Semana Santa

One of the alfombras made of flowers and seeds.

Holy Week is one of the most celebrated holidays in Guatemala. Most people have the whole week off for vacation, including all of the kids in school. Throughout the country, cities and towns have large processions several days during the week, each having a significant meaning. The biggest day is Good Friday, where people make alfombras (carpets) in the streets. The alfombras are made out of dyed sawdust, flowers, pine needles, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. In San Lucas, the Good Friday procession leaves the church at 4pm, where they carry Jesus throughout the streets, walking over the alfombras. It goes until midnight or later, ending back at the church (it is not a very fast procession). Most of the town goes to see all the different alfombras and/or walks with the procession.It is really neat to see and experience. I really liked later Friday night, when most of the town was out on the streets and we could be out later than is normally safe.

Our Semana Santa here was great, but exhausting (we crashed the following Monday). We visited families a lot because there was no school and a few people were home for the week who live outside of San Lucas. We also got to hang out with friends Hilary, Katie, Sterling, and Wilson, who were here to volunteer at the Mission for the week. Leticia cooked for all of us twice — delicious chiles rellenos and chuchitos, and Hilary and Co. took Leticia and the girls (and us!) out for Pizza de Sam (yum!). We also had a fiesta at the Rivera’s, where we played Jenga and ate nachos with Zulem, Juan Diego, and Jorge. It was a great week and we were sad to say goodbye to everyone who left Easter Sunday!

Lunch at Leticia's - chiles rellenos, the traditional Holy Thursday meal in San Lucas.

Procession on Holy Tuesday.

Making the alfombra at the Mission.

Alfombra at the Mission, taken from top of church.

A fun fruit alfombra.

One of my favorite alfombras because they used vegetables! Radishes and potatoes ūüôā

An impressive alfombra.

Alfombra of a woman weaving.

Alfombra of a man in ropa tipica carrying a heavy load.


Foto del día

Sefora weaving.

February 20th was the 50th anniversary of Father Greg¬īs ordination, which meant that many people in San Lucas wanted to celebrate it with great gusto. The week leading up to the 20th, the parish employees, kitchen staff, and volunteers were busy preparing for all the activities and special meals that would occur throughout the day. The volunteers were asked not to leave the parish area for the three days before, so we could help with whatever was needed. We had fun helping the kitchen staff by washing a myriad of dishes, cutting a¬†lot of¬†vegetables, washing hundreds of potatoes, and setting tables inside and outside of the mission.¬†

Peeling carrots for celebration meal (photo by Gregory Buda)

Biblioteca set up for celebration

The largest parts of the celebration were the morning mass and lunch afterward. Father Greg¬īs one request for the day was for anyone in San Lucas who wanted to celebrate with him, would get lunch afterward. Two bulls were donated to the Mission for the meal (one got loose in the streets the week before, hehe). Chona, the head cook at the Mission, asked the women volunteers to wear a Guatemalan skirt, and gave each of the guy volunteers a ¬®Guatemalan¬® shirt to wear for the celebration. I say ¬®Guatemalan¬® because they were the ¬®hippy/tourist¬® shirts that are sold here¬†:).¬†

The guys in their Guate shirts.

Before the mass, people made alfombras in the street from down by the lake up to the church. The alfombras (carpets) were made out of dyed sawdust, pine needles, flowers, fruits, and seeds (more alfombras to come during Semana Santa this week). 

People making an alfombra in front of the church


Alfombra leading up to the church.

The mass was held outside, and a lot of people came. The bishop from Sololá and 60 seminary students from the area also came. Afterward, lunch was served to the people and guests. 

Mass outside church.

