Moneda Guatemalteca

Perhaps more for my own sake in remembering these fun (yet nearly valueless) coins, I'm recording them here. And for those who like to learn trivial facts about other countries... I present to you the coins in circulation in the Republic of Guatemala:


All of the coins feature basically the same thing on the tails side. It's the coat of arms. It consists of two bayonette rifles crossed and two sword crossed representing the fight for independence, the declaration of independence 15 Sept, 1821, and the quetzal (national bird). They have a lifesize coat of arms in the national palace in Guatemala City that I've seen several times. I've never been in the country on Independence Day (arrived 23rd Sept, then we were in eastern Canada late August until the 16th of Sept last year. I've neither seen a living quetzal, though I've walked through the quetzal reserve 30 minutes away.


One cent. This is Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. He's the Spanish monk who defended the Mayans against atrocity and wrote several books about them 450 years ago. From what I've heard, he also taught them to read. There's a town 4 hours away that is named after him - it's very hot there and there are snakes.

The five cent coin says "Free Grow Fertile." Pictured is the ceiba, the national tree.

The dime carries the picture of the Quirigua Monolith, an obelisk ruin situated about 2 1/2 hours away from where I live. I haven't been yet, but when I head up that road, I'll stop for a visit. Apparently the ruins are pretty cool there too.

I don't know who this is on the quarter, but I think it's just one of the indigenous people of Guatemala to recognize them.

The monja blanca (white nun) is on the half-quetzal. It's the national flower, but it's actually an orchid. It's also the name of a bus line here, and a heap of restaurants, stores, and other touristy stuff. It's against the law to pick or sell them, but I've been offered them quite a few times. They ask Q100 ($15), but what am I going to do with a white nun?

The Quetzal coin commemorates the signing of the peace accord between the army and the guerillas on December 29, 1996. This marked the end of a 36-year civil war in which more than 200,000 people (mostly civilians) were killed (93% of the killing was done by the army). Across the top of the coin is says "Peace, firm and lasting." The word Paz (meaning Peace) is written again in the shape of a quetzal.
Guatemalan CentavosCanadian Cents
100 or Q115.56¢

The Quetzal was on par with the $US until 1987. Something happened. What?


Some Blog Updates

For those faithful readers, I thought I would go back a few posts and provide an up-to-date report on some recent events (rather than post comments on 2-month-old posts):

Frutas Extranjeras: Found out that the jocote is also known as the spondias mombin, the gully plum, the Spanish plum, the hog plum, the Ashanti plum, the true yellow mombin, the golden apple or the Java plum. Still nothing on the others.

Goat Milk Man: Bought more milk this morning. It was yummy. Rene visited me this morning and among the topics of conversation, we talked about goats. We're going to try and get a couple goats together for milking. It means a trip to Salamá (about 75 minutes) and knocking off life goal #94

Zaak Watches Movies: Five entries so far. I'll watch another movie tonight: The Illusionist.
Q/kWh: Not one person gave me the price of electricity per kWh. I'm still in the dark.

Shackles: Well, I still don't feel absolutely free to share all that was burdening me, BUT... I was able to clear up a few things and so the burden is lighter. I was under a lot of stress, so things seemed more intense.

Backyardigans: Those white birds were snowy egrets - thanks Sirdar and Carole.

A little puzzle for you: No one has even tried. I guess this one will just have to go to the grave with me!

Baby's Name: We did come up with a beautiful boy's name in the end. In the end we also didn't need it - yet. Acadia's name on her birth certificate ended up being Robichaud Reding as Guatemalan law prevented me from giving her just one last name. On her Canadian documents it will be just Robichaud.

Switzerland invades Liechtenstein: In case you didn't read the article, the errant Swiss soldiers retreated to Switzerland. Liechtenstein remains a free and sovereign state (unlike many out there).

Pee in the Potty: Blaise is officially NOT potty trained exactly 2 months after the exciting beginning. My mom said I was well beyond 2 when I learned to use a pot. She says I would spend hours with poop in my pants and not care. This doesn't bode well for Blaise.

If the coughing fits: I spent 3 full weeks sleeping on a foam in my office. The cough lasted a little over 4 weeks and finally quit me mid-March. There was a time during the cough that I couldn't remember what it was like not to cough. The cough was viral in nature. I developed a minor sore throat and a doctor said it was a bacterial infection - I'm sure it wasn't in afterthought - and had me on antibiotics for 5 days.

