Tuesday, November 01, 2016

One of the most difficult things about living in a third-world, or perhaps a second-world country, is that a foreigner is perceived as "rico" - rich.   And relatively speaking, we are.  But what this means is that - unless you live in an insulated community, which I can't imagine - you are surrounded by people who have less - way less - than you.  And if you are a person who relates to other people, of course you begin to relate to them, as friends, as you would in your own country.
And so you hear the sad stories - parents who have advanced illnesses who would have been cured if they lived in the U.S., even on MediCare; childen they can't take to the hospital even though they are suffering, homes threatened by the chicanery of someone who talked them into taking out a loan they can't pay, homes lost to flood - the list goes on and on, tho medical expenses are a big part.  This is especially true in towns where alcoholism and diabetes are rife.
So, as a good friend, again and again you respond to these needs - and are glad to be able to do so. 
Unfortunately there are people who see this - or a project to help the needy - as an opportunity to take advantage of.   So the stories proliferate and it is only after some time that you discover that those stories were false, there was never an operation, the grandmother didn't really die, and so on.
It is amazing to me that I was so easily tricked, but of course I had my part in it.
I came to Guatemala (without realizing it) emotionally needy - only a few years after the death of my spouse, and the forming of their own partnerships and/or families of all my children - and knowing noone.   So I was ready to be invited to birthday parties of the children, to share Christmas with my new friends, and to help when needed.   Perhaps I allowed myself to be blinded to the lies or exaggerations.
Now, although everyone is poor, relative to you, not everyone takes advantage.  I have had vendors run down the street after me to give me correct change, someone went out of her way to tell me I had dropped a 100 quetzal note in the street (a fortune to them).  These things happened many times.   And my Friends helped me with some things - bringing soup when I was ill, or a dinner when I first returned from a trip, checking on me if I didn't answer my phone all day.  It was not entirely a one-way street; maybe they felt this evened the scale. But that was never a verbal agreement.
When my Friend's economic situation went on a downturn, because there were suddenly lots and lots of people in town doing his type of work, the problem stepped up.   Money disappeared from my house several times.  He began to pocket money that I gave him to pay people who did work for me.

So that was the end of our friendship.  And this was really sad for me; I had depended on his help and his friendship, and that of his family.  He had shared much about his life with me, and I cared about him.   But allowing him to continue to take advantage of me would have been bad for him as well as me.   So I left the friendship, and several years later the work that we did in common.   Tough times.

Learning to set clear limits with those you deal with is one of the first priorities, and will save bad feelings and your heart.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Una boda (a wedding)

