Sacapulus Health Promoters Profiles

All trainees develop the skills they study in class by treating hundreds of patients each time. On her last trip, Ms. Boccino presented the curanderas certificates detailing the hours each had spent practicing the different methods. A large part of The Integrative Health Project’s mission is to create a path for them to integrate the cost effective TCM treatments into their independent practices.

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From the first days at the Barbara Ford Center for Peace, the ladies from Sacapiulus had appeared in their eye-popping traje (traditional dress.) Their head-wraps have four fat pom-poms that bob graciously as they joke in lyrical Sacapulteca, a dialect of the Quiche Maya language. For sure, Rosa Espinoza and Magdalena Pajarita stood out in the class of Health Promoters who came to study the treatments being taught by Dr. Joan Boccino’s teams.

 Years prior, their townswoman, Sister Maruca, had bridged them into urban Santa Cruz del Quiche, where the religious woman lives and grows medical plants for her convent. It was Sister Maruca, who introduced them to BFPC’s Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Program.

In order to attend the class sessions and to assist in treating patients during the clinical phases of the Jornadas Medica (Medical Workshops) Rosa leaves her eleven year old son with Magdalena’s grandchildren for a week while a teenage niece watches over them. The ladies need to make a few transfers to get out of their pueblo, Chuvillil, and then, they travel about an hour to attend the New York acupuncturist’s treating & training events. Since last year, there have been six missions instructing their class of local practitioners in the NADA protocol, moxibustion, gua sha, Qi Gong, forms of Tui-na massage and other “barefoot doctor” modalities.

All trainees develop the skills they study in class by treating hundreds of patients each time. On her last trip, Ms. Boccino presented the curanderas certificates detailing the hours each had spent practicing the different methods. A large part of The Integrative Health Project’s mission is to create a path for them to integrate the cost effective TCM treatments into their independent practices.

I became friends with this flashy gang and they invited me to visit them. I declined many times – mainly because my Spanish was too poor for me to understand them. But, now that I can even hobble along in Quiche I accepted when they wanted me to come and participate in their regular clinic. Even though we couldn’t secure any ear needles, the ladies had bags of medicinal seeds and the pierced boards to prepare them for insertion. I designed a sign for this event and would take great pleasure doing intake while they advised, counselled and treated. We four worked non-stop handling fifty three cases in six hours.

The last patients came in because they had seen the Global Clinic banner. This couple was the only “walk-ins” we got and they had a serious story to tell. He would answer the intake questions speaking softly and glancing desperately from me to Sister Maruca, who came over to listen with me. It seems that the wife had been hospitalized last year. After she was released she had lain in the bed for three months – losing muscle tone and suffering from constant migrains. .. She stared vacantly during this recitation. We all jumped to do something with this sad couple. Magdalena put seeds in their ears. And Rosa gave the husband a demonstration on how to do Gua Sha using a “special” TCM instrument — the round edged baby food lid. I would show him how to do the abdominal massage Chi Nei Tsang. We were all very happy to see the couple transformed and certainly more relaxed. As they left, they even asked when the next clinic would be held….

That afternoon, it rained too hard for us to take the easy way to their houses… The mud was just too slick for the truck to carry us in. So we walked. The three boys were waiting for Grandmother and Mom and they waved and hollered as they saw us tread into a clearing before the foot bridge (over white water.) After a mile of this through the quickening twilight I was gratified to see a tienda that sold beer – The bad news was that it was run by one of Magdalena’s cousins, who had been a patient that afternoon. She told me my money was no good and handed up 2 liters to give me thanks. Humbling.

My time up the country passed quickly exploring, chatting with the kids and waiting for Magdalena’s husband and daughter to arrive from the capital. One highlight of the visit was watching the treatment for a patient, who was diagnosed as “overly fearful.“ Magdalena looked around her very extensive medical herb garden and selected the plants that she would be adding to the patient’s steam bath. She then pre-boiled the several herbs and poured the hot mixture into a two gallon amphora. She set the liquid down in the space below a straight back wooden chair and dropped a rather unorthodox heating element into the vessel. She had hot-wired brick and attached it to an extension cord. She placed a tough grade plastic bag with a cinched neck and an open bottom over the whole assembly and explained that patient would climb in through the neck end of the bag and sit down with a towel over her head and face. The woman would take as much heat as she could and be cooled with a wash of clear water three times over about an hour. Rosa, the boys and I would take a walk down by the river while this was going on.

