Monday, May 31, 2010

what happened while i was gone?

for the last week and a half i was in chiapas, mexico. during that time volcán pacaya erupted, a hurricane hit, towns were flooded, mudslides slid, roads were demolished, some people have gone missing and some have died.
yesterday morning i left san cristobal de las casas for xela. the trip usually takes 6 hours or so but yesterday it was about 12 hours before i arrived. the highway was wiped out in some places and in others it was covered with mud and debris. arriving to xela was no less comforting. it was somewhat of a ghost town. several streets were blocked off and big plies of pavement and mud lay on the corners and the streetsides. many homes have been flooded and 5 people in xela alone have been found dead.
my flight is scheduled to leave next wednesday from guatemala city. i think things should be cleared up there by then. currently no flights are coming or going due to the ash from the volcano and the heavy rains. traveling around the country is a bit more difficult now so i am gonna spend this next week in xela and take another round of classes at the language school to get in the last bits of grammar i have yet to learn. i am also going to volunteer at a local women´s weaving collective and refresh my tejer skills. making the best of it.
so in case you were worried, im alright, just slightly stranded for the time being.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Some time with the Zapatistas

I came to san Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, about 10 days ago just to spend a few days and renew my visa for Guatemala. But life has a way of opening doors one never even knew existed. I met some folks at my hostel who invited me to a benefit documentary/music show for the people of Copala, Oaxaca. If you arent familiar with the situation there you can check out and these websites are in Spanish but they might be available in English too. In short, the community of Copala is occupied by Mexican military for trying to govern themselves and create an autonomous community similar to the Zapatistas. There are kidnappings, interrogations and killings. Recently there have been solidarity caravans (similar to 'freedom rides') of activists to the comunity. Several of these activists have been kidnapped and two journalists from the Mexican magazine Contralinea have been killed by the Mexican military. This benefit show was a way of showing support and raising money for the people of Copala.
At the show I met the small but inspiring activist community of San Cristobal. I also met a Spanish nurse named Marc. Marc had come to Chiapas to help in the health clinics of the nearby Zapatista communities. I told him what I have been doing and he invited me to come along to help with the women's health promoters in the community.
Last Sunday Marc and I went up into the mountains to the Zapatista community called O`ventik. We arrived arounf 11am and went up to the gaurd post at the gated entrance to the community. Three men in black Zapatista masks greeted us and asked us why we were there and what our intentions were. They took our passports and went into a little house nearby to talk with the people in the community who are in charge of who can enter and leave the community. We waited a good 2 hours outside the gate to recieve the verdict. During that time we sat in the shade of a tree and taught eachother trabalenguas, tongue twisters, from our respective languages.
We were granted permission to enter and meet with the Junta, the local governing group. We waited another hour or so outside the building where the Junta meets before we were asked to come in a sit down on a bench in from of a table where the Junta was seated. Men and woman comprised the Junta, all with thier faces covered with either black beenie-maskes or red bandanas. They asked us again why we were there and what we wanted to do in the community. Marc told them about his past experiences working in other Zapatista health clinics and that we wanted to stay and help out in the clinic there for a week. They told us to come back the next day and they would tell us what they had decided.
The next day we returned to O'ventik. We met with the Junta again after being screened once more at the entrance of the community. They granted us permission and actually welcomed us into the community for a week.
We were brought to the clinic/hospital where we were introduced to the coordinator of the clinic. She is a young woman with soft, bright eyes and she welcomed us warmly and told us a little bit about the place. The clinic there serves as a local clinic, like in other communities, but also serves as the main hospital for all of the other Zapatista communities. They have three ambulances to transport people to and from the hospital and to handle emergencies. This clinic is also where the health promoters from the othe communities come to get trained. A group of about 30 people come to study and working the hospital 10 days out of every month. They were studying during our time there.
We gave ourselves a mini-tour of the clinic while the coordinator went back to work. We waited a few more hours for her to return and show us to where we would stay. In the meantime we played cards and were invited to eat with the community in a communal kitchen/cafeteria. At the meal we met a Mexican public health doctor from Veracruz who is living there with his wife for a year. We also met a Spanish Pediatrician named Icko who had been working in O'ventik for 6 months and had just returned from a little travel break.
After the meal Marc, Icko and I were shown to our rooms in the upstairs dorms of the clinic where the students were staying. It was early evening now and we went down to the hospital to participate in the shift-change meeting to get the low down on the patients who were being treated there and meet the promotores.
The next days we observed and participated in the genral consultations of the clinic. I also spent a lot of time in the gynecology room helping with family planning and prenatal visits. It was strange to work in a more medical environment after so many month working in homes. I had the opportunity to apply some of the things I had learned from Eulalia there in the clinic such as the uses of some herbs and prenatal massage for different types of pregnancy discomforts.
I am back in San Cristobal now and I still can't believe what I have been doing with myself the last week. It was a really wonderful experience to be able to participate in such a strong community of people, to contribute and to learn. I have long been an admirer of the Zapatistas and their values of freedom, land, preservation of culture, and autonomy but now my admiration goes a lot deeper.
Tomorrow or Monday I will return to Guatemala. More to come soon...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

