April 3 -- Margaret Bean and Norita Vlach
Nurse and midwife Margaret Bean, Noe Valley Ministry member,
talks about her experiences living for many years in Guatemala (she
still does!) and reaching across the chasm of culture, education and
philosophy. Norita Vlach, Guatemalan-American therapist and San Jose
State College professor, will talk about her field works as an
anthropologist and her book Quetzal in Flight: Guatemalan Immigrant Families in
the United States.
One Woman's Guatemala.
Margaret Bean: "When Judy and Ramon asked me to speak tonight, I gave it
some thought - and agreed. Then I saw the roster of distinguished others
who have spoken on Odd Mondays - and took a lot of deep breaths, trying not
So I had to do some soul searching, and some self-esteem psychobabble,
and outline what I might have to offer you. This evening I will touch on:
The joy and beauty you can find as a TOURIST,
The joys and frustration of the ex-patriate life, and the ex-pat community
in Antigua, and the joy, frustrations, and sheer insanity that is the
socio-political and economic status of Guatemala. A sub-text for all of this is being Old.
I first visited Guatemala in 1987, with a back-pack and a determination
not to fly two sides of a triangle to get from Palenque to Tikal. I
was starting a love affair with the ancient Mayans - and I was sure they
must have had a connection. And I was right!! I traveled through the
jungle - incredibly beautiful - by road and river for four days, and had
the adventure of my life. When I finally did get to Guat City, my
luggage, which included all my exposed film, was stolen. I vowed to go
back and take more pictures. Love makes one helpless, doesn't it.
I often compare Guatemala and my native Scotland. Both are small,
incredibly beautiful countries, with mountains and rivers, and people who
are muy aimable - friendly and wonderful. The climate, of course, is
Guatemala's population is somewhere between 11 and 13 million -
depending on the source of the statistics - and at least 63% are in rural
areas, living in extreme poverty.
In spite of the 40 years of genocidal civil war (courtesy of the CIA
and fomented by the School of the Americas) the indigenous population is
the majority. Racism is rampant. When the Spanish invaded 500 years
ago, there was wholesale rape of indigenous women. The Mayan groups
ostracized these children who are the forebears of the "Ladinos," to-day's
Almost half of the present population is illiterate. Disproportionately indigenous.
Many older people speak only one of the 23 extant Mayan languages
(note, not dialects) whereas the younger ones are bilingual in Mayan and
Spanish. The smallest group, the Xinca, has about 300 persons, 35 of
whom(all old) speak only Xinca, but 10 young people are studying it!
The Peace Accords of December '96 mandated bilingual education -- Mayan
language/Spanish. Wow! Almost 10 years! Where do you think that noble
idea is right now?
Education: The government is obliged to provide primary education for
all. But just to provide it - not to do anything about attendance.
It's almost free, just "inscription" (an enrollment fee) and notebooks and
pencils if they can. Sometimes the teacher can afford to buy a book,
and I know one teacher (she had studied on a Quaker scholarship) who
lobbied us to buy books for her high school students. At first they shared
one book among 8. We have now got it to one book for two students!.
I have been in school rooms in the campo where each child has to bring
a cement block. Any guesses? Yes, to sit on! Art class is outdoors
where you can draw with a stick on the dirt and make patterns with bottle
caps - oh yes, there is Coco Cola.
Here's a vignette about Victor. This teacher cycled about an hour each
way on dusty or muddy (depending on the season) hill roads lined by
orchards commercial flower farms. The parents of his 80 or so children, if
they are lucky, work in these fields , spraying pesticides and
spreading fertilizers earning 30-40 Q's per day.
The dilapidated one-room school house had recently been replaced by a
pleasant 3-room building - thanks to a project - and he wanted the
parents to petition the authorities for a second teacher. They wouldn't
because they thought he would make another teacher do all the work so he
can sit back and be lazy!
Victor is now an "Illegal" in the mid-West. His family, particularly
his wife and son - miss him greatly.
I personally know of five schools built by individuals or projects -- and
the current President has increased the education budget considerably.
His first focus is teacher-training and pay increases.
Health care is in an even sorrier state.
Employers pay health insurance which supports IGGS - National hospitals
-whose administration is political appointments. As of 18 months ago,
at least six top administrators were replaced and indicted, but they
left the treasury totally empty. Even to-day, there is an appalling
shortage of even basic medications.
There is a system of Health Centers - and most of them are fairly
accessible to all but the very isolated villages. The staff make wall
posters - in Spanish - and as I can understand them, they must be in basic
Spanish - and I am usually very impressed with these. There are few
hand-outs. I long ago gave up asking, and instead, share materials from
SFGH. But there are no copying machines, nor budgets for public health
The conditions in IGGS are not good.
Conditions are about the same in the Public Hospitals which serve those
without Insurance. And just as in the U.S., the emergency room stands
in loco family doctor - the care of last resort. It is akin to our
teaching hospitals and is staffed by medical students doing a practicum.
My area of expertise is Maternal/Child health. I'm appalled by the
C-Section rate of 66% for first time mothers in the National Hospitals.
I will desist from the awful statistics, and tell you something more
A Guatemalan woman who lives in the enormous village of Xenacoj
experienced a gentle birth into the hands of Hannah, at a now defunct Birth
Center in Antigua. And she wanted to bring this possibility to the women
of her pueblo!
(AD LIB HERE about Hannah , Xencoj, the birth center, my involvement.)
Then there are the private medical centers and hospitals. Most of the
physicians speak English and have been educated in the States or Gt.
Britain. (We have a rip-roaring business here in Plastic Surgery - high
quality, low cost!) If I have a medical emergency, I would go here to
be stabilized and sent back to the States.
Let's move on to talk about the ex-pat community.
There are many U.S. persons living in Antigua. We know each other,
but we do have our cliques. There are retirees, business people who
have been here for 25 to 30 years, and newcomer business people. A big
number of businesses in Antigua are owned and operated by women.
Surprising, isn't it?
Occasionally, an ex-pat will exploit the cheap labor here, but far and
away the majority, pay workers a bit above normal, and underwrite
schooling and medical care for their workers and families. I am often
called on for advice, and have to keep reminding myself how privileged I am
to have my store of health care knowledge.
I'm also called on for veterinary advice!!
April 17, 2006 --
Kay Noyes, Composer and Playwright
A dramatic reading of her play
This Noel-Coward-like farce centers on the surprise but not-by-chance
re-encounter of three couples, uncoupled and re-coupled over the years
in various combinations.
NARRATOR Judy Vaughn
DOROTHY Carolym Carvajal
DOC Jim McMillan
MARCIA Jody McMillan
HOLLYWOOD Don Woods
JAKE Barr Hibbs
WOMAN Helen Parnisi
(Miss What's 'Er Name)
Noe Valley resident Kay Noyes has had short stories published, and has
composed music for a film documentary. Three of her previous plays have had
readings. Sailing Septuagenarians has been selected by Edward Albee
to be presented at drama workshop Great Plains Theater Conference in
Omaha, Nebraska, early this summer.
Brief Synopsis: Someone in the University of Rhode Island alum office has wickedly placed
three elderly couples, former spouses, on a sailboat together for the "kickoff" cocktail
party of their fiftieth class reunion.