Mayan Superstitions

Today I would like to share with you some Mayan superstitions as observed by PCV Cristina Monterroza during her time in San Antonio Aguas Calientes in the department of Sacatepequez, Guatemala. Cristina, now one of my sitemates, sheds light upon some of the beliefs of many indigenous peoples which would be considered largely untrue in the eyes of the modern scientific community.

This single family, dedicated to the full-time occupation of weaving, reflects a prevailing lack of consciousness that exists about many of these themes in rural communities. While home to beautiful culture and rich traditions, it is truly a pleasure to live and work with these individuals. We share these observations with you in order to capture a glimpse of the challenges working within this environment that has received scarce exposure to the “outside” world and modern ideas such as contemporary medicine.

  1. If a woman drinks out of chipped plates or cups, her baby will be born with a cleft lip.
  2. If a woman has lasso’s out at night (such as for weaving) her baby will be born with the umbilical cord wrapped around its throat.
  3. If you find a spider in your bed (or maybe in your room in general) someone is thinking ill of you, also if a large amount of ants come from out of nowhere. Immediately upon discovery one must pour hot water upon these uninvited guests- you know why? Because it’s pretty much the same thing as pouring the hot water upon the head of the person who is thinking ill of you. That will surely improve your relationship.
  4. If you cry in certain places in the mountains while walking, your soul gets trapped by the nahuales (Mayan spirit guides) there.
  5. If you speak/do “maldades” (bad deeds) with your novio/lover/husband in the dark, near a pila (public fountain for washing), or in certain “mysterious” places (guessing like a cemetery) the woman will get sick. In the sense that she is ill and also has lots of cravings for rich foods/fruits in the middle of the night (sounds a lot like pregnancy) but the doctor will not be able to find anything. The families of these women will then consult a curandero/ hechiciero (healer/ witch doctor) who will be able to know what she had done and will tell the family (could get awkward). The brujo (witch) and the family must then go to the place where the event had occurred and bring alcohol, a black chicken (prepared), fruits and candles of several different colors such as red, black and green. The brujo then appeals to the nahuales to let her spirit free by speaking and flipping a branch and throwing holy water.
  6. If you step over a broom, you’re bound to be very clumsy. There’s no way around it.
  7. If you sit on or walk across a weaving tool with 13 protruding sticks, you will have 13 children (young girls are strongly discouraged from doing this by their mothers).

Is someone dying?

*be doo/ be doo/ be doo/*

The doorbell rings.

*be doo/ be doo/ be doo/*

The doorbell rings again. As I hurry to answer the door and receive our visitor, still in my pajamas, Señora Juanita looks up disapprovingly from her usual morning breakfast routine.

The visitor is received. Upon returning to the kitchen Seño says, “¿Quién está muriendo?”, or “Who is dying?”

Realization dawns that this is a joke about ringing the doorbell twice. ¡Qué imprudente! How imprudent!

Laughter insues.

Adventures with Señora Juana is a series about the hours I spend at the kitchen table talking to my Guatemalan host mom.

Guatemala Tourism Video

Originally posted by a colleague on his blog “From PC to PC.”

To be honest, these videos helped me remember something important: despite my tendency to get caught up in challenges in my site or worry about the (many, and significant) problems that Guatemala continues to face, the fact is that I am blessed to be serving in an absolutely beautiful land of kind people whom I often fail to appreciate. I hope you enjoy the videos as much as I did, and I hope you one day make it to the Land of the Eternal Spring!

-PCV Patrick Kennedy (Guatemala ’13 – ’15)

Sourced from: http://frompctopc.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/lecciones-de-vida-guatemala-tourism-videos/

 

 

Fair Weather

At the beginning of the month preparations began to get underway for the town fair. In the secluded mountain town of San Juan Comalapa, the week-long celebration coincides with the day of the patron saint: St. John the Baptist.

The festivities, spanning the length of the last week in June are a beautiful flurry of religious activities including alfombras and processions. But also, appropriate homage is paid to Comalapa’s other cultural fortes such as music. Roving bands parade through the streets cheerfully tooting trumpets, glockenspiel-esque representations of the marimba, and plenty of percussion and soul.

Parades, pageants, and the town dance highlight the week as all-important occurrences in the social lives of all- young and old alike. Street food vendors and souvenir peddlers cram into every available inch of space in the central park. Mechanical rides and typical “try-your-luck” carnival games abound- though structural integrity and safety standards are dubiously observed (at best).

