Saturday, August 31, 2013

Macho culture and what that entails.

It didn't hurt, but I could still feel where his hand had landed harshly on my backside. For several hours after I could feel the outline of every finger not due to pain, but because of how gross I felt. Thinking back to the few moments before it had happened it all made sense. I was waiting at the only light there is on my 15 minute walk to work. When it turned green I proceeded to walk across the street and as a couple was about to cross my path I slowed down. They were looking at me for what seemed like more than the average amount of time. I only seemed to notice it looking back on the scene. As I slowed, out of my peripherals I noticed a boy oddly close to me and once I slowed he veered away from me and down the street I was crossing. A block later I heard hurried foot steps behind me and then a firm smack. I immediately wheeled around amidst a stream of curses (I'm embarrassed to say)and by the time I had made a one/eighty to face my accoster he was already scuttling away and had made it at least 5 feet. The maybe 17 year old boy in a school uniform, the same boy from the block before, was retreating as fast as he had come on.
I had known it would be coming. If I had read into the events that happened right before the slap that was heard through Xela (not really); the couple watching him follow closely behind me, me turning on him right before he had planned to slap me while I was crossing the street I would have realized it was coming. I have been here four months and I'm honestly surprised it hadn't happened earlier. There are many American, European, and Canadian women in Xela working for non-profits or here to go to Spanish school. We stick out like soar thumbs and due to our light skin, blue eyes, and golden hair we're targeted. We're new, exciting, something men here don't see everyday. We're something to brag about, "I touched a gringa's ass today!" I have made many girlfriends here and they all have the same story to tell, all seeming to have the same reaction, dumb-founded stairs, silence, and sometimes even tears. I had mentally prepared myself for this moment, for when it was my turn. I had decided from the beginning that I could not stare dumbly. I told myself from very early on, "Penelope, you will take every precaution to be safe here, but something like being slapped, pinched, or grabbed will happen to you. You can either let it happen or you can do something about it." I had given myself this pep-talk every time I had heard one of my girl-friend's most recent stories.
Within my family I am known for my "take-no-prisoners" mentality and I hope it never fades. I was mentally ready. I turned around ready to do I don't know what, but found him already several feet away. Metal water bottle in one hand and tupperware container full of my breakfast (yogurt and fruit) in the other. With him already out of arms reach, making it unable to grab him by the collar and shake him I did all I could and chucked my breakfast at him. Store owners watching. The boy's eyes widened and I think he was literally dumb-founded. Unfortunately missing, my rage had not given me the clarity to aim (you can be sure something I will be practicing) and the unusual weight and balance to the tupperware throwing me off. He kept retreating and I proceeded to walk after him, metal water bottle raised yelling at him the whole way till he was in full sprint and around the corner. I am sure this was not his first rodeo, but I am confident that this was the first time he had ever received this sort of reaction. Ashamed and embarrassed of what he had just done to me I went and retrieved my breakfast which had luckily not broken open, but was lying sadly in a dirty puddle.
I think about all the women that are sexually accosted on a much greater level. How, what happened to me was really just child's play, but still made me feel disgusting and low. Why is that women are the ones that feel embarrassed after something like this happens? We did nothing wrong!
Guatemala lives under macho rule. Women don't have much to any say, constantly belittled, daughters don't usually receive the same treatment as sons, wives don't find themselves partners in their marriage, but just an object conquered; expected to clean, cook, and bear children. Within this macho culture women are raised to be passive and to obey men. Women are constantly berated with more than your average cat call (a simple whistle just won't cut it); heads hanging out of windows, targets of obscene sexual comments, and as I have experienced being touched inappropriately and without permission. This is normal. Sometimes I feel like the women have bought into it here, but really its all they know.
I only hear the stories of the other Western women that are here as I don't have many opportunity to have these conversations with Guatemalan women. I assume that they have similar and worse stories. In reality, us "white girls" have a little protection. If a Guatemalan women is touched, raped, goes missing its rare for justice to be served. There is little weight put on their lives. Heads would role if this happened to a "white girl". They rather not go through the trouble.

