Sunday, July 31, 2005

See the Pictures!

Until I migrate to WordPress or something equally cool, see the whole extravaganza and then some at Open Windows - Tales of an Itinerant Librarian

Saturday, June 26, 2004

June 26, 2004

So that’s it. There’s only so much you can do and observe in 10 days. One thing is certain: cataloging is not a simple business. And it is equally arduous explaining to non-librarians why this is so. So often during this project, I was asked what the hold up was—why I couldn’t use cataloging in publication or just make up numbers. Again and again, I found myself looking to my textbooks trying to find support for what librarians know: that CIP is merely a guideline, that much depends on a specific collection and that what one cataloger may describe as a book on mental illness (150 – Psychology), another may describe as a sociological study (304—Factors affecting social behavior). Cataloging practice may be as different as one person’s taste for meat and another’s for tofu. But of course, as a professional, you know this. Being in school we hear it all the time. But out in the world, even people who you think would understand this (and by this I really mean people who’ve been to college or who read a lot), don’t. Still, as many humanitarian organizations seem to have realized, aid is best when the aider doesn’t just do everything for the aidees; that is, we help create a model then move on to help elsewhere. No more is this more applicable than in setting up the library in San Miguel Duenas. I was not there long enough to thoroughly assess the community’s needs. However, I saw a good deal and it is my hope that by giving them a framework such as Dewey, the children will begin to understand the notion of access control, that they will be able to find the books and resources that will help them learn about the world and that they will, in turn, pass on what they learn to their friends and neighbors.
            Even if this happens, they will still be poor. Jean told me that one child who comes to the library wants to be a doctor but that most have more modest dreams: enough money buy pencils or vitamins or a birthday present, enough resources to have take care of their own families one day. In short, what I see the library doing is what a library should do: give them a future. Surely every human being is entitled to that.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

June 21 - June 23, 2004

The days pass quickly now in much the same way. A small bit of sight seeing in Antigua, a lot of cataloging and cleaning in Duenas. The last full day of my stay, Jean asks me to go up to the library to bring a new book that’s come via the Airline Ambassadors. It’s mid-afternoon and I’m feeling lazy. Besides, the sky looks as though it’s about to burst and empty all the water that ever was. The night before it had rained buckets and the power was off for awhile. To a hearty Midwestern farm girl like me, this isn’t a big deal. Summer rains are something you live with. What is a bit nerve wracking is that the roads have tendency to wash out here. But Jean really wants me to go and make sure that the folks up at the library know what do when a new book comes. So I go.

I wait awhile until a bus for Duenas arrives. Sure enough it goes past the finca, winds up the hill, makes a few tight turns. Then, abruptly, it stops. I’ve seen this spot before but always as the bus was wheezing its way up towards Duenas. Now, apparently it’s the end of line of this bus. I believe this is Ciudad Vieja.

The few school kids left trickle off. The bus driver and conductor look at me—ah, you thought this bus was going to Duenas, they laugh jovially,  it’s not. I’m sure they’re having me on but after a bit of fancy maneuvering, they turn the bus around, point it down the hill and with a small apologetic puff of smoke, it’s gone.

Now, I suppose there might be some circumstance when you’d say to yourself, gee I’m glad to be in Cuidad Vieja waiting for a bus just before the rainstorm of the century—something to do with it being the only place left on earth. In the normal course of events, however, you probably wouldn’t find yourself standing alone staring at the sagging grey clouds with no idea when the next bus might arrive and say to yourself, “Well thank God, I’m here.” There doesn’t seem to be anyone around; few cars pass by. Finally an older man, bent and wrinkled comes around the corner and stops for minute. “Perdon. Senor,” I have been told that begging pardon like this is the way to win friends and influence people in Spanish. “¿Sabe Usted si el autobus por Duenas pasa aqui? The minute it’s out of my mouth, I think wrong! You said saber instead of conocer. Oh maybe it’s right and did I conjugate the verb correctly—was that the familiar instead of the formal? Even after 2 weeks, it is a major transaction asking the simplest things. I am quite sure more than a few people wondered what sort of mental institutions they run in the States.
But the Senor seems to know what I mean and he’s not offended. A light passes over his face, he smiles and says "Si. El camioneta pasa aqui." He makes a sweeping motion with his hands in the general direction of the street. He tells me just to wait, it will be along. He seems pleased to have helped. That’s the thing here, people will help though I’m most comfortable with babies and old men; anyone else and I’m totally out of my league.

