Welcome to our family blog!

We began in September 2010 by traveling a portion of the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route that leads to the tomb of Saint James in Santiago, Galicia, in the northwestern corner of Spain. The name of our blog is inspired by the camino, and we'll have many stories (cuentos) to tell! We spent 2010-2011 on an intentional international journey, living and working in Spanish-speaking countries. Since then, we are immersed back in our lives at home but will report on occasional openings and discoveries. Please join us!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In Honduras, a respite from teaching nonviolence workshops

Gracias a Dios is the name of a town in the Lempira region of Honduras, in the mountains. The Spanish conquistadores gave it that name, praising God that at last they had found a flat bit of ground to place a town. It is a pleasant town, one that many travelers have given thanks to have found. Its cobblestone streets, ice cream shops, and bookstores create a quaint atmosphere that is quite different from the rest of the region which is generally poor and rural. After spending some weeks in Guatemala, we found our safety radar going down substantially in the Lempira region. The region as a whole is generally safe, with many joggers both local and foreign, and including women, running around the countryside by day and night. I went for a jog on a dirt road heading out of town, which led to the river. A woman was there washing clothes, and a young man with amazingly green eyes was enjoying the scenery with his young wife and their newborn baby girl.
We have been welcomed warmly into the Friends’ community in the Lempira region. The first evening we were invited to a special pastors’ celebration and met many of the local Friends in the community. The next day, we felt like locals, as we walked around the town and ran into many of our new friends. We visited Orlando Pineda’s bookstore, and were given a couple of his inspirational books to read.  We ran into the sister of our hosts in Guatemala, Mabel Henriquez, who invited us to a hot springs along with some relatives and friends.  Huge trees hung over the water, where steam rose from pools with stone floors. Since we were there on a weekday evening, we were among the only visitors. Swimming laps in the quiet pool was heavenly.

Elida's family at breakfast

We stayed with Quaker Elida Rosa Sanchez and her extended family in Gracias. Elida is a teacher and is active in her monthly meeting and beyond. First thing in the morning we were greeted by one of the children in the family bringing a bucket of chicks and the mother hen from the front yard where they are protected overnight to the back yard where they spend the day. After breakfast the three youngest children, none of whom are over twelve years of age, washed the dishes, swept the yard and watered the plants.  Their quiet faith fills their lives.

Our next stop was San Marcos, another town two hours’ drive away. Elida and other Friends gave us a ride, as they were on the way to organize the Friends’ library in San Marcos. San Marcos is special in a different way. It is not on the tourist route, as is the case with Gracias Lempira. A small town in the mountains, with mostly unpaved roads, it is a relaxed place. It also feels very safe, and residents are free to stroll around the central square at night, admiring the stars.  
Dionel and Glenda's stove

 We went to sleep to the sounds of frogs in the hills and woke to the contented snorts of the horse grazing next door. Our hosts have electricity and fuel for the stove in the kitchen, but they prefer to use the outdoors kitchen where they cook with wood using a traditional oven and stove. They obtain the wood from a friend, freeing them from using their limited church salary for fuel. The sweet smell of burning wood fills the yard. We stayed with Pastor Dionel Mejia and his family, Glenda, Nayansy and Anita, age 5. We were invited to the women’s worship, a small group meeting in one of the member’s homes. One of the group members, the wife of the pastor who is also a pastor, offered a Bible discussion. They ended their evening with fried rice from the Chinese takeout!

Anita in a favorite spot

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Black Christ, Esquipulas, Guatemala

 Last Tuesday was the annual celebration of the Black Christ in Esquipulas, one of the main pilgrimage sites in Central America. Minga and I went by bus with lots of other celebrants to take in the sights of this huge Catholic celebration. Surrounding the cathedral were hundreds of plastic tarps, housing families who had come for the two-week celebration. Beans were cooking on the sidewalk over wood fires, and children played among the tents and around the visitors strolling in the park. The diversity of visitors was broad: wealthy urban couples from Mexico City with Gucci handbags and shoes, side by side with Mayan women wearing their traditional brightly-colored woven skirts and blouses. Buses were parked on the side streets announcing their purpose and origin: Pilgrimage to the Christ of Esquipulas from Veracruz, Mexico, read one sign.
Many mementos are on offer: postcards, amulets, and local items including cowboy hats with multi-colored pompoms. Mayan girls get their photographic portraits taken in front of the cathedral.
Unlike in other parts of Guatemala, restaurants abound, offering meals to the travelers. Around the cathedral were several lines of people waiting. One led to the nave, where for a fee and a long wait one can visit the main attraction, a statue of Christ made out of dark wood in the eighteenth century. On the way there, one can place a votive candle in the anteroom where there is a replica of the same statue. Worshipers prayed all around the replica, rubbing their hands and important documents on it. The anteroom was unbearably hot, with thousands of candles, and wax dripping all over the floor. Inadvertently, we found ourselves on another line, and soon received the blessing of a priest who sprinkled us with holy water.
The “main stage” in the park hosted curious events, including a dance by people wearing huge animal costumes. They minced around rather sedately on their sneakers, bobbing their oversized heads to the music. It was an endurance contest given the heat. On a signal, they all took off their costume heads and received water and towels from their families.
We never did experience the mass, but it was enough to visit the sanctuary and pay our respects. After a few hours in Esquipulas, I was ready to retire from the crowds and heat, wishing someone would towel off my brow and give me a cool drink. Instead, we joined the crowded bus and made our way back “home” to Chiquimulas, with a sigh of relief.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

