Sunday, February 27, 2011

Traveling to El Salvador from Guatemala; Comparisons and Contrasts

For our Thanksgiving November break we took the opportunity of a few days off of work to travel to El Salvador to meet a friend and her family who live and work there.

I always get freaked out traveling in Central America, but I was very surprised when we crossed the Guatemalan border into El Salvador and noticed a dramatic decrease in big-gun toting guards. I suppose living in Guatemala has the benefit of making everywhere else on this side of the world seem quite safe in comparison.

The travel itself was very simple; just get to CA1 and keep driving and you'll get there. Something to keep in mind, though, once you cross the border you have to search for the Migration (Migracion.) It was not as obvious of a stop with people patrolling outside like the one to exit Guatemala.

There were physical land differences as well: it was flatter, though still dotted with various volcanoes, but not as mountainous as Guatemala. This was probably a contributing factor to the many, many bikes we saw. It was hotter. Instead of black beans, red beans were the staple. Another difference was that while cantaloupes weren't in season in Guatemala, we were surprised to see them at all of the road-side stands in El Salvador, along with pineapples.

One of the obvious things that people visit El Salvador for are the beaches, something we didn't get to experience this time. Hopefully we will get to visit in the future and experience more of this beautiful country.

Have you ever traveled from Guatemala to El Salvador? What was your experience?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Canning Tomato Sauce

Last weekend I learned how to can tomato sauce the real way! By real, I mean, with my own jars sealing and able to be unrefrigerated afterwards. In the past we made it and then just put it into recycled glass jars and then to the fridge.

Tomatoes are in season in Guatemala right now and we were able to get a 50 pound box for Q75, or about $9.50.

First we scrubbed all of the produce, which included tomatoes, red peppers, and onions and put it into big pots to simmer down and reduce into a pulpy, red deliciousness.

We cooked it with sea salt, thyme and laurel, and one batch with cilantro. The point was to have a tomato sauce base that could then be turned into spaghetti sauce, salsa or any other tomato based sauce.

When it was ready, we put it all in the blender for a nice, even consistency and then back in the pot to simmer a little longer. When it was perfect, (sampling was a fun part of this phase!) We began filling the (heated) jars.

When we finished we had 22 large jars of tomato sauce! Since there were three of us doing it together, that was 7-8 apiece. When we worked out the price, (with the jars included which will make it even cheaper next time since we'll already have them,) each jar of tomato sauce was about Q10 or $1.25. At the store a jar of that size is around Q40 or about $5. So, it was 1/4 of the store price and, in my opinion, a lot tastier too! Next time it will be closer to 1/8 of the price since the jars are already purchased. We each took our individual 8 or 7 home and boiled them there for the sealing phase.

So far we've added miltomate to part of one jar to make a delicious Salsa Ranchera to eat with our eggs in the morning and used the other part of the jar to make some amazing spaghetti marinara sauce!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Does Guatemala Need Another Justo Barrios?

Today we were discussing Justo Rufino Barrios in our literature class and discussing the qualities he had that made him heroic. Unlike other archetypal heroes, he wasn't born into royalty. He was born in a village called San Lorenzo.
His super powers were things like intelligence and energy. I was glad they brought up how both of those are needed for success: Intelligence coupled with laziness gets nowhere. Energy coupled with ignorance also makes no positive progress.
Barrios put this energy to good use first by going to the capital to study law and get his degree as a lawyer. We talked about how when the revolt happened he proved himself to be a capable military leader and what that meant. How much pressure leaders in the position to make life or death decisions are under.
When Barrios was eventually elected president, he used his position of power to help Guatemala. He installed telegraph and railroad systems, and started a public school system. He was an advocate for freedom of the press and an accountable police force. He wasn't know for letting power corrupt him or for diverting public funds into personal gain.
Perhaps one of the most eye-opening parts of the discussion occurred when we talked about what he was fighting for and eventually gave his life for: Reuniting Central America. They could not understand why instead of being just Guatemala, he would want to unite what is now Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. We talked about how from a world viewpoint, all of those countries together could do more than they could separately.
We discussed how this tied to European invasion of the New World and how they would make allies with anyone who was an enemy of their enemies. (Such as the Spanish alliance with the K'iche' vs. Kaqchikel in earlier Guatemalan history.) Groups of people who can bind together against an invader are more powerful than individuals most of the time. If the Native Americans could have found a way to get beyond their differences long enough to fight for the common cause of keeping their land, it's possible that history would look very, very different.
I think it was one of the first times many of them saw their country from the viewpoint of "Team World" rather than "Team Guatemala."
I truly believe that I am teaching future leaders of Guatemala. I hope that when they have the power of change in their grasp that they, like Justo Barrios, can use it for good and for progress instead of personal gain.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cobblestone Streets- Practical or Nostalgic?

