Archive | April, 2016

Since I was on the subject……

19 Apr

Since my return from Guatemala, I have seen several blog posts and articles even satire about service trips and their, ahem, “impact” on our global society.  I like this one the best.  Enjoy….Service trip post.

Gearing up for the next adventure shortly….stayed tuned. Ciao!

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Antigua and Family

7 Apr


So yesterday I said Antigua should be a getaway trip when visiting Guatemala.  The last time I did this trip with students, we did a few activities that are not really child-friendly.  We (well, they, I was 6-months pregnant) climbed a volcano, we (again, they) went zip lining in Panajachel.  Although these are activities you could easily do with older children, I’m not going to just take my 6, 4, and 2-yr olds up a volcano. So here are some fun things you can do in and around Antigua.

1) Walk the city.  Seriously, you can see the whole city in a day.  Get your bearings take note of which shops have the best deals and tour the ruins.  There are ruins EVERYWHERE.  Most of them have free admission for children and will run adults about 40Q ($5-$6).

 

Capuchinas Ruins

2) Take the coffee tour.  Antigua Tours has several offices in the city.  There is a tour to Finca Filadefia Coffee Plantation.  The tour runs about $20 US and includes transportation, the tour (mainly in land/water jeeps which would be fun for the children) and a free cup of coffee at the end of the tour.

 

Finca Filadelfia

 

Finca Filadelfia

 

Finca Filadelfia

3) Just let them play in Parque Central.  No, seriously. Everybody’s children are there. Playing tag, eating ice cream, taking pictures. Still be vigilant, but it’s cool to just let them be kids there.

A couple of cautions (because you need to have the good with the bad)

1) EVERYBODY knows that Antigua is “tourist central.” Guard yourself just like in any major city.  It should be known that the petty thieves for the most part aren’t Guatemalan (not to say there aren’t any).  They’re actually foreign transplants, who came down to learn Spainsh, fell in love with city and stayed.  Many of them do not know enough Spanish to keep a steady job, so they resort to petty theft.

2) As pretty as it is, it can be pretty intense to maneuver through the cobblestone streets.  But to me walking is better than driving.

3) Antigua is still a small Central American town.  I love Posada San Pedro ($35 US per night for a single occupancy up to $45 for triple) as a place to stay with my students, but I would probably spend a bit more to stay at hotel that has more reliable hot water for my children (especially if I’m letting them run loose in Parque Central).  Other hotels that will cost a bit more are: Posada Don Rodrigo, Hotel Santo Domingo (which actually has a cool museum within the hotel), or Sin Ventura.

Unless you are going to do day trips to the lake or outside of the city, you don’t really need to be in Antigua for full week.  If you planned an 8-day trip to Guatemala, you could do 3 days or so in Antigua.  Just be sure to end your trip back in Guatemala City to make it easier (and cheaper) to get to the airport.

We head back to the capital tomorrow.  My students are officially in love with Guatemala.  I guess my work is (just about) done!

Buenas noches

Day 5: Arriving in Antigua

6 Apr

 

Arco Santa Catalina

We arrived in Antigua today.  We had a bit of hiccup with our hotel. The on-the-ground contact decided to not only make her own selection of our hotel, but not bother to tell anybody she did.  We arrived at the hotel I requested only to be told we were actually supposed to be at their other hotel on the other side of town.  Livid at best.  I do make decisions quite soundly for a reason.  Luckily, the hotel is comparable, Girdo is a kind Inn Manager and the view from my room is phenomenal.

 

Posada San Pedro, 7a Avenida Norte #29

Antigua is the city for tourists.  They are EVERYWHERE! Yes, I’m clear technically my students and I are tourists too, but you know the type of tourist I’m talking about: cameras out, not paying attention, assuming everybody speaks their language, etc.  We decided to people watch a bit in Parque Central and watching these tourists reminded me of how entitled we are when we travel.  We really do expect to have things our way, don’t we?

But that is not the focus of this blog.  I want to talk about how fascinating it was to watch my students experience the ruins in Antigua.

