Monday, September 27, 2010

Browsing our Guatemala album

Sometimes, the most important times of your life remain so crisp, and detailed and immediate in your mind; that is can be a real shock to realize that it has been years since you were there, that you have grown and moved on, no matter how the scents and flavors still fill your senses.In June, of 2002 my mother, my brother and my two sons and I travelled to Guatemala. It was a quick, vivid trip filled with delicious tropical fruits, laughing children, hot, sweaty work and rowdy games of blind man's bluff. It feels like it just happened. But in eight years my children have become men, my Mother has stopped traveling, and I have published a novel, "Duffy Barkley is not a Dog." The first book hints at my fascination with this area of Central America but now I am beginning to write a sequel and the Guatemalan character becomes more important.

And so I have been pulling out the dusty photo album and reminding myself of the smaller details. The fresh roasting coffee smell, the vivid fuschia flesh of dragonfruit the mystery of a watery road through bullrushes. I have looked at the intricate and original hand-woven clan clothing that the Mayan wore, and remembered the recent and bloody battles between the Spanish and Mayan in the very peaceful town where we played with laughing children.
I remembered how my sons were giants compared to children older, but less well nourished than they were, and yet how even with no words in common, they shared the rules and structure of each other's games. "Duck, Duck, Goose" "cat and Mouse" soccer, basketball.

And after we learned a few terms, the older people treated my children with respect and interest. Their delight in finding an American child who would stop, and try to say, "hello" in Tsuitajil was obvious and endearing.

My brother's handicap has never been a barrier. People respond to his smile quickly, and in this foreign language culture, most of our communication was done just as his always is. With smiles.

It felt at times like we were there forever, and at times like a part of us has never left.

We are more consumer oriented when we are at home. We all want the newer, therefor better products. But we were closer to each other without those extra things entertaining us. Every day, we still reach out and connect, even now that my boys are in high school, but in a large part, it started in a place where we only had ourselves and an old plastic ball and a lot of strangers staring to see what we would do next.

When we left, we took some of the realization that we have too much, with us. It hasn't made us drop the internet connection, or give away all our extras, but it has helped us remember not to allow the piles of stuff to become a barrier, and to see the people, and this beautiful world, as more important.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Taking American School children to Lake Atitlan

When my two boys were finishing second and third grade, my Mother invited us to go with her on a trip to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I had always planned on traveling with my children, after all, I had loved every country I had ever visited, and I wanted them to have happy memories with their grandma too — so it was easy to say, "yes."

My husband was working and could not come at the time the trip was scheduled, and Mom signed us up to go with a group that would be building concrete houses in Santiago, Atitlan.

Now we are far from rich in American standards but I had travelled enough to know that we are very rich in the world view. My boys were sweet and friendly, but I knew that they took a lot for granted. If Dad and Mom could not afford a toy, then just asking a grandparent had a way of working out for them. The fact that our home only had one bathroom for the 4 of us, was not the norm in the homes they overnighted in. They could not really imagine a place where one concrete room and a shared water spigot in a common are might be considered a grand home.

So we flew from Portland, to Houston and waited in the airport for 7 hours to meet their granmother and my brother, their uncle Lance. Lance has Down's syndrome, but a real gift for making friends. As we flew to Guatemala City, and then went by bus to Panajachel, and spent the night in a walled school there, the beauty of the greenery balanced the poverty of shacks and litter and the boys were enthralled.

Then we got on a boat to Cross the volcano lined lake, and for a short distance even travelled a watery highway between "bullrushes." My older son loves all things water, and was excited by the boat and fascinated by the small fishing boats and single men standing up fishing in them. Neither boy was too eager to try their hand at washing theirclotes on the rocks that lined the lake but they were willing to stomp their clothing clean as they showered.

Our cabin was a luxurious stone and wood cabin at the Posada in Santiago. It was set in among Banana, fig, orchids, Dragonfruit and the kind of lushness I had only ever seen before in the Otrgon Coastal area. There were wonderful weavings and leatherwork and embroidery and woodcarvings.

but there was also poverty, and begging and children who did not attend school because they made things all evening to sell on the streets every day.

We had been warned not to approach children because no-one wanted to make their parents feel threatened by strangers, but with my handicapped brother's warm smile and my two friendly boys, the children flocked around us. At first they were shy and then they tried to beg from us, but in a couple days they were kicking soccer balls and playing blind man's bluff with my boys.

