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a travel blog by cjones

A year of exploration in the rural tropics, learning about places, people, the good and the bad, how I can help and what's next in this wild ride for me.

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.

Psalms 90:10 & 17
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Last day in KC

Kansas City, United States

Finally - this is really happening! Feel a lot lighter now. The last of the cords have been snipped - job, apartment, computer, car, phone... Some great times with friends over the weekend. Thanks you guys for all the hospitality! Flight leaves for Guatemala City tomorrow at 6 AM. Thanks very much to Alyssa for the ride to the airport!

permalink written by  cjones on September 4, 2007 from Kansas City, United States
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First stop in Centroamerica

Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

Arrived at the airport in Guatemala City then one hour later in Antigua, about 1 PM (Mountain time zone). It's a nice, colonial city with a volcano in the background and lots of language schools, but very touristic.

permalink written by  cjones on September 5, 2007 from Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
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Panajachel, Guatemala

At Lago de Atitlan. Nice weather now and planning to cross the lake today to San Pedro.

permalink written by  cjones on September 7, 2007 from Panajachel, Guatemala
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San Pedro

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

Arrived in San Pedro yesterday and signed up for Spanish classes next week. Has the reputation of being the party town on the lake, but so far except for the firecracker at 5 AM this morning (tomorrow's the national election), it seems muy tranquilo, cheap, friendly and a good place to study and explore around the lake.

permalink written by  cjones on September 8, 2007 from San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala
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Spanish classes

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

Taking classes and learning about the current situation and history of this place.

If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

John 7:17

permalink written by  cjones on September 11, 2007 from San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala
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Sustainable development projects at Lago de Atitlan

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

In the past few days, I visited a couple of sustainable development projects in San_Juan_La_Laguna - a small town about a half hour's walk from San Pedro. The first was a textile and handicraft association called the Asociacion de Mujeres Tejedoras Con Tinte Natural, which uses natural dyes from local plants, extracted by boiling the threads (think they're cotton) in water. The second was a coffee cooperative called La Voz Que Clama en el Desierto (Voice That Cries in the Wilderness). The coop abides by organic, shade grown and fair trade standards, the latter meaning they pay the workers a decent wage. Read in the local paper this week that Guatemala supplies more coffee to Starbucks than any other country and since most of the chain's coffee does not meet those standards, there´s a need for more such coops.

Also met an architect and juggler from Ireland who is working as a volunteer on water treatment facilities for towns by the lake. Currently, most of the water is untreated and that combined with fuel discharge by boats has killed most of the fish. In the local restaurants, the fish is the highest priced entree.

This morning before class, I visited the market at Santiago_de_Atitlan, about 40 minutes away by boat.

permalink written by  cjones on September 14, 2007 from San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala
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Training for field work

San Lucas Sacatepequez, Guatemala

I've been here at the headquarters of FUNCEDESCRI (Fundacion Centro de Servicios Cristianos) for 3 days now, working on the farm at the center, and learning a lot about the organization, its projects, conditions in the zones where it works, and more about the obstacles and challenges in sustainable development in Guatemala. Working with 2 other volunteers - _David_, a recent college grad from the US and Lisa, a student from Germany, living and cooking together in a House on the grounds of the center.

Getting my hands very dirty with all steps of preparing the organic fertilizer, from shoveling the fresh stuff from cow and kitchen, to removing earthworms to save for the next batch. Also toured the lab where products such as soaps, shampoos and essential oils are prepared from ingredients produced on the farms and packaged for sale at stores in Antigua and Guatemala City. Learned to identify crops and medicinal plants grown in gardens and harvested from the forest.

permalink written by  cjones on September 19, 2007 from San Lucas Sacatepequez, Guatemala
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Back to Antigua

Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

Resting up and making plans for the rest of the trip this weekend. Also need to shop for some more suitable clothes for working on the farm. Leaving for Campur on Monday, where the community does not have electricity so I'll be out of contact by internet until next weekend.

Yesterday I discussed needs of the rural communities and my potential role with _Alexandra_ at FUNCEDESCRI. The focus of the organization is currently on training in these communities, because the public education and preexisting information resources are grossly inadequate to prepare the people to improve their lives and determine their future.

Thinking that it's not so much a question of what I can do as an individual, but a question of which side I'm on - the side of the poor or the side of the rich. In truth, the side of the rich does not benefit that of the poor.

permalink written by  cjones on September 22, 2007 from Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
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FUNCEDESCRI field site in Campur

Campur, Guatemala

Just a blog stub to show my location on the map.

permalink written by  cjones on September 24, 2007 from Campur, Guatemala
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Decompressing in Coban

Coban, Guatemala

Wow! I feel like I've just reentered the modern world after spending the week in Campur, a couple of hours bus ride northeast of here. Learned a lot this week about the conditions, life and work in this very poor region of Guatemala. Slept in a bunk at the FUNCEDESCRI center, but each day a different family provided meals in their house. The people were very gracious and although most speak the Mayan dialect Q'eqchi', I was escorted by one of FUNCEDESCRI's agroecology promoters - Mario - who translated for me between Q'eqchi' and Spanish. Apparently, there have been few visitors there from outside of the country. Got a lot of stares and smiles (and probably jokes), especially from the kids who were shy but very interested in the strange-looking alien. All were very friendly and gracious though, and very generous with what little they have.

This is truly a different world - and one that we can learn much from, although the recent war, displacement, and appropriation and exploitation of the land have caused the loss or subversion of much of the culture and traditional knowledge (including knowledge about agriculture and medicine). Traditionally, the lifestyle has been more beneficial to the earth and while while ours values competition and individualism, theirs is more about sharing with the whole community.

There is much at risk here due to lack of education. The public schools don't provide the type or quality of education to allow people to improve their lives in their communities. Folks don't know much about their recent history when they vote and elect leaders connected with the genocide during the civil war. It was distressing to learn that the campesinos have accepted government payments in exchange for planting pine trees in their fields (to be used for paper by a Spanish timber company), which in a few years will destroy their capacity to produce crops for food and income. Many have to spend part of the year away from their families working in the city or in plantations on the coast. There are no clear titles to the land - it is believed to be owned by a cooperative but apparently there are no official documents recording this.

FUNCEDESCRI is working to improve the health of the people in the region by (re)introducing crops such as amaranto (amaranth), which is much more rich in vitamins than corn. It is attempting to preserve the natural environment and fertility of the soil by promoting organic fertilizers and pest control treatments. It works to provide additional income for the people by developing and marketing products - such as marmalades, essential oils and soaps - sold in the cities, thus redistributing a little of the wealth from the relatively rich to the dirt poor. The pay received for exported crops such as coffee and cardomon (shipped to Saudi Arabia) is not enough to raise the standard of living above the poverty line.

Have several thoughts about how I could help with the work of this organization, but it could take some time to process all these experiences and put together a proposal.

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 40:4 & 5

permalink written by  cjones on September 29, 2007 from Coban, Guatemala
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