During the afternoon, there were activities at the church. The last activity before dinner was our favorite–a Maya music group from Solol√°¬†that performed traditional Mayan music. They used a large drum, a percussion set that consisted of turtle shells and animal skulls tied to a large branch, conch shells, several kinds of wood flutes, maracas, a large rain stick, and a marimba. Some of the songs were instrumental, while others were sung in Kachiquel (the Mayan dialect spoken here). The last song was more like a ceremony, and was really interesting.¬†



Jami visited¬†us for a week and¬†arrived the Thursday before the celebration. We were so excited to have her here, and it was fun to show her San Lucas after she had heard me talk about it since high school. She helped us prepare for the celebration (which was very nice of her to be flexible!),¬†and see it the 20th. After the celebration, we went on a boat ride to Santiago, worked in the garden, visited a couple families, killed a big spider in her room, and ate a lot of ice cream. We went to Antigua for Jami¬īs last day/night via camionetas¬†(chicken buses), and explored some of the churches, shops, and ruins from an old monastery. It was a fun last adventure.¬†We were really sad to see her leave and wish she could have stayed longer :).¬†

Jami and I on the boat!

Ice cream time.

Jami, Bethany, and I with Moises, Jesus, and Marvin in the garden.

Monestary ruins in Antigua.

Church in Antigua.

Violencia en Guatemala

A person should not travel to Guatemala to become or remain¬†an optimist or idealist.¬†The reason I write this is because of the rampant violence in the country (including small San Lucas). As if poverty and its encompassing issues¬†(malnutrition, poor healthcare,¬†a very poor education system, etc.)¬†weren¬īt depressing enough, each day Guatemala experiences mass violence: murders,¬†kidnappings (Guatemalans kidnapping Guatemalans), gang violence,¬†vigilante groups taking ¬®justice¬® into their own hands, muggings and robberies,¬†to list a few.¬†

Most of Guatemala¬īs bus transportation system were on strike on Monday and blocked major highways¬†because they were demanding more security from the government (170+ bus drivers have been murdered by gangs trying to¬†extort them¬†in Guatemala City in the last year¬†(http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=9388546¬†)).

This excerpt from an article discusses Guatemala¬īs high per-capita murder rate: ¬®Guatemala can grimly claim one of the world‚Äôs highest per-capita murder rates, which amounts to more than 5,000 killings a year. According to the National Civilian Police (PNC) of Guatemala, there were 5,682 registered deaths in 2007 and 6,200 in 2008. Accordingly, the Economist Intelligence Unit‚Äôs January 2009 Guatemala Country Report establishes that these statistics for the year 2008 translate into an average of 17 deaths a day – in a country whose population numbers approximately 13 million people (estimated as of 2008). Experts insist that this proves to be an exorbitantly high rate. Moreover, the report adds that with only 382 individuals detained on murder charges, the Guatemala‚Äôs impunity rate ranks abnormally high, making its deterrent factor to committing a crime almost minuscule.¬® http://www.speroforum.com/a/18100/Guatemala-Crime-capital-of-Central-America

Organized crime and narco-trafficking¬†basically run the country (especially the¬†ties to Mexican¬†drug¬†cartels), both of which are intricately connected to men in the military and government (from what I¬īve read and heard). The fact that Guatemala is considered to have a democratic government is a joke, in my opinion.

The 1996 Peace Accords in Guatemala that ended the 36-year civil war ultimately didn¬īt change much of Guatemala¬īs situation. The same people stayed in power (the weatlhy elite/landowners and the military). Many of the military men who committed/ordered atrocities and massacres during the conflict are still in power–in the military or in the government–and have not been brought to justice.

I have been reading the book: The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? by Francisco Goldman, which also shows the impunity, violence and corruption within the Guatemalan government and military. The book discusses the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi on April 26, 1998, a human rights advocate who had released a four-volume report, Guatemala:¬†Nunca M√°s¬†(Never Again), two days earlier. The report has statements from thousands of victims and witnesses from the civil war and shows that most of the human rights violations were committed by the government and military (about 90%). Goldman¬īs book discusses how the military was behind Bishop Gerardi¬īs murder and the long trial process that took place in the 2000s. It also shows that several of the higher-ranking military men allegedly¬†involved in his murder have not been brought to trial. Many of the witnesses and lawyers involved with the case had to go into exile due to death threats. One of the men found guilty in Gerardi¬īs murder¬†is anticipated to be¬†set free from prison soon (a judge ruled last week¬†that he will not need to complete his 20-year sentence due to ¬®good conduct¬®). Human rights organizations have been protesting the decision. http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/america_latina/2010/03/100318_2048_guatemala_gerardi_lima_estrada_liberacion_impunidad_irm.shtml