We did go to the work site and spent one day cutting re-bar and clearing rocks, but because the project had just finished one house and was not ready to begin the next, we were appologetically asked if we would mind visiting a school to volunteer instead.
Mind! It was the best thing that could have happened to us of course. Since I am a teacer and a storyteller and we had children with us, we were delighted at the opportunity. It could have been strange, neither the Mayan children in their clan weaving uniform, or my children seemed to notice that they did not speak the same language,
We sang each other songs and shared photographs of our ocean and redwoods and then gathered outside where my boys taught them "Duck, Duck, Goose" and they taught us "Cat and Mouse"

Then we shared lunch and smiles and it was all good. The children were Tzuitajil Mayan, but the school taught in Spanish. After lunch, they tried to teach us some Mayan phrases and the idea behind their base 12 math. It was wildly interesting and we were glad that the visit would continue more days.

When at last we had to climb aboard the boat to begin our trip home, a parade of children came to the docks with us and as the boat pulled away, they threw a rain of beaded bracelets and keychains into the boat and yelled, "Come back next year!"
We never made it back, or not yet, but it made an impact. My boys came home and signed up to support a Guatemalan boy and raised money to send him every month for three years, we read an intense book, by Sister Dianna ortiz, called "The Blindfold's Eyes" about another side of Guatemala's recent history. And eventually much of our experience is finding its way into the first two "Duffy Barkley" books as well.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Redwoods and Pacific of Del Norte (rhymes with snort here)

I moved to Del Norte county in 1989 and the very first thing I learned here, was that "Del Norte" rhymes with "Snort." Or they laugh, not just at you, but also at themselves for insisting on it.A beautiful county, in cold and rainy territory, there are a lot of rugged, unpopulated areas, and a lot of sad and tragic history in Del Norte. But there is also a strength and courage in those who live here, and a sense of unity in living in this "solar-free zone" where gills develop if you choose to stay. We are the forgotten county. You have to drive South for 6 or 7 hours to reach "Northern California." and we rank fairly horribly on a lot of scales, in the bottom of all CA counties for poverty, drug use, teen-age mom's, child-abuse. Yet there is hope and love in the beauty and the people here.
Battery Point Lighthouse is a beacon of hope and a recognized symbol of the county, and a delightful, but crazy place to gather around bonefires and watch the fireworks exploding everywhere on the 4th of July.

Margaret Keating school In Klamath has reconstructed the native plank homes and shows a living and growing

Yurok and Tolowa culture. This in-spite of near extermination and a time when hunting Indians was legal.

Wonderstump Road, used to be a rail line for the logging company and now is a cool, green hallway lined with a regrouth that hints at the primal forest which once grew here. The Redwoods could also have been victims of extermination but finally some people cared enough to preserve some for their children's children.

The Pacific has provided richly for this area, and in turn attacked with a killer tsunami in 1964. There has been incredible fishing and tragic ship wrecks and a life on the edge of balance here. The Sea truly takes and gives.
My home, still contains a few of the stumps for which Wonderstump was named and is close to both the freezing, but beautiful Pacific and the mysterious, prehistoric feeling Redwoods.

Several movies have been filmed in this area, Parts of the ewok scenes, Jurassic Park 2, ET, and "Darby O'Gill and the little people."

It may not be a perfect place, but it hasbeen perfect for me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bearing the Load, in Guatemala

Bearing the Load, on the Shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, is something that the Mayan and Spanish descendants have done for centuries. But they do it with a smile.

When I usually think of backpacking, I often think of it as a recreational activity, a pleasant escape from the burdens of the work-a-day world. The people that I saw in Guatemala simply did pack things on their back, if they were male, or on their hear if they were female. Not ultra light loads but bundled firewood and multiple gallons of water, in a town on the slopes of a volcano where nothing is ever flatland.
I look at what I have to carry; a three gallon bucket of water to fill my aquarium, about 20 steps from the water faucet, 10 times; forty pound bags of dog-food, a load of firewood, with a wheelbarrow, from the edge of the yard to my front door. Not long ago, I balanced two 30 pound toddlers on my hips.

Beyond that, I reach for my car keys and moan when I have to make several trips from the drive way to my kitchen with an abundance of fresh groceries. I scoop up my fat cat and carry her to a lawn chair and curl up with a fresh coffee and a good book.

Not that an American, mother of teenagers, lives a burden free life, but my burdens are often the ones that weigh down my mind and spirit with worries of things that never happen. They do not exercise my legs and keep my back erect.

Watching the grace and acceptance as a child lifts firewood onto her head is a humbling experience for me. Looking at the beautiful, handwoven clothing with the Mayan tribal traditions in every thread, remembering that Santiago, Atitlan has suffered massacres and devastating mudslides. I am again amazed at the ringing laughter and the broad, gold-toothed smiles. The one thing these pictures cannot show is the smell of fresh fruit all around, the dragonfruit trees and avacado trees and banana plants that grace the roads and homes where these people live each day.