Mi Propio Lugar

It’s been an eventful week here in Santiago. But I have to say that moving into my own apartment is the crown jewel among the many gems I’ve experienced over the last few days!

Living with Argentina and Francisco has been wonderful, and through them, I’ve met so many fantastic and interesting people. But having my own space is a welcome change, it feels like a relaxing deep breath. I feel more settled and permanent, I now have a place for everything, and I can settle into a work/life routine. AND this place is owned by Francisco and Argentina and located just two doors down the street!

So, about the digs: it’s a second floor studio with separate bathroom and private balcony. Heavenly. It came with everything I needed (and then some!) – dishes, bedclothes, hangers for some of my clothes, even a licuadora (blender) and computer speakers (now jamming tunes all the time!) And it includes electricity and internet for an astonishingly low price – but then again, my income is also astonishingly low, but sufficient! Let’s just say a space this size in Chicago would cost the same amount in dollars that I’m paying in Quetzales (1 Dollar ~ 7.5 Quetzales).

Because I’m me, I couldn’t really enjoy the space until I had unpacked, organized, and arranged every last thing I’d brought with me. But, seeing as it wasn’t much, I accomplished this within a couple of hours and then the celebrating commenced! I danced around in my underwear to Hall & Oats’ You Make My Dreams while eating a spoonful of peanut butter (kindly left to me by the previous resident). And it was GREAT.

Here are some photos I shot the first night!

 

My theme song for today – give it a listen!

 

 

 She carries news travels by rainbow,
bearer of peace with a message for all,

today you’ll dance, you’ll share each other,
elders will stumble, the babies will crawl.

Put down your weapons, put down your chosen ones,
put on your best clothes, stand straight and tall.

Don’t give up on your desire, I can understand your thirst,
Put another one before you, help someone else first.

Today is a day for someone else,
today is a day for someone else,
today is a day for someone else,
this moment is yours
and you can give it to someone else.

Put down your weapons, put down your chosen ones,
leave expectations at the door,
you are your brother,
you are your sister,
communication, start giving more,

Don’t stop believing,
continue to give praise,
your exaltation is a good thing,
just take those teachings,
the ones of light of celebration,
and start to sing.

La Fería Parade

La Feria de Santiago Atitlan has been in full swing for the past week – the streets are packed with people, fireworks go off at all hours of the day and night, marimba music fills the air in the mornings, while Latin pop hits blast in the plaza long into the night, and the central square and surrounding streets are crowded with rides, carnival games, trampolines, and food vendors. In addition to these ongoing festivities, there are scheduled events that have been taking place throughout the week – religious processions, competitions, beauty pageants, and a parade!

One of our partner organizations, the Puerta Abierta Learning Center, participated in the parade along with hosts of other organizations, schools, and businesses, and I had the opportunity to march along the parade route with the young students! It was a wonderful Santiago experience that I documented along the way…

 

Humildad

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived at my co-worker Dolores’ house at 3pm for a meeting we had called with the women in the artisan collective – Just Apparel. Now that I’ve visited Dolores’ house 3 times, I am able to find my way there through the winding streets on my own, without her having to escort me. Houses here are often tucked away behind clusters of other houses, down dirt trails that sometimes dead-end into someone’s doorway, or around corners that would otherwise go unnoticed. To get to Dolores’ house, I turn left down a dirt path next to a large pile of rocks, pass the front yard of a squat pink house where a man is outside chopping wood, go around a corner and down a path that is open to two other houses, pass an outdoor kitchen and bathroom, and finally arrive at Dolores’ stairs.  I ring the bell and climb to the second story where Dolores lives with her husband, Juan, and two young sons. The house is a beautiful shade of blue with a lovely view of the lake out its two windows; but each time I’m there, I can’t help but notice how small a space it is for four people to share – it is one large room with a small entryway, one queen sized bed where the whole family sleeps, two small desks pushed against a wall, a dresser with a TV, one bathroom.

Dolores and Juan have been together 14 years, since Dolores was 16, and they’ve been married for 8. Dolores, of course, works with Natik and also runs a laundry business. Juan has a job as a waiter at a local restaurant (owned by extranjeros) and also helps Dolores with her work on his days off. The two of them raise their sons together, with the help of both of their families. Juan’s mother lives below them and Dolores’s family lives in town closeby.

I was greeted by Juan with a kiss on the cheek as I entered the apartment. Dolores had gone to the market to buy more colored thread for the custom order we were working on with the women of Just Apparel. Juan and I passed the time talking, learning a bit about each other as we waited for Dolores and the Just Apparel women to arrive. Twenty minutes or so later, Dolores came in with three bags of beautifully colored thread. The man in the market didn’t have the thread organized or boxed by color, so she had to wait for him to find each color, one by one, which took much longer than she had expected. On top of that, he did not have available 6 of the 24 colors we needed for the order, which presented a challenge.