The Bishop Gerardi case shows that the justice and legal systems in Guatemala are weak and/or cannot function due to the corruption in the government and military. And the admirable men and women in the Guatemalan legal system who are trying to bring justice to anyone in the government and military, face death threats to themselves and to their families and/or must go into exile. I admire them immensely for what they have worked for and continue to work for.

What can one even begin to do to work against all of this? I honestly don¬īt know. The hopelessness I feel is at times overwhelming (especially because there were a couple of violent incidents in San Lucas this week–sorry parents). And I don¬īt have to live in it after May, unlike all the Guatemalans who must live among it their whole lives.

I¬īm not sure why I¬īm writing this post except that I don¬īt know how to process it all and am hoping that writing it out will help.¬†I also¬†want other people to be aware of the situation in Guatemala (and other developing countries). Guatemala is not the only country with high rates of violence, and¬†it is important to learn about these situations and the larger systems that create them.


Parque Centro in Xela. Most of the central part of the city was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1902. The redesign was based on Roman architecture.

Hola everyone, sorry for the long delay in posting. It¬īs been a busy few weeks! We¬īll try to catch up on posts from what we have been up to.

The first two weeks of February, Jordan and I studied Spanish at a school in Xela (pronounced Shey-la). Xela¬īs official name is Quetzaltenango (which means the place of the Quetzal Bird), but that was a name imposed by Spanish conquerors, so most of the people call it Xela which is a shortening of the original Mayan name.¬† Xela is the second biggest city in Guatemala, and considered to be¬†somewhat of a Mayan cultural capital.¬†

Old church face in Xela¬īs central park area.

Since we are used to small San Lucas, it was interesting to be in a bigger city. We studied at a school called Celas Maya, which is close to the Parque Centro, so it was a bit more touristy and there were a ton of Spanish schools.  The streets are tiny (mostly one ways) and were paved with really old brick.

Street in Xela.

Another street in Xela.

We enjoyed the many cafes and some of the restaurants around–particularly an amazing Indian restaurant (thanks Ellen!), a Menonite bakery open two days a week (thanks again Ellen :)),¬†and a cafe with delicious drinking chocolate. We also had the opportunity to visit a local school that our friend Ellen has taught at. It was great to see where she volunteered and learn more about the great things the school is doing. To learn more about it, click here: http://www.asturiasacademy.org/welcome/.

Our favorite place was a small fair trade shop/caf√© called Al-Natur, which was started by a Guatemalan, Mario. He sells a wide variety of fair trade and organic/all-natural products that support small cooperatives and collectives throughout the country. We would study there most days and enjoy a licuado or drinking chocolate. Mario was so open about his work and loved talking about fair trade and working with the groups–it was great!

Al-Natur Café

Al-Natur Fair Trade Shop

We lived with a family for the two weeks that we studied, which was good except for an occasionally¬†bratty four-year-old and eating pig skin twice (which was about 3/4 inch thick of fat and skin with the consistancy of rubber–something we¬īre not used to eating). Despite the chincharr√≥n,¬†our host mom was a very good cook, and we were able to eat a lot of Guatemalan food that we don¬īt¬†eat at the mission.

The Spanish school itself went great. We would meet with our teachers one-on-one for five hours a day in a beautiful courtyard. We would work on specific topics, and between each exercise we would have a conversation. 

Celas Maya courtyard, where we studied.

On Jordan¬īs first day, his teacher¬†asked him what the cause of World War 2 was and he was able to explain (roughly and only in present tense, hehe) that Germany was economically depressed after the failure of WWI.¬† Other topics Jordan and I had with our teachers in Spanish included: the conflict between technological development and the loss of culture, climate change and ways to try to conserve, the issue of¬†a lack of contraceptives in Guatemala (this topic was between Jordan and his teacher :)), the cause of the conflict between Isreal and Palestine, and Guatemala¬īs civil war.

