Becoming Fools!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day Seven - La Limonada

Day Seven, very exciting day. It was our first day in the slum of La Limonada shooting some of the must have shots and film for the documentary being made by Athentikos. I had the list and storyboard for all the shots I needed to get, but I was a big nervous. I did not know what to expect and if I would be able to get all I needed.

La Limonada is a notorious slum in Guatemala. It is home to more than 60,000 people. La Limonada is a one mile gully, that used to be a natural ravine with a river running through. Fifty years ago, Guatemalans from rural villages fled to Guatemala City, and began squatting in the ravine to escape the violence of the civil war. La Limonada, which was once an escape from violence has now become notorious for its gangs and drugs. Bullet holes riddle the walls and alleys. La Limonada is divided roughly into ten barrios (neighborhoods), each controlled by a separate gang. The citizens are bound to the gang borders in fear of death. Citizens have much difficulty getting hired for jobs when employers find out where they live. In Guatemala City there is no respect for La Limonada and those who live there.

We met two wonderful, amazing, genuine people. A woman, named Tita, who is rising up above the fear and violence, crossing gang borders and building relationships in the slum. She has a heart for the people and all their trials. She has been working for seven years in La Limonada and started two schools. Since her presence in the community, gang violence has decreased.

The other Shorty. He is an ex gang member, now pastor and mentor to boys and men of all ages. He tries to prevent young boys from getting started in the gang life by providing mentorship and works all over Guatemala City in prisons, and slums encouraging men and boys to leave the gang life.

During our first day in La Limonada we followed Tita and Shorty thorough their daily life. We spent time at the schools, doing house visit, and just watching them love and listen to anyone around them. Our friend Gary, who we had met earlier that week joined us to do some filming. We filmed Tita and Shorty interacting in the neighborhood, and did some shots for the cover of the dvd packaging.

The following is a behind the scenes video of our wonderful day! (It's a little rough, but it does the job).

La Limonada - Feb 24, 2010 from Stephanie Jager on Vimeo.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day Six - Pigeons and Vultures

Day Six - Our plans slightly changed since our Driver/Translator/Friend's car broke down. We had the pleasure of meeting Summer and her family, she had done a lot of the logistics for our trip. I always enjoy finally meeting someone you have had contact with via email and phone. Summer and her husband took us to Central Park in Guatemala City. First thing I saw was all the pigeons. I have a phobia of birds, so I was really hoping they wouldn't land on me. But they avoided me so it was all good.

We had the chance to go into La Catedral De Santiago De Guatemala. It was quite amazing! Unlike any cathedral or church building I have been in before.

La Catedral De Santiago De Guatemala

Central Square

Sawdust carpets for lent in the cathedral.

Beggar outside of the cathedral.

One one of the other sides of Central Park was the National Palace of Culture.
We had a tour and learned a lot about Guatemala's history. Very, very interesting!
There were many awesome art works. I have always enjoyed my art history classes, so I was heaven! Matt was loving all the wood details and carving as well. Definitely worth the tour!

Door to the National Palace.

Fresco painting depicting the history of Guatemala (battle between the Mayans and Spanish).

Inner courtyard of the National Palace.

"Sin Titulo" Victor Vasquez Kestler 1959

Victor Vasquez Kestler

Victor Vasquez Kestler sculpture of Jesus

"Personajes Cotidianos" Roberto Cabrera 1976

Gold ceiling.

"Finger print" of the president who built the palace.

Brass railing.

After our excursion in Central Park we met up with Joel Van Dyke, a missionary in Guatemala, at good old Pollo Campero.

It was great meeting Joel, as well. He is so filled with passion for the work and ministry he does. Joel took us to the National Cemetery. When the word Cemetery comes to my mind many different images come to mind, but this cemetery was beyond anything my imagination would have expected. Something that I only thought existed in movies.
People lined the sidewalk outside selling flowers. Once inside the big stone gate their were families gathered around tables having picnics. Mariachi bands circled waiting for opportunities to play for funerals. Kids ran through the rows of mausoleums playing.
We drove toward the back corner and saw hundreds of vultures circling. Now these birds were more intimidating the pigeons, that's for sure!
We got out of the car and walked through the vultures as they flew off around us to the edge of the cemetery. At the edge you could look down the hill and see the city dump.
The dump is the largest in Central America. About 11,000 people work in the dump every day. They scavenge for anything of value, such as recyclables, metals, cardboard, old clothes etc. What they do find they turn around and try to sell.
It was quite a sad site. Joel explained to us what he does with Vision Team trips (teams who come to see and observe missions). We stood there for awhile just taking it all, the sights, smells, as the wind swept up dirt and trash around us.

View of the dump from the National Cemetery.

Vultures resting on the tombs, waiting to scavenge in the garbage below.

Part of a coffin thrown over the edge of the hill.
A person pays for seven years for their "plot". If family does not renew after that time the plot gets opened, the body goes into a mass grave, and the casket gets tossed.

More vultures.

Vulture peeking out of a broken in grave.

Trash being dumped and people sorting through to find recyclables.

