Written on 10.13.22 & 11.1.22
>Written on 10.13.22< Ten days ago, I was walking through sensory overload at the Carolina Classic Fair. Attendance is way down, apparently, and I’m not sure if it’s true, but someone there told me it’s because people are still protesting that they changed the name from the Dixie Classic Fair. The South makes me cringe sometimes.
I was there with my brother and 5 year old niece, Tayson. We needed something happy as a diversion from the past week of hearing people speaking a foreign language to us…about death rattles, advanced directives, and cremains. Besides, it was tradition for us to go to the Fair with Dad for almost 40 years, except during those teenage years, of course. When we were young, Mom and Dad would sign us out of school early and take us to the Fair before the crowds showed up. Even though it was probably only 30 minutes early, it was always delicious to skip school for a “doctor’s appointment” that involved cotton candy.
As I got older and had kids of my own, we continued the yearly tradition of going with Gramps & Granny. I have many pictures of both Emily & Boden in strollers and with candied apple grins. We always had our rounds to make, including the petting zoo, racing pigs, and giant pumpkins. Once Tayson was born, we carried on the tradition. Glenn and I did the same this year, even though the racing pigs were missing. That’s ok, others were missing too.
My Dad’s favorite thing to do was the “Guess Your Age” game. We’d always finish our visit by going for the win. He almost always won, too. He couldn’t have cared less about the stuffed animal; he liked the bragging rights of looking “so young.” And he would casually bring it up in conversation long after the Fair had left town. When Glenn, Tayson, and I were getting ready to leave, I heard the lady calling out, “Come on, let me guess your age!” Tears poured down my face.
I also started crying yesterday, when I saw Bindy, my Guatemalan soul sister. Funny how tears can be the same physical thing but mean something totally different. I’ve known her since 2007, when I first met her husband, Josue, by a pure gift of coincidence. He was supposed to just be our driver from the airport for our first trip to Guatemala with LEAP (Learn Explore Achieve Partner), the non-profit Elissa, Kristen, and I co-founded. Josue (& Bindy) have been an integral part of our work since the beginning and have become family.
Elissa and Kristen have been irreplaceable with LEAP (Learn Explore Achieve Partner) and have tirelessly kept it going until the end. In 2006, Elissa had the first amazing gift-coincidence that led us to meet the director, Moises, and in turn, his friendly staff. While we started with a goal of sharing teaching methodologies and partnering with a school in a tiny (mostly Mayan) village, we ended up getting even more family, and we can’t wait to celebrate with them this weekend.
We started by bringing groups of teachers to model lessons, especially on incorporating the arts, but also on how to use cooperative groups and mind mapping. In order to teach with the arts, we brought musical instruments, art supplies, and basic school supplies. (The government only gave the staff a ream of paper for the entire school year at the time.) We also brought some sporting goods and a bunch of books.
We caught our breath in 2008 (versus just continuing to bring stuff we thought they could use) to ask the director and staff what they needed. Many white board sessions later, we ended up with a plan, a wish list we all wanted to see come true. For starters, we had created a “problem” that we wanted to help solve. We had brought so much stuff over the years that they needed a way to store it all. More importantly, that staff was so dynamic that there were more students that wanted to go to school, but there wasn’t enough space for them. So…we (LEAP-NC + LEAP-GUATE) took on the project of building an addition onto the school.
The amazing part is that the village built that addition. Kindergarteners carried cement blocks and rebar, grandparents carried machetes and pick axes, and everyone in between. We were in awe to see what they accomplished together. It seemed to heal some of the past, since many in two+ generations never got to go to school due to a brutal 36 year long Civil War. We had raised the money, but they raised the structure. It was a work of art—a computer lab (filled by another non-profit), a library (another non-profit contributed to our luggage loads), a director’s office, and 2 classrooms. Underneath it all is a box we buried that was filled with well wishes from back in NC.
Before the addition began, we looked at the wish list and saw a really important one. We found out that many students were stopping school after the 6th grade because they couldn’t afford the uniforms, books, and bus transportation. New problem discovered. New solution collaborated. This led to another huge undertaking—a scholarship program that started with 7, but over the years grew to 46 that were in the program all the way through graduation from high school. (There were more who were part of the program over the years but ultimately had to drop out of school, usually so they could work.) Those early graduates were the first in the village to finish high school, and they inspired those behind them.
