Friday, January 28, 2011

"It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly..."

"It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye." 
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Greetings, happy people. I don't have much to say, and I can't possibly say it all in one go. I can't explain it. Snippets might work.
  • I first came to Guatemala in 1996 with my friend Whitney, in what turned out to be a 13-month trip to Costa Rica and back in our VW van, which I still own. Not TOO many things have changed - more buildings, now there are cellphones, the Internet was invented. Crime is on the rise: there are 19 murders a DAY in Guatemala City, but not too much violent crime in most of the country.
  • I walked into a courtyard of shops and businesses in Antigua, and something very strong said You've Been Here Before. Took some time to realize that it was the location of the first internet e-mail shop I'd maybe ever used. We were told that the owner, a German guy, was shot seven years ago when someone tried to steal his car, and he's been paralyzed since.
  • I had my teeth cleaned. Very nice dentist, but my first warning was when he wrapped a hand towel around my neck and chin, up to my mouth. So much water came out of this pneumatic drill/water geyser contraption that I felt like I was being water-boarded. I was just about to rat out my whole family for crimes real and imagined, but the session ended. The tip of my front tooth chipped off the next morning and I want to believe it's a coincidence. 
  • I still remember telling someone on my first trip to Asia that Guatemala was peaceful and had no problems. If you exclude the 36-year civil war that was responsible for 200,000 deaths, I was right. 
  • If you hold the (forgive me) delusional belief that the U.S. government REALLY supports human rights and democracy around the world, I'm a little bit of a loss. But I shared that mistaken belief through most of my adult life. You really need to read this: It's painful - you don't want to read it - and you really need to read it. Sorry.
  • This cracks me up. Search Google for "Vigora high power." Look who shows up in the first result. Follow that link, read and enjoy:
  • My friend Lauren is here!  I love to change plans! She doesn't! We're having a blast!
  • We're leaving tonight on a 10 or 12 hour overnight bus trip to Tikal, some of the most amazing ruins in Central America.
  • I'm flying to India Feb. 1st. I mean I WAS flying. I'm changing my flight, and going to India later. Or not at all. Maybe I'll head straight to Europe in May or June. Or something. Do I have to decide now?

The woven textiles here are fantastic! 
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These kids are swimming under a dock in Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlan, on a windy day, where the waves get pretty rough.
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Laura, on the left, holds her 7-week old son Nico. She's lived here for three years. Deedle, on the right, started the popular hotel/hostel La Iguana, 15 years ago.
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Lovely Sarito, who just turned 84, has lived here on and off for 30 years. He's spent a lot of time in India, and I met him in 1996. 
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Last year tropical storm Agatha wreaked havoc on Guatemala, closing some roads for many months. This road had been completely buried.
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Pesky little kid trying to sell me stuff. I turn it into a game and don't mind the pestering, usually.
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I love this man's face.
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Lauren (on the right) had arranged a trip with a fair trade coffee organizer, Raniero, and he introduced us to Maria Luisa, who's holding the basket.
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Maria Luisa's hands, holding freshly picked coffee beans. She's working on this day with her teenaged sons.
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Maria Luisa spoke so passionately, and with such pride, about her rare position of being a woman who owns her own plot of land and grows her own coffee. She was an inspiration. After telling us how she divorced her husband and had nothing, she joined this coffee cooperative and is passing on the tradition to her children. She said, "I can't believe all of the things that I have." Amazing.
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This beautiful child is in among the coffee plants with her family. What a face!
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The older brother and his beautiful smile.
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I shot this out the window of our relatively fancy 4WD vehicle. We saw many trucks packed to the gills like this.
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Bee-keeper and former guerrilla. The stories this guy could tell. (See next photo.)
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If I heard correctly, this man and the last were fighting the Guatemalan army in the mountains for 18 years. When the war ended they came down and were sponsored to begin a coffee processing plant. In addition they have the bees, raise rabbits and chickens, and grow vegetables.
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Not surprisingly, Che Guevarra is a folk hero to guerrillas and former guerrillas around the world.
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The boat dock at Santiago, Lake Atitlan.
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Lovely child and mother.
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The steps to one of the main churches in Chichicastenango, site of maybe the country's most famous market, twice a week.
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Somehow it's become almost normal to ask for 5 Quetzales (about $.75) to take a photo here. Maybe I'm just stubborn, but I'd rather walk away than pay for a photo. And I did walk away from some beautiful opportunities. I think it's reasonable for them to ask, but also fine for me to say no thanks.
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Lauren looking at some belts.
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I love this guy's smile. He's got silver stars capping two teeth.
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These small boats are called cayucos. I'm sure I couldn't stand up in one without tipping over. They're tiny.
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The vegetable market in Chichi.
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This woman would fix her stare at someone until they burst into flames. That was pretty cool.
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Such amazing colors and patterns!
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Parts of the Chichi market were really crowded.
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Lovely! (Lauren says I say that about every kid. I deny it.)
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Dried shrimp.
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I really like this shot.
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White corn and blue corn tortillas, all made by hand without presses or rolling devices. They just pat their hands together.
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(The End)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.  I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks

