Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Semana Santa

My favorite customs from Semana Santa in El Novillero:

  • Baking baskets full of "semana santa" bread (a sweet bread sometimes made with milk or raisins) that gets exchanged among families.
  • Constructing "arcos" which are different sized arches made from fruits, breads, plants, etc and are placed in homes, in front of churches or businesses to celebrate holy week (see bottom left).
  • Holy Thursday: in the morning there is a traditional breakfast with the family of semana santa bread, hot chocolate and a garbanzo/plátano sweet dish; in the morning all the god-children stop by to visit and exchange food (usually fried chicken and a veggie salad); lunch is also had together at home and includes way too much food (the food dropped by and more); and a mass takes place late afternoon with neighboring communities.
  • Holy Friday: a procession starts mid-day from a community up the mountain, which carries down the image of Jesus carrying the cross, stopping at altars ("rugs" made from colored sawdust, flowers, fruit and pine needles, check top left) in front of several homes to pray (we joined half way down, walking "procession-speed" for a couple hours) till we arrived back in El Novillero joining up with other processions for a huge mass in the soccer field.  After the 3 hour mass Jesus is taken off the cross (bottom center and right), put in a coffin-like box and there is yet another procession through town, ending up at the old church...crazy long but fun day!
  • Sábado de Gloria (Saturday of Glory): families go out during the day to have picnics, visit relatives or just hang out together (at the park we had over a thousand people enter!)  There is another mass in the evening (with a bonfire outside and everyone enters with candles); many things take place such as confirmations, baptisms and this year there were 5 weddings too :)
  • Domingo Resurrección (Resurection Sunday): although this day is often the biggest day of holy week in the US, here it is the calmest, with a normal mass either early in the morning or in the afternoon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Proverbs & Culture

Russian Proverb:
If God does not bring it, the earth will not give it.

Chinese Proverb:
Don't depend on heaven for food, but on your own two hands carrying the load.

During training to become Peace Corps volunteers, we went through several sessions on cultural differences.  The purpose was to help us understand the thoughts, motives and actions of others so we could effectively carry out our work in a context quite distinct from that which many of us were accustomed to.  One topic that stuck with me was locus of control.  A person who has a high internal locus of control believes that they have the control to change events based on their actions and behaviors.  Someone with with a high external locus of control relies more on fate, and believes that chance or some higher power determines events.  North Americans generally have a high external locus of control, believing that if they study enough, work hard and don't give up they can achieve their dreams and be successfull.  Even those of us who believe in God still lean in the direction that we were given the capacity to look for or create our own opportunities.  The tendency in Guatemala is definitely more passive, noted with a high use of the phrases "si Dios quiere/manda" (if God wants/wills) or "primeramente a Dios" (first to God, used in my region when talking about if something will happen or not).  For me it's been interesting (and perhaps frustrating at times!) to see how this plays out in work and social situations.  Generalizing a bit, I can many times trace a lack of initiative, lack of future planning and the inability to own up to responsibility to this cultural trait.  

Going back to the two proverbs above, maybe that explains a bit of the difference between the Russians and the Chinese...

Where do you find yourself on the spectrum?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I do!

I had the privilege of attending two weddings during the month of March.  The first was a mix of the indigenous and ladino cultures of Guatemala, set outside the country’s second largest city- Quetzaltenango.  The second took place near San José, Costa Rica and was also a mix of cultures, with a bit of the US, Costa Rica and China.

Here´s the recap:

 Chuck and Laura

I like this story a lot.  It begins just over five years ago, when I decided to study abroad a semester in Costa Rica.  I was placed with a wonderful host family that had three daughters, one son, and was half tican (Costa Rican) and half Chinese.  Only the youngest two still lived at home, Beiy Sim who was a few years younger than me and Chuck Jun who was slighter older.   There was another girl in the same program that lived just down the street from us and we became fast friends.  She would come over to the house often, and we would go out with my host brother Chuck and another study abroad friend, Steve.  By the end of the semester Laura and Chuck had definite chemistry, but alas, she had to go back to the States.  Luckily, Chuck ended up going to San Diego the next year for a few months to study English….Laura just happened to go to college in San Diego as well :)  From there their story goes back and forth from Costa Rica, her Peace Corps stint in Bolivia, being relocated to Costa Rica, being together a bit in her home state of Washington, etc.  All this to say that this couple has traversed (and is currently exploring!) the hemisphere together, they love each other deeply and I have absolute confidence that they will make it work no matter what.  It was such a blessing to be able to join them on such a special day!!!  Better pictures can be viewed at

The old host family and I back together again!

