On our last day volunteering with the kids, we brought vats of ice cream and cones. They lined up and we all had an ice cream feast. We also gave each of them a simple Mayan bracelet, or pulsera. Every day since I had brought our plastic beads and gimp, kids had asked me: “Can we make bracelets again today seño?” Lot of kids made lots of bracelets while we were there. But the bracelets did not seem to have much staying power. Either the string was too fine, or the gimp came apart, or the bracelets were given away. We didn’t see the kids wearing their bracelets much. But they kept asking. So we thought a remembrance of us from their culture would be fun. The kids at Los Patojos are a few steps removed from their Mayan ancestors, but they identify as Mayans. So we wanted to offer them something to encourage Mayan pride. They loved them.
We were so sorry to leave. The kids in my classroom had each made me a beautiful star with a personal note on it. They made me cry. We have so many great memories of our time together. From our hikes in the mountains (I told the kids to be careful, not to fall down the steep slopes, then the teachers yelled “OK kids, RUN!”) to our card games (Go Fish and War in Spanish were their favorites, no betting though…). I loved the free spirits encouraged by the program, so different from what is encouraged by the schools and many other programs in Guatemala.
At Namaste, I finished a trial of the Progress out of Poverty Index and produced a report on it. I think it would be an excellent tool for the microcredit program to use to evaluate its progress and to choose clients who can benefit from its work. The people at Namaste are very dedicated to helping women with their businesses.
After we finished our volunteering with the microcredit project, Namaste, and Los Patojos, we took a weekend off and went out to the Caribbean coast of Guatemala to have a look around. This time was a real treat. We toured around on a sailboat, down the river to the town of Livingston, on the coast.
Livingston is a Garífuna community, with a majority of people of African and West Indian origin. The Garífuna people are really poor, living in a ghetto within the majority-Latino culture and apparently taking a backseat to the Mayan communities in philanthropy as well. As we walked around the Garífuna community we met Phillip, a man who seemed to be the self-appointed ambassador of Garífuna culture in Livingston. He had studied in Chicago, and had known Jerry Garcia when he came down to Livingston in the winter. He was well versed in economics. Phillip gave us a tour of his community and invited us into his relatives’ home. Though there was electricity and running water, there were no streets or community institutions, there seemed to be no jobs, and no benefit from tourism for the Garífuna people. The restaurants and stores, even those which advertised Garífuna culture, appeared to be run by Latinos.
Phillip’s description of the plight of his people certainly seemed accurate from what we saw during our short visit. Despite the poverty of the Mayan cultures, there is some government and lots of NGO support for them. But we have not seen any evidence of support for the Garífuna people. As everywhere, racism against African-origin people abounds in Guatemala, so Phillip’s description seemed reasonable. I would like to learn more about it. But we didn’t have time…we had to leave Livingston and spend more time on the river.
Heading upriver from Livingston, we quickly entered a narrow gorge with walls of green on either side. I spent hours looking at the foliage with binoculars. It may have looked like I was looking for monkeys, which I was. But in fact, I was feasting my eyes on the green spaces. Here a sunny glade among the trees, there many different types of leaves, a whole world of green.
Where did we swim? Rio Tatín, a short tributary, where we swam upriver to the headwaters, the location of the Ak’Tenamit program which houses 500 Mayan students, a school and a health center. We were there on a hot weekend afternoon, and the students were giggling and shrieking on the docks, pushing each other into the warm water. Even the indigenous girls with their long skirts were pushed in by the end of the afternoon. Upstream, a boy sat on a rock in the water and washed each of his toes carefully with soap. There was a faint sewage smell nearby, though the water seemed quite clean overall.
Above Finca Paraíso, we hiked to a warm sulfurous spring spilling over in waterfalls into a pool. The water, warmed by the volcanic rocks, was truly hot and gave off clouds of steam. Downstream, kids went to school and women washed their clothes in the water. Cows were led to pasture and little boys went to soccer games.
Along the edge of the Rio Dulce (Sweet River) was a very hot spring and hot caves. The guide who lives there said that the area is used for Mayan ceremonies.
It was a wonderful relaxing end to our two month stay in Guatemala. Next stop: Bolivia!