As rain begins to fall more earnestly, I try and find somewhere out of it while at the same time remaining visible to the bus. Within 15 minutes, Esmeralda, a Duenas buses comes. This second bus has an older driver and a young fare taker. This fareman is what your Spanish grammar calls guapo (handsome) or at least HE thinks he is. He’s only about my height with slicked-back hair, tight jeans on a wiry build, a white shirt. I give him 1Q and I know I should be getting change-- a lot-- but he pockets the coin and continues hopping down the aisle. I glare at him. I feel my cultural superiority rear its ugly head. And when he heads back towards the front of the bus, I stop him. “Those jeans are a lousy imitation of the ones WE get from China. You think you can rip me off because I’m a gringa. Well, I know how to make change don’t you, you jerk!” Actually, I don’t, but I do give him a pointed stare and a little smirk when I get off the bus.
Here we are at the end of the line in Duenas. I scurry up the street to the library, sheltering the new book “Océano uno color diccionario enciclopédico” under my arm.

It’s busy inside. Lilian is working with some kids. I briefly interrupt to say a new book has come. She doesn’t look especially happy about this, but offers to stop her instruction and catalog it. I know this is what Jean had in mind, but tell her, no, you can do it later. I snap a few pictures and on the way out, see Dalia. I tell her thank you for letting me play in your library and make it a big mess (why do I try these jokes when my Spanish is so poor?) Ae you leaving, she asks, going back to Jean’s? Yes, I’m leaving but going back to my house (mi casa en los estados unidos). I tell her I miss my daughter but want to come back Duenas if they would like me to. Oh yes, she says, and bring your daughter next time, we’ll be waiting to meet her. Dalia is so sweet.

The same driver -conductor team operate the bus back down to Antigua and I’m delighted to report the conductor has dripped his lunch of over the front of his white shirt. This time, I get my change.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

June 20, 2004

Sunday I head back and work for 5 solid hours. At noon, I go out to take a few pictures. When I come back I feel discouraged: it looks as though I’ve done so little but really, this is a big job. Maybe more than one person can do in 2 weeks. Just as I’m becoming maudlin, Claire, Tere’s daughter knocks on the gate. She’s come to collect me with her son Joey, an 18 month old who’s pure delight (I write this because I’m not his mother and thoroughly enjoy his no, no noing  to everything and the fact that he speaks Spanish about as well as I do). We drive back to Panorama and I settle in to read a trashy novel brought from the States.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

June 19, 2004

It’s all work and no playing around. Saturday morning I catch the bus about 10. I should tell you a little more about San Miguel Duenas. The town is five miles southwest of Antigua—that’s about an hour’s walk over very busy dusty roads at the foot of Acatenango volcano. Its mainstays were coffee, sugarcane and miscellaneous agricultural stuffs, but now I’m not so sure. You can still see the fincas, but I don’t know how much coffee they actually produce. During the civil war, there was some trouble.

Duenas isn’t a very big: roughly 12,000 people and another 2,000 displaced or homeless. Despite its apparent poverty (many of the homes have no running water and there is a communal washing spot just beyond the library), the mountains are lush and green with many vistas of the mountains, all beneath impressive, sculptured clouds and baking sun. About a mile outside of town there’s an organic macadamia nut farm run by a nutty American. I wondered why travelers were getting off the bus before Duenas in what appeared to be forest. Then I went home and read the guidebook. Apparently, you can go for a tour and learn all the secrets There is a main cobbled-stoned drag right up to the volcano, and even with the cobbles and ruts the trucks and cars manage roar up it. The library is a short walk from the bus station and even inside you can feel the road trembling under the weight of traffic.
Before you even get to Duenas, there is a fine expanse of newly paved road, some glorious scenery and several impossible intersections. That road is a mixed blessing--speed bumps grace the Duenas city limits. In any case, it was apparently awhile in coming. In 1996 when the government and guerrillas signed a peace accord, the government chased in its bounty – millions of dollars from its wealthy trading partners and bought asphalt –tons of it. But some government official or group of them decided to spare Chapin workers the wearisome task of laying steaming tar in the hot sun and pocketed the money instead.

