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Fighting Over the Crumbs…

Snapshots of internalized class warfare in Colomba Costa Cuca, Guatemala:

    -In August, when I was last in Guatemala, a 13-year old classmate of my brother-in-law’s was kidnapped when gang members tried to take his dad’s motorcycle. 3 days later, his body was found in a creek in a whole other state of Guatemala. His arms were cut off, he was decapitated, scalped, and his jaw was cut from his skull.

    -Around that same time, my oldest brother-in-law, the head bookkeeper and supervisor at a large coffee finca, started getting phone calls from extortionists threatening his family. He changed his number. Two months later, a group of men were waiting for him as he left a bank nearby. They put a pistol to his back and told him that they hadn’t been playing around on the phone. I don’t know how he found the–what was it?–$4,000, but he did pay them. He had been too scared to tell anyone, so he didn’t ask Glendi or I for the money. We only found out because his wife found a bank receipt in his pants.

    -During this Christmas, just up the street, gang members used the late night fireworks to cover the sounds of their gunshots as they killed a young man and dumped his body near the cemetery.

    -Today, up the street at a streetside cell-phone card stand, assailants beat the clerk and stole about $1,500.

    -Last week, when my family went up to our school land where there is coffee growing, people had already stolen most of the coffee beans for themselves. You can forget about the bananas…they always are stealing our bananas.

    -Almost every night, we have to listen outside to make sure no one will sneak in to the back yard and steal our New Year’s turkey. It’s happened plenty of times before.

    -Oh, I didn’t even mention last summer, when I personally was stuffing bundles of $2,000+ cash into a red bag in order to pay off some mysterious people threatening Glendi’s sister….that’s a much longer story there.

The Escuela Popular Sindical…

For me, Glendi’s uncle is kind of like the leftist, Guatemalan version of my Alaskan grandpa. During all of my adolescence, my grandpa would take me aside at the family gatherings and he would try to engage me in discussions of conservative ideas. I love him dearly for it. He was so concerned about me, and my descent into revolutionary socialism that he gave me a deep exposure to his perspectives and his intellectual heroes, like Rush Limbaugh. I learned a ton, including a respect for conservatives as people, even as their ideas repulse me. Glendi’s uncle gives me almost the exact same vibe that I remember from growing up, except the ideas that he’s trying to expose me to are on the other side of the political spectrum. At family gatherings we sit together and talk about Guatemala, the U.S., rich and poor, religion, and social struggle. He makes me feel so comfortable here.

In the hours before the church service that we had for Glendi’s dad here in the house, I sat with her uncle and talked with him about the upcoming elections. He told me that he had no hope for any changes, and then he proceeded to talk about the ongoing land occupation that he’s involved in, the organization, Plataforma Agraria (Agrarian Platform) that he participates in, and about the radical radio programs he listens to. When I talked to him about my upcoming studies, he started getting excited and told me that he too was taking classes at the university, and that’s when things got really interesting.

It turns out that Glendi’s uncle is taking these Saturday classes in Political Economy and Popular Education at the nearby university in Xela. The classes are free, and they are taught voluntarily by radical professors who aren’t otherwise free to share all of their perspectives. Glendi’s uncle loves the classes and how much they are opening up his mind about the way Guatemala works, the history of colonialism, and the necessity of struggle. He’s well into his fifties, but he looks like a teenager when he talks about these things.

Naturally, I wanted to see the classes for myself, so this morning at 6:30 he came by and we took the 1 ½ hour bus ride together to Xela. We had a quick cup of coffee sitting there at a stand at the bus terminal, we walked a brisk and winding path through the open market, and then arrived at the university at 9am.

There were multiple classes taking place at the same time, but the class we entered was political economy. The students were all indigenous, 5 of them men (ranging in age from late 20’s to mid 50’s) and 10 of them women (mostly in their mid-twenties, and almost all in traditional Mayan clothes). Many of the students seemed to speak an indigenous language in addition to Spanish, and the youngest man speaks Spanish, Mam, and English (he spent 7 years working in a chicken farm in North Carolina, and in a restaurant in Lousiana). The professor looked to be in his sixties.

When we entered, the class had already started, and the topic was gender roles and patriarchy, and their relationship to private property. The perspective was definitely Marxist, with a strong slant toward discussion of the specific history of colonialism and imperialism in Guatemala. It was very lecture-based, and the students were deeply attentive but quiet. I was fascinated, especially to see such concrete analysis and discussion of dynamics that I witness all the time here, but from a solidly Guatemalan perspective.

At one point, the professor had to step out, and the students started talking to me, naturally curious about who I was and why I was there. They asked for a quick English class and I obliged, teaching them typical greetings at the whiteboard (the classroom was old and dirty, as most Guatemalan classrooms are…like one would imagine a really old, poor elementary school classroom in the U.S….except the whiteboards looked relatively new and clean.). Then we discussed all sorts of politics. It was so fun!

To close the class, the professor played a CD of this kind of radio play (I’m thinking that it was from the guerrilla times, when they had a clandestine radio station) about the true story of the Spanish conquest. It was entertaining and informative, but I couldn’t get a sense of what others thought.

The second and final class was related to actual techniques of teaching and sharing political ideas. The focus today was on making a magazine, and the professor—a middle-aged lighter skinned woman—guided the students toward understanding how to select themes, analyze problems and conditions, and how to organize the theme into different articles. She was really smart, funny, and good at guiding student participation. By the end of the class, the students had voted on their magazine’s theme, which will be health and the political conditions surrounding it.

After the class, Glendi’s uncle introduced me to the professor. I asked if the classes were linked to any specific political organization, and she told me that, no, they are just extensions of the university, which the professors are fighting to get formalized into real courses. She continued to explain that she is a deeply committed revolutionary and that during the war, the university was a key base for the urban guerrilla (according to Glendi’s uncle, the professor actually spent time in the mountains). She told me that many students and teachers died because of their participation. I told her about the revolutionary study groups that I see around me and participate in in the U.S., she was very excited and we mutually acknowledged our international bond of struggle.

Just like the evangelicals here who always greet each other with “hermano” and “hermana,” there is something so deeply warming about greeting other leftists across international lines. I feel rejuvenated. Especially because of so many terrible things happening around us here in Guatemala all the time, it feels so good to be able to talk with Guatemalans using a language and perspective that can mostly share. While I’m not a Marxist, I very much appreciate the Marxist understanding of class and power, and it was really cool to see that applied to this specific country’s context. It just fits so much better for explaining all that’s happening to us than the religiously heavy language that I mostly hear.

Even cooler was to see the explicit expressions of hope from the students. They don’t expect anything from the upcoming elections, and they don’t expect any major changes soon, but there was an optimism about long-term change and movement building that I don’t usually see in Guatemala. Glendi’s uncle, for example, doesn’t believe that he’ll live to see the revolutionary changes that are necessary, but he says that he’s taking the classes so that he can help the next generation.

It’s that kind of attitude that hits me in the tear ducts every time.

The Word “In-Laws” Doesn’t Work For Me

Before all else, thanks for the supportive comments from all those who read this! It’s really motivating and heartwarming…

Hi from an internet cafe in Colomba Costa Cuca, Guatemala…about 10 minutes drive from Glendi’s family’s house.

So, things truly have been as challenging as I speculated, but they are more stabilized now. Immediate dangers and hospitalizations seem to have been dealt with, and now is the longer-term struggle of supporting and re-orienting ourselves as a family which has lost one parent and which is in grave danger of losing the other…and in which all the older siblings are living and working away from the home. My main job in the house seems to be playing with the little ones and helping them with homework, but I try to be useful in other ways also. But I still don’t know how to chop firewood or wield a machete.

When I’m not doing family stuff, I’m reading all my pre-reading for the masters program, which starts 1 day after I get back. I’ve read 5 books in 1 week. Yesterday I read Sherman Alexie’s “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” in two sittings…man, that book was really good. I also read this fantastic and deeply thought-provoking book of life stories of youth with learning disabilities, and that one really pushed me in some intense ways.

But things here are sad, for the most part. There are laughs and good stories, but it’s all tempered by grief, fear, and pain. Like I said, there is a lot more going on than just Glendi’s dad’s death.

But here’s a thing that I think about a lot. When I talk about our family in Guatemala as my “in-laws,” it feels so cheap. And I feel like the response that people give me is watered down. The word really implies a certain order of distance as compared to one’s blood family, but in my case, it’s pretty much the opposite. I’m much more intimately connected now with my Guatemalan in-laws than with my own family, because of the economic and emotional role that Glendi and I have in their lives. It feels weird, and it feels wrong at times, and often I want to bow out, but that isn’t a real option that the family wants for me at the moment…so instead I know all the dirty secrets, and I’m in those family meetings where huge things are decided.

Like I said to my friend a couple of weeks ago, I don’t feel like my previous life and background have prepared me for this. I still play with legos, I still talk to myself. In so many ways, I’m still a kid. Yet Glendi and I are also often put into the position of being heads of this huge and complex family…it’s a really weird mash-up, and it makes me feel insecure pretty much all the time. And I also have very few friends who share the situation or experience, so I sometimes I feel low on resources.

But with this intimate level of connection and responsibility, there is also that root idea…intimacy. And that is beautiful. I love my family–in both countries–so much, and I’m always learning so much, and even in deep struggle I find space for optimism. But like Sherman Alexie says in that book, hope might be something that’s for White people. Because I’m not sure if the rest of my family is feeling it right now.

