Artisans of ADISA (now with English Subtitles for my non-Spanish speaking friends!)

A look at the Artesanos de ADISA (Artisans of ADISA) – a group of young adults with disabilities in Santiago Atitlan who have achieved great success in the development of a social enterprise creating high quality products out of recycled paper.

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Mujeres Botanicas and the Washington Post

Yesterday, I visited the Cooperative Mujeres Botanicas in San Juan la Laguna. There are many such cooperatives in San Juan, where groups of artisan women work together to create beautiful handmade woven products, often using natural dyes, but this was my first visit to Mujeres Botanicas. They are located down a winding side street, and boast a great variety of traditional products (huipiles and traje) in addition to items popular with tourists (scarves and bags), as well as a small museum.

Of particular note, I had the pleasure of meeting Socorro and Rosario (pictured here) both of whom were recently written about in this Washington Post article. My friend Lynn, who is a frequent visitor of this cooperative, had the article pulled up on her computer, so we were able to show it to these two lovely women and I translated for them the parts about them. They were very pleased, and it is wonderful to see that the weavers of San Juan la Laguna are attracting such attention in the press.

Anniversary, a few days late

I don’t remember much about the day I left. My dad brought me to the airport. We hugged and kissed goodbye. I remember the customer service agent at the counter for Avianca airlines – she was from Guatemala and spoke to me in Spanish, and told me she hoped I enjoyed her country. You would think I would remember more about my last hours of life in the U.S., but the details escape me. I remember more about coming than going.

I arrived in Guatemala City and there was a shuttle driver from my hotel waiting for me outside the airport. My flight arrived late and I felt bad that he probably had to wait an hour, but he didn’t seem to mind. I got to my hotel and FaceTimed with my best friend Lauren, my mom, sent an email to my dad, my sister, and Brandon. Watched some Netflix, perhaps.

The next day, I ate breakfast alone in the hotel lobby and then boarded a shuttle headed to Lake Atitlan. I chatted with the driver about the World Cup (losing a bet with my dear friend Ian in the process) and marveled at the stunning paisaje outside my window – mountains, volcanoes, rolling green valleys, adobe brick houses and livestock on the sides of the roads. This was Guatemala.

I was told I would be taken straight to Santiago, but first we stopped in Antigua, uncertain whether we would make it from there to Lake Atitlan because the farmers were protesting in the highways. We waited about an hour and then set off. Instead of being brought to Santiago, however, I was taken to Panajachel, from where I knew I would have to take a boat. So down to the dock I went, dragging my suitcase and with a giant backpack on my back. I paid 60Q for the public boat that should have been 25 at the most (a mistake I’ll never make again), waited about 45 minutes, and then was on my way to my new home.

Just a week before, I had been in my beloved Chicago, trying to soak it all up despite the hectic-ness of preparing for a big move and trying to spend as much time as possible with the people I cared about. When I think back on my last month, it is mostly a blur. I quit my job, my mom came to visit with her boyfriend, who is now my stepfather, and his children, I started doing work with my new organization remotely to become oriented before arriving, and started stocking up on things I would need in Guatemala (tampons, vitamins, rain gear). I got a lot of shots and fainted in the hallway of my doctor’s office.

My two best friends from New York flew in and we shot a film together in my best friend Peter’s apartment, finally realizing a very long dream. Peter, was in L.A., where he would later move, and I don’t really remember the moment we said goodbye, but I remember the feeling. I remember his hug, his charming crooked smile, both of us trying not to cry. I bid farewell to my apartment of 4 years, taking photos of each and every detail, leaving almost all of my things behind. Boxes and suitcases of clothes and shoes were stacked on shelves in the basement, carefully taped and labeled. Brandon and I parted ways with a private ritual involving tarot cards. I got the knight of swords. He got the world.

I remember having a farewell dinner with the Pinkerts and the Teppers, who feel like family, their wonderful kids such a huge part of my life in Chicago, they’re like nieces and nephews. Riding the famous Navy Pier ferris wheel with Bryce after a day of walking two of Chicago’s labyrinths, one of my favorite pastimes. Spending a lot of time with my cats and feeling almost embarrassed by how much I knew I would miss them. Seeing almost everyone nearest and dearest to me at my favorite neighborhood bar, Matilda. Spending a day at the DMV with my sister so I could give her my car. The most amazing surprise farewell party thrown for me by my union brothers and sisters, which included fuzzy socks, lots of food, and an accordion.

Because I’m crazily organized, I can look back at my calendar for June 2014 and see exactly what I did in my last week in Chicago. Mostly dinners and lunches with friends, seeing Malificent with my sister, going out dancing at Neo one last time. I even had a new Google calendar to assist me in my move – Preparing for Guatemala, it was called, and reminded me what things I should focus on getting rid of or boxing up each week, when to take clothes to be donated, that I should get in touch with my bank, credit card companies, student loan servicer, etc.