Interweb Woes: I phoned AppleCare 3 times and got nearly nowhere. My ISP came by several times and I got nearly nowhere. I had to rely on my own computing sense... The internet connection would usually work for the first 5 minutes the computer was on and then lose recognition of the wireless access point and therefore produce an erroneous IP address. A fixed IP address didn't help either. What I finally figured out about 3 days ago was to add my router between the access point and the computer. The internet has virtually been uninterrupted since then. I even uploaded a 50MB file yesterday. I'm so happy.

Microtrials: 6. My paperwork arrived after 6 days (5 days later than expected). I paid the guy with nickels and dimes. 7. The rest of my 18 songs finally downloaded five days later. 8. The fax got through. Twice. I managed to contribute to my RRSPs before the end of March. Actually it got contributed twice by accident. Then fixed.


"No Papa Cheese* Baby"

This is what Blaise said when I had the video camera out during Acadia's first bath. Jealous or Concerned?

He also commented "Big cheese!"

* Cheese /tʃi:z/ n (a) camera, video camera (b) a food papa gives me when he's cooking vt (a) to take pictures, to shoot video (b) to be photographed


Frutas Extranjeras

I've been meaning to share some of the curious fruits I've found in the market. As usual, there are bananas, papayas, mangos, oranges, limes, lemons, pineapples, apples, berries, coconuts, apricots, melons, etc... all of which were recognizable to me, coming from Canada Then there are the alien fruits that for some reason are not marketed so much in Canada. I wonder why?

The ladies in the market called these nanzis. I don't know if that is Spanish or Poqomchí. All I do know is that these miniature apple things are not very tasty. Think mealy, semi-rotten, but not slimy rotten, apple. I think they cook them.

I present you with the zapote! This fruit has a brilliant pit in the middle and is very easy to eat. The peel comes off easily and the meat is soft. It tastes like cooked yams.

Caña de azúcar or sugar cane. Everybody has heard of it, but I tried it for the first time in Guatemala. It's actually pretty refreshing, juicy and sweet, naturally. The problem is that it's quite fibrous, so you can spend a great deal of time chomping on one bit of cane and then spend even more time with the dental floss.

This is by far my favorite of the bunch: jocote (pronounced ho-co-tay). This fruit is very juicy, slightly tart, and very sweet. The skin is edible. The pit however is rather large (most of the fruit) and you end up sucking on it to get the last bit of meat off it. Blaise is a master at this. The green jocotes can be boiled and are very tasty too.

The tasty tamarindo, or tamarind in English, is usually boiled, strained, sweetened and drank. You can buy syrups or powdered juice mixes of it. I prefer to suck the sweet and sour fruit off the amber-coloured pit. When you get this in the market, most of them are crushed and very messy - these ones are intact.

Today was the first time I've seen the ijerto (I'm guessing at the spelling). It looks a little like a shriveled orange, but is nothing like one. The meat is bright orange and tastes quite a bit like the zapote, but fruitier. There is a familiar taste to it that is familiar to me. I quite enjoyed it.

There are a few others that I'd like to introduce you to, but they aren't in season right now. Another time.

Aside from the tamarind and sugar cane, can anyone tell me what these are in English?

Goat Milk Man

Meet Juan. He bikes to our house, knocks on our door every morning between 7:15 and 7:45. He is trilingual (Spanish, Poqomchí, & Q'eqchí). He has been delivering fresh, unpasteurized, creamy goat's milk to us for nearly a year now. He comes from Tampo, 1 km west of us. He doesn't own the goats, he just milks and delivers for the owner. The milk has always been delicious and I have yet to find the slightest hair in the milk.

When Juan pours the milk into the cup to pour into our container, he pours it to almost overflowing; you can see the arch of the cohesive fluid. If there's no arch, he splashes a bit into my container to be fair.

1 cup of milk costs Q3 (CAD$0.47) and it's worth every centavo!


Zaak Watches Movies

I've started a second blog. This blog deals exclusively with films that I watch. It gives me a way to debrief myself and hopefully introduce new films to people.