In Mayan culture God is made up of both feminine and masculine energy. When Mayan priests begin their prayers they first recognize the feminine energy, second the masculine. It was with the invasion of the Spanish and the male dominated culture they brought with them that the traditional gender role views slowly began to shift. While Mayan culture's appreciation of both female and male energies equally remains it suffered a greater blow. Guatemala has been heavily wounded by violence. The civil war left deep scars and Guatemalan women are especially exposed. In Guatemala more women (per capita) are murdered than anywhere else in the world (2009), and the murders, the so-called “femicidios”, are characterized by raw brutality and hatred towards women. Women find themselves the punching bags to drunk, stressed, depressed men.
While the appreciation for women within Mayan culture has suffered it is still a breath of fresh air to get out of town and walk through the dirt paths of the Mayan communities.

The need for education is great. The need for a rise in women's self-esteem is desperate. We work every day through women circle meetings to praise women. Teach them their not worthless. They are more than a body who's soul purpose is reproduction. I am proud of our work in the communities. We have seen differences in pride and self-esteem which will in turn change the view of how things should be in the home and the rest of the community.
Things are changing, but not fast enough and not on a large enough scale. Never the less I am proud of the progress we are making.

*For family and friends that read my blog I want you to know that I am not in danger. I am extremely careful. I walk no where on my own after dark. When I notice men on the sidewalk I move to the street and visa versa. I am very aware of my surroundings. If anything this experience has strengthened my vigilance. Please do not be worried. I promise I am more than alright.
**Photo by my friend Matthew Harris

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I blame it on trying to look nice . . . deflecting from my own guilt

HELLO!!!!! After an extremely busy summer I was able to take a breath! This summer the HSP/AMA team, with the partnership of our Service Learning Teams, built a complete kitchen for a school, a drainage system, 220 stoves (WOW!!!!), and beautiful cultural exchanges. Knowing I would need a significant rest after this marathon of a summer I asked my boyfriend to come for a visit. Lucky me he said, "yes!". Unfortunately for him he had no idea what he was getting into.
After living in hiking boots, dirty jeans, and the same 4 t-shirts all summer I bought myself a skirt the day before he came in and put together an outfit very foreign to the Guatemala me. I mean I had to try and look nice, right?? He flew in the day the last group flew out. I had timed it perfectly and planned everything in great detail! His plane, coming in almost an hour late, finally arrived and I was THRILLED! The adventure began! We immediately got in a van shuttle so that we could hopefully make the last connection of the day to the lake where we would be meeting up with some of my friends for the weekend. Thankfully the traffic, although bad, allowed us to make it to our connection with 10 min to spare. Whew! Jumping right into the next micro-bus we had another 2 and half hours to go till relaxation could begin although the catch up time was wonderful before we met up with my friends. Once arriving to the most populated town on Lake Atitlan our next leg was to hop into one of the last boats that takes you across (time crunched again).
Now remember how I had planned everything to the tiniest detail? The hostel we were staying in with friends had a kitchen and since I was really trying to show off I had brought so many things to cook with. I'm talking a bottle of wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, 5 different bottles of seasoning, a bag of almonds, pasta, hot sauce, and a jar of olives. Excessive I know, but this wouldn't surprise you if you knew my mother at all. With this being said, my backpacking pack was too heavy for me to lift and with a skirt on it would have lifted my skirt. Hence John and I decided to make a luggage switch, I now in charge of his light weight backpack and duffel and he taking care of my pack. Now back to the boat.
