Kat's Guatemala Journal travel blog

Home destroyed

Digging out the mud

Search for girl

Preparing for food distribution

I was there.

Delivery trucks

Prayer over the food, workers, and families

Delivery presentation

Families living in school room - Freddy, not Kruger

Next basketball champion


San Pedro La Laguna journal. 01-04 de junio, 2010.

Tuesday:

School, La Playa Bar for grub, Jarachik to study, appearance at fund raiser for the landslide families put on by students (not very successful), more study, bed.

Wednesday:

I took a morning walk up the main road from the Panajachel boat ramp to ‘the’ coffee shop for café con leche made with San Pedro beans. Best coffee in town. Did the daily class at school from 8:00-1:00, stayed at the school to study from 1:00-4:30. There was a loud horn that kept going off every few minutes for about ½ hour that I have yet to find out what it was about. I thought that maybe the girl had been found, but she hasn’t been. I decided it was time to get going and walked up to the Mercado area to look around – bought a pen (woo hoo!), and basically window shopped until I got back to Jarachik to drop off books and change, then find dinner before salsa class.

Yes, salsa class. The school had salsa class today. Just me, another girl, a guy, and a teacher showed up. Most of the other students were helping with the landslide activities today so were probably too tired for salsa. It was great because the other girl and guy left after a bit but the instructor kept me dancing for over an hour. It was a great workout and I am happy to report that he was impressed with this old lady being the first time she danced the salsa. He had me doing turns and dips and I kept up, although we both were wet rags by the end of the session. It was a lot of fun and a great break from the studies. Almost as good as zumba.

There are some students that are organizing various activities around town, such as the fund raiser on Tuesday and working with the local municipality to get the water flowing to San Pedro. Seems that there is a break in the water line so there is a group of students meeting at 6am in the morning to try to find the break and fix it. The challenge is that the line snakes all around the lake so the break could be anywhere – there are miles to check.

Other students and the teachers have been going to the landslide area every afternoon to assist with a variety of activities such as digging mud out of houses that are still standing to try to salvage belongings and equipment, bringing supplies and items salvaged to the families who lost their homes, cooking for the workers, mapping where the houses were that were swept away, and generally helping wherever needed.

My teacher and I spent the first hour of today’s lesson just talking about the natural disaster and the political situation in San Pedro, how corrupt the government is that you can’t trust any funding to go to them without some being scraped of the top (if not all). I’m sure it’s the same situation in most countries (including the EEUU). It was a similar lecture to when I was back in Nicaragua, except that this conversation was in spanish and it was not only a great lesson about the local area and situation but also great practice on speaking espanol. He assured me that the Cooperativa Escuela would give all funding received to the people who need it. From what I understood the school is a cooperative of Spanish teachers who have been teaching for at least 6 years. The director of the school is one of the teacher ‘members’ of the cooperative and they change directors every 6 months. I’m sure a lot of this information is on their website as well. My teacher, who is a native of San Pedro, feels that the government can take care of the water line since they need it to keep the tourists here (and the rich families who support them happy) but the real need for help is to the families who are without homes because the government won’t be as dedicated to helping them. So this is where the energies of most of the locals are being focused.

The Jarachik hostel is on a main pathway between the Santiago and Panajachel docks. I usually work on my homework and read my emails in our little courtyard restaurant. As people walk by they can see who is there and I often get amigos who drop by for a visit. Tonight I had 3 students from the Cooperativa stop by for smoothies and a chat. It’s such a great small town atmosphere even for those who are here for a short time. I have had no issues at all traveling solo – it’s actually been great!

Thursday:

Drop off laundry, get breakfast, attend school, change out traveler’s checks at bank, shopping, hostel, landslide digging, return to hostel to change, go to lecture at the school, return to hostel, bed.

Haven't studied yet today because I was a bit guilted on to go over to help out at the landslide area. There is about 4-5 feet of mud in several houses that people are trying to dig out and I worked with some other women students at one place. Not only mud but rocks, boulders, and branches buried in the mud.

There was a bulldozer down the way but it was just being used to dig for the lost girl.

I was amazed that there wasn't any plan to use it to dig out the muck and stuff from the houses. It's going to take weeks to get the mud out, and the effort is not well organized. The mud is dug out of the house and thrown in front of the house, the that pile of mud needs to be moved, and so on. There are a lot of students and teachers working and some local men. The red cross was working on the project to try to find the girl and were wearing a lot of protective gear. We wondered how hot they were under it all - it has been quite warm this week. A couple of the red cross guys came over to offer us bandages for anyone who needed protection from the digging (blisters). Traci and Felix took advantage of the offer but I knew that I wasn’t going to be there that long to get blisters.