The new blog is called

Zaak Watches Movies
by himself

George Bush and the price of corn

About a month ago, Guatemala (and many other Latin American democratic, free nations), was graced with the presence of G.W. Bush. President Bush was here to make deals for purchasing Guatemala's corn to make ethanol.

In the days after Bush flew home, the price of corn increased by 20-25%. "Wonderful!" you may think, "Guatemalan's will be able to make more money."

Problem. This is what Guatemalan's eat, what they fill their stomachs with. From the Washington Post:
The ancient Mayans believed they were created by gods who mixed their blood with ground corn. They called themselves "Children of the Corn,"
Thanks to the US ethanol market, corn will be turned into a cash crop like sugar, coffee, tobacco, leatherleaf, and other non-essential products.

The same thing is happening in Mexico right now.

Slightly different cause in El Salvador. When I was there a year ago, they told me that when the country adopted the US Dollar as its official currency, the price of tortillas basically quadrupled. The equivalent of a dollar, before the currency switch, could buy about 35 tortillas; it now buys 9. In neighbouring Guatemala a year ago, a US Dollar could buy 45 tortillas; now it can buy 34-37 of them.

A Fraud Story

Internet banking is very handy. I have been using it for 5 years to pay bills and track expenses. What's really great though is that I can live in Guatemala and maintain an account in Canada without having to walk into a bank.

For two weeks, I went without internet at my home because a part was broken on my ISP's satellite dish. It didn't matter too much because I was busy working with short term teams and I didn't have enough energy to watch a movie in the evenings, let alone do banking.

I did manage to get onto the internet at one point to pay off my credit card balance in mid-March. I have no recollection as to where I did this, though it was probably done at the office. On the same day, an $850 email money transfer was performed on my chequing account without my authorization.

I continued on my whirlwind work weeks without a clue as to the transfer. Finally, once my internet was restored and some personal time too, I sat down to do some banking. I realized that my password didn't work, but I thought that was because I had waited too long to use a special code that my mom had gotten in the mail a while back. I had the code, but I didn't know where to put it, so I phoned my bank.

Password reset, I discovered that there was less money than I had anticipated and I started browsing the transactions in my chequing account and discovered this mysterious email transfer. I was still on the phone with the bank agent and had him investigate.

The agent interrogated me. He gave me the email address the transfer was sent to (something@rogers.com) and it wasn't recognizable. He said the bank would look into it and the investigation could take up to 10 business days.

My online access was denied since then as the bank looked into the transfer. I called them today to see if they had made any progress and they had. I gained access to my account. The $850 was returned to my account last week along with the $1.50 service charge.

That was a flat story, wasn't it? Was there any doubt I would get it back? Bank error in your favour, get your money back. I didn't lose any sleep over it. I didn't call everyday to see how it was going. I just waited for the story to go flat. Maybe I just knew it would all be resolved.


Set Straight

Yesterday morning, I got up put the garbage out, changed, dress and fed Blaise. I let Lidia, our housekeeper, in at around 8 am and introduced her to our new baby and then continued to tidy up the house while Amber was continued to rest in bed.

As I rushed around the kitchen, eager to get things in order before I left for the day, I casually mentioned to Lidia that now I had to work harder with the baby here.

She replied, "No, you don't work hard. I work hard. When I'm done working, I go home and do laundry, I sweep, I go to the mill, I make tortillas, I feed my kids."


meeting my daughter

Yesterday was fun!

When I woke up, Amber told me not to get my hopes up, but that she was having contractions every 10-15 minutes. We read up on false labour and deduced that this is what was happening. Sure enough, but 8 AM, things had subsided. I worked at the office for part of the day, went to the bank.

I got home at 4:30 to take my family to the hairdresser where Blaise would get his 3rd haircut of his life. He behaved very well. My ulterior motive though was to get Amber out of the house so her friends could decorate for a baby shower. Amber's contractions had started up again at 3 PM. The haircut lasted 10 minutes. I was supposed to keep Amber away until 6 PM. I said we should take Blaise out for ice cream as this could be his last day being an only child. The ice cream parlour was closed, so I just drove around Tactic for 15 minutes until we got to Doña Lucia's bakery. We bought some pastries and walked around the block. Amber decided it was time to tell her midwife about the contractions and I was game for a pit stop at Doña Marta's for a checkup as I still had to stall for 30 minutes.