Money and aid in the form of blankets, books and food goes missing all the time here. Someone at Jean and Tere’s house recounted the story of a baker they knew who wanted to donate excess honey buns to hungry children. He contacted the secretary of the Ministry of Culture in charge of these things. She told him, yes, of course she would take care of it, if only he would have the 1,000 or so buns delivered to her offices. Needless to say, the donation was never made. But this sort of story is common in Guatemala. With a parade of corrupt leaders, the country could be a study in mismanagement and oppression. Recently, Guatemala had an hour of glory when it refused Rios Montt, the man whose military regime ordered the slaughter of thousands during the country’s most violent years, the chance to re-install himself as president. In fact, they ran him out of the country. The man they got, Oscar Berger, is perhaps better. But Guatemalans, if you can get them to even speak of politics will look over their shoulders, lean over conspiratorially and whisper that all their politicians are crooked.

Anyway, you need to pass through town to get to Acatenango and since many tourists do just that, residents are used to seeing them. Not that they come in big bunches, but they do come. Also, Open Windows draws its share of volunteers from around the world and I found some of the kids in the library to be what, almost jaded in their outlook on people from elsewhere. So Saturday isn’t too bad. I drag the fan from the computer room into the main library and begin the process of dusting the shelves and books, sorting and cataloging.
By 4.30 I’m beat and though I’ve washed my hands a dozen times, they are sticky and faintly grey from the ashy dust that settles over everything. I head home on a very crowded bus and miss the stop by a few hundred feet. In all the time I am there, I will never, ever get the hang of the bus. Do I tell them Panorama is the stop or Calle de Alianza or San Pedro?

Friday, June 18, 2004

June 18, 2004

Back to work at the library. Today, Tere and Jean ferry me up. I think Jean fears I’ve made a bigger mess than was already there. To be truthful, I fear that too. Lilian and I work to sort out the English books and pull their cards, an arduous task since one box of index cards is still pretty much out of order. But by day’s end we have stacked them up on one of the big tables the kids use for doing homework. “Lilian,” I ask, “do you find this work too much?” But the words are so garbled and the look on her face so completely blank that I grab the handy pocket dictionary and start pointing to words. Abburrido? Bored? No, she answers simply but hinting at a level obsequiousness I thought only possible from a teenager who wants the keys to your new convertible.  Lilian and Professor Lorenzo pull the book-laden table into the bodega, lock up and we’re on our way.
            I pass the evening thinking of nothing and watching English-speaking TV. When it’s time to retire, I scout the room for mosquitoes, as has become my habit, whack a few with a printout of the Dewey summaries, read and call it a day.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

June 17, 2004 - still later that afternoon

I missed the library because the entrance is unmarked and under the same roof as the , a small open door in the huge white face, like a mouth missing a front tooth. And though the front of the building is massive, the interior, at least what the public is allowed into, is the size of some dining rooms I’ve been in. At one end of the room there is a huge table with carved wooden legs.
Dozens of volumes are scattered on it. I don’t know if they’re waiting for cataloging, or a place on the shelves, but the whole place has the disheveled look of my daughter’s room. There is a spare collection of English language books, but they don’t seem to be grouped in any way. And those books that do have labels on the spine seem to employ a kind of hybrid Dewey, one that I am unfamiliar with. It’s almost like Dewey meets LC. I scribbled down a few of the call numbers and titles then promptly lost the paper I wrote them on. I still haven’t found it.
Introducing myself to the two people sitting in the place, I say I’m a librarian from the states who’s come to help in Duenas. This gets approving murmurs and then, because I feel like an idiot, I smile and stroll out into the overheated afternoon in search of an Internet “café.” Here’s the thing: it’s not hard to find one because there are three or four on every block and the question becomes more finding the best deal. It’s weird: the government doesn’t have enough money to put in a drainage pipe in townsbut they have enough to wire up the touristy towns like Antigua.  Settling on one that’s close to the bus stop, I walk into what appears to be a stationary store, following the signs to the rear and to a space the size of a large closet. Probably it was a closet. It’s about as dark as one, except for the other-worldly glow of computer terminals. There are about six of them, one of which is free if you can wedge yourself into the corner, which I manage. The rest seem to be occupied by pre-pubescent (and not so pubescent) boys playing games. I’m reassured to know that around the world there are kids doing this (in fact, I’m happy to report to you that one of LC’s subject headings is “Geeks (Computer enthusiasts).” (entered in 2000)). But they jab with their elbows and yell in raucous Spanish and somehow I feel that I’ve been plunked back to Miami without my permission. Quickly checking my mail,  I pay my Quetzales and head back to the bus and to Panorama.

