Thursday, April 1, 2010

Santiago Zamora. When women come together.....



Great things can be achieved. That was the lesson I was reminded of today when we visited the town of Santiago Zamora, located just a short chicken bus ride outside of Antigua.

First, the journey to Santiago Zamora.



We left the hotel after breakfast and made our way through the mercado to the bus station. There, Sue found a chicken bus that would take us to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes.  From there, we would hop on tuk-tuks for a short ride to Santiago Zamora.

Despite their vehement objections about getting aboard a school bus....it surfaced a lot of not so memorable times riding on them when they were kids, the Ang Bros got on board with the rest of us....some of whom (me and Carol) were actually excited at getting to ride a school bus.  For me, it brought bad good memories of childhood.

Byron and I shared a seat with my brother.  It was a tight fit :-)
Unlike in the US where two kids sit per seat, in Guatemala, we have three adults squashing in.

Shortly after we boarded the bus we were joined by locals who had come on board to sell food for the ride.  We graciously declined their offers.  Then, there was a guy who boarded and as he walked up the aisle,  handed out sheets of paper.  In the note, which was written in Spanish, he was asking for money to send a relative to the hospital for an operation that the family could not afford to pay for.  I really felt sad for the man; we gave a contribution.

The bus chugged along the cobble stoned streets we headed out of town.  The window by our seat had been pulled down part way so we were enjoying the breeze of some fresh air. 

It was a short ride and before we knew it, we had arrived into Aguas Calientes.  We disembarked and followed Sue down the street. 

Our chicken bus.....dedicated to Antonieta.  So sweet.

You know you're no longer in the city when you see goats sitting by the roadside!

We soon arrived into town center where a church and what I guess would be a civic building of some sort fronted a small park.  The stark white buildings were adorned with purple flags and banners in observance of Semana Santa.



















































































Despite the fact that downtown Aguas Calientes was like a ghost town, Sue managed to wrestle up several tuk-tuks for us. I think she told the first guy to round up all his tuk-tuk buddies. 

A view of the driver's seat.  Don't need much of a
dashboard.

We puttered along, caravan style,.....slow but we eventually got there.

Our *fleet* of tuk-tuks :-)

Another short ride and we arrived into Santiago Zamora which can be best described as a village.  As we followed Sue, we passed by several alfombras which were far more humble in design and use of materials than the ones in Antigua but nonetheless, all created with passion and devotion.













I was so focused on looking at the alfombras that I quickly fell behind the pack.  I ran to catch up to find myself standing outside what looked like a gated compound.  We entered and I was immediately greeted by a sweet little girl sitting on a step.  She was so cute I couldn't resist but to give her a Tootsie Roll pop.  She held her treat as I quickly snapped a photo of her.




We entered what was basically a covered courtyard and sat down on the plastic chairs that had been set out for us.  Waiting for us was an older woman.



With Sue translating into English for us, we learned that the women in the town of Santiago Zamora have empowered themselves by establishing a cooperative that allows them contribute to the income of  Santiago Zamora, to improve the future of the children by raising awareness of the importance of education as well as improving the education opportunities for the children.  All this is accomplished simply through handicrafts that they produce for sale. 






































During our visit, they demonstrated several of their skills to us.  But first, they entertained us with a traditional Mayan dance.  They encouraged participation so several in the group got up and joined the women.   Unfortunately for me, one of the Mayan women carried around a bowl of burning incense as she danced.  With the covered overhang capturing the airflow, the smoke of the incense had nowhere to escape.  It didn't take long for the air to fill up with the intense smell of the burning incense.  As much as I was enjoying watching the dance, I couldn't wait for it to stop so I could breathe in some clean air.




The women then took turns demonstrating their skills to us and answering our questions.  First, it was seeing how they weave the beautiful and intricate tapestries that we had seen being sold everywhere we had been in Guatemala.


Rolling a skein of cotton into a ball.




























Not quite sure what they use this for - I think it was for creating the
warp threads but I can't figure out exactly how they do it.

Weaving is done using the strap loom.  She told us that she had been working on this one piece for seven months.  Unbelievable!!


The craftsmanship was amazing.  She told us that she does not use a pattern of any sort.  The design just comes to her as she's weaving the piee. This design incorporates the quetzale, Guatemala's national bird.  I love the vibrant colors that the Mayan's use.  Also notice her blouse......all hand embroidered using simple cross stitch.






