Wednesday, February 12, 2014

No Ruins Today

perfect hand crafted bowls
Tuesday, February 11, 2014 I was excited for this morning's excursion.  I thought we would be seeing some Mayan ruins in Totonicapán.  However, when one is learning a language in depth, some things may get jumbled in the translation.  There were no ruins.  There was something amazing, though.

Our excursion to Totonicapán was actually to experience a pottery that engaged in traditional indigenous methods of manufacture. To my amazement, I was able to follow not only the pottery guide, but our guide, Omar, from the school as well. Omar told us before entering that this operation did not make a profit.  A courtesy donation should be a least Q20 or about $3.  This not-for-profit, in addition to its own operation,  serves as a resource for traditional clays for many cottage potters.  The cottage potters sell their wares at various markets.  La fábrica (the factory) also has a showroom where pieces may be purchased.  The man from the pottery smiled broadly as he proudly showed us the steps in making the bowls, pitchers, plates, and decorative pieces.

Our gracious guide
The bigger picture, besides being awed by the craftsmanship and beauty of the pieces, was globalization, the World Bank, and continued discrimination and repression of indigenous peoples.  First, the department (state) of Totonicapán is small and known for its resistance during the civil war and currently.  The indigenous peoples have their own way of governing. "They did not sign this government's constitution.  It means nothing to them."  Political, social, and cultural conflict persists.

Second, and perhaps more devastating, is the impact of globalization and world markets on these gracious peoples.  Things like Walmart, besides putting small businesses out of business (sound familiar?), tend to accelerate the loss of traditional culture.  Cheap plastic bowls soon replace traditional ceramic ones.  Young people are dressing in western clothes, mostly second-hand because new ones cost too much.

 Omar, with disgust on his face, talked about the dirty politics in Guatemala.  Remember, the current president was a military leader involved in disappearances and mass killing. Specifically,  Totonicapán has suffered from an influx of foreign owned companies that rape the ground of all manner of minerals and ores found in this rich volcanic landscape. The companies pollute the soil, air, and water while taking 99% of the profits with them.  One percent goes to the central government.  As is typical, that money never find its way to the communities in the form of services or environmental restoration.  (Think West Virginia.)

The people of Totonicapán are strong we were told.  They will continue to resist and fight for their communities.  

I confess that, standing there while our guide, a former guerrilla and resistance fighter, told the peoples' story, I felt helpless and embarrassed.  American and Canadian companies are the primary villains in this story. And Totonicapán is not the only department suffering.  While fighting these huge conglomerates is going to take more than I am able to give at this moment, I will find a path.  In the meantime, I purchased two small items in support and solidarity.  Now I need to ponder what would Jesus do?

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