Way back in December, the Guatemalan government began a two month state of siege against narco traffickers in the Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala. Peace Corps evacuated all volunteers from that region. Lucky for me, Alta (as the volunteers there call it) is on the opposite side of the country from Casas Viejas and, double lucky for me, my friend Kamille who lives there decided to take refuge in my site. Kamille is an agriculture volunteer too, but her part of the program involves food security, ie family gardens, nutrition classes etc. While she waited out the unrest we went to work on a Cooperativa Xinca garden.
We chose the site of the garden. It wasn't up for debate because our plan
was two fold. First, clean up the back yard of the tienda which, unfortunately, served as a not-so clandestine trash dump, slash, town eye soar. The previous renters decided that leaving half burnt, quasi buried trash in a heaping pile in their yard was adequate disposal. The space was decrepit and Kamille, with her green thumb, was the remedy. After the clean up the second step was to beautify it with a garden. A project we hoped would instil a sense of pride in the property that was previously lacking and also motivate the Cooperative to better maintain the land. It worked. We spent a handful of afternoons preparing the land and I was amazed at how willingly the socios labored- even when the time they put into the garden was on top of their already stressful work days.
We cleared, cleaned, aerated and fertilized the land, built a fence and planted watermelon and cantaloupe seeds. We also took the opportunity to extend the project into a local school by teaching students the life cycle of a plant and then enlisting their help in planting our tomato seedlings in egg cartons. Once the seedlings are ready to transplant we are going to put them in hanging pots. A project that is still about three weeks away and the socios are already eager to get started. I have to constantly remind them that we can't plant the tomatos until the pilones are strong enough. They can't believe tomato plants can be hung and have already decided to try the technique at home too.
All in all, February was an extremely rewarding month. We witnessed a camaraderie among the cooperative members that had been lacking since the coop went into debt last year. It gave me great pleasure to see the socios come together and work diligently on something positive and productive and I hope their determination and good spirit continues through to other projects we are working on.
Last week Kamille got the word that the siege is over and it is safe for her to go back home to Coban. Yesterday, much to my chagrin, was her last day in Casas Viejas. Hopefully, she can come back in a month or so too a blooming garden full of juicy melons. Fingers crossed.