Doña Marta agreed to meet us at our house.

A gang of women with gift bags descended upon our house as Amber had contractions every 10 minutes. They ate snacks and desserts. They played games. Amber opened gifts. I stayed in my office and started a movie and put Blaise to bed.

An hour after the party left, Amber told me the contractions were much stronger. I started timing them with my iPod stopwatch, which also records the time the timer was used which gave us intervals for the contractions: Every 2-6 minutes for 45-90 seconds. Amber is tough. I had to persuade her that this was when the midwife comes over and then she should start pushing shortly thereafter.

Amber gave in. Finally. I went and picked up Doña Marta and Mariah and upon first examination, Amber was dilated to about 8 cm which was sufficient according to the midwife because the baby's head wasn't very big.

So then it was a RUSH. We had to heat water on the stove for the pool. Six big pots of water. By the time the water was at a desirable level and temperature, the midwife had broken the water and Amber was ready to push. She got into the pool just after 11 PM. I was busy setting up the video camera, preparing stuff for the baby, playing games on my iPod (just kidding), and encouraging Amber.

Then there she was! 11:15 PM. I didn't get to see her appear, but moments later I was able to see her. Doña Marta's instruments fell into the pool and so with Mariah's help, we hurriedly disinfected them and I went and cut the little one's umbilical cord.

We managed to get Amber and the baby dry, dressed and resting in our bedroom. We breathed for a bit together and we named the sweet girl: Acadia Juliette Robichaud. Then I drove Doña Marta and Seño Mariah home at around 12:15 AM.

When I got back, I was able to spend a little time with my daughter.

We prayed and then went to sleep, a family of 4.

This morning was very exciting too.

I set up the video camera on a tripod and we introduced Blaise to his new sister. He squealed and exclaimed over and over.

We sat together on the couch and I let him hold his baby sister

and kiss his baby sister.

The midwife didn't laugh when I joked about feeding the placenta to the stray dogs. So this morning I planted it in our backyard underneath our orange tree.

I wish to thank and acknowledge all the well wishers from the phone calls and visits to the 30 emails we received. I wish to acknowledge all the wonderful women who brought me treats last night at the shower (I have jello to last me a couple weeks!) and bless with with so many great baby things. I also wish to acknowledge Mariah's huge help last night and also her help this morning - she cleaned our house while we zoned. I also wish to acknowledge Walter and Ruth, our wonderful neighbours, who cared for Blaise this morning and made us a sumptuous meal for lunch (we had enough leftovers for supper).

Congratulations to all Acadia's grandparents, aunties, and uncle Dean.


kritikē tekhnē

I finished 2 books this week. I never finish that many books in one week - I'm too slow a reader. I also started listening to a couple bands, saw some good films, and got some good reading/listening on the web so I thought I would share...

"Girlfriend in a Coma" by Douglas Coupland
This is the third book I've read by Coupland. I would place it below both of them, but that doesn't give it a low score. I wasn't as moved emotionally as I was in Life After God and Hey Nostradamus!, but I was challenged on a level of how to live my life. The book follows 7 high school friends on the eve of their graduation and on the eve of one of them entering into a 17-year coma. Another major character is added 9 months later. Coupland walks you through their lives which become increasingly spiritually numb. The landscape of a wasteland becomes real and echoes what we can see in our very own culture. Fantastic and uplifting challenge at the end - and not an easy one either.

"What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality" by Daniel A Helminiak
Because I have learned to love homosexuals, I thought this was a must read. I didn't find Helminiak to be a very good writer, but he is essentially trying to do two things: distill about 20 research papers into a consumer read and emphasize his understanding of homosexuality in the Bible. I found the research compelling and convincing and I encourage all those who are Bible-believing and have an opinion on homosexuality to read this book - if for nothing else, then to further understand biblical culture and homosexuality.

"Happiness & Disaster" by Stabilo
I found this album on my computer after some Canadian visitors (thanks Heather and Tamara) recommended the album to me. This Vancouver band has been around for more than a decade, but was recently signed to EMI, so they are getting lots of airtime. I'm enjoying them mostly because the vocals are passionate and the music is good old rock'nroll. As a bonus, the opening track is speaks about the war in Iraq - political music, right up my alley! I hear echos of PFR and Maroon 5 in their mellow music.