We climb into the boat as quickly as possible. It was 5:30 in the evening and lake gets extremely choppy starting at 2:00. Our things were put in the front of the boat and a tarp was thrown over top of John's head to keep the lake off of him. The town we were travelling to was the 4th stop. Judging by the arrivals to all the other docks I concluded we had about 45 seconds to get our stuff together and get out of the boat. Everyone is trying to make a Q in Guatemala so when we got to our stop about 5 children about 6 to 12 year old jumped on to the boat, grabbing at our things so that we would have to tip them once they had hoisted our things out of the boat for us. Being a tightwad I refused help and kept trying, I have zero upper body strength, to lift our things to John on the dock. Mind you the boat is rising and falling at least 2 feet with how choppy the lake is, the sky is dark, and all these kids are yelling at me at once. We finally get ourselves and the things out of the boat and to the hostel. A lovely evening with each other and friends. It could not have been more fun!!! Plans were made for the adventures to be had the next day and then much needed sleep.
Beautiful next morning! Went and had breakfast, we all put on our swim suits and John asks me where I put his backpack so that he could put his passport in the safety box. "I didn't put it anywhere. You don't have it?" . . . We made it through 12 wonderful hours of lake time without even realizing that I had left it on the boat. On the boat!!!!!
Needless to say it was not to be found, but the actual backpack was not so much the problem. It was what was inside; passport, copies of the passport (lock and key in the same place), credit and debit cards, driver's liscence, and car keys. I am awesome!!! Instead of the swimming and rock jumping we had planned we spent the whole day town hoping and grilling every boat driver hoping to come up with the location. Deciding we had done all we could do we spent the next day, our last full day at the lake not thinking about it, as best we could.
Then we had a day. Caught a shuttle at 9:00 am. Two transfers later and by 2:00 pm made it to the US embassy in Guatemala city. By 4:45 we walked out with a temporary passport and a letter from the embassy validating the story. Grabbed a sandwich and we're on a bus heading for Xela by 5:30. Arrived to the station and with a short cab ride we're finally to the comfort of my house! Finally we could have the rest of the time together without stress and responsibility!
We had so much fun! I got to show him where I live, he got to meet my friends, and eat at the same restaurants I go to often. We went to the hot springs, bakeries, inside beautiful churches, to markets, and salsa dancing. I mean we had a blast despite the fiasco.
Last day came said goodbyes with talk of him coming to see me again and I left him at the airport as I had a bus to catch and he needed to get through security. The next morning I heard the whole story, and I will keep this brief.
Due to the lack of entry stamp on the passport (we had a letter from the embassy saying the original passport had been stolen) the Guatemalan security gaurds gave him a hard time for about an hour before finally letting him go through. Made it to Houston. Going through customs, the stupid passport literally having all his information on a sticker stuck into the passport, had the hardest time scanning the passport. Finally going through, he made it to his connection flight 15 min before the plane was to take off, hence the doors being shut and missing his flight. Only other option was to Newark, NJ. Very different then Dulles. Arriving around 3:00 in the morning and without a wallet, his wonderful, amazing, awesome brother came to get him and drive him back to Richmond. When I called at 8:00 the next morning, mind you I had left him around 11:30 am the day before, he was about half an hour away from home.
The lesson in all this?? 1. Don't dress nicely because you can't lift your own things and you never take as strong of ownership of other people's things as you would your own. 2. Don't lose your passport. The consequences are intense!
Picture taken after the passport was lost, before he had the awful trip back home.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Know Thy Self; Santa Maria . . . It is a long one

