Gaby Breton is the exuberantly kind Economic Development Director of of a consortia including PROSOL, SocoDevi and the Centre d’Étude et de Cooperation International (CECI) in Guatemala. Last week, these NGOs quietly rolled out three small, creative projects that fully lived up to CECI’s founder’s challenge: “.. to humbly place (our) talents at the service of the economic, social, and democratic aspirations of Southern Hemisphere peoples.”
On Monday, I attended the first session of CECI’s day-long seminar offered to inform the street vendors of the finer points of Mayan CosmoVision. This training enables them to knowledgeably engage curious tourists on this “hot topic.” The director had recruited her audience by simply spreading the word out to a few ladies. She told them that there would be a lunch, everyone was invited and they should feel free to bring their friends. So, about 75 people assembled at the Rigaberta Menchu Center and, as usual, they clustered tightly together – incidentally “color coded” by town/dialect. In the back, there were four chatty denim blue rows from Santa Caterina and San Antonio Palpolo; in front of them, three rows of women in black based, wildly colored geometric and floral guipels from Chichicastenango and the bird covered ladies from Santiago filled in the front rows.
Clearly, some of the Daniel Matul’s arcane Powerpoint presentation must have been lost on the street people not only because Spanish is their second language (they speak several Mayan dialects around the lake) but, more, because the majority of the people are illiterate. Even so, the speaker awakened cultural memories and seemed to inspire new sensibilities as he ticked through illustrated slides. He had bulleted out nine points that included the phenomena of 2012, the Mayan Calendar, magnetic fields, Schumann Resonance and supposed changes in DNA. From time to time he would wonder aloud about not-so-obvious things like why Panajachel’s main street, Santander, is named after a colonial hero rather than being called, say, “Sun Street or Lake Street.” He was implicitly and explicitly extolling the Mayans to be proud of their culture.. He reminded them of the poetry of the universe: how the stars swirl in a caracole and how the moon moves the wind (Xocomil) across the lake.
“Everybody who comes here should apologize to the lake,” Matul declared as a matter of fact.
Gaby was very pleased with the morning’s philosophy session (the afternoon would include practical instruction on in identifying individual nahuals.) She was also gratified to see her guests taking advantage of the center’s comforts and how much they enjoyed their sit-down lunch..
“I am so happy to see them able to go to the toilet in groups – They usually struggle to find a place to relieve themselves or to arrange to eat and, even then, they have to worry about their goods while they are about it.”
I was not present at the ribbon cutting for CECI’s rebuilt overlook but would see the photo of Gaby in a gorgeous red coat -a gift from the Mayans- doing the honors. She had instructed the project architect to reconfigure the shabby point into two tiers – one dedicated to selling and other for viewing the lake. This roadside attraction is beautifully and economically constructed and features neat shaded spaces for the people to display their goods – even solar powered pumps bring water to two toilets. Clearly, the director had taken Monday’s lecture entirely to heart; she renamed “El Mirador” with a Katchaquel name meaning big house: Nid-Jay.
It was the mall project that required the greatest political skill. Gaby had to convince the town of Panajachel to clear a pedestrian walkway. This requires banning tuk-tuks for a few hours on Saturday afternoons. The reception for this was chilling – the tuk-tuk group thought it might be”’ nice’ once a year.” But, the director sees this as a way to celebrate the vendors and showcase their crafts. I watched her invent this project in a very few weeks. She had wanted to have a dramatic walk way like Christo’s “The Gates.” But the snarl of overhead wires precluded that. So, she invented tri-osks telling a short history of lake towns on one face, displaying their traje (suits) on another and parsing a Nahual on the third. The street closed, a good sized kid’s marimba and horn band struck up “el Rey d’Quiche” and people danced in the streets. Construforza deployed their tri-osks throughout the afternoon. The metal tube constructions need to have concrete set in their bases before the colorful sides could be attached. The moving structures seemed somewhat clunky and many had a marked list but Gaby is proud of them because they were made in the district.
“When I first got here (eight months ago) everything was sent to the capital because the do stuff better. I do not care that these (tri-osks) are not perfect on the first day. They were made here and we keep the job in Solola.” Everyone at ToBe (the Viet Nam-Mayan Fusion restaurant) toasted to that.