Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Santa Rosa here I come

Two thursday’s ago we got our site assignments. Our group of seven sustainable agricultural marketing volunteers received information on all potential sites while we were in Coban. It was then that we all had the opportunity to voice some of our opinions/wishes/preferences for where we would like to be placed and the type of work we wanted to do. Even before we hit this phase of training I had been dropping hints that I wanted to live in the “Oriente” or eastern part of the country. The Oriente is ladino, cowboy hat wearing, pistol slinging, cuss word talking, pure machismo territory. And, there are mango trees everywhere. The site I had my heart set on, and trust me everyone knew it, was working with a salt cooperative in Santa Rosa so it wasn’t that big of a surprise when my APCD handed me the Santa Rosa file on site assignment day.

Monday, October 12th was counterpart day and I was introduced to Toribio, my main work contact from La Cooperativa Integral de Produccion Xincas Santa Rosa. We had a day and a half of formal meetings to get us ready for the 4-5 day site visit that gives us trainees the opportunity to take a trip to our site to meet the people we will be working with, find housing and get acquainted with the area before we move-in for good after swear-in.

On Tuesday Toribio and I set off for Santa Rosa. We left the training center at 12PM and took three bus rides: Santa Lucia to Antigua to Esquintla to Chiquimulia where we grabbed a ride with an associate of the cooperative who had been in town doing some shopping. The drive was beautiful, lush green tropical expanse with palm trees and miles of sugar cane farms. When we arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find the town well kept with one main street with a few shops, some really nice homes (built with money from the states- everyone in town has either spent years working in New Jersey or has family in New Jersey- Dad, I gave a, “my dad’s from Newark” shout out to everyone that mentioned NJ) Our first stop was at the Cooperative. The coop is a small general store where you can find anything from onions to toilet paper. Its run by the associates and they have their monthly meetings there and at any given time you can find a handful them sitting on the porch chatting- probably about the heat cause its damn hot. Along with farming salt and having a tienda the coop also makes disinfectants for cleaning. My main tasks starting off will be to support them with packaging and labeling of the salt and disinfectants, getting their sanitary license, inventory practices for the store, quality control etc.

I wasn’t in site but a few hours before I felt at home. I was struck by how laid back and genuine the people were- they were all extremely excited to have me and also concerned that I wouldn’t want to stay (daily I was asked, “do you like it here? Are you sure you don’t want to leave?”) At the coop I met with the directors and when I mentioned to them I play soccer they pretty much dropped everything and took me straight over to the soccer field where the women’s soccer team was training. They introduced me to the team. The trainer, who reminds me a bit of my old club coach minus two front teeth, asked me back on Thursday to train with the team. I told them I didn’t have my cleats or shorts to play in but that id figure something out. Plus all the girls were pretty much playing in t-shirts and jean shorts (couldn't be comfortable right but funny how jeans are the exercise attire of choice for girls here) so i figured i could make do with the clothes that i brought.

Word spread fast throughout the town that I play soccer because the next three days anytime I was sitting on the porch of the coop strangers would come up to me and talk shop about soccer, about the towns trainer, about the USA women’s team... one older guy came up to me and asked my shoe size and offered to let me borrow his cleats for practice. Everyone had such high expectations that I started to get nervous that when I got out there to play I would disappoint them. On Thursday I went with two associates into Chiquimulia for market day and also took the opportunity to buy cleats and shorts for Q75 or $9. When I got to practice about 30 people from the town were there to watch. We did a good two hours of sprints and scrimmaged sharing the patchy field with pigs, ducks, dogs and chickens.

The next day at the Coop the same guy that offered me his shoes came by and told me that i have a good foot, that I can shoot the ball well, that my face turned really red when i was playing and that the team needs to practice headers. He was really insistent about the headers. Then he proceeded to tell me that women shouldn’t play soccer when they are menstruating because it may cause hemorrhaging. I told him that was crazy and I’d never heard of women having that problem and he said thats because there are special doctors in the states that take care of it.

Later in the day the Cooperative had a meeting to discuss my role and their expectations of my work with them. The Alcalde (mayor) even stopped by to meet me. He showed up in jeans, a t-shirt and flip-flops with an mp3 player and headphones around his neck. When I told him I was coming back on November 1st to move-in for good his response was, “But the women’s team semi-final is on the 31st, can’t you come earlier?”

Yep. Pretty much love this place.

My new family

Main Street Casas Viejas

Photos from my site visit

One of my the cooperative socios at the Salina (salt harvest starts in two weeks), On a lancha with Sulma on the way to Las Lisas, Las Lisas beach and turtle project.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Total Eclipse

Somehow while I was in Coban Eswin discovered and then fell in love with Bonny Taylor. I believe i’ve mentioned my host family is evangelical and thus, the only thing I have heard come from the speakers of their boombox (cause it is a boombox) since I arrived here two months ago, is either Spanish Christian pop music or the broadcast of Alotenango’s daily Evangelical mass/culto (into which, by the way, Silvia once called and the DJ dedicated a Christian Pop song to Analuisa Cojolon <-- that’s me). So you could imagine my surprise when, while sitting in the courtyard learning subjunctive with my spanish class, the sound of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” came floating over to delight my ears. The familiar tune came from the kitchen table where Eswin was working on his drawing homework (btw* they take straight lines very seriously here in Guatemala. The kids may not own markers but be damned if they don’t have a straight edge ruler hanging predominantly somewhere in the house). When the song ended, one minute later it started up again, and then it played again, and again, and again, until i think I had heard the song more times than it was played on KIIS FM in the 90s. When our class broke for a refacción (snack) I walked on over to Eswin to see what was going on with the “Eclipse” on repeat and as I neared i realized the song was coming from his JC phone. I call it his JC phone because his phone’s background wallpaper is a picture of Jesus kneeling on a mountainside. I don’t know who introduced him to this song or when or how he downloaded it to his cell phone and I really don’t care. I’m just happy its there. And to show my appreciation at lunch (after Eswin had played the song so many times I had it committed to memory) I performed a little lip-sync and dance number to it for Dona Paula while she was in the kitchen reheating some Pepian on the stove.

That night while laying in bed with “once upon a time i was falling in love” still twirling on the tip of my tongue I was forced back to reality by the ever present sound of Culto on loudspeaker. The Evangelical church is about 2 blocks away yet the penetrative clarity of that loudspeaker makes it sound like the preacher is giving mass at the foot of my bed. I have come to believe this is one of the reasons why so many Guatemalans are converting to Evangelicalism. You don’t actually have to be a part of the church to hear the sermon. Its quite genius actually. One night I walked by said church; lights on, megaphone at full blast, music playing, sounds of clapping, so much enthusiasm oozing out of the place you’d think the entire town of Alotenango was packed between the four walls of that church. However, when I peered into the open doors I was shocked to see the preacher with microphone in hand whole heartedly preaching to a whopping fifteen or so odd people in white plastic chairs at the front of the church and the remaining 9/10ths of the building was just an empty sea of red cement floor. Those cement floors make for stellar acoustics. Seeing the reality of Culto made me wonder if that loudspeaker is really necessary. Cause I’m pretty sure God can still hear them without the megaphone. But then maybe that is why there are only 15 people at the church, cause the rest of the congrigation is just listening to the mass like me, from the comfort of their beds.

*mom and dad, btw stands for by the way