Life moves quickly, people retire, and goals are met. It’s time. We’re having a huge party on Sunday to celebrate the scholarship students’ successes and officially mark the ending of LEAP. As we get ready for the party, we are hearing stories of their lives. Most are in jobs they never would have been able to get without a degree. Many are married and have children of their own (that they’re already planning out how to get through high school.) A few have built their own houses from the ground up using their salaries (& maybe even their school building skills?) Many are helping their parents economically. The parents and grandparents still show up to the school and feel a part of it. It’s just amazing to see what around $250/year/student can do to change a whole village. I’m already imagining how to keep from bawling at the party.
How’s this for a segway? Cue: Josh Groban, You Raise Me Up
>Written on 11.1.22< Today, I was walking through sensory overload at the Dia de los Santos (Dia de los Muertos) Barriletes Festival in Santiago, Sacatepequez. Barriletes are kites, and at the festival in this and one other town, they are giant. I mean giant. Several were 13 meters in circumference, which is about 43 feet wide aka 3 stories high. We heard one kite that dwarfed those was actually closer to 15 meters wide. The amazing thing about them is that they are constructed out of bamboo and tissue paper. The other, possibly more amazing thing about them is that it takes a whole year from the initial design to creation to the time to finally hoist these amazing creations up for those of us lucky enough to witness.
Ephemeral art is the term for art that is “conceived under a concept of non-permanence as a material and conservable work of art.” (Wikipedia) I doubt that is part of the mission statement of these different groups that make these kites each year, but it’s what they do. These men (yes, almost all of the artists are men) pour their time and talent into being able to honor their Mayan roots, their Guatemalan heritage, and their be-loved ancestors.
If you’ve watched Coco, you may be thinking of the scenes where they decorate the gravesites and tombs with flowers, pine needles, fern fronds, etc. That’s exactly what was going on today. It is a day that they believe those who have passed make a connection back to earth—a “thin line” day in which those connections are encouraged by children flying colorful kites, the smell and sight of marigolds, the sound of marimba music and laughter, the wonder at streets lined with vendors with everything from frying fish to throw pillows (so random!), and the feeling of family togetherness. Oh, and the staccato sounds of “helados, helados, helados” and bicycle bells from the ice cream cart people as they bounced over the raised mounds of dirt.
The cemetery in this small town is where I want some of my ashes scattered on a November 1, hopefully many years from now. One of the kites said, “No muere el que se va, muere el que se olvida. (Basically just what Coco says, “The one who leaves doesn’t die, the one who is forgotten does.”)
Today was a hard day because I had thought about bringing ashes to this festival. I unpacked them at the last minute. Inner dialog: My dad’s ashes. My dad is gone. Gone but not forgotten, so he’s not really gone. But he’s gone from this earth. I wasn’t ready to leave some of him behind, even in that sacred place on that sacred day.
I’ve been marking every Sunday since he left by what I was doing. Sunday #1 I missed his last breath by a couple of minutes. Sunday #2 We celebrated his life with pictures and stories. Sunday #3 I celebrated scholarship students, including the one he and Susan sponsored. Sunday #4 I ate dinner with another of the scholarship students, celebrating her new family and thinking of how my kids don’t have their Gramps anymore. Sunday #5 + 2 days, I looked at all of the kites and flowers and people celebrating their loved ones…and thought about how life itself is ephemeral art.
1) If you haven’t seen Coco, please do. Also please note that Mexico is the location and Mexico is the place for the Dia de Los Muertos being celebrated with sugar skulls and mariachi bands. That isn’t going on everywhere in Latin America.
2) To see some of the kites from years past, look up both Sumpango & Santiago, Sacatepequez. I’ll be posting some of this year’s on Instagram too.
3) On the 13th, we drove to Lake Atitlan, also known as the “most beautiful lake in the world.” Also go check it out online, you’ll see why.
4) To see our work in el Sitan, check out our vintage website at www.icanleap.org
5) Writing prompts
* Seen at a Citgo restroom on the way to the fair: a sign that said, “There is a seven minute maximum on bathroom” Glenn and I wondered: How did they pick that number? What happened to inspire hanging that sign in the first place?
Did you go to the fair as a child? As an adult?
What ephemeral art have you witnessed? What stayed with you?
a “sense” of wonder