Friday, September 29, 2006

El Quetzal y La Milpa, Mural on school wall, Vergel: Final Product

La Leyenda del Quetzal
A la mañana siguiente la flor despertó y, en efecto, ya no era flor. Hallábase convertida en un bello pájaro que volaba muy alto. Y ese pájaro en el cual amaneció convertida, por buena, por espiritual, por delicada, y por bella, es nada menos que el Quetzal. !El Quetzal! Francisco Barnoya Gálvez

Si un árbol se mueve

Si un árbol se mueve
de un lado a otro
es que el fruto
le está haciendo cosquillas,

y sus flores se caen
muertas de la risa.

Humberto Ak'abal

Saturday, September 23, 2006

painting workshops

coming home in a box

September 17, 2006

I rush down the path, past the filthy river, past the woman turning back to examine me, past the landslide that killed his wife’s parents. I’d never been to the house of three of my best students—who, when I once asked what they wanted to do after school, responded in unison, Our path leads to the US—but now I’m arriving to share my regrets for their older brother.

The house is set back in the milpa, barely visible now that the stalks reach well past seven feet high. It’s new, painted white cinder block with high ceilings and a front porch. Everyone knows that all houses like this were paid for with the sweat of an illegal immigrant, with the American dollars sent home by a family member.

Since he left—eight years ago—there’s been a whole in his mother’s heart. For years the pain was eased with the money he sent back to pay for the food, the gas, the schooling of the kids. But now, after the accident on Thursday, she wonders where the money will come from. What will the family do? The whole in her heart is deepening, widening, settling in for a lifetime. They’ve requested that his body be sent home, that it be buried near his family, and so that they can visit his grave. The cost will no doubt be another worry, another bother. His 10-year-old daughter giggles when she sees me and gives me a kiss. She doesn’t remember him, nor her mother, nor her younger brother and sister who were born in the US. Later, I notice her staring at his photo as if examining him for the first time, trying to know him before having to bury him.

I sit with his mother on the front porch in plastic chairs and watch the rain, looking in the corn stalks for the right thing to say, for the answers to an economic problem that tears families apart. A problem that makes their children strangers, that makes them dependent on remittances, that makes them wait on their front porch for the body of their son, their brother, the uncle, their father, not knowing when or whether or not it will arrive. In a place that lost 46 people under a year ago because of Huricane Stan, there is more suffering, more pain. The sacrifice of the new house, the filling meal we eat for lunch, the education of the family’s teenagers I’m friends with—all of it is deep. I wonder whether it’s worth it, I wonder if they see it. I wonder what the teenagers would say now about their futures.

Community Love

Slowly we’re becoming a part of the community here, not just a part of la JEM. We spend a lot of time with one single mother, Maura, and her family. They all have the best smiles, contagious loving smiles that’ll warm your soul. Even the grandpa, who never leaves the house, lights up like a firefly in the night, flashing his dental implants and making us feel giddy. We laugh and talk about simple things, share our differences and bring each other treats. They come with canned peaches and coffee, and we bring over our lentil soup for them to taste. Instead of staring at us like we’re aliens, the kids hang on our shoulders and tickle our sides, helping us with our Spanish and putting their dimples to good use. It’s a magical experience; it almost feels like home.

This feeling has extended itself outside of San Pablo, too. Saturday night we stayed in Linda Vista since I was working close-by, and so we went to visit a family we’ve stayed with before. On our way we were invited into the house of another family we know, and there we all exchanged thoughts on health, money, politics, and recipes while chowing down on Connecticut-quality apples, buttery avocados, and tomato salsa. They were elated to have us in their home and we felt honored to be there. Again, the smiles filled us with happiness and we went onto to our final destination where again we ate dinner and happily responded curious questions about ourselves. We went to bed and woke up satisfied, content, loved. We’ve stayed at many houses and conversed with lots of people, but somehow now it seems different, more open, more real, more like family.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pageants and Contests

Current readers, possible readers, late-night readers, early-morning readers, ladies, gentlemen, respected teachers, honorable director, kind judges on the panel, children, teenagers, contest participants, students, for everyone in the audience, Good Afternoon.

When we first arrived back in August, Ian and I were judges for a kids’ singing contest here in town. I worked all day with the kids making the set, a mix of colorful and tacky flowers, which was a huge hit. To start off the night we pumped up the music full blast and danced merengue with the audience members. The event went until one in the morning, when we finally and slowly announced our verdicts. Needless to say, the audience was not happy with our decisions and thus we created quite a buzz around town. We had a blast, though, and it was amazing to see the courage and talent of these kids.

This past week there were daily celebrations for Independence Day, which falls on September 15th, and every community had its own beauty pageant, one for the teenagers and one for the little girls. I was asked to do the sashes for San Pablo, which I labored over for three days and did not enjoy at all. The girls in the pageants, though, labor over their outfits and details of the event for weeks. While sexist and ridiculous, the pageants are very popular with the men and women alike; I’ve never seen so many people come out for an event!

They first come out in traditional indigenous clothes from all over the country; some tote water jugs, others a lit candle with which they make the sign of the cross from their knees, usually right in front of the judges. Then they show off sports wear. Many use this as an opportunity to come out in a bikini, pretending to know how to swim or play volleyball. Here in the freezing cold mountains it’s quite a sight and the crowd goes wild. The only other sports we’ve seen are weight-lifting and rhythmic gymnastics (read: cheerleading), which are sad. Lastly they come out in a formal gown and the announcers tell us about their favorite colors and lifetime dreams. Most hope to graduate college, and some want to be doctors or engineers. This is my favorite part, where the possibilities are endless and I actually feel like the event is adding to their confidence and development as an individual, where they are striving to be beautiful and intelligent women.

Then, though, they make a speech about violence and peace, about the need to develop and better the country. The little girls recite words they’ve never heard before and with the teenagers, too, it’s obvious they have no idea what they’re saying. After the girls are crowned little boys in white shirts and bowties come one by one to take them away, bowing to the public and holding the hand of their lady.