The past week, we have been traveling to various communities around Pana to help administer literacy tests to the various weaving cooperatives that Maya Traditions works with. On Monday, Linda and Anisah hopped on many chicken buses to arrive at Santa Catarina and Santa Clara, where they watched Isabel, Maya Tradition’s Artisan Development Coordinator, test the recognition of various written Spanish phrases and letters. Many of them had trouble processing the letters printed on the paper; although it was difficult for them, the literacy test will help gauge their current level of proficiency in Spanish literacy. The literacy test helps Maya Traditions prepare Spanish lessons that are reasonable for their current Spanish comprehension level, which will be provided to the weavers later in June. The indigenous communities we visited were a stark contrast to our daily life here in Pana and gave us a new perspective on what life is like for a weaver for Maya Traditions. Santa Catarina and Santa Clara are both hikes to get to, about two hours away by chicken bus from Pana, and the villages are much less westernized and the houses have minimal electricity.
On Tuesday, Aarti and Jenny visited the village of Quiche. It was quite the trip! They took two chicken buses, a shuttle van called a microbus, and a pick up truck into the mountains. It was interesting to experience the time and distance that the cooperative travels in order to come down to the foundation and teach us how to weave. Once we arrived there were many young women speaking in a language very foreign to us. We performed literacy tests, and the women did very well with the names of the letters and naming words with those different letters. A lot of the women said elefante for e and Walter for w which was surprising because we expected them to say words associated with weaving and household items. The pick up truck on the way down was definitely an extreme sport experience. What we took away the most from this experience is that these cooperatives are spending day and night to produce these handwoven items and we need to think about the hard work when we bargain on the streets for their products. Also, side note, the kids were very fun to play with:)
On Wednesday, Gianna and Kira took three chicken buses to Chuacruz, a village that was massacred during the Civil War. As a result, the majority of women in the cooperative there were widowed or grew up without fathers and brothers. This particular community provided an eye-opening view into Guatemala’s past and the hardships that the indigenous people have faced. Here, Gianna and Kira helped administer literacy tests to the women, who all had a good level of Spanish literacy.
When we were not traveling to the other communities, the rest of the group spent their mornings in the garden to help with the reconstruction of new bamboo fences and a new stone staircase. Massive bamboo shoots grown in the corners of the garden were chopped down with machetes and trimmed to make the poles and grates of the brand new fence. The head gardener Geraldo was an expert, but he had enough patience to allow all of us to try our hand with the machete and the wiring necessary to link all the shoots together. It was amazing to see the progression of the garden and how efficiently all of its resources are used every day.
We’ve done a little bit of traveling on our weekends off, spending two days north of Pana in Antigua last weekend and three days even further north in Semuc Champey this past weekend. Both trips were a ton of fun, a great opportunity to get to know each other better, and allowed us to learn even more about Guatemala. We took a walking tour of Antigua with a very friendly guide, Roberto, where we saw ancient ruins of cathedrals and learned the history of Jade throughout Central America. He claimed he was in the Olympics for Judo. Also we were introduced to the typical Guatemalan dish of Pepian chicken, MUY delicioso!
Just before leaving for Semuc Champey we had to say an unexpected goodbye to Erin. She struggled with a stomach illness for the last three weeks and knew it would be best to head home in order to take care of herself. She made it home safe and sound but we miss her every day. Semuc Champey was quite the drive, but after nine hours we found ourselves in the middle of an incredible jungle at a Hostel Utopia. We spent two nights getting to know the volunteers, reading in hammocks, and taking an incredible tour through Semuc Champey National Park. We were able to wade through dark caves holding only candles, hike up and down a mountain in order to reach a beautiful lookout point, and swim between crystal blue pools inside a huge valley. It was definitely an unforgettable experience.
This week is a very packed week! We are focusing on the development of our new design product that we will market in the United States to promote the Maya Traditions Foundation and the weaving cooperatives. We have been able to see how these products are produced, their natural dyes, and their tailoring. Here are some of the beautiful fabrics we are working with and we will have more information later this week on the actual design product. Feel free to give us feedback! We are also designing two new herbal teas that we hope to sell through the foundation to the local community where they already sell their bagged herbs. We have collaborated with Dr. Anabella and Oseus the head gardener on which properties to focus on in our designing of the teas. We are planning to work with stomach illness, bug bites, and cold/headaches. Also Aarti, Jenny , and Gianna are heading to their first community clinic this week, in San Lucas to work with the local Mayan healers and teach/distribute about the tinctures that we produced two weeks ago!
Keep reading we have a lot more coming:)
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