Thursday, October 11, 2012

Village People

I haven't sat on Blondie in 5 days, and I believe the experience that I am having in San Juan de Laguna is certainly worthy of a couple of posts, if not more.   While the ride and the falls and the close calls are certainly part of adventure riding, the adventures in my mind are not limited to the road itself.

After my morning slog through Spanish verbs and tenses that stay with me for about 3 minutes, I was released to wander, observe, and participate in the life of the Mayan people of this community.  I was invited to come along to a five year olds' birthday, a friend of my immersion family.   After a walk of a few minutes, we reached a small hut at the edge of the village.  We had passed through many coffee tree, with the beans all green and growing, bannana trees, and a couple of huts where hundreds of new coffee plants were set out in tiny planters.   We passed a cat that had not made it all the way across the road: the tuk-tuck, motos, and even cars do not slow down for much, and I am really surprised that there are not more accidents with folks as well as  animals. One dead cat, albeit a black one, is a small consequence of life in a muy tranquil village, I suppose.

The family hosting the 5 year olds' birthday had gone out of their way to celebrate, and everyone brought gifts, although by our consumer society standards, the gifts would not seem to be much.  It is surprising how much a small set of new shoes was appreciated by the family.  The kids down here, even though the internet and texting has found them, are much more pleasant to one another, respect adults, and certainly have not figured out how to have that continual teenage chip on their shoulder. As I mentioned before, everyone says hello, introduces themselves, and is genuinely pleased that I am visiting their village.  I recognize that others, as I have said, have understood the uniqueness and the high quality of these people, and consequently we have the weaving associations and co-operatives developed, the focus on the local art, and the very direct and sincere efforts by the adults to educate all of the kids.   The birthday party was not out typical pig out, our gorging on consumables but a very pleasant family and friend affair focussed on a little kid who was very mature and appreciative of the attention.  The family allowed my to take a photo of Mom and Dad and bigger brother and sister.  I think that when I am able to upload picttures, it willl be quite apparent that the dignity and pride that I am trying to describe is clearly evident, even though there is much poverty and an economy that is struggling.

After the birthday party, I toured more of the women's co-ops in the village.  It looks like the co-operatives and associations are fronted in about ten or a dozen different tiendas throughout the village.  It seems that while all of the women in the village have weaving machines in their houses, and that all of them contribute the raw material to the co-ops, there may be about 25 or thirty women who are connected directly with each co-op and do the weaving itself.  I know that other than a few of my women amigas, the discussion about bolts of cloth, weaving figures into the cloth, the process of weaving, and development of women's co-operatives will probably seem pretty dry or off the wall,  the weaving enterprise is representative of much more, as the women and their efforts have, in my view, contributed to the revival of the economy and consequently of their culture and their history and their pride.

While I am obviously very impressed with the efforts that this communty of people have undertaken to produce the truly unique weavings, dresses, and related materials,  I should also mention the actual physical beauty of the people.

The young women of the village are muy bonita, and without fail they carry themselves with pride
with pride and project a true sense of self-assurance and being at peace with themselves.  To my everylasting thanks, they return my glances and beaunos dias with smiles and honest and respectful acknowledgement, which is a long way from the casting of a creeper that most old guys get further north.

I decided it was time for a haircut, and I found a barber who spent more time trimming my moustache than any northern barber has spent on my whole tonsorial package.  I have been looking for some talcum powder for my feet and boots for about two weeks, as well as my butt at times.  I spied a can on the counter of the barber shop, and we were able to negotiate a new can of talcum powder and a trim for a very reasonable amount.  The poor barber had to go to his neighbours to find change for the 100 Q which I handed him.  I think that was about $8.00.  Sometimes I feel like the ugly tourist when this kind of thing goes down: not really having a clue about the real costs of items, not fully understanding how hard these people work for what we would whine about in terms of a minimum wage.    I am beginning to understand how hard the people work, but I still don't have a grasp on their wages or their incomes.  

Three kids showed up at the shop today, and the eldest was not yet 10 years old.  Rose, the mother of my family told me that they had spent the last two days in the forest gathering wood to sell in the village.  The youngest looked like he was about 8.  These guys don't go to school, and according to Rose, their future will be in hard, very hard manual labour.   It is one thing to watch the various appeals on the television before the noon news, and it is another thing to see the consequence of real poverty on children in this day and times.

