Travel Postcard: Chimaltenango – Hand-Washing Workshop & Plantation Visit

20 de Junio 2017 – 21 de Junio 2017

Hola Amigos,

I truly hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my travels throughout Guatemala thus far. Each day brings with it an element of surprise. Although our itinerary is set, our time seems expansive and unlimited. The days feel longer and not having access to the internet and social media has been a blessing in disguise. If I was traveling in a developed country, I know the pressure to check in with family and friends back home would be looming over my mind like a dark cloud. However, I’ve never been happier being disconnected with my world back home in California. Time is a precious commodity, one that I don’t want to take for granted. Being a part of this study abroad trip has been a life changing experience, and I plan on soaking in all the culture, knowledge and good food while I can.

The next few days consisted of continuing to paint the school that we teamed up with for the solidarity project. Working alongside my fellow peers allowed me to look at the concept of teamwork in a different perspective. We are all unique individuals who bring value, experiences and collaboration to the table. Although many of us had never met before the trip, an unbreakable bond formed amongst us over the course of our trip. I learned that differences bring us closer. Differences in opinion, style, work ethic and viewpoints paint a diverse picture of our community. It was absolutely beautiful how we scanned the room to help out another classmate who was struggling to reach a curvy corner of the room. It was comforting to feel the strong sense of community when family members of the students stayed after to complete the painting. Our solidarity project turned out to be more unifying than I had ever imagined. Together we are stronger. Together, we work towards a common goal and succeed as a team.

Even though before this trip I didn’t have any painting skills, the community members were so patient in teaching us tips and tricks. The first day we layered on the first coat of golden-yellow to cover up the fading turquoise underneath. After the second coat the following day we added the finishing touches with red oil paint to brighten up the base-boards. The school looked like it was newly built. The murals were touched up, the rooms brightened up and the students were beaming with pride.

As a gift to the school, our group decided to create a mural on one of the walls to leave behind our legacy.

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Following a hearty plant-based lunch, all the kids headed back to their respective classrooms before we began our hand-washing workshop. All 25 of us broke off into teams of 4-5 and created a poster in Spanish that illustrated the steps for proper hand-washing. My teammates (Nikki, Ana, and Sam) and I were assigned to the pre-school students. They were so respectful, excited and thoroughly participated in our activity. From our experience, prizes are the best way to maintain order during a learning activity. The pre-schoolers were an absolute pleasure to work with.

Due to the low funding provided to the school, the students do not have access to clean water, a functional plumbing system in their lavatories nor do they have enough hand-soap for the students. We ended up donating bars of antibacterial hand soap to go along with our presentations. Although our efforts appear small compared to the larger issues at hand, our group was content with the fact that the students learned a skill that they hadn’t before. After our presentations, the students were equipped with the basic knowledge they needed to be healthy and safe in their hygienic practices.

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Pre-school students of Xetonox in a state of elation after receiving new backpacks.  

1:00 pm rolled around soon enough and the kids were off of school. They walked in groups alongside a dirt path as their parents peeped out of the windows beckoning them to get out of the relentless rain. Mothers were brushing their luscious black hair with a toddler wrapped around their back. Back home in California, even if it drizzles us Americans have a tendency to complain about getting wet. Walking the kids home that day, many of the little boys didn’t even have shoes. Their tiny feet splashed through each muddy puddle as they skipped on home. Not once did I hear them complain. Not once did I see a frown across their face. They were making the most of that moment – something I’m learning how to do.

 

Around 2:00 p.m. we met with plantation owners Victor and Fernando. These two gentlemen were kind enough to show us their land and discuss the types of crops they grow. The really neat part was that the plantations completely surrounded the school we were working at. Towards the front entrance and scaling up the mountain were tall corn crops, while on the backside of the school were strawberry fields, small & large carrot fields, cabbage patches and a plethora of potatoes. Greenery extended for miles. The main source of water flooded beneath the cliffs in the local river and made its way up the irrigation system put in place by the farmers. The plantation visit was a dream come true for a vegetarian (aspiring vegan) like myself. I even got to pluck out a carrot from the field and take it back with me. The raw carrot had a fresh but slightly bitter taste – maybe I shouldve throuhougly washed it before I delved in to take a bite.

Quick Facts – Plantation Visit 

  • Land used for plantations are measured by “querdas”
  • The typical rent for a patch of land is about 1400 Quetzales
  • Roughly 700 Quetzales for the entire year
  • After planting the strawberries, it takes 3 months to get the large berries ready to sell at the local market
  • Plantation owners usually sell their crops on the market or to middlemen known as “coyotes.”
  • If you were to buy 1 lb of strawberries at the market it would cost you roughly 0.20 cents.
  • Each strawberry plant produces 5 lbs of strawberries during the production season. The farmers have 5,000 plants which multiplied by 5 lbs per plant equals a growth of 25,000 strawberries per season.
  • Although the farmers shield the strawberry plants with trash bags, the animals that they have to beware of are worms, ticks and mini spiders.
  • Carrot plants are irrigated with water from the river.
  • Most of the time, the main source of water comes from the heavy rainfall that Guatemala is accustomed to.
  • Carrot plants have 2 main seasons
    • Large carrot = 4 months to grow
    • Smaller carrots = 2 months & 20 days
  • Potatoes – each plant gives you about 6-17 potatoes
  • 1 lb of potatoes = 1 Q = 0.1363 (roughly 14 cents!!)
  • A typical day for a farmer in Guatemala starts at 7:30 in the morning and ends at 4:30 in the afternoon. For 9 hours of strenuos labor, farmers make anywhere from 40 – 60 Quetzales a day which equates to ($5.45 – $8.17 a day)!
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Plantation owners – Victor & Fernando 

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“Look! I’m just as tall as the corn crops!”

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Call me Bugs Bunny – freshly picked large carrot, mhmm delicious!

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Endless fields of emerald beauty

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Strawberry plantations behind Xetonox school. 

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Looking beyond the cliffs at the potato plantations.                         

 

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One of the students we walked home that afternoon had a pet pig roaming around their yard. Their mother was kind enough to invite us in so we can take this picture. Look at how cute he is. 🙂

That concludes our 3rd and 4th day in Guatemala. Our time here has felt infinite. Our memories irreplaceable. Our impact, profound!

Join me again on the next blog where I plan to write about the after effects that the civil war had on Guatemalans, describe my 1st tortilla making experience while visiting a Mayan household, as well as touch on the gruesome topic of immigration.

I look forward to talking to you soon! Take Care.

Mucho Amor,

Ashna

XOXO