From June 21st to the 26th, I traveled to Detroit with 9 youth and 2 adults to attend the US Social Forum (USSF), a gathering of between 15,000 and 20,000 social justice activists from all over the country and beyond. I actually started writing my blog reflections about the experience as soon as I was on the plane home, but as usual I started over-thinking it and just stopped writing. So, instead, I think I’ll just share some of my reflections in bullet points, before I start forgetting everything.

-The trip was exhausting! Because I went in my co-director role at Seattle Young People’s Project, serving as an adult chaperone for 9 young people (ages 12-19), I felt like I was constantly checking in with youth, texting someone or another, helping people find workshops, staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning debriefing the experience with the other adult support people. It felt more like work than any kind of trip. However, the good side of this was that I loved it! I really treasured the opportunity I had to really think about supporting teenage activists as they were having this one-of-a-kind experience. It was special to think about their experiences, to listen to their questions, to hear their frustrations, and to reflect back what I was observing from them. It felt like popular education as it was originally theorized: a process of dialogue and reflection where themes are presented, contradictions are unearthed, and new learning unfolds as that new experience clashes with the worldview that the student brings to the table. Though I can’t say that I slept well each night, I did go to sleep very, very happy. I felt really alive.

-Speaking of youths’ frustrations, the USSF has a lot to learn about being youth friendly. Youth were continuously frustrated by the inaccessibility of workshops, intimidation about asking questions (even being laughed at when asking someone to break down the meaning of neoliberalism), the lack of attention to all-ages party spaces throughout the week, and the sorry state of the designated “youth space” which youth said was relegated to a smelly basement (though I never saw it). I’ve heard similar but unique critiques about the ablism of the forum, as well as numerous instances of transphobia (particularly around the issue of gender-neutral bathrooms) but I don’t feel like I know enough to go into detail about it. Google it and I bet you’ll find some brilliant pieces of reflection.

-This was my 3rd time in Detroit, and ironically it was the time that I felt most disconnected from the realities of the city. I spent almost all my time in a very heavily-policed and well-developed area of downtown, and the sheer number of activist folks everywhere gave downtown Detroit a very surreal atmosphere. Many people expressed frustration about this, and made comments about how people should have left downtown to talk with “real Detroiters” and I hear that…but at the same time I was annoyed by how often this came from other white folks, who I felt were kind of falling into some exotification of local folks. As I’ve described it to my friends, it felt almost like some kind of racist petting zoo, with radical white folks talking about walking up and hugging random black people all over town, and asking people for their life stories because they are “so much more interesting than what’s happening in workshops.” I wondered how many of these folks would do the same thing back in their home towns, with the folks of color there? Because of the heavily policed and fair-like atmosphere, it just felt off, the level of entitlement to people’s stories and struggles that I saw people displaying. But maybe that’s just me.

-But speaking of Detroit, the plenary event on the first night of the forum was fantastic! A panel of some Detroit movement elders (including one of my long-time revolutionary stars, Grace Lee Boggs) talking about the history of Detroit as “a movement city” was really powerful. Listening to the discussion of the Detroit uprising of ’67 (I believe), and of movement history before and since, I fluttered my eyes and told my comrades from Common Action that I was in heaven. And I was. I love hearing people talk about their revolutionary experiences, especially when they are older and they still identify as movement people.

-This really hits at something that I’ve been learning about myself generally. I’ve got a big, sappy place in my heart for themes related to aging. I think and write about my own aging a lot (and I will continue to do so, I imagine). The movies that most often make me cry are crap like “The Notebook” or damned “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” not because they are that good, but because they show old people reflecting, making legacies together, and dying. So, watching old radicals reflecting on their contributions to not only a general revolutionary movement, but to the movement in a specific geographic location…it was almost too much. I started crying a bit right in the plenary. It brings up such vivid imaginings of who I want to be at 80 or 90, if I make it…of how I want to contribute and listen and share with my younger comrades in whatever city I end up being committed to.

-As for the workshops, well I spent a lot of time helping young people go to their workshops, and so I missed a number of slots, but almost every workshop I went to was excellent: meeting youth organizers from Mississippi talking about leadership transitions; watching anarchists and other radical scholars talk about movement-based research; a mind-opening workshop about building a leadership pipeline for youth to transition into the social justice movement, as an alternative to the school-to-prison pipeline; a workshop on transformative organizing that integrates whole-body, somatic approaches to personal change to great, structural movement-building thinking; a workshop with some really interesting new-school Marxist type folks about revolutionary approaches to reform; a workshop on US Solidarity with ALBA and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela; an assembly on a youth-led national student bill of rights campaign…and more. All of these workshops, every single one, was engaging and exciting to me, and I was left with dozens of questions each time.

-This was one of the best parts of my experience (alongside my reflections on youth support): how intellectually electrified the whole thing made me feel. To be honest, as my infrequent blog posts should show, I’ve been in a real political rut. Very busy with work and organizing, but not really inspired or motivated. Just plain down, to be real honest. And one of the consequences of that is that I don’t actually read very much or engage much with current movement discourses. I read maybe seven or eight books a year, that’s all! For me, that’s really sad. But the interesting thing is that at the forum, I was amazed by how fluid and sharp I was in all of the discussions. Even in more tough-vocabulary Marxist discussions I was so happy to so quickly follow all of the exchanges, but also to quickly think about it, process it, and have handfuls of questions at all times. I was just brimming with questions! It was great!

-Many of those questions are potential topics for future blog posts: questions about the relationship between reform that engages the State and the building of revolutionary alternatives; questions of the efficacy of transformative justice organizing within our movements; the role of parties and cadre organizations in building the US left; the role of the city and citizenship as primary revolutionary sites of struggle; the question of community, spirituality, and the search for a political home…and oh so much more!

-But a big highlight for my trip was the personal connections I made in Detroit…almost entirely with people who I already knew: an absolutely heart overflowing hour+ with my brilliant old friend Chris Dixon (thanks, Chris!), a euphoric discussion until 4am with 3 comrades from Common Action about class struggle, transformative justice, and the church model of organizing; late-night debriefs and confessions about race, age, identity and vulnerability with my fellow adult support people…I just felt so connected with these people who I’m organizing with and who I have known for awhile.

-In short, for my organization the USSF was a solid experience that will pay off for our organizing. For me personally, it was even better: a vital refresher that came at a perfect time, a time when I’ve been doubting more and more who I am in relation to movement work. It was a great reminder of just how comfortable I am thinking about revolution, social movements, strategy, theory, and down-to-earth questions of change. It’s like since I was 14 my mind has become finely tuned to this stuff (which is pretty much the case), and I had really missed it. So it was great to feel it again.

There, now I wrote that, all in a half-hour. Here’s hoping this quick post keeps me writing here again.

In my time in Guatemala, I had the opportunity to tour Glendi’s sister’s high school in the city of Coatepeque. In the Guatemalan education system, youth spend a couple of years studying general secondary studies in what’s called Basico (basically junior high through freshmen year), and then they spend 1-3 years studying specialized studies in a Carrera. At Vicky’s school, the major Carrera is primary education, and it focuses on training certified primary school teachers.

The school was located on a city block, wedged between other businesses on either side, all in a one-story cinder block row. Walking through the narrow entrance was the main office, which was just a single desk, with an old manual typewriter, an aged hole-punch, and stacks of papers. On the walls were little hand drawn cartoon faces and cartoon suns and clouds, the kinds of decorations you’d expect to see in a place teaching primary school teachers. Past the main office was an open air courtyard, and all of the classrooms themselves. Maybe 8-10 cinder block square spaces the size of maybe a small U.S. classroom, with rows of very old, chipped wooden desks. The ceilings were that foam paneling stuff you see in office buildings, but browned in many spots by leaks. On the floor were rusty electric fans, and the only thing on the wall (especially since it was still “summer” break time), was a half-chalkboard/half-whiteboard panel.

I didn’t see a single book anywhere in the whole school. I didn’t see any technology either, except for the manual typewriter at the front desk. The registration system was made up of students’ names in a single notebook.

This is a private school. It costs us more than a month’s worth of an average Guatemalan’s salary to pay for this school each year. Imagine paying for this level of schooling for 5-10 children.

I was shocked and deeply saddened by this experience. To know that even private high schools like this are not even comparable to the access to education and resources that a public high school offers here in Seattle. The difference is night and day.

And this really got me thinking. What does it mean to think about youth empowerment–which is my paid work–in an anti-imperialist way? What does it mean to support youth empowerment for marginalized young people in the U.S., which respects and validates their experiences of oppression and their demands for equity…but in a way that also encourages solidarity with the very different realities and needs of fellow youth across the globe?

Truth is, I actually think that we’ve been bad at this in our own organization. When young people come in with complaints about their day, about their school, about their lives, the almost automatic response is to take their side, nod our heads, and universally respond, “man, that’s so messed up.” And it is…but I also think it’s important to be aware of the relative privilege that U.S. youth have compared to youth in other parts of the world. Building a global revolutionary youth empowerment movement demands this. What is the role for context and broader thinking when talking about injustice and organizing in U.S. youth’s lives?

What I want to avoid doing in thinking about this is playing oppression olympics. I don’t want to discount any youth’s experiences of injustice, be it racial profiling in the hallways, or lack of access to quality textbooks, or whatever. However, doesn’t real youth empowerment for U.S. youth also mean education about their incredible level of privilege and access in the bigger global picture, and the need for them to flex those muscles for justice as well? How can youth organizers in the U.S. work on their own issues and fight for changes, while also recognizing the other issues that youth are facing in other places, even within the U.S.?

