Saturday, September 13, 2008

Keeping the Library Active

In September of 2008, Joan Centra, from New York, volunteered to work in the library and oversee activities for the children who came to use the facilities. Many children used the opportunity to practice their budding computer skills ...

while others were thrilled to have an opportunity to develop their artistic abilities through crafts or puzzles.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dennis Bedard Dental Group

While I was in Canada in 2008, the Dennis Bedard Dental Group came to do a 4-day Dental Journey here in the village. This was the 4th year that this group has come to help the villagers with their dental problems.

The villagers lined up well in advance to get their numbers, then waited patiently for their turn.

The team did cleanings, fillings and extractions for people of all ages and averaged about 50 patients per day.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Anne Moon volunteers at NUFED

Another volunteer that was here in March was Anne Moon from Vancouver. Rather than advertising for people to come to the Project Ix-canaan Library for English classes, we decided to do something a bit different, and Anne went into the local NUFED School to teach English.

Anne's teaching support at the school was well received and it gave us the occasion to visit the NUFED School. It is a Technical Institute that covers grades 7, 8 and 9 and serves the many small villages in this end of Peten. I was surprised to see that the construction of the school has never been finished.

The school consists of 4 walls with a roof and has no floors, doors, windows, paint, minimal furniture and no books or other teaching aids.

Friends of Ix-canaan (based in Calgary, Alberta) have decided to continue supporting the NUFED School through Project Ix-canaan by finding volunteers to help teach the curriculum, as well as looking for the funding to finish the construction of the school and equip its library with the textbooks the students need for their courses.


A Chichipin Caterpillar

I am always amazed by the ingenuity of Mother Nature. Today we saw the first chichipin caterpillar of the season. This caterpillar lives out its life span on the chichipin bush and its coloring allows it to blend in perfectly. Not only that, but when the caterpillar emerges from its cocoon, it has become a distinctive butterfly that still carries the same chichipin colors. Maybe I can capture that miracle on film when the time arrives.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Making Soap

I have been reading about and practicing making soap so that we are ready to bring in a "soap making teacher" from one of Canada's premier "soapers" to teach the Ix-canaan women's group all about making soap. We also need someone who feels creatively able to design packaging, labelling and soap finishing.

So far, I have made soap twice ... the photo above is from the second time. The first time I made a soap without aroma or color (below), but I did pour the second half of it over chunks of loofah to create a few "scrubbing bars". That worked well.

Many of the soaps are of a small size because two local hotels have told us that if we can produce a soap that is up to their standards, they will start to buy from us. These two designs are just to begin ... one is a more or less typical small round soap (I used toilet paper rolls as molds for these) and the other is shaped like a small pyramid (I used egg cartons for these). The larger soaps (and a few of the smaller) are scented with lavender oil and colored with paprika.

This second batch (above) is double because I took the opportunity to teach two women of the women's group, Doña Juana (the president) and Doña Bety (the treasurer) how to make it.

I had been thinking of the possibilities of making a useful yet beautiful soap from local ingredients, so made one type of soap with cinnamon, which has insect repellent qualities. The smell of the cinnamon, however, was not strong enough to last through the process ... we discovered that it is necessary to also use essential oils to give a good aroma.

This past week, Enrique and I took a drive out to Dos Aguadas where a women's group had been set up to make and sell essential oils. They are making essential oils from allspice, and from 2 different types of trees, as well as 2 different jungle flower blends. I bought some of each to try and I think they are going to be perfect for the soap aromas. The allspice has insect repellent qualities like the cinnamon, so I think the two together will make an excellent spicily-aromatic repellent soap. When I discovered the beautiful flower blends, I thought that the second soap should be of Rainforest Flowers. The hotel guest could receive one of each ... the spice soap for the morning shower before hiking in the jungles, and the flower soap to shower off before dinner.
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cooking Classes

Recently, several members of the Grupo Femenino Ix-canaan chose to spend a week working with a cooking instructor (far left) learning how to properly prepare a variety of excellent Guatemalan dishes. The classes were co-sponsored by ProPeten and the Guatemalan government.

The women attended classes mornings and afternoons for 5 days, learning to create a variety of Guatemalan main courses and desserts. The day that I dropped by, they were working on "Poultry Dishes" and had made three different recipes.

The first one was Pollo Guisado, (Chicken Stew), which is chicken legs (preferably legs ... they give a much better flavor to the dish) and potato pieces (with other vegetables depending on your finances) in a sauce based on achiote (annato).

The second one was Pollo en Jocon, which is chicken cooked in a green sauce based on mil tomates.

The third one was far and away the best in my opinion. It was Pollo en Crema con Loroco ... Chicken in Cream with Loroco (small green unopened flower buds that have a distinctive flavor). I'm sure loroco is one of those foods that you either love, or hate. So far, I love it. At least I do when it is cooked with chicken in a cream sauce. I am definitely going to learn to make this dish.

To accompany the three chicken dishes, the women had prepared a Salad of Vegetables en Escabeche

and a pot full of the fluffiest rice I have ever seen!

This group of women is working hard to prepare to open a cooking school for tourists who would like to have the opportunity to cook and eat these regional specialities.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Installing New Cables

After months of internet problems, and changes to almost every part of our satelite system, Enrique and Gonzalo install new cables and solve the problem, enabling me to begin to catch up on all the blogging that I haven't been able to do for so long.
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A New Camera

Dan McKinnon, good friend and Ix-canaan supporter from Calgary, Alberta, has responded to my plea for a new camera to enable me to continue documenting another day in the jungle. Thanks, Dan!!


Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Month in New Brunswick

The main reason for scheduling my trip to Canada so early in the spring in mid-March (or should I say late in the winter!!) was so that I could be with Mom to celebrate her 80th birthday on March 20th.

Here we are preparing for church on Easter Sunday with Mom's surprise Birthday Bouquet (from my brother John in Calgary) of 80 ruby red roses!!

I was happy that the temperatures throughout the month were relatively mild.

And I thank my sister Arlene for fantastically cozy winter coat that was waiting for me in Boston when I deplaned, that kept me warm and snuggly while I enjoyed the beauties of nature by the Oromocto River as it begins its yearly thaw.

I spent a lot of very enjoyable time with my brother, Herb, who lives in southern New Brunswick on the border with Maine. Not only did he host an overnight visit en route both to and from Boston and Mom's home in Fredericton, but he and his wife Marg came up to visit Mom and I for two weekends while I was there.

I'm also grateful to Marg (shown here with their grandson Trypp, son Adam, daughter Larissa and Larissas friend, Andrew) for driving all the way to Portland, Maine to pick me up and drop me off on both legs of my trip. Oh yes, and Larissa too!!

My brother, Maurice, lives in Boston with his wife Kathleen, and between them, they run the best darn "half-way house" one could wish for. They are always picking up family and friends at the airport, putting them up for a few days in their Boston heritage home with lots of great food and entertainment, then sending them on their way, either north or south depending if it is the beginning or the end of their journey.

On my return to Guatemala, Mo and I went walking through Middlesex Fells Reservation, a beautiful walk through woodlands and around a duck-filled pond to a tower and a breathtaking view of Boston in the distance.

My travelling companion for the long trip back to Guatemala from the cold cold north.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Another Day in the Jungle


I heard a lot of giggling coming from my neighbors house right behind me, so looked out the window to see this pretty lady passing by ....
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Third Anniversary Party

The timing of the visit of Rose, Cecilia and Kavita cooincided with the third anniversary of the beginnings of the women's group, so the women took a vote and all decided to hold a celebratory festival to mark the occasion. There was only a couple of days to prepare, so Kavita made some posters and put them out in the tiendas of the village, and Cecilia went around in the truck with the megaphone to broadcast the event from neighborhood to neighborhood.

The young Ixcanaan Dancers immediately canvassed their friends for "costume materials", dug out their favorite Hindu music, and began practicing so they could participate in the show.

All of the women volunteered various foods to the production of tamales ... corn or banana leaves or herbs from the garden, and everyone showed up to work together to prepare the feast.

Tinoco (left) happened to be still in town since Unificacion Maya (this is sometimes a hard place to leave) and he volunteered to present his musical "show". He has a marimba and a frame-work of drums and percussion instruments, as well as various flutes and shakers that he passes around, and he gets everyone involved in making music.

The music was so "alegre" that many of the guests began to dance ... Danny even began teaching salsa lessons!

A number of donated items including mostly school and art supplies were placed out on a table where Cecilia offered them to the children as a Q1. raffle, with all the money going to refurbish the petty cash fund of the women's group. The women also set up a table on the patio with a selection of their wood carvings for sale.

The tamales, served with a black bean and cilantro salad on crispy tostadas, were superb ... the quality we have come to expect from the cooking of these women!

And while we ate, we were mesmerized as Danny Diaz played several of his hand made flutes for the group (


A Cookbook by "Mujeres Ix-canaan"

Last year when Vansana Nolintha visited Project Ix-canaan with a group from North Carolina State University, he had the idea to help the women to produce a cookbook featuring their favorite foods ... foods that are often part of the menu that they will be offering as part of their catering services. During the early days of the new year, while Niru Bhatia, a volunteer photographer from Calgary, Alberta was here, the women held a "cooking day" at their new center to make some of the foods to be photographed for their cookbook. The women who were able to participate, divided into 5 groups, and each group made a favorite dish of their choice, while Niru took photos (take note that these photos are my own, and not Niru's professional shots).

Doña Amalia and her daughter Adelaida made Pasta Vegetariana ... a nutricious dish of pasta, tossed with a variety of sauteed vegetables and sprinkled with fresh cheese.

Chely, Doña Bety and Doña Juana made a dish that is a "fiesta staple" here in Peten ... tamales ... traditionally they would be Tamales de Pollo (Chicken Tamales) but due to changing times and diets, they now make vegetarian, chicken and fish.

Doña Goya and Doña Blanca made a delicious local favorite ... Coliflor Forados con Salsa de Tomate y Arroz ... or cauliflower, fried in a light egg white batter and served with a home made tomato sauce and rice.

Chila and her mother, Doña Nicolasa, made Papalina, a dish I hadn't tried before, that is made from thinly sliced and fried potato cooked in an egg white batter and served with home made tomato sauce.

And last but not least, Alba and Cyra cooked my favorite Guatemalan meal of all time .... Pollo Guisado. This flavorful stew of chicken and potatoes (and other vegetables, depending on the wealth of the cook), which is served over rice, uses a local spice called achiote for its unique taste and deep red color.
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