On the way through the fields, Rosa told me that the Civil War’s violence stayed pretty much on the more populous side of the wide river. But, there had been a time when organizers coaxed many of the farmers to form “resistance.” The unarmed men would “guard” the village from vantage points on the hills. Until one day, armed troops killed twenty or so of them. Rosa lost a cousin in this attack.

On the way, we would see her son’s father and she told a bit of her personal history.

“He has another woman and other children. From time to time he will greet my son but that is all.”

Rosa watches her brother’s house while he works in the city. The place has no cement stove but Rosa cooks her meals on an indoor fire-pit and the house has no latrine to generate night soil to enrich the small plot of milpas. But, Rosa remains joyous, resourceful and persistent. Before her son was born, she learned to read and began to take classes in Mayan medicine. Eventually, she developed a group of patients among her neighbors. After her son was born, Sister Maruca had taken special care to invite her to join Maruca’s cooperative because, as a single mother, she was being shunned by the women. These had been very hard times and Sister’s intervention made a big difference to her.

During the week prior to this, Magdalena’s daughter had been hospitalized in Guatemala City but was well enough to return home with her father, Don Miguel to celebrate her parent’s shared birthday. I had inquired about Don Miguel’s diplomas for perma-culture and Magdalena invited me to interview him about what he knew and how he came to build the elegant latrine. It seems that Don Miguel had been selected by AlterTec a US based NGO and was given an education in soil conservation, medicinal plant cultivation and sanitation in the 1980’s. in the years before the NGO left, they paid him to he teach these subjects. In the meantime, he used this knowledge, so that his family could enjoy richer harvests. These days Don Miguel commutes home once a month from his job in a plastic bottle factory. He came home bearing fresh seafood for his and Magdalena’s birthday feast. As I left, the grand kids were scaling and de-veining with a good deal of skill.

I am invited back in December to see the Mayan ruins that dot their land. 

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Cooperatives and Highland Mayan Artisans

Many Indigenous women belong to co-operatives. These are both political and trade associations – each one is a different balance of these two themes. The more successful of these “unions” are visible enough to receive micro-financing and educational support from NGO’s targeting craftswomen and “self-sustainable ventures.” Cooperatives are very helpful in getting bulk rates, pricing goods for market and for providing the group the means to insist on fair value for their work. In a country known for the” sport of bargaining,” this notion is odd Yet, in cooperative storefronts, the marked price is the selling price. It appears “fixed price tiendas” agglomerate. In San Antonio Palopo, for example, many are grouped in a row.

Cooperatives also offer (an often overlooked) opportunity for branding. For an example of a very successful for-profit group started by NYC MBA, Yenifer Lam, see Kem Ajachel cooperative. In this model, the outside leadership declares the direction and materials, provides the styling and colors and is even growing silk worms in Guatemala to provide enriched fibers locally. And, management promotes and adjusts the line with an eye on customer’s demands and current trends.
Obviously, other highlands communities could use such direction. The issue is that the women design and produce what they are good at ….without researching the end market. The products they create are most often chosen because the materials cost very little. For example, found Pine Needles go into baskets and they only require a little bright thread to bind them. Using pop-tops extends their crochette threads, as does making small items such as baby shoes or coin purses. They would like to use large format looms are expensive to operate because the “up-front cost” of stringing them is prohibitive. The women cannot begin to make bolts of cloth, if they do not have a commitment from a buyer. For this reason, the “back-strap” (+/-1/8”-12” wide) is still favored over the ease and speed of producing on a 24”-36” loom. The products of the back-strap (often adaptions of Victorian needlepoint) are sewn together and adorned with embroidery to make the Guipils that everyone wears. (The skirts are made on a foot looms — mostly operated by men.) The traditional outfit is not complete without a Falda or belt. This 1”-4” piece is also woven on the “back-strap” and can include elaborate beadwork.

Donors who provide sewing machines will offer training to an artisan like Rosa Garcia-Garcia and, she, in turn gives instruction to her group so they can share the gift. A few years ago, the women were shown how to make rag-rugs by an expert from the states and these were very lucrative for them. The husbands, were immediately against them leaving their looms but, soon enough were scouring the second hand stores for materials for their wives.