Santa Maria . . . while it was one of the hardest things I have ever done it was also one of the best. As it was a full moon hike and the group did not meet until 10:30 at night. With it being dark outside my roommates were the cutest and assumed the role of proud parents dropping off their child for the first day of kindergarten. Krystie and Melissa, being experienced Santa Maria hikers coached me the whole walk to the meeting spot; going over the list of things I had with me and making sure I had not forgotten anything. With only a short walk to go I felt I had not the time to prepare myself. We had reached the front door. "Are you guys going to come in?", I asked hopefully. Both of them smirk at me and tell me I got it under control. There I am first day of kindergarten all over again. Panic stricken having only learned how to spell my full name the night before . . .
Inside, I made my way to notify the group leader I had arrived and that I would need to borrow a sleeping bag. We begin our meeting about what to expect and how best to use all forms of the bathroom on the trail. :) As the leader announces how excited she is that the weather looks perfect for our hike the first rain drops start to fall. Waiting around for much longer than we should have she finally gives us the option. You can go, but its supposed to rain all night or you can back out now. One girl quits right off the bat . . . loser! (That's for you, Uncle Mark)
Instead of getting on the road at 11:00 we all start piling into the back of mid-size delivery truck around 12:15. All 30 of us. Only room to stand, but I strategically put myself as far back into the truck, perched on the all the backpacks. It was actually very comfortable. When we've gone as far as the truck can go we begin. We're dropped in the community of Llanos del Pinal which I know well from guiding groups in stove building projects there. The foot path we use to take us to the base is actually one I have walked. I feel ahead of the game right off the bat. Familiarize yourself with your surrounding. Check. . . for now.
We hike for about an hour at which point we reached a fairly large clearing. All of us panting looking at the volcano above us, knowing its time to really man-up. Santi, our guide, announces this is where it gets steep. The rest of our hike will be pretty much straight up. I brace myself and know I'm as ready as I'll ever be. 20 minutes after eating trail mix and drinking water we begin again.
I put myself about 5th in line. I was tired of listening to the prissy chick and her boyfriend talk about her accomplishments the whole first hour. It becomes one step at a time. Each step my knee comes to my belly button to reach the next spot for my foot to reach. With a swollen stomach from something interesting I had eaten earlier in the day this proved to be no easy feat, but I did well. Staying right behind the person in front. We took breaks often due to our group being so big. With my stomach aching I had no problem with our pace while the over achievers behind me got restless. It was at one stopping point in particular one man got particularly snippy and told Santi we did not want anymore breaks, while my mind is screaming, "speak for yourself!". Santi replies, "If you want to go, lets go" and I know its about to get real. I take the few more seconds of rest to ask how much further we have expecting the vegetation to change at any moment and the top to be just around the corner. Santi answers, "2 more hours". All I can squeak is, "ensario". My mental strength now diminishes significantly.
The personal battle began here. Knowing that we had had at least one person turn back I began battling to fight with myself. Pushing myself harder and harder to stay right behind the person in front of me as to not irritate the high-maintenance man behind me that had been so vocal about taking no more breaks. 40 minutes in with no breaks I realize I can't continue at that pace especially with the status of my stomach. Fighting the inner leader, what my mother might call the eldest child syndrome, I relinquish my spot and proceed to let about 8 people pass me. Every person that past was another blow to my ego, but all the while trying to tell myself its better this way.
As they pull ahead I focus on never stopping and just moving one foot in front of the other. It becomes slowly apparent to me that I am totally alone. I see the flashlights far in front from the group I let pass and no sign of the rest of our original group behind me. It is pitch black, freezing cold, and extremely liberating. Finally the vegetation starts to change. Whether it be the years of nature camp or gardening that clues me in, the sign fills me with joy. I know that the lack of green and the sparse placement of woody bushes means I am getting close. With the lack of coverage now the wind howls and is relentless. I decipher the ever more confusing path and make my way up the gravelly face. About an hour and a half of hiking alone. I've arrived.
I had thought about crying with joy once I got to the top, but with no mother or boyfriend to comfort me, decided not to show these people anymore of my weak side and I stayed strong. I immediately stripped off my flimsy rain coat and soaking wet t-shirt and put on the many layers I had brought with me. Thinking back to several hours earlier when I had asked my roommate if I would need gloves on the trip. Her response being a firm "no". I cursed her now as it took hours to regain feeling in my hands and every ounce of focus to untie my boots in order to replace my soaking wet socks. With some warmth regained I quickly set up my sleeping mat and bag. I could finally "relax". I don't think you can say you are relaxing when you are shivering, but I have a new appreciation for the word after spending just over 5 hours ascending straight up a volcano in the dark.
Then this happened.
then this . . .
and this!