change of tune

on thursday i left calderas for xela. things got a bit rough in the last week or so. im not sure how it happenend but over time i was being included less and less in the pre-natal, postpardum and labor visits and then i was left out of two births altogether.
seeing as that was why i was there (and paying to be there) i had a talk with eulalia and the director of the program and decided to leave 2 weeks early.
we had a few heart-to-heart conversations and there were no hard feelings. i guess it was just time to move on. i have been sick with a cold-like, head-compression, moco-drippin something for over a week now and still got some lively activity goin on downstairs so it is nice to just chill in one of my favorite cities and take care of myself.
ive got a few more weeks before my departure and a visa to renew. im not sure what my itinerary will look like but a trip to mexico will definatley be on it. i have decided to stay in xela until i get well again and then have some more adventures.
thats just about all for now...stay tuned.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gringo time

About a week and a half ago Eulalia told me she was going to go to the Centro de Saludin Itzapa to pick up some papers. I remembered that I had some friend from the language school in Xela that were volunteering at a bike/bike-machine shop called Maya Pedal. I went with her to Itzapa, asked a traffic officer where the bike workshop was and surprised my buddies. I surprised myself too. I was buzzing with excitement and minor symptoms of culture shock. All of a sudden I was eating vegetarian food, listening to classic rock, playing with bikes and speaking slag-ful English. But it was oh so good for me to have some friends.
I spent the whole day there and we planned a weekend together in Antigua set to take place the following weekend.
It was my friend Antonio's birthday on Friday so we all met up on Thursday evening at a favorite little guesthouse called Casa de la Estella. We ate delicious pupusas, drank some beer and just enjoyed each others' company. Nick and Sarah (some great new friends from NC) were heading to Honduras Saturday and invited me to come along. The bus fare was $7 and the ride was only 5 hours so I figured, why not go to Honduras for a day?
We left at 4am Saturday morning and arrived before noon. It was hotter than Hades and we were a little dazed from lack of sleep and sluggish from the heat. We found a cheap place to stay and walked by a plaza filled with white cowboy hats attending a May Day celebration. We mostly just napped and chatted and then I left the next morning and returned to Calderas.
I was in serious need of friend and freedom time but in some ways it made going back to slop-paced country life without friends real hard. But it was worth it.


Hey folks and friends. I have found myself here in Antigua with a lot of time to spare while waiting for fecal exam results. I may have parasites. Don't worry its not like before, no dehydrating rear end explosions, just a consistent dull abdominal pain and some serious gas. I thought I would be safe and get checked out while I'm here and medical care is real cheap-free.

On the lighter side, I have some time to blog. A suppose a lot has happened since I last wrote words on the blog. There have been a total of 6 births in Calderas since I have arrived. Unfortunately, 3 of those 6 ended up with cesareans in the hospital. I has been challenging at times to have differing opinions about the birth process than Eulalia. Two of the three sections, in my mind, were relatively normal births that were just taking a long time. I think that I would have probably been less upset about these decisions to go to the hospital if the situation at the public hospital were different. The women are not allowed to have anyone with them and, if it is not an "emergency" (which can be disputable), all laboring women wait for a bed in one big waiting room together with only plastic or metal chairs to sit it. On average women wait 12-24 hours to get seen or to get operated on. During this time there is not sufficient staff to attend to them. One of the women told us later that she was waiting next to a woman whose baby had died inside of her 3 days earlier and she was waiting to get it taken out of her. This same woman received a tubal ligation after her c-section and I don't this I have ever seen such a poor suture job. The sutures were incomplete and sloppy and a piece of pink flesh was protruding from there the incision was not closed all the way. The incision itself was 10-12 inches long which is completely unnecessary for either procedure. This would have been a easy-win medical malpractice suit in the states but here if you are poor and a woman, you have no rights. That's all I will rant on that topic.

I have had a lot of down-time...a whole lot of it. As I have previously posted, I have been playing guitar and tejiendo (weaving) but there are some days I get some serious cabin fever. I guess babies aren't born everyday in a rural mountain community and there isn't much I can do about it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

music time in calderas

Abramcito on the guitar

La Banda

Badass Loncho

I have bought a guitar to pass the time. It has become my new best friend. I've been learning how to play songs I love and having jam sessions with the kids. Here are some photos from music time.