As the fair winds down, ideally people return to work and their children to school. Now we’ve only an ongoing World Cup to keep us distracted (#USA).

"Fair Weather"

“Fair Weather”

Guatemala: One Year Later

One year ago today at this time I was making my way from DCA- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport- to Miami where I would eat my last meal in the States (a Cuban-style pork sandwich from D concourse’s Havana Cafe).

I said goodbye to my family, friends, and the girl that I loved in order to embark on a journey that I had dreamed of since being a boy. The ride thus far has been full of surprises- good and bad. I’ve learned more about myself and have worked just as much on improving that young man as I do on improving the youth of Guatemala.

Just one year in the rural mountain highlands (2,300m above sea level) has taught me what would have taken five to discover had I stayed in my comfort zone in urban Ohio. I’d like to share some of the key lessons that I’ve learned thus far.

  1. Nothing is perfect. Everyone has their dreams, beliefs, and standards. Nothing in life- things, houses, relationships- will never be able to meet our definition of “perfect.” Forcing oneself to pursue this notion to a ‘t’ is self-limiting and will lead to unhappiness.
  2. There are always rules. As a punk kid, this one is hard for me to accept. I will never like it. Everything, even the things we create ourselves, follow rules. While the perspective is different when one is making the rules rather than being forced to follow them, even bosses have rules to follow.
  3. The worthwhile is hardly easy. “Wow that was so easy, I gained so much and grew as a person,” said no one ever. Challenges force us to think differently in order to overcome their obstacles. Forcing change is never easy but it continues to bring out the best in me.
  4. Life has stages. My goals now are different from what they were a year ago. My goals in a year will likely change again. And when I turn 30 I imagine my priorities will be different yet still. I will not fear this change and I will adapt to new circumstances in order to meet my needs.
  5. I still don’t know everything. Too bad. Life would be so much easier. The day I stop learning will be the day that I die. Ceasing to learn new things means accepting stagnation- a stone’s throw away from the grave.
  6. Fear, jealousy, and loneliness are founded in the limitations I place on myself. Emotions like these are crummy. They make the strongest people crumble into despair and insecurity. But they come from the own confined belief that we hold about ourselves or other things. Understanding that I am capable and I can trust and depend on myself means that I encounter these emotional obstacles much less.
  7. Those who have “lost faith in humanity” have lived in a bubble too long. I find your lack of faith disturbing. Really. When I take a few moments to look beyond my immediate peripheral vision, I realize that there are good people doing nice things everywhere. Goodwill, peace, and friendship might be the only handouts that have ever been readily available in the human history.
  8. Water and electricity are tangible goods. I used to consume water and electricity like there was no tomorrow. These things take energy and resources to get to the taps and the plugs. It is possible for them to run out. It is also possible for their material resources to become less readily available. We should take pride in our resources and work to conserve them for our needs and future use across the globe.
  9. People may come and go, but that doesn’t make the time you had with them any less meaningful. I’ve gained many a friend here in Guatemala only to see them disappear from my life- leaving the country, getting a different job, or moving to some other far-off location remote from me. Even though we may not see each other or talk as often as we used to, the positive impact that each person has had on my life can never be erased. I miss these people fondly and never with longing, sadness, or regret.
  10. Only Rambo can go it alone. No matter how capable I work to become, I still can’t do it all myself. It’s unrealistic to believe that there is time for everything in the life of a single person. Instead I work to surround myself with positive and motivated people with similar interests and goals. It helps to find complimentary skill sets because, I still don’t know everything.

ENTRE COMALES: My Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Land of Eternal Spring

First published in The News Leader.

Leer en español.

Since August 2013, I’ve been living in San Juan Comalapa, a Guatemalan municipality of about 50,000 in the department of Chimaltenango. After graduating from OSU in May 2013, my life has revolved around serving as a volunteer specialist through the Youth in Development Project with the US Peace Corps mission in Guatemala.

Guatemala is a Central American country. I don’t eat tacos or wear sombreros. Food here is not spicy, profanity is scarce, and indigenous Mayan culture is an integral part of daily life as it has been for centuries.