Anita, sister of Jose & Henry, had her wedding today. When I arrived at the father's house, where she has lived all her life, the patio was decorated for a lunch, later, (crepe paper, balloons) and many family members were standing or sitting around, waiting for the event to begin. All the old women sat together, and each person who entered the house passed them, kissing each of their hands. In her bedroom was the bride, having her hair curled. All of the women in the family had to get in on the act, with advice, curling, arranging her elaborate braids, etc. She was dressed in a falda (wrapped skirt), faja (embroidered belt), and blouse like any other day, but all new and the blouse was white and  more elaborate - much like the top my daughter Anna wore to her wedding.  Her elaborate white veil hung nearby.
Many tears as her hair wouldn't curl properly; finally Anita took over the job herself.  When she felt things were good enough, she went out into the patio and rehearsed the young niece and nephew with their role as pillow-carriers, to walk in front of the bride.  I said something to the father about "losing your daughter today" but he didn't seem to relate.  Then I remembered she will live nearby (in the house of her husband's family, as I understood it.) 
People seemed to be waiting for something, and finally Anita's madrina - her godmother - arrived.  More kissing of hands (an elaborate system that honors elders, or those important in the church or community.)  Finally the madrina went to the bride, and it is she who has the honor of putting on the bride's veil.
When everything was ready the whole assembly, family and close friends, went out onto the street in front of the house, and ahead of them two bombas were set off - huge noises like a cannon-shot, reverberating in the surrounding mountains.  Then the procession to the church.  I asked a man where the novio, the groom, was in all this; he said he was doing something similar, but not as elaborate, in his house.  "After all, he is the receiver," he said.  So we all, some 40 people, walking slowly up a steep alley and then thru the streets of town to the church. 
Inside all the pews were decorated with balloons and some little statuary.  When she entered...alongside her madrina and her parents - the music started up, marimba and chorous - the Wedding March that we know, although someone altered.  The groom and his padrino (godfather -my old landlord and community leader) were waiting near the foot of the area that includes the set-back altar.
They joined and all sat in the front pew for the mass.  My informant said the audience of some 2-300 people was not divided - groom's side, bride's side.
There were the usual call-and-response Catholic prayers, and then many readings from the Bible by assistants (sacerdotes?) --  two were wearing leather jackets, but most robes, and one his traditional Catholic robes with the additional of a local traditional men's brightly-colored sash.  Several of these readings (on the subject of weddings) were given by a French woman who has lived here for 20 years, speaks perfect Tz'utujil and seems to have the - perhaps informal - role of a nun.  She is completely involved in the local traditional community.
The priest then spoke at length about the importance of trusting completely in God, and how that will aid this couple on their journey together.  He seems like a lovely (young) person - speaks informally and personally.   He said he had a secret; he and the bride and groom had grown up together, and the padrino and one other man closely involved had been two of their "professors."  So this wedding was special to him.
He then called the couple up and had them join hands.  He blessed their union and said what an important example they were to the youth of the community (many people never get legally married, much less in the church).  They then repeated their vows to each other, each saying, "I give myself to you promising to be faithful in poverty and richness, sickness and health.." and then I can't recall the ending words...as long as we both shall live??    The priest blessed their rings as symbols of their promises on this day, and they exchanged them with some help from the padrino.  They then each said to the other "I promise to love and respect you."  (I was sort of listening for this, because when the priest spoke, there were several phrases about the woman being obedient, and the man being caring...as Christ cares for his church.)   The priest didn't give the direction, as in our customs, but the groom then pulled back the veil and gave his new wife a quick kiss.
The couple then faced the crowd and were heartily applauded.
They then came into the center of the church were they took Holy Communion, (and at that point I sneaked out of the church to go to the bank before it closed.)  She will go to live in his house tonight.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Imagine generosity

