Art Exchanges (#74)

One of my greatest memories of my time in San Juan Comalapa are the art exchanges that I’ve organized in conjunction with local partners. One took place between local elementary school children and their counterparts from the USA, China, a handful of African countries, a Pacific island, and Central America. The other transpired between young adults in Comalapa’s municipal government and former university and state government colleagues back home. The goal of both activities was to promote positive identity development by encouraging artistic representation of one’s own culture, customs, and country.

While I won’t be able to organize international exchanges as a Peace Corps Volunteer, the idea lives on in my heart and perhaps one day I can send art to future PCVs as a participant!

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Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.

El Rinkoncito Chapin (#75)

The Rinkoncito Chapín is the newest cafe in town. It’s a great place to hang out and have activities like the North of Liberty screening. Before the establishment was opened, I worked extensively with the owner, Don Jaime, an excellent chef, to take into account logistical details, income and expense projections, and do a bit of advance marketing. What was previously a dying restaraunt bought by Don Jaime has grown into a self-sustaining local business where all kinds of people can be found gathered at mealtimes and for special occasions.

¡Buen provecho!

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Connie my sitemate, Rosana, with Juana and Carlos (host mom/ uncle) in the background.

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An evening event full of merriment.

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Pouring another glass of wine Tyrion Lannister style.

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Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.

Cooking with Walter (#76)

My friend Walter Simón is very talented. Aside from managing his family’s textile operation, he is learning English, violin, and studying gastronomy at university. Walter is a pro at making delicious beverages like cappucchino and plates like lasagna from scratch. He is also an ambassador of Guatemalan cuisine. In this video he explains- in English- the process for making caramelized figs. Due to their freshness, Walter’s figs are 100x better than the kind you can buy on the street and easily 1000x tastier than those fig newton cookies you can buy at the store.

Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.

Textiles típicos (#77)

Guatemala is famous around the world for its textiles- almost all of which are woven by hand. The bright colors and intricate patterns that characterize Mayan culture and traditional dress actually tell stories, preserving the history of different indigenous groups (principally differentiable today by geographical region and Mayan language family).

My community, the Florence of the Americas, is part of the Kaqchikel-speaking region of Guatemala’s western highlands.

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A really awesome jacket that I rock around town.

Comalapan women traditionally wear a huipil (sometimes spelled güipil), which is a woven blouse which is characterized by red stripes from the neck, down the shoulders, to the end of the short sleeves.

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Many of Guatemala’s 332 municipalities with Mayan ancestry have their unique woven patterns and colors. While the clothing itself preserves history and tells stories, the colors and some design elements were imposed by the Spaniards during their conquest of Central America. Anthropologists assert that historical use of the traje is evidenced in pre-colonial Spanish culture and was transplanted to Guatemala after its conquest [1]. While originally implemented as a tool of subjugation and control, the traje has become a staple of dress for women that is a strong and lasting element of contemporary Mayan culture.

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Lienne, my sister enjoying Mayan woven textiles during her last visit.

Here my friend Rosana Cortez weaves on a traditional back-strap loom (as opposed to the more modern foot loom). Back-strap weaving is the most commonly used method in Guatemala today.

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Rosana,  designer, always has the most beautiful patterns.

Her business consists of developing patterns that she sells to weavers on pieces of paper which can be in-turn copied on their looms. In her store she sells necessary supplies such as thread and even buys back finished products for resale. I admire Rosana’s entrepreneurial spirit and long-term vision.

It's an activity that requires concentration- so I tried not to make her laugh.

It’s an activity that requires concentration- so I tried not to make her laugh.

But in the end, we still lost our place.

But in the end, we still lost our place.

As with any old-fashioned way of doing things, there is a more modern, “efficient” way of weaving. My friend Walter Simón runs a textile “factory” here in town where thread is spun onto large foot looms and woven at high-speed into textiles which are then sold to large-scale embroidery factories in the western highlands. The intricate designs and patterns that take months to weave by hand can be embellished at a rate of 200 units per day per worker in Quetzaltenango (Guatemala’s second largest city and a “capital” of sorts for the Western Mayan highlands). These finished products are then sold back east to indigenous buyers eager to use their time towards pursuits rather than hand-weaving a single item of clothing.

Spools of thread ready to be spun.

Spools of thread ready to be spun.

Preparing thread to be spun onto a loom.

Preparing thread to be spun onto a loom.

A loom spooled with thread for weaving.

A loom spooled with thread for weaving.

Weaving textiles from spun thread.

Weaving textiles from spun thread.

Finished textiles ready for sale to a factory.

Finished textiles ready for sale to a factory.

While some may scoff at the loss of traditional methods, outsiders and Guatemalans alike should celebrate the availability of technology to preserve traditional patterns and style of dress by not putting everyone in t-shirts and jeans. Back-strap woven textiles have a very special quality and seem to have an inexplicable vibrance. But machine-made clothes save time and energy, allowing people in a developing society to have more time for other productive pursuits.

[1] Estrada Menéndez, Rita Mireya. “Ethnohistoric Origins of Indigenous Trajes of Guatemala, 1542-1680.” University of San Carlos, School of History, Anthropology Department. 1998.

Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.

Frijoles rojos (#78)

Frijoles. There are three principal kinds of beans commonly used in Guatemalan cuisine: black, white, and red. Yesterday we discussed using black beans to make frijoles volteados.

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Kidney beans cooked with ground beef.

 

Red beans, or kidney beans as I should get used to saying again, are delicious and nutritious. Often prepared in a caldo or soup, I like to eat my frijoles rojos with rice and vegetables. Ever since I showed my host mom how to make chili, she has started putting ground beef into them too. A mouthful of beans and a hot tortilla with a pinch of salt really hits the spot.

Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.