Although we had told the women to arrive around 3pm that afternoon, by 4pm, still none had shown up. This week is Santiago’s annual feria, a town festival similar to a county fair, and the big parade had taken place that morning, from 7am until noon. Many of the women had children marching in the parade, the town was bustling with spectators, and for most people, the day is considered somewhat of a holiday. In addition to the bad timing in that regard, most of the women live in a distant community called ChukMuk and have to wait for a flete (pick-up truck that functions as public transportation system with people piling into the back) to bring them into town. I was beginning to get worried at their tardiness, but Dolores took it in stride, which calmed my nerves a bit. I trusted they would show up when they could.

And they did. Soon, three of the women arrived, followed eventually by 6 more, and we went up to Dolores’ rooftop to discuss the order with them. The purpose of the meeting was to explain everything involved in the work ahead for the order – the quantity of each design that was needed, which colors to use for each part of the embroidery, how to orient it on the fabric, the exact dimensions for each piece. Dolores would communicate all of this to the women in their native tongue – Tzu’tujil – checking in with me in Spanish to ensure that everything was correct, based on my knowledge of the order that was placed in English. A lot of coordination goes into facilitating fair trade custom orders between other parts of the world and the Tzu’tujil women of Just Apparel in Guatemala, and this was the moment we had been working toward – when the women would be given their assigned work and equitable wages.

As we waited for the women to slowly arrive, and as the meeting went on, I was able to observe how these women I will be working with for the next year interact with one another. Although we don’t speak a common language so I can’t communicate with them directly or understand the conversations they have amongst themselves, simply being in their presence and being exposed to their personalities a bit gave me a great feeling of warmth, purpose, and admiration. These women are incredible. They live hard lives, often as the only caretakers for their children, earning very little money, doing back-breaking work for very little pay, if any work is available. They carry the work of maintaining a household in a developing country where electronic luxuries are either unavailable or unaffordable. They have experienced great traumas, many of them having lost loved ones or their homes in the 2005 mudslide, grown up in extreme poverty, or lost children to preventable diseases. They have experienced oppression in their native land because of the racial, ethnic, and class divisions that persist between the indigenous communities and the general Guatemalan population.

Despite all of this that I held in the back of my mind as I sat with them on the rooftop, they never seem to stop smiling. They tell funny stories and jokes to each other as they work. They ask a lot of questions and work things out amongst themselves. They help, support, and guide one another. They show respect for each other. And they accepted me. They marveled at and inquired about my tattoos and my “Monroe” piercing – a very rare sight in Santiago Atitlan, especially on a woman. They attempted to communicate with me, through gestures and facial expressions. They all had a good laugh at me (and with me) when I tried to bundle thread into smaller quantities the way they do, and failed miserably with each attempt. They make it look so easy, but somehow, I couldn’t tie it in quite the right way – and while we all found this pretty humorous, when I failed, they were quick to help me, to show me, to let me try again. (I still failed – they really do it much better, and one of these days, I’ll figure it out.)

Being with them was a humbling experience in a welcome way. I know that there is much I can learn from these women, and perhaps a little they can learn from me as well. Although our lives up to this point have been so very different, and the privileges I possess as a white and U.S.-born woman certainly separate us, we are able to find connection. We are able to share with one another.

As I interacted with these women in what limited ways I could, observed their group dynamics, and reflected on all of this, there was a distinct moment when I thought to myself: this is why I’m here, this is where I want to be, this is what I choose to do.

image

An example of the custom embroidery work the women of Just Apparel will be completing over the next couple of days.

Chiapas!

This weekend was inolvidable (unforgettable)! Accompanied by my dear friend Bryce (from Chicago), I traveled to San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas, Mexico – the city where I lived for a summer while completing my first-level internship for the Loyola MSW program. This was my first time back, and it was everything I remembered! The city is enchanting and resonates with such powerfully positive memories for me. The weekend away was quite a luxury. Not only did I get to spend day after day in great company, I got to renew my love affair with this beautiful place and its wonderful food, culture, sights, and sounds. We ate amazing chocolates, walked all around the colorful artisan markets, drank a lot of mezcal, and even got to see some fantastic live jazz. In addition to the vacation aspect of this trip, I spent a morning getting to know Natik’s programs in Chiapas. Currently, Natik has 2 Loyola MSW interns working with them for the summer. I had the opportunity to meet them and go with them to their work site one morning – the home of two sisters in the indigenous village of Zinacantan where they run a Saturday educational program for students. These little ones were so much fun, and really engaged in their own learning. The experience was a great example of how Natik operates collaboratively with community leaders.