In the morning light I was able to marvel at what I had accomplished and the beauty of the Santa Maria. This is her shadow, looking from the other side of the volcano.

It rained on us for only about 20 minutes the whole way. Considering the forecast this was amazing. The view from the top was practically cloudless. To have hiked during rainy season we owe mother nature a huge hug. As you can see it was gorgeous.
Scanning my surroundings I recognized places of worship covered in offerings of sugar and flowers. In Maya culture it seems that every spot is sacred. I travel to lakes, hills, valleys, and places in between always finding signs of worship. Santa Maria is no different. How refreshing! A people so in tune with nature, knowing its from where they came, that they use it as a vehicle for praise. Recognizing the alter I had an idea of what I would find on the descent in a few hours. . .
Around 8:30 we started down. It took us only about 45 minutes to come across the first Maya family making there way up. Men dressed in traditional cloths for ceremony, women in SKIRTS, SANDLES, and BABIES ON THEIR BACKS!!! Like billy goats they bounced up the volcano. In Guatemala I am constantly reminded of how pitiful I am.
Although I am still fighting a cold I think contracted from the cold air at the top I am ecstatic with what I learned along the way. I was reminded I am not a super hero. I learned I need to work out more. I realized what was important. Santa Maria gave me so much and I am thankful for her.



Saturday, June 22, 2013

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

Hello! Its been a while. Life has been hectic, but only in the best sort of way. I have guided two groups and this past week we had none! It has been a refreshing break before the flood gates open. Starting Saturday, we will anywhere from one to four groups with us until August 10th. Let the countdown begin! I'm thinking it will be like waitressing through the dinner rush except the dinner rush lasts 24 hours a day for the next 2 months. . . If you don't hear from me for a while its because I have collapsed somewhere.
Although the work is busy and I feel as though I'm on stage a lot (with translating, giving instructions, informing people of their daily itinerary, etc.) I am able to share in the most amazing experiences. I get to watch lives being changed every time I am in the community. I get to see women making decisions for them. And under the thumb of Guatemala's machismo culture, that is a huge deal!
I am lucky though, to be surrounded by tons of strong Guatemalan women. They all shine like beacons of hope for me and the Mayan women they seek to mobilize. Every single one of these women impresses me as they have overcome so much to stay strong and to be the rock for their family. There is one woman in particular that I have found to be my inspiration and when I am feeling unfocused I try to think of her. This woman tried to follow her husband illegally to the United States three times, one of those times almost dying in transit in the desert through Mexico. She still has debt accumulated from her coyote bills and although her husband was deported back to Guatemala he plans on risking it all again with the promise of a better life. The sad reality that Guatemalans and really any Latin American face is that they would rather be in their own country surrounded by their land, their friends, their family, their culture, but with little hope of a prosperous future. As I walk through the community with a the mason, Don Pauli, by my side I point to the different houses and ask about their differences. I ask, “why is this house so nice and big and this one is put together with pieces of scrap metal?” “Well that woman’s husband is in the states.”
The employees of AMA identified this woman I spoke of early of at risk and also as a great asset to our team of strong women here. Guatemala, just like every other developing country has a serious brain drain. Practically anybody with good education or ambition leaves. It’s a survival technique, but it leaves the country lacking in innovation and growth. This woman is the 3rd of three generations to be involved with AMA’s women circles. Her grandmother was an exuberant participator; her mother currently is the chef extraordinaire for AMA and makes all the lunches for groups that come to Guatemala through HSP. This woman has moved to a new community with her husband now that he is back in Guate and has started a now thriving women circle. Despite both her husband and her family not wanting her to work with the women circles she pushes on. She has become one of our strongest leaders and I am intimidated by her strength.
I have started to get to know her personally as we have been seeing a lot of each other during group season. She even let me hold her 5 month old baby Louis! My hope is that they stay put, but with her husband laying plans to return to the US I worried for her leaving too. I feel so bad that the choice even has to be made. How do determine what is best? If she tried again this time she would have to sneak her baby with her. . . The desire to keep your family together for the promise of a brighter future, but with the risk of death. . . I am just so happy to know that for the moment she is here, with her beautiful baby, changing the lives of women, and inspiring me.

On a side note I am hiking the volcano Santa Maria tonight by the light of the full moon. Pictures to come! A little indulgence before my life is consumed by groups.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Guatemala is saturated with aid, but which aid is good aid?

I was able to go home last week for the funeral of my grandfather. I am so thankful I could be with my family during this time and beyond the sadness of morning my grandfather I had a wonderful time being with family and close friends. It was on my return flight to Guatemala, from Atlanta to Guatemala City, that I was overcome with the realization that Guatemala has too much foreign aid! There were 4 mission trips alone on my flight and I know for sure that there were at least 2 other flights coming into Guatemala that day from the United States. The reason I can confidently say that these were mission trips was because each "team" had their own specially made t-shirt, which each person in the group was wearing. Each t-shirt bore the cross and a verse from the bible about the mercy of Christ. I am intimately familiar with the look; I myself went on several mission trips where we were all extremely coordinated in attire. I am not sure what the appeal of that is . . . I tried to ask a member of each group what they were going to be doing for their week in Guatemala although I never made it over to ask the neon, tie-die group. Pretty much all of them had the same answer, "we will be visiting an orphanage", "bringing medicine to a really poor community", "painting a church". Now that is all good and well, but what does that "poor" community have once those mission/service/volunteer teams leave? A bottle of medicine that will run out in a month? A memory of white faces that treated them like they were poor? A building that is freshly painted, but will probably never be used because it was not that "poor" community's idea to have it there in the first place?

