Friday, October 20, 2006

Theater Festival: The Mysterious Tree

October 13th was our theater festival, and it was a huge hit. With a live seven-piece marimba band and two one-hour plays, we were the event of the week. An audience of 150 was polite and quiet as we abandoned the microphones and had them sit through pitch-black transitions. We went all out with sound effects and lighting—having earlier recorded fireworks and later performing part of the night with shadow-theater—to make it a unique experience for all. While the house filled, the marimba band Voces de Selva played for an hour. The first play, El Árbol Misterioso (The Mysterious Tree) was performed by Tercero Básico (equivalent to sophomore year in high school). And the second, Ayer y Mañana (Yesterday and Tomorrow), was performed by Quinto Bachillerato (seniors in high school). We ended the night with a nervous energy converted into screams of joy, more marimba, coffee, and corn on the cob slathered in ketchup, mayonnaise, and hot sauce. Coming home at one in the morning, I was brimming with pride in the students and their accomplishment. I was worried the whole event would fall apart since we pulled the plays together only the week before, but on performance night the students rose to the occasion and I was pleasantly surprised.

El Árbol Misterioso
A rural community is faced with corrupt leaders who allow a mining company to cut down its enchanted forest. But a special, magical, mysterious tree can’t be cut down, and as they pound its trunk with their machetes its shadow grows larger and larger, before it begins to drop seeds. Accompanied by the sounds of a live flute in the background, the forest grows back stronger than ever. The shadows of the cardboard props bounce up and down and the audience giggles in delight. The humans try to destroy the forest again, this time with dynamite, and again one-by-one the arbolitos fall. Mother Nature exploded into bits and pieces. But in the morning the humans find that not only have the trees grown back, but the mysterious tree has overtaken their house when they wake alongside the birds, high above the land. The mining company abandons the project and the people are drawn towards the mysterious tree, trying to understand Mother Nature and its capabilities. They think that if they eat the fruit they too will have magical powers, and one by one they declare their dreams of building a house, creating a tree nursery, becoming a singer, and building a better community. But it turns out that the tree’s fruit didn’t have any magical powers: the play ends with the insightful voice of the tree explaining that the humans—just like the tree, the worms, potatoes, and everything else made by the creator—all have the same inexplicable energy and power infused in their souls. They just didn't realize it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Yesterday and Tomorrow

A money-hungry salesman sells the land, air, and water to three unassuming devotees of these natural resources. But after becoming possessions, these treasures are mistreated by the humans and the fight begins. Boxing to “The Eye of the Tiger,” the actors show the continuous struggle between humans and the environment. After each fight the natural resources explain how they’ve been abused: by cutting down all the trees, burning diesel fuel, and throwing trash in the river. Then, the humans begin to be beaten, and they complain about the poor air quality, the lack of fertile land for their crops, and the bacteria in the polluted water. All of a sudden, with a fury of lights, smoke, and commanding music, Mother Earth, Grandfather Air, and Grandmother Water arrive. They share their knowledge with the audience, questioning a society where one would have to pay for water or air. They explain the equilibrium of the universe and invite the audience to participate. The narrator reveals that in Mayan culture life is represented in the exhalation of the breath and requests the audience to try it, to breathe deeply, to enjoy its freshness and purity. Then, he asks them whether or not the human beings deserve another chance and the audience enthusiastically responds, Sí!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

sacred mayan temples and enormous active anthills

After working constantly to finish the mural in Vergel, I took off with Ian to pick up our good friend, Greg, and head off to Tikal, one of the most well-known and largest Mayan sights in the jungle of northern Guatemala. The ancient world spoke to me in long smoky whispers too hard to understand beneath the centuries of life that have overtaken these once inhabited spaces. Ambitious vines sneakily and slowly strangled massive trees; dancing roots fanned out across the earth and pulled upwards, twisting and twirling up towards the sky. I looked up to see monkeys and hear parrots, and I trod massive anthills larger than whales. My attention was drawn to the life of the jungle more than to the ruins, which were impressively intimidating. We arrived late afternoon and didn’t see anyone for an hour until a guard accompanied us up Mundo Perdido, where we basked in the sunset, listened to the toucans, and sat stupefied by the grandeur of the pyramids sneaking over the jungle. That night we uncomfortably enjoyed sleeping in hammocks while trying to distinguish each whistle, rustle, and stir. Was that a howler monkey or a jaguar? I asked myself. In the morning we were again blessed with a day without tourists, and one-by-one the pyramids were scaled and the rich environment of the jungle enjoyed.

A two-night stop in Finca Ixobel in Poptún blessed us with romantic treehouses and delectable food—the best I’ve had in Guatemala! Then we set off for Río Dulce to meet up with my sister artists, Aryeh and Kay, and get recharged with their support and love. Check out their websites to learn about the amazing work they’re both up to! Aryeh’s blog ,Kay’s blog . We met an amazing 62-yr-old hippie living in Costa Rica and traveling by herself, and we all took a trip out on the water for the day, paddled through mangroves and got lost, dipped in the hot springs, and came back to eat and swim and delight in each other’s company. Since my surgery this was our first (and last) vacation and it was certainly one of the best, hard earned and relaxing.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

El Queztal y la Milpa, Mural on school wall, Vergel: In Process

Even after eight months of working in Guatemala, where I have a hard enough time just getting to the next town, I continue to underestimate the time it will take to complete a project. On top of four other projects I recently added an ambitious mural on the side of a school. What I thought would be a two-day side project blossomed into my main focus for three weeks. From it has emerged a passion and energy for muraling I didn’t know I had.

Xochil, a young student in the painting workshops I held in Tacaná, saw me working on the mural in the town hall one day and offered to help. She asked if I could assist her in painting the name of her school in Vergel on its outdoor wall, and I decided that alongside the signage we should also do some small paintings about the environment.

That conversation somehow developed into what you see here (see post below for final images), a 60-foot-long mural filled with colorful images of corn and tortillas, landscapes and birds. I visited the 5th and 6th grade classes one hot Thursday and held a three-hour drawing workshop. I gave them eight poems from Humberto Ak’abal, a Quiché poet, two Mam prayers having to do with the corn cycle, and the legend of Guatemala`s national bird, the quetzal. They used these written resources to make beautifully detailed drawings, which I brought home to play with and design the mural. For three full days we prepped by painting the lines, and then for two days the kids filled in the colors, running back and forth to my plastic nylon sheet covered in paint cans and begging for another assignment. Afterwards I returned daily to fill in the details and work with straggling kids and community members. Each day was a blessing, filled with long hot hours of painting followed by a filling lunch and torrential downpours, which cooled off everything and gave me time to do the painstaking work of cleaning the brushes and pallets.

When finished we invited the parents and held an event with the student body, during which Ever Velásquez, the president of la JEM, came to talk about the organization. I had the kids read the poems and other resources that we used as inspiration and then held a discussion about the themes and meanings in each part of the painting. The teachers were really appreciative and wanted more, saying the other side of the wall needed such beautiful drawings as well.

All in all, it was a great experience that facilitated community participation and involvement, cultural and artistic awareness, and, of course, promoted the imaginative ideals and environmental messages of la JEM. The kids were wide-eyed when they saw their own drawings painted life-size on the wall, empowering them within their educational development and improving their creative capacities. Instead of promoting individualism and self-centered goals, muraling promotes a sense of collaboration and neighborliness, which goes hand-in-hand with democracy and compromise. While it beautifies a community and gives people pride in their spaces, it also invites cross-generational participation. The more people that paint—even if it’s only for three minutes—the more people the messages will reach. After all, people pay attention to products they help create.