For example, Glendi. When she was ten, her family pulled her out of primary school completely. She was set to work on the coffee plantations, spreading fertilizer and doing other tasks…for 4 years. She began 4th grade at 14 years old (the age that U.S. youth are usually high school freshmen). This is not uncommon. She was lucky, in fact, to get the option to return to school at all…her sister never did return after 6th grade. Her mom has a 3rd grade education, and still regrets the lost opportunity. Vicky’s school was described above, but what about the fact that in addition to school, she also gets up at nearly 4am every morning to grind the maiz for tortillas, handwash the clothes for 12 people in the communal tank, handwash the dishes for 12 people in the communal tank, sweep and mop the floor, and cook breakfast before and after going to school? At the same time, facing similar problems that young people face here, such as sexual harassment on the bus and by teachers, inaccurate and racist education, and structural racism against her and her peers as indigenous youth.

This is a fundamentally different structural reality for young people–and Glendi’s family is actually relatively well off within the village!–than what the majority of even marginalized and poor youth face in the U.S. Indoor plumbing, library access, public transportation, mail systems, etc…are basic infrastructural elements that even the U.S. poor mostly have access too…at least in Seattle. Even undocumented latino immigrant youth have a relative privilege compared to many of their peers in Latin America…because they made it across the border…that is a big, big deal! I think these different realities should be really taken into account when we talk about organizing, and what youth empowerment looks like.

Really, what I’m trying to say is that in the U.S., youth empowerment must not just be about empowering young people to face their own oppression in their communities, but also to build up a radical, movement-based sense of themselves and organizing in solidarity with youth who are fighting their own oppression on a global scale. This means that within our moments of “that’s so messed up” we also have moments of recognition of how many options youth here actually have–like my organization, which pays youth up to a 3-month Guatemalan salary to organize for change–and how they can use that structural privilege to fight against imperialism.

What I’m also trying to say is that when I eventually move to Guatemala for a short or long period of time, I want to think about how to do youth empowerment work there…and I really want to think about how it could look different from what we do up here in Seattle.

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts about this stuff over time.

Nearly a year since Glendi and I really started talking about this, and now we’re almost there. I just need to pack my bag and head to the airport, and then…

Glendi, her mom, and her brother Ivan will meet me in the airport, where we will travel by bus for four hours to reach her home, and there we will spend 1 bittersweet week, as Glendi prepares her things and her family says goodbye.

I’ve been talking with Glendi’s dad and he seems a lot more prepared emotionally than he was a few months and weeks ago. Stilly crying occasionally, but much more open about his excitement and happiness for us as well. Glendi is excited. Her mom is excited and sad, of course.

I have so much I want to write about, but I don’t have the time. Hopefully during the summer, now that school is out (yay!).

I want to talk about my hopes and my fears about Glendi and I. I want to talk about the possible futures, about the balance between this relationship and my other friendships. I want to talk more about the politics of this relationship. There is just so much. There are all of these things that I’m thinking about all of the time, but I still haven’t put them down in this blog yet.

Still, for now I can tell you that I feel so free and happy…and I’ll let you know where it goes from there.

Much love, and hope to write a least once from Guatemala.

I got back from Caracas on Monday evening. I’ve been pretty much home sick since then. Nothing serious, just a sore throat and slight fever.

But it’s made it even harder to acclimate back to my life here in Seattle…especially because of all that I experienced down there in Venezuela.

Don’t be fooled by the lack of updates to this blog…the reason I haven’t written isn’t for lack of things to write, but just the opposite. I was having so many back-to-back experiences every day (from 7am to 2am…I only got about four hours of sleep a night) that I couldn’t find time to search for an internet cafe and write up my reflections.

Only now, sick at home and bored, am I finding this time to type something up.

And what do I have to say?

Well, fundamentally, I can say that I have come back to the United States with a whole new level of hope.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like I have real hope for the world that is not based in my own self-generated fantasies of a different society, but rather in concrete processes that are actually taking place. For the first time in a long time, I can sit back and relax as my hope is refilled from an external source rather than from my own rusting reserves of teenage idealism…it feels so refreshing.

In Venezuela–and more broadly in contemporary Latin America and in the World Social Forum–there is something happening. It is something that people like me and my friends have been dreaming about and have been predicting for years, only to be called naive, only to be accused of misunderstanding human nature. There is a process underway that is engaging millions and millions of people in the creation of a new kind of society, based around a handful of key values: inclusion, participatory democracy, socialism, and integration.

The process is not perfect. In fact, it’s a mess. There is corruption. There is mismanagement. There is conflict. There is chaos. There are power struggles and there are injustices. It would be foolish to hide these or to apologize for them. They are real and they are a problem. But at the same time the process is also real. It is not made moot by it’s contradictions, in fact it might end up being strengthened by them…

I know that this is all vague so far. Sorry for that. But what I’m talking about is actually very solid and concrete and measurable…and it goes like this:

Venezuela, historically, has been a tremendously unequal country. 60-80% below the poverty line, while the middle and upper classes have enjoyed a US/Europe style consumer lifestyle…including shopping trips to Miami for new clothes (Venezuela isn’t that far from Florida…or Cuba for that matter). At the same time, it is one of the most oil-rich countries in the world…but historically only the top few have benefited from this wealth. As in most Latin American countries, there have always been social movements in Venezuela…there have been coup attempts, Guerilla movements, protest movements, riots (especially the 1989 riots in Caracas called the “caracazo” which arguably led to the current revolutionary process)…and these have left a legacy which eventually led to a left-wing coup attempt by a young paratrooper named Hugo Chavez Frias in 1992…Chavez’ coup failed, but he became a popular hero, was able to build a movement from jail, and then ran for president in 1998 on a promise to change the entire system, starting with a new constitution. He won. He won by 55+ %, which is rare for Latin American elections…especially since he didn’t really have a party. But he won. And he immediately held a national referendum to ask about rewriting the constitution. This passed. Then he called for elections for form a representative constituent assembly. This happened. Then the constitution was written, hastily debated at all levels of society (but emphasis should be put on the word hasty), and then it was also put up for referendum. It passed…and became one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, spelling out such rare things as social security guarantees for housewives, a whole chapter on indigenous rights, the idea of participatory democracy as opposed to mere representative democracy (that is, citizens actually directly participate in decision-making, they don’t just elect higher representatives to do all that in their name), rights for people with disabilities, etc…I have a copy and it really is quite amazing. It actually became a huge source of pride, especially for poorer Venezuelans, who for the first time began to feel included in the political process.

With the new constitution, Chavez and the entire government needed to be “re-legitimized” and so he and the entire new national assembly were re-elected in 2000…again by majorities. Then the reforms came. Land reforms. Fishing reforms. Oil reforms. The rich became antsy and they began to more seriously resist…

In 2002, with US support, the rich organized a coup. It only lasted 3 days. The poor supporters of Chavez, along with the rank-and-file of the Venezuelan military, came out of their homes and barracks and took the power back, putting Chavez back into the presidency (there is an amazing documentary about this, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and you need to see it).

But the rich didn’t stop. They organized an “oil strike,” shutting down Venezuela’s most important industry and smashing the economy. But over time, this tactic failed as well, because lower-rank oil workers took over oil production, and Chavez filed the upper-bureacracy…stabilizing the economy again…

Then Chavez began deeper reforms. The missions. Mission Robinson, which seeks to complete eliminate illiteracy through free neighborhood reading programs. Mission Ribas and Sucre, which allow adults to finish high school and college, also for free. Mission Barrio Adentro (1, 2, and 3), which provide doctors and clinics within poor neighborhoods for absolutely free care. Mission Mercal, which provides special supermarkets with heavily subsidized foods….all of this paid for by oil profits that previously had only gone to the rich.

And so the rich kept at it…and they tried to use the constitution itself against Chavez…being a progressive constitution, it allows for the population to recall any politician from power, even the president. And so the opposition gathered signatures from 20% of the population (though this is disputed), and there was a recall referendum in 2004…once again Chavez won with a 55% majority. Only solidifying his political stability.

Since then, Chavez has become even more radical in his programs. More money for the missions. More money for social spending. Increased support for the formation of worker’s cooperatives as opposed to traditional top-down capitalist businesses…and just last year he finally used the “s-word”….Socialism. That is the direction that Venezuela is heading in. I couldn’t be happier.

Chavez states, repeatedly, that Venezuelan socialism will be fundamentally different than the USSR, or Cuba, or China…those models do not work (in my view, they aren’t socialist at all). In the Venezuelan process, they are trying to build socialism right alongside this other thing, called participatory democracy. They want equality, but they want it anchored in a democracy that allows people to discuss and debate and have real control over how things develop in the society…and this is what I saw in Venezuela.

In Venezuela, we visited a number of cooperatives, and missions, and community meetings, and we met with a large number of folks who are involved in this revolutionary process, and what I saw in all of this gave me hope. Just as I said in the last post, Chavez is not a dictator. He’s not perfect, and I think he’s too popular (he’s like a folk hero, with t-shirts, and dolls, and posters and all that…not by imposition but genuinely because he’s so popular…which is a problem. No person should be that popular, it’s dangerous), but at the same time there are millions of people trying to make this process happen independent of Chavez…and I think they will succeed. With time, I think they will succeed.