I woke from a dream of singing the last line's of John Lennon's IMAGINE, and spent a long time thinking about how exactly that line went.....what was it before "...join us, and the world will live as One."   It seemed to me it was words about throwing away ego, being more generous, living without limits....and I pondered this for a long time as it related to my current life, and my recent questions about appropriate behavior.
Those came from a man who supplies our "viveres", our food baskets for the moms.  He came to our director yesterday and said he has "un necesidad..."    How I've come to hate those words, because here EVERYONE has "un necesidad" and often comes to me - as the local perceived-as-rich white person - with that problem.  Rarely just asking for a handout or "loan," but selling something of theirs, usually cortes (local wrap-around skirts that I use to make clothing to sell to support our project) or guipiles (traditional women's tops).  These "necesidades" are everything from family from the Capital coming to visit and they are expected to pay to feed them for several days, to medical expenses, to school expenses for their kids, to their mortgage or "hipoteca" due and they can't pay.  Good reasons, I'd like to help.  But I can buy the materials I need super-cheap at a textile market across the lake, I can't pay 3 x the price here in San Pedro because that means less for our project, which ALSO has "un necesidad."   The mean side of me says, Maybe I should say we have "un necessidad" too, could they please donate to our project??
So this supplier of food has "un necesidad" and our director says we should pay him what he's asking - three months in advance - because he does a lot for us.  "He always gives us a break on our baskets," he says.  "He buys in quantity and passes that savings on to us."
Well, that's why we pay three months in advance, so that he can do that. 
I come from the U.S.  I cannot imagine a business contact that you have coming to you to ask for an advance because they have personal economic problems.  Unheard of, unless you are family or something.  But here it's expected??  I'm a bad person if I don't do this?   Our landlady had "un necessidad" six months or so ago and wanted a year-and-a-half in advance, and I paid it, in order to keep this good-site-at-low-cost.  And it has nearly busted our project budget!   I haven't taken in enough since then to pay our two teachers a regular (low) salary.
I go to the father of the family I live with, because I have heard him say, "If somebody needs something, I do it, because you never know when you might be the needy one."
I know "what goes around, comes around" at least in theory.
When I first came to Guatemala I had $16,000 in the bank.  And I was generous when my Spanish teacher needed $200 for brain surgery for her son.  And with each reasonable thing that came up after that.  I believed that you enter the energetic flow of money with positivism and what you give out comes back to you.
$16,000 later I began to wonder.   Surely some of those dollars were spent on my various trips to the U.S. to do Benefit Events for the project, a few dollars were spent on furniture I needed ($125-150 each for 3) and going to restaurants here with friends (usually $6-10).  Over $3000 went in loans to a friend who returned it, not in money, but in work.  At least $1000 went to put a roof on the house of a woman who was struggling to make ends meet.  And there was $50 here and $75 there, each of them to help someone out.
And now I have nothing left of that $16,000.   Did any of it return to me?  Can I believe that philosophical concept?  At some point I realized MUCH had returned to me through my generosity - appreciation and esteem from my friends in the States who know about my project, MUCH appreciation, genuinely expressed, from the mothers in our project whom I've helped for four years.  Just nothing monetary.  Although my son has recently been very generous in helping me by property.  Is all that part of that "flow"?   I think so.   I just don't have personal money to give out any more.  And I'm very protective of our project money since it's down to the minimum to keep us giving classes and food.
So what did the father of my family say?  "No, this is not an expectation here; it's not 'part of the culture', and you're not a bad person if you don't do it."
Well that freed me up to think more creatively.  So I went back to the phone and told our director that we would pay one month in advance now, one at the end of the month, and then in December we would pay for Dec, Jan, Feb.  A more balanced approach.  I hope he accepts it, but if not there are other tiendas (stores), and we can make it clear from the beginning that there are advances every three months and nothing more.
But still, early this morning I pondered the extent of my appropriate limitations.  I am happy to give anyone something that I am not using.  I am happy to give a small loan if there's surety of repayment, or work they can do to repay it.  These things actually do make me happy - and to some extent I think the joyous physical feeling you get from generosity should be its own reward.    But even though my house is too large for me, am I willing to have a family come live with me?  Probably not, although maybe for a short-term emergency.  I think I'm probably not willing to give up my personal needs for space and time, at this point in life.  Though I have freely given 3 mornings a week and many other hours to both Ayudame and my preschool project, and have trucked suitcases through airports and exerted MUCH to produce the benefits in the States every six months.  And I will always listen to someone's troubles if they are sincere.  Maybe those are my limits.
Am I missing something?  Is the guy who gives the shirt off his back freer than I am?  Probably. 
This isn't the end of this questioning, and probably is something I'm here to learn. 
Does my horoscope give me counsel?  It suggests that that fine balance between contraction and expansion, between "Mrs. Gotrocks" and "the Scrooge," between generous and stingy are an important learning point for me in this lifetime.
At least that's where I'm at for now.  Doing the best I can.
This morning I looked up the lyrics of the song and they were not as demanding as I dreamed, "I hope some day you'll join us,  And the world will live as One."

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Lake, the Lake.....

With all these posts, over five years of experience at Lake Atitlan, how many photos have I posted of the lake itself?....this constant, and constantly-changing presence.  I will post what I can locate.

For my first seven months here I lived with in a few hundred feet of the lake in the house of my dreams.  Then a little further away (not so directly visible) for 2-1/2 years, and then another mostly blissful two years in the first house.  From the balcony the lake view was close, and every morning I could see the local fishermen take their wooden cayukas out onto the water....whether the lake was a flat silver disk or the waves were rocking the boat so strongly I didn't know how the men could stand.
In the early morning hours a mist rises off the lake, obscuring the boats and the fishermen...sometimes just the arc of the fishing net thrown into the air was visible.

The third photo is three of our girls in the project painting by the lake.  The fourth is view from my balcony.
And after 1-1/2 years in Antigua, Guatemala, and more than five years in San Pedro la Laguna,  I'm still here.   A trajectory.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

See us in Santa Cruz this weekend!

