Wednesday, March 9, 2011

things not working out for the OMM

First of all – sorry I haven’t been posting lately, but there’s been a whole mess of preoccupations – mom came to visit, then things get busy, and plus there’s the inevitable Guatemalia that keeps me occupied; maybe I’ll be in a community meeting until 9:00 at night, maybe I get exhausted from debating with my counterparts about bottle school construction and all I want to do is lie on the couch and stare at the wall when I get home. Regardless…..I’m gonna keep trying to post regular on this here blog….

Second – I have to give a shout out to International Woman’s Day, which coincided with Fat Tuesday this last Tuesday, but unfortunately, for various reasons I didn’t get to celebrate either one.

Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras revelry? I could have told you three weeks ago that nothing was gonna happen for me in that respect; I’m a teetotaler here in site. I’ve been on super good behavior, first to leave a good impression on the community but then I realized that there aren’t too many people here that I’d wanna drink with anyway so I don’t bother.

As for International Women’s Day … that’s a little more unfortunate story. Back two weeks ago, I went upstairs to the Municipal Women’s Office (OMM) and sat down with the office secretary, coordinator and president. I said to them, “Hey guys! March 8th is a big deal! Do you wanna do something to celebrate, or raise the profile of women here in the community?” Of course, they get excited and we decided on a march, complete with banners and a show, a stage and music plus snacks for all the women participating.

So I sat down with the secretary and we wrote out a proposal and a simple budget – we signed both and left them with the mayor. Unfortunately, I found out later that the mayor (who’s a woman, mind you) couldn’t be bothered to provide the requested 400 quetzales, or $50 US.

Don’t bother asking why a female administrator in a misogynistic country like Guatemala would dog the celebration that’s meant to empower her own oppressed gender because ….. I can’t figure it out either.

Anyway, so I say to the ladies in the OMM, “Well guys, it looks like the march isn’t going to work out. How about we try putting on that workshop on HIV/AIDS that we planned back in December?” They liked that idea, so we spent the next couple days getting the presentation ready until Tuesday afternoon, when the community called us back to cancel.

Apparently, the women’s group to whom we wanted to speak to were convinced that if representatives from the Municipality (read: us) rolled up and gave a talk, then they would lose eligibility for the 300 quetzales of government assistance publicly available through a program called Mi Familia Progresa (My Family Progresses), an account that is completely untrue.

Basically, someone decided to make political hay by taking advantage of campesino (peasant) ignorance, suggesting that if these women attended a simple workshop that it would equate to their joining up with the political party that controls the municipality (which is different than the political party controlling the federal government). Losing the 300 quetzales would be the subsequential punishment.

What’s telling, however, is that people here believed that the federal government could exclude citizens from public programs based on personal politics. That’s an outrageous prospect if you’re an American, but hey, I’ve got a lot to learn about Guatemala.

Anyway, so the workshop never happened.

What I haven’t told you is that both local and national elections are slated for September, and campaigns are ramping up like mad. Political logos and colors cover most of the houses in my town, and public figures here take any opportunity to make speeches infused with la politica. Chisme (gossip) is everywhere.