I am sad for both groups of people, the community that is now poorer and the group that came to "help". Please do not get me wrong, this is in reference to any group of people whether they be from a university, a church, temple, mosque, or volunteer organization. In reality the team of people that came from the states to help had all of the best intentions in mind! I cannot be upset with them for that I just wish they could see how their aid has left the community they worked in. What actually happens is people come for a week and everything is all smiles and it feels as though the team has made a world of difference in the lives of the people, but most mission/service/volunteer teams will end up giving away aid for free and where does that leave the community? The community develops the mindset, "I don't need to work, I can wait on the next hand out that comes from the next service team". These handouts leave a community that once had developed systems of support, entrepreneurial aspirations, investment in their children's education, and pride in themselves without any of those things. This type of aid reduces people to believe that they are incapable of doing for themselves, they are reduced to having zero self worth, and they don't take ownership for their community any longer. It is true that communities need help! In the organization that I work for we measure poverty not by the amount of money you make, but by the opportunities available to you. Instead of giving material things we give experiences and opportunities. Instead of giving food to a family we teach the woman of the house a skill that she can support her family on. Instead of giving medicine to a whole community we organize support systems so that relationships can be formed in which they are comfortable to ask their neighbor for help. Instead of painting a building that was our idea to erect in the first place, we work with community leaders to identify what communal problems they want addressed with some support from our organization. This puts the power back in the hands of the "poor" and they are "poor" no longer. They have their pride and they are invested in their families and communities. This might take more investment and it won't provide instant gratification, but it is the right way of doing things. As ashamed as I am about the horrid t-shirts I had to wear on the high school mission trips I am proud that my church chose to participate in mission that truly benefited the community instead of leaving it a poorer place.

If you treat this woman like she is poor she will believe it and become so.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Anything that can happen, will happen.

Dear friends and family, I find it important to share with those that don't know that my grandfather, Lester Norton, passed away yesterday morning. He was 92 years old and ready to be reunited with his heavenly father. My family had been by his side day and night till the end. Although I could not be there in his final days I am comforted to know that there was no room for him to doubt my or my family's love for him. He was at peace and comforted to know that he was moving on to something much greater. With all the heartache I am happy to say that I will be able to come home briefly for the funeral and to be with my family. I feel very blessed with this opportunity and I appreciate all the love and support I have received already. Your warm sentiments have touched my heart. As far as I am concerned I will not be remembering him as the weak and frail old man that he became in his last week. I will be thinking of gigantic ice cream sundaes, battle ships, and Christmas time. On a lighter note, yesterday I also got food poisoning so when I say "anything that can happen, will happen" . . . I mean it! I am on the mend and I for sure don't have parasites, the silver lining in all of this. I don't have a picture for this post because you don't want to see what I have to show you. :) :) :) Once again, I want to thank you all for your thoughts and prayers and for you all to know that myself and my family deeply appreciate them.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

It has been a long week. Only to get busier!

Hola! This week has been an exciting and successful one! I have not only been taking one on one Spanish classes for 5 hours each day, but participating in two really cool projects. One of which was completed the other which was implemented. We had a group of women come from the masters program in Social Work of Shippensburg University this week (one a professor and the other three being her students). They were a great group of women with such open hearts and minds. They were ready to learn and get their hands dirty! They worked in the community of Chuicavioc which is about a 20 minute car ride from the town I am living in. With only 4, they all worked in the same home building a stove. It was the home of Doña Josefina and her 4 children. The women circle that Doña Josefina belongs to elected her to receive the next stove that came available through Highland Support Project because with the rainy season coming a river would soon be running through her kitchen. The eminent rains would make cooking over an open fire extremely challenging if not impossible. What I loved most about leading this group through their stove building project was being able to listen to the comments that came from the family. The eldest daughter, who was very profound in her words, had the most encouraging things to say to the women that came. After the stove was completed and everyone was saying a tearful goodbye she said, "You have shown both the men and the women of this community that women are capable and thank you for that". Those words could not have made me more happy as I believe that it is just as important to build the stove as it is to show the women and the families of these rural communities that people care about their well being. This is a picture of Doña Josefina and her family! At the end of the week we had a goodbye and thank you ceremony which consisted of the whole women circle coming and cooking a traditional Guatemalan meal of Pepian and tamolitos. I was in heaven. With the women came their babies. :) Look at her checks!! The most precious babe I have ever seen. The other project that we really got off the ground this week was the medicinal herb garden that is located in the community of Llanos del Pinal (again, right outside of the town I am living in). The garden was planted on the land of the communities mid-wife who has the knowledge to use the medicinal herbs. This is so cool because with this garden will come the pride and resurgence of traditional Maya healing techniques. A lot of what this garden aims to do is provide these women with an affordable way of healing as opposed to paying a ton for western medicine. We aim to provide them with an education on how to balance the use of both as sometimes herbs might not cut it. The long term goal is to not only provide the community with a medicinal source, but to produce enough that the women have extra to make teas, salves, and tinctures for them to not only use but to sell at market as well. We have very high hopes for this project and the women are thrilled and extremely proud of the work they have accomplished so far.