So, I have been here long enough for many things to be routine.. I live in barrio Jucanya across the river from el centro de Panajachel. The walk to my Spanish school is about 3,000 steps across the bridge at St. Catarina Palpolo and turns down Calle Santander – the street that leads to the embaracadero. Santander “Y´s” into Calle Principal (Main Street) where the bus stops next to “Gringatenanga” – The snack bar there serves the bus riders and it is meeting place for gringos. I love it because it offers very good Guatemalan coffee and free initernet and often serves as my office until around 1:45 when I go for my immersion lessons.
looking at my window
At night, I frequent one of about 10 places and often meet friends there for drinks until it is time for me to go back to Carlos´house. Our Casa is muy typical contructed of the omnipresent cinderblock and adorned with broken glass and rusty rebar. The good news is that the street is very lit even though the street lamp is entangled with ad hoc wiring of all kinds. The public works in Pana look like any city before underground wires became vogue.

The construction of the house with all its hard surfaces efficiently conducts noises – I can not only hear arguments and the soft scuffle of slippers but if I tuned in I am sure that I could make out the “snap crackle pop” of a certain cereal.

The place strikes much like Greenwich Village in the early 1970´s when the Puerto Ricans kept chickens on their firescapes. Here, the roosters begins announcing dawn about 4:30 and the Tuk-Tuks (onamanapea for their tiny motors) start cranking around 5AM and the neighbor, who locks his motorcycle up at exactly 10:30PM boots that sucker up under my window at 5:30AM. This irritating smokin’ noise is followed by an obnoxious “Avon Calling” door bell that sounds every morning 2 or 3 times before 7:00. So, morining begins with a series natural and manufactured alarms in quick succession. Some mornings between the cock´s crow and the infernal chime, I get a very good whiff of the best pot smoke. By about 7:15 I give up and step into the unheated shower.

These are the things that I have grown used to… Other things like the need to spray for Dengue Fever, the constant parade of handicraft vendors cum beggars, the fact that we are on three faults with benign names like Nazca, Coco and Del Caribe and the orange alert that we are under because of the rains and flooding are less easily surmountable.

Mushroom Project in San Antonio Palpolo

Guatemala is among the ten poorest countries in South America. Not only is it constantly raked by ruinous floods and tremors, there are staggeringly high rates of malnutrition and illiteracy among the young. The

elderly, particularly those in rural areas, have no public health programs to support them when they can no longer go to the fields.

But, there is one gerontologist, who has created a scalable plan to provide dignified work for the aging, indigenous descendants of the Mayans. Dr. Luis Cordon explained what he and his team have produced in support of the Kaqchikel.

Dr. Cordon has launched gourmet mushroom production houses in a town along Lake Atitlan. These precious champinions, are marketed through Walmart in the capital city. The process is simple and economical — each basketball sized “cake” (a plastic grocery bag packed with wood chips) lasts for about three months and can support several harvest cycles. And, best, the work is familiar and steady for the old people, who work in the spaces provided by the municipality.

incubating the cakes

We negotiated the remains of a rock slide that had killed twenty people a few weeks prior to our visit with Marcario Militon Martin, who works for the lakeside town, San Antonio Palpolo. Mr. Martin is the liaison for the team and provides a bit of oversight for the seniors who run the houses. Each house elects its own officials and we met with Santos Dias Martin, a vice president, who shares the charge with nine others in one of the 20’x20’ houses. Under a translucent coregated roof with blue plastic walls.

The project is all the more elegant because Dr. Cordon’s team records the oral histories of the workers and archives them as teaching material for the local children.

Renzo returns — Guat-ever!!

The big bad red dog was spotted by friends walking in this tiny city. I got the welcome call and was happy to leave my lesson took in a speedy tuk-tuk (the sound that the things make) to meet him. I can hardly express how gladly I filled up his food and water bowls… Who cares if next year there will be hundreds of little Renzo-citos rolling around Pana… Here´s hoping that the two birds cooperate better than this while Carlos is in Switzerland.

Because of this ongoing upset, my Spanish lessons have been fraught with worry. But I have made progress and today, on day 4, I am up to irregular verbs… ooo laah lah.

Tonight, I am staying in Barrio to study, listen to the news and keep an eye on Renzo.

I had long said that I wanted to leave the US so I would not have to listen to the parade of bad news. But, the coverage of SB1070 in Arizona is very discouraging and absolutely embarassing… They are calling the law baldly racist in the local press. Even so, I cannot resist the NYTimes book review in Spanish. What a paradoxical pleasure it is to read about Greta Garbo in this language.

My stuff is shreding in the local wash; it begins to look like Robinson Curroso is my tailor and soon enough my shirts will bleach in the sun like everybody else’s.

Tonight all is well in Panajachel..