The Art of Photography

Amber, Blaise and I are applying for Guatemalan residency. This is a lengthy process that I will enter into once I actually understand it. Yesterday, I received an email from our lawyer in Guatemala City that we had an appointment on Feb 1 at 8:30 AM at immigration. For this meeting we needed our passports (check), a letter from our landlord stating our address and how long we lived there and her personal ID numbers (check after a bit of running around), a photocopy of my new passport which was just issued this month and is different from the one I started this process with (check, all 13 pages), and black and white-matte-front facing passport photos. We had them done yesterday here in Tactic.

This is Blaise's second shot. After he dove off the bench. And landed on his head. He didn't sit still the entire time, that's why it's a little blurry.

The machine our photographer employed is a relic of about 8 decades ago I am sure. The shutter was hand operated (meaning he opened it with his hand and closed it with his hand) and was open for about 1/2 - 3/4 of a second. While we were waiting for our turn, the photographer's assistant dumped some of the old chemical solution into the street.

Anyway, 4 photos of each of us for Q105 ($16.27). Done the authentic way. No automatic machines at all.

I have a hunch

I can still remember Miss Fitch in grade 4 telling my class to sit up straight and not to slouch. If only I had obeyed!

Now I have a distinct cromagnon angle for my neck and I've lost perhaps 2 inches of visible height (which isn't all that necessary in Guatemala, but still...). I just don't want to end up like Mr. Burns. I've tried remembering to sit up straight and even as I'm writing this I have shifted 5 times.

So readers! What can I do to fix this affliction? What about a neck/back/shoulder exercise?


Journey Home Part 6: Strength and Honour Showing

On Sunday, January 7, I garnered permission to use the conference room at Red Willow for a public presentation of my film. I had invited everyone I knew in the area and so I was expecting based on responses from people about 30-40 people. In the end 50 people showed up.

I was just short of pacing the entire 82 minutes I was so nervous. It was one thing showing it to mostly strangers in Montreal. It is something entirely different when they are people you know well. The overwhelming response was very positive and there was laughter throughout the screening. I sold 8 copies of the DVD too.

What made this showing so special was that seven of us cyclists were together to see it together. Only Jessica and Eric were missing (both in Australia). It was the first time the seven of us were together since the end of the trip in August, 2003 and because we are all leading very different lives, it might be the last time we are together for a very long time.

Melayne tells me that there may be a showing of Strength and Honour: Cycling Coast to Coast in June with the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club. Apparently, they rent a theatre and everything for their showings. I'll keep you posted.

Also on my trip, I learned where the phrase "Strength and Honour" comes from. Kurt said "Stength and honour, my dear friend" to Bernd while cycling. But I didn't know that Kurt got it from a film - Gladiator. I should have known!

Thank you all for coming!

Development: A Witness

Last April, while a group from Calgary were helping us construct a new school in Mocohan, accross the field a group of seniors from a Vancouver public high school were inaugurating a project they had spent 5 days working on. Their project was a communal chicken coop for women of the community to raise chickens in and to produce eggs. They had fundraised $4000 or $5000 (I don't remember exactly, might have been more) for this project. The two social studies teachers who led the trip had made similar trips to Central America for the past 15 years of so.

We asked Erick what he thought of the communal chicken coop. He said it was a really nice chicken coop. When he asked how much they raised, he was shocked saying it shouldn't have cost more than 2000. Then we told him it was dollars and he was really shocked.*

Nearly everyone in Mocohan has chickens. They run loose in the yard and lay eggs which are collected. Chicks are bought in the market for Q1* and raised and then sold for Q20. There really is no need for a chicken coop.

Since that time, I have not seen one chicken in that coop - and I go to Mocohan often. This is what it looks like on the inside. So, I wonder where the money went...

Last Saturday, I drove Pastor Alfonso and Brother Ovidio to Parrachoch. Mariah and her father, Richard, tagged along for the bumpy ride. There is no electricity in Parrachoch and so when a woman from Stony Plain who was here last summer asked if we could use solar panels from Light up the World, we said "sure!"

Alfonso is a pastor after having taken 8 courses in a nearby town. He earns an income by walking 2 1/2 hours each way to Mocohan to work on the same school I mentioned earlier. He does this to feed his 12 member family. By the time he arrives home in the evening, it's dark. Right dark as they would say in Nova Scotia.

Ovidio hooked everything up in about 90 minutes. The panel now sits atop a pole at an angle of 15° pointed due south charging a battery that is connected to two small bulbs in two different rooms of Alfonso's pad.