Quick history: in 1773, when Antigua was the capital of Guatemala (and some say ALL of Central America), there was an earthquake which destroyed many of the buildings in the city.  Many were rebuilt, many were not, but the capital was then moved to Guatemala City.

The ruins are now a part of Antigua personality and character.  You can see vestiges of an earthquake hundreds of years ago with a causal walk down the street.  This is what we did. We did a walking tour of the city.  So that they can see and walk into all of the wonderful ruins and buildings.

 

The Cathedral

It was great to see them so excited about being among the ruins.  It helps that there majors are engineering, design and architecture, but their sheer excitement among the buildings and walking the city did my heart proud.

 

One of my students taking it all in

Because I have been here a few times, I know what to expect.  I can examine other things.  One of things that remains impressive about Antigua is the preservation of the ruins as landmark/history.  There is no overwhelming urge to just rebuild it all.  There are no modern buildings in Antigua.  People come in droves to see the ruins and they LOVE it. My black nerd girl sensibilities marvel at “what was it like” question.  I walk through these buildings trying to figure out what was what, who was where, and what was done.  Being able to see cultures from this view is amazing.  There are many things that can be said about the collective decision of a country (not just Antigua) to keep the city just like this.  What identity is this city pushing forward as narrative by doing so?

I have to speculate, it’s part of my career choice.  Even in ruins, there is a sense of pride of what the city was.  That pride is what makes the city what it is.  It’s amazing to see how it plays out.  The residents (although sometimes seeming to be out numbered by tourists) have a particular small town braggadocio that draws people in.  To connect this to yesterday’s post, DEFINITELY  include Antigua as a 3-day getaway to see what I’m talking about.

Buenas noches

Traveling as a family to Guatemala

5 Apr

 

Retrieved from Black Enterprise website

So, as we wrap up our first leg of the Guatemala City trip and get ready to head out to Antigua in the morning, I want to give a quick run down about travel to Guatemala with your family.

First, ABSOLUTELY do it!


It does not matter the age.  If I could, I would bring my four (ages , 6, 4 and 2 year-old twins).  The Stofella is a nice hotel.  Close to quite a bit within Zone 10 and comfortable.  The staff is awesome (but their English is a bit limited).  Here are some things I would consider and would recommend you consider too:

1) There are two restaurants that cater to families: Las Cebollines (3a Avenida y 12 Calle) and Chili’s (yes the same one) that each have play areas within the restaurant and grassy areas for children to let loose energy.  They are within walking distance of most of the Zone 10 hotels.   The prices there are moderate for Guatemala standards, but in comparison to US, we spent about $10-$15 including drinks per meal.

2) Cultivate a relationship with the hotel taxi drivers.  It is good to have reliable transportation in Guatemala City, and to cultivate a relationship with the driver (similar to how you would a bartender in the States) would bless both of you in the end.  Usually, if you keep using the same driver, the price will go down for fares as you use him (or her, but usually him).

3) Taxis will eat a good portion of your money.  Plan on anywhere from 60Q-70Q (about $8-$10) PER trip.  That’s one way.  This amount will change as you do #2. But pre-plan your days the night before in order to be as efficient as possible with taxis.  If you are planning to tour the National Palace, plan to also visit the Mercado Central, hang out in Plaza Mayor and walk around the Cathedral in order to capitalize on your time in Zone 1.

4) Do NOT rent a car.  I know, it may seem easier than trying to get a taxi to go everywhere, but driving in the city is not a game.  No it’s not like driving in NYC or Chicago.  Please don’t let anybody tell you that.  It’s like driving in Guatemala City. Period.

5) Most places have kid’s menus, but it’s good to budget about $70-90 dollars for meals for a family of 6. With the conversion rate as of today, that would be about 500-600Q.  I’m here with 4 students and our group meals are totaling between 250-550Q.

6) Tours of the various museums and the Palace will run about 10-50Q. Most of these places will have a child’s rate too.  The entrance fee is really a nominal (by US standards) donation for upkeep.