Okay, I’m tired for now…but I want to end this post just by saying that I think we in the US need to study what’s happening in Latin America very carefully. First, because if we don’t then we are going to be taken very much by surprise when we see a whole slew of socialist societies right down there at our South. But second, because we can learn so much from what is happening about how our own society should be changed. Hopefully we can do it without a strong personality like a Chavez…but I hope we do it somehow.

To all of those who actually read this thing,

I’m back at the keyboard again, preparing to share more about myself, my life, my ideas once again…and it’s taken another bit of international travel to get me here. I’m going to Venezuela.

Through a unique opportunity at my college, I am traveling to Caracas, Venezuela to attend the 2006 Americas Section of the World Social Forum, which is a massive annual gathering of people who believe that “another world is possible” (that’s the forum’s slogan). There are expected to be around 100,000 people attending, from all over the Americas, and there are 2,200 scheduled workshops, meetings, performances, speeches, etc.

This is all really exciting, but honestly I’m more excited just to be going to Venezuela itself. I’ve been following the political developments in Venezuela since 2003, pretty much on a daily basis, and I believe that people down there are genuinely trying to create a peaceful social revolution…which hopefully those of us in other countries can learn from (both positive and negative lessons). At the same time, however, this revolutionary process is very polarizing down there, and there is A LOT of media/government bias here in the U.S. about what they are trying to do in Venezuela, and so it’s very hard to get accurate information.

A good tip is: DON’T BELIEVE WHAT THE MEDIA SAYS ABOUT VENEZUELA. Hugo Chavez, the president, is not a dictator. He is not just another Fidel Castro. Flawed? Yes. But dictator? No.

Okay, this is enough for now. More as it comes…in the meantime check out this site to learn more about the Venezuelan revolutionary process (they call it “el proceso”).

You can also check out info about the forum itself here.

I love you, all of you who are actually reading this, and I hope to keep you energized and reflective and inspired as I tell you all about my experiences.

Goodbye Letter

This is it. My last post from Guatemala. For this last post, I want to translate into English the speech I gave for my final graduation from the mountain school. I think it says everything I want to say:


There aren’t words. There aren’t words to describe my experiences here in Guatemala, here at the escuela de la montaña. How can you describe the subtle changes inside of a heart?

I’m a gringo. I come from a country, a culture where latinos and latinas are almost invisible, as farmworkers, gardeners, maids, mechanics. Where my students who don’t speak English are treated as if they don’t have brains. We, we white folks, are so lost in our things, in our money, in our TV, in our conquests, and in our racism that we don’t listen to latina voices. We don’t listen to the powerful stories, the touching dreams, the brilliant ideas. We don’t know the history of Guatemala…we don’t even know where Guatemala is on a map.

Supposedly, I’m different. Before traveling to Guatemala, I did know much of the history of Latin America. I have read many books and almost every day I would read news from Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brasil, and Guatemala. But this was just words and paper. Actually, I wasn’t prepared for this trip.

When I arrived in Guatemala, especially when I arrived at the escuela de la montaña, I realized how much I don’t know, how much I don’t understand. I noticed many little absences in my heart that I had never recognized before. There are no words.

My time here has been so much more than the grammar and the official activities. It has been a wonderful mix of sights, experiences, jokes…and, the most important thing, relationships.

Because of y’all’s affection and because of this project, I am returning to my country a different person, with love, rage, and solidarity. And an ear that is larger and more capable of listening to latina voices.

Well then, thank you all. You will be in my heart forever.

I am crying now, in the internet cafe, just I was crying then, in the mountain school. I think, with our without visible tears, I’m going to be crying for a long while now.

Thank you all for reading and caring about me, and I hope you know how much I love you and care about you.

Quick Mountain School Blurb

The kids in the two villages remembered me.

Some remembered my name, Jeremias, and called it out in the street.

Some remembered my reputation for playing checkers and so I ended up playing probably a couple of hundred games of checkers with the 15 year old boy in my family (who has been PERMANENTLY kicked out of school for one fist fight…so he does nothing but hang out at home and play soccer…and he always wanted to read his Winnie the Pooh books with me).

Apparently, I’m told by a teenage girl, that the girls remembered that I’m cute, and that I speak good Spanish…which obviously was very flattering. The Spanish part of course.

And, I couldn’t believe it…that entire group of young boys remembered that horrible vagina drawing game and they tried to egg me on the entire night with it.

And the teachers remembered me…and were very happy to see me again…

And I’m saying all of this not out of ego or anything, but to just give a sense of how much of a communitity that place is.

More tomorrow.

Back In Xela, Safe And Sound

Just got back from the mountain school, and now I’m in Xela for my last night…I got this crazy nice hotel room for ten bucks with three beds in it!!! Tomorrow afternoon, I’m taking the four hour bus ride to Guatemala City, where I’ll hope to stay in a hotel near the airport for my morning flight on Monday.

Things are winding down, I feel like I’m just living in a state of hovering around crying all the time right now. After being back in the mountains again, I just want to stay here for longer. But I’m also ready to come home. I have a world of ideas, personal and politica,l waiting to be dumped into action when I get home, back into my real world. In the meantime, I’m going to eat at a nice restaurant tonight, I’m going to say goodbye one last time to my family in Xela, and then I’m just going to sleep and think and just be still for an evening.

Tomorrow will be the final day of the Guatemala phase of this blog…and then it will morph into something else…

It’s really strange and beautiful…these little things that keep happening, these little coincidences…I’ll learn a word in Spanish just accidently, then 15 minutes later in a totally different situation it’ll end up being a key word in a conversation…little bits of serendipity.

Por ejemplo, I had just wrote that post on my blog about my anarchist atheism, right? Well, last night, me, my friend Peggy, and my friend Terezia (who actually spent a year in Guatemala and a year in Mexico, so she speaks fluent Spanish…leaving me feeling awe-inspired, jealous, and inadequate all at once) decided to hang out at the house of their friends…one of whom is a teacher at my school. So they are two young, hip Guatemalans…and from 10pm to 4am we hung out at their house, while they all drank rum and cokes (me, just cokes with lime juice…since, of course, I don’t drink), and we talked in Spanish… and…serendipity…the discussion was about anarchism and about atheism! In Spanish, I actually had to hold my own trying to defend and explain my ideas…why I wasn’t just totally naive and stupid…why being anarchist is more than their stereotype of someone who wears all black, has dreadlocks, plays hack-sack (?), and juggles with fire sticks (?!)…and it was an incredibly fun night, that felt exactly like all of my favorite nights of staying up with friends having political conversations…and I just would pause periodically and be like…this is in Spanish!….this is in Spanish! And it felt like just another night with friends (although my talking was obviously slow and full of errors)! Just 5 weeks ago, I knew 100 words in Spanish…and I couldn’t say anything out loud…and now this…I not only could defend anarchism, I actually got them to acknowledge the beautiful and elegant philosophy that it is (much of this was framed in a debate between anarchism and communism…which they are more familiar with…and I tried to bring feminism into the equation as well…of course).

So, it was a great night…and it was a great way to say goodbye to my time here in Xela as I head for the mountains. And there’s something interesting about this, as well…

I can’t remember if I wrote this here…but for my graduation at the mountain school two weeks ago (they have a graduation every week for students who are leaving…where the students are asked to do something, sing, dance…etc. in Spanish) I did an activity of popular education which we do here in the states…this group brainstorming activitity that is meant to counter sexism and build consciousness about the difference between how men are raised and how women are raised…it’s called the act like a man/act like a lady boxes…anyway, I did this activity, facilitated it and explained it totally in Spanish…and it worked! And the two male teachers got kind of defensive…and one of them started arguing with me in Spanish…so I had to try to argue back in Spanish (very, very hard!). The women, however…at least most of them…loved it.

So, what I’ve been hearing is that teachers have actually been talking about my activity still these last two weeks…one of the women even did it with one of her students! Ooh, how flattering…cross-cultural solidarity and movement building in just a little way…so I really look forward to going back there and seeing those folks again.

See you in a week!!!

Well, it looks like there is a space open in the mountain school for my last week, so I’m taking it…which means that I need to wrap up all of my Xela business by Saturday…youch! Much to do. But I’m glad that I get to have one more week in such a neat place as the mountain school…getting to play with kids again.

Jesus Es Verbo No Sustantivo.

One of the harder things for me to deal with here in Guatemala is the religious situation.

See, I’m an atheist. I grew up Catholic, but I am an atheist…and those who know me well know that I’m a pretty outspoken atheist actually…I don’t like hate religious people or anything (after all, my family is religious and I love them)…but I’m certainly very critical…

But here, things are very, very different. When I told one of my teacher’s that I was an atheist, she was like…”hmmm, interesting, I think there might be a few of those here in Guatemala.” And soon I actually discovered that she is an Evangelical Christian…a feminist, socialist evangelical christian.

And this is the situation: Basically, there are two major religions in Guatemala, Catholocism and Evangelical Christianity…it used to be much more Catholics, but during the 36 year civil war, the US evangelical establishment worked with the Guatemalan government to evangelize the population…because the Catholic church had an increasing number of clergy and parishoners actually starting to fight poverty…and even supporting the guerillas, and the government wanted to use evangelism to counter that…to spread the idea that yes, suffer here under us on earth, but be happy in heaven…in fact, many catholics were killed, priests, nuns…and in some villages the evangelicals would come in and say: “when the army comes, if you are catholic you will be killed, but if you are Evangelical, you will live.” And so now the evangelicals are almost outnumbering the Catholics…

But even more confusing than this…which was confusing because I’m not used to thinking of Catholics as socially progressive, powerful activists (and it should be made very clear that even here they are still pro-traditional gender roles, anti-birth control, and anti-choice…)…is the fact that, given this history, all but two of the teachers at my school are EVANGELICALS (the other two being Catholics)…yet these women are feminist, they are socialist, they are at least somewhat anti-homophobic…I just couldn’t get my head around it…they were so different than any evangelicals I’ve met in the states…

And still, I don’t know what to make of all of this…in a future post, I want to write about my atheism, because I’m actually quite proud of it…of how I started with a lack, with a rejection of religion, and how out of that…with my partner and best friend Briana, I feel like I’ve been able to build a uniquely atheist spirituality for myself…I think that will be a fun post.