On the HUBB website, which is nominally called the Horizons Unlimited site, Grant and Susan Johnson who have travelled the world a number of times, have pointed out, quite rightly that travelling and experiencing different cultures should also involve a component of somehow making a difference.  I met a couple of riders in La Paz, two brothers, who were going to work in a orphange in Guatemala, if and when they every got a top end for their KLR.  I hope that both goals worked for them, and perhaps my travels will allow my to make a small difference, because my experiences in San Juan Laguna are certainly opening my eyes to the need and perhaps even the possibilities to do something different than simply taking from a culture and a community of people.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Grooving in Guatemala Take 1

As I  type this report, a man in full blown Mayan trousers, shirt, and belt walked by in the pouring rain. I am sitting in the front room of a family's house, and I am surrounded by Mayan children googling and interwebbing away.  The contrasts are mind boggling, at least to me.  The village elder is carrying on a centuries old tradition, in terms of his clothing and values, and his grandchildren are spacing out on the web, just like my grandkids in Canada.

I have landed in San Juan de Laguna, a small Mayan village situated at the bottom of an ancient volcano, and surrounded by more recent volcanoes that I understad are alive and well.  The setting is absolutely overwhelming, and the lake that is formed by the ancient volcano is easily 20 miles across.   The ride over the lip and down the face of the volcano was incredible, and there was no way to stop and take a picture of the twisting route as it was a full hour of constant turns back upon myself as I wound my way down the face.  Since I have been here the last few days, it has poured rain in the afternoon, and I have been wondering what condition the road is in, and I have been thinking about an alternative route out of the volcano, and back onto the PanAmerican highway next week, when my spanish lesson contract is finished.

I am convinced that I am meant to be here, and learn something from this gentle people.  The quality of life and the overall lifestyle of this community and the people that make it up is beyond anything that I have seen in my life.  There is not a minute that goes by when someone offers a "beunos dias', or a "beunos tardes" and a smile.  I do not exaggerate to promote tourism or touristas, as that is the one aspect that I think makes this place truly wonderful, in that the community is somewhat isolated and protected from the ugly tourists who can ruin a culture with money and greed.

The contrasts are almost overwhelming, in that underlying the technology and the modern utilities which are as evident as any other culture, I suppose, there is the undeniable fact that these people and their ancestors have lived in this small and isolated region for thousands of years.  While they were not able to withstand the Spaniards and Christianity, they certainly have sustained a sense of community and mutual support for fellow village members that is, if not unique, certainly non-typical.  I think that my friends in Waglisla can understand what I am getting at, in terms of the closeness and community which evolves as a result of isolation and common needs and values.  Although I live in a community a tenth the size of this village, I do not for a minute pretend that my village has a sense of community or history which even touches upon what I am experiencing here in San Juan.  Perhaps it is the deep spirituality of the people, their common heritage, or a combination of all of that which evokes a unique and uplifting sense that mankind does have a hope in some parts of the world.

I am not the first outsider to have picked up on the uniqueness of this village and region, and it is clear that well-meaning folks have helped the community to overcome the isolation and inherent poverty associated with an agrarian lifestyle.  The most significant example of this progress and development is with the women of the community.  With the help of friends, they have utilized  their incredible weaving skills into what appears to be a world class co-operative operation.   I have visited over half a dozen different shops that contain the products of the womens' work with the wool and plants of the region.  The quality of the garments and products which they make goes beyond my ability to describe.  The blouses, dresses, scarves and belts are woven with such finesse and care that it truly is an exercise in artistic expression.  A lady showed me a blouse today which was increadibly intricate, with symbols and features woven into the fabric.  She told me that it took the artists two months to complete the blouse. (It was costed at $40)   I am afraid that I bring that norte american value system to the table: equating time and effort to value and quality.  It strikes me that the Women's groups, once they establish an awareness of the quality of their work, will be able to command much higher  prices for their efforts, and they will receive true value for their work and creativity.

The second group of folks that truly stick out in San Jaun are the visual artists: the painters.  I have visited a number of different artists, and the colours and depth of control of their medium is truly extraordinary.  I don't know enough about painting, or art in general, to be specific about the styles, but I know what I like, as they say.  I visited one Mayan artist and he invited me to his studio. It was incredible how many different paintings he had on display.  Of particular interest was his interpretation of the Mayan calendar, and the Mayan association with what the English would call a horoscope.  He asked my my birthday, and then consulted the particular sign which is associated with that day in the Mayan cosmos.  Even though  the lengthy association was in Spanish, there were, to me incredible alignments with how my life has played out.  One clear example was the repetition of the phrase "maestro" in the analysis of the birthdate.  We should not need to be reminded that this is the Spanish term for "teacher".  Being a child of the 60's these little bits of the esoteric always remind me of the days when it was cool to ask a girl what her sign was, and create all sorts of assumptions from one's birth sign.   Aside from the personal, his art was truly inspiring, the vivid colours reflected a lot about how I feel about the community.