Basically, the women face a constant logistical problem with marketing heavy, bulky and fragile items — shipping. And, they need more representatives, who will feature and popularize Mayan made goods. We are currently working on free downloadable coloring book and a line of multi-cultural ”mother-daughter” doll clothes on the model of American Girl Place. It is hoped that the former will develop awareness of the regional dress and the latter will create demand in young girls.

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Rosa and the Rice Road Show.

ImageFeed the Children’s  Guatemala City HQ reached out and tagged Rosa and Patantic’s A-team Chefs to roll out a training and sampling session for the Guatemalan equivalent of the USDA.  This was a “big deal” that FTC´s Country Coordinator, Altagracia Hernandez, cooked up with MAGA (Ministry of Agriculture.)  If this class goes well, then, MAGA´s Solola groups will participate with the Oklahoma based NGO in their next distribution campaign:  VitaMeal.  Such alliances are key to an NGO’s functioning.
Back up in pueblo, Rosa readied the show.  And, even though it would have been easier for her to do it herself, Rosa took the opportunity to promote Juanita.   Thorough as ever, she made doubly sure the ladies would “nail” the presentation by holding a few practice sessions.   The outfit for the day would be totally “Toto”  meaning that we would wear the red, black and white brindled traje from Totonicapan and navy blue or black skirts.  Belting was freestyle.  And, I wore my thin red “training” belt while the others snorted at because they were wrapped in much wider and more decorative items.  Despite the difference in the width of the belts, I like to think that I blended into to the crew, as we waded into the market and set about examining onions, divining degrees of freshness, palpating chicken feet.  Unlike pesky New Yorkers, the Mayans haggle sweetly with their silky manners in a very fun, pleasant way.  These ladies would never-ever ever display the reptilian demeanor of, say, a Filine´s sale rack shopper – like myself.
We took a truck to Solola and eventually the nine women from MAGA’s far-flung community programs in Los Encuentros and San Antonio Palpolo  were collected.  All fourteen of us to got wedged into MAGA pick’em up truck and headed towards Dona Rosa Maria’s studio in a town that happens to have been home to Rosa’s aunt.  Interestingly, the town has a section called “Totonicapan.”  But, Rosa said, in so many words, that the place was not as “aligned” or as densely packed with people from the old District as was Patanatic.  She assured me that we would be the only ones dressed in our colors in the steep village.
The road got so extreme and we proved too heavy for the truck even in 4×4 mode, that we could not make it up that road.   So, we set out on foot across a cow path that made the prior road look like salt flats, in comparison.  We had divided the produce into everybody’s bags before making the ascent.  Rosa Maria, who was hosting the event for MAGA, met us at an unbelievably) narrowing branch – with room for only one of my feet at a time.   She coaxed us around barbed wire on the left, and cautioned about the precipice yawning on the right.  Her compound had an outdoor sink, an ample shady front porch and a 10´x8´room with a wood-stove at one end. It also had turkeys, puppies and bunnies wandering around.

Introductions were made, prayers said and the meeting commenced.  Everyone pitched in with the washing and chopping the vegetables — Don Samuel and I amused ourselves by discussing the virtues of rabbits vs. chickens.  Rabbits mature in about half the time that chickens do but do not lay eggs, he would tell me.  This factoid was offered after I told the agricultural engineer that I thought that rabbits laid eggs… and…he had believed me.
The group worked and visited and at the end seemed to enjoy the chicken soup and vegetarian rice dishes.  On the way home, in the spirit of John Lennon, Rosa said (again in so many words) “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”
Of course, she did.

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Fish Fry in San Antonio Palpolo

Luisa's daughter Carolina works the shuttle
Luisa’s daughter Carolina works the shuttle

Luisa’s son-in –law, a fisherman, had had a very good night.  So, she called Rosa, who invited Marco and me up to San Antonio Palpolo.  She told Rosa that we should set aside some serious time for her intimate fish fry.  It would be a very bony and slow going but a good time to chat.   Rosa changed into her red guipil quickly and urged us into a truck.  We rode high above the lake into the perilous land of the ladies in blue.  Cerulean guipils hung on clotheslines everywhere in the landslide prone  village.  For a sapphire flash, I wondered what crisp white wine would be good to sip with lunch?