But for now, I’m just weirded out…I just don’t understand so many things about Guatemala…but what I have heard from one evangelical woman is that during the war she lost so much, she suffered so much pain…that she felt like in religion, through the notion of a personal relationship with god, and the idea of heaven…she felt like at least someone understood her and was paying attention to her…this is something I can understand, although it makes me sad…because there really should be tons of people, living flesh human beings, family, friends, neighbors…who can provide that kind of recognition and support…

But we don’t have that kind of world yet…

Finally, in my experience here, and hearing all of the work that the Catholics have done for social justice here…I have become a lot more softened toward the need to work with religious folks in the states…something I’ve been avoiding for awhile…

Because as a really good folk song down here says: Jesus is a verb, not a noun…and there are those fighting for a church of the poor, for a church to improve the world here and now…and there are those who just claim their religion and then go on raking in their cash…clergy definitely included.

Yes, dogs can be racist. How do I know? Because of the 3 dogs at the mountain school. Anytime there is a North American in the driveway, approaching the school, whatever, they are totally calm…they trot up, they turn over on their backs to be scratched (yet funnily they never actually get scratched, because they are so dirty and flea-ridden and scarred up)…yet almost any time they see a Guatemalan, of any age, the three of them charge forward, barking and snarling, chasing kids down…and so the kids who come on Wednesdays are often scared to come near the school for fear of the dogs…and two times I actually escorted kids past the dogs…with my magical soothing white skin to keep the dogs at bay…

So weird, yet a completely true story.

Noche Cultural Con Los Niños

Every Wednesday night at the mountain school, there is a special event, called la noche cultural…where the kids from neighboring villages can come to the school and play with us students, and also do art projects and play games and such, and then afterwards hot chocolate for all…

Now it started with just maybe 10 to 15 kids…but now it has become a youth culture institution…and anywhere from 50 to 90 kids come every week, from ages 5-18…

And it isn’t run by the school, it is run by a local youth group, which has students who get scholarships from the mountain school, and they plan all of the activities and they coordinate it…and they are hella organized!

Now, these Wednesdays were my favorite parts of my two weeks. I love playing dumb games like duck duck goose and hokey pokey (but in Spanish, of course), and the second week it was drawing…and I just loved being surrounded by young people, doing art, playing tag, checkers asking them about their lives and having them ask me questions in English…it was just super fun…and the organizers were an inspiration in terms of youth leadership (and I taught one of the them, the only male actually, how to yo-yo)…

And it was all good except for one thing…this one kid, maybe 8 years old, who was playing a drawing game with me…and it was going great…and then he suddenly draws a vagina and he keeps trying to get me to say some slang name for it in Spanish…and I refuse and I tell him that he’s being disrespectful, ¨ya basta¨(enough already) etc…but he’s getting such a kick out of it that he RECRUITS like 6 or 7 younger kids to start drawing vaginas, and they were literally following me around the activity barn slyly smiling and asking me to say the word in Spanish…it was really out of control…but I think there is something a little bit deeper going on there, behind little boy humor and sexism…I think they very much enjoyed having the upper hand over us because we didn’t know the language…and this is something that makes sense to me.

The Dorm In The Mountains

I came to the mountain school upset, because of the woman in the street, and in my first days there I remained upset, because I (and a few other folks) was trying to solely use Spanish, and yet it seemed like almost all of the students were using English all the time. Even more, there is actually rule at the mountain school to only use Spanish when there are Guatemelans around, but still, even then, there was so much English…

Plus, in general I’m not one for group social dynamics, and I was definitely feeling anti-social. I’m the same way at parties…I just sit in the corner and wait for people to talk with me…and if not…I’ll just pout there the whole time.

But the mountain school is such a unique environment, with like 4 bedrooms with 2-4 beds in each, that social interaction is required…and so I pretty quickly became friendly and open with the group…and also, the school is excellent in that it does a really good job of making people feel welcome, and every Monday, everyone (including the teachers, who actually live in other towns 10-15 minutes away) plays a name game…and that really solidifies bonds.

So there in my two weeks at the school, I had my share of joking nights, group cooking experiences, political discussions, study sessions, personal story exhibitions…and this is a reason that I didn’t want to leave…it just felt good to be there, in the school, in my classes, in the whole environment…even in the many emotionally intense times in the villages, or hearing stories.

One night, for example, I started talking with just 2 people about how I didn’t know what to do in regard to buying gifts for people back home…because I want to bring things back, and I want to support local economies a bit…but at the same time I think it’s extremely problematic when folks buy things from other cultures that are culturally significant, and just take it as a souvenir…what activists in the states call cultural appropriation…for example, I’ve read and heard numerous times here that Mayan women hate to see non-Mayans with their clothing, their blouses and skirts…because this is something that they have fought more than 500 years to have the right to wear, to hold onto their culture…and yet they sell this stuff, because people will buy it and it will provide an income…yet I don’t want to be that person…taking a piece of their culture, a piece of their struggle, and just bringing it home as a gift that will go on some friend’s or family’s wall…that’s just not me…

And so this conversation started with just the 3 of us, and pretty soon half the students were involved, and there was arguing, but mostly there was just reflection about what our place is as North Americans here…with our money that can buy us pretty much anything we want…if we wanted, it could probably even buy people…so what does it mean to be responsible in that kind of situation of unequal power between us and them?

Anyhow, the school was really fun, in just a dorm style social sense…and, of course, it was vast majority women, which is always where I’m most comfortable…so that added to the fun of it, because I didn’t feel weird being a feminist man around a bunch of non-feminist tourist dudes or anything (and there are such dudes, cruizing for Guatemalan women in the bars…but not as many as I’d feared…although I don’t actually go to the bars!!!)

Still waiting to see if I’ll get to go back…

A note: This post has some intense stuff that may be triggering for survivors of violence.

And so there were these two autonomous villages I was visiting, certainly poor, but showcasing a level of community and solidarity that I’ve never seen in the US…in my very particular suburban culture…I’ve tasted it in my extended Alaskan family, but nothing this strong…

But this is all romanticizing, because the reality of life in Fatima, Nuevo San Jose, and I imagine much of the countryside in Guatemala is something much deeper and harder than it first seems.

First, the sexism. The work of the women…everyday, for every meal, making tortillas from scratch (literally, often from the whole kernels of maize), washing the clothes (every day because of so many kids, and by hand…which I had to do at the mountain school, in the giant sink that’s called a pila…and it just ripped apart my arm muscles trying to ring all my pants out…and those were just clothes for my one person!), cleaning, taking care of kids, cooking, shopping…and then…being available to their husbands.

There is a reason there are so many kids here, and the reason, plain and simple, is male domination. It is the men who refuse to use condoms. It is the men who reject birth control (it is widely believed there that getting a vasectomy makes a man gay…which I’ll talk more about in a second). It is the men who expect their wives to be always available to them, and who judge their maleness on the number of kids they have…it is sexism, plain and simple…

And it is the men who are spreading aids in these communities…yes, aids, because these men don’t have work or they only have work in other cities…and so every day they are traveling to other cities…where they have mistresses and prostitutes…and then back to their wives…where aids and other sexually transmitted infections are spread…and this is not just general, this is a reality in Fatima and Nuevo San Jose specifically. Sexism and machismo are very real here…and they are deadly…as they are in the United States also…I didn’t hear any stories about domestic violence, but I’m sure it’s a reality, just as it is everywhere.

And as for sexuality…here it is something that isn’t talked about…and since children aren’t supposed to move out until marriage…there aren’t many options for clandestinely queer folks either…but there are queer folks in Fatima and Nuevo San Jose…closeted…and at least one of them is an alcoholic…

Also, there was a teacher in the school in Xela who is lesbian, and who had to flee to the United States in order to be with her partner without being harassed, attacked, and completely rejected.

And there is the work. The constant work. Work to chop and gather firewood, work to support the family, work on the fincas during certain seasons…these people work extremely hard, men and women…but especially the women and girls.

And there are gangs (but not in Nuevo San Jose and Fatima…yet), and there drugs, and there is alcohol, and there is a family with a developmentally disabled baby…who has never seen sunlight because the family is too ashamed to take her outside…she’s three years old…

And things are just simply hard…painful in ways that I’ve never seen or understood. What aspirations are there? What ¨I can do anything if I just work¨ idea? These people have been working for generations, not even asking for anything but sufficiency…and they were denied even that…until they fought…and they are still fighting, simply to have water, to have a little school…to have houses that actually can stand a windy day…and still, there is no work…the school is the most stable work…and with growing free trade (the reason there is no work is because free trade concepts have destroyed the notion of fincas having permanent employees…now it’s walmart, temp job style…where people are hired for three months at a time…paid almost nothing with no benefits…and then fired) policies, this situation will not improve.

