Yolanda: An Action of Grace

Marco and Rosa - she is wearing her wedding Guipel and head dress
Meet the Mayans

My two K’iche students bridge me into their Mayan community.

From my gringa’s distance, I have fairly gawked at how the Mayan women show up in their fancy suits (traje) to pedal their wears or just to work in the fields. No matter where they are, they appear utterly stately in their long hand loomed skirts, ornate belts, embroidered guipels and, with a head dressing added, the effect is strictly couture. And, these ladies dart in and out of the pick-up trucks gingerly hauling bundles and kids in this costume.

As for the men, their traditional dress might be hot colored woven pants and (in Solola) they wrap a knee length brown and cream wool sarong cum kidney belt over these. On market days, they top off this ensemble with an equally loud cowboy shirt and a crispy ten gallon hat. But in comparison to the majority of women in traje, seeing the men’s outfit is rare. Of the few guys that I have seen attired this way, none have been younger than fifty.

So, why do men eschew regional costumes and favor a western look? My student’s answer that only the women are about preserving tradition or that the men shucked out of their folk-wear so as not to be identified when they went out of their areas during the civil war. In any case, on the chicken bus the girls are suited up like their moms and the boys and dads are in t-shirts and jeans.

I enjoy going to Yolanda’s — Her house is situated way down a dirt road and up a path to a high tier overlooking stepped fields. One of the things I love about going there is that the Mayans travel in tight puppy piles – by choice. They will squish themselves – all friendly-like – into the first few seats and leave the rest of the bus vacant. This is oh so different from the US, where people prize “the privacy” of vacant seats. Since I do not drive, my travel is via the stereotypic, black plume spewing, old school busses or by minibus shuttles. Yesterday, the shuttle had twenty-four adults beside the driver and the wing man, who collects fares and acts as an usher/stuffer. I had a spare baby on my lap on the way to los Encuentros. Many Mayans can stand up right in a mini-van bracing themselves as it lurches and heaves around the turns but, when I get in one with no seats, I try to share a lower footing with “the stuffer” on the van’s doorstep and, even with that, I am still hunched over.

Yolanda, my more distant student wisely suggested that our lessons be on Thursdays – market day – because the pick-up trucks run 2-4 times an hour from her village, Quijel, direct to the turn-off or further on to Chichicastenango. I arrive about 10:00 AM and they are all working on Hooked Rugs for the upcoming show in Minnesota – “Mary Anne Wise and Friends.”

The schedule out here is that the family of sisters and their mom concentrate on the Oxlajuj B’atz’ project all morning and just before the kids get home, lunch is prepared up at Yolanda’s. Everyone comes home for this meal and they are way too generous with their guest. Last week my plate held a giant thigh and drum stick carefully hidden under a stack of tortillas. This week Yolanda tried (unsuccessfully) to give me half of the breast. Yolanda’s husband and the boys (cousins) ordinarily take seats at the table and the women sit on the floor. Yolanda’a mother has a dry sense of humor and pointed out between bites that even though Fire was a “Chinese invention” they use it here, anyway.

This week Yolanda’s husband, Estaban, is a baker (last week he was doing construction) and he came home with a bag of pan dulce and a fresh pressed video of an “Accion d’Gracia” held last week at the church. Since Estaban plays base in the church band, we all wanted to watch it. So, with soup bowls in hand, seven of us lunched on Mariella’s bed.

The plinking of the guitars and the singing sounded more mournful than celebratory to me and I asked what the occasion was. It was an “action of gratitude” because three brothers from the village had found work in the United States and they had left the village for a year.

As the video panned the thirty or so neighbors praying, focus fell on the three men’s father standing next to two of their wives. The lens would revisit this group and their positions and faces never changed. The two women were breathing high in their chests and held their babies tightly and stood close to their father-in-law — all three of them stiff and solemn. I asked if the men’s employment was “legitimate” or not. It is not. The brothers are currently traveling across borders with a “coyote” and everyone is waiting for news of their safe arrival.

The video went on, Estaban played while Zoila sang and the camera incidentally focused on the Calgua women in turn. At last, the orations began and the father and wives got down on their knees in front of the gushing array of flowers. From above, the camera paused and held to on to a single framed photo of one of the brothers; it was the only one they had. The camera held still over the stoic trio as they began to keen. While the two wives listened in silence, the men’s father put a hand over his eyes .

This video was stark confirmation that despite their talents and hard work, these proud K’iche Mayans live in Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in South America. And, up in Quijel, when a family does not have enough land to support itself, someone has to go north.

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See Rosa and Yolanda Part 1

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Yolanda and Rosa – Part 1

Yolanda Calgua and Rosa F. Garcia are K’iche speaking Mayans. They have been selected to appear in a show called “Mary Anne Wise and Friends” opening in Minnesota’s Anderson Center.