 

Retrieved from Mommytoo.com

You can totally have a good time in Guatemala with your children.  The stress will really only come from how you handle critical moments in cultural differences and how you think your children will handle the same.  I would encourage you, if you do plan a trip here, to take the time to really do the pre-trip work, talk about the location, the people, the customs and each family member’s expectations.  This is crucial to making sure the critical moments are not too difficult to overcome in country (That’s my advice as an interculturalist and scholar in culture and communication).

Buenas noches.

Guatemala Day 3: Sacred Spaces

4 Apr


Today, I took my students to Kaminaljuyu.  This is an ancient Mayan ruin in the heart of the city.  They have excavated a good portion of it and as you can see in the photo above, you are able to walk through the ruins a bit and see up close part of the structures.  Today was a really a good day to go.  I want to make sure the students get to see the fullness of indigenous presence in the capital which is why I make sure it is included.  But on Sunday, you get to see so much more than expected.


On Sundays, many Mayans come to the park to pray, to hear the Bible in Mayan dialects, sing, chant and worship in the ways that fit them.  I began to see this as yet another example of how a marginalized people can still be so friggin awesome in the midst of the the very society that tries to keep them at arms length.  In the heart of the city, in a residential neighborhood, dozens of Mayans in traditional or contemporary dress came to Kaminaljuyu to just be spiritual.

The part that strikes me most is there is a slight nod of respect from the government for these rituals to take place.   Guatemalan nationals pay about 75 cents to enter the park while non-citizens pay about $7.  This allows for the donation but keeps the price for it affordable for a group of people who may or may not have the financial means.

What if we did that?  What if we let storefront churches just meet in empty buildings to pray and worship once a week for $1? What if we let struggling schools convene anyway instead of closing them down and leaving the buildings to remain abandoned and empty?

Although I still see there are places for improvement in regards to the condition of the Maya, giving them one day a week to just be what they need to be to garner whatever spiritual strength they need to continue on, for the just a donation to the upkeep of their sacred space, is a whole lot farther than the lengths we go for our indigenous people  in the US.

Yes, this post goes a bit broader than just Black Away from Home.  But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t show support for those like us around the world…

Buenas noches.

Zone 1: The intersections of class and identity

2 Apr


So today, we did our obligatory trek to Zone 1 in Guatemala City:  The National Palace the National Cathedral, Central Market, etc.  I usually use this trip to be able to begin to open the students eyes to things they normally wouldn’t pay any attention to.  This group is pretty with it. They have been pointing out economic disparities left and right.  Talking through their feelings about it, the whole nine.  I needed to do something different.  After looking around a place I have seen several times over the past 12 years, I decided to pull on my identity bag and asked them this one question:

 

Looking around this city, what is the narrative of the Maya?  

At first, they didn’t catch it. So I followed up:  What are they doing in this city?  That’s when the light bulb went on and this is the crux of our conversation over lunch:

There is a way throughout the world that cultural identities are picked through for the sake of national identity.  Those flashy, attractive, kitschy aspects are placed on the stage for all to adore.  We talked about the places where the Maya in Guatemala adorned in traditional dress and moving with urgency throughout the city are typically relegated to roles of service to the tourists:  Carrying wares around the market, busily taking items to the Plaza in order to share with the tourists who may be there.  All of this allows the cultural identity to be seen but still positioned as lesser within the greater society.

LET ME SEE….where have we seen this?  I’ll tell you what.  Answer to yourself and meet me at the next paragraph.

The picking and choosing of aspects of identity has been a game  history has played for quite some time now.  For example, while in Brazil in 2012, I blogged about how the Afro-Brazilian woman, in order to sell food on the street, is LEGALLY obligated by her “license to sell” to wear the traditional Bahiana outfit.  She can be ticketed if she doesn’t.  I’ll take it deeper. Judge Olu Stevens, once praised for his intellectual prowess, fairness behind the bench and projected to rise in political power now finds himself in a pickle because he used the bench to speak out about injustice.  The connection?  Our stage show is great, the costumes lovely, but please don’t talk to them while they enjoy the performance.

This is what I have for our trip to Zone 1 today.  Observing a population of people who have been marginalized AND appropriated (quoting one of my students from today) for the sake of national identity, brings me back to the countless examples across the globe and (to harken back to yesterday’s post) in our backyard.   The assumption is that the national identity would trump any desire to counter this positioning.  However if there is one thing that bears repeating, it comes from Mr. Langston Hughes:


You see it happening. Minds are changing and folks are getting scared. Hasta pronto, amigos.