Damaged grave.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day Five - First Day Out In Guatemala City

Monday morning, we woke up for a first day in Guatemala. We made our way to the dining room at the seminary to have a good Guatemalan breakfast: beans, eggs, some sort of tapioca oatmeal cereal and of course coffee. If I have not mentioned yet, the coffee in Guatemala is AMAZING! No sugar or cream required. When breakfast was finished our driver, translator and soon to be friend, Gary pick us up for the day. I think we were all pleasantly surprised to find we were all close in age. As we drove to the small town just outside of the city, we instantly became friends. Our first stop was an place called, Por Mie Barrio Centro De Alcance. It is an after school program for kids in the neighborhood. Kids can come and hangout have a safe place to hangout during the day. There are volunteers who teach the kids reading, writing, math and computer skills. Public schools in Guatemala are not very good, 50 kids to one teacher, which makes learning quite difficult. Women can also come and learn cooking skills, participate in exercise class, and attend beauty school classes. This gives them skills that they can use to earn a living to support their families. We met two young women who are interns from the United States. They helped translate and tell us more about the center. We met a wonderful lady, kids called her Mimi. She dedicates her time everyday to running the school and being a role model for the children. We spent some time there photographing the school and the children.

One of the cutest girls me met. She was six or seven years old and quite hyper. She spoke so fast, no one could understand her. Her father and brother had died in an earthquake five years ago, leaving her and her mother with some mental and emotional damage and learning disabilities.

A pila. A sink they use to wash their hands, clothes and dishes.

The little girl (previously mentioned) insisted I take a photo of this picture she was holding. To me it speaks volumes the choice of image she decided to rip out of a magazine and keep. An imagine of what she wishes her life could be.

Then Mimi took us on a tour of the neighborhood to meet some of the families who's children attend the center. I don't think I was completely prepared for what was to come. We walked down the streets filled with meat and fruit shops. We then went through a corrugated metal gate into a court yard. There were children playing, laundry drying, and dogs napping. The air smelled of urine and garbage. There were 5 or 6 single mother families living in this small "complex". They had built a fence around their "complex" and had their shacks on the perimeter. In the middle was their version of a sink, called a pila. It was pretty sad. They did not have much. I was brought here to take photos of their living conditions but I found it very hard. Here I was, a white Canadian walking in for a few minutes with an expensive camera to say hi and see their living conditions and then leave. Or at least that's what it felt like. I knew it was for a greater purpose, but I felt guilty, like I was taking advantage of their poverty for my own good. I don't think I really got any photos I love from this day, since it was so hard for me.

We hung out with the kids for awhile and I photographed them, in hopes to send the photos back for them. We then moved on to the next houses. More one room houses built out of corrugated metal, and dirt floors. The families and children were all very friendly. I took some more family photos for them. As we were leaving they gave us some oranges from their fruit stand as a gift. We accepted, but I felt bad, I could easily by an orange, but it would be an insult, since it was a gift. They split the oranges in half and sprinkled them with salt and crushed pumpkin seed powder. It was quite good! We said goodbye to Mimi and then were on are way. Such a short visit.

This little boy lived with his mom and younger brother. His mom was gone to work from 5am to 7 or 8pm. He took care of his younger brother and they would wait in the evening for her to bring them food.

A wall of a house.

This little boy was not quite a year old, but very sick.

Gary took us on a drive through the country to a lake called Amatitlan. This lake was a popular place for the locals to come hangout. It was cool to see somewhere that
Guatemalans hangout, unlike the tourists places we had seen so far. There was a market and lots of
street food stands, that we were not allowed to eat at. We had the pleasure of eating at Pollo Compero.
Pollo Compero is a Guatemalan fast food change, similar to Kentucky Fired Chicken.
We were told our visit to Guatemala would not be complete with out trying it out.

As we drove back onto Guatemala City, Gary's car started to over heat. We had to pull over on the "side"
of a very busy road as the car started to smoke. Things did not look good. Matt and Gary got out of the car,
opened the hood to find that the water and oil had mixed together and come out.
I don't know anything about cars, but it sounded pretty serious to me. So there we were, pulled over
on the "shoulder" which was more of a bus stop for the crazy driving chicken buses. (Chicken Buses are old school buses
painted crazy colors with big horns. They are notorious for their crazy fearless drivers.
And they don't pay much attention to others on the road). While Matt and Gary were outside, I stayed in the hot car with the camera.
Still trying to get my bearings for Guatemala, I felt I was safer inside the car. My short red hair seemed to draw a lot of attention.
I felt a bit vulnerable in our situation and hearing that robberies and muggings were frequent occurrences I protected the two things that mattered most.
I put our passports down my pants, and the camera memory cards that had photos on them in my bra.
I figured a camera was replaceable, but if worse came to worse I would not loose any of my photos.
Well the car was not fixable at that moment. So Gary called us a cab, and we made
it back to the seminary safe and sound, sweaty
passports and memory cards in hand!

View of Amatitlan.

Drinking out of a coconut for the very first time. I was quite excited!

Our ride to Pollo Compero.