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Dirt, Dogs, Bathrooms and Bedrooms

Wednesday, 11 February 2009 00:00 Tracesea Slater


El Nahual is located at the edge of the city as it goes into the rural area. The main road to the school is dirt and rocks. It is also very much uphill. By the time I almost get to the school I am out of breath. The dust here is pretty bad from the streets also there is pollution from the vehicles that often emit black smoke, in addition, the nearby volcano erupts and there is smoke from that. Each day I clean out my nose at night and the tissue is black.

the hill going back into town from school

There are dogs everywhere here in the streets all of which are very pitiful looking and many seem on the verge of death. Some follow you for a while, presumably looking for food. Apparently some of the dogs are rabid and we are recommended to not touch the dogs or approach them. If they start to growl or chase us we are told to pick up a rock and make a motion of throwing it. If a growling rabid pack of dogs starts to chase me I will have no problem actually throwing rocks at them. Luckily, so far I have not had this problem. Usually dogs will just follow me for little bit and then go away when I don´t give them anything.

dog tired

Everyday when as I walk the streets, I see women carrying large things on their heads. Sometimes they are not holding onto the the packages on their heads but balancing them. Often they have other things in their hands like bags, baskets or even chairs! I am amazed by this because the roads are so uneven and rocky and I have to be careful so I don´t trip and fall.


When you go to the bathroom here you cannot put the paper in the toilet. There is always a garbage can and you put the toilet paper in there. It is hard to remember to do this because it is such a habit to put the paper in the toilet. If you don´t remember the toilet can get clogged up. So far this hasn´t happened to me and I hope it doesn´t…

school bathroom

The sinks here often have two knobs, one for hot and one for cold, but only one works…the cold. At my house, they don´t do dishes in the morning because the water is so cold from the night before. The shower automatically has cold water and if you want luke warm water you have to flip a switch that is outside of the shower and looks like the switches on a circuit breaker. If you want a cold shower you can have a large trickle of water and if you want a warm shower you get a small trickle. I never realized how luxurious the shower at my house in the US is!

chilly shower

Before I left for Guatemala, my husband joked with me that I would be in a family where there were lots of children who were all sharing a room to sleep and I would have my own room. We joked about how the children might look in my room enviously as I had the whole room to myself. Well, we really weren´t too far off. Last night I realized that all three children and the grandmother shared a room. Tony and Maria Jose share one bed and Sonia and Jennifer share the other one. This is very different from the US where we usually all have our own room. Also, it would be rare for a brother and sister to share a room and even rarer a bed. After seeing that they were all sharing the room, I felt pretty guilty about having a room all to myself.

mi cuarto

Well, I  have to go now, look for gloves and start some manual labor. Later I can look forward to my warm trickle to wash away all the dirt. I think I will sleep well tonight.


This is so COOL!

Lost in Xela

Guatemala continued…

Wednesday, 11 February 2009 00:00 Tracesea Slater

After I wrote my last blog I attempted to head back to El Nahual, but I couldn’t remember how to get there. Xela is a city of hills and the streets are not very straight, they go this way and that. I tried to pay attention when Noemi walked me to school, but alone I had a hard time. Everything looked the same to me. So, after walking for a while I noticed that the surroundings became increasingly rural and unfamiliar. After retracing my steps I tried another way and eventually found my way there, only about 45 minutes late for my volunteer work.

Teachers outside the school

When I arrived at the school I could´t find the international coordinator, Eva, so I wasn´t sure what to do. There were several students around, but they weren´t especially friendly or helpful, but that subject is for another blog. I waited for a while, but then decided to just go for a walk. On my walk I met Eva as she was showing another volunteer around. She showed us the garden that they are working on as part of their program for local women. The women can work the garden and use the vegetables for their families or to sell. The garden did not seem to have anything in it at the moment.

The Classroom

After the tour of the school, Eva and I got some tools (a pick axe and shovel) and headed over to the construction site where they are going to build a new school. When we arrived the other volunteers and the local coordinator, Juan Pedro, were leaving. I´m pretty sure that they were not happy when Eva told them to keep working for another 1/2 hour so they could show me what to do. However, they headed back to the site with me and we commenced to dig in the dirt. Basically we were using the shovels, pick axes and some other tool that I have never seen before to break the dirt away from the side of a hill. We have to dig into the hill to a certain point and then flatten it all out to put the school there. There were a lot of rocks and tree roots in the side of the hill and it was pretty difficult work. I stabbed at the side of the hill with my tool and for so much effort, little seemed accomplished. Another volunteer, a man much stronger than myself, was making good progress on his portion until the shovel broke. The tools all seem pretty old and not in very good shape. Within 15 minutes I had blisters on my hand and I was covered in dirt. The dirt really didn´t taste very good in my mouth. Today I hope to find a store to buy some gloves so that it will be a bit easier on my hands. Assuming that they are not very expensive I will probably just buy gloves to donate to the school for everyone to use. All the volunteers have blisters on their hands. The only person who didn´t have blisters was Juan Pedro, who probably has been working on this project for a while and has developed calluses.

la vaca in back of the school

After that, I went into the city center with the rest of the students and volunteers to a cafe where we were meeting to discuss the volunteer schedule for the next week. The tasks were divided up among us and we learned a little bit more about what was available. I was given 2 art classes to teach and also more construction.

