A Photographer in Central America
Part 1

I had the absolute pleasure of traveling with CAUSE Canada interns photographing their current project of women empowerment through literacy and leadership classes.

Upon arriving in Guatemala I was greeted by the CAUSE Canada interns and representative at the airport and so began a seven hour cross-country adventure from Guatemala City to Huehuetenango (pronounced Way-way-ten-ango and more fondly referred to simply as Huehue). Being an enthusiastic road tripper the prospect of such a long car ride wasn’t too bad. So began my first experience of transportation Guatemala style.

To give you the best description of Guatemalan roads let me start by giving you some basic math. The driving distance between Guatemala City and Huehue is about 260km. As mentioned, the time to cover said distance is seven hours. So take 260km and divide it by seven hours and this will give you an average velocity of 37.14km/h. Yes. 37.14 (I hold on dearly to this point one four) clicks. We crawled from the capital to Huehue. The bumpy-caked-in-with-fog-while-passing-chicken-buses-on-blind-corners-while-going-through-police-checkstops ride was a good taster of what was to come. While traveling to the more remote towns to attend leadership and literacy classes I became quite accustom to my head ricocheting of the Mitsubishi’s windows. Anywhere else it might hurt right?

Unfortunately I can not even begin to describe (or even find a sampling of) the barrage of merengue and mariachi on the radio – my deepest apologies that you miss this integral part of Guatemalan transportation.

The second mode of transportation is the infamous chicken bus, locally known as a ‘camioneta’. In every town there is guaranteed to be a lineup of brilliantly painted old American school and transit buses with lights flashing and the most ridiculous horns you have ever heard blaring.  For approximately $1.25 for an hour of travel you can go practically anywhere. Now, you are not simply paying for the trip but also the experience – which makes it so worthwhile. At the bus stations vendors will flood onto the bus offering all types of delicacies or health products, and individuals may come on to beg for money. One particular man scrambled onto the bus just as it left the terminal and started to give a rather lengthy speech. With my rudimentary Spanish I understood little of what he was saying and eventually just started to watch Xela go by outside my window. Several minutes later I turned my attention towards the front of the bus just as he lifted his shirt followed by a rather large piece of gauze and lo-and-behold – intestine! I now wish I had paid more attention to what was being said.  Only on a chicken bus!

Now for the true reason of what took me down to the country of Guatemala. CAUSE Canada has been working in the western highland regions of Guatemala for over 20 years empowering and improving the lives of the indigenous people through water and health, forestry and more recently microcredit and women empowerment programs. Primarily operating within the departments of San Marcos and Huehuetenango, Mam women are given the tools to establish small businesses and become leaders within their communities and to their children.

More images to come in a later blog post.

A second class in the region offered loans of Q500 (about $70) to the local women to grow their businesses.  Several of the women also helped to grow their huipil weaving businesses. The huipil, or blouse, worn by indigenous Mayan women in Guatemala vary by region. Even between aldeas thirty minutes apart there may be a different style, colour or pattern. One huipil may take up to two months to make with skilled hands working three hours a day.One of the primary businesses that the women had started in the department of Huehuetenango was potato farms. The money was primarily used to buy fertilizer and seeds and the potatoes were then taken into the larger towns such as Quetzaltenango to be sold.

In the first literacy class we attended in Chemal there were three older children who were quite enamoured with the idea of having their photo taken. Upon asking their names it was learnt the girl was Reina, her twin brother, Samuel (aged 8), and the younger boy’s name was Aldolfo. When further inquired about the youngest girl’s name, Reina just looked at us and shurgged saying in the most exasperated tone, “who knows!”. So here are Reina, Samuel, Aldolfo and Who Knows.

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