WAIT. Did I tell you I had 3 spottings of some folks just chillaxin’ and being #BlackAwyfrmHome today?  Shout out to the brother grooving on his scooter, the African buying mangoes from the street and the 4 Black Canadian students holding it down on a massive group tour (One requested to sit in the Cathedral to pray for a moment before they on). We outchea!

Getting to Guatemala Day 1: Service Trips and authentic “tears”

1 Apr

Today was our travel day to Guatemala.  Nothing out of the ordinary in regards to my students.  They showed up on time, they were ready, excited and anything else to be expected.  With no worries there, I decide to do my typical observation of the various contexts around me as we travel.  The United States education system has hit a boom with the “service-learning” and alternative spring break model for developing classrooms without walls.

I am all for exploration of new cultures, all for doing good to leave the world better and fully support young people with passport stamps with meaningful stories behind them.  But you know me, this is Black Away from Home, you know what I was checking for.  Much like with my Spain trip last year, the international terminal was a flurry with giddy students in matching shirts with frantic adult chaperones trying to keep them all together.

You know what was missing:

Once again, very few brown faces.  But this time, I decided to engage one of the adult chaperones sitting next to me on the plane.  I need to go deeper with this observation now. Ask some questions that may help me get to the dirty of why so few of our babies are here.  You know airplane chit chat “Is this your first time to Guatemala?” Do you speak Spanish?” Then comes my question to her: “What exactly will you be doing down here/”. Her response gifted me one of the most profound revelations  about this whole study away, engaged global learning fit I have been having.  As simple as it was, I realized from her response, another underlying reason for en masse service exodus among classes and students who don’t look like the beautiful babies above: “We’re on a mission trip to teach agrarian techniques outside of Antigua.”

Okay. WAIT. PAUSE. In my head I’m thinking: You’re taking children to an agrarian country to teach the people there how to be farmers?  

  HUH?! Where they do that at? (Above photo courtesy of a phenomenal “brother-in-love”)

This where “authentic tears” come in.  See, it was her response that helped me to see that one of the unspoken reasons for the types of trips is to satiate a desire to help those in need with a population that feels most safe.  It is another example of those tears the color of snow that feign compassion from a distance and empathy with condition. What’s the saying: you don’t bring sand to the beach?

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support alternative spring breaks that extend beyond the walls of the classroom in to the backyards, those communities under their noses.   But I have to admit, I do give a hard side eye, to programs that traipse PW students (if you need help with that abbreviation, you haven’t been on this site too often) to the ends of the world to implement temporary, non-sustainable projects when they could have easily done more good at home. And even harder side eye when on surface it looks like there may be practices to purposefully omit a population that will remind you too much of what you are ignoring at home.

I know, this seems strange, Black Away from Home NOT supporting travel abroad? That’s not what I’m saying.  I still support study abroad, but for the enrichment of engaging with other cultures to be able to learn from them and establish meaningful connections and experiences that will shape identity construction and career trajectories.  Not travel for the sake of superficially addressing sentiments of guilt, also the color of snow.

Superficial service projects actually do more harm than good.  Check out this TEDTalk if you don’t believe me: Nonprofits are dead wrong.

Let us not sacrifice intercultural pedadgogy for guilty tears.  If you want to wash away those, I know some water in Flint that could help you with that.

I’m looking at motive here.  But I’ll be fair, I mean, I AM in Guatemala with students too.  Why did we come?  Well, my students are using their majors as lens to critically compare, contrast and analyze Guatemala City and Antigua to what they are learning in Architecture, Civil Engineering, New Media Art/Design and Electrical Enigneering.  Their research here will inform an extended global perspective for the senior projects. No reinventing the wheel with projects that might not last beyond our week long visit.   I’m planting seeds too, but in these minds… I’ve ranted and rambled. My apologies. Jet lag will do that to you. But, I have purged so I can focus on other things tomorrow.

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