03 Jul Where in the world is OG Guatemala Fair Trade?
From the capital city to the highlands, from Antigua up and over a super volcano. Team Guatemala Fair Trade has worked with a ex-guerillas turned coffee farmers and then learned about the ecological, medical, and socio-economic impacts of mining from a community on the border with Mexico. They have been off grid for a good portion of their time in country, but we’ve got OGer Stephanie Jackson, who has kept track of the team on her own blog for the past five weeks. We’ve taken some excerpts here as well as photos from Emma Chorostecki:
“The first coming together of the group was effortless as we all shared stories and laughed as we poked fun at stereotypes of our respective cultures. Land and sea, far or near, our humanity looks the same and bonds us.
Our laughter sounds the same and our smiles are unaffected by accents.
Day one is going well, spirits are high and we all look forward to cooking Guatemalan style pizza… Because who doesn’t love pizza?
Week 1: Cultural Immersion
We have spent this whole week experiencing the culture of the three cities we’ve seen, Guatemala City, Antigua, and Quetzaltenango. We got to shake hands with a small coop coffee farmer and walk along enormous rows of a corporate farm that supplies big name buyers such as Starbucks and Stumptown. Hearing the insane amount of time and work they both put into the product makes me so glad that I have the opportunity to be the finally step in their work and process. By paying attention to detail when presenting their product, I pay them respect. They warm my heart.
The next few days were emotionally taxing. We heard the stories of the civil war survivors, and those whose family had been slaughtered and kidnapped by their own government. We talked to women who had been raped and tortured for asking what had happened to their husbands and why they had been taken. The students there talked about how the bodies of their colleagues would be dumped on the school grounds as a scare tactic. Some, as recently as ten years ago.
We talked to women of mining farms who had their homes burned by mining companies because they refused to abandon their ancestral land. This is a population abused, with little advocate or political voice and corruption infiltrates every modicum of government entity.
We hand spent much time with the people, who welcome us into their homes. Yesterday we killed a chicken for a traditional soup… On that note, I think I’m a vegetarian now.
This trip has been fulfilling and I am so excited to start the more intensive volunteer work after language classes.
So far several in our group have gotten sick but by the grace of God I am in good health despite a wicked sunburn after hours in the coffee farm.
Xela and Spanish in the highlands
Finally got some adequate wifi access at an amazing cafe, a 3rd wave gem called Melatte in Xela. I wasn’t sure whether to blog activities or emotions of the trip, so I’ll break them into sections.
It’s been raining an insane amount here, nearly every day save for a few precious hours of sun. Morale is low as most of our party is sick with various illnesses and sad from lack of sun. But we’ve found ways to cheer each other up. My room at the hostel has five occupants, it’s a cozy windowless sanctuary we’ve dubbed “The Cave.” We built a blanket fort and watched movies during the heaviest rain, hard to believe we’re all in our 20s! The past few days have been a mix of work and fun. The days are taken up entirely by language training one-on-one and cultural immersion to prepare us for the remote village on our next stop. Evenings are usually cooking, documentaries about Guatemalan history, or recreation like salsa lessons, drinks, or games inside if it’s raining. Yesterday our trip leaders surprised us with an impromptu trip to the altiplanos to see the famous hot springs birthed from volcanic fissures. The scenery was unreal, I’ll try to upload a picture. After a nice soak morale was much improved.
The group is growing closer by the day. Despite being from five different countries, we’re like family after only a week together. I feel so comfortable and at home with them, connected in a way I can’t even describe. We cook together, clean together, laugh, cry, hug, cuddle, and grow together. We’ve become brave and are more comfortable conversing and connecting with the locals.
Tomorrow we start our three day journey to the mountain village. Covering about ten miles a day, it will be a challenge because none of us are used to the altitude and most of us are weakened from travelers sickness. But once we get to the village we will begin our first big project, building stoves for the women of a Mayan organization called AMA. They suffer from eye and respiratory problems from cooking over open fires and they live in the smoke every moment indoors. They cook tortillas to sell, a popular occupation. The stoves we’re constructing will prevent the lung diseases they suffer from, and they are thrilled for the help and also to share their homes with us. I am so excited to get started with the work.
Trekking from Xela to Lago Atitlan
Today is the last day of our hike. After a full day yesterday, everyone is ready for a wash and a rest. Our mode of bathing is a Guatemalan sauna called a temezcal. It’s a small encasement about 4×6 ft with a coal fire in one corner to heat it. A pail of very hot and very cold water sit on a plank, where you sit in the middle with an empty pail and mix the two to desired temperature. We use a small bowl to pour this water over top of us to wash and rinse, usually two people at a time. It definitely encourages bonding and discourages modesty.
