Jan 30 – February 3
Two of early shows were in Quetzaltenango parks for large crowds. At Parque Benito Juarez our warm-up show our crowd was dominated by teen-age boys who shine shoes, sell candy or have other marginal businesses next to the Mercado. Parque Central America is the central park of the City and we had tried to play there two years ago and had finally obtained the needed permit.
Two more of our first shows were in orphanages in the Quetzaltenango area. Hogar de Ninos was an orphanage out of town with a wonderful director who showed off the new dormitories being built there. The kids there were super enthusiastic and clung to us throughout the after-show tour. Many kids at these orphanages have families that are alive, but due to some combination of extreme poverty, illness, or addiction, they have placed the kids in these homes. Escuela de la Calle is a school in a shanty neighborhood at the edge of the city funded by international organizations.
Monday, Feb. 4
Two years ago we toured this same Western Guatemala region a few months after Hurricane Stan devastated the region. At that time we targeted the towns that suffered the most death and destruction from the Hurricane. That caused us to visit some very remote areas populated by extremely poor Mayan people who never have a chance to see any kind of live entertainment. This time we did not get too as many remote areas, most of our shows were within an hour of Quetzaltenango.
A town that did have that remote feeling was the Communitaria school we played in the Momostenango area. Kids were celebrating Carnival by crashing egg shells full of confetti and colored powder onto everybody’s head. By the time we started the show, all the teachers, the clowns, Stef and the town’s leadership committee, who were all there, had our heads covered with confetti and our faces smudged with the powders.
Tuesday, Febuary 5th
Two years ago and this year, the award for best local show organizers goes to Concepcion Chiquirichapa. They got us to four very happy, crowded schools in one day, plus time eating and drinking with the principals and head teachers at each school. Sayda and I were exhausted by the end.
Thursday, February 7th
Rudi is back in time to perform early in the morning at a school with 850 wild screaming girls in the audience. We are mobbed after the show and have difficulty getting to our dressing classroom without getting knocked over.
We need Rudi because he’s the head teacher for an-all day workshop for the clowns of Proyecto Payaso. Proyecto Payaso is a very successful group that does HIV/AIDS education through the medium of clown shows all over Central America. Nearly all our participants are experienced clown performers and they are a very playful and communitarian bunch. Sayda runs warm-ups then Rudi drills them rigorously on physical theater basics and tries to instill clown thinking in them all and it is wonderful to see their improvs and hear them gushing clown idealism at the end of the day.
Friday, Febuary 8th
Two very poor towns. A beautiful drive through the high mountain pines to remote Santa Maria Chiquimula. We are told the story there of how the town and the road were plagued by robberies and attacks culminating last year with a vicious attack on the town’s parish priest, who lost an eye and had many bones broken. Following that attack the head of the Civil Guard was arrested for the crime. The Civil Guard are semi-military organizations set up by the Guatemalan military during the civil war to keep the Indian villages in line. Since his arrest the attacks have stopped.
Saturday, Febuary 9th
For the last day as a threesome we make the very long but beautiful drive to Panabaj on Lake Atitlan where two years ago the village was destroyed and 87 people killed by a mudslide caused by Hurricane Stan. Two years later most of the community is still living in the tin refugee housing on top of the mudslide that buried the village. Two years ago the tin shacks were stamped with Save the Children but now the same shacks are stamped Oxfam. They have a new school constructed but it’s empty and the people are destitute. We play for the younger school children and some older ones with some very rough, rocky dirt as our stage. We are not able to gather the whole community together as we did two years ago for political reasons we don’t understand Aid organizations are starting to build permanent shelters on top the mudslide but people do not want to live there because they think the mudslides will return (and they may be very right) and are pressing for other land and housing. Rudi becomes an improv super hero to rescue a shoe that gets thrown on the roof. OK, he threw it on the roof, but the shoe recovery was the best part of the show.
Monday, February 11th
Sayda and I have two excellent and large school shows on our last day and than have to hurry to catch a bus to Guatemala city for our flights. We have to take an earlier bus then we had planned before because of the bus troubles.
Gunmen have been attacking buses, demanding money from the driver and then killing them if they don’t get enough. In one small community the bus riders fought back, overpowered the armed attackers and lynched them both. The next day the gangs showed their organization and sent a message by killing drivers and assistants on five different buses spread all over Guatemala. This all in the last week. Drivers are refusing to drive night routes and about half the intercity bus schedules across the country are canceled. Nearly all Guatemalans travel by bus regularly.
No problems on our bus. We spend the night at Sayda’s Aunt and Uncle in the city then she’s off to New York, I’m back to Portland, and Rudi’s off to San Cristobal, then Brussels. It was a fantastic trip, so rewarding for us. No Child Without a Smile. Thank you to our primary organizer, Pieter Van Nestleroy, and our secondary organizer and home host, Stef, one of the founders of Proyecto Payaso.
I see improvement in Guatemala. It’s a supremely beautiful country and I highly recommend you visit it if you have the chance. There is more economic activity and construction in the towns. The remittances from Guatemalan workers in the US (the number one income of the nation), and the high world prices of all staples, including corn, coffee, and sugar,– are creating economic activity. The violence level is getting slowly better but still very high. Even class neighborhoods in the Guatemala City are surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards at the entrances. And although I think I see more indigenous families running small business, still the economic activity never seems to touch the poorest rural Mayans who make up much of the population. Stef thinks that massive efforts to register poor Indigenous people to vote will have an effect on future elections.
If you would like to read about the history of Guatemala I recommend two fascinating and well written books in English, both very new:
Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World by Peter Chapman and The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop by Francisco Goldman