Fourth Quarter Milestone

Dearest readers— 

Truthfully, I can’t say that I would have written any sooner had my computer not been taken over for a month by nefarious and nearly inextricable spyware, but you must admit that it’s a good excuse this time!   

I apologize for the long delay, and must recommend to anyone who ever suffers from the same problem to invest the $50 in the most robust version of Trend Micro’s PC-cillin Internet Security.  It’s well worth the price, and has successfully lifted my already catatonic 5-year-old computer out of what really should have been its final resting place. 

It doesn’t seem that long ago since the vacation to Lívingston ended (see the 2 July post, “Vacation to the Tierras Calientes”), but more than two months have gone by, with a seeming lull in productivity.  I recently turned in my third-quarter grades, and a few of my classes (most notably the physics classes, which the kids have a hard time with) hadn’t even had a quiz or a test! 

This may be typical for this fourth-quarter point in the year, although I’m not sure, since this is the first full school year I’ve weathered.  I’ve found myself simply trying to get to the end of the year with some classes; but on the other hand, I’ve begun to really fall into a good, productive groove with the others.  I’m enjoying some semblance of balance, as always, even if it’s a strange one.

August was month of trial and chaos.  In addition to slogging through what has turned out to be a slow chunk of the year, the sheer number of exits and entries into and out of the Foundation would boggle even the mind of a seasoned actor. 

It began first with the departure of Jim, the well-traveled engineer, who very successfully taught computer and statistics classes for three weeks before being moved suddenly by his company to another project in the Dominican Republic. 

A few days after followed the departure of our belovèd Fernando, who left at the beginning of August to begin a Master’s program in Educational Administration at NYU. 

Simultaneously as Fernando left, Beth Neville (the Foundation director) and a barrage of water-filter-project people descended upon the Foundation.  They stayed mostly in the few “hotels” in San Mateo, but their presence, for better or for worse, shook up what had been several months of relative calm in the Foundation. 

Their work, however, is always much appreciated by all: the water filter project is loosely associated with the school, but is really a project of the Ixtatán Foundation itself.  The people who came included several helpers and one scientist, who will be conducting a year-long study comparing the health of the children and the economic well-being of families with and without the clay-and-sawdust water filters we’ve used for several years here in the Foundation.

The study will almost inevitably prove that people with filters spend less money on wood (which they frequently use to boil—and thus disinfect—their water), and may also show that the family’s children turn out to be healthier as well.  Because, as successfully as boiling the water may disinfect it, many people continue to get sick from the water because the containers in which they store the boiled water have been infected previously.  The day when all Mateanos have access to water filters is greatly anticipated by all!

August’s intensity continued with a fantastic project undertaken by a group of students from the international “Round Square” association of boarding schools.  The diverse, bubbly group of 30 or so high-school students from around the world arrived soon after Beth Neville and the filter folks, and headed directly to the aldea of Tiactac (about an hour by car from San Mateo; see the 16 February posts about my weekend there) to install running water in the homes of all of the several hundred families who live there.

Tiactac still has no electricity, but that hasn’t caused nearly the problems that the lack of running water has.  Rainwater collection systems abound, but in the dry season, when the tanks dry up, many women frequently find themselves walking two hours in each direction to the nearest river, with at least 100 pounds of water on their backs on the return trip. 

On the whole, the project was a great success, and, needless to say, the entire community of Tiactac is ecstatic.

And of course, as Guatemalans do, the whole aldea of Tiactac celebrated the project with a two-day-long fiesta, the second day of which much of our school attended.  Food, sports, dancing, and marimba music (provided by our school’s excellent marimba band) were plentiful and enjoyed by all.

The only negative thing that can possibly be associated with the Tiactac project is that the funding came solely from an international organization, and may not have been done for another decade or more had they relied on the funds of the municipality of San Mateo.

I’ve traveled through the villages to the northwest of San Mateo, including Bulej, the hometown of the current mayor.  The roads are fantastic (relatively speaking), and everyone has reliable electricity and running water.

The roads to the villages “on the other side of town,” however (toward Tiactac and Pojom, aldeas to the northeast), are either horrifically bad, or simply nonexistent, and as far as I know electricity isn’t even planned in the area.  (To get an idea of what it’s like to live in the part of the municipality whose residents didn’t vote for the mayor, see my 27 March post for the description of the mudslides down to the aldea of Pojom.)

Elections are coming on September 9 (a long-awaited date for us here in the Foundation, which will mark the end of the tinny, ear-piercing recordings of marimba music that are blasted daily from the “Alianza Nueva Nación” party’s headquarters next door), so the ruling regime in San Mateo may change. 

But it may not, and Tiactac and the other aldeas out that way may continue to be the less favored. 

But then again, if a mayor from out that way is elected, the roles might be reversed.  And if a person from San Mateo proper is elected, all of the aldeas might be neglected and money might only be spent inside the town borders.  Such is politics, I suppose.