Laura¬īs first week teacher, Gladys.

We also were able to spend our second week studying with fellow long-term volunteers, Matt and Molly. It was fun to study and spend time with them!

Our last night in Xela with Matt and Molly!

Lastly (and randomly), I liked the old doors throughout Xela, so here are a few pics of some of them. I think some are too dark or kind of blurry, but oh well (hard to tell on this computer)!

As Laura was preparing for her last post about coffee, she encountered a similar experience as I had a few months ago.  She wanted to read a few articles about Fair Trade, while searching for articles she came across many that were opposed to Fair Trade, from an economics perspective.  Laura, being rather fond of Fair Trade (having spent the last two years of her life promoting it) was a bit upset by the vehemency of the arguers.

*disclaimer* When it comes to economics I¬īm a dunce, ¬†so for the sake of our more economically savvy friends I will not delve too deep into economics, other than to say: free market economics in theory generally says that Fair Trade is bad for local economies (I hope that was somewhat ok).

Now, like I said, I¬īm totally incompetent when it comes to economics, but I can spot a bad argument when I read one. ¬†The authors basic argument was that Fair Trade will disrupt local economy by draining workers from other industries to one like Fair Trade coffee (because apparently its a fad). ¬†So, its better to just give directly to community development. ¬†Pah! ¬†First, I¬īm going to question whether or not the author has ever been to a coffee producing country, because when I look around I see that every ounce of land that could produce coffee, is. ¬†Furthermore, Fair Trade won¬īt monopolize local economy, because that means the wealthy finca (plantation)¬†owners will have to pay their pickers more and fund community development; by and large they do not want to do this. ¬†My second major criticism is that to think that there would be an equivalent amount of funds if people give directly is ridiculous. ¬†In my opinion, the vast majority of people are unwilling to give without getting. ¬†This is the genius of Fair Trade, it gives the consumer the opportunity to receive a high quality product while¬†simultaneously providing higher wages and capital for community development. ¬†Its a reciprocal relationship that I believe holds much stronger during recession and other such phenomena than the donor-recipient¬†relationship, which is the opposite of what the author claims. ¬†Finally, Fair Trade has been proven to improve the quality of life for workers, even when Fair Trade prices are lower than the market price, there are still guarantees for the workers wages and community development. ¬†This hits upon the glaring hole that is missing in Free Market Economics, concern for the quality of life.

In my opinion the author of this article gave a rather eloquent and fierce¬†defense¬†of FME, but by doing so exemplified the requisite obsession with profit. ¬†As a result he highlighted the significant lack of consideration for those most affecting profit and effected by the profit, namely the poorly paid and neglected manual laborers. ¬†The frustrating thing is that people like the author will argue against Fair Trade (and other programs/ideas that threaten FME) until they are blue in the face, because for them FME is not just an economic theory; it is a way of life that dictates how a person should live. ¬†Like I said earlier, I don¬īt know much about economics, but I know that people are suffering under the current system; its not perfect. ¬†I know that even if we can¬īt develop a new economy we can change our perspective. ¬†We can remember that the choices we make may screw others, and I don¬īt want to live by a “its them or us” mentality. ¬†For some of us I think it is a relatively easy shift, but others I think we need to adopt a new paradigm. ¬†We need something that forces us to examine the human impact of our choices, something that glorifies righteous living and not profit.

Ahhh. ¬†Now that blood is returning to my head after this rant, I realize I didn¬īt talk about the similar experience I had a few months ago. ¬†I guess I can be as bad as some economists! ¬†But, as I¬īve rambled on for several hundred words, I think that will have to wait for a new post…we¬īll see. ¬†Thanks all for reading.

