My Standing Rock Story

I didn’t know why I was going to Standing Rock or what I would find there. I just knew that since I was passing through North Dakota on the train, I had to get off for a couple of days. On the way there I thought of the story I had heard about the people who brought coolers full of beef and buffalo meat. They were met with great appreciation, saying, “The hippies are bringing only vegetables.” I thought, “that would be me.” So on the way I stopped at a Wal-Mart and bought two coolers and filled them with turkeys and beef rump roasts. I couldn’t arrive empty-handed.

When I finally arrived, I was greeted with the warmest welcome I have ever received. No one knew I brought the meat because I just left the two coolers at the food donation area. But everyone I saw spoke to me and sincerely thanked me for coming, even for only two days. I have never felt such sincere appreciation. There were prominent signs at the entrances and all around saying, “no drugs or alcohol, in you or on you;” “we are unarmed;” “No DAPL”.stenginrock-welcome-sml

The sacredness, the spiritual basis of everyone was palpable. There were no harsh words; no expressions of frustration, even though conditions were very difficult. It was very cold, in the single digits with a strong wind. Winter has arrived. Finding enough food, drinking water, showers, and other necessities is a real challenge for everyone.

Shelley Tanenbaum and Carol Barta arrived from the south before I did and were able to tell me how to get there avoiding the closed road from the north. They had also arranged for a press pass for me so I could take photos. The pass came with an orientation which explained the rules of the camp, the non-violent philosophy that was absolute, where photos were not allowed, the dress code (long skirts for women in the sacred fire area or cooking). One must ask permission to take photos of any people, and especially ask permission of parents to take photos of children, and people on horseback are still people! All that is, or should be, standard journalistic practice. But I really didn’t feel like taking photos, not because of the orientation, just because I didn’t want the camera to be between me and the experience of being there. I only took photos from the outside of the camp to document its vastness.

I had one important purpose and that was to present the Garifuna flag and the support statement from the National Garifuna Council of Belize. I went to the information center and asked how to do that after I delivered the meat. They sent me to the sacred fire to speak to the elders. But no elders were there at the time, so the microphone guy who does all the announcements asked us to sit and wait. There were benches in front of the sacred fire, so Shelley and I sat there for some time, in our own meeting for worship. An announcement was made that breakfast was over and volunteers were needed to help prepare lunch. It seemed that the elders were in an all-day meeting in the dome, so I went to the kitchen to volunteer.standingrock-3-sml

As I was given the job to cut squash, I joined those at a long table cutting vegetables. I saw a cutting board, wiped it off, but didn’t have a knife. The onion guy said he would give me a knife, although he seemed a little sad about it. Later I found out why. He asked me to borrow it back for a bit and gave me the very dull knife he had been using to cut onions. The knife he gave me was a big really sharp knife, perfect for cutting squash. I got to see how the kitchen operated. There was one woman in charge appropriately named “Harmony.” She had at least two young men, maybe more, who knew the plan and told the rest of us what to do when. Harmony seemed very laid back, but was feeding many people three times a day. I don’t know how many. This was the main kitchen, but there were others. I heard there were about 3,000 people in the camp.

I don’t know how long I cut squash, maybe an hour or two. We were almost at the end of the boxes of squash when one of the organizing young men said, “does anyone have a vehicle?” I seemed to be the only one who responded, so I was sent, along with Paul, my helper, to bring drinking water to the kitchen from the other side of the camp. There were 10 carboys (5-gallon plastic bottles), but we could only get six in the back seat, so we decided to make two trips. Mac pointed out the building and said that Jay was the water guy who hadn’t had a day off in six weeks. We found the water truck with three spigots on the outside, but no Jay, and no water came out of the spigots. I parked behind the truck which was on the main road down the center of camp. Pretty soon someone else pulled up to park behind me. That brought the traffic guy, who stopped her from parking there. I asked if I should move my car and he said, “yes, I am trying to get this truck moved.” And he went off calling for “water truck guy.”

I went after him to tell him the water truck guy was named “Jay” when he found Jay. Jay explained to us that he was trying to get plugged in to run the water pumps. He said it had frozen overnight and he hoped he didn’t have damage. At first the spigots ran very slowly, but eventually they ran faster, so he was happy and glad to see us getting drinking water for the main kitchen. We completed our purpose to the great appreciation of the kitchen staff. By then it was 1:30 and time for lunch. I started into the Mess Hall, which was quite warm, but the wood smoke stung my eyes, so I left.

I decided to try again to deliver the Garifuna flag and support statement. This time the microphone guy didn’t tell me to wait for elders, but read the statement himself that was heard over the loud speakers. He told me to hold up the flag and walk out into the sun so everyone could see it. As soon as he started reading, I saw people looking up from what they were doing and even walking toward me. Among them were Shelley and Carol who had been out exploring. They said they had to run when they first heard the statement being read to get there in time to take my photo.img_2092

Having accomplished my purpose, I sat down with Carol and Shelley to catch up a bit and rest. Soon the microphone guy said it was time for lunch. He reminded folks to take plates to the elders, who seemed to still be in that all day meeting. After a little while some young people came with plates for us! We thought he meant the Lakota elders, but it seems we qualified as elders, too. As I said, I have never felt so appreciated!

