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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Volunteers from Georgia

Andrew Longhi, and his mother Tricia Kolsby spent 10 days volunteering here early in the new year. Andrew had toured Project Ix-canaan earlier in the year with a student group called "The Dragons", and was inspired to return and offer his resources and energy to opening a market for the women's handicrafts.
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The Morning Jungle Chorus

Each morning as the sun's rays begin to lighten the skies, the Morning Jungle Chorus lines up on the topmost branch of the tree of giant lemons, which they have conveniently plucked clean of all leaves and spines, for their cacaphonous greeting of the dawn, an event that effectively catalyzes the entire neighborhood into morning movement! The members of this chorus are, from left to right, Angel, R2D2, Gypsy and Gandalf.
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A Volunteer from France

For the past couple of weeks, Sophie Marquestaut from France has been volunteering as librarian while Carolyn is travelling in Honduras.

Each afternoon Sophie opens the library to all the children who want to "drop-in" to play on the playground, to read books, put puzzles together, color in coloring books, or learn a new game, like this group ... who are getting quite adept at Monopoly!

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A Sea of Ramon

I first learned about ramon seeds shortly after moving here. Known as "Yaxox" in Mayan, the ramon tree (Brosimum Alicastrum) is a member of the fig family, which also includes mulberry trees. Referred to as "corn tree" by the Maya civilization, its nut was a staple food crop, capable of being stored for lengthy periods of time, that was roasted, ground into a flour and combined with corn for baking or boiled and eaten like potatoes. Ramon nuts are actually the seed of the ramon fruit. They have zero fat and can be ground into flour which is gluten-free making it a nutritious addition to gluten-free flours. Ramon flour is very high in potassium, fiber and tryptophan, the amino acid that helps calm stress and anxiety. Ramon nuts were used medicinally by the Maya to detoxify the liver and promote lactation in nursing women. Other common names for ramon nuts are ojoche, mojo. breadnut and mayanut.

Ramon was integral to the physical and spiritual life of the Maya as evidenced by their 4th day-sign glyph, KAN, meaning "the seed" ... which is a depiction of a ramon seed.

Enrique and I have been championing the re-popularization of ramon seeds since we first heard about them, and understood their importance, not only as a food, but as a way for the people of the rainforest to earn a living in harmony with the trees of the jungle (see Through the support of various organizations, the women's group of Ixlu (our neighboring village) now operates a full-fledged production/packaging facility for Ramon Flour and Ramon Beverage.
(see AND ).

Just before Christmas, we were pleased to be able to visit this new facility while in full operation to see their complete, professional setup.

The first step, when the seeds are brought into the facility is to do a primary hand cleaning to remove sticks and stones and other debris.

The seeds then spend from 4 to 7 days, depending on the weather, in solar dryers.

Then they are put through a "forced air" dryer to take even more moisture out.

After which the seeds are loaded into a professional "toasting/roasting" machine that roasts them lightly for flour, or darker for the beverage/coffee substitute.

The facility is also equipped with a professional oven for baking the breads, cakes and cookies which are being marketed to local people as well as to the tourism industry.

The group is marketing a range of products, from fresh bread and cookies that are sold locally, to flour and coffee substitute that are now waiting FDA approval to begin sales in foreign countries

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Friends of Ix-canaan

This week, Bill Horne and Christine Savary, both of Calgary, Alberta, have been here visiting. Bill and Christine are part of our incredible support group that enables us to continue the work of Project Ix-canaan.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

First Banana Harvest

The women of Global Coalition for Peace were greeted on the first trip of the year by another first ... the first "Banana Harvest" from their "Forest Garden". Rose and Kavita enjoy a couple of the regular eating bananas ...

while the women of the group divide up the rest of the harvest, which includes majunches, as well as the tiny delicious manzanitas (apple bananas)and regular bananas.

Doña Bety separated the bananas and divided them amongst the women of the group ... (here she is separating the racim of majunches) ...
Doña Blanca and her daughters start with a few small ones ...

Cyra and her daughter ....

And Doña Goya carries the majunches on her head, the bananas in her hands, and a few little manzanitas peeking out of her pocket.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Volunteers for Women's Group

Once again, Rose Lord (with sunglasses) is back to work with the Grupo Femenino Ix-canaan. Rose ( has been coming here 3 times yearly for 3 years now to support the personal and group development of the village women. This time, Rose was accompanied by Kavita Krishna (right), a documentary film maker, and Cecilia Zavaleta, (left) their translator from Washington, D.C. Also with me on this "errand run" into town was Melonie Old (2nd from left), who has been visiting from Calgary, Alberta.
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