There is a reason why feminism and socialism are talked about so much here (and the women talk about feminism a lot…not the women in the villages, but my teachers)…and that’s because they are needed. Period. They are needed.

My Two Families In The Mountain School

Okay, so I had just gotten started talking about the families I ate with in the mountain school, and now I want to continue with that…

Like I said, my first family was a little bit awkard, because the mother was very busy with other things (she had a son sick with a tooth infection…because, as Lynn told me, here dental care amounts to getting your teeth pulled or filled, without much medicine or hygeine…because such things are caro…they are expensive…hence why nearly every adult Guatemalan I met in those two villages had many, many gold and silver teeth…looking very much, I must say, like Ol’ Dirty Bastard, or other rappers who decided to make such a thing a fashion), and she also talked really fast and didn’t make much of an effort to see if I understood her (which I usually didn’t)…however…the kids were great.

The oldest girl, whose nickname was China (Chee-na…named that way because her eyes looked asian when she was little…which is actually a common, and obviously racist, nickname around here) was extremely responsible, basically being the mom when the mom wasn’t around, and she was only 12 years old.

There were also two older brothers both claiming to be 15…but they don’t know their birthdays for sure…and they played checkers with me every single day…on their own homemade board made of notebook paper, with pieces of maize for red and dried beans for black…however they play with their own crazy rules…in which a ¨king me¨ actually turns the piece into this crazy super piece which is basically like a queen in chess, and it can move anywhere and devour like 4 pieces in a turn…they beat me consistently for four days, and then I picked up the logic of the game and I won…once in awhile.

Also, there were the youngest kids, the youngest being 5, who would read to me from their school books, and then on Sunday morning, my last morning, they read the bible with me…and they actually read it incredibly well for how difficult it is.

The majority of these kids go to school every day, which is just one school house where kids of all ages go…but sometimes China and the oldest boy would have to stay home to do work in the house (wash clothes…always by hand…make tortillas…always by hand…or clean the house…or gather firewood), or because the family couldn’t afford to send all of the kids to school everyday…here they have to pay to go school, because the government barely pays anything.

I had a lot of fun with these kids, and they were super friendly with me, but I could definitely see how fast they have to grow up here, and even more I could see the gender difference very clearly…while the boys would watch TV (one time it was like this really bad US ¨B movie¨ about snakes with really bad Spanish dubbing), the oldest girls were always working…and sometimes getting yelled at by their mom…every single day, this was the pattern.

My second family was in Nuevo San Jose, the older and larger village, with a woman who had 6 kids (although I think she has 8, but two of them are now grown and live in their own houses…I couldn’t be sure), all of whom were super friendly with me. This woman was older, she wore the traje, or the traditional Mayan dress for women of the embroidered shirt and woven shirt, and she told me that she also speaks Mam…which is one of the larger indigenous languages…but her kids don’t.

With this family, I was invited to eat with them in their kitchen, with its dirt floor and holes in the lamina walls, and I was a lot more comfortable with them than the first family. We talked about the history of their town, the struggle to move, about the weather and about cooking…they taught me how to make tortillas by hand (at least the flattening part), and they would actually let me do the dishes…which made me feel a lot more comfortable.

Also, the kids loved to read with me, especially the two younger girls…and so everyday I’d bring a children’s book from the school (mostly indigenous stories published by a multicultural press in San Francisco…but actually the favorite book…by far…was Donde Viven Los Monstruos…Where The Wild Things Are!!!), and we’d take turns reading one page apiece. It was really fun…and then afterwards, I’d go into the house with the girls, and we’d play jax…jax is like THE game right now among girls in those villages…and these girls have abilities in jax that I could have never imagined…seriously, they’ve got some crazy tricks. I was horribly bad my first night, but by the end of the week, I could get to where I was scooping up 6 at a time…which is really not very impressive compared to these girls.

Now, with this family, I didn’t even know there was a husband…until my last day, when he came home at 8 in the morning, without a shirt, wailing and totally, completely drunk…and the poor mom just looked at me and laughed with clear embarrassment…and then, obviously, my whole understanding of the house situation changed…as my little bubble of this family living happily and serenely in their village was suddenly popped…seeing the look on the youngest boy’s face when his dad came home is one of the permanent memories I will take home…as cliche as that may sound.

And this brings me to the deeper level of the family discussion…which I want to make a separate post.

My first evening at the mountain school, Lynn, the coordinator (who is a North American, from Wisconsin…and she has been here since before the founding of the mountain school, she seems to be kind of a force around here, well known by the locals, and I believe well-respected), took us down the hill on the side of the school’s property, down some concrete steps, to the dirt streets of the neighboring village, Fatima…she then led us down the street, and dropped some of us off at the houses of our families for dinner.

My house was three houses down on the right, and it had a little fence with a little gate, and the house itself was of cinderblocks and lamina (which is the rusted corrugated metal roof that is almost standard here). I was welcomed in by the mother, and she sat me down in their front room, which had a bare concrete floor, two beds, some faded looney tunes posters, and a homemade bulletin board with family pictures on it…and a table with a red checkerboard tablecloth, like an Italian restaurant.

The father sat with me while the mother cooked dinner somewhere in the back, and I talked with him about the history of Fatima, his family, and his work (he commutes every day by bus to another town to do construction work…and he’s lucky because the majority of men there don’t have work, and take buses every day just to find work, or do day labor)…and then my dinner, which was fried tortillas (tostadas) with homemade guacamole on them (really, really good!!!)…and then I met the kids…all six of them (and they have another one, who lives in Guatemala City and works in factory making mosquito nets for beds)…and then about 10 minutes of awkward silence, and I headed back to the school…

That night, at orientation, I learned a little bit about the history of the school and of its relationship to the nearby villages: that the school partially chose its location in 1997 because of Nuevo San Jose and its story of struggle…and Lynn spent many months before the school was open developing relationships with the families to make sure it was okay with them, and they set it up so that students would be a source of income for the families…and there was already a woman’s group organized in Nuevo San Jose, so Lynn worked with the woman on things like cooking hygenically and such, and established payment that was signicantly above that of working in a finca for a week…and they set up a rotation system so that the families (really, it’s the women…) would share students and thus the income…and at first there was a big problem because the women thought that it would be rude of them to actually have guests eat with the family in the kitchen (which is behind the house, with dirt floors, open walls or lamina walls, and a wood-burning cement stove), and so they would serve students in the front like in a restaurant (which actually was my experience with the first family…I was never invited into their second room or kitchen, which I respected but felt weird about)…but actually, even before that…right before the school opened, the women had a big meeting and decided not to work with the school after all…because they didn’t want to have to cook pizza and hamburgers, and because they were embarrassed about their poverty (so says Lynn)…and so Lynn worked with them and made it clear that this was about sharing their lifestyles, not adopting North American lifestyles…that it was okay to serve tortillas and beans, that it was okay to eat with their hands…etc…and now everyone I’ve talked with says that they love the school, and they love what it’s offered, economically and culturally, to their communities…but more about that later.

In fact…once again…I have to go study…so this is just have to be extended again. Lo siento. I’m sorry.

La Escuela De La Montaña, Part 1

Okay, I’ve just got a few minutes before I’m heading off to a workshop on human rights in Guatemala, but I really need to get moving on my stories from the mountain school, as new stories pile up each and every day…

Here are the basics:

The mountain school is sister project of the same collective that runs the language school in Xela, and it was started in 1997, I believe. It is a school in the country, located on land that used to be a finca (a plantation)…and I believe that the school building itself used to be the finca owner’s house.

The climate in this area is very warm and humid, with sun and warmth almost every morning and heavy rain EVERY afternoon. The property itself has all sorts of trees, coffee trees, banana trees, chickens, three dogs, two cats…and now…two ducks (who arrived while I was there)…the property is super comfortable, except for the billions of mosquitos that ripped my arms, legs, belly, and face apart. There are hot showers and electricity…and all of the students (12-14 at a time) live in the school…it’s a total dorm atmosphere, which was really fun…

Now, the school is located on the same old finca property as two small villages, Fatima and Nuevo San Jose…both of these villages are completely composed of families that used to live on fincas (that is, they born out of many generations of people who have lived on the finca, worked on the finca, and died on the finca…basically straight up peasants in the feudalistic sense of the term), but the finca owners ended up screwing with these folks too many times (in Nuevo San Jose’s case, by not paying them AT ALL for more than A YEAR!), and so the families organized unions (having to meet secretly in the Catholic church under the guise of worshipping, for fear of being killed or persecuted as “guerillas” since this was during the civil war that lasted for 36 years until the peace accords in 1996), and struggled, and struggled…until they were left with no choice but to leave their homes on the fincas (carrying all of their possessions on foot in the rain for miles and miles…all at once…at least in Nuevo San Jose’s case). So, now there are these two collectively built villages, Nuevo San Jose which is 11 years old, with 25 families, and is composed of two parallel dirt roads (more like wide dirt paths) with houses on both sides…and Fatima…which is 5 years old, with something like 15 families, and which is one dirt road with houses on both sides…through cooperation, solidarity, and struggle, they have built a school, they have gained services like electricity and water (Nuevo San Jose at least, Fatima still doesn’t have water)…and who knows what will come in the future…but it was always a joy to hear the stories of these important places from the families…and the mixture of pride and sadness (because the fincas were their homes…and they had thought they would grow and die there, as unjust and hard as that seems to me, and probably you too) was obvious on their faces.

Now, although the students live in the school, we each had a family, which changed each week (so I had two total), and we would eat three meals a day with our families…and that is where I’ll have to leave off right now…but when I return I’ll talk about the families, about the school, about the teachers and students…and poco a poco…about all this made me feel.