Journey Home Part 5: Friends

One of the things I really miss in Guatemala is being able to communicate on a deeper level, in my most comfortable language, with people whom I have a shared history and culture. So being back in Canada allowed me to visit with some very good friends. I wish I had more time to share with them, but alas!

I want to publicly thank the Waldrons for their generosity in lending us their car for our entire stay in Canada and letting us put 4000 kms on it (you will be rewarded). For all who welcomed us into your homes for the night and for meals, I thank you too. For those who opened up your hearts, I thank you.

Our last evening in the Edmonton area, I invited everyone to a quiet and intimate communion service with Amber and I. It was very special to pray for and be prayed for with people that we care so much for. It was one of the many highlights of the trip.

I'm a list person and so it's very difficult for me to resist making a list of all the good folks who made time for us, but that's just ridiculous. No list.

Cheers! to all of you who read this and made my visit to Canada so enjoyable.


Journey Home Part 4: Food

Eating. The Joy.

While we were in Canada, people fed us as though we hadn't eaten since we left 15 months earlier. It was great! (We only ate out twice from what I can recall) Being the guest, I was prodded over and over to have seconds and thirds. I didn't mind so much. I won't be able to write down what I ate for all 84 meals, but here are some that stick out.
  • Duck Confi, Chevre Salad, Jumbo Shrimp, Berry Pie
  • Moose Steaks
  • BBQ Salmon
  • Turkey Dinner X3
  • Cheese, Meat, Chocolate Fondue
  • Pizza and Wings
  • Lamb Chops
  • Indian Curries and Samosas
  • Kabobs, Lasagna, Sushi, Salad, Trifle
  • Pasta and Truffles
To the chefs, I give you my everlasting thanks. You are all artists.


Not MySpace

Somehow I ended up signing up for a MySpace account so that I could visit some friends' spaces. I already have a website and this blog, so why would I need to invest any time in a MySpace, so I just state that people should go to my website or blog.

Something really bothers me about MySpace, so I bring it up here. Everytime I login to see someone else's myspace, I end up in MySpace "home" and there are ads, always from True - I think it's a callgirl or callguy service where you can pay to have sex. I don't really see it as my space if there are these chicks taking up 1/4 of the page. It's more their space, and I feel like I've walked in on them getting dress/undressed.

Blogger: NO ADS (if you don't want them). I like that.


Una Tortilladora Tortillando Tortillas

These tortillas are made from black corn. The house is full of smoke.

Spanish has a verb for making tortillas: tortillar

Spanish has a noun for the person who makes tortillas: tortillador

Tortillas don't have much flavour - think Doritos without the seasoning.

Process for making a corn tortilla in Guatemala:
  • plant the corn
  • weed and care for the corn
  • pick the corn
  • carry the corn
  • shuck the corn
  • hang the corn
  • remove the kernals
  • boil the kernals for 2 hours
  • grind or pound the kernals with water
  • slap the corn paste into tortillas
  • cook on stovetop or ceramic dish over an open fire

Little Nut

Several months ago, Amber returned home from the market with a bag of macademia nuts. Without a nutcracker, we would smash them on the back step with a hammer. Inevitably, some would scuttle off the step and we couldn't find them.

Yesterday, Blaise was adventuring behind the house and discovered one of the lost treasures. He climbed the back step, found his Bob the Builder book, removed the plastic hammer and returned to the back step to try and crack the nut.


Journey Home Part 3: Winter

This is one of the mountains you see from Lake Louise. I really enjoyed being out in the fresh cool air, wearing layers and hearing the snow beneath the skis.

Driving on the other hand, I hate it. Much of Amber's extended family lives in Hazelton, BC on the highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert. From Red Deer, it's about a 14 hour trip, so we stopped for the night in Prince George. There is a stretch though that nearly sucks the life force out of you when you drive in the winter. This strech of highway is between McBride and Prince George - 200 kms. It took me 3 hours to do it when we went at Christmas. Visibility wasn't that bad, but the roads had a nice slick layer of ice that kept everyone (all 15 vehicles that passed us) going about 80 km/hr.

Once we arrived in Hazelton though, it was great - probably the most relaxing part of the entire trip. We spent all of our nights at Amber's uncle Terry and Aunt Liz's house. We got to know them a lot better along with their 2 children - Matt and Tiffany. Blaise got along well with everyone. We visited with Amber's grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and really for the first real time some of her cousins once removed (or Blaise's second cousins).

Terry owns sled dogs and has passed the skill on to his children. Another skill he's passing on is trapping. Matt and Terry invited me along to check their trapline on dog sleds. This was definitely a highlight of experiencing winter. The dogs were great. Two were named Takla and Skeena.

