Thursday, October 28, 2010


A few weeks back I started up summer school English classes for the kids in town. This year I limited my class to 5th and 6th graders hoping that a smaller class would enable me to have a bigger impact. So far I think its working. Instead of my class of 30 from last year, I have about 10-15 (depending on the day). There are six boys (Jorge, David, Luis Angel, Miguel Eduardo, Hugo and Henry) and two girls (Cinthia and Andrea) that come religiously. Unlike last year, when it was like pulling teeth to get the kids to talk in class, this group proudly participates.

Today, I decided to skip the lesson plan and have a Halloween themed instruction in honor of one of my favorite holidays. I knew it would be a good day when as soon as I was turning the key to unlock the classroom door I hear the pounding of pavement and screeching of bike brakes behind me. The boys had arrived. I opened the door and they pushed past me all saying, "Good morning teacher." They rushed to their seats up front and patiently waited for me to begin writing the lesson plan on the whiteboard. Its 9:40 am. My class starts at 10 am. Nothing reassures me more that my work is worth while than the punctuality of these eager students.

I started the lesson with a review of changing words from the singular to plural form and reviewed the seasons, months and days of the week vocabulary. Most kids already know English basics; colors, days, greetings, animals, fruit etc. I was able to rush through the "boring" vocab to get to the "Halloween" vocab. Ghost, coffin, witch, pumpkin, trick or treat, candy... they loved it all. Then we reviewed some phrases: Sunday, October 31, is Halloween. Children wear costumes. Katie will dress as a witch. What will you dress as? The last question I made them all come up with a costume and announce, "I will dress as a ______. Each was rewarded with a handful of candy corn (Thank you Katie Goodhew for sending me Halloween treats!) I went student by student. There was a vampire, princess, ghost, monster... Then when I got to the last student, David, he said, "I will dress as Michael Jackson." Which serendipitously led into the final activity: the playing "Thriller," the kids favorite MJ hit. They all jumped up and cleared a little dance floor and got their Michael on. I captured a bit of it on tape for you guys to see.

p.s. Uncle Art, Tata Annie, Sylvie, Ariel, Sophie, Stan and little nena Dahlia, thank you for your lovely package! Today we used the brown construction paper that the box was wrapped in (nothing goes unused here) to make nameplates for the kids. They thank you too. As for the contents of the package, my stomach and I have decided upon other plans for those treats.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Road Trip

The words “road trip” evoke sentiments of adventure, uncertainty and camaraderie. Something about being confined to a small space with a gang of cohorts for an extended period of time always induces unexpected and memorable events, if not a good story line, like the one I'm about to unfold.

I recently had the pleasure of going on a “road trip” with four male members of my cooperative. I was one female in a car full of men- the first sign that things were going to get interesting. We had a 9am meeting in Jalapa with SAT- the IRS of Guatemala- to review proper financial reporting specific to Cooperatives. The drive to Jalapa is about 4 hours each way.

At 4:30 am Julio and the gang picked me up from my house in Don Edgar’s beat-up 1990’s maroon Mazda. Being gentlemanly, the guys gave me the front seat. I actually prefer not to take that coveted seat up front because seat belts are as common in Guatemala as side-view mirrors (read: not common) and I’d probably be the first to fly through the windshield if we got into an accident- luckily i’m still here to tell this tale. Speaking of seat belts, I caused some early morning chuckles when I took my throne up front and instinctively reached my arm back to grab the “seat belt” which of course wasn’t there. Moises, seeing this automatic reflex, gave a little giggle from the back seat and said, “You’re not going to find one of those here, hahaha.” “reeeeal funny.” I thought to myself.

And so the trip began all of us in high spirits. Julio was our chauffeur, I was manning the radio as co-pilot and Adan was sandwiched by Moises and Jamie in the back seat. Our first interesting incident occurred at about 5:30 am. We were making our way up the mountainous terrain just outside of a town called Moyuta when the car started to jerk. Immediately Julio says, “I knew I should have put gas into the car yesterday.” I look at the gas gauge and we are literally running on empty. I start to get a little worried, we had quite a bit of upward climbing left to do and there was no sign of civilization. Nevertheless, I kept my anxieties to myself. We continued our ascent, chugging along in an epileptic seizure-like motion for a good 10 minutes. It didn’t help that coming from the back seat with every jerk Adan would peep a, “whoop” and Jamie would follow with a, “Nope, not going to make it.” Miraculously, we did make it to the top of the hill just outside of Moyuta and below us I could see a gas station. “Saved!” I thought to myself. Julio pumped the gas pedal one more time and we sped down the hill towards the town. But, as we neared the gas station I noticed he wasn’t slowing down to turn into its lot, we got closer and closer and I just looked longingly at the lonely gas pumps as we whizzed by. “What are you doing!” I exclaimed “We need to stop for gas!” “Yeah but the gas station up the road is cheaper.” was Julio’s reply. After two minutes more of jerky driving we were filling up the tank.