I had volunteered with Oxlajuj B’atz’ (an educational foundation) and was delighted to learn that one of my jobs would be to teach these ladies the basics of N. American cocktail chatter.

But, wait, wait, first, they must learn to say “Hello.”

With lessons spread over 2-3 months, for Yo-Ro “success” would be if they are able to navigate public spaces, greet people and minimally discuss their work and families… Much of this instruction is done through ROTE memorization and DRILLING phrases from musicals like: “Hi my name is Rosa, what’s yours?” and “This rug is ‘Lovely absolutely Lovely.'”

The good news is: Rosa lives close to me in Patanatic – just a 20 minute uphill tuk-tuk ride. But, Yolanda lives way-way out in Quijel – just this side of Chichicastenanga and deep in the mountains. It takes four transfers to get to her: Panajachel to Solola to los Encuentros to the turn off and from there, it is a 15 minute pick up truck ride to their compound. If I make every connection perfectly, it takes me about an hour and one half. Quijel is further out than Flatbush.

Last Thrusday, while trying to reduce the “friction of distance” to Yolanda’s and get beyond Quijel to my tailor in the state of Quiche, I had a NY moment. This is not a good thing to have in Guatemala.

I had to do small but unavoidable errands (like getting cash and buying food for my hosts) before catching the first chicken bus that morning,. I had the ambitious (but, do-able) plan of getting up to Santa Cruz D’Quiche (45 minutes above Chichi) that day. My goal was to get Yolanda tutored, snag a pick up to Chichi; the bus to the tailor in Sta Cruz and double back to Chichi in time to catch a nonstop shuttle to Pana. The Bonus would be to get back, with my custom made Tipica zoot suit before 6:00PM.

I was about hustling to the bank at 8AM, when I saw a taxi parked across from the church. This was a “real” TAXI (with the little light on the top) and I thought it was one beat up mirage.

I had to ask:

Will he take me all the way to Santa Cruz d’Quiche?
“Yes,” he says.

Make a few stops on the way?
“Yes,” he says.

In a flash I ask him how much if I hire him until 6PM if I pay gas?
“About 50 bucks,” he says (A little more than the round trip shuttle to Chichi and I was going beyond that…)

We agree on $45 and with cash in hand, I jump in directing him to go three blocks to PanaSuper for the goodies. Soon enough we are off to Solola, the first stop is to pop in and deliver Adonna’s gift to the Asociacion Maya. After this is accomplished in less than 20 minutes, I am liking my plan more and promise to buy the drive lunch in Santa Cruz D’Quiche at the Mansion d’ Chef. But, first we will go to Yolanda.

And would he mind filming the class for me??
“No Problemo,” he says
I begin telling him about pans, zooms, pulling focus, cutting on movement and form, etc. Expecting the best, I am carefully reciting “The Art of the Film” in broken Spanish.

And, since he told me he knew the way, I am hardly looking for the turn-off to Yolanda’s.

Suddenly, I notice that we have crossed into Chichi.
Is he is blowing though to Sta. Cruz, first?
That was not the plan.

I ask him what is going on and he says that it will cost me 100’s of extra Q’s to go to Sta Cruz and we are going now.
That was not the plan
…the Mansion d’ Chef doesn’t even open until lunch.

He then tells me that he doesn’t want to wait for the English class to be over. He wants to return to Panjachel immediately.

After a few minutes of this annoying patter, I am on the verge of flaming. And,when he told me he did not understand the plan, I took to screeching.

“How can you have misunderstood “Santa Cruz D’ Quiche” it is the Capital city of Quiche; a destination? You sure understood the lunch part,”

I am seething and it is time to be at Yolanda’s if the plan is going to work. I tell him there will absolutely be no extra money and to turn around, now, forget lunch and take me to Yolanda’s, pronto.

This time around I am keenly scouting the turnoff and direct him to go there. By now, he is muttering that he needs to go to church and I second that emotion by calling him a “liar and a cheat” in my best Spanish. (Yes, yes I know he could just as easily leave me on the road or chop me up in little pieces with a machete but I am having a NYC moment.)

As you can see by the photo, I retrieved my zoot suit. And believe it or leave it, I made it back to Pana via flying chicken by 6:30PM.

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Cruising to the ruins in Santa Cruz d’Quiche and partying in San Marcos la Laguna

Santa Cruz d'Quiche

As I swallowed a last gulp of coffee, fortune produced Batman (aka Padme, the gringa), out of nowhere at the Solo Cafe. Totally out of character, this usually sour guide admired my Guipil and, even more amazingly, she freely gave me advice without scolding me for not knowing, already. Empowered by such unexpected pleasantries, I caught the next chicken bus for los Encuentros and transfered onto a “Bling Bus” for Chichicastenango.. NOTE: Batman alleges that fanciest vehicles are run by the drug cartels and, therefore, can afford to pay the extortionist’s prices. And, on the other hand, a bus could be so tricked out because their group is exacting tributes. Either way, this packed school bus -sqeezed us six abreast (yes, with children on laps) and hauled into the capital of the Department of Quiche in way under 2 hours. The tourist vans whined uphill in our wake.

