Los Artesanos de ADISA

Una vista al los Artesanos de ADISA – un grupo de jóvenes con discapacidades de Santiago Atitlán que han logrado grandes éxitos en el desarrollo de una empresa donde ellos realizan productos de alta calidad hechos por mano de papel reciclaje.


Arte de Papel Reciclaje


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!

A Weekend in Santiago

I arrive in Santiago on Saturday around noon, pulling into the dock in a boat loaded with people. As soon as we dock, I see my usual lanchero, waiting to leave in his boat for the next trip to Panajachel. We say hello, as always, with a kiss on the cheek. “A trabajar?” he asks me. “Claro,” I respond with a smile, and head up from the dock to my old neighborhood, where I will be staying with my friend Madeleine from Sweden. I take a turn down a familiar shortcut and emerge right at the market’s entrance, where I stop to buy a few things to prepare for lunch – avocados from the lady on the steps are first on my list. Hers are always the biggest, greenest, and freshest, and priced at around 40 cents each. As I hand her the money and stuff the avocados in my backpack, I hear my name and turn around to see Yanil, my first Guatemalan friend. Yanil is 21 years old and has worked for the family I used to live with since she was seven. I almost don’t recognize her because she isn’t wearing her usual traje, instead dressed in a white button-up and black pants, running an errand for the restaurant where she is doing an internship for her studies to be a chef. We walk out of the market together, chatting, before parting ways. As I stop to buy some tomatoes, a familiar face smiles at me broadly and waves from across the street. It’s Dolores, my compañera from Natik, carrying a few bags of fruits and vegetables. I cross and hug her, we talk about her sons a bit, and she heads off to make them lunch. Just as I begin walking up the street, I see Candelaria, another Natik colleague, and her son buying fruit and go over and say hello, inquiring about Candelaria’s studies, as she’s just begun a Master’s program. She informs me that she just completed her first trimester of school and has the day off until they begin again next week. I round a corner and walk a few more blocks, where I bump into Chonita and Dora, two teachers from La Puerta Abierta Learning Center. They’ve just finished up an early stimulation class for infants and mothers and are headed home. And then I arrive at Madeleine’s, where I’m made to feel right at home, and begin preparing for my afternoon of work with Unlocking Silent Histories. Later, Carlos, the program leader assigned to Santiago meets me at my usual coffee shop, where I’m chatting with the owner, Juan, as I sip my latte, and then we head off to meet the group of young women we work with in the offices of ADECCAP. Later that night, I meet up with a few other friends for dinner, board games, and general hanging out: Edurne from Spain and her Guatemalteco boyfriend Jose Carlos, who now live in my old apartment, Chepe, a dentist from the city, Lilly, a recently-arrived intern at one of the local NGO’s, and Madeleine and her boyfriend Vano, a Santiago native. There working as usual is Juan, Dolores’ husband. The restaurant begins to close and I walk home with Madeleine, where we play Yahtzee late into the night. The next morning, Carlos and I meet again and go to run the program with our second Santiago group. We meet in the house of Diego, who was a friend of mine before he joined the program, and he introduces me to his parents and siblings. After a productive morning of filming on market day, we go our separate ways, and I walk to the central square with Tony and Domingo to watch a break-dancing competition. We sit and admire the agility of the performers as we continue talking about film and media production. I meet up with my friend Mike for lunch, who will soon be returning to the U.S., his Fulbright project completed. We update one another on our lives and plans over delicious food from the Posada, and then walk back to Xechivoy together. I stop by Madeleine’s to say goodbye, and start off toward the dock again. I run into Tono and Alex as they’re preparing to go for a run, and another friend Toño walks up as we talk. I haven’t seen any of them in ages, and we reminisce about old times and make plans to see each other again. And then I arrive at the dock, just as my usual lanchero is about to pull away. I hop in the back of the boat next to him, and I’m off to Panajachel again, feeling that Santiago will always be my home. Hasta la próxima, Santiago!

Viviendo el Sueño

Santiago Atitlan to San Cristobal de las Casas, San Cris to Oaxaca, Oaxaca to Mazunte, Mazunte to Tapachula to Ciudad Hidalgo to Tecun Unam to Cocales to Santiago Atitlan. I’ve been on a beautiful whirlwind of a trip that included astonishing surprises every day. I couldn’t possibly capture it all in words or images, but here are some highlights.

