Friday, July 14, 2000
The joy of traveling in Guatemala is to see the villages in their beautiful settings. The indigenous still cling to their ancient cultures and their old ways, as they cling to their homesteads on the mountains. They are very proud and very poor.
Sander and I traveled by chicken bus up one of the volcanoes to a village called Santa Maria de Jesus. The catholic church has a big hold on Guatemala as can be sensed by the village names. Each village has a saint, but many aspects of Catholicism easily blended with Mayan beliefs. Various catholic saints hold a double meaning for the Mayan people with the identity of the saint superimposed over that of a deity or saint that they held sacred even before the Spanish arrived.
The bus ride took us up another 1500' (about 6500' in elevation) to this town of 11,000 Mayans. We hiked about 1000' above the village on a lovely sunny day twisting around the foot path guiding us through the patches of corn, peach trees and peas. We met various villagers who were on their way down with crops, bundles of firewood or bags of something. We would move quickly out of their way as they seemed to develop a quick pace down the steep terrain. Two young boys working in a crop patch asked us for sweets and they were very happy with a chicklet to chew on for a while. A man on horseback on his way up the volcano stopped to talk with us and said "Esta bueno" with a beautiful smile when he heard we had hiked up the mountain. That means "it's good".
We are eager to do much traveling through the highlands while we are here. I would like to tell you a little more about the Foundation for Education run by our friend, Romelle. I have told you that she rents out four rooms in her house and uses the funds for the foundation. She also receives some funds from foreign sources: primarily Canadian, USA and some from Europe.
Currently the foundation is supporting the education of 144 students from the ages of 8-38. Once a student has been adopted by the foundation, that support will continue as long as they meet the requirements set. Right now two of her students have received Beckas (scholarships) from Cuba and are there studying to be doctors. When Cuba awards a Becka they send a doctor from Cuba to that student's village to work for two years caring for the villagers. And who says that Cuba is an evil place???
Each student under the foundation must meet with Romelle at least twice a year. Some of them live in villages far distant from Antigua and must be on the chicken bus early in the morning in order to reach Antigua and return by bus that same day. Each day we stayed with Romelle three or four groups of students arrived. She talked with them for 1-2 hours each, learning not just about their grades but about their families, etc. There is a particular village in the district of Quiche which Romelle has adopted. This village, literally at the end of the road high in the central mountains, was in the center of the civil war activity and suffered grievously for that location. Each month Romelle travels to the village of Cajul to check out her students and the one teacher who is paid by the foundation. I have a newsletter from Romelle which I will be sending to my sister, Judy. If anyone is interested in finding financial support for Romelle's foundation I would love to get more information for you! Just let me know! She also encourages visits from her supporters and will arrange a trip to the village of Cajul so that you can see for yourself the good work that is happening.
Upon our return to the Rio, Jane was hard at work handing out letters to the community once more. We have a security committee here in the area of the Rio and we are trying to organize a community action group to fight the local petty crimes. The village has a police force now but that office has no support from the government. Can you picture a police force which has jurisdiction over a 200 square mile area - no telephone and only a maximum of 9 officers on duty at one time? That sounds like a problem, but the biggest problem is the distrust that the citizens feel for the police. In their eyes the police are just new military who in the past have been a gestapo type force. The police now have a donated celular telephone and a donated hand-held portable radio. We have set up an account at a local bank to pay the bills for the above equipment and the letter (in Spanish and English) is to explain our progress. The area also has no newspaper or other way of communicating. It has been an interesting experience - both writing the letters and delivering them, all in Spanish. I am still bumbling along but have a good cruising friend who was raised in Mexico. Maria helps me a lot and speaks excellent Spanish when I have trouble and when I make a big mistake! The locals enjoy my struggles and are very patient with my efforts.
I can see that I am, once again, rambling on and making this a very long letter. Please let us know if you would like me to take your name off the list. Otherwise, you will hear from us again...I promise.
Our best regards to all of you who are missed more than we can express, Jane and Sander aboard Satori