A Travellerspoint blog

La Loma

A Highland Community designs their future

semi-overcast 70 °F


When a small group of members from both PAVA Guatemala and PAVA Foundation headed up to the La Loma community on Saturday we were hoping to just get a look at the proposed site of the new PAVA Community Library and meet a few members of the COCODE which translates to Community Development Council. With Axel Parades, our volunteer architect in tow, we made it to the village around 10:30 am. I should not have been surprised to be welcomed by 13 or 14 villagers and the COCODE. They showed us to the current temporary library, which is a building owned by one of the villagers and on loan to the COCODE for the library. The room with the books is tiny perhaps 6 feet by 10 feet and it's filled with library books, a computer, a television and all the materials used for early childhood stimulation. Somehow they've managed to fit a chair in there too. The room sits in the middle of the building with flanked by two open air rooms for the children to use as reading rooms or for promoters to use for story time and early childhood stimulation. It is a start, but it is far from perfect. Even with four walls and a ceiling, the elements still manage to get in and in inclement weather, reading and other programs are suspended in the open ended rooms.


We drove a little further up the road past the school PAVA helped build two years ago to a property that is owned by the community and spans across the road. As we discussed where they'd like the library to be built the leaders told us that they were in communication with a lady that owns the property behind the community land on the right side of the road. They expressed a preference of having the library built there so they can have space to build a separate community center to the left of the library and a large playground across the road.

This young community has clear vision of how they want their village to look. I say it is a young community because Barbara encouraged them to tell us their story. They explained that all the young men used to go 45 minutes to an hour over an adjacent hill top and across a river to go to school. They were all part of a larger community. But the traveling was dangerous. As new families were forming one of the elders, Don Thomas asked about building a school in their community. The community was not a sanctioned official community in the eyes of the state. PAVA encouraged them to file paperwork to ensure they were an official community. They did so and received status as their own village with 33 families. After being incorporated as "La Loma" they proceeded to receive assistance from PAVA to build their school a three classroom building, hand washing stations and bathrooms. They also solicited SHARE Guatemala for the building of a kitchen. The community is very active and has a clear understanding of what they want in their village. It is a "dry village" in that they have banned the making and selling of alcohol within the village. They saw how productivity goes down with alcohol and how family violence goes up with it. So as a social decision, there is no alcohol there.


After reviewing what land they were talking about Axel asked about getting a drawing of the land. Fortunately, Dennis had though ahead and brought a 20 meter tape measure. The villagers were eager to help and Axel drew out a quick sketch of the property which he'll used to create a pretty accurate rendering of the land with the options for the building. I took a photo of his sketch brought it back to the house and used Photoshop to get a feel for what they were talking about. I look forward to see the architect's plans. I am so grateful that he is once again volunteering his services with this project. We know wee need to make changes to his original design, but I love that he is so creative.


Here is a photo of the completed library in Paxixil using Axel's design. It is quite innovative in that it uses panels made of bamboo that pivot in the center to open up for the doors. The library has been in operation for a few months now.

Posted by Aeren 02:23 Archived in Guatemala Tagged pava libraries Comments (0)

Books...-click-a world opens

PAVA Community Libraries opening the world

sunny 72 °F


Brad Kessler, Author of The Art of Making Cheese was once quoted as saying that, “A book is like a key that fits into the tumbler of the soul. The two parts have to match in order for each to unlock. Then—click—a world opens.” Books are the keys to the outside world, everyone seems to know this and I think that's one reason why Andrew Carnegie funded so many libraries around the world. PAVA, the organization I've been volunteering with for years, has been shifting towards building community libraries and developing early childhood programs at the libraries to marry them up with the schools.

One of the things I wanted to accomplish while I was here in Guatemala was to be of help to the local office of PAVA. I wasn't sure what kind of help they needed but it became very apparent once I arrived that the cataloging of donated books was going to be one of my projects. I found it funny because when I as in High School at Holy Family Academy in Chicago I volunteered to be part of the library club. Yes, there really was a club for a few of us nerds who loved to read called the "library club". I seem to recall there were only a few of us involved. But I got to learn a lot about books including repairing and how to categorize them using the Dewey Decimal System, going so far as to develop the call numbers. Of course the best part of the club was that we got to read the new books even before anyone else got to them. Forgive my digression here as I include a small tale of high school woe.