When I read that passage from Rumi (Wikipedia entry here,) I feel like I can let out a long breath, and relax. 

What a wonderful time to be away from the political squabbling and angry rhetoric at home. Respites are brief, because the angst and irritation lives in my head. The pundits, bloggers and internet commenters are offering me a gift, and I'm choosing to accept it. Why do I do that? I'm not escaping it by being out of the country either, since Al Gore's Internet has followed me, dangit, and its siren's call has its way with me. As I laid in bed last night I had an impulsive thought: "I need to take a break!" I'm on perpetual vacation, for criminy's sake. A break from what? That might be a good question to ponder.

Love, love, love!

On a happier note, ponder these photos!

I can't help but smile when I see this kid's face.
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A funny older guy put him in this he-man pose since he's so beefy. Yeah, he's a tough guy, you can tell!
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The shore line of Santa Cruz, taken from one of the restaurants.
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Guatemala is a country of have and have-nots, but here's one extreme. This helicopter ferried in some friends of a wealthy foreigner. This, in a country where the minimum wage is about $12 a day. I can't sit in judgment, even though I'd like to. My camera gear is worth close to a year's salary. I'm not doing anything obvious to maintain the wealth disparity, but I'm certainly enjoying the benefits of it.
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Beautiful late afternoon light. That's the San Pedro volcano in the distance.
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Fresh flowers in a vase at Liz's house.
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In the town of San Pedro, at the base of the volcano, I asked this girl and her brother if I could take their photo.
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The light must be reflecting off a window.
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"Un Quetzal," he says as I start to take this. No, I'm not giving you money. That's the equivalent of 12 cents. Now HE looks like a tough guy.
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This is a close-up of his eye in the last photo. Look how clearly you can see me and someone walking behind me. I'm so happy with my 7D camera and lens combo. I didn't think my "travel lens" was capable of such a sharp photo. It's a Canon 18-200 lens, and normally you give up quality in exchange for one lens with a wide range.
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Most women still wear the traditional clothing of their village, but it's less common among men. Everyone in a village will wear almost an identical outfit. I also think it's funny that this tuk tuk model is a "Bajaj Torito," Bajaj being such an Indian name. 
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The Catholic church in San Pedro.
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This is Liz's son Myles, playing Frisbee in the church courtyard. We asked a local if that's inappropriate. I remember a Day of the Dead celebration in Guatemala on my first trip here, and seeing tourists standing on top of tombs in the graveyard. We were shocked, but found out that it's really OK behavior. It's hard to know what's OK and what's not. 
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Liz and Myles exiting the church. You can see how rugged the local landscape is in the distance.
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These kids don't even have iPods, much less iPhones or iPads. In psychology we call this "compensating behavior" because as we all know, you can't be happy without the latest electronics. (Ask your own kids.) They're doing an excellent job of pretending to be happy!
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The kids' mom was collecting coffee beans into the basket strapped to her waist. It looked like a labor-intensive task.
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This house was flooded in the big storm of May 2010. It's just downhill from Liz's, and the normally dry creek was gushing, carrying mud and substantial boulders inside the house and porch area. None of the rocks you see here would have been there before the flood. Liz's house was just high enough to miss being damaged, but the flood completely wiped out the trail that leads to her house. The main road to Lake Atitlan was also washed out for months, and was just repaired recently.
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This is the lower levels of a hotel. Along with the flooding, the lake rose by about nine feet (almost three meters) in a four month period last year. Many newly built docks were rendered useless, and lots of rocky beaches were immersed. The locals all live way up the hillside, and only foreigners are building properties right on the lake. The lake has gone down some, but if it comes up another nine feet this year, there would be some serious drama for some people.
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(The End)