The locals are very appreciative and bring water and snacks for the workers. We were given some porridge like stuff – kind of like watery oatmeal that you drink. It is hard to drink a hot porridge type ‘drink’ when you are hot and just wanting something tall and cold to drink. I only dug for an hour and I was tired. When I left to go, several women thanked me - and I didn't feel that I really contributed much. I wish there was more I could do in my short time here. And San Pedro has it easy – there are other towns in Guatemala who have it much worse, and most of the cleanup is being done by hand.

I was a bit of a muddy mess so I had to stop at La Playa Bar, my oasis, to wash my hands. And you know I couldn't stop there without having a cerveza. The barkeep had been site earlier in the day for about 3 hours and had not put on any sunscreen so he was quite red. Seems that everybody is lending a hand to the effort. It’s a large effort and will probably take months to get everything back to normal.

Picked up my laundry on the way back to the hostel with clean hands - about $3 for 6 lbs of clothes. Washed, dried, and folded. Not bad.

I didn’t have a lot of time before going back to the school for the 6pm evening activity of lecture. This time it was only Hanna and I that showed up. Hanna has been at the landslide site just about every day digging out mud. She’s a tough little cookie. She rode on on a bicycle from Vancouver with plans to continue south possibly to Panama. Hanna took a break in Guatemala and has been taking Spanish classes while she is on break. Check out her blog: www.hannamijakobson.com It’s both in Swedish and English and the photography is awesome.

The lecture was very interesting from what I got, since it was in Spanish with no one translating. According to a 2002 census 46% of the population in San Pedro is indigenous Mayan, while in 1994 it was 69%. I think it is because more people are immigrating to San Pedro rather than the Mayans leaving, but not sure. 57% of the population is considered poor and additional 21% is considered very poor. The rich population is comprised of 24 families. The majority of the government, justice system, and security system are those that are not indigenous to San Pedro and they are more concerned with lining their own pockets than improving the living conditions of the indigenous people. No surprise.

I went back to Jarachik for dinner and by this time I was done for the day. The brain was fried. Eloise and Andrew were sitting at a table so I joined them and I ordered mango curry for dinner which was quite yummy. Miriam and another couple came over to join us then Traci showed up and it was a party. We had a few bottles of wine and most were getting ready to go to another landslide family fund raiser. While we were eating a sidewalk vendor came over to show us his blankets and rugs. He was a smooth one. He said that he was one of the families that had been misplaced because of the landslide – without a home. He almost had me buying a blanket – it was beautiful with a mountain and bird and some Mayan motifs - and for a really good price when you compare it to prices in the states but the cook took me aside when I was going up to my room to tell me that he was not without home, and in fact he was pretty well off. I wasn’t sure who to believe so I called off the blanket deal which was for the best because I really don’t know how I’d get it home with me. I just don’t like being lied to…. But then, who does?

We chatted for awhile then most of the group went off to the Buddha for the fundraiser fiesta and Miriam and I went up to bed.

Friday:

My last day in San Pedro. I will certainly miss it. Today was the culmination (for the week) of all the fund raising activities. Food was purchased for the 26 families then bagged. The bags of food, students, teachers, and some local men were loaded into 2 trucks and delivered to each of the families. It was pretty inspiring to see how these people are pulling together. Every family was very appreciative with the food gifts. They are either staying with family, or organizations who have put them up. The format was that we all went into the house where the family (or families) were staying, and one of the hombres would explain who was providing the gift then the family representative would give their thanks to the group, then we would go one by one to the family members and shake their hands, give them a hug, and/or wish them God bless.

The first visit was to the family of the lost girl. We (the students) didn’t know it though until we left. There were a lot of people there and apparently they were morning her loss. Her body still hasn’t been found and today is the final day that the red cross is going to look for her. With all the mud that we have been digging out, her body could be anywhere under feet of mud.

One man from a misplaced household that we met (Freddy, not Kruger) spoke some English, and a great sense of humor, and great outlook on the situation. He is without home and materials (e.g., clothes, shoes, etc) and is sleeping on the floor of a schoolroom but is thankful that the landslide wasn’t any worse for people in San Pedro. He is being used as a translator and plans to share his food gift with other families in need.

We returned to the school and my teacher was ready to give me the rest of my lesson (we had only done 1 hour) but I told him to take the rest of the day off. We both had had a busy morning and a hard week.

Tonight is also Traci and Jake’s last night in San Pedro. They leave for a Xela mountain school in the morning so we are meeting tonight at D’Noz for a last evening out together. Sad but true. I am taking a break today from studying and gave Ruben the afternoon off. He got me through all the base grammar / conjugation rules and I need to let them all settle before I start lessons in Antigua.



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