Clayton, Johanna and I at the Cafe

Afterwards, I left with my housemate, Johanna. She was pretty sure she knew how to get back to the house. Also, I thought that I knew how to get back to the school, so in the worse case scenario we could go there and then find our way home. Unfortunately, we were both mistaken. So, at 8:00 at night we wandered the streets of Xela lost. I was really glad that we were together, but it really was not a fun experience. It´s one thing to be lost in the day, but at night it was a little disconcerting. Eventually we found our way back to the cafe to ask directions and lucky for us, some other students happened to be there and they offered to walk us to a more familiar place. So, we all walked together for a while then went our separate ways. Johanna and I were pretty sure that we knew the way home then, but we ended up a little confused again. Luckily, a very nice man on the side of the road saw our confusion and offered to help. We told him the street we were looking for and he directed us there. By the time we got home, it was about 9:30 and we probably were only about 10 minutes from the cafe and it took us an hour an a half to get there!

Xela Street

Now I am pretty sure that I know how to get to the school and back and to the cafe and back and to this internet place and back. Someday when I have more time in the day I hope to learn more of the city.

Fried Cereal, Drag Queens and Dora the Explorer

Charles Phoenix fried up some cereal at the DCF last year in in his Test Kitchen and it was delicious! I know because I tried it.

One of the contestants from last year’s Miss County Fair Drag Queen contest

Meet Dora in the Kids Pavilion on Sunday, 11:00 am – 2:00 pm! And keep a lookout for Swiper, the fox! We don’t want HIM at the fair!

Yes, you can find all these things in one place this weekend….. The 2nd ever, Denver County Fair.

Know what else you can find at the DCF this weekend?


And tons of other crafty folks in the Denver Handmade Alliance Pop-Up Booth. Come on down y’all and visit us in the craft pavilion!

Here are the details:

Denver County Fair

Friday – Sunday
August 10th-12th, 2012
Friday and Saturday 10am – 10pm
Sunday 10am – 6pm – Viva Denver Day!

National Western Complex
4655 Humboldt St.
Denver, CO 80216
Expo Hall, Hall of Education, Stadium Hall & Stadium

I’ll be working in the booth on Friday and Saturday from 1:45-6pm. Hope to see you there!

Cool Down in Historic Georgetown

On Saturday it will be 90 degrees here in Denver, escape the heat and meander in the cool mountain air.

Come one, come all and visit me this weekend scenic Georgetown, home of:

The Happy Cooker

Here I’ll be:

Hit the Road with the Horseshoe Market to Georgetown
Saturday, August 4th, 10 am-4 pm
In the parking lots outside of the Hotel de Paris Museum in Downtown Georgetown

409 6th Ave  Georgetown, CO 80444

An outdoor market celebrating and featuring 35 of Colorado artists, crafters and vintage collectors

For more information, go to http://www.horseshoemarket.com/hittheroad/georgetown

Bowl Breaker – New Day of the Dead Bowls by Gita

I’m interrupting the regularly scheduled vintage Guatemala posts with this breaking news…….

I’m a breaker of bowls and our supply of bowls big enough to support my husband’s love of cereal has dwindled significantly.

So, I got some new bowls:Image

I met Gita from Stone Leaf Pottery at the Denver Handmade Homemade Market a couple of months ago and was admiring her lovely pottery. I contacted her via email (gita at stoneleafpottery.com) and asked her if she could make me some custom bowls with a skull design. She was wonderful to work with on the design and the bowls came out perfect!

So, if you’re a bowl breaker like me or you’re just looking for some unique and beautiful pottery, give Gita an email. You’ll be happy you did!

First Day at El Nahual

Monday, 09 February 2009 00:00 Tracesea Slater


This morning I got up and we had cereal for breakfast before Noemi walked Johanna and I to our first day at El Nahual. The walk took about 15 minutes and was primarily uphill. Since, I am out of shape and I was carrying a bunch of books to donate to the school, it was a bit difficult. I´m sure I will be used to it after making the journey several times each day. We arrived at El Nahual and were greeted by Eva, who showed us where the coffee was. It was unlike any coffee I have ever, almost clear… It was definitely the weakest coffee I´ve had before. Later I discovered the reddish tea that is available and I think I´ll stick to that. After a brief orientation, it is discovered that my teacher is waiting for me and I am 30 minutes late for class. Eva had thought that all 4 new students were having class in the afternoon, but it turns out that I will have class in the morning. So, I meet my teacher for the next two weeks, Lilly. She gives me a test, which after witnessing my struggles, she quickly replaces with an easier one. She says that they told her I was intermediate level, but the intermediate level test is clearly too difficult. So much for my previous feeling that I was doing so good with my Spanish. I guess that being around people who don´t speak any Spanish at all can make your own meager ability go to your head! Anyway, Lilly went through verbs with me to assess my knowledge and then taught me some new verbs. We practiced speaking to one another and she gave me some tips about safety and encouraged me to try speaking in Spanish as much as possible.

Mi Maestra Lili

We took a break for about 1/2 hour in the middle of the lesson and I went to the roof and met some other students. You can see a volcano from the roof and I guess there are many more in the area.

Volcano View from the Rooftop Classroom

The street all around the school is all torn up apparently in the midst of some kind of construction although I didn´t see anyone working on it.

Construction outside El Nahual

At 12:00 I returned to the house with Johanna and we helped to prepare lunch. Lunch is the biggest meal in Guatemala and I think that they give me more than anyone else because I am a guest. Today we had chicken in a green tomatilla sauce with potatoes and peas, broccolli, tortillas and rice. This was the first meal I have had in Guatemala so far that didn´t include beans. All the food I have had here so far has been very delicious. It is similar to Mexican food, in that there are lots of beans, rice and tortillas. There are different flavors though and the food has not been spicy, although salsa piquante (hot sauce) is offered on the side.

After lunch, Jennifer showed me how to get to this internet place and now I am going back to El Nahual to volunteer. I´m not sure what I will be doing, but I´ll fill you in next time.

Adios por este momento!

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