After a peaceful night’s sleep at the Pavorotti School, established by Rigoberta Menchu in the late 90’s we were served breakfast on the patio, in bright sunshine overlooking beautiful Lake Atitlan.
Our morning started with an exercise placing ourselves in a Guatemalan family atmosphere. After dividing into four families, we walked to the San Lucas Toliman market with the task, to buy food supplies with 15 quetzales (approx. $2.50). This was the regular market day with several very narrow streets packed with many varieties of vegetables, fruit, fish and neats brought into town from the rural areas. As we returned to our lodgings with our meager supply of rice, beans, corn flour and a vegetable or two and no beneficial protein, it was quite apparent that 15 quetzales was not sufficient.
The second exercise required is to prepare and balance a yearly budget for a family of seven children and two adults. Their total income was Q4160 per year, but they would need Q9789 per year to pay all food, medicine and school costs. Our conclusion was that only one child would go to school, a great reduction in food staples and very little left for emergency medication.
The reality of the Department of Solola in which San Lucas Toliman is located has one of the highest poverty rates in Guatemala. Generally food takes up 80% of family income, mostly because people do not own land to grow a small sustainable crop.
Then within group discussion we tried to brain storm ideas of where to find more income as a family:
- father going away to work
- the family selling crafts, domestic servants etc.
- It is truly an unending circle that keeps them in constant poverty.
Early afternoon, all 13 of us climbed on board a pick-up truck to IMAP located in the community of Pachitulul, a short distance from town overlooking Lake Atitlan. IMAP: the Meso American Permaculture Institute works to promote and foster biological and cultural diversity, through permaculture design and practice. They work directly with communities and organizations in the region to integrate permaculture into community development for the benefit of families. We were welcomed by Rony Lec Ajcot, social anthropologist and coordinator . This piece of land sustains fifteen families and is the transition of two cultures, Tzutujil and Kaqchikel now emerging into a multi-cultural area.
It is always a route flight and refuge site for Canadian birds coming south.
We broke for lunch in the organization’s dining room, joining a group of farmers participating in one of the hands on workshops provided at this Institute. All drinking water is filtered through through a clay pot system.
As we gathered again in a circle surrounded by a grove of various vegetation, Rony gave us an in depth presentation of meso-american permaculture by regions of the Mayan territories, it’s biological life zone- South Mexico, Chiapas, Yucatan, Guatemala and Honduras. Understanding relationships people and the agriculture of early times is most important. Workout food sovereignty there is no movement forward. We must gain control of our own food safety, growing sucessfully locally and not depend so much on importing. Around this region 80% of land production is in the hands of five fincas.
Here at IMAP, 4 points are stressed- food, production, security and sovereignty.
With ancestral knowledge to grow our own food , seed saving becomes essential. This is a very rich area of diversity and biodiversity in this region of Central America. With water, minerals and petro products, the local area has been taken advantage of. With extraction expanding, they are pushed off that good agricultural land. Rony also touched on the circles of season, planting and harvesting. We need to understand this in order to plant with total success.
The rest of the afternoon was spent walking through the property.
1) many plant species for food and medicinal purposes were planted in spiral form. We learnt that corn is planted for strength abd a full stomach and amaranth is planted for development and intelligence.
2) improved stoves for cooking and cultural practices: a slow burning fire with large sticks give a great hear for the people in a circular gathering. Not all Mayan women are comfortable with the newer ways of better stoves, but improvement of venting smoke does help.
3) the idea of compost toilets and the preventing of ground water contamination this low technology system of disposing of human waste could be very helpful throughout rural communities.
4) the grey water system is known as the banana circle, using kitchen compost and grey water was very impressive.
5) the seed bank is considered great wealth by the Mayan community. The seeds were stored in tin canisters and are always changing from season to season, they are used for replanting or exchange. Fruit seeds have the least life stage.
Because the lake is rising constantly and taking away the shore line where vegetables were planted, a new project was needed. They are transforming this area into aqua-culture. The task is to find a fish species that can survve in a small contained area.
There were many more samples and ideas that Rony shared with us. Time flew and as we walked down to our pick-up truck we were surrounded by the tranquil, peaceful nature of birds singing in the greenery aroma of continuous life circle.
(ed. note: Gregorio Ajcot from IMAP was the special guest for the 2013 BTS AGM. While in the Maritimes, he gave presentations and facilitated permaculture workshops. See: Seeds Are Life).
Tuesday we walked to the Association of I’jatz for supper. This is an organization of women who have been together since 1998. There are five women who form the base of this group; organizing, training and providing nutritional food services- it was formed when a group of coffee growers joined with women and men working together for general equality- mothers, sisters and daughters working together in training activities, for women’s rights, confidence building and empowerment. Providing this food service is keeping their organization afloat while helping with family income. They were able to contribute Q1300 to help build the beautiful sturdy quanset that was the dining area. The other new project they were proud to share is a network of tourism. They formed a small company called “Cultural and Natural Adventures” providing trips to coffee plantations, hiking the volcanoes around Lake Atitlan etc.
These ladies show so much perseverance and support of one another, but as we left for the evening, they conveyed that as they quietly go about their work the community does not always recognize their contribution. But as we said goodbye to these wonderful five women in their beautiful colourful guipiles and cortes there was one more round of hugs and good wishes. It was indeed a very memorable day.