Then Marco popped out of the tienda with 2 liters of Coke and  I remembered,

“We’re not in SOHO.  Puchica. “

Up some snag-ly steps is Luisa’s narrow balcony where, like Rosa, she runs a FTC feeding center.    A bunch of children were calmly lined up by the serving area set up on the landing.  We tucked around the woman, who was doling out atoll, tortillias and beans at an astonishing speed and squeezed past a  waist-high blue queue holding plates.   Luisas’ studio is a small room packed with a single bed,  two cabinets and mostly  occupied by the frame of a large format loom -about the size of a four poster.

We sat on the bed and looked out on the quiet crowd that now and then peeked  through the door.  Mostly they kept their eye on what was being served.

“Luisa’s feeding center is so small that she provides take-away and seats everybody else in turns.  Sometimes, it takes two hours to do the hand out,” Rosa observed.

Luisa returned with glasses for the soda and invited us to see the working loom —

“Both of the looms are gifts from Feed The Children.”  As we left her room she allowed,    “This one needs  a harness assembly to go into production.”

In order to see the cloth in progress we needed to wind beyond the lunch area and skirt the open fire, get past two ladies patting tortillas, down a narrow path that opened into a sink area; then, down high, skinny stairs.

They were producing a batch of place mats.  And, they can get twenty individual piecesif they weave the long cloth into 10”hx15”w rectangles leaving a couple of inches of fringe space in between.  The finished mats are cut like sausage.

I asked if there was a lot of demand to use the looms and, when she answered in the negative,  I asked her if it was because they were complicated to operate.

“No.  It’s not that – many people know how to use it…  It is that the investment in thread is very expensive – because you have to string such an expanse.  So, unless you have a client ready to buy your finished product, it is a big risk to assume.”

A table had been set up between the bed and the loom.  Luisa set out a kettle of  prehistoric looking smelts swimming in Mayan Marinara …

“By August, the fish will be a half a pound, but, now (in March) they are delicacies to be consumed with utmost care.  Provecho.” 

We dug in and ceremoniously stripped each vertebrae of meat and talked about ways to bring embroidered textiles to market and what was need for an exhibition.

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Guipil Collages – Symphony or Savagery? Collages güipil – Symphony o salvajismo?

Jennifer Bigman has cultivated her collection of Central American Guipils for decades.  The Guatemalan based fine artist and textile affectionada doesn’t confine the gorgeous woven blouses to hangers in her gallery.  She distributes the personal masterpieces of Mayan artists all over at Jenna’s Bed and Breakfast.  These elegant cultural pieces droop grandly like Dali’s gilded clocks – spilling color off the plush chintz sofa and providing tasteful sheathings on the backs of dining chairs.   The simple two panel shirts are easily repurposed as rugs, pillows and table coverings.  Their scale and durability are perfect for that.

The lovingly embellished fabrics carry rich herstories and a woman might wear the Guipil she has decorated for her entire life.  As a teen, she has probably already begun to apply ornamentation and will usually follow an historic or current style favored by her pueblo but, once in a while, the work can be more original or distinctive.  Heaven is in the details – for example, there is an array of necklines to choose from Chichicastenenga’s is circular with isosceles sun rays all around, in Totonicapan they are scalloped and often banded with a thin strip of black velvet.   Openings can be V’ed, scooped or boated — finished off with a simple whip stitch or custom fitted with a snap.  The finished garments are surprisingly heavy especially when the local flora or fauna motifs are so detailed that the foot-loomed substrate is rendered invisible.

Ms. Bigman still deploys these mini tapastries as-is –  whole and uncut.  But, lately, she has begun a project repurposing the artifacts – as collages.

“This is sacrilege,” critics might cry.

“Yes, of course, “she would reply.

“And, Guipils are routinely hacked up and re-presented as purses and backpacks all up and down Calle Santander .  That is hardly causing much fuss.”

