Posts Tagged With: Cunen

Short Stories from Guatemala.

Okay, I’m in Haiti now with Heifer International, on Month #2 of my 12-countries-in-12-months journey, and I know I have to let go and stop writing about Guatemala, my Month #1 country. (I’m pretty sure I’m going to have this same separation anxiety as I stop writing about each one of these countries, so I’m apologizing in advance for the emotional foot-dragging.)

To make this a proper goodbye, here are some of my favorite images of Guatemala– and the story behind each one of them.  This cool gent was walking down the road in Cunen, a small farming town outside Coban, Guatemala. His shirt was immaculately white, his hat was worn at a rakish angle, his bag was jaunty, and he wore his pants so elegantly, I think he’d give Andre 3000 a run for his money, sartorially speaking. (But he was missing his two front teeth.)

We were in the high mountain village of Quilinco and turned the corner to see Escolastica Lache up to her elbows in a washbasin, scrubbing away — while directly in front of her were two gigantic cable TV dishes. She had a beautiful smile that knew nothing of irony – and of course, who can resist somebody who dresses up this fancy to do the laundry?Tortillas, tortillas everywhere … at every meal. In every basket. Guatemalans eat them morning, noon and night. They’re brought in to the table, warm and fragrant, in gigantic stacks that go so far beyond carb loading, it’s ridiculous.

Toyota really needs to make a commercial featuring Heifer’s use of their trucks. We drove up the steepest hill you can imagine with 20 people (and a sheep) in the vehicle. Now that’s a payload.

The ceiba is the tree of Guatemala, and it is grand. We saw it growing in Ixcan amidst an empty corn field and you can see it for miles, its trunk stitched straight as a seam against the sky.In Quilinco, Heifer beneficiaries Juan & Anastasia grow 2000 cauliflower plants on their land. They make about $800 on the whole crop, because they sell it before it’s planted to a Canadian distributor who gives them the seed and fertilizer and guarantees their price. In the field, Juan unwrapped the green tendrils around the almost-ripe cauliflower to show it to me, then carefully wrapped the leaves back up in a big protective bow.

Sometimes you are standing in a place you’ve never been, and your eye falls on something that just delights you beyond expression…. like this bed, bath & beyond in the cloud forests of Alta Verapaz. And of course, in every nook and cranny of the world, ninos siempre ninos.

Hasta luego, Guatemala!

Categories: Agriculture, Guatemala, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Animal magnetism in Happy Valley.

After the dust and dryness of Ixcan, it was pure pleasure to arrive in Cunen, a verdant valley in El Quiche, Guatemala where Heifer International has had a project since 2006. (Not only because Cunen is beautiful, but also because it meant we could get out of the car we’d been bouncing around in for 4 hours).

The inimitable, devoted Maria Cruz.

The Cunen project is the work of 3 local organizations with Heifer, and there to greet us was Maria Cruz, a lovely 36-year old Mayan woman who has been the Heifer technician, animal-whisperer, and trainer in this area for 10 years. Although the Cunen project has been “weaned” and is on a maintenance schedule, Maria still travels here once a month by bus to check on the animals, answer questions, and visit the homes of Heifer’s beneficiaries – of which there are 36 in this town (and over 500 in the project). In fact, she is so devoted to her work that when she was temporarily laid off due to a cutback in Heifer donations, as a result of our economic downturn (hint, hint), she still took day and night calls about animal fevers and diarrhea from the four villages she works in. Apparently, having animals is about as time-consuming and worrying as having children (except they’re more grateful and don’t talk back).

Don Serbando

Don Manuel

In Cunen, even after the Heifer project has ended, the gift still keeps on giving. The cow above was received by Don Serbando Vasquez, director of the local association, and had a female baby that was passed on to Don Manuel Vasquez (whose 7 children grew up drinking its milk), and that female just gave birth to the cutie-pie new baby above. Cows live for 15-18 years and will have 5-7 offspring in their 13 years of fertility, so Cunen will see several more new generations of Heifer heifers—each of which will benefit a new family. As we walked from farm to farm, we jumped over creeks bubbling down from the surrounding mountains, bringing plentiful water to the fields that were everywhere springing to life with alfalfa, beans, snow peas, onions, oats, snap peas, corn, and napia grass. Lemon, orange, papaya, avocado and lime trees grew in orchards, and sheep and goats happily munched on forage crops in the tidy Heifer sheds Maria had taught the farmers to build.

Under-goat sheds' poop & urine collector -- how clever!

These sheds allow the farmers to efficiently collect the animals’ manure and urine – so they can make rich compost for their fields. Heifer trainings promote organic farming to liberate farmers from having to buy expensive, often dangerous chemicals and to protect the environment. Basic composting is enhanced with the help of some crazy California red worms that eat through the manure like Pac-Men, reproduce like rabbits, and are also passed along with the gift of an animal to a new family.

Speaking of rabbits, the Cunen families we visited also had plentiful pens of rabbits. These bunnies, like all the animals from Heifer, were bigger, better breeds that are chosen to improve the local stock, generation after generation. And because rabbits have 5-7 babies each litter and can have 7 pregnancies a year (yep, that’s 50 babies annually!) … that’s a lot of improvement really fast.

I'm fertile.. are you?

Andrea Canto-Camaha, Cunen farmer.

The people of Cunen were so likeable, friendly and eager to share their stories with us, it was hard to leave. Don Serbando gave us a parting speech, which he asked me to share with you:

We are very grateful to the Heifer donors. We know how much we have been helped and we don’t take it for granted. Because of the gifts you have given us, our children will grow up healthy and smart. We are living the Heifer dream.

It’s a dream that involves never-ending work and a boatload of struggle, but they have water. And animals. And hope.

It’s a happy valley.

Categories: Animals, Guatemala, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Hola, amigos …Aqui estoy!

Wish you were here, too!

Guatemala is a beautiful country – incredibly mountainous, over 60% indigenous, and poor in everything but spirit.In the past three days, I’ve seen Heifer projects working to stop deforestation of the rainforest, find better ways of growing maize for these “people of the corn,” and seen the transformative power of animals in a community.

But since I’m working like a true Heifer person (or like the campesinos they work for), I’m on the road at 7 am and not back until about 10 p.m., and I haven’t had time to stop and write.Today I’m going to the countryside outside Huehuetenango, and spending the night with a family in a seed bank project… yippee!I’ll be writing my stories this weekend in the lake area of Atitlan.  Until then, here’s a small photographic taste of Guatemala.¡Buen apetito!

Categories: Guatemala, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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