The trip included many, many bus rides, which actually provided some of my favorite memories. My traveling companion, Neal and I, had a rule that we could only speak Spanish until 6pm every day. We were fairly good about abiding by this rule. The first leg of the trip, some of our other Santiago friends were with us, including Siara from Spain, and for the rest of the trip, we got a lot of good Spanish practice in by watching at least 6 terrible movies (dubbed in Spanish) played on Mexico’s highly luxurious (and I truly mean that, compared to Guatemala) second-class tourist bus system. We also did a lot of sleeping and messily eating our pre-prepared bus meals.

In San Cristobal, I met with my inspiringly creative boss (Natik’s executive director) and her partner and we visited the indigenous village of Zinacantan for Dia de los Muertos. At the top of the cemetery adorned in flowers and fruit offerings, we chatted with some of the locals (one of them invited my friend Neal to try on his beautiful traje), then went down to the pueblo to drink some hot atol and eat some freshly made blue corn tortillas with one of the families we work with.

The next day, we walked over an hour across the city, seeing the stark contrast the further we got from the tourist center, to arrive at a little piece of utopia – La Universidad de la Tierra, a stunning 200 hectare campus located on the outskirts of San Cris. We were invited into the director’s office – a magical space, immacuately decorated and full of color, kind of like Frida Kahlo’s aesthetic imported into a Tim Burton film. There, we talked for a bit with Dr. Raymundo Sanchez Barraza and then one of the students gave us a tour of the campus and answered our questions as we wandered around. What this autonomous indigenous-led project is doing is astoundingly remarkable – they provide free courses, usually about 2 years in length, to the surrounding indigenous communities, allowing them to live and eat on campus during their studies and giving them opportunity to learn a valuable skill they can take back to their communities. Courses include auto-mechanics, carpentry/construction, sewing, baking/cooking, art, communication systems and repair, farming, music, and probably many more I’m forgetting. One of the things I loved most is the inclusion of music and the arts, with state of the art tools, supplies, and instruments, placing just as high a value on these skills and talents as on more traditional trades.

Onward to Oaxaca, a city full of visual stimulation. It was a beautiful blend of big city atmosphere, with a Latin American pace, a colonial charm, and a tangible feeling of resistance, rebellion, revolution. I was eager to explore as soon as we arrived and climbed up the Escaleras de Fortín for an amazing view of the city beneath. We ate delicious street food – tlayunas are especially tasty – enjoyed Oaxacan craft beers and locally made Mezcal, Oaxacan nieves (ice cream) and coffee, and meandered through the city streets. Our time in Oaxaca included a two-hour interview with Gustavo Esteva – an amazingly profound, insightful, articulate, and inspiring man, and I had the privilege of recording the whole thing! Much more on that to come. Neal posed some excellent and critical questions and Gustavo’s responses did not disappoint. I asked a few questions of my own at the end, on a more personal note, and Gustavo’s answers are a true source of inspiration for me – things that I needed to hear, that reassured me of my path in life and assuaged my doubts and fears.

We also had the chance to visit the Arbol del Tule – one of the oldest and largest trees in the world, and a sight I’ve always wanted to see. The girth of this tree was truly incredible, and its history and its own story of resistance and survival amaze me. What a beautiful part of nature that in its 2,000 – 6,000 years has seen and experienced so much and shared with so many. There was a gorgeous almost full moon that night over the church in Santa Maria del Tule, and all of it was such a sight to behold.

We went on to a lazy beach town on the Oaxacan coast called Mazunte where we slept in hanging beds with mosquito nets that, in their simplicity seemed like they’d be bare and uncomfortable, but were actually like sleeping in a cloud. We went for frequent swims, soaked in the bright, bright sun, walked through the hot sand, napped, read, relaxed, and went to a full moon party. We hiked up to an ancient Mayan look out point called Punto Cometa and saw the most breathtaking sunset I’ve ever in my life witnessed (the photos don’t do it justice). We visited a tiny completed uninhabited and closed off stretch of beach where we were the only people in sight and swam in the crashing waves and climbed on the rocks and watched blue crabs scatter as the waves crashed up and the ocean stretched before us and the fregata birds circled overhead and the sun shone down on us like a divine light.


After nearly 24 hours of non-stop travel (which, of course, included an intriguing border-crossing experience and many, many bus transfers), I arrived back home to Santiago Atitlan, full of inspiration and joy, but glad to be home and back to work. I slept quite heavily the first night back, a peaceful night in my own bed. And now I’ve resumed some semblance of daily routine.

First thing Monday morning was a meeting/brainstorming/planning session over breakfast with Neal about a project we plan to collaborate on…keeping it mostly under wraps for now until things are a bit more solidified, but it is something I’m very, very excited about and will throw myself into whole-heartedly.