"St. Elsewhere" by Gnarls Barkley
This is a great blend of hip hop, rock and soul. I was reluctant to get the whole album, though I really enjoyed their single "Crazy." After hearing a couple of their other songs and sampling them in iTunes, I was sold. The bass riffs are awesome. The lyrics are fun to sing along with. Necromancer is kind of creepy, probably some hidden message in there I'm not getting. Gone Daddy Gone, Crazy, Just a Thought, Go-Go Gadget Gospel, The Last Time and Smiley Faces are my favorites.

"Children of Men" directed by
What is the value of children? This is one of the important questions asked in Children of Men. Though it would be classified as a thriller, it is much more than that. The political intonations are a bit over the top, but I think they are not too far off what we can see in American media. The pacing is superb, as is the writing. Michael Caine is dazzling as an old hippy whose wife is catatonic and it is fun to watch Clive Owen's subtle transformation. Another great film by a terrific Mexican director.

"Babel" directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
After watching this film, I was left in a sad place. The film did it's job. I didn't stay in a sad place, but it helped me sympathize with those in the world who suffer. Everything in this movie is top notch. Nods to Adriana Barraza who plays a wonderful illegal immigrant nanny. What I loved about the movie was how it stuck with me and didn't line up a bunch of cute solutions and explanations. I had to deal with the questions myself; a challenge for each person. Themes I picked out: vulnerability, intolerance, and solitude.

"NY Times Movie News"
I really enjoy the excellent film reviews and in-depth industry news.

"Weekly Review in Harper's Magazine
You just have to read one of these reviews and you're hooked. The irony that bleeds through each paragraph is startling - for instance this past week:
a U.S. congressional delegation outfitted with bulletproof vests, flanked by 100 soldiers in armored Humvees, and watched over by attack helicopters, visited a local bazaar to demonstrate the success of the current security plan. It was, said Representative Mike Pence (R., Ind.), just like an “outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime.”
Researchers used infrared and atomic-emission spectroscopy, mass spectroscopy, electron microscopy, pollen analysis, and the leading “noses” in the perfume industry to determine that a rib bone unearthed at the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake actually belonged to an Egyptian mummy.
You can sign up for a weekly email with the news in review.

"Nuclearity" by Hugh Duncan
I ran across this fantastic podcast a couple months ago with references about Bono, Contemporary Christian Music and Africa. The podcast is so much more though. Duncan works in media production, so his personal podcast is actually very professional. He addresses subjects relating to the family and to Christianity - recent ones include video game addiction, the Narnia movie, fathers, and the history of Valentine's Day.

"NYT Technology Column hosted by David Pogue
Pogue has a nerdy flair for reading his weekly column. Subjects keep me abreast on the latest camera, video, audio, and communication technology.

"Grammar Girl hosted by Grammar Girl
Grammar Girl puts together terrific, entertaining, weekly lessons on punctuation, adverbs, abbreviations and sentence structure. I find them very helpful as I am always trying to improve my own writing skills. I hope the listening audience grows as writing skills are plunging at an alarming rate with the advent of text messaging, email, and MySpaces. My generation and the next are much more visual in its communication, but with Grammar Girl beside us, we can continue to converse effectively and correctly.


Adoption Possibilities

Goal #105 Adopt a Child

Yesterday, I visited with the social worker at the Cobán Regional Hospital. My inquiry was related to the possibility of adoption of an abandoned baby. She said that as long as we are residents of Guatemala, get approved as foster parents and are willing to pay the legal fees, it shouldn't be difficult at all.

Everytime I visit the hospital with a team, there is a baby or two (or three or four or five) that has been abandoned by his mother. Everytime, I experience a sharp pang of fatherhood.

So, in a year or so, we will likely pursue this opportunity to make our family greater...

...and I'll be able to cross #105 off.


With short-term teams coming and going so often here (25 so far since I've been here), I'm often asked where I am from. FOr me that is a difficult question and I have a hard time answering it quickly.

I've been living in this house in Tactic for 13 months now (after more than 5 months in the guest house). That's pretty average really. I feel as though I should be moving to a new house or town or province or country right about now.

Before I turned 30, I had lived in 29 different houses in 19 different towns in 5 provinces and 3 different countries.