We three took a walk to the smaller camp on the other side of the river, crossing the bridge on the highway just outside of the camp. We had heard there was a women’s place over there, so we went to see. We found the place, but were too early. The women’s meeting was at 4 pm each day. Still we had some nice conversations with the people there. Then it was time for us to leave. We all had long drives ahead of us, Carol back to Kansas all by herself, Shelley and I to Minot to catch the train the next day.

People ask me, “Should I go to Standing Rock. I say, “Sure, if you feel so led.” I am very glad I made that effort. I believe in some ways I am changed forever. A conversation I had with Joe from Philadelphia helped me to understand how and why. Joe is of Irish descent. He said one of the elders was explaining why even white people are led here to help the cause. “The red-haired people were the first slaves of the Europeans, then the black curly-haired people, and then the black straight-haired people. You have that pain in your genes,” he said.

You have to know that winter is upon them. There is considerable building to make structures to withstand the extreme North Dakota winters, but conditions are still very primitive. I heard no complaints, even though it was really cold when we were there. And it is going to get colder. The Lakota have lived in this climate for thousands of years, so they know how to survive. But it will not be easy. They need money and materials to winterize the camp. There are ways to contribute …

You don’t have to camp with them to visit and offer support. We stayed in a hotel in Mandan, the closest city. We did not even try to camp. That is quite possible and quite well accepted. No one seemed even disappointed that I was not camping. Some people sleep at their casino, but that stays full. I got off the Empire Builder (AMTRAK) in Minot, rented a car, and drove to Mandan, where I had reserved a hotel room. Driving from Minot to Mandan took about two hours; from Mandan to Standing Rock Reservation is about an hour. The camp is right on highway 1806, but that road is blocked from the north, so you have to take highways 6 then 24 and then go north on 1806.

Soon after we left there was an action that was met with another violent response. It must have been why the elders were meeting all day long. The purpose of the action was to unblock highway 1806. When the barricades and burned out cars were removed, the police shot the protesters with rubber bullets and showered them with a fire hose at 26 degrees F. Several of the protesters were hospitalized. Now I understand that the actions at not at the camp, but at other locations. One does not risk arrest by visiting the camp. When an action takes places, all are clear that those participating may be arrested. One meeting that was announced was with the legal team for those who had been or were willing to get arrested.


Sustainability Minute Approved, FWCC, 2016, Pisac, Peru

Living Sustainably and Sustaining Life on Earth*

The Light of Christ has inspired Quakers throughout the generations. As we gather together in Pisac, Peru in 2016, we feel this light stronger than ever in our calling to care for the Earth on which we live. It is calling us from all traditions: programmed, unprogrammed, liberal, and evangelical. It calls us to preserve this Earth for our children, our grandchildren and all future generations to come, working as though life were to continue for 10,000 years to come. Be ready for action with your robes hitched up and your lamps alight. (Luke 12:35, Revised English Bible)

Our faith as Quakers is inseparable from our care for the health of our planet Earth. We see that our misuse of the Earth’s resources creates inequality, destroys community, affects health and well-being, leads to war and erodes our integrity. We are all responsible for stewardship of our natural world. We love this world as God’s gift to us all. Our hearts are crying for our beloved mother Earth, who is sick and in need of our care.

We are at a historical turning point. Internationally, the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals oblige governments to take action. Faith groups and other civil society are playing a major role. As Quakers, we are part of this movement. The FWCC World Conference approved the Kabarak Call for Peace and Ecojustice in April 2012, while the FWCC World Office was a signatory to the Quaker statement on climate change in 2014 and divested from fossil fuels in June 2015.

We recognise that the environmental crisis is a symptom of a wider crisis in our political and economic systems. Our loving and well informed environmental actions as Friends, consistent with our spiritual values, must therefore work to transform these systems.

Many of us all over the Quaker world are taking practical actions as individuals and communities. At this Plenary, a consultation of more than sixty Friends from all over the world worked to build on these leadings with further practical action. The Annex attached to these minutes shows examples of what Friends are doing already or propose to do.

We must redouble our efforts right now. We must move beyond our individual and collective comfort zones and involve the worldwide Quaker community and others of like mind. Just as Jesus showed us, real change requires us to challenge ourselves to be effective instruments of change. We can do more.

On recommendation of this Consultation, and after some discussion, we adopt the following minute:

In this effort for sustainability, and mindful of the urgency of this work, this Plenary asks the FWCC World Office and Central Executive Committee to:

  1. Invest FWCC World funds ethically.
  1. Share Quaker experiences with other faith groups to inspire them to action, especially through the World Council of Churches.
  2. Seek ways of connecting Friends worldwide that are sustainable.
  3. Facilitate dissemination of training materials on sustainability issues for Quaker leaders, pastors and teachers.