In the meantime, I’m doing fine here in Xela…I’d rather be in the mountain school still, and I’m a little bit overwhelmed by my studies right now (only my fourth week of Spanish and I’m studying the “advanced” track of grammar…subjunctive tenses…youch).

More later, and much love to you all!

Important Note: This story is painful, and may be triggering for survivors of violence. I’m sorry.

On Sunday morning, there were four of us heading to the mountain school, all of us gringos…and we decided to meet at the big Catholic church in the central park of Xela. I had arrived early, though, so I spent a half an hour in the church, exploring the architecture, the stained glass and high, high ceilings, admiring the stations of the cross potrayed by full sized mannequins of Jesus behind glass displays…and watching people as they lit candles and prayed.

And then the four of us took a minubus (minivan packed full of passengers) to the bus terminal, where we then borded a chickenbus (a brightly painted old american schoolbus with primary school-sized seats…that same brown vinyl that I remember from growing up)…and sat for half an hour while people boarded trying to sell us stuff…candy, soda, fried meat of some sort…and then off, for an hour and half in a completely packed bus, through the windy roads and the beautiful fog, past all sorts of towns and billboards and brightly painted cemetaries (they don’t seem to do the anglo grey cemetary thing here…it’s all reds and greens and yellows and blues…) and the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen on plants (I hear they’re called orejas de elefantes…elephant ears)…until we reached the town of Colomba, which…oops!…was past where we were supposed to go. No harm, though, the ayudante pointed us to the bus stop going back the other direction, and we sat in Colomba for ten minutes where all of the locals just stared and stared at us with our backpacks…very different atmosphere…not unfriendly, just not used to gringos.

And then back on the bus for ten minutes until we got to our stop, which is a big yellow sign for the village of Santa Domingo…and we got our bags from off the roof of the bus, and we were ready to walk down the stone street to the mountain school…

And just 30 feet down the road, we saw her…a woman lying in the street, maybe mid twenties, with flies circling around her, with a stick of bamboo awkwardly placed between her legs and under her skirt, and with a bundle of bananas under her skirt as well. I thought that I was seeing a dead body, and I can still feel my body’s shock response.

One of my companions grabbed the woman’s shoulder and tried to wake her up, but no luck…she was alive, however. And then my mind began circulating around the question of rape…of what to do, of how to support her…another companion walked to the house right there, and found a woman living there, who expressed no interest in helping us, and then we found another older man walking by, who also expressed no interest…so I and another volunteered to run to the mountain school for help while the other two waited with the woman…

…and we ran, and the mountain school was only about 100 feet further, with a nice little welcome sign, a driveway, and then a gate onto this beautiful property with a cute little white stucco house, with hammocks and chairs on the front patio, and a beautiful political mural…and I ran in, and an American woman and a Guatemalan woman came with me to check it out…and when they saw the woman…

…oh, well, it was just ____, a known drunk…and so we were urged to just leave her there, because she was known to try to fight people when she wakes up…and one of the women of the school said that she might try to talk with the family for them to go check on her later…and so we left the woman there, in the street, with the stick, but they moved the bananas and pulled her skirt down…and all four of us, I think, were unsettled and wondering about that woman for the rest of our time there…

The Subtleties Of Growth

I’ve just returned from two weeks that have changed my life. Not any kind of drastic change…not any kind of sell my possessions, drop out of the world kind of change…something much more silent and soft…like the fine hairs on my cheeks. I’ve had this weird sort of privilege of dropping into the middle of a situation that was so incredibly foreign to me that my brain was forced to create new categories of thought and understanding in order to be able to function…for two weeks, I was dropped into these two communities, Fatima and Nuevo San Jose (both associated with la escuela de la montaña…the mountain school), I ate every meal with families in these two communities, and within this, my understanding of poverty, of struggle, of work, of families, of religion, of education…all of it was shaken and challenged and…with that, just as with my learning of Spanish…I feel like I have grown enormously.

I don’t know how I’m going to be able to write about these last two weeks. There is so much to tell, and even more to process and analyze and reflect on…

I think I’ll probably try to do it in little bits, snapshots of my experiences…

I’m Heading To The Mountains…

For two weeks, this blog will probably be silent, because I’m heading to a language school in the mountains for two weeks, where there is no phone or computers. At the school, I will live in a dorm with 9 other students, and I will eat three meals a day in the homes of people living in the neighboring village…who collectively own a coffee plantation connected with the school…see, all of the profits from these schools I’m going to go to cooperative projects like this…still I’ll be interested to see how this experience is…will it be healthy and cooperative and social, or will it be a weird, racist kind of “let’s go look at the quaint brown people in their quaint huts.” From what I hear, many of these families in the mountains are very politically active, and so I look forward to talking with them about our respective countries. Most of them are Mayan (as is the slight majority of the country, as opposed to being Ladino or mixed Spanish blood)…and they speak Spanish as a second language, with one or another Mayan language being their first language. In Guatemala, the majority Mayan, indigenous people are poor, and they have experienced a lot of discrimination over the years…and Mayans were the primary force behind the guerilla movements that existed in this country for 36 years (until the peace accords in 1996).

So, until 2 weeks from now, I love all of you, and I hope you’ll write to me and comment here, even though I won’t be able to write back for awhile.

If you take a moment and look to your right, you will see our Jeremy habitat…yes, there is a living, breathing Jeremy in there, so keep your hands and feet on this side of the fence. He’s more scared of us than we are of him, but if you startle him, he may snap, so just be careful. We took him in when he had a broken wing, and he’s been here ever since…our keepers are taking very good care of him, and we believe that in five more weeks he will be well enough to fly home.

Now, let me paint you picture of what this Jeremy’s life is like in here:

Jeremy lives in a house in the city of Xela (pronounced shay-la), with a mother and her two sons. The mother has three sons total, 18, 22, and 24 years each…but the oldest has a wife and cute baby named Diego, and he lives elsewhere. There is a husband as well, but he lives and works in another city, and comes home on Saturdays. This family has a contract with Jeremy’s language school, el Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco de Espanol, and they have been taking in creatures like this Jeremy for 13 years now. The family is extremely friendly with Jeremy, and they feed him three times a day…a diet of eggs, tortillas, and black beans in the morning…a large lunch of vegetables, meats, rice, and tortillas…and a smaller dinner of more meat, vegetables, and rice. Jeremy seems to love his food, and as a gesture of gratitude he does the dishes after lunch and dinner every day.

The house is modest, but very pretty and comfortable, and Jeremy has his own room all to himself, where he studies and reads. He shares a bathroom and a shower (which has a strange heater contraption attached to the shower head to generate lukewarm water…and which uses much electricity and will shock Jeremy if he touches it in the wrong way. The family has refrigerator, a Sony tv with satellite, cell phones, and a stereo…but they the mother does the laundry by hand in a large stone sink, and so Jeremy believes that this family is more of the middle class persuasion compared to many families in Guatemala. However, Jeremy seems to be stunned by some of the decorations in the house, and at how they are things that he would normally take for granted or throw away…for example, the family has, as the centerpiece of their dining room table, a Batman Returns placemat…and Jeremy is curious because Batman Returns (and this place mat) was created in 1992.

Every morning, Jeremy wakes up at 6 in the morning, to the sounds of dogs barking, roosters crowing, cars rumbling, and firecrackers cracking (which Jeremy naively mistook for guns at first). Jeremy brushes his teeth with bottled water, gets dressed, and goes down to breakfast with the mother. At every meal, the mother talks in a very slow and friendly manner with Jeremy, in Spanish, and Jeremy attempts to slowly carry on conversations with her. He has improved considerably in this in the week he has been with us here.

At 7:45am, Jeremy walks ten minutes through the narrow streets of Xela, past many houses and small shops, to arrive at his language school…which is run by a collective of more left-leaning Spanish teachers…who set up the school to not only teach Spanish, but to teach about the social, political, economic situation of Guatemala. Jeremy has one-on-classes with one teacher a week, for five hours, from 8am-1pm. In these classes, his teacher teaches him by writing concepts and words down on long pieces of paper, while he takes notes…then the teacher talks with Jeremy about his life, his opinions, politics and history. Jeremy is very happy in these classes, he very much liked his first teacher…and he has learned much…but he is still slow in speaking, and shy.

The school is laid out around an indoor courtyard, where the sun shines in, and where there are lots of political posters and bulletin boards decorating the beautiful yellow walls. During the half hour coffee break during classes, Jeremy mixes with the 40+ other students, trying to speak Spanish, but often falling back on English.

After class, Jeremy walks back to his house, where he eats lunch, and then he either returns to his room to study, or he goes out to do activities with the school (the school hosts workshops and movies and trips related to the reality of Guatemala). So far, he mostly just studies and walks around alone, admiring the city.

He eats dinner at 7:30pm or 8:00pm, and lately he has taken to watching tv with the family (shows like Los Plateados…which is a cowboy soap opera…and la mujer de ejero…or something…which is a traditional soap opera…and the news). At 10pm, Jeremy goes to sleep and sleeps soundly until the roosters and dogs and firecrackers wake him up the next morning.

So far, Jeremy has very much enjoyed his stay in this habitat, and he is acclimating well. He loves his family, although he feels shy and embarassed to not be able to discuss more than favorite fruits and preferred types of movies…but he is new to all this, so we expected this of him.

