Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 2011: Other activities than the volunteer experience.

Building houses in Guatemala is gratifying in so many ways. For example, we’re learning local construction techniques, we’re enjoying working in teams and we’re feeling satisfaction knowing that we’re helping people in need. The Guatemalan people with whom we’ve have had contact have been unfailingly friendly, good natured and ever so tolerant of our limited Spanish-speaking skills. Yes, we’re working hard at the job site, but we’re also making good use of our free time.

Last weekend, we had the enlightening experience of being guided through an Antiguan photo exhibit of the Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996) by Yolanda Colom, an acquaintance of team member Marci Lipman. Yolanda, a former guerrilla commander, is currently a teacher and well-known Guatemalan author.

Wednesday evening, Mario, the bus driver that had driven 14 members of our group from Guatemala City to Tikal in advance of our work commitment, came to our hotel with his wife and children to describe family life in Guatemala.
Thursday evening, again with the help of Marci, we were invited to dinner at the Antiguan home of Corrine Willock, who several years ago moved to Guatemala and started a non-governmental organization called Choco GuataMaya.
She is also the author of the DVD called “Cacao – Food of the Gods”, which we had the opportunity to view.
The purpose of this NGO is three-fold:
1. Bring awareness of the evidence indicating that the use of cacao originated in Central America, more precisely in the Mayan areas of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.
2. To encourage the small subsistent farmers to create co-operatives, and to oversee that the cacao stays organic for it to be desirable as a specialty item in the international market.
3. Ultimately, assist in ensuring that the co-operatives receive fair trade prices for their cacao.

Friday at noon, a couple from the US, who made Guatemala their home twenty-two years ago, invited us to have lunch with them at their house. Their home is very comfortable, but interestingly it's located in a poor neighbourhood and is in the vicinity of one of the houses that we‘re building. Thomas and Elizabeth, who are 2 of only 5 ex-pats living in the town of San Miguel Duenas, shared with us their experiences living in Guatemala and being involved in the local community.

This past weekend, we all travelled by hired bus to Lake Atitlan, sometimes described as the most beautiful lake in the world. And after a tour of the lake, a stop at Santiago and a night at a lakeside hotel, we headed to Chichicastenango in the morning and attended a remarkable, huge local market. Colourful it was, with handicrafts abounding and everyone doing their bit to help the local economy!

So while we’ve learned much about life in Guatemala, there are a couple of questions that perplex the group. Why do the roosters that live down the road insist on announcing their presence at midnight, reporting back in at 2:00 a.m. and then continuing their calls with more and more urgency until well after morning light is bathing our charming hotel? And why are we not really taking notice of the roosters anymore?

Richard Alguire
DWC Participant

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