Of Lightning and Lessons Learned.

March 4, 2011 in blog, Guatemala, North America, Travelogue


Taken after dark on our shore... quite a show.


The lightning show behind Volcan Atitlan and Volcan Tomilan last night was spectacular. We’re often treated to natural fireworks flashing white and orange, illuminating deep purple volcanos in the foreground, as storm fronts pile up behind the mountains as they’re pushed up from the Pacific coast.

Valentine’s Day was the last really good one, but last night’s was far better. There’s something about the raw power, the ability to see the layers of clouds as the sparks arc sideways between thunder heads that reminds me of how very tiny we are, like ants on this massive planet; which, in the grand scheme of the universe, isn’t even that big an orb.

I slept unusually well last night. Perhaps it’s having Tony home for almost a full week now, or perhaps it was the gin and tonic while I beat the guys three games running at cards last night at Fe, or maybe the long dark walk back down the valley from Derek’s cottage where the three of us congregated to celebrate his last night in his casita. Whichever it was, the rest was welcome. I awoke to birds whistling to the sun in the garden and the scent of the fragrant jasmine vine that is littering the side yard with a carpet of white blossoms, worthy of a wedding, drifting through the open door.

Grammy and Gramps and Hannah have set of on an expedition to the mercado in Solola again this morning. Last Friday Gramps wasn’t feeling up to it. This week I’m not feeling up to it. I’ve sorely needed a day to sit at the blue plastic table, soak in the sun and some quiet (okay, quiet is relative around here) and catch up on some long overdue writing.

It’s been an eventful week, beginning with Tony’s return home from the great white north. We’ve spent a full month of the last six weeks apart; very unusual for us. There was great rejoicing when he walked into the garden, laden with two big backpacks full of spices, chocolate chips, jelly beans, special soaps, real toothpaste and a myriad of other little things that we can’t get here and miss from time to time.

We celebrated with a garden party. Jeff and Wendy and the kids came down the valley and brought their grandma with them. Jeff cooked a huge pork loin in his homemade sauce on the grill. Derek joined us and brought rum and fruit. We didn’t have enough forks, but we had plenty of fun watching three year old Darius discover the fireflies, that have arrived with the rains, and the joy of catching them in a jar.


Kickball in the garden with the cyclists


We rented a kayak last week, much to the joy of the children. We’re renting it on a monthly basis and if we can get it fixed, I think it will be a pretty good boat. We didn’t notice that one of the ribs is broken and so when the boys dumped it the slow leak became a faster leak and the weak spot needs to be reinforced before we use it again.

The dump was accidental; they dropped the bailer overboard and all three leaned to the side to retrieve it. One of the big afternoon waves caught the bottom of their boat broadside and rolled them right over. In spite of the fact that they were crying and a little cut up from the sharp place on the fiber-glass when they made it back to the garden (via the road) they were fine and did the right thing: righted their kayak and worked together to swim it to shore, dragged it up into the neighbour’s yard and didn’t even lose the paddles or their emergency whistle. It was a full job for Tony, Derek and I to swim it back the nearly quarter of a mile from the scene of the accident to our yard. Just what I want to do with an afternoon when we’ve got three cyclists coming to dinner!

Yesterday I tracked down the fiber-glass cloth and the sandpaper we need to begin the repairs. I’ll have to visit a boat mechanic in San Pedro to buy the resin and hardener in less than gallon jars. Perhaps tomorrow.


Grammy organizing her stripes on the peg board


The most exciting day of the week, for me, was the day that Imelda finally turned up to begin my weaving lessons. She was three days late. One more day and I was going to begin to worry.

We spent an entire six hours just SETTING UP the loom and the strings. The actual weaving hasn’t even begun in earnest. I’ve always marveled at the cheap textiles in this country. I purchased a blanket big enough for my bed here last year for a paltry thirty American dollars and another this year for slightly less. I purchased a wrap from Imelda last week and paid thirty-five, thinking it a bit pricey, but happy to support someone I know in the village.

Ha. My new policy: whatever they’re asking for their weavings, pay double, and it still won’t even TOUCH the value of the time and talent involved. The six hours we’ve worked on just setting up the loom to weave a narrow wrap is worth more than $35USD, and the “work” hasn’t even begun.


Imelda and Maria getting me started


The more we travel, the more we learn, the more we work with people, the more difficult it becomes for us to buy cheap goods at home with a clear conscience. Increasingly we become aware that at the other end of that three dollar t-shirt, or the four dollar pound of coffee, or the five dollar bottle of olive oil, or the ten dollar blanket that’s been shipped half way around the world to the discount store in the western world is an exploited person. That’s easy to ignore when you haven’t been asked with an open hand for “money to buy tortillas for my children.”

I know there are two sides to the story. Some people can’t help but buy the cheap shoes or shop the warehouse style discount stores stocked on the backs of the third world. It’s the best they can do for their families. I’m not trying to sound self-righteous. I get that there’s no simple solution and I get that there are children on both ends of the chain whose needs matter. I just think that we (our little family, and “we” collectively) could do better and I’m increasingly challenged on this front. Imelda is adding another layer to my education in this respect, and I’m grateful to her for it.

The weather today is perfect. I’m enjoying the quiet. Little Ocean (3 yrs) and her parents stopped by for a quick play in the garden, as did the three ladies who are hoping to rent the cottage being built behind us. They were supposed to be in it last week… there are still no windows or electricity. The boys are headed into town to photocopy the fliers for Hannah’s gig at Il Giordano with her violin tomorrow night. Tony is happily drowning in more work than he’s had in six months and I’m looking at the calendar, realizing that in six short weeks we’ll be on a plane headed north, as I contemplate what’s “next.”

P.S. Somewhere in there we also had a lovely day in Santiago… if a picture’s worth a thousand words, how ’bout a handful:


Riding on top of the boat between San Pedro & Santiago



Elisha in the church in Santiago



The traditional huipile colours in Santiago are purples... can you tell?!



The square & Volcan San Pedro from the top of the church steps



On the cathedral steps