from their stores (even then, is there any guarantee?). they´re all over the world now, in almost 30 of the united states and in europe, and it´s difficult to say how we can deal with this problem.
it´s very interesting here--similar, and yet different than south america. i can´t tell you how many times the señoras in my house have told me they wish they could have skin the color of mine, or my color eyes (and are constantly so impressed that americans have one stable profession that they can pick themselves)...sometimes i feel like i stand out a lot, and it´s difficult. so many people are so nice--on athe bus to Xela, i sat next to an 18 year old guy who is deaf (sordo), and we communicated via writing and his animated expressions. his mom and aunt gave me a cream
cheese sandwich. in the bus station, this vieja gave me so many smiles for free, i was richer than anyone else. it´s significantly poorer than places we visited in south america, and the history of violence seems a lot closer--today i saw men with m-16s on a street corner, and another time a man sleeping on the street with nothing but the clothes on his back. it´s hard to talk badly about the life in the u.s. because people here are so obviously worse off--but as i was explaining the meaning of ¨californication¨ to my maestro today (he knows how to play the song of course), and talking about how it is talking about all of the problems that people have in the u.s. with superficiality, materialism, and the like, i realized that we just have different problems. i didn´t feel so bad singing the chorus in ¨casas de cartón¨ after that
¡Qué triste! Se oye la lluvia
En los techos de cartón.
¡Qué triste! Vive mi gente
En las casas de cartón.
Even though our houses aren´t made of cardboard, how much of american lives are equally as transient and disposable? And how many people still live
in casas de cartón in one of the "richest" countries in the world? And people here dream of such a life...
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