Guatemala / OT Without Borders

Traditional Healers & Alternative Building…With Pooh

On Friday our field school group traveled to a town called Comalapa to do some work with a cool NGO called Long Way Home. I mentioned them in an earlier post about NGOs doing occupation-based interventions here in Guatemala, and then I fortunately got to experience the work they are doing first hand!

So this NGO has built a school called Tecnico Maya to out of trash (helping reduce the huge problem of trash/litter in the area) and other eco-friendly products (like pooh! er, manure). It’s a work in progress, but pretty impressive so far. There are retaining walls and the walls of a future cisterm built entirely out of old tires. Plastic bottles filled with trash act as insulation in school walls, soda cans and glass bottle shards act as decorative mosaic-like accents on walls and also as sky lights and windows. It would be impossible to bring a cement truck to this hilly, rural property, so all the building is done without fancy equipment by using various amounts of dirt, gravel and manure and the like along with earth filled bags, rebar, and sustainable bamboo. A church from W. VA donated a super duper water purification system, and they hope to be able to sell purified water in the future for local residents at a low cost and by having them reuse water jugs. They currently have over 40 local kids enrolled in school, with some of them soon entering high school – which is new for Comolapans to attend high school. They are hoping to pass along these alternative building techniques to their students so that the community can continue to reduce waste and costs in their own future building.

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On Friday we helped mix some dirt, gravel, sand (I think?), and manure/poop first with shovels and hoes (no fancy equipment here), then we stomped on it (luckily they had boots for us to wear) for a really long time. Picture grape stomping for wine, but with wellies and poopy mud on a tarp. Not as yum. But still fun:) Then we sprinkled in some hay and continued stomping and periodically rolling the pile into a more log-shaped turd using the tarp, followed by more stomping. Once it was stomp-mixed, we took to the pile with our bare hands and started making pooh balls about the size of softballs. By the end, they formed a big pile that looked like a giant rabbit had left for us.

After a vigorous hand washing (or three), we had lunch provided by some local women – guacomole, blue corn tortillas, cooked veggies, salad, some extremely spicy salsa and rice atol (which was similar to drinkable rice pudding). After lunch we returned to start putting our pooh balls to action by smashing them in the crevices between the stacked bags that were already in place forming the walls of the building. We also had to smear some muddy pooh water onto the bags first, before smashing the pooh balls into the wall. At one point we had to re-stomp a bunch of the pooh balls into a flat pile and add more water to soften them up, so we could remake the pooh balls of a softer consistency. They will continue to coat the walls like this until they add the harder more weather-resistant layers to the outside eventually.

It was a hard day’s work – I have a lot of respect for the workers and volunteers at Long Way Home now for the effort they physically (among other forms) put in for such a worthwhile and unique cause. There are more photos on Long Way Home’s Facebook page here.

(Also the puppies came out of the bush on our way back…adorable!!!)

After washing up, we were off to see a local curandera, or traditional healer, who uses herbs and such to help cure people. She only spoke Kaqchikel with some sporadic Spanish words, so another girl translated into Spanish, then our director translated into English. She showed us and told us about some of the herbs she uses and how. Then she showed us a more special room with some Christian paraphernalia, like pictures and statues of Jesus (wearing a sombrero…). She even demonstrated some of the sayings she would use in the case of someone who has susto, which is an illness found in some Latin American cultures where the soul is believed to have left the body. The symptoms are somewhat varied. Many of the questions we had  were about this illness. One of my classmates asked if the curandera could recognize illnesses in people if she just saw them on the street. The curandera said she could, and proceeded to point to me and two other girls (curiously all with short hair) saying we seemed “off.” To cap off her cheerful diagnosis, she also said she won’t treat gringoes…so I guess I’m just stuck with this evil eye disease now sadly…

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