One day a book arrived in the library called "Love Story" by Eric Segal. It had been released the year before, had been on the New York Times best seller's list for some time and our librarian decided to add it to our collection. I immediately got a hold of it and began to read it. Later in the day I entered my algebra class where the teacher, who was an older nun, saw the book on my desk and became very upset. She swiped her hand over my desk knocking the books to the ground and as I stood up to ask what was going on she slapped me in the face. I was mortified as she continued to berate me and say, "How dare you bring that filth into my classroom!" I didn't even have a chance to explain that it was from our own library, she ordered me to the principal's office, which, at that point was actually a relief. I walked into the principal's office in tears and I explained to Sister Barbara what had happened. She wasn't very happy with the story and called the errant nun to the office and told her she should apologize. She did reluctantly and complained that the book shouldn't be allowed in school. To which Sister Barbara said, "Have you read it?" and the reply came back, "No, but I read a review where the young man in the story disobeys his father says some bad words in it." Sister Barbara then said, well I think that when she's done reading the book you should read it too before you pass judgement. I was proud of Sister Barbara, but even to this day I'm sad that this is one of the strongest memories I have of high school.


Now back to Guatemala. PAVA has asked me if I wouldn't mind categorizing books for their libraries. I worried at first I was going to have to pull all those old numbers from my head and the internet. I worried about doing a good job, but I shouldn't have worried so much. They have devised what I can only describe as a simplified Dewey Decimal System. They only use the hundred numbers (000, 100, 200, 300, etc) followed by the first three letter of the last name of the author and a color code above the written code. The system is simple but efficient. These are simple libraries and the system needs to be the same for all if they want to move materials between the libraries. So every day after my run I've been returning to the house and categorizing another box of books. I hope I get this group all done before my friend arrives back from New York, but if not at least I know she's the one who picked out the summer dinning room for me to use!

Posted by Aeren 14:15 Archived in Guatemala Tagged volunteering Comments (0)

Jesus, Saints, and Angels oh my!

Wandering through shops, churches, and museums

sunny 75 °F

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How many churches and museums are there in Antigua? Too many to see in a couple if days! I run past several every day. They're not always open and services are held at various times during the day, but I find that if they are open everyone is welcomed. Many churches have restrictions about photography and video so I can't always take photos inside but it's OK to take pictures of the grounds.

I visited La Catedral, San Francisco, Casa Santo Domingo and along the way saw the staging area for Holy Week. It never ceases to amaze the amount of gold leaf that covers the wooden carvings on the altars and side chapels. The priests of the colonial era knew how to venerate in style. Everywhere I go there are statues, big and small, icons and images, saints and devils some in museums, some in homes, some in stores. And in an odd way, it's all alright. They fit here.

At the Cathedral which is located on the Parque Central [Central Park] there are some amazing statutes that date back to the 16th and 17th century.

Walking down the famous street with the arch and clock in Antigua there's an area churches use for staging their floats for the processions on Holy Week. I was able to put my camera through the wrought iron gates to get a few shots.
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Rather than go into La Merced, which would have been my next stop, I kept walking until I reached Casa Santo Domingo. As I've mentioned before, it is a favorite stop of mine, I love all the statues they have on display throughout the common areas. As I've mentioned before, it is a favorite stop of mine, I love all the statues they have on display throughout the common areas. It is quite expensive to have a meal there, but having an appetizer and a drink at the lounge is reasonable and provides nice ambiance. There is no cost to walking around and enjoying the grounds except if you want to go the museum at the back of the property. I found that if you come after 6:00 pm you can wander the grounds without paying a fee at the museum. It still provides some beautiful photography, although I did not go back today. Some other nice items to see are the fountains and macaws.

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My final stop on this day's wandering was the San Francisco Church. It was more spectacular than I imagined. Its claim to fame is that it is the place of internment of Brother Pedro de San Jose Betancur. Hermano Santo Pedro was born in March 19, 1627 in the Canary Islands. The story goes he decided to come to Guatemala in hopes of finding a relative that was working with the government here. He ran out of money in is journey and had to work in Havana, Cuba to get enough passage to make it to Guatemala. One version of the story goes that he was let off in Honduras sick and left to die but recovered and walked to Antigua, another version simply says that he made it to Guatemala City, but left destitute and sick he joined the bread lines of the Franciscan Order. He enrolled in the local seminary (Jesuit College of San Borgia) hoping to become a priest, but he could not master the materials and soon left. He eventually became a Franciscan tertiary (third order) in the convent of Costa Rica in Antigua Guatemala where he took the name of "Peter of Saint Joseph." He visited the sick, poor, homeless and started the first hospital in Antigua. He wrote devotionals and a rule that became the foundation of a new order called la Orden de los Bethlemitas y de las Bethlemitas, subsequently recognized and approved by the Holy See. He died in Antigua in April 25, 1667. He was beatified on June 22, 1980 and was canonized on July 30, 2002 by Pope John Paul II. A plaque near his tomb in the San Francisco Church quotes Pope John Paul II calling "Hermano Pedro" the "first Canarian and Guatemalan saint."


