A transfer to a new organization led ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio from the East to the West. The humid and cloudy forest, the silent orchids and my Pokomchi friends: Felisa, Alida, the teachers of Guachcuz and the FUNDENOR team, all stay behind.
Totonicapán and its surrounding villages welcome me with dry air and rounded mountains and a lively market. At the market, noisy and overflowing with people, food, fruits, dogs, drunks, kids and more kids and many loud speakers with advertisements and different kinds of music all playing in unison, I find buying a pair of mangoes in this market almost as complicated as finding hair clips in a US pharmacy.
Mangoes in hand, I greet the sculpture of Atanasio Tzul—the indigenous chief and one of the leaders of the Totonicapán Uprising—who patrols the central park. I head to the forum on “Climate Change” with the 48 Cantones Natural Resources Committee. This year I will be collaborating with the EcoLogic Development Fund and 48 Cantones.
In the training, subjects arose such as the importance of forest management and taking care of the water, ancestral knowledge, climate change and the role of Mother Nature in indigenous cosmology. A small man with a prominent moustache and high-pitched voice began to passionately list the following points:
- Ask Ajaw (Ajaw is the creator of all, according to Mayan cosmology) before trimming a tree.
- Give thanks to God for the first rains and for a good harvest with copal incense.
- Bless the seeds with a Mayan priest before planting them.
- Wait for the full moon season before conceiving a child.
We presented ourselves during the intermission with attentive greetings and rough handshakes. I attempt to explain to the committee (all men except one woman) what my contribution will be this year as a visual artist with ArtCorps and its Art for Social Action philosophy. The initial responses are wide eyes and conspiring looks. I continue with a little more detail. I tell them that art is another tool for expressing their problems, their desires for change, accomplishments, challenges and objectives. We talk about future projects like murals, illustrated books, graphic novels and creativity workshops. I want to listen to what they want to do and their concerns as well. Their response, timid laughs and enthusiastic agreement, seems to be our first bonding moment.
As I head home, while I review the print materials they gave us at the training, I also observe unexpected images from the bus window. Dried riverbeds that are now clandestine junkyards contrast with trees that are strong, healthy and proud to belong to the sacred forest. Adobe houses, with tile roofs, goats and smoky fireplaces, contrast with huge houses whose aesthetic seems alien to the local architecture, with reflective windows and many garages to park cars—all empty. They call them “remittance architecture” because their owners are those that emigrated to “The States,” as they say here.