June 17, 2004 - 2.30 in the afternoon

            Mosquitoes have been snacking on my ankles, it’s a beautiful day and I’m anxious to get out. Rotten Spanish or not, I decide I must go into Antigua alone, without the protection of my kind bilingual friends and prowl around. I walk to the corner and wait for the bus. Two or three of them pass at breakneck speed, leaving a cocktail of dust. The one that stops is moderately crowded, the same jolly music is belting out the windows as the previous two.

The fare into town is a little less than 2 Q but I have only large bills. Some time during the past week, I can’t remember when now, I discovered I’d left my ATM card back in the States. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I’d brought money, but I didn’t. The only cash I had ($40) I’d changed into Quetzales and much of that was already spoken for: the shuttle back to the airport, the exit tax the Guatemalan government charges when you leave the country. What I did have was a MasterCard. But don’t ever, ever believe those commercials that tell you MasterCard is spoken here or that there are some things that money can’t buy and for everything else there’s MasterCard because it just isn’t so. At least in Antigua. With the help of Julia (Jean’s daughter) and Tere (who ferried us into town and then circled the streets while we tried to find a bank that would let me buy Quetzales with the card) I finally purchase about $100 of currency. But I didn’t think to ask for change. So when I hand the conductor a 50 Quetzal bill, he snarls out something to the effect of “why the hell are you giving me such a big bill” but makes the change.

We pass the Antigua Spa Resort a few miles outside the Antigua city limits. Julia has told me that whenever you see a gringo walking along the side of the road between Panorama and Antigua, you can be sure he’s staying at the Spa. I never go into this place but the Rough Guide to Guatemala deems it “a sumptuous environment” with “volcano views and very attractive rooms with pine furnishings and log fires”  There are “lots of opportunities for indulgence in the form of herbal wraps, milk almond baths and body massages.” [1] I don’t know about you, but milk is something I’ve always enjoyed drinking not bathing in. I find it strange to travel this far just to get a massage. Oh well.

 I get off the bus too early and walk from Alameda Santa Lucia down Cinco Calle Poniente. There are an amazing number of internet cafes and I start scouting for one with reasonable rates. Before choosing one, I wander towards the central square. As one of the first “planned” cities in the Americas, Antigua is built on a grid pattern. Even with limited Spanish, it isn’t too hard to get one’s bearings: the avenidas run north to south, the calles east and west. There are also those three volcanoes. I remember reading that Agua is the one that dominates and that it is to the south.
I find the Ayuntamiento—city hall—a building of heroic proportions. Its walls are one metre thick and it is one of the few buildings to survive the pageant of earthquakes that have disrupted the city. When the capital moved to Guatemala City in 1779, the building was abandoned. But it was too solid to deteriorate. For awhile it was home to the local police. Now City Hall is back and you can find administrative offices on the second floor as well as a great view of the park and the busy street. On the first floor there are several banks and two museums: the Museo de Santiago, a hodgepodge of everything colonial: scraps of pottery, a sword that allegedly belonged to Pedro deAlvardo, the Spaniard who brought slavery and racist exploitation to the country, traditional Mayan weapons and some paintings. There’s an old city jail here where condemned prisoners once spent their last hours before being marched out to the central plaza and hung.

The one I can’t refuse is the Museo del Libro Antigua. (Antigua Book Museum ). In these very rooms, the first printing press in Central America found a home. You might not have thought it, but Antigua was the Mainz of the Central American isthmus, busily pumping out books and other printed materials. In 1600, a Gutenberg-type press arrived from Puebla de los Angles in Mexico, only the third one to find its way into the Spanish American colonies.

Though the original press is no longer there, a charming replica sits in the main exhibition room. The museum itself is only three rooms and a lovely interior courtyard full of lush green growing things and flowers. Within those rooms, though there all kinds of aging books – many religious. Like many things in Guatemala, the whole collection seems under-stated. On the walls, there are aging placards describing the history of printing, the printing process and great moments in Antigua publishing. Third room has what we refer to these days as limited edition art books. These have marbled endpapers done in la manera de Japonés. (“in Japanese style,” though with all the gilding and swirling I would have thought the style was Italian).At one time, I bet they were stunning: the golds really gold, the yellows really yellow. But that’s the thing here, I keep getting the impression that once everything was bright and shiny but that it’s all been worn down by the years of heat, repression and volcanic dust.