The church at San Francisco actually doesn't allow photography inside. I didn't realize that until after I took the photo of the altar, so I don't have any other photos of the inside which was quite lovely. I found the altar interesting because of all the layers of statues. It's difficult to see in this photo, but the statue at the bottom window shows Jesus carrying his cross, the one above him is a statue of Jesus with his right arm bent at the elbow and his hand in a blessing with his index and next finger in a kind of peace sign. The third window from the bottom could be Jesus again in heaven or it could be a representation of God with a staff that looks like a tree. The top window seems to be the angel Gabriel with wings extended and a lance in his hand.


The cross on the left sits outside in the main courtyard of the San Francisco Church. It caught my attention by the way it told of Jesus' Crucifixion through the implements used to create the cross and what happened while he was dieing, the gambling represented by dice, his clothing represented by the robe, the cross of thorns, the implements of torture used to strike him. It gave me great pause as I studied the cross and made me think of the story of the passion of Christ. It was to me much more powerful than seeing Christ on the cross bleeding.


I would be remiss if I didn't include one of my favorite photos which I call "Saints for Sale." I took it in a shop off Arch Street where I am reminded that everything is available if you just look hard enough.

Posted by Aeren 15:47 Archived in Guatemala Tagged churches statues religion jesus saints catholicism Comments (0)

Chim, chim, cher-ee!

Enjoying the rooftops of Antigua through chimeneas

semi-overcast 70 °F

I've found something else that strikes my fancy..."chimeneas" [chimneys]. When I walk around in the states and look up at rooftops I may see a number of chimneys in any one house. Stately homes may sport for or five meaning they have lots of fireplaces, but generally the look of them is pretty boring. A brick rectangular structure protruding from the roof strait up in a perfect line reaching up to the sky. No definition unless the bricklayer and architect have decided on a distinctive pattern like herringbone or offsetting bricks to create some three dimensional illusion.

Chimney sweeps from Mary Poppin's classic "Chim, chim, cher-ee!" would have a hard time fitting through the chimeneas in Antigua. As with many Spanish colonial cities, there is a tradition of design with the chimeneas. Function does not negate style when it comes to chimeneas. They can be fanciful, look like miniatures of the home they are warming, or have many windows or balconies. Once one of these caught my eye I began searching for them in earnest. I found many to photograph and here are some of my favorites:

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Posted by Aeren 14:24 Archived in Guatemala Tagged rooftops Comments (0)

A View From Above

Santo Domingo del Cerro

sunny 74 °F

There are lots of things to see in Antigua, but one of the least expensive and easiest ones is Santo Domingo del Cerro. A friend took me to lunch there shortly after I arrived and I kicked myself for not bringing my camera. I rectified that in a subsequent visit.


Why am I raving about this place. Well there are two museums, one outdoor and one indoor. Lots of beautiful art, a chapel that is just lovely, a great view of the valley below and the Tenedor restaurant with wonderful chefs and reasonable prices. Other than having a meal there then entire experience is FREE! That's right even getting up to the cerro doesn't cost a dime. All you have to do is go to Casa Santo Domingo located at 3a Calle Oriente No 28 A, Antigua Guatemala and ask to catch the bus going to el cerro. Both places are owned by the same person. I walked up and the bus (more like an open trolley) was just pulling up. I climbed on board and they drove up, up, up the hill to get to the awesome views.


Once you get off the trolley, you've got lots of options to explore. There's the indoor museum or you can stay outside and make your way to the chapel.


I've been to lots of chapels up on hills, but this one is amazing. The cross is actually hanging on the outside of the glass. The chapel is used for weddings. [br]
12b-Passio..Chaves-2010.jpg On the back side of the chapel there's a striking wooden carving of Jesus' foot with a nail through it. Called "La Pasion" (The Passion) it leaves a lot to the imagination as to the rest of Jesus' physical condition.

There's too much art to do take photos of all of it, but I'll give you a taste of it below. Click on the photos and there's more description on each one.

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Once I was done wandering and taking pictures, coming back was just as easy. There's a telephone there you can use to call for the trolly yourself or ask one of the staff to call for you.

Posted by Aeren 19:04 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

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