To see pictures of the Tiactac water party, and of a recent political rally sponsored by UNE, the leading party in the upcoming elections (that will probably continue to lead if Álvaro Colom, the party candidate, doesn’t get assassinated along with the other 61 people who have been killed so far this election season in Guatemala), click here:

[] [UNE rally, Tiactac water party]

The final installment of the August insanity was the arrival of the both famous and infamous Paul Hiatt, of First Year Players and New Dominions fame (i.e. he’s my dramatically and musically inclined friend from UVa).  He’s taking over a combination of the classes left open by Jim, Fernando, and now Fermín, one of the San Mateo teachers who just left to do his University practicum in Xela.

Obviously, change is rife around here, and while I’m getting used to it, it’s not something I particularly enjoy getting used to.  I know myself well enough to realize that, at least at this stage in my life, I wouldn’t be happy working the same job for 40 years, so change is good…but really, there’s a limit to how much change one can take!

On the bright side of things, the wealth of scholastic lethargy and Foundation-based insanity have been tempered recently by the arrival of three most excellent people: first, my very own madre toward the end of July, and later by los padres Butler, a few weeks ago.  Both of their visits were wonderfully pleasant and parental, and as far as we here in the Foundation can tell, a good time was had by all.  A few pictures from my Mom’s visit can be seen at the link just down the page.

The only downside of parental visits is that one must go to Guatemala City to pick them up. 

Guatemala City is a lawless wasteland of death, sin, and otherwise vast quantities of unpleasantness, and should be avoided at all costs.

I confirmed this when, on the way back from dropping my Mom off at the airport, I was sneakily robbed of all of my music-listening equipment when I left my bag sitting alone on my seat for [literally] a grand total of 45 seconds.

That incident was the third time I had been robbed in three months, the first being when my wallet was stolen at the feria in Barillas in May, and the second when I was forcibly robbed of my cash at a disco in Lívingston in June.  Hopefully I’m not seeming more “rob-worthy” to the Fates by talking about the incidents here, but the three-for-three streak seems like something worth commenting on.

Really all that’s come out of my being thieved several times, aside from a bit of current and future financial annoyance, is a loss of faith in people. 

In the first 22 years of my life I was only robbed once, and that was because I left my car window cracked.  When I traveled, I was so careful with my wallet and belongings at times that it bordered on paranoia.  And since I never got robbed, I always thought I might be guilty of having too little faith in people who were, perhaps, better people than I gave them credit for.

That lovely notion has been riddled with bullets down here in Guatemala.  Now I feel as if I could still somehow get robbed even if I were traveling in my most paranoid state, and that’s very sad, because it causes one to expend all kinds of energy and suffer from large amounts of anxiety during the sometimes full-day of bus rides that are the norm here.

A few good things have come of the unfortunate events, though.  First, I have virtually nothing anyone would want to steal anyway!  But more important, I’ve learned to live successfully and happily without so many fancy technological things. 

Sure, I’ll probably replace them when I get home, but especially during the last month, when my computer was out of commission, it helped me to escape at least momentarily from my technological American haze and to see and appreciate much more all of the wonderful things around me here in San Mateo: a great family, wonderful people, cool students, unbelievable landscape, and generally a healthy, tranquil lifestyle led by people who have no need whatsoever for iPods and fancy headphones. 

In fact, if the people here had iPods and walked around the streets with their little white earphones stuck in their ears, this place wouldn’t be nearly as great as it is.

Jumping to more recent events, during the height of the early-August humanity deluge, I took another trip to Chaculá, the funky aldea near the Mexican border where I had been forced to spend the night on my way back from Mexico City on the fateful, bus-less Semana Santa weekend. 

It was just as tranquil as I had hoped.  Reading material and hobo-esque sheet full of food slung over my shoulder, I waited for hours for the sparse transport out to the aldea; I relaxed by the laguna just outside of the town; I lounged and read in a higher-up field after the mosquitoes (unheard of in San Mateo) started biting me at the laguna; I chatted with the locals about their post-war resettlement experiences; and I waited for hours for a ride back.  And all was good.

And of course, I confirmed yet again how progressive Chaculá really is.  I explained my impressions at length in my 12 April Mexico epic, and saw even more things to back up my first impressions. 

Most interesting were the “NO TO THE MINING COMPANIES!” signs that the elementary school children had drawn and plastered all over town.  It turned out that the meeting about whether or not to let the mining companies in was happening that very Saturday in Nentón, the other Chuj-speaking municipality to which Chaculá belongs.  With all of the new, progressive aldeas in the area, it seems highly unlikely that the mining companies will be allowed in.

However, I heard from José Díaz, the cool nurse and community leader from Chaculá whom I met the last time I was there, that in September the municipality of San Mateo is going to have the same sort of meeting, and no one here has heard anything about it! 

Historically, the people from this area have been vehemently anti-mining, so I don’t expect minds to change so rapidly, but the lack of community action on the subject—and on many other important subjects—is distressing. 

For pictures of my Mom’s visit, my pleasant visit to Chaculá, and a few pictures from the recent graduation (Associate’s degree, more or less) of Alberto, one of the other teachers, see here:

[] [Mom, Chaculá, Alberto’s Graduation]

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is it for now.  Elections will be here in one week; the town feria is coming up in two (expect another post around that time); the graduating sexto students finish classes at the end of September, the week after the feria; graduation is a month after that, at the end of October; and then in early November I make my grand re-entrance into the glorious U.S. and A.  Tempus fugit!  

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