Santiago Atitlan is a town rich in history, culture and spirituality. Some of the spirituality woke me up this morning - coming in the form of an amplified raucous church service at 5am that reached into my bedroom from a mile away. There has been an influx of Evangelicals into this small town over the past few years, shifting the Christian balance from mostly Catholic to mostly Evangelical. Now of course there are different opinions on the "goodness" of this transition. But the facts are that Evangelicals are less tolerant of the traditional Mayan customs, meaning the town is losing some of it's history and indigenous culture. The Catholics have historically been more accepting of some of the Mayan customs, as I described yesterday with the Church in the town center, but that is complex and changing as well.
After a quick breakfast, we hired a pair of tuk-tuks and made our way to the Weaver's Committee building. Farmer to Farmer helped the group purchase this building in town, which was intended to house a storefront and offices, among other things. Although the storefront is not operational, in part due to road construction and location issues, the group rents out space in the building and has made good on the loan. Recently, Farmer to Farmer loaned them money to build a wall on the back side of the building which is on a hill. The homes above and behind the building have bathrooms that empty their sewage on-site, and runoff "blackwater" was seeping into the weavers building. So the loan helped them build a wall to prevent the runoff from entering the building. They have made regular payments on the loan and the wall looks good and is serving its purpose.
Upon arriving at the building, we were greeted from above, where the Weavers had gathered on the roof and assembled an impromptu textile and beadwork show. We socialized, admired their handiwork and even made a few transactions - buying product to support their work. It was a pleasant time, occasionally awkward, and we did our best to spend at least a little bit with each of the artists. Someone brought a backstrap loom, which they demonstrated and then let Nancy try out. I didn't do it because it looked quite complicated, and I didn't want to ruin the nice weave they had going. After sharing hugs and goodbyes, we set off to visit the home of one of the weavers.
We walked down the street, then up a dirt path between two buildings, past a few family compounds, to the home of the weaver made of corn stalks, concrete blocks, corrugated metal and tarps. There was a group of young women around a table doing beadwork. Inside the kitchen, another woman made tortillas. We observed the home and the beadwork, then set off to another residence across town.
Juan's family lives in the center of town towards the dock. We followed Jody down decreasingly wide streets, then brick alleyways to the three room house where Juan and his family live, and Juan performs his machine embroidery on an industrial sewing machine. It was a nice visit with his family, and I took the opportunity to share photos of my family and Wisconsin with his children. I was taken by their young son Juan, 3 or 4, whose wide smile revealed rotten teeth. A reality of poverty here is a lack of education and access to healthy food, with a ridiculous proliferation of neighborhood stores (these have different names in different areas, Tiendas, Pulperia, etc) selling junk food and sodas which offer a "taste" of affluence in an otherwise drab situation. Little Juan was so cute, and asked to go through my pile of photos again and again, reading them like flashcards "casa de gallo", "arbol", "nieve", "fresa". One of Juan's daughters attends college in nearby Solola and is learning English, and she would chime in with the english words. All the children are in school.
We walked back to our hotel for lunch and a break, after which we walked just down the street to a Library started by a former Peace Corps volunteer. She was a vibrant, smiley woman with a few kids of her own who, with her husband, built the library that also acts as a preschool and kindergarten for local kids. She shared the history of the library with us, and some members of our group left her with a smattering of art supplies like crayons, glue sticks, sculpey clay and journals. Farmer to Farmer has donated money to this library in the past as well.
We wandered the town for a while after that, then I returned to the hotel and put on my swimming trunks for the first time since coming to Central America a few weeks ago. The wood fired sauna was hot, and I wanted in. Dripping in sweat within seconds, I allowed myself a few minutes before stumbling face first into the pool to cool off. Then back in to the sauna for another round. And another. Then my travel companions wisely begged me to stop.
For dinner we met with an old friend of Jody's, Thomas, in the hotel restaurant. Here he shared his vast experiences with Mayan Shamans and the global shift that is occurring around the 2012 prophecies. This has been a common theme on this trip, and Santiago Atitlan is really a focal point for some of the education and spiritual development of the movement. I haven't formed a solid opinion of the concept, and I hold an open mind accepting all the information that I can about the topic. He was an interesting, engaging man who was one of only three gringo's invited to some far-reaching and powerful ceremonies held over the past few weeks where many Mayan communities gathered together celebrate the transition and the new year.
I don't have a full understanding of this or any other religion, but find myself drawn in to the overall themes of hope, change and world unity that have been repeated. I am making advances daily in my own spiritual awakening, realizing my own worldview rooted in Deep Ecology is surprisingly consistent with many of the beliefs of a variety of religions, and this is new for me. For too long I thought I was separate, alone, different and afraid to connect. It is hard to get over the strangely dressed statues and tacky blinky lights, but I live in conflict with my own belief system (hypocrite!) on a daily basis, the fact that I'm typing this on an iPhone I've had attached to my thigh for the last two years a testament to this. Nobody is perfect.
Today was a great day of learning about the history of Farmer to Farmer and our relationship to this community here in Guatemala. Another day in Santiago, then we head towards the mountains to visit the coffee farmers.