The longest stretch I lived anywhere was in this house, where I was born (though I lived in 6 other houses before the 4 1/2 years I lived here in the early 80's). My father built this house in 1975 and then built an addition in the 80's. The house burned down in December, 1983. This event spurred a long string of moves accross the country and then the world. I often wonder what my life would have been like if it had not have burned down; if I had finished growing up in the woods of New Brunswick.

The second longest stretch was 4 years in College Heights (now incorporated into Lacombe, AB) while I finished my BEd and BA. In total I lived 8 years in College Heights, though in 3 different houses for 3 different spells.

It is interesting that the three places where I spent the most time (18.5 years in total) - West Branch, NB, College Heights, AB, and Grand Sault, NB - are not places that I would call home. When I visit them, I feel like a ghost and the memories of these places don't seem true, they are simply facts.

Oddly though, places where I lived only a few months or a couple years do feel like home (4.5 years total) - Cormier Village, NB, Red Deer, AB, Edmonton, AB, Montreal, QC. The difference is that family lives there.

Where I come from is quite difficult to define. Home is actually pretty easy to define. Now, it's wherever Amber is cooking.



I feel as though our electric bill is very expensive and I've been meaning to ask what it costs everywhere else. Here's how my bill breaks down:

Fixed monthly fee
Q10.79 = CDN$1.67 = US$1.41
Monthly public lighting fee
Q34.70 = CDN$5.38 = US$4.53
The first 100 kWh costs
Q0.779/kWh = CDN$0.121/kWh = US$0.102/kWh
Every subsequent kWh costs
Q1.662/kWh = CDN$0.257/kWh = US$0.217
We use about 250kWh per month for a total of
Q400 = CDN$62 = US$52
We used to pay up to Q600-Q700 each month until we put in fluorescent bulbs in.

Note also what is drawing power each month: refridgerator, microwave, toaster, showerhead*, computer and peripherals, TV/DVD player, washing machine, 4 incandescent light bulbs, 8 fluorescent bulbs, and little stuff like phone chargers and spice grinder. More importantly, note what is not drawing power: clothes dryer (we don't have one), stove (we use a gas stove), and house heaters (we stay cold).

I guess I'm wondering if the price per kWh is high or if our usage is high or both. To give me an idea, what does it cost to power your house?

*a heating element that heats the water as it passes through



I'd really like to share what's going through my mind / heart / life right now, but social convention really does limit my ability to share openly. If I were to express frankly and without restraint, what would people think? How would it affect my ministry, career, and most importantly my family?

Where did the convention of secrecy and closed door meetings come from? (I figure it was the Devil)

Jesus said we are to let the light shine in the darkness. We seem to think that when someone speaks honestly, he is in danger of incriminating himself (and others I suppose) and losing credibility. In reality, wouldn't he/she just be removing a man-made mask? Wouldn't he/she be more free if honesty prevailed?

Then why do I feel so trapped?


Long Hours

So my days lately have involved working 7 am through until 9 or 10 pm. Hence the lack of blog posts the past 2 weeks. Rigth now there are two teams here at the same time: Living Waters Christian Academy with 20 people (14 of them are former students of mine) and Bearspaw Christian School (blog)of Calgary with 31 people (including a doctor). I dropped off a Kamloops Christian School team on Monday morning at the Aurora International Airport after spending the week working with them.

This past month I've been taking teams on home visits to sponsored children, tracking expenses (and standing in bank queues), driving teams to morning devotionals, moving dirt at a worksite, handing out medication at a 3-day medical clinic, setting up the medicine at the medical clinic, guiding teams through the Cobán General Hospital so they can pray for sick children and give gifts to new mothers, showing teams the caves of Rey Marcos, showing teams the cultural experience of making tayuyos in a Guatemalan home, leading evening devotionals, tracking new children in the sponsorship database and producing new packages, taking photographs at Purulhá, organizing a demonstration of special stoves for school families, emailing, ordering food for teams in restaurants, taking a team on an 8 km hike to the waterfalls of Chilascó, picking up and dropping off teams at the airport, deworming a school, and running around Guatemala City with Erick looking for Kia clutch parts. I can't remember everything, but that gives you an idea.

Tomorrow I'm headed to Tikal and Fray Bartolomé de las Casas for 3 days with the Living Waters team.