Even borne on Bling Wings I would not be catching up with Joan Boccino and the Healer2Healer Jornada in Santa Cruz d’Quiche before dark.

Hungry from this utterly gripping ride, I found a Chapin Breakfast -eggs, beans, plantains, tortilla. Meanwhile, below the window a minivan marked “URL Ruins” lumbered to a halt and discharged a baker’s dozen of tiny “mujers en traje” -read: Women in traditional dress- onto the sidewalk. This handy van departs Santo Tomas plaza every 20 minutes and for a few Quetzals drives twenty minutes into Utalan and eventually drops seekers off at the short road to K’umarcaaj ruins.

On their face, these are not the most exciting ruins ever but the site offers a 360 view of the valley. But, you would hardly be unable to see the massive territory the Quiches ruled from this ancient capital. –
Santa Cruz d’Quiche is home of the National Book, the Popol Vuh, which was written in three parts: creation myths, a middle part that rules human sacrifice and probably kinship and the final part recalls pre-Columbian conquests of the Kakchiqueles and, the last chapter recounting the heroics of Tecum Uman, who valiantly fought the Spanish.

Tecum Uman defended against conquistadors

On top pine trees rock swooping garlands and flex in the high winds. For all this motion, the sound was immense but still. I stood centuries above a sacred fortress town so burnt that there was no sense of there being a stone upon a stone… This muffled majesty was tucked in under furrowed hills and all of this is edged by a wide, profound ravine. These ruins are sitting on a steep ledge. Somewhere there was talk of some tunnels -perhaps through a ravine wall. I preferred to view a few live altars; especially a large one down a very deep bank to a 40′ diameter sinkhole.

Furrows through the city burnt by Pedro de Alvarado 1524

With the rainy season coming the museum looks forever from being finished and if this is to be the next Tikal, the “excavation” better get cracking, pronto.

Back at the hotel a fistful of NYers werewaiting for a van; I was just in time to join the celebration of the Q’anil Collectiva. About forty adults and kids would dance to a mirambista orchestra led by a base and a drum – and all would share in a home made tipica feast. In the thrilling din, I began to distinguish the hosts from the colectiva. This night was for festivity and Pauline would give a speech and honor Fredric with a gift. The clinic would be closing the next afternoon. And, after everyone piled into the van heading for San Marcos la laguna and the airport it would be several months before they would meet again.

We took off at good speed, tooling along the crags going in the wrong direction. We we steaming for the state of San Marcos by the Mexican frontier instead of the lake town So, unlike the lightening Bling bus trip, we arrived in Pana seven and half hours later and certainly too late to get across the lake until the next day.

ONly about 45 minutes away from Panajachelm San Marcos is a time trip — narrow trails with dainty velvet shoe’d neo-hippies in beads and dreads paused at bulletin boards announcing “group re-birthing” and other more Spa like activities. The dust blew me back to the 1970’s ..all the way to the Lama Foundation’s New Mexico full moon dance.. In so many ways San Marcos’ buildings are as Bucky Fuller-esque, earth conscious, quaint but rarely are lake communities as coordinated as Ram Dass’ compound in the Gila wilderness.

One posada offered two kinds of pyramids: a sleeping space for four covered with tarpaper shingles (like a suburban gable) and a field of individual open air meditation spots under triangular 1/2″ pvc skeletons. Another place had installed murkey corrugated skylights and the fanciest one had I-beam frames footed and braced against the mountain, orthogonal lines, real smooth cement and a nice paint job. In San Marcos we would bake in a rough (crawl in) Mayan sauna and discuss the merits of the Spa Castle in Queens vs the NJ place. After the sweats, sleep was sound …until the Evangelicals produced their amplified bellow – piercing the first daylight.

So, six of us would begin the day much earlier than expected. The 1st order was to find a (quiet) space big enough to do Tai Chi — We tripped over each other stepping “crane” in a tiny clearing. As it was Joan’s birthday the day called for a pretty (if dear) breakfast, a tuktuk trip to a coffee finca, a tour of San Pedro and a boat ride back to San Marcos for the evening.

We would both miss the Orientalists and their professional speculations on the meaning of pulses, the market price of centipedes, which Tai Chi master produced quick results or the best time to go to either Spa Castle…

It was not quiet for long. After “team acupuncture” packed out, the Reike practitioners arrived for a night of music. At their table, the next morning we would meet Dr. Gato and and his assistant, Felix of Munich. Lots of woo woo ensued as this duo examined jades and crystals for different (psychic) values, read auras and discussed efficacy of their Bio-electric 4 hertz wand.

After my treatment I fully expected to open my eyes and see turquoise and silver rings, heishe beads and bracelets again on my hands. But, dang…I did feel better… Peace-Love

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