These are the furs Matt and Tiffany trapped this winter: 4 martens (up to $185 each), 1 white weasel, and 8 squirrels ($1 each). Terry spoke of how these skills aren't really useful anymore. In many ways he's right - technology is where the jobs are - but the work ethick, respect for nature, knowledge of self and the time spent with their father is of enormous value - even in the job market.

Mr. Fish

Came accross these highly charged political cartoons featured on the Harper's* website. Some amazing cartoons.

* Harper's Magazine, not Stephen Harper


Journey Home Part 2: Family Christmas

'Twas a marvellous Christmas. We spent it at my mother's home in Red Deer, AB. Also technically our home while we are in Guatemala as all of our stuff is there too. Present with me on Christmas Day were my wife, my son, my mother, my sister, my other sister, my brother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my half-sister-in-law, and my ex-step-father-in-law.

Blaise got the best haul of gifts. Of course. With all his aunties and a grandma around, it's not surprising. I got some sweet gifts too - expansion to Settlers of Catan, a bunch of DVDs, books, candy, winter clothing accessories, and stuff to make me smell not bad.

In a future post, I will discuss at length the joy of food. So, I'll skip Christmas dinner for now.

It had been 2 years since I was together with both my sisters. I love them - we have some pretty good laughs. On Boxing Day, the three of us with my super amazing brother-in-law, world renown DJ Dean Jones went skiing at Lake Louise for a day. The conditions were awesome: about -10°C, deep snow, low snowboarder population, no line-ups, sunshine for most of the day. Even met up with Chad, an old friend from college.

Dean and I timed our second to last run to make it up the lift just before it closed at 4 o'clock. We wanted to take it easy and just hit green runs and enjoy the scenery. We were both exhausted by the day and didn't have any energy left. We followed a blue square sign to a run we hadn't tried that day and found ourselves stuck on moguls which stretched more than half the length of the mountain - neither of us ski moguls. It took us 30 minutes to make it down - a process that involved going side to side, falling, trying to turn around, and resting. Worst run ever.

In the car during the 4-hour trip each way, we watched episodes of The Office on my iPod.

This was the first time Blaise has seen snow. He was intrigued for a little while and actually learned to say it: "no" (though it's suspiciously similar to "no" and "nose").

Vecinos con Vozinos

I was hiking up a beautiful mountainside burrough of Tactic yesterday afternoon with Walter. Every fifth house was raising its roof with Mexican "yip-yip" cowboy music thus sharing their advanced sound system with the neighbours (vecinos). Walter explained that it was more important to many Guatemalans to have big speakers (vozinos) than to have pretty much any house accessory, such as chairs, fixed roof, food...

This morning I was reminded of yesterday's adventure in sound. Engine brakes. Over and over again. As usual.

Add to this the 6-10 dogs who nightly have a barking match. The early morning firecrackers. The pre-morning roosters. The rain on a tin roof. The marimba polka music blaring from the bars.

I guess it's time to readjust.


Journey Home Part 1: Leaving Guatemala

I saw my first murdered person the day before we flew to Canada.

We are applying for residency in Guatemala and so I was obliged to go to the official's office to sign some papers. I took a taxi. The driver had to redirect himself several times because of impromptu traffic barriers put up by the traffic police. When we got to within a block from my destination on one of the largest and busiest one-way streets in Guatemala City, three of the six lanes were closed because a man was laying dead on the street on his back. Someone put a newspaper over a bloodied head. My estimation is that he was shot in the face.

The taxi driver said that about 15 murders are reported in the paper each day for Guatemala City. Many of these are theft related.

The image of the corpse is etched permanently now in my mind.

The trip to Canada the next day went fine. Blaise did tremendously well. The most trying part was our 70 minutes in Houston where we stood in line at U.S. Immigration, picked up our 4 large pieces of luggage (along with our 2 carry-ons, car seat, 2 "purses" and 18-month-old boy), stood in line at U.S. Customs, checked our baggage again, passed very slowly through a Homeland Security checkpoint then checked in at our gate which was 2 wings away. The entire time, Blaise's diaper was leaking peepee onto Amber and me (note to self: remember to carry a spare shirt when traveling). Blaise was changed at the gate, just in time to board with the other travelers with small children.

A note on Homeland Security: It's not a pleasant experience standing in stocking feet with my pants falling down demonstrating that a video camera works, removing a laptop and a desktop computer from my carryon luggage, and at the same time asked to show my boarding pass and passport. Punks.

Mom was there to pick us up after 7 hours of flying (plus the hour in George Bush International) with our winter jackets.