Claudia y Maynor

Claudia is one of my favorite cousins of the family on Miguel Angel’s side.  She’s such a sweet person, 22 years old and studying marketing in the university.  A couple of my favorite memories here that include her are the time we all went camping on the mountain and the training I went through on how to kill and defur(sp?) a rabbit.  She had been dating Maynor for several years before joining him in marriage at his family’s home outside Xela. 

Their version of the dollar dance....women pinned money on Maynor and the men on Claudia :)

Doña Oralia and I

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hydroelectric power at Corazón del Bosque

For those of you who read Spanish, here's the link to an article that came out in the Prensa Libre about the hydroelectric plant we now have at the Corazón del Bosque, which is pretty exciting!

Click here: Reserva genera su energía 

They say it'll cover about half of the park's energy needs, 2.5kW, 250 L/s max flow.  We're currently using the power for the administrative office and the dormitory/salon.

I find it pretty impressive that from a small waterfall on the edge of the park's property clean energy can be produced, not only lowering costs but it also serves as an example for community members and visitors.

Friday, April 2, 2010


So for those of you have keep up with my random blog posts know that they are just that: random.  Partly because I like to share a bit of everything that's going on in my life here, from work projects to family, adventures to daily life stuff.  And partly because I feel like that makes this mode of communication more never know if you're going to get a brief on work in the park, photos from a trip to who knows where, stories from rural Guatemala or thoughts on life.  To not disappoint now, I thought I'd share a sad (but in a funny way) story from last week.

So I was at the park in the morning when I got a text message from Tigo (the main cellphone company here) saying it was triple day (this means that when you buy x number of credit for calls/msgs, they give you triple the amount you actually gets a bit complicated when you factor in how much that credit is worth on certain days, experation, etc, but I do my best to work the system).  Anyways, so I decide to head in to El Novillero to get some credit when I run in to the little old chicken lady as I'm exiting the corn fields.  As usual she's barefoot, her smiling face overflowing with wrinkles and carrying a basket with 3 creole (cage-free?) chickens inside.  She asks me as usual in a mix of K'iche' and Spanish if I want to take one home.  Now I always say no, that's there's no money but that day I had some extra besides paying Tigo and thought it would be a great thing to have in time for Semana Santa (holy week).  So we do some bartering and I end up with this nice black chicken for Q50 ($6).  He had a good weight, and I just love pollo criollo (it may not be as juicy or tender as normal chicken but that's because normal chicken isn't really many hormones!) so I walked home with my chicken pretty content.  Oh and I should mention that although I've witnessed many chicken purchases, this was the first one I had done all by myself and half in K'iche' :)  I untied my chicken, put it in the pen out back and headed to work.  Imagine my distress when the next day Doña Oralia informs me that my chicken has a cough and she had to quarantine it!  When I went to go see, sure enough he was coughing just like heavy smoker.  We fed it tomato, hoping this old remedy would help....but alas my chicken did not make it.  I'm sure most of you know you can't eat chickens that die from sickness so my excitement and money were all for not.  To make matters worse, he had infected another chicken in the pen and she died too!  Sigh.  Such is life.  To end on a happier note, we got a hold of some more chickens and ate them at lunch yesterday to celebrate holy thursday (delicious!)

There's a lot to mention regarding holy week, but I'll have to wait to post on that (along with updates from the past few weeks).  Had a fun mass last night, after lunch today we have a procession and mass, tomorrow there's another mass in the afternoon and Sunday too.  Inbetween all that time at church we eat lots of good food, watch reenactments, visit people, make arches out of fruits and plants, create amazing "rugs" from colored sawdust and flowers and watch old movies like The 10 Commandments and Quo Vadis.  Fun times!

Hope everyone's having a good Easter!