All about café


Coffee berries ready to be ¨de-hulled¨/¨de-pulped¨ at the Mission Juan Ana Coffee Project

As many of you know, Jordan and I love coffee. We love to drink it, make it (at least at home and not at Caribou), and learn about it. Guatemala is a great place to learn more about coffee, as it is plentiful here. The Mission¬īs coffee project has helped us see how much work goes into producing and making coffee, as well as the issues surrounding the coffee industry in Guatemala and the world.

Weighing red coffee beans at Juan Ana Coffee Program

Last week, we had the opportunity to watch some of the Mission employees de-hull the ¬†red coffee beans through a machine. The machine separates the red husks from the beans. They then soak and wash the coffee beans for two to three days to clean off the “miel” which is a sweet, honey like substance. Next, the beans are dried in the sun for 8-10 days. There are then several more steps to process the coffee beans before they reach us in the states. To learn more about the whole coffee process, click here: http://www.sanlucasmission.org/processing.php. To learn more about the coffee harvest and how Guatemalans generally pick coffee, click here: http://www.sanlucasmission.org/harvest.php.

Getting coffee ready to go through de-hulling machine.

Machine de-hulling/de-pulping coffee beans.

I¬īve often thought that coffee consumers should see or research the whole production process so that they understand how much work goes into producing it and so they don¬īt take it for granted (the same goes for other products, such as sugar, rice, chocolate, etc.–industries that often have poor working conditions and/or child labor). I realize that not everyone can see the production process first-hand of products like coffee (I haven¬īt seen the processes of other products either). But if people learn about the hard work that goes into a product, they will hopefully appreciate it more.

Coffee beans de-pulped.

Drying coffee beans at the Juan Ana Coffee Project

Of course, my next thought for coffee consumers after learning about the labor-intensive coffee production process, is to purchase fair trade coffee. Although I have heard certain criticisms of the fair trade coffee industry (which Jordan and/or I will discuss in a future post), I still stand by it over non-fair trade coffee. I personally like to support local coffee shops that serve fair trade coffee or coffee shops that I know work directly with the coffee producers (there are also other certifications that strive to pay fair wages: direct trade, rainforest alliance, etc.). By buying fairly traded coffee, the farmers are ensured a fair price for the coffee they pick, and they are able to support their families more. To learn more about the world and Guatemala coffee industry, click here: http://www.sanlucasmission.org/market.php. To learn more about the Mission¬īs Juan Ana Coffee Program, click here:¬†http://www.sanlucasmission.org/coffee_program_areas.php, http://www.sanlucasmission.org/coffee_mainnav.php.

When Jordan and I travel, we like to find fair trade coffee shops in the city we are in, and then focus our days around it so we can explore the neighborhood and the city. It¬īs been a great way to see the cities we¬īre visiting and feel less ¬®touristy¬®–we highly suggest this tactic :).

So, to end the post, if you are ever in any of these cities, check out these coffee shops and cafés:

Xela, Guatemala: Al Natur: http://www.al-natur.net/

El Cuartito: http://elcuartitocafe.blogspot.com/

Galway, Ireland: Pura Vida Coffee

London, England: Sacred Café: http://www.sacredcafe.co.uk/

Progreso Café: http://www.progreso.org.uk/shops.html

Café in the Crypt: http://www2.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/page/cafe/crypt/crypt.html

Chicago, IL: Metropolis Café: http://www.metropoliscoffee.com/

Swim Café: http://www.swimcafe.com/

Coffee Studio: http://www.thecoffeestudio.com/

Minneapolis, MN: Common Roots Café: http://www.commonrootscafe.com/

St. Paul, MN: Nina¬īs Coffee Caf√©

Madison, WI: Fair Trade Coffee House: http://www.fairtradecoffeehouse.com/

Steep & Brew: http://www.steepnbrew.com/

Barrique¬īs Coffee Trader: http://www.barriquesmarket.com/locations.aspx

Milwaukee, WI: Alterra Coffee: http://alterracoffeepro.com/

New York, NY: Mudspot Café: http://www.mudnyc.com/spots.html

Grounded Coffee: http://www.groundedcoffee.com/

Seattle, WA: The Crumpet Shop: http://www.thecrumpetshop.com/