Saturday, March 29, 2008

Building Stoves

There are numerous volunteer projects here in Guatemala. One that interested me was a building stoves, so I went with Dave from Vernon, Canada, who I met at my hostel. He and his wife recently retired and came straight away to volunteer. They´ve been working with this wood stove project over the past couple of months. We picked up a couple of university students enroute to a Mayan village near Momostengo, about a two-hour ´chicken bus´ride from Xela, where I´m staying.

This village is located at 9000 feet. On the way from the main road, through the woods, we walked about a km toward the village. We came upon the women washing clothes in a stream. The beautiful traditional colors of their clothes made the whole scene look pretty spectacular. Very sureal.

These people are standing in front of the kitchen. There are about 4 buildings, none completely enclosed and two made only of wood, including a tiny outhouse which is the cleanest baño I´ve seen since YYC in Calgary.
The kitchen is so smoky one can hardly breath. The kids all have watery eyes. Apparently there are a lot of respitory illnesses, not suprisingly. Thus the need for a stove. There are plenty of these stoves being built around here. A women´s group determines the order for most needy family and it gets built in three stages. Dave and Kathy have built about 15 of them so far.
The families are producing like rabbits. Last week there was a funeral for a woman who died of aids, only a few months after her husband. The five children are going to be taken care of by an uncle who already has seven of his own.
I got started right away by mixing clay with a stick, then eventually my hands. The kids all joined in. It was chaos, but fun!

The older children speak Spanish, but the younger ones who don´t attend school yet only speak K´iche´. At the moment, I´m struggling pretty hard with Spanish, however, gestures go a long way and latinos seem to have a lot of patience and humour, which helps a lot.
Teresa helped to cook our lunch. There was sweet milky tea, muchos tomales, and a nicely flavored soup with onions and pork. You can see two ´live´pigs in the corral past Teresa.

Otto is a little shy in front of the camera, but he loved to help mix the clay and cement.
I´m not actually certain if he is part of this family of eight or not. It´s quite a close-knit community and people were wandering in and out to check things out.

We finshed the 3rd stage in three hours. Nicholas will treat it for the next week or so, and likely fix our mistakes, then the family will wait a month for the clay inside to harden completely. Then, voila! They have a stove with ventilation, instead of smoking themselves out. They will also use half the amount of wood to keep it going and have heat for the winter and cool nights.

The family was very appreciative and I feel so fortunate to be part of this project. In fact, I´m going back this Saturday once again.

Building stoves... Ilsa recommends!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hola de Guatemala

So I´m on the road again. Terri and Copper saw me off at Calgary airport. It was difficult to leave, knowing baby Copper will grow so much by the time I see her again. Boo hoo.

I arrived in Quetzaltenango, or Xela, on Tuesday. It was a long journey, with two transfers, a five hour bus ride, and a two-hour walk with my incredibly heavy backpack, trying to find a banco to change my dollars to Quetzals so I could get a taxi. Ah the joy of traveling. I am still nursing blisters.

My purpose here is to learn some Spanish and maybe do some volunteering before I head off for more exploring of Central and South Americas.

My host family is very friendly and accomodating. Their father, who has since passed, ran a piñata factory. One of the brothers took it over and there are a few being manufactured at home. This was my first sight upon entering the house.

Señora is a really good cook, although I had a bit of trouble choking down the meals with everyone watching me so intently. That and the unfriendly odour....

As far as I know, in the house lives Helen, who is a teacher at my school, her brother (with special needs, but I don´t think he gets them), Bwendy, who is four (her mother, a friend of the family, lives in Guatemala city and comes back and stays on weekends), Señora, who runs a small confectionary shop at the front of the house and keeps the house in order, and two men who board. They both left their wives several years ago. We all share a bathroom.

It´s Santa Semana (Holy Week) so there have been many processions with dreary music and hand-held floats. They were various ones on Thursdays and on Good Friday, they went on for ten hours, with the floats becoming more and more grand. By evening, there were thousands of people gathered around central park to watch or participate.

Holy incense! cough cough

At night everything was lit up with candles. It was quite spectacular. I didn´t bother taking pictures since my camera is no good at night.

I took the opportunity to skip out on the family while they were out and found a hostel. I feel bad about it as they are so nice, but the place was grossing me out mucho mas. I´ll have to pay extra for accomodations, but luckily, things are pretty cheap here for us gringos.
I´m going to miss Bwendy helping me with my pronunciation..

This is Central Parque on Saturday. I´m waiting to see what events and traditions the anniversary of Jesus rising brings to town. Hopefully it will be less strenuous on procession participants.

Happy Easter... hasta Luego!