Thursday, March 7, 2013

Do Women's Situations Improve [In Guatemala]

When I travel, I love meeting people from other cultures and having my assumptions questioned. My husband and I recently returned from a tour of Guatemala which included Panajachel, a Mayan village near Lake Atitlan. Our guide told us to re-think our concept of poverty as we explored the Third World. We tried to heed his advice as we explored several Mayan villages hoping to learn about Guatemala today since the end of their 36 year civil war in 1996. Children were helping their families work but they were also going to school on triple shifts practically around the clock. At a parochial school we visited, fifth graders shared computers and greeted us as we arrived. Were we seeing poverty or a reflection of our First World prejudices?

As we walked through the main street of bustling Panajachel, we saw the sign for a Mayan Women’s Center. We found it in Thirteen Threads (Trece Hilos), their store which sells handicrafts at fair market prices. I told them that I was a social worker from the United States and really interested in their programs so they gave me a tour. The classroom was empty at the moment, but they told me that they teach classes in four subjects – artisan and product development, health and well-being, small business skills, and democracy and team building. Besides teaching at the center, they have several outreach workers who go out to the villages to teach and provide support. They also provide micro-loans for women to start small businesses. Whatever had been women’s situation in Guatemala during their civil war and since, this center is doing a lot to improve it.

The Center receives no government financial help so they depend on private contributions and grants. If you want to donate to them, their website is or you can go through their United States based fiscal sponsor. Maya Educational Foundation, P.O. 1483, Wellfleet, MA 02667. They have mixed groups of local and foreign women going out to the villages also. That sounded like a great experience for anyone whose Spanish speaking ability is adequate -alas mine is not.

The tour of the Women’s Center over, we returned to the main shopping street where we found a bookstore. Luckily for me, their last English language Guatemalan cookbook was still there. The Guatemalan food that we had on the trip was very tasty. While they had many of the same foods that are found in Mexican cuisine, they used different spices so it had of course, a totally different taste. For the most part, Guatemalan food is less spicy than Mexican food but very flavorful. Starting with a less complicated dish, here is a recipe for black bean or guacamole tostadas. Guatemalan women still make their tortillas from scratch which we watched them do in some restaurants. Most Americans aren’t going to do that but here are recipes for guacamole and for black bean spread that I got from Favorite Recipes from Guatemala by Laura Lynn Woodward. Either of them are good on tortillas.

1 large very ripe avocado
½ tsp lemon or lime juice
1 tsp finely chopped onion
½ tsp ground oregano
¼ tsp salt

Mix all ingredients until smooth.

Black Bean Spread
½ pound black beans
1 medium onion quartered
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion chopped

Boil black beans, onion, and garlic until medium cooked then add salt and continue to cook until beans are very soft. Grind in a food mill. Fry the small onion until golden in oil and add the beans and fry about 20 minutes.

To Prepare the tostadas
Heat oil and deep fry corn tortillas. Spread with desired topping and sprinkle with cheese, parsley, sliced onion, and a dash of hot sauce.

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