My favorite part about Julio is that he hasn’t quite figured out yet that I understand Spanish. Instead of talking to me like a normal human being, he speaks in choppy phrases using animated hand jesters to ensure that I understand what he is saying. So instead of saying something like, “We are going to drive to Jalapa,” He’ll say, “Drive car Jalapa” while grabbing an imaginary steering wheel. So when we were nearing Jutiapa he turns to me and says, “Hungry? Coffee?” which of course means, “Are you hungry? Would you like to stop for coffee?” The consensus was yes and we pulled off at a roadside stand.

We piled out of the car and as we began walking to the muchacha with a red cap who was setting up her venta for the morning, I noticed Moises had a huge wet spot covering his entire rear-end. I brought this to his attention and he said, “The backseat is wet.” That was that and he spent the rest of the day with a soggy toosh.

We ordered our coffee and pan tostada from the woman in the red cap and I sat enjoying my breakfast as the four men, all married mind you, began flirting with the woman and her three daughters. They were playing the game “Us three are married but Jamie is single.” The small talk was nauseating, “So how many beautiful daughters do you have?”, “Is your husband going to come here and beat me up for talking with you?” Don Jamie left the stand with a napkin containing the red cap lady’s phone number.

When we arrived at the SAT office we filed into the meeting room and took our seats. The presentation was of the powerpoint variety and was quite informative although I could tell the information was in one ear and out the other for most of the audience. There is a reason my Coop hired an accountant to take care of all of their financials. At the end of the presentation we all handed in an evaluation form in exchange for a “Diploma.” There are few things more coveted by Guatemalans than a diploma. It’s hard evidence of achievement. So we all left with a piece of paper affirming that we had participated in the “tax-paying obligations of cooperatives” course.

Back in the car Jamie took the wheel for the drive home. We were all a bit worn out from the morning ride and subsequent three hour lecture. Nevertheless, every time we passed a young girl walking on the road in tight jeans Jamie would give a little honk of approval. The guys obviously unconcerned with the company of a female in their presence maintained a steady conversation about women the entire ride home. Some aspects of human nature are universal. At one point, after passing a particularly attractive young female Jamie gave his little tap of the horn and murmured, “Como dice Don Edgar, “Si es el diablo, que me lleva”” (Like Don Edgar says, If its the devil, let him take me).

Friday, October 15, 2010


Early last month Veronica brought baby Mia into the world. The name is a variant of Maria and also means "mine" in Spanish. It was one of the names I suggested during our little naming game in August that you may remember me writing about. When the bun was still in the oven I would always part with Veronica by saying, Hasta mañana, Vero" (until tomorrow, Vero (short for Veronica)), then waive to her stomach and say, "hasta mañana, Mia". When I first went to go visit the baby I asked what name Veronica had given her and she said, "We gave her the name Mia, a little remembrance of Annalisa." I was flattered.

A few weeks after Veronica gave birth to Mia, Eslin confided in me that she too was now pregnant. As has become customary prenatal chit-chat, yesterday Eslin, Brenda and I were talking names on the stoop of Eslin's tienda. I suggested Isabela. Eslin replied by saying, "Isabela, Isabela, I like it. I'm not going to tell anyone though, this name is mine."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Salinas. Take two.

The last week of September we saw six straight days of nonstop rain and, of course, Casas Viejas flooded once again. I was beginning to think we should rename the town to Casas Mojadas (wet houses) but then remarkably on Tuesday the rain stopped. Everyone in my town is convinced that "ya se fue la lluvia" (the rain has left) and summer is now upon us.

With summer comes sunshine and with sunshine comes the salt harvest season. On Friday the Cooperative had a meeting to discuss what will become of our salina this year. Since we are still paying off debts from last year's harvest, going into the meeting I was prepared to convince the socios that we need not go into another year hastily. I discussed with them the importance of planning and mentioned that if we aren't going to work the salinas we need to start investigating what we can do with the land and equipment- assets that we could rent to make back some of our investment. After my little spiel, Toribio, the secretary, did a vote to see who wanted to invest in the salinas another year. Four socios voted affirmatively.

Then to my delight Julio proposed an ingenious idea. He suggested that the Cooperative rent out the salina to the four socios who wanted to work the land. These socios would pay the Cooperative a set amount for the land, boards and nylon, a fee that the cooperative could then use to pay off the salinas debts. The socios who work the salina would be responsible for additional investments (gasoline, purchasing a new motor, etc), and supplying the labor. They would also reap any profits from sales. A huge benefit to this proposal is that the Coop would be guaranteed income. It also hands over the responsibility of the salinas to those few who actually want to work the land.

One of the biggest problems with the salinas last year was that no one wanted to work them. We lagged in prepping the land and lost weeks of harvesting time because the socios didn’t show up to help lay and mend the nylons. When the land was finally ready, we hired outside labor to harvest the salt. The point of a cooperative is to provide work for its associates. I never understood why we were paying a nonmember for labor- money that left the cooperative and benefited no socio. With this new system the four socios will be motivated to work because they will be putting their own money into the salina and will be forced to do a better job of managing the business. It puts the onus on them to make a profit. Brilliant. The four socios have until the 21st of October to decide if they are going to rent the land. If they do, I will be able to work with them on business planning, organizing, managing and finding buyers.