My initial months in the country consisted of intensive cultural, linguistic, medical, and technical trainings. These exercises brooded feelings of isolation and hardened my sense of self-determination. While it was a difficult process, I grew immensely and have been surviving alone, as the only US American for hours, in a sea of chapines, the term equivalent to “gringos” referring to native Guatemalans.

Like the names of many places in Guatemala, the name “Comalapa” is descriptive. Unlike places one might expect to encounter in the US — Macedonia or Columbus for instance — that really have nothing to do with the locality therein being referred to, “Comalapa” describes the lugar entre comales, or “space between comales.” What are comales in the first place? In the first few weeks of my training in Guatemala I learned to make tortillas. Simply put, it’s a pan for making that corn-based dietary staple.

But the former? Comalapa is an artesan town. While home to weavers and musicians, modern Comalapa is most famous for its paintings. It is home to the largest mural in Guatemala which spans over 300 meters. This painting depicts the entire history of the municipality.

Starting with Comalapa’s consecration by the Mayan gods, the painting continues on to illustrate the subjugation of the townsfolk by Spanish conquistadors, a devastating earthquake, the impact of Guatemala’s 30-year armed civil conflict, and finally the youth artists’ dreams and aspirations for a brighter future.

Such artistic fervor can be linked to Andres Currichiche, Guatemala’s most famous painter, who grew up in the town center.

Furthermore, the town was home to Rafael Alvarez Ovalle, the composer of the Guatemalan national anthem. This cultural pride extends to literature, poetry, weaving, and of course: comida, food.

Therefore, entre comales, encompassing diet, culture, and history, is in itself rich and fulfilling. Comalapa bears its name with great pride.

I hope to continue to serve the people of the United States through my work alongside Guatemalans.

My 9-5 puts me in the municipal government’s youth development office. Like the US, Guatemala’s government follows a federal system. The level I am working at could be equated to county government back home. In addition to providing capacity building for my office colleagues, I work with youth aged 14-29 as well as service providers such as health center staff and schools.

Tasked with training these groups in habilidades para la vida or “life skills,” this all-inclusive package develops qualities such as confidence and self-esteem while working to ingrain respect and a sense of worth and dignity.

I have been working with a group called Cero Miedo which is a street art collective featuring break dancers, hip hop artists, and painters, among others. The group, founded by ex-gang members looking to give up the banger lifestyle and contribute their worth to a larger society, has been instrumental in facilitating large portions of my work.

I’ve also been using my martial arts training to teach self-defense classes which easily support the goals of Peace Corps’ project such as confidence, leadership, work ethic, respect, and positive communication.

In the same vein, I work with a small bunch of interested students in an English conversation group. The platform provides an opportunity for language learners to hone their developing skills as well as discuss controversial topics which in turn helps participants find their voices as future leaders of Guatemala.

In my spare time I continue to play ukulele and practice photography. I have also taken up mountain climbing, traveling long-distances via sketchy public transportation to visit far-flung and exotic locales. Brewing wine from local fruits as well as writing for my blog (www.csethna.com) also occupy my interests.

Cultural Convergence: An Art Exchange

For the better part of this year, I have been working in collaboration with teachers in Guatemala, the United States, and across the world to coordinate a global art exchange. Mid-April we had the pleasure of sending student-generated art works to an exchange which in turn forwarded them on to participating schools around the world.

In return, we also received art pieces from schools across the United States, Palau, Ethiopia, El Salvador, and China. Today I had students at the participating school view all of the art pieces and think about the scenes depicted- animals, landscapes, people- as well as colores and materials used.

Afterwards, I asked students to write or draw a response that reflected the way the art exposition made them feel. The activity was quite successful providing a cross-cultural experience, training to teachers on participatory instructional methods, and identity development for students.

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Fatherly Lessons

Last month in homage to my mother and stepmother- both strong and influential figures in my life I organized an activity for Mother’s Day.

But today is a day where father’s everywhere are celebrated. My own dad was a huge part of my childhood and still is a crucial mentor as a young adult. Here are just a few of the important lessons I’ve learned from him over the years:

  • “Don’t do half-assed work.” – Always try your hardest. When you give it your all you have more to feel good about and less to regret.
  • “Look sharp.” – Pay attention! Be snappy! Look your best! You never know what opportunities might be coming your way. Sometimes they’re small and easily missed.
  • “Shut up and listen.” – Just be quiet and watch things. Observe people’s behaviors. Observe things in relation to one another. You can better interact with people and convince them to do what you want when you take the time to watch and listen first.
  • “Thrice.” – When saying or doing something once or twice simply isn’t enough, sometimes you have to do it again. But perhaps with more patience than my Dad.

