Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Thursday, August 2, 2018

16 Days in Guate

Antigua Guatemala from above
Marco and I are repeat visitors to Guatemala because of our commitment to Cooperative for Education, a visionary NGO working in education.  We just got back, and I have a few stories to tell.

Antigua Door Knocker Project
If we can swing it, we build a week of language school into our trips there.  We love a school called San Jose El Viejo in Antigua.  Typically we have a morning walk, go to school for four hours, and then have the afternoon free to sightsee, shop, eat, and photograph. I like to have a photo project in mind in this lovely colonial city.  This year I had two; Antigua’s morning commute and, oddly enough, door knockers.  You might want to click to enlarge the poster.  The other one is on the website.

Garden dining at Epicure

We generally have breakfast at the school and one mid-afternoon meal at a restaurant.  This year we decided to try as many new restaurants in Antigua as we could, including Rincon Tipica, a local joint with $3 meals, Luna de Miel (crepes), and San Cristobal El Alto with the best mountain views around and legendary seafood. In all we ate at six places that were new to us.  Still one remains our favorite and we ate there three times.  Epicure is not just a lovely garden eatery with delicious inventive food.  Owner Jon Mellon operates Epicure to train young Guatemalans for work in high-end tourism.  He’s also fundraising for his Fundacion Educa Puebla Viejo in nearby Tecpan.  The foundation supports the community with medical services, trade education, and scholarships. We met Jon several years ago, and it seemed more than mere coincidence that his foundation provides training in furniture building (Marco’s passion) as well as gynecological health services (my previous career).  Jon has invited us to return and volunteer at Pueblo Viejo after our house is built. 

Marco with the Bombera

We have a soft spot for firefighters.  Commonly, Guatemalan firefighters make ends meet by asking for donations on the highways and in tourist areas.  We drop a couple of quetzales (about a quarter) into their cans when we walk by.  We had a little chat with this woman and found that she knows about the Yarnell Hill Fire.  The robust link between firefighters reaches across international borders.

New shoes, new friend

Shopping.  As my friend Heidi says, part of our mission in Guatemala might be supporting the economy.  I save my jewelry repairs for Plateria Maya because the do a quick, inexpensive, excellent job (who says you can’t have all three?) New this year was Jose at Zapateria Armonia (AKA Jose the boot guy).  Heidi introduced me to him, and Marco and I got custom-made (he actually measured our feet) leather boots for about $90 US.  Shopping there was a cool experience.

Marco helping Lola carry the merch

About eight years ago we met Lola through a COED staff member.  We’ve watched Lola mature, start a family and develop into a very savvy businesswoman.  Lola sells crafts and always manages to get on the boat and ride across Lake Atitlan with us.  She used to make amazing beaded belts.  I bought a lot of those and re-sold them as a fundraiser for our program.  We always buy something from her and always ask whether her kids are in school.  They are.

Rosalinda, San Antonio Aguas Calientes
This year Marco and I traveled to nearby San Antonio Aguas Calientes with our Spanish teachers for a sort of field trip. Cities and villages in Guatemala each have their unique style of native dress (traje) and all are intricately hand-woven and/or embroidered. I was excited to go because I particularly like the weaving style there.  It looks rather like needlepoint but is in fact woven.  I knew I was sunk when Rosalinda, one of the weavers in the local cooperative, insisted on dressing me for a traditional Mayan wedding.  After all that, how could I not buy something?  I do love the typical panel I brought home – that’s it over Rosalinda’s shoulder in the photo.

Lovely corner window, Casa Popenoe

Marco going Antiques Roadshow on us, Casa Popenoe
For years I’ve been curious about Casa Popenoe, the home of a United States Expat in Antigua.  Wilson Popenoe was an academic botanist and he also worked for the United Fruit Company.  He purchased the property in stages, beginning in 1930, and renovated it.  The spectacular home is now owned by Universidad Francisco Marroquin.  We so enjoyed our tour with curator Lorena Molina, especially since she let Marco inspect the furniture, looking at the drawer dovetails and secondary woods.  The private tour stretched an extra hour and we all learned so much!

Young reader, La Union Primary School, Tecpan

Beautiful, studious girls, Iximche school Caliaj
Marco with Ingrid, the artist

After this week of rampant tourism, it was lovely to join the COED group and begin our school visits.  These visits are part bureaucratic event, part demonstration (think of having a small group of second graders do a puppet show and then read to you), part cultural dance and best of all, part play time.  The middle school students presented us with original art and the music teacher laughed (kindly) at our inability to coax sound out of a conch shell.  There are lots of reasons to be there, but the cultural exchange is especially powerful.  The whole town turns up, so there’s a chance for everyone to make a new gringo friend, even the adults.

Flor speaking to the group while Howard Lobb (COED) looks on

I’ve written before about the scholarship program, which is now called the Rise Youth Development Program to emphasize the support that kids get beyond the scholarships.  Our first student, Flor, has graduated and continues to do well.  She’s working as a bank teller and essentially supporting her family.  She’ll start university to study engineering in about 18 months.  She gave an impromptu speech to inspire a group of current scholarship students.  The director of the program commented after her talk that she’s a rock star.  We agree; we are so proud and so enjoying our adult relationship with her. 

The gringos, with Wendy and Flor

Our current student’s name is Wendy; she's in eighth grade.  We’re enjoying watching her grow, and hope our encouragement helps a little with her motivation.  She’d like to be a nurse, so there’s a lot ahead of her. There are plenty more students waiting for sponsorship, by the way.

Lavadera and Volcan Agua Reflected, Antigua Guatemala

Yes, I’ll admit that I had more than a few stories.  Thanks for riding along!

More images are in the Summer 2018 Gallery on the website.

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