AVP among Quakers in Guatemala

My friend Minga and I traded our winter clothes for cool skirts and sandals, and went to Guatemala to offer workshops through the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP).  We offered the first one last weekend in Ipala, a city in southeast Guatemala.

Part of the AVP group

The workshop was very much appreciated. Thirty-one people received certificates and more attended for part of the time but were unable to complete the three-day commitment. Most of the people who participated were Quakers, connected to the local Friends Meeting. They hosted us and provided two large meeting spaces for us, enabling us to provide two concurrent workshops. The City of Ipala provided food for all the participants, a veritable banquet with lunch every day, and two “snacks” which generally consisted of something I might consider an entire meal: ham sandwiches, tortillas or empanadas, and soft drinks. This is the first workshop to be offered to Quakers in Guatemala, and perhaps the largest to be offered in Guatemala at one time. It was so wonderful to see the enthusiasm and commitment to offering the program.  It is also humbling, as well, to see the importance they place on the training and their hopes that it will make a difference in finding peaceful alternatives to the violence we all face.
Ipala is a close-knit community, though a city of 25,000. Most of the attendees knew each other, either through participation in the Quaker meeting, schools or university. In some cases, they were relatives. Sometimes when people know each other they are hesitant to share their personal stories in AVP. But many of the participants said they had shared in pairs some issues that they had not shared previously with others. Many of them said they appreciated most an exercise called Empathy, where participants assemble into groups of four people, and each writes a paragraph about an issue that they are working on. Then the papers are redistributed and each reads and suggests solutions to someone else’s issue.

AVP in action

We talked about the violence in families: abuse, abandonment (many of the participants had absent fathers or husbands) and absence of respectful communication. We practiced “I” messages, trying for clear communication without placing blame. We also had lots of fun exercises. The Guatemalan and North American facilitators worked together with good sharing of responsibilities. The Guatemalan participants put up with our imperfect Spanish and we all understood each other well. There was a funny moment when I gave my name as Martha Magnetica (Magnetic Martha) but it was understood as Martha Maniatica (Crazy Martha)! We had lots of laughs.
I had heard that the region is one with quite a bit of violence due to the drug trade, but we are so relieved to see that it seems to be – on the surface – less dangerous than we had feared. We made plans on the last day to hike up a nearby volcano, and were told that the biggest danger would be getting lost. So we were pleased that two of the workshop participants agreed to go with us. It was incredibly beautiful. We started very early in the morning, taking a bus out of town and hiking up the road through the “skirts” of the mountain. Lots of birds and flowering trees. The dry season is just beginning and many plants are blossoming. There were farmers working with horses, and little houses up in the hills.

Laguna on top of Ipala volcano

After an hour’s walk, we got to the top of the volcano where there was a pristine lake filling the now-dormant caldera. On one side was a moist mini-rainforest, with trees covered with bromeliads. On the other (windy) side, a few minutes’ walk away, was a dry cedar forest, where the wind whistled through the trees. No underbrush, only beautiful cedar trees and birds. Between the two was the clear lake with its cool clean water, where we swam and enjoyed a peaceful quiet Monday picnic. It was an idyllic place to rest our bodies and spirits after the workshop.

Karen, cocinera de calidad!

Now we are back in the larger city of Chiquimula, close to an hour's drive from Ipala by bus. We are staying with Karen, an active Quaker who has traveled a lot among Friends and understands well the needs that travelers have. She and her mother are extraordinary hosts, offering us sumptuous and healthy meals as well as helping situate us in the community. This morning we took a tour around the Quaker sites in the community: the large school, church and many other projects and missions, including a radio station and a museum!