My last day in Chicago, I realized that Kieran Culkin was in town doing a play (This is our Youth) at the Steppenwolf, and I knew I absolutely HAD to go. I have a near colossal level obsession with the Culkins.  I, of course, didn’t have tickets or money, but after doing some online searching, I discovered they gave away $20 lottery tickets to the first 10 people who called each morning. I called, just for the heck of it, sitting on hold on my Chicago stoop, thinking it would never work out. Then suddenly, I heard a ringing sound, and a voice. I won! I went that night to the play with Brandon. It was like a dream. The perfect last night in Chicago. The sort of thing that could only happen there.

I flew to Houston the next morning after shedding a lot of tears over Poe and Nin (my cats), and of course, Brandon, and my beloved city. I got a window seat and looked down at the skyline as long as I could. In Houston, I spent time with my Dad, saw my grandmother and one of my aunts. Went out one afternoon to the winery where I had my high school graduation party and saw a live jazz band play.

I spent my last day in the U.S. visiting NASA, and I remember thinking that moving to a new country for a year was really nothing compared with leaving the earth. I marveled at satellite images of our planet, the immensity of the spacecrafts that carry human beings out of our planet’s orbit, what small little points of life we are all in this vast universe.

Two days later, I felt small once again, sitting in a lancha cruising across the great expanse of Lake Atitlan, as ancient, looming volcanoes looked down on little me arriving in the place I would call home. I got off the boat to find that most of the dock was underwater, and carrying my cumbersome suitcase across the rickety planks, I was glad that I was wearing my completely waterproof all-weather boots that wouldn’t fit in my luggage. I plunged right into the lake and made it to land, with the new immediate mission of finding a bathroom. The Sanatarios sign was quite welcome after that half hour boat ride, and paying a few cents to pee never felt so good.

Then, onwards and upwards, I hailed a tuk-tuk, and hoped they would know what I was talking about when I said “la casa de Doña Argentina,” because that was the only address I had. Luckily, they did, and I arrived at her door in Canton Xechivoy – my happy home for the next 8 months, some of the best of my life.

More than a year later, I’m still here at beautiful Lake Atitlan. I’ve had visits from my Dad, my sister, and two of my best friends, and my mom will come on Monday. I’ve made plenty of new friends – some of them have already gone back to their homes in Sweden, Ireland, Spain, and the U.S. Others are here with me still, enriching my life on a daily basis. I’ve traveled to Xela, San Cristobal de las Casas, Antigua, Guate, Lanquin, Semuc Champey, Oaxaca, Mazunte, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Livingston, Rio Dulce, Belize. I’ve lived in three different pueblos, completed a fellowship, and become a country Field Director. I’ve made four films, taken countless photos, written blog posts and proposals and films and letters. I’ve hiked mountains and gone on morning swims, jumped off rocks and bridges and cave walls, traveled to nearby towns in the back of pick-up trucks, on school buses, in tuk-tuks, on foot, and by canoe. I’ve attended funerals and sat by sickbeds, celebrated birthdays and local festivals. I’ve done brave things and stupid things, things I’ll never tell anyone, and things I’ll tell my grandchildren about. I’ve gone on so many adventures and found myself in exhilarating and maybe risky situations, tested my limits and boundaries and perhaps common sense, experienced great joy and freedom, as well as dignified rage and profound sadness. I’ve become who I am and who I think I secretly always knew I wanted to be.
Most of all, I’ve been incredibly humbled and inspired, while enjoying a heretofore unimaginable quality of life. And I am grateful. Ever so grateful.

For Peter Browne. I love you.

Arte de Papel Reciclaje

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These are jewelry items made out of recycled paper. An incredibly tedious process that takes a great deal of patience, time, careful construction, aesthetics, design. The end result is a beautiful work of art made in an environmentally-friendly way, transforming items that would otherwise end up in waste bins and trash dumps into stunning wearable items.

These works of art are made by my dear friends at Artesanos de ADISA – all of whom are differently abled, in some way. The Artesanos (Artisans) of ADISA is a social enterprise that provides needed employment to people with disabilities so that they can apply their skills to a profession, earn a living, and be more independent. ADISA – The Association for Parents and Friends of People with Disabilities of Santiago Atitlan – was founded by the family I used to live with in Santiago, the Sojuels. It is a center for people with disabilities, especially focused on education for children. They also helped found Artesanos de ADISA in an effort to meet the needs of youth and adults with disabilities as well.

I’m working on a video to promote their products – coming soon!