We woke up at 3am to begin our hike today, extra early to catch the sunrise from a lookout point not far from our homestay. We sat bundled up with hot coffee and oatmeal as the slow sunrise lit up the seven volcano peaks silhouetted in the distance. I’ve never seen a skyline like this, and the soft purples, pinks and grays created a scene no camera can fully capture. I chose a few select songs to soundtrack the moment and I think I found a few that were just about perfect. Our first settling, with mostly dark except for a soft blue directly East, was accented by “the earth is not a cold dead place” by Explosions in the Sky. The soft early dawn as the peaks began to take shape was enjoyed with “the Universe” by Gregory Alan Isakov. “Pathos pathos” by Kishi Bashi seemed to coax the first bright flashes of sun to emerge, lighting up the clouds, lake water, and cities scattered below. Stunning. We have a few hours yet of our hike to the lake, where we’ll begin our next project. We’re smelly, tired, and sore from the voyage but spirits are high. As hard as it’s been, it’s been broken up by breathtaking views, dips in waterfalls, and picnics under delicious shade trees. I could live like this forever… But I’m excited for the work to begin again.
The group is still getting along well. Our last hosts had a guitar, so I recruited a friend to play a few tunes. He played guitar and sang, and I sang harmonies to various folk tunes for the group. Luckily our taste in music is nearly identical, and knew all the same songs. It definitely made me feel much more at home, as I’ve sorely missed making music.
I’m falling in love with the people here, they are so kind and inviting. The Mayan family I helped build a stove for thanked me with a traditional garb with stitched patterns so intricate it takes over a month to complete. I had trouble accepting it, and it was hard to express my gratitude with my broken Spanish. They taught me how to say thank you in quiche (‘kee-chay), the Mayan language, but even that seemed insufficient. It’s hard to believe our time is nearly half over. It seems I’ve been here for ages, and at the same time I feel like I just got here.
San Lucas and the CCDA cooperative
We’ve just left the charming city of San Lucas Toliman, where an incredible coop called CCDA is located. It’s stands for cooperativo campesinos del altiplanos (farmers coop of the highlands). They welcomed us with open arms and worked alongside us as we did work in carpentry, farming, and creating all natural compost and pesticides for their crops. It was a wonderful time of learning, growing, and laughing. We enjoyed evenings discussing food responsibility and watched a documentary called King Korn. I definitely want to shop and eat more responsibly as I can see the impact of my choices in the States directly on the people I’m working with here. I’ve been conscious about what I put in my body, but now I am moving past “what” and into the realm of “from where”.
I’ve begun to feel extremely convicted about my consumerist ways and have been thinking about all the things I want to change when I go home. I can’t change my whole country but I can change my own habits.
We’re leaving this afternoon for Santa Anita where we’ll be constructing a pulping machine for a coffee farm there. I’m excited!
Our last few days with CCDA were lovely, and they sent us away with an extremely touching farewell dinner. We spent the afternoon on a touristy hotspot on the dock, followed by a boat and then bus ride to Santa Anita de la union, a small but proud coffee and banana farming community. They are wonderful people, and have welcomed us into their homes and fields. Many of the coffee farmers here are ex guerrillas, and regale us with stories of the civil war. Our host is an ex guerrilla fighter who told us he spent six months in the mountains to escape death and was taken in by a group of people who would become revolutionaries. He told us about three times he was nearly killed in battle, and now he farms a plot of coffee plantation in the daytime and reads his Bible in the evenings. “I am quiet and serious sometimes,” he tells us, “but I have a very big heart”.
Our second host, a warm woman named doña Maria, cooks and cares for us. She is the wife of a beekeeper and has no children. There is no shortage of honey or laughter in her home. Her two dogs and pet parrot, Paco, are a constant source of entertainment. She tells us of brothers and mother in Guatemala City, and with a touch of pain she told the story of her other brother who was active in the resistance and was disappeared by the government. She never found out what happened to him, but suspects he was tortured to find the location of her and her family. She is only alive because he did not actually know where they were at the time. This community, this country, has seen so much pain but still they press on. The president of the community cooked us tortillas and told us they we should rejoice in our suffering and failings because they are opportunities to learn and grow. I am humbled by them.
We have been put to work in the community alongside the men. We’ve helped in construction in the project we funded, a housing for their pulpera. We have helped weed coffee plants and chop firewood, and have one more day left of construction before we bid them farewell and make our way to higher ground to visit the mining communities. The weather here is subtropic, hot and humid every day and rainy and cold every evening. The insects are thick and during my running tally of bites on my body I counted 62. I’m sure I’ll add to the number tomorrow.
The lack of plumbing has been hard and I am craving a hot shower but yesterday I bathed under a waterfall after a long hike to and from the fields and I must say… I’ll take that over a hot shower any day. But for now, bucket baths are a small price to pay for the privilege of working alongside these incredible people.”
Written by Stephanie Jackson, 2014 Guatemala Fair Trade