The day of the book reading arrived.  Cush, Tanya, and I played our three songs.  We spent about two weeks preparing, three or four times per week, two hours or more at a shot, and that was my best experience of this whole trip.  We were speaking Spanish and working together and teaching each other, and having some real, non-superficial interaction.

The event itself was excruciating.  Cush, Tanya, and I were giggling together about how bad it was.  It took place outdoors, in the patio of the Caquchikel House; that is, a large grassy courtyard surrounded by buildings. There must have been close to 100 people there at the beginning.  The author, a doctor named Luis, is a really sweet man and I like him, but he read a whole chapter of his novel, which took about 45 minutes (this was after the whole thing started an hour late).  Then we played “Bay Mir Bist du Sheyn,” to enthusiastic applause.  Then another guy gave a speech for at least a half hour, about how Guatemala doesn’t give its authors the appreciation they deserve.  Then we played Cush’s piece, “Noche.”  All this time, people were drifting away little by little.  Then some young people did an interpretive theatrical thing based on the novel (I think that’s what they were doing), and then we played “I Found a Million Dollar Baby.”  There were wine and food, but I didn’t want to eat or drink alcohol before singing and playing, and of course the food and wine were gone long before we played our first piece.  But I don’t mind because I’ve created what must be the Guatemala premiere of “Bay Mir Bist Du Sheyn” with marimba and accordion.

I had a conversation with a Canadian guy here about wood stoves.  This guy said that the whole idea of wood stoves vs. open fires is a top down idea from  people in the north, a solution to a problem that the local people don’t really have, and didn’t ask for.  The cheap stoves that are being installed don’t conserve wood, as I’ve read elsewhere and I accept as a fact. The only argument for them is that they get smoke out of the house.  He claimed there is no real evidence of respiratory disease from smoke in the house, which is to say, the smoke doesn’t really stay in the house. The women who cook would prefer to use an open fire, but they go along with an imposed solution because they’re told it’s better.  This guy quoted a woman who said to him, “When I can’t smell the smoke, I feel sad.”

I’d be interested to know more facts about this.  If someone can invent a cheap wood cook stove that actually conserves wood, then that alone would justify it.  Or if someone can demonstrate a true health benefit.  At Steve and Elisabeth’s, where I was staying, the next door neighbors have a wood stove and the result is that the neighbors get the smoke from the chimney, as I observed first hand with many coughs.

I have been in houses in Nicaragua where they were cooking over an open fire, and I did not perceive more smoke in the house than the general smokiness outside.  I am sure there is plenty of documented respiratory disease in these countries, but I don’t know if it is accurately documented that wood stoves with chimneys actually reduce the respiratory disease.


The market in Pana this morning, a typical day.


A closer look at the clothing