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Another getaway from the city

Written on: Saturday February 21st, 2009

A journal entry from: Guatemala, mi amor.

Even in Peru, I was never been a good barterer. Maybe growing up in a capitalist society where the prices are set and it is either pay that amount or go elsewhere, I have not learned the skill of arguing down the price. Travelling from a place where my money is worth 7x more than the money here, I realize that I have an upper hand in their market. The big question is does that upper hand give us the right to barter down a price? In Peru, I felt that I was being ripped off basically because people I trusted told me that I was. In Guatemala, I haven't felt that that has been the case. I basically pay for everything at the price they tell me because it always sounds reasonable. I read The Devil and Miss Prym the other day and in it is a little story where the leader of the town tells his son to go to a vendor and buy salt. He was not to pay too much for the salt, but he was not to pay too little either. The son asked his father why shouldn't he try to get it for the cheapest possible price? The father replied that in the big city that's fine, but in a small town if a vendor were to sell it for the cheapest price, it likely means that he is desperate for the money and anyone taking advantage of that shows a lack of respect for his hard work.
This weekend, we travelled to Lake Atitlan and in one of the small towns a man was selling purses that he told me he made by hand. A purse was the one thing I have been desperate to buy and he had some really beautiful ones. He even had a cute little sewing machine in the corner of the room to prove his authenticity (or, just make it appear authentic?tough call). In Antigua, the purse I wanted would have been a minimum of 120 Quetzales or around 20-25 bucks. The man told me his was 85Q (or 12-14 bucks), BUT it wasn't the set price. I was thrilled! A more beautiful purse than all I had seen in Antigua, and it was made by the hands of the vendor! I would have paid him extra. He wanted to sell me 2, but I only wanted 1. As he was handing me the bag, it was as if he felt badly for 'overcharging me' and only charged me 80Q. I gave him the 80 and after I left felt really bad that I didn't just give him the extra five. Apparently when you go back to give the vendor more money, you look nuts. I gave him the 5 because I told him that's what we agreed upon and he laughed and sheepishly took it. No worries, I have a great bag that's beautiful and dying my clothes green.
The point of going to San Lucas was for my poverty and health course. The plan was for us to look at health facilities in the area, but the professor really wanted to show us how an outsider organization can actually help the local communities. There had been a mudslide that covered an entire town and killed 35 people. Those in the community who survived needed to be re-located. The father of the parish in San Lucas, Father Greg, bought enough land for that community and 2 others in a danger zone to be re-settled. After he ensured that they had sufficient land, he started funding a local health initiative. For those of you who know about the barefoot doctor program in China, this is a similar idea but much smaller scale. The basic idea is that they taught two or so locals how to provide primary, primary health care. Doctors would come by once or twice every month to do check ups and/or do referrals to the larger hospital nearby.
The government decided after much of this had been established to start helping out with the health in the region (the indigenous were then able to vote so the government wanted to earn the votes) so there's NGO's funding the health initiatives and the parish was funding with limited but grandiose promises from the government. It was interesting to see and it was actually really wonderful to see the church helping out. They have made a legitimate impact and considering that the land has been received by the locals and is being fully utilized, it has really worked out well. Sure, there are certain things where one might question the dependency being created, but Father Greg is an intelligent man and has tried to delegate as much of the work as he could to locals. They do have volunteers, but unfortunately I have no idea what those volunteers did.
It was strange as well, we ate in the parish, which was wonderful, but they served all American foods. They had indigenous women preparing the food (one of which wrote a book!), and none of the food was typical Guatemalan food. Aside from the beans at breakfast (which was served with oatmeal!!! I have missed oatmeal like I have missed??oatmeal) there had not been a hint of Guatemalan food being offered. I get Guatemalan food at home, but I think I'd like to have it all the time. Also, they had a lot of tourist volunteers so they should really have gotten a 'taste' of Guatemala.
After our lunch, the priest spoke with us about the social and political environment with which he was met when he came to Guatemala. Liberation Theology is a fascinating topic and I recommend you google it if you have time. Also, google Maximon. He is the indigenous adaptation of a Christian patron saint. He smokes, he drinks and is a man of vices. People pray to him as they would a catholic saint. Very interesting. Anyway, the priest was interesting to listen to and has been very lucky to have had the experiences he has had and I think the area has been lucky to have him with them as well. After we went to the coffee plantation/honey processing facility that he has helped to get started. It's a great source of income for the residents and the village itself.
The following day, I woke up early enough to be able to see the tailend of the sunrise over the Lake from the roof of my hotel, which was really nice. Later that morning, we hopped on a boat and crossed Lake Atitlan. We arrived at Panajachel or Gringolandia and went to the nature reserve to see spider monkeys, coatls and general flora and fauna. We were given the option to go zip-lining and I had decided that because I had gone before that I wouldn't go?but there were a ton of people going, there was supposedly a great view of the lake and the professors were rudely calling those who weren't going chickens. I know it was a joke, but the constant repetition of it was not appreciated and for many people, it wasn't fear that stopped them but the cost. Anyway, I went and really loved it. We were very high! It was totally great and the view was worth every penny! I felt secure until of the way out on the 5th run, my clip made a clinking sound and I dropped a bit. That's not something you want to hear. I guess there was an added adrenaline rush because it felt even more death-defying? but only as long as defying was still part of it! I kept going and just held onto the clip attaching me to the steel rope a little bit tighter. After that, we were given some free time to get lunch and then made our way home. We took the Pan-American Highway that apparently would take you from the US to Panama in about 6 months (it's a tricky drive). It took us quite a while to drive from Panajachel to Antigua because there was construction. It's actually pretty wild to have construction here because it seems like powder you drive through and they mark off the sharp drops with stones that are about the size of my head. They have some traffic control, and we moved through the construction zones faster than I thought I had on the Trans-Canada, but there may have been less traffic. I was actually happy to be home in Antigua because the bus ride was stuffy and curvey.
This weekend I will hopefully be climbing volcano Pacaya, which is an active volcano and you can see the lava flowing through the walls. Hopefully it works out, but it's very close and accessible so if it doesn't happen this weekend, it will hopefully happen some other time.

I hope you all are taking care of yourselves and thanks again for keeping in touch!
Megs

 

From George Barnhart on Feb 21st, 2009

The coffee we buy from Guatemala that supports the Internation Education Fund is from the Santa Clara estate. Is this the same plantation you were at?

From Meghan Barnhart on Feb 24th, 2009

I think it was a different plantation. I think some of the money went toward the health initiatives, but I think it was mostly just a fair trade effort promoted by the parish. I'll try to find the Santa Clara estate! I think I might be going back to that area.