This FWCC Plenary Meeting also asks all Yearly Meetings to:

  1. Initiate at least two concrete actions on sustainability within the next 12 months. These may build on existing projects of individuals or monthly meetings or they may be new initiatives. We ask that they encourage Young Friends to play key roles. We ask that meetings minute the progress and results, so as to share them with FWCC and Quaker meetings.
  2. Support individuals and groups in their meetings who feel called to take action on sustainability.
  3. Support the work done by Quaker organisations such as the Quaker United Nations Office and the Quaker Council for European Affairs to ensure that international agreements and their implementation support sustainability.

This FWCC Plenary Meeting asks individual Friends and groups (such as Monthly Meetings, Worship Groups and ad hoc groups within Meetings) to Share inspiring experiences of living sustainably on the new “sustainability webpage” of the Quakers in the World Website ( This webpage can be used as a source of ideas, inspiration and action.

*IRM 16-20. Sustainability. The Consultation on Sustainability, facilitated by Jonathan Woolley (Mexico City MM/Pacific YM; Staff, QUNO-Geneva), Rachel Madenyika (Staff, QUNO-NY), and Charlotte Gordon (Aotearoa/New Zealand YM) have presented a minute for our consideration.

Annex to the Minute: Possibilities for practical sustainability action

from the Pisac consultation

Individuals can:

  1. Dedicate personal time to nature.
  2. Reduce consumption and use your consumer buying power to create change.
  3. Cut down on meat consumption, be aware of energy costs in production and transport of all foods and methane from ruminant animals, support sustainable agriculture.
  4. Travel – cycle, walk, use public transport or alternatives to private cars, keep air travel to a minimum.
  5. Grow your own food and plant trees.
  6. Be politically active in promoting sustainability concerns.
  7. Share environmental concerns through books, publications, conversations, electronic media
  8. Reduce energy use.
  9. Use less water and harvest water.
  10. Make time for spiritual connection with God.

Monthly Meetings, Worship Groups and small groups within Meetings can:

  1. Live in a community, share housing, participate in a transition town movement.
  2. Educate yourself and others.
  3. Share transport and equipment.
  4. Develop urban agriculture, community gardens, community supported agriculture, tree planting.
  5. Love nature and encourage others to do so: we protect the things we love; get children out in nature; take care of nature around your meeting house (e.g., picking up trash/litter).
  6. Invest ethically and divest from fossil fuels.
  7. Ensure meeting houses are carbon neutral.
  8. Build alliances, seek visibility, approach legislators.
  9. Share sustainability skills.


Yearly Meetings can:

  1. Support the sustainability actions of Monthly Meetings.
  2. Build solidarity with local people.
  3. Support Quakers in politics and international work.
  4. Form support networks and alliances to make more impact – we can only do so much on our own.
  5. Invest ethically, including on sustainability issues.
  6. Practice what we preach.
  7. Discern and move concerns to action.
  8. Set targets for increased sustainability.
  9. Connect and share with other YMs, direct or via FWCC Sections and World Office

We recognise that different actions are relevant to different Quaker meetings in different parts of the world.

Machu Picchu

This journey is coming to an end with the visit to Machu Picchu. Eighty of us went on the post-FWCC Conference trip, so conversations continued and we kept running into each other amidst the ruins, a soft good-bye. It took a day of travel to get there, first in a van and then a train that followed the Urubamba River, also called “Vilcanota,” through the Sacred Valley once more. river-2 train-quakers UrubambaRiver-train-3

We stayed the night in Aguas Calientes, a town built to serve the tourists who come to Machu Picchu. As the name suggests, hot springs await the visitor at the end of that spectacular train ride, my second soak of this journey.

I took hundreds of photos in Machu Picchu. The ruins are on a saddle between two mountains and surrounded by steep mountains, so everywhere I looked was a beautifully composed photograph. Here are a few: mtnview view-1 view-2

One can see the Urubamba River, as it goes around a mountain with the train tracks alongside. train

“Machu” means “old.”

“Picchu” means “peak,” so “Old Peak.” It seems the double “c” is important; without it, the name would mean “old penis.”

Somehow the Spanish never found this site, which was first seen by a North American in 1911 when Hiram Bingham was traveling in the area and asked if there were ruins nearby. About 20 per cent of what we saw had been restored. The rest is the way it was found and protected after 1911. Some time later UNESCO declared Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site.

There is a “Sun Temple” with four windows, where the sun comes in one window at the two solstices and equinoxes. suntemple

One section called “Tres Portals” was especially beautiful. There are terraces everywhere, the only way to live on a steep slope.

There are two-story houses.


I have learned a bit more about the Incas since I first wrote about them a few days ago. It is still not clear to me from which culture in Peru they arose, but their methods of establishing and extending their empire was not by conquering with brutal force. They elicited cooperation of