Still, mixing Huehuetenango’s geometrics with Santiago’s birds and bordering that with baktuns or figures is a daring concept that might get some purists fuming.   Ms. Bigman goes on to explain that she can either leave the treasures in a storage bin – unseen – or she can work them into thrilling +/- 2’x5’ banners.   And, in so doing, they become greater than the sum of their parts.  She has created several eye popping samplers by juxtaposing icons, lines and melding colors.  Far from desecrating the needlepoint’s uniqueness, the concerted variety adds interest and still celebrates and collaborates within the culture.

She can expound on the provenance of each element but does not reveal what is behind her process of selection and assembly.  In one hanging, she placed hand sized roosters at each corner and in the middle arranged halves of circular ringed collars with some whole sunbeams from Chi-Chi as portholes on wildly colored stich-scapes.  In another, banana yellow ovals fairly float over dark bargello seas while 2” square Mayan warriors and tiny Tikals march along the edges.  In cherry picking the best elements of each individual’s work and respectfully recombining them, Jennifer Bigman has restrung the heirloom.

Chichicastenango - Good Guipil Hunting

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Jennifer Bigman ha cultivado su colección de  Guipils sudamericana durante décadas. El guatemalteco artista de fina y affectionada textil no limita las blusas tejidas hermosas para perchas en su galería. Distribuye las obras maestras personales de los artistas mayas todo en el Bed and Breakfast de Jenna. Estas caída elegante piezas culturales grandiosamente como los relojes de Dalí – derrame de color de la felpa sofá de cretona y la disponibilidad para revestimientos de buen gusto en los respaldos de las sillas de comedor. Las dos camisas simples paneles son fácilmente reutilizados como alfombras, almohadas y manteles. Su escala y la durabilidad son perfectos para eso.

Las telas adornadas con cariño llevar herstories ricos y una mujer puede usar el güipil se ha decorado para toda su vida. Como adolescente, ella probablemente ya ha comenzado a aplicar la ornamentación y por lo general siguen un estilo histórico o actual de su pueblo, pero, de vez en cuando, el trabajo puede ser más original o distintivo. El cielo está en los detalles – por ejemplo, hay una gran variedad de escotes para elegir Chichicastenenga es circular con rayos de sol isósceles por todas partes, en Totonicapán son arcos y bandas a menudo con una delgada franja de terciopelo negro. Las aberturas pueden V’ed, recogió o boated – rematado con una puntada látigo simple o personalizada equipado con un chasquido. Las prendas terminadas son sorprendentemente fuerte sobre todo cuando la flora o fauna motivos son tan detalladas que el sustrato pies se alzaba se vuelve invisible.

Sra. Bigman todavía despliega estos tapastries mini-es – entero y sin cortar. Pero, últimamente, se ha iniciado un proyecto de reutilización de los artefactos – como collages.

“Esto es un sacrilegio”, los críticos a llorar.

“Sí, por supuesto”, respondía ella.

“Y, Guipils son rutinariamente hackeado y volver a presentarse como bolsos y mochilas de todo arriba y abajo Santander Calle. Esto es apenas causar mucho alboroto. ”

Sin embargo, la mezcla de geometría Huehuetenango con aves de Santiago y lindando con que baktunes o figuras es un concepto audaz que podría conseguir algunos puristas echando humo. Sra. Bigman continúa explicando que ella puede dejar los tesoros de un depósito de almacenamiento – invisible – o ella puede trabajar en emocionantes + / – 2’x5 ‘banners. Y, al hacerlo, se convierten en más que la suma de sus partes. Ella ha creado ojo haciendo estallar varios samplers por iconos yuxtaponiendo, líneas y colores fusión. Lejos de profanar la singularidad de la aguja, la variedad concertada añade interés y todavía celebra colabora dentro de la cultura.

Ella puede exponer sobre la procedencia de cada elemento, pero no revela lo que hay detrás de su proceso de selección y el montaje. En un colgante, colocó gallos de mano de tamaño en cada esquina y en las mitades dispuestas medios de collares de anillos circulares con algunos rayos de sol enteras de Chi-Chi como ojos de buey en color salvajemente stich-paisajes. En otro, plátano óvalos amarillos bastante flotar sobre oscuros mares Bargello mientras que dos “guerreros mayas y Tikals cuadrados pequeños marcha a lo largo de los bordes. En cherry picking los mejores elementos de trabajo de cada individuo y respetuosamente les recombinación, Jennifer Bigman ha restrung la herencia.

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