Then, a long walk to the Hospitalito to buy a water refill, where, while waiting, I chatted with a friendly older man. After getting his water refills, he left in his car, but circled back around 5 minutes later to offer me a ride home with my heavy garrafone. These small acts of kindness touch me daily here, constantly reminding me of the goodness in everyone.

Following that, a skype conversation with one of my bosses, Donna (founder and creator of Unlocking Silent Histories, which I still need to write an update about eventually, I’m just so excited about it, it is hard to find the words), which sent me into a flurry of work for our upcoming fundraiser video and other future projects, some conversations with the youth leaders I work with, and a plan for the week.

After a quick lunch, off to my co-worker Dolores’ house, where we knocked out our accounting for the month of October, planned out our activities for the next month, and generally just chatted and got caught up on each other’s lives.

Back home to send off a few work emails and then out for a long bike ride (oh yes, I have a bike!) Glorious bike ride around the lake as the sun went down. On my return journey, I ran into three of my friends going for a run, cycled alongside them and chatted for an hour or so, since it had been a while since we’d last seen each other. Exciting things are going on in the lives of everyone I know and I’m so, so happy for them.

After the cycling, a quick yoga session with two friends at my neighbor’s house – a much needed stretch and time to focus on my breathing and my inner world. More catching up, taking advantage of the time I have with these beautiful people.

And finally, home to make dinner, some time to just be alone and enjoy that feeling, a bit of tidying up, a cup of tea while I stayed up audio-correcting and editing the Gustavo Esteva videos until midnight, some church marimba music blasting down the street, a late-night conversation with my best friends in New York that provided a lot of laughs. And then sleep, which came quickly and heavily – as (supposedly) one might say in Ireland, I slept like a donkey.

Today is mostly a work from home day – wrapping up administrative tasks, doing some online research and preparation, probably more editing if I ever finish this post, and also a shower if my water decides to come back on. I woke up, ate a delicious bowl of pineapple, papaya, and banana with lime juice, read some world news in La Jornada while drinking coffee from Chiapas. I will mostly likely take the opportunity to spend as much time as possible in my little apartment today being productive from behind the scenes.

Tomorrow, I meet with the director of the school we support, La Puerta Abierta, to work on grant writing, fund raising, and donor relations. Then I jet across the lake to Panajachel to collect the video equipment for Unlocking Silent Histories, meet with the director of our partner there, Maya Traditions Foundation, and then get together with two of our youth leaders to do a little filming and assign/explain their next project. From there, I’ll go to my co-worker Jim’s beautiful lakeside house in Tzununa for the night, have a Skype chat with a client interested in working with Just Apparel, and do some weekend planning with Jim. He and I will head to Guatemala City on Thursday for the Icaro Film festival –  a showcase of Central American cinema, where we hope to be discover what’s going on in the Guatemalan film industry and make connections to be more involved.

Not your average routine, but for me, this is living the dream.


Dia del Niño at the Mariposario

Last week, Guatemala celebrated a holiday we seem to miss out on in the U.S. – Día del Niño, or Children’s Day. This day is celebrated on various dates in countries around the world, but here in Guatemala, it is celebrated on October 1st. To commemorate the holiday the Puerta Abierta Learning Center took a special field trip with the students and their parents to the Mariposario (butterfly garden) at the nearby Reserva Natural Atitlan (Atitlan Nature Reserve).

The day started out with a boat ride across the lake, on a large two-level (and extremely slow!) barco that the kids really enjoyed. It was beautiful and sunny and from the top deck, we could look out across the beauty of Lago Atitlan. Then we disembarked at the Nature Reserve, where we were confronted with a series of long and crickety cable-rope bridges, which the kids also loved (although some of the parents were less than thrilled). We eventually made our way to a large clearing that had zip-line swings for the kids to enjoy for a bit before we did some exercises, sang some songs, and then hiked up into nature! We got to cross some more bridges and see some spider monkeys, then headed to the butterfly garden where we saw a wide variety of butterflies and learned about their transition from caterpillar to butterfly, even seeing one emerge from its chrysalis!

To finish the day, we had a picnic lunch in the clearing and the children did a “Secret Santa” type gift exchange. Then back onto the boat for the long journey back to Santiago with a group of extremely tired kids.

Throughout the day, I got to “partner with” a group of students from a local orphanage, whose parents weren’t able to come along. Fernando, Nicolasa, Rosa, and Diego were my kids for the day, and they were a blast! Although being a mom to four children under the age of 6 is no easy task! By the end of our adventures, we were all pretty exhausted.