Like my mothers, my father represents success. When I was young I wanted to be just like him. Then I realized that I don’t look good with a mustache.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thanks for all the lessons and hard knocks along the way. Even though I’m grown and trying to make my own way in the world I still look up to you greatly. I value our relationship and take comfort in the dependability of your advice.

Farhad Sethna, wilderness explorer, toasting a marshmallow on an active volcano.

Hate Mail

Today I received my first piece of blog-related hate mail. I’ve learned that it is impossible to please everyone- despite my best efforts. Below are some valid and well-articulated claims asserted by a man named Mr. Salazar.

I just want to say that I am offended by you saying that Guatemalans lack critical thinking skills at the beggining of the article. Why would you say something SO stupid? Poverty has nothing to do with being stupid. Did you get to interact with the majority of the country? If so then you would know that you saying was not accurate. You probably went to some fucked up part of the country. Where you probably interacted with a group of uneducated individuals, and now you are describing every individual in the entire country based on those individuals in that region. You cannot generalise like that. It seems that you have had an education, so why make such an idiotic statement? Now I can base that everyone in you family and country lacks respect, and they dont think before they speak, right? Obviously not. Fucking morron just because you interacted with people that lack certai skills does not mean it applies to the entire country. I cannot believe you made that statement. Americans ar

I would like to begin my response by saying sorry. I am not a hateful person and through my writing I intend to share a love and a passion that I have for people of all kinds across the world. While sometimes general, my statements are based on actual observations from my position and perspective on the realities of life. I recognize that I do not always have a complete picture, however I have never asserted any such claim.

Mr. Salazar addressed the correlation between critical thinking and poverty. First it must be said that critical thinking is not the same as intelligence. A person who espouses critical thinking and rational decision-making behaviors does not necessarily have to be Einstein. Nor is a person who lacks these areas of mental development unintelligent, or in the words of Mr. Salazar “stupid.”

According to the World Food Programme, a UN initiative designed to “combat hunger worldwide,” Guatemala has the fourth-highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. As I pointed out in a previous post, malnourishment from birth leads to stunting.

A child who is stunted or chronically malnourished often appears to be normally proportioned but is actually shorter than normal for his/her age. (UNICEF)

The Guatemalan government itself recognizes these challenges to the development of its society. Secretary of Food Security and Nutrition (SESAN), has developed two countrywide initiatives: the One-Thousand Days Plan (Plan mil días) and the Zero Hunger Pact (Pacto cero hambre). Both of these initiatives work to fight chronic malnutrition on a systemic level. Plan mil días works to train mothers on proper nutritional care for newborn babies. Much critical development- including brain development occurs within the first five years of a child’s life. Widespread improper nutrition perpetuates yet another stunted generation with wilted potential.

These initiatives wouldn’t exist if malnutrition wasn’t a serious problem which effects large swaths of the Guatemalan population- well-nourished and deprived alike. USAID would not be implementing their Feed the Future initiative if there was “nothing to see here” as Mr. Salazar implies. Guatemala is a fabulous country with vast untapped potential. Many of its citizens and citizens of other nations across the world recognize this. My words and the efforts of all are intended to help, not hurt.

Bringing a Piece of Guatemala Home

Today I visited a public elementary school at which I studied when I was a lad- 12 years ago now. That’s a long time!

I have been supporting one of the teachers of 5th grade with information about my experience in Guatemala that she has been able to incorporate into her Social Studies curriculum.

Visiting the school was an opportunity to share daily life in my site with local kids whose upbringing is not so different from my own. We were able to discuss similarities and differences as well as reflect upon the true nature of our privilege in the United States. Through hard work, dedication, taxes, and functional civil society we are able to enjoy a relatively high standard of living.

We have much to be grateful for- and much to lose should we chose to shirk responsibilities such as taxes, volunteerism, civic engagement, and national service.

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Cabal en Chimal is a series about my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer living and working in Guatemala’s department of Chimaltenango. On Trabajo Thursday, this series highlights the triumphs and challenges of development work in the Guatemalan context.