Friday, January 27, 2006


January 20, 2006

Blown away. We were blown away, we told them in English, unknowing of how to express our amazement in Spanish. Katharsis: a 5-person band of jóvenes, with songs they’ve written themselves, including a feminist one about the women killed in Ciudad Juárez a couple years ago. They played song after song as our jaws dropped lower and lower, tired from our long journey and in awe of their talents. They have an intense excitement about the world that is contagious, inspiring, and unprecedented.

Francisco, the director of programs at the IUCN, the umbrella organization for JEM, told us on the 2-1/2-hour drive here that these mountains aren’t places for people to be living. But San Pablo has done everything in its power to make this is a paradise nestled in the valleys and peaks that erode with human development and fall as landslides when hurricanes pass. Twenty years ago they started planting trees of all kinds and penned in their animals so they didn’t eat the seedlings, and they’ve been able to create what looks like the greenest mountainside from here to San Marcos. They have greenhouses for roses, tomatoes, and new arbolitos (small trees), organic compost trenches, and terraces for their crops. While Hurricane Stan passed by here this fall, creating a three-day period of fear and anxiety, no one in San Pablo was lost, and the way the boys describe it, the whole community went from house to house helping the elderly evacuate and collecting valuable items for the families to save. Landslides occurred on each side of the main plaza, on each side of many of the houses, but only and few houses, an animal pen, and a greenhouse were destroyed. They thank God (San Pablo is 99% Catholic) and they pray to the two-foot, cement-molded Virgen Mary that looks over them, set into a crevice of the rocky mountain above.

But the community isn’t successful just because of its environmental and religious philosophies (not all of which are universally practiced), but also because of the faith they have in their kids. The Instituto teaches 180 kids in the mornings and 100 in the afternoons, with grades all the way through high school. Cristian, our host, reads Nietszche and calls his family sentimental, with corazones de pollo, hearts of chickens. His father tells us that they created the Instituto for three reasons: to give their kids good values, to teach them how to be professionals, and to instill in them the spirit of volunteerism. The jóvenes here don’t only have values and the spirit of service, but also an intense passion to make art. Cristian said upon our arrival that when you are an artist you need to find an outlet, you need to find a way to get the thing out. They look to the future, with hopes of a virtual library, a philosophy school, and perhaps someday their own university.

Yesterday I spend the afternoon giving an informal drawing class to our guides for the day, Waner and Alex. They hung on my every comment, my every word. We basked in the yard, the colorful greenhouse, and in the bonsai garden, drawing flowers and grass and rocks. Earlier in the day they brought us around to meet some of the people and see the sights. A general store with art supplies that also functions as an ATM machine, a food store with a wide selection of veggies, a pharmacy, an internet café with 5 compus, a tailor, a Catholic church, soccer and basketball courts, and more. Everyone was so pleased to meet us and said it was an honor to have us and that we were now part of the family. On Thursday when we arrived and about 20 jóvenes met us in the plaza, each one spoke with a genuine kindness and sincerity about our arrival and his or her excitement. Some said they had been waiting months for the arrival of an artist; others, their whole lives.

Today I’m going to be meeting with a large part of JEM in the closest medium-sized city, Tacaná. They tell me there are 1,200 kids in the area that are part of JEM and 300 are very active, going to meetings every 15 days or so and involved in lots of activities. Here in San Pablo there are 100 jóvenes and about 40 that are very active. It is obvious that they want me to have an effect on all of them and that they are dying to become artists themselves. Cristian and I have talked a bit about planning and he seems open to my ideas about how we could possibly reach all these kids, and I think it’s going to be a great place, a lot of work, and a really altering experience.


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