Monday, January 12, 2009

La visita al derrumbe y los albergues

The dense fog from the night before has yet to burn off. As I sit here looking out my window on this opaque Sunday morning, the low hissing of water heating on my miniature stove, a live version of After the Gold Rush gently radiating from my computer speakers, it’s a near perfect morning to update the blog.

A lot has happened this last week and that is a nice thing to be able to type because during my first two months I’ve mainly had a lot of time to study Spanish and read. As 2008 wrapped up so did much of the work and since I arrived here in my site in November it was difficult to identify where I could lend any assistance. Coupled with the fact I was new to office and we all needed time to build confianza, it lead to much free time and playfulness. But now things are picking up and there are many areas where I can dedicate my time and energy.

El derrumbe

My sites mates and I recently had a chance to visit the site of the giant landslide that occurred about twenty miles away last week – my first time in a disaster area. A person in our community put the visit together and contacted the national disaster prevention/relief agency, CONRED, and the Red Cross of Guatemala (RCG) and they agreed to show us around the shelters. Three volunteers from Pamplona, Spain, our pueblo’s publicity officer, and a few other committed community members were along for the journey. I luckily secured a spot in the back of the pickup.

The representatives from CONRED and RCG greeted us with open arms as we pulled up after an hour-long dusty yet scenic ride. The static, red record light on the camera came on and after a few words from CONRED and RCG everyone broke for lunch. I ducked into the market just before we had left for this area and luckily had a few bananas and an orange in my bag. As I was getting my intake of fruit and sitting in the sun I noticed that across the street was a house were people were receiving food supplies. The line extended out the door and every few minutes a Mayan would walk out with a bright orange bag full of food and other things delicately balanced on their head. And behind me was an ad hoc thatched-roof shelter where a group of Mayan women and children were resting. Three or four dogs were laying in the shade and there was a heap of bottled fruit juice and soda in the center. If there was water there wasn’t much of it amongst the bottled high fructose corn syrup.

After about 30 minutes CONRED and RCG lowered the rope barrier and we drove into the area where we were to be brought to visit the shelters (el albergue). Most people were staying in churches, normally the largest structure in these remote and rural areas villages tucked away in the highlands of Guatemala. I asked the CONRED official about the latest figures and he told me that there were 38 dead, more than 20 missing (I’ve heard as high as 60), and 1,300 without a home. He also said that the numbers were conservative and I’m sure we can expect them to rise in the coming weeks.

We got to the first shelter, an Evangelical church. The children were playing, the women were making corn tortillas or breast feeding babies and the men were standing in a circle talking with the leaders in our group; a glance at the omnipresent social structure here. There were volunteers from many different national and local agencies roaming around; some were involved in serious conversation, others were snapping photos. The children LOVED seeing their digital images after a photo was taken and I even showed one of them how to take a picture. Some asked if I could give them their photo and the explanations of how the photos first needed to be printed were followed by looks of confusion and curiosity. In an area this secluded from the modern, high-tech, flashy western world, I can understand why they were left wondering why I wouldn’t just give them their photo.
After visiting another shelter similar to the first, we headed to a place located alongside the dirt road where there were two large trucks which were turned into shelters. Up to four families were living in each one and one of the displaced living there was very candid in what they needed. Soap for washing clothes and dishes and bathing were in dire need as was chlorine to sanitize the water and children’s shoes.

We returned to our pueblo and the publicity people got the videos on the local TV channel that very night. And on Saturday night they had an event in the park and collected food and clothing and almost 400 Quetzales (Guatemalan currency). My site mates and I are working with other volunteers in the country to collect more items as there will be need in this area for some time to come.

El pan

I made my first loaf of bread yesterday. I followed a whole wheat bread recipe but improvised by adding a little oatmeal and flax seed. I think it turned out pretty damn well and will be making a few more loaves today with one of my site mates. I intend to never have to buy mass-produced bread while serving as a PC volunteer. The big manufacturer of bread here is called Bimbo. The name alone creates a desire to be proficient at making one’s own bread. If any of you come for a visit, you’ll get fresh, home-made bread and by that time I’ll surely be an artisan.

Thanks for reading.

¡Que siga la lucha!

Monday, January 5, 2009

El gigantesco derrumbe

Recently we have experienced a "derrumbe" of gigantic proportions close to where I live. A "derrumbe" is a landslide and this one let loose some 10,000 tons of rock and earth and buried an "aldea" which is the word for a small community. As of right now the media has reported 33 deaths and many people were brought to the hospital here. I'm safe as are my site mates and our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

If you would like to read more information in Spanish here is a link:

And here is an English report on CNN: