Monday, April 28, 2008

Quetzaltenango (Xela)

I have been in Quetzaltenango for 1 week now, and my brain is currently in overload with all the new vocabulary, grammar and those damn irregular verbs!
I am managing to (badly) form sentences now, and starting to understand conversations with my host family. They continue to cook me great food and confuse me constantly with new members of the family.
It's been a busy week, with plenty of activities on at my Spanish school. On Wednesday we had someone come to talk to us about Guatemalan politics and history which was very interesting. It's hard to understand the extent to which the Civil war has affected people here- millions were killed and the war went on for 36 years. Although a facade of ¨democracy¨ is in place, most Guatemalans have little power to change anything, and remain in dire poverty.
Thursday really illustrated this for me- I took a trip out about an hour from Xela to work on a volunteer project involving a Quiche Mayan village. Most of the poorer Mayans continue to use open fires in a hut as their source of cooking and warmth, which is extremely inefficient and unhealthy (many sleep in the same hut as the fire, breathing in smoke, and many children are killed or maimed by the fires). The project I worked on is building new, efficient fires with chimneys and has already build hundreds of fires. I worked on the final stage of the project, building a ramp for the smoke to escape and helped cement in the stovetop etc. It was very interesting to see how a rural Mayan family operates, and the countryside was very beautiful.
Yesterday was a protest day for students from around Xela. Every year on the same day before easter, students march through the streets with a variety of demands and complaints about Guatemalan politics. Protests range from anti-government satire to ¨We Hate the Gringos¨, ¨Save the Environment¨, ¨Down with George Bush¨ and ¨Vive la Che Guevara¨ (can we escape it?!). One of the more striking things about the protests is that most of the students wear masks to conceal their identity. This is in response to the number of massacres that occured against students in the past, particularly during the Civil War.
Today I visited an organic coffee finca (plantation) outside of Xela. It was fascinating to see the coffee growing (it looks like berries on the tree) and to see the complicated operation involved in making coffee. We also visited a lake and warm rivers (heated by volcanic activity in the area).
Next week is probably going to be my last week in Guatemala, and then onto Oaxaca in Mexico. I can't believe how quickly the time is going!
Hasta luego

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