We are on our usual whirlwind tour from one town in California to another to give benefit events/painting expositions for our project, Ayudame (www.paintmyfuture.info).   Next stop Santa Cruz - this coming weekend, May 25-26th, 2013.  The exposition and sale will be at the First Congregational Church, 900 High St. from 2-6:30 each day.  Psychologist Barbara Rogoff will be there to speak about her book, Developing Destines; a Mayan midwife and town, at about 3:30.   Jose Antonio Mendez Chavajay, director and primary teacher for Ayudame will talk about painting in the Tz'utujil tradition and our advanced students, who will be featured in the exposition.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Handout or Handup?

I had an nteresting discussion today with a local man about the concept of "giving to the poor" and dependency....a man who does a lot for his community.    The discussion of course goes - if you give people something they become dependent on a handout, they don't make effort for themselves, it encourages their dependency and slothfulness.
"What about the woman and children who suffer if the man of the household doesn't pull his weight - through absence, alcoholism, inability to hold a job?" 
"Well," he said, "she should leave him.  She is complicit if she stays with him." 
Oh - as a long time psychotherapist and case-worker - that brings up a mountain of explanations about a woman's perceived role (especially in this culture), absence of resources (especially if she doesn't have available extended family), the psychology of a woman abused or neglected in childhood and her perception of her worth and capability, and how a woman of any culture or ability stays "hooked" on a man who abuses or neglects her (another mountain of stories both famous and obscure come to mind). 
The story we are talking about is a woman in our project with two small children - intense, anxious, troublesome, emotional 7 y.o. Felipe, and his overly-quiet 4 year old sister.  They live in a dump.  The worst house (that I wouldn't let a good horse live in) of all the substandard houses of families in our project.  The mother speaks very little Spanish, doesn't read or write, works weaving small belts for which she receives the equivalent of $2.  They probably take 2 days to make.   The mom has a quick pleading smile, if you can get her to smile.   
I met the father once...when he came to the house while we were initiating tutoring (sitting outside on a stump with a piece of plywood to write on).  Felipe shrunk when his father came close.   The man wanted to impress me with what he knew but he criticized the work Felipe was doing.   This father is a drunk and violent, by reputation.  He is said to have torn the eyes out of another man.   That's violent.
I want Felipe to have a chance in our project.  I want them to have enough food to eat.  I want Felipe to go to school and have opportunities in the future.   He was a very troublesome kid when he first came to class - always bothering the other kids and getting them to react to him (usually hitting.)   I took him on - sticking with him during class, standing behind him and tapping his shoulders alternately when we stood in circle (a calming device, but also affection).  He has calmed and integrated more. He likes drawing and is getting better.   He also comes to me for touch.
The man I was speaking to - on this day when he came as part of a TV crew to interview our painters - said (in response to my question whether they could help with this woman's house since they actually pitch in an building one-room houses for desperate families) that noone would be willing to help them, because this man has land, and yet he has robbed so many people in town at one time or another.  "She could leave him," he repeated.  "She is complicit."
I ended up feeling it was in some ways an exchange of male/female points of view - his focussed on the father of the family who isn't executing his responsibilities and not wanting to aid and abet; mine focussed on the woman and children, who suffer therefrom, wanting to be sure they have enough to eat and are in school....wanting them to feel cared about.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Semana Santa in San Pedro 2013

six am street in San Pedro - waiting for the procession
Some alfombras (carpets) have messages
Ingenious use of a wooden husk, painted, the hairy bark, and another plant for spines
watermelon holding candle
carved watermelon, banana plant part in the foreground
Just pure beauty - all plant and fruit parts
They work all night to makes these (hull of porosa plant in the foreground)
carved watermelon (Christ's "initials")
the second anda comes down the steps toward the first carpet
they work all night - this is dyed sawdust
the acolytes and first steps onto the first alfombra
here comes the procession
ahead of the procession
orange halves make flowers
the little boys follow the procession and slip under the anda to help carry
the men help the woman to carry the first anda
Not an easy job - a "sacrifice" for their faith
you see the dyed sawdust carpets more in other pueblos - they use purchased or home-made templates
carrots, oranges, and skillfully folded leaves
the front of the procession - the woman, and the men carrying paintings
the different mens and womens groups linethe streets on each side of the alfombras
after the mens and womens groups, the acolytes and then the andas
the second anda, with the Christ figure
a solemn occasion
any beautiful thing
People work all night only to have the carpet destroyed when the andas pass - "that's the sacrifice"
a little tired
filling the template
women carrying the first anda across the first alfombra