There's something about a cobblestone street that, besides helping you twist your ankle, also makes traversing them seem more special than just walking down a normal road. Someone took effort to make this street. It wasn't just heavy machinery belching out black tar and concrete. It was crafted.

Guatemala has its share of cobblestone streets. We have one on the very steep road we drive up every morning. The constant traffic is constantly jarring stones loose and the resulting holes are then filled with pavement slowly morphing it into a more practical, mundane road.

According to Wikipedia, a benefit of cobblestone over pavement is "Cobblestones set in sand have the environmental advantage of being permeable paving, and of flexing rather than cracking with movements in the ground." In a land of long rainy seasons, frequent earth tremors and quakes, it seems like this would be beneficial. Something I know for a fact is that the pavement on the other roads going to school every day is constantly riddled with new potholes... especially after any rain. (This is a really good photo from Jose Luis Casro on Flicker. I am not posting the photo because I do not have the rights, but please click on the link. It's amazing!)

The flicker user Jose Luis Castro has some amazing photos with different perspectives in his shots of cobblestone streets.

Here is another one of his fabulous shots:

It seems cobblestone streets are one of many things that make me wonder how effective some changes made in the name of "progress" have been. I know that I appreciate well-paved roads. I know that I don't have enough data to compare potholes in cobblestone vs. paved for effectiveness, but I would love to know the answer if you know.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Archetypes in Guatemalan Cultural Literature

We are studying archetypes in our fifth grade literature classes right now. I didn't realize how many of these existed in Guatemalan literature.

An archetype, by the way, is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all. Archetype refers to a generic version of a personality.

Hero archetype power point explanations available here:

Archetypes generally follow this pattern:
1.Unusual Circumstances of Birth (Unusual Birth Often in danger or born into royalty)
2.Traumatic Event Leads to Quest
3.Special Weapon (Only the hero can wield it )
4.Supernatural Help -The hero often has spiritual guidance
5.Leaves Family Raised away from… -or separated from home
6.Traumatic Event The hero’s life is changed forever…
7.Proves self on Quest- The hero performs heroic feats
8.Journey and Unhealable Wound- Hero descends into a hell- like area and suffers wounding from an encounter with evil
9.Atonement With Father- The hero either redeems father’s evil deeds or reconciles with father over wrongs done by the hero
10.Spiritual Apotheosis- Hero is rewarded spiritually at the end of his, or her life

*Not every hero has all of the characteristics! That’s okay. -They don’t really have to… As long as a hero displays several of these characteristics, he, or she, is in the club!

We are studying archetypes in these four categories: tradition, myth, era and culture.

Archetypes in Guatemalan Tradition and Culture:
True Story of Tecun Uman

Finding the archetypal pattern in Guatemalan Myth.
For MUCH more detail go to:

A shorter summary of the Popol Vuh Twin Myth at:

Comparing the Hero Archetype in Different Guatemalan Eras:
Then we compare the fighting hero from the Tecun Uman era to Justo Barrios in the 1800s.

Justo Rufino Barrios (July 19, 1835 – April 2, 1885) was a President of Guatemala known for his liberal reforms and his attempts to reunite Central America.

I love how we are integrating stories they have heard in Spanish class into their English curriculum! It makes learning much richer when it is tied to something that resonates from ones culture with familiarity.