Further back, there’s another courtyard which it appears is part of a school. I poke my head in. I’m the only person around. It would be a great place to have a nap, but I decide to look around the city some more, say my graciases to the museum attendant and pass out the door.Directly left is the Biblioteca Internacional de Antigua but I don’t know this and climb up the Ayuntamiento stairs instead. Nope. No library here though the balcony is cool and the view pleasing. After resting a few minutes, I go downstairs again to the street which is crowded with tourists and people going about their business. It’s well after lunchtime and it is hot, the kind of hot you feel on your face when you open a 400 degree oven.
Julia had given me some directions for the library, but there’s nothing I can see that fits her description. So I go back up the Ayuntamiento stairs. There’s someone there now and I ask, begging his pardon where the library is. Only it doesn’t come out that way. It’s more like, “Where can one find the librarian?” He offers a kindly smile and I laugh—do I sound like my Spanish grammar book or what? The librarian, he says, can be found in the library and that is over there (pointing to a huge white-washed edifice that only a blind person could miss). Oh thank you very much, and I’m down the stairs and across the street in a minute

[1] Iain Stewart. The Rough Guide to Guatemala. (London: Rough Guides) 2002.

June 17 - Noon

Home for lunch. In Guatemala, as in many other countries, this is the big meal. But I am not used to eating so much at lunch. I pick at what’s on the table and help myself to many, many tortillas. After lunch, I set up the computer in the courtyard and being working on notes for the library staff. How to condense two years of graduate school into a short, easy to translate paper? Well, you can view the results and judge for yourself Notes for the Library and Its Upkeep.

June 17 - 10 am

Up late filing cards and reading material I downloaded from OCLC, so I decide to work from Jean’s house part of the day. At 7 A.M., there’s the work bell. I believe it’s from the finca next door. It’s a tired, windy sound-- as tired and repressive as the colonial institution of the coffee plantation-- and it reminds me of the whistle on a child’s electric train set. There is the smell of roasting coffee and burning trash.

Tere and I meet in the kitchen and she tells me that Thursday is market day. I beg her to let me go because, quite frankly three days of filing and shelving has taken its toll. She agrees, no problem. At 9.30 Tere, Maria (the housemaid), Joey (Tere’s 18 month old grandson), Ana (his babysitter) and I pile into the van with half a dozen shopping baskets. We head into Antigua and drop Ana and Joey at one of Tere’s numerous relatives’. Then we’re off to the market.

The Thursday mercado in Antigua is extraordinary; crowded, noisy, a riot of color. There are narrow covered halls specializing in every imaginable edible thing: red tomatoes, small green tomatoes (militomate), chiles, garlic, a whole hallway dedicated to meat. To the left of the food market, a bazaar of tiny dark cubicles from which people sell all manner of brightly woven cloth, jewelry, and leather sandals. It seems incongruous that people so poor have so much agricultural plenty. But this is the thing I’m finding about Guatemala: it’s a place of sharp contrasts and sometimes they juxtaposed so sharply they crash into one another.

In the meantime, I’m plodding after Maria and Tere. Tere leads the way down crowded little corridors. Maria runs (in heels) to keep up with Tere, weighted down on both sides with the shopping bags. In this place where the women make the most beautiful woven bags, I’m surprised that the ones Maria carries are made of some sort of synthetic. When she puts one down to examine some beans with Tere, I pick it up and nearly fall backwards. Maria wants to take it  back but I stagger along behind barely able to keep up. At another stop, I discretely put it down and she picks it up.
At some point after about an hour of shopping, weaving and darting, the load is too much even for Maria and she heads back to the car with two loaded bags. Tere and I each carry lighter ones as Tere makes a final stops at the coconut man’s stall. Here we all get refreshment. The man punches holes in three coconuts, inserts three plastic straws and voila! we have a drink. Tere gets another one for the road—her grandson loves this she tells me. Maria reminds Tere that she needs flowers to lay at her parents’ graves, so we stop and look for flowers. Again, I am amazed at the bounty: flowers of every size and color.