This is embarassing, but must be shared:

In Xela, you are not supposed to put your toilet paper in the toilet. You are supposed to ball it up and put it in the trash can. The problem is, old habits die hard…and because I’m quite concerned about damaging people’s plumbing…I’ve had my hands in numerous Guatemalan toilets this week…damned toilet paper…soaks up water so fast!

My alcohol wipes and hand sanitizer have served me well, I’ll tell you what!

No time to describe my daily life today, once again…but that’s okay, because I’d rather discuss the process of learning a language and the power of it for me…

For me, learning a language feels something like walking around, gathering precious stones…with each word I pick up, memorize, use, whole new avenues of discussion and sharing are opened up. I learn the word baño, and suddenly I don’t have to hold it in anymore. I learn the word cuesta and I can find out how much things cost…I learn the word ejercito (army), and then the story of Guatemala begins to unfold. The story of CIA organized coups, US supported massacres, kidnapped and tortured activists (many younger than me), North American and European corporations gobbling up this land and its people for centuries…the story of a country that many of us in the United States would have trouble even finding on a map (including myself, even four months ago!)…with each word I can come so much closer to a person, to buried histories…and it’s beautiful and endlessly satisfying.

But it’s exhausting too…as I find myself spending entire days trying to figure out what I want to say to my “host family” (I’m living with a mother and her two sons, 18 and 21 years old)…do I want to ask about movies, or do I just want to talk about food…not many options yet…and a couple of days ago I was just pacing around a group of stores because I was scared to go in and have to ask for la espuma (shaving creme)…because here in Xela, the stores are counters with their products behind them…so to buy something requires human interaction and communication…and each night I have no problem falling asleep, because my brain has been fully active for sixteen hours…trying to find the right endings to verbs…trying to figure out whether I’m saying “of” or “for,” trying to figure out just one more way to understand people’s stories…

I go to bed each night feeling full intellectually…but its impossible to sit completely comfortably here…because this is not my country…and my country does not have a pleasant history here…and my responsibilities, as someone who wants to struggle for justice in my country alongside folks struggling for justice here in Guatemala…my responsibilities feel very real to me…and that’s primarily why I’m here, learning Spanish…so I can be that much better at fighting for a better world alongside others…

…and it’s important to recognize how much farther ahead folks down here, in Latin America, are in that struggle than those of us in the States are…we have much to learn, and much to inspire us. I just want to keep gathering these stones…just want to keep listening and paying attention…

My Travels Continue…

On Sunday, July 3, my plane taxied into the Guatemala City airport, and I saw a relatively small building with these big windows with like crowds of people staring out at us…then off the plane into a terminal that felt more like the basement of a government building (dim flourescent lights, dusty tourist posters on the walls) to this North American than it did an international airport…not a judgement, just an observation…and then two minutes in customs (they didn´t search my bags or anything, just stamped my passport and that was it)…then I was in the main area of the airport…

Masses of people, some holding signs with families’ names on them…indigenous women wearing huipils and cortes (gorgeous, colorful embroidered blouses and long skirts)with babies slung on their backs…and everything in Spanish…

I pass through a big mass of people into the area where the bank windows are, and get my money changed into quetzales…$70 bucks US and I get like $500 quetzales…most of which I still haven’t used…

I find an airport worker…or rather he finds me…and he gets me a taxi (I haven’t used any Spanish yet…just said “taxi, Galgos” (Galgos is a busline that goes to Xela) and he puts me into the taxi…and the driver then starts talking to me…and I remember mumbling back, but don’t remember what…but it was clear that I didn’t speak Spanish, and then we were silent…I felt like an idiot…but I said “Lo siento,” and he smiled.

Quick drive through Guatemala City, past this big, ancient, empty stone fountain, into the neighborhood with all the bus stations (as well as a red light district)…and I pay the driver the equivalent of 8 bucks…and I’m in the station…where I botch Spanish again trying to get a bus ticket…and then wait for two hours in the station for my bus to leave…across the street is a Shell station…and it looks exactly like a Shell station in the United States…and I’m taken aback again by the power of corporations to transplant themselves all over the world…mostly I just sit there for two hours, but I occasionally would walk outside, and see many old, beat up cars rumbling by, lots of local buses (which are old school buses, their doors removed, painted bright solid colors…with ayudantes (bus assistants) hanging out the sides of them…and I watch a group of Guatemala City cops milling around for awhile…they wear these funny hats that make them seem not very intimidating…like panama hats almost…don’t know what they are called.

Anyway, on to the bus, which is an old Greyhound bus which is completely full, and there are many Americans on it…tourists and students just like me…and there is a young boy with a soccer jersey who keeps staring and smiling at me as he is opening and closing the emergency window…then off we go, through the streets of Guatemala City…past many old buildings, many rusted metal roofs, and also many chain stores: a burger king, a wendys, a mcdonalds, the largest pizza hut I have ever seen…Texaco star marts, quaker state…HOOTERS!!! And I see many billboards, billboards the entire four hours of my ride, and I immediately notice that the women in them don’t look too much like the women I’m seeing around…they have brown and blonde hair, and mostly bluish eyes…sexist North American beauty standards imported…

…and then onto the highway, which I didn’t know it was a highway until someone told me…because really it was four hours on this two lane road, stopping frequently…picking up passengers (picture a Greyhound bus with an employee who stands with the door open on the highway…with families and children and folks just standing alongside the highway…and this employee yells out that there’s space on the bus…and then the bus stops every half hour or so and picks up people along the way)…it was wild…and the highway itself…I don’t think there was more than 500 feet of straight road the whole way…it was all curves and rises and falls, all over these hills covered with beautiful trees, or shanties of cinder block and corrugated metal, or terraced farmland…four hours of that, and I absolutely loved it…

And then into Quetzaltenango (Xela) where the first things I noticed were cars with Jesus slogans painted on them…a massive church that looked more like a wharehouse…and the dogs…dogs…dogs…all of them relatively small, not like german shephards, more like collies and small labs and small retrievers…dogs just wandering by themselves in the streets, sniffing at garbage…apparently wild…and I felt right then how hard it was going to be to not want to pet them because it was so strange…how these dogs seemed to be some of the cutest dogs I’ve ever seen…they weren’t like dirty or scabbed or anything…they just looked like a bunch of cute, small lost dogs…and I wanted our bus to just stop and pick up each one of them…

Into the bus station in Xela at 6:30…and a friend of a friend is waiting for me…and it turns out that she knows another guy on the bus, so the three of us go to find a hotel for him and I…

…and now is the time to describe Xela…It is a city of hundreds of thousands of people, spread out across what seem like rolling hills…with tiny old buildings crowded together, separated by these tiny threads of mostly cobblestone streets…a completely new landscape for me, and beautiful to me…but not in like a pristine, exotic way…but in a gritty, history-shown-in-the-buildings way…

Oooh…I’ve run out of time today…ick…so, we’ll have to stop here…and actually, I think tomorrow I’ll jump ahead to what my daily life is like here…and tell the rest of the travel story as it comes up…suffice it to say, my hotel experience was fun and interesting and comfortable…and I have been enjoying my time here from the very beginning.

My Travels Begin…

So, I have been in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala for 4 days now. I arrived on Sunday. Between then and now, there are many stories, and I’m afraid that many of them have already slipped through the cracks…but before it’s too late, I really want to kick-start this blog with a review of my travels so far:

Saturday, July 2…I am rushing around Briana and I´s apartment, cleaning, packing, emailing and calling people to say goodbye…and then at 5:50pm, I’m in the air heading toward Houston, TX

I arrive in Houston at midnight, at the George Bush airport (can you believe that? Not even dead yet, and the dude’s got an airport…and it’s a huge one at that!), and my flight to Guatemala City doesn’t leave until 9am the next morning…so I decide to sleep in the airport…but first, this young security guard starts chattin’ me up, for like an hour…we talk about working in schools, about Texas, about rollercoasters…she asks me whether school districts do drug tests because she wants a job in a school but she smokes a wee bit of pot…she was super friendly, and the time just flew by…but it was bedtime, so I got a tip from another security guard that the chapel was a great place to sleep…so I stretched out in the chapel, set up a little camp of books, my jackets, and my alarm clock, and I went to sleep…along with two other people in the chapel (I felt like we had a special bond with each other…a special chapel kind of bond). In the morning, I was awoken by a flight attendant praying right next to my dirty feet!

Breakfast in the airport: the greasiest muffins the world has ever seen (seriously, how can a muffin be greasy anyway???), courtesy of Starbucks (it was either that or Texas barbecue for breakfast)…I shaved in the bathroom, put my money belt on, got my passport checked…and I was off to Guatemala.

Hours of flying over a beautiful sea, and then over beautiful green land, trees and small little plots of farmland, and small little villages connected by sparse dirt roads…and then over Guatemala City itself…which was just endless buildings with rusty tin roofs…and then, on the hills, these massive homogenous gated communities and another massive hotel complex thing…

On the runaway, taxiing in, I spotted a Burger King and a Wendy´s sign in the distance…and that’s when the I started really feeling weird…feeling like I was entering a different world in many ways…funny how it was the familiar corporate stuff that made me feel that way…but the context is so different…and it’s so strange when the corporate chains are by far the nicest buildings around…there’s something inherently wrong with that….

And that is all for now…we’re going to make this a little series, okay? In our next installment, we will witness Jeremy as he botches his first interaction in Español, we will read about a beautiful and interesting bus ride, and we will discover the dogs of Quetzaltenango (Xela)…stay tuned!!!

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi