Friday, February 20, 2009

Mangos, The Zona Reyna, and mining in San Marcos

I just returned from a trip to the northern most extremes of the Guatemalan department of El Quiché. It’s called the Zona Reyna. The climate is mainly tropical. There are monkeys and all sorts of wonderful biodiversity living in the densely covered hills of this section of the Guatemalan highlands. I spent about 3 days there working with the staff of the planning office where I work. We went to 4 different communities to conduct a socioeconomic study which will ultimately be sent to the “Cohesión Social” office headed up by the first lady of Guatemala. She recently visited the area and promised a 40 million Quetzales investment for infrastructure, health and education projects in addition to building homes, donating water retention tanks and fuel efficient wood-burning stoves. This will keep us very busy all year and will provide me a chance to get deeply involved with project planning. Now that my Spanish has reached a higher level of fluency I am becoming a more integral part of the planning office which is what I’ve been working hard to attain for the last 3 months.

Anyway, the Zona Reyna trip was eye-opening. The central government has focused development projects on the 45 poorest communities of Guatemala; the Zona Reyna being one of them. So this was the first time I spent any significant amount of time surrounded by extreme poverty Guatemalan style. I’ll write more about what this looks and feels like in coming blogs. I’ll include photos and deeper thoughts. But for now I still need some time to digest it.

We’re now entering la cosecha de mango, mango season. Or literally, “mango harvest.” The large ones cost 1 Quetzal ($ .12) and the smaller ones Q .50. Both are delicious and I eat at least 2 a day. We also have a wonderful variety of fruit here from granadias to anonas to tomates silvestres which are wild tomatoes and taste like the cross between a tomato and a ??? I can’t figure it out. Some people have said guava but I disagree. Anyway, they’re delicious. And it’s my prediction that someone is going to become a millionaire exporting anonas to the U.S. From what I’ve been told there are no anona orchards and the anona fruit you find in the market is from the random tree people come across out in the hills. It’s worth looking into.

And now to the third part of this blog entry: Mining in San Marcos. I had the following article emailed to me from a Peace Corps colleague. It’s about a gold mining operation in the department of San Marcos. It’s owned by a Canadian gold mining company called GoldCorp and the article brings up many interesting points. I’ve even considered going on the next trip to meet with people in the community to discuss the effects mining is having on communities located around the Marlin mine as it is called. I may even take a water sample from one of the local rivers. There is a water testing laboratory where I live and it would be an interesting experiment.

I think you would enjoy reading this article so here is the link:

Thanks for staying in touch and reading my blog entries. I am now going to watch a TED Talk that I recently downloaded. And if you don’t know what that is exactly, I highly encourage you to visit to find out.

And remember… UNGOWA!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lucky to be here

I wanted to quickly update my blog since some time has passed between now and the previous entry. I find myself very busy these days and I’ve worked hard to be this busy so gracias de antemano por ignorar the large time gaps between blog entries.

I just returned to the office after working in the field for a week as a translator between a group of Canadian volunteers and people in the communities surrounding my site. It was my first time working as a translator and I learned an indescribable amount about the importance of being more of a cultural guide than a translator. The volunteers and I spent a week in rural communities building fuel-efficient wood-burning stoves (estufas mejoradas). These stoves reduce the amount of wood needed to cook for large families and also pipes the smoke out of the kitchen which prevents lung illnesses and blindness. Many families here are cooking on an open fire. With these stoves women spend less time overall cooking and communities as a whole can focus on reforestation projects.

The most important thing that I realized during the previous week is that I am in love with this community and my Peace Corps service. I realize now how lucky I was to have received this area as my site. Sorry I can’t post the name of my town on my blog for security reasons but you can email me personally if you’d like to know.

One project that I am just starting to work on with my site mate is a recycling collection center where recyclable material is dropped off and then used to make eco-bricks. Eco-bricks are plastic soda, water, juice, etc., bottles filled with plastic trash and when compacted correctly replace bricks or concrete blocks when building just about anything and they clean the community at the same time. I recently visited the NGO located near Lago Atitlan called Pura Vida which is the definitive NGO working to churn out eco-bricks. It was my first time at the lake and I must echo the words of Alduous Huxley and say it is the most beautiful lake in the world. Please visit it before you die.

Some of you have asked for an update on the landslide. The leaders of this community effort which I had the pleasure helping raised about 12,000 Quetzales ($1,540), a mountain of clothes and enough nonperishable food to feed certain families affected by the landslide. We actually didn’t bring any of the provisions to the shelters where evacuees are living. With the help of the national relief agency and Red Cross Guatemala we were able to identify families who lost a family member but live in communities not affected by the landslide directly. The vast majority of these families, if not all of them, had the father of the house or a working-age male son working in the fields where it occurred. These families, based on what I was told, are not receiving government aide so these families received everything we collected in my site. More provisions keep coming to us and when we have another significant load we will bring it to the families. What would really be nice are school supplies since school just started and it is expensive for a family to equip their children with what they need for the classroom.

I hope you all are doing very well and I look forward to seeing you down here in Guatemala some day. Thanks for reading and remember… UNGOWA!