Frijoles volteados (#79)

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Freshly plated refried beans.

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post about tamales, come another Guatemalan dietary staple that I will miss. Refried beans. Made from black beans that are soaked, boiled and liquefied in a blender, the frijoles are then fried and tossed to give them the dense, log-like appearance and consistency. A protein-dense, high-calorie food that’s bound to hit the spot after a 7-hour bike ride back from the village, refried beans are a pleasurable texture and have a salty taste that send the dopamine flowing. I love eating frijoles volteados in the form of a bean sandwich with a dash of hot sauce in the mix.

Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.

Tamales (#80)

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A tamal hot and ready to be served on banana leaves. You can make out a diente de perro chili pepper in the cooked dough.

Consisting of seasoned corn dough boiled in banana leaves with meat, vegetables, and salsa, tamales are a delicious part of traditional Guatemalan cuisine. Traditionally eaten during Christmas time or in observance of other special occasions, the tamal is delicious and filling. While the ingredients are simple, the process of making a batch of tamales is extremely time-consuming. Batches can range in number anywhere from 20 to upwards of 200 for resale. This staple delicacy is commonly served with a piece of pan francés, essentially a giant dinner roll and can be prepared with or without spicy chilis embedded in the flavorful, doughy dish which is lovingly wrapped in a banana leaf.

Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.

Proximity to the Wilderness (#81)

One of the greatest things about living in Guatemala has been the proximity I’ve had to the freshness of the great outdoors. Many buildings are designed with open central courtyards that are typically used as gardens and even in the heart of Guatemala City, one can still see the mountains and rural countryside surrounding the city’s sprawling concrete advances.

About 50% of the total municipal population of San Juan Comalapa lives outside of the urban town center which can be thought of as the county seat. Throughout the municipality there are smaller villages and townships that have their own local councils. The smallest of these subdivisions have as few as 500 residents while the largest can have several thousand.

At any given time a ten-minute walk in any direction will take me to dirt paths (which are clearly discernable amidst the brush if you’re lucky). Following these dirt roads and trails leads one into the midst of the hills and valleys that surround the urbanized municipal center.

Here are some photos from a 7-hour mountain biking expedition I took recently with some of my friends from town.

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Leaving the town’s urban center. Agua volcano can be seen in the background.

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Antigua’s Agua volcano in the distance.

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Ms. Moosh waits patiently by the side of the road.

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A river that runs through the mountains. Terraced fields can be seen carved into the hillside.

Toasting corn tamalitos makes a calorie-dense snack great for long hikes.

Toasting corn tamalitos makes a calorie-dense snack great for long hikes.

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A 7-hour bike ride from civilization later put me in this pastoral setting.

Comalapa’s Mural (#82)

San Juan Comalapa is a peaceful mountain town about 35 kilometers north of Antigua. The rural community is made up of over 50,000 inhabitants in the urban center and surrounding villages with a demographic composition of about 90% indigenous Maya Kaqchikel according to the most recent national census. For those looking to get away from throngs of other tourists, have a more rustic Guatemalan experience, or perhaps volunteer with a local NGO, Comalapa holds all these offerings just a stone’s throw away from Antigua.

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Two young boys play on the side of the road. The white building to the right of the frame is the town volunteer fire station and a mototaxi known as a “tuk tuk” can be seen cruising into the distance.

Chixot (the town’s name in Kaqchikel, a Mayan language) is home to the largest hand-painted mural in Guatemala. Spanning over 180 meters in length and 2 meters in height, 62 distinct scenes depict the conception of the town by Mayan gods and a brutal armed conflict that wiped an entire village, Pamuy, off the map. As the panels continue, one can see the lingering impact of the 7.5 magnitude earthquake of 1976 through the present day. This mural’s beauty lies in the story- told from a perspective uniquely Guatemalan- and painted by artists born into a vibrant tradition of painting. Internationally acclaimed artists Andres Curruchiche and Óscar Perén hail from Comalapa and the influences of their unique art styles prevail in the expansive mural.

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A representation of the culture in Comalapa: the man and woman in the foreground wear the traditional traje of the town as the dance the baile folklorico. The marimba and mariachi bands provide them music, there are shots of cuxa (Guatemalan moonshine), and the cassette tapes roll by with historically important memories.

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In this frame, representative of the 30-year civil war and genocide, a woman in traditional dress stands upon the skulls of her ancestors.

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A Mayan deity of music.

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A poem about resillience and perseverance.


 

Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.

Café Chixot (#83)

In 2014, Guatemala was the tenth-largest global exporter of coffee. Much of this gourmet caffeinated crop is produced in the volcanic soil of the country’s western highlands. In fact, San Juan Comalapa where I live has its own distinct and flavorful variety of coffee: Café Chixot.

This coffee is an extremely localized and coveted brand, farmed high up in a rural village far from the town’s center. Accessible only by all-wheel drive vehicles, the trip and ensuing tour of the plantation is a treat for any coffee hipster.

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The coffee jar in my kitchen is always pushing empty. Good thing I buy local!

Señora Eufemia shows off some freshly picked coffee beans.

Señora Eufemia, my host aunt, shows off some freshly picked coffee beans.

Don Santos, the proprietor of Café Chixot proudly boasts about the quality of his crop.

Don Santos, the proprietor of Café Chixot proudly boasts about the quality of his crop.

A closeup of the red Arabica coffee blend from Comalapa, Café Chixot

A closeup of the red Arabica coffee blend from Comalapa, Café Chixot

Goodbye Guate is a blog series celebrating my last 100 days of Peace Corps service in Guatemala. A beautiful country known as the land of the eternal spring and named as tempting the limits of the possibly picturesque, Guatemala has inspired great changes and tremendous growth within me. I hope to share with you the 100 things I will miss most about this charming and pastoral Central American country.