Sorta Mayan; kinda Xmas

Wise woman from Xela moves on up in her Red shoes to be Virgin.Mother. medicine God makes a fine Joseph and cat lovers promoted their candidate
In this version a Peruvian gourd plays Joseph and Corn Lady stars as The Virgin Baby Jesus is Jade
Although the beige Baby is eye catching..collaborators jockeyed for a more subdued version

Who are the Maya and Where Did they Come From, Anyway?

In spite of their challenging terrain and vastness of their reach, the varieties in their languages and the serial interventions of conquistadors and modern opportunists, the Mayans keep their spirit, arts of fabric and design enriched and undiluted.

Ladies still do this ..It keeps their hair out of thier work
Ladies still do this ..It keeps their hair out of thier work
“Maya” is the common name for the massive cultural complex that once spanned almost 8 degrees of latitude and that after 3,000 years, still distinguishes itself in Mesoamerica. The indigenous Mayans live in linguistic bands from the South Mexico to the Yucatan coast.

The volute or caracol was Mayan-ese for
The volute or caracol was Mayan-ese for “eternity”
There are more than 28 Mayan languages still spoken in the lands between Mexico and Honduras. Much of the linguistic pattern has been revealed since the 1960’s  Like archeologists and anthropologists with their image libraries, comparative linguists study data bases of current structures and ancient origins of living languages.

Displaying characteristic Talud and Tablero structure and an unsightly incroachment on the top dating from the 1900s
Queretero ruin displaying characteristic Talud and Tablero structure and an unsightly incroachment on the top dating from the 1850s
The late arriving Uto-Aztecan language, Nahuatl, is said to have migrated south from the deserts of North America around the 7th century. After a few generations, this arty lingua franca became popular with singers and poets in the cosmopolitan, warring and continuously dominating Teotithuacan.  This city grew to become the largest in the Americas (and impressed the European invaders, too) by around 1200. The official home to the Aztecs/Mixtecs, today it is mostly buried under Mexico City’s metroplex.

At the time of the conquest. Nahuatl was spoken by Toltecs as far away as Yucatan and by Maya in the present day Quiche District of Guatemalan highlands. The words must have eased trading and, eventually might have brought the loose alliances of MesoAmerica into a working unit–   But, Nahuatl was too “foreign” to be used for local affairs and since there was no common currency –except, maybe, the Cocoa bean, even if it were desired, overt unification would never have been possible .

This Zapotec site in Oxaca spun off smaller sites during it's 1000 years.
Monte Alban, a Zapotec site in Oaxaca spun off smaller sites during it’s 1000 years.
Still, since preclassical times, disparate cities shared a remarkably uniform sense of time and place.  People knew the names for stars, planets and some contellations  and that they had a pantheon of angry gods – some of whom could only be appeased by human sacrifices. This cast of deity-characters adorned temples and public spaces and reified the mysterious force behind the ritual cycles.

Two cosmic ball players or a couple of kings dressed to look like the Twins who played ball in Xihbalba - underworld
Two Popol Vuh ball players or a couple of kings dressed to look like the Twins who played ball in Xihbalba – underworld
By the Classical period, kings and nobles, were about identifying themselves as priests, ballplayers and warriors and are seen all over walls and pottery from The Valley of Mexico to as far south as Copan…. These depictions displayed fundamental  references to ancient mythological gods and creatures and sometimes referenced historical figures – like King Pakal of Palenque.  Pottery survives better than bark books and can be traced.  One Teotitucan style took about twenty years before it was seen in far flung grave sites. The remains of architecture and art are used to date times when a technology or cosmogony was accepted into an area. But, What special goods or stories tipped a group from a customer base into a temple buddies?  Was it the ballgame with rubber from the Olmecs, predictive astronomy, improved agriculture, fancy warrior symbols or hallucinagenic plants or something else that moved the people to practice trade expansion, war and human sacrifice??

At Atzompa and beyond, nobles sat in the short ends of the “I” shaped court   betting on the (sort of sacred) action..
One theory for the distribution of complete “memes” was that the proto Maya were seafaring.  After all, the Vera Cruz Olmecs had both rubber and cloth. — Could they not have made water resistant sails or caulked portable “canvas” canoes and just taken off? Maybe the Mayas at Izapa invented the early calendar because they could see the Zenith Passage from their about 15° Latitude. Somehow, that homegrown knowledge was useful enough for traders to talk about.  It is possible that farmer’s knowledge of this unique viewpoint allowed the Maya to calculate how to produce two harvests a year with 120 day corn?  Agricultural surplus ushered in social stratification, then Kingship and Priests.

In spite of their challenging terrain and vastness of their reach, the varieties in their languages and the serial interventions of conquistadors and modern opportunists, the Mayans keep their spirit, producing fiber arts and built design — rich and undiluted.

Shown with skeletal form.. precureor to day of the dead..
Shown with skeletal form..
precursor to day of the dead..

Easter in the Mayan Highlands

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” title=”Easter in the Mayan Highlands”>Easter in the Mayan Highlands

Last week was Easter.  Up here there were glorious displays of carpets all over the streets.. Rather than go to Antigua and be carried hand-over-hand..We took in the local celebrations 

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.

Espanole sigue

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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Continue reading “Sacapulus Health Promoters Profiles”

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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Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

Three Volcanoes at Lake Atitlan  Cerro d'Oro foreground, Toliman in the 
middle and Atitlan barely visable behind

 Eye Heart Anonymous Eyeglass Donors in Santa Catarina Palopo 

Barbara Ford Center for Peace  - Santa Cruz del Quiche
Dan Wunderlich’s Brave Team Treats Quiche Maya
Mayans Relax with Yoga at Traditional Chinese Medicine Jornada
Mayan Women are Empowered to Defend Themselves by a Black Belt
Acupuncturists Launch Sustainable Treat and Train Mission in Guatemala 
Mayans Rediscover Acupuncture at Centro de Paz Barbara Ford
NYC Traditional Chinese Medicine Professionals Volunteer to Treat and Train in Guatemala
Acupuncturists Treat 1,000 Patients in Santa Cruz del Quiche, Zacualpa and San Filipe
Meetings with Remarkable Mayans

Caminos de Esperanza 
34 Special Kids in Panajachel

Centre d’Étude et de Cooperation International
Si, Si CECI!!!  

Dallas Jesuit Medical Mission to Guatemala 
2012 Support Posse 
2012 The Kids 
2011 Support Posse 
2011 The Kids 

Gourment Mushrooms in San Antonio Palpolo 
Harvard and Montessori meet at Lake Atitlan 


Guatemala Non-Profit Network 
Panajachel NGOs seek "organic" unification - 2011 

Host to the Dallas Jesuit Medical Mission - April 2012 
Hospitalito, Santiago Atitlan 

Mayan Families 
Mayan Families' Sustained Sewing Project  
Mayan Families Host Dallas Jesuit Medical Mission 2011  
Mayan Families Veterinary Operations 
Mayan Families Tamale Baskets 

Mil Milagros 
Mil Milagros Embraces a Stranded Village 

Oxlajuj B'atz'  
Oxlajuj B’atz’ celebrates Indigenous People's Day 
Yolanda and Rosa -Part 1 Yolanda - Part 2: An Action of Grace 

Starfish One by One 
Starfish One by One empowers young women 

Vivimos Mejor 
Host to the Dallas Jesuit Medical Mission - April 2012 
Vivamos Mejor Hosts Jesuit Medical Mission of Dallas  
Reforestation at Lake Atitlan