Watch her in action. Video courtesy of Soon.


Next, a woman demonstrated how they make Petate mats from the reeds harvested from local lakes. It's the job of the men to harvest and dry the reeds. It was obvious that the woman who was weaving the mat had did it countless times before. I didn't time her but she couldn't have taken more than 15 minutes....her fingers were flying!!

Untying a bundle of reeds.

Sitting on the reeds to hold them down while weaving.

The woman, in pink, demonstrated a weaving technique that they teach the children when they first start to weave.

Final touch.  A braided border to make a clean edge.










































Here's a video snippet of the women weaving the reed mats. Thanks to Soon for taking it.




The last demonstration revolved around roasting and grinding coffee beans. Guatemala is world reknown for its coffee. The beans are separated from the fruit. Unroasted beans have a greenish tinge to them.  The beans are then roasted on the comal.

Raw coffee beans.
Roasted coffee beans.  I love the smell
of roasted coffee beans!




























The woman demonstrated the grinding technique usng a mortar and pestle......

She made grinds of the beans in no time....but look at her arms.....she's strong!

Takes skill to pulverize coffee beans :-)  Video taken by Soon.




After she did a few strokes, she then invited one of us to try our hand at it. I volunteered to give it a go. As I had expected, she made it look easy to do.  All I can say is thank God I have an electric coffee grinder :-)   My lame attempt to grind beans was captured on video by Soon. I provided additional entertainment for the group - I seriously think I should have charged a fee for the laughs I provided :-)



After the demonstrations were over, we were treated to lunch. I had just recovered from a bout of the runs so I refrained though I have to admit, it smelled and looked delicious!!  Lunch was a simple meal of chicken stew served with rice and a tomato sauce that everyone raved over.




Several families live in the compound we visited.  This is the modest, communal kitchen.  More proof  that you don't need much in the way of a fancy kitchen to feed a crowd of people.  The skill is with the cook!!

After lunch, we had the chance to browse the locally produced textiles and handicrafts produced not only by the women but also by the children who had set up a little table to display their wares. Since we were certain that all the proceeds from the purchases would be distributed amongst the members of the community and would go towardsinvestment in the education of local children, we bought without haggling over the price. Surprisingly, I walked away emptyhanded but my brother and the Ang Bros all bought items.

By now, it was time for us to leave and so we thanked our hostesses.  I was so impressed by these women.  Living in the most humble of surroundings, they are determined to work to improve not only their lives but more importantly the lives of their children.  They did not in any way, shape or form seem bitter or anger about their lives.  In fact, they seemed quite happy and perhaps that's from the deep sense of community that they obviously have.  They take great pride in their skills and they were not expecting or asking for a handout of any sort.  I think we could all take a lesson or two in surviving life from these resilient women.

As we walked out, one of the women accompanied us along with several of the girls.  They didn't have to but it was nice to have them along with us.

Two BFFs.  Aren't they cute?   I couldn't resist asking them to pose for me.  Of course, they each got a Tootsie Roll
as a reward.   And, they wanted to see their faces on the camera.  I gladly obliged.

We followed Sue and the woman out onto the streets.  As we walked along, we admired all the alfombras that were being created.   



























We happened upon a crowd of people and the sight of the cucuruchos in their purple robes and purple banded headdresses signalled a procession was on its way. What an unexpected treat this was!


Waiting for the procession to make its way down the street.

Cucuruchos in waiting.....a sure sign that a procession is on its way.

And then we heard the music, sombre, to remind us of the occsasion. First, the men carrying the float of Jesus.



And then the women followed with Mary.



As the procession passed us by, Sue waved us on to continue walking towards where our van, which she had arranged to take us back to Antigua, was waiting for us. Along the way, we passed by the town's church.



We took a few minutes to dart inside and look around.  Running down the center of the aisle was a very humble alfombra and offerings.




Before we boarded the van, we said one last goodbye to our hosts.  This little girl had been walking alongside me pretty much all the way.  I never asked her her name but her friendly face was the last thing I saw as I got on the van.  Life will not be easy for her as she grows up....that's just a fact of life in rural Guatemala.  So, my wish for her is to be happy, and if stays in Santiago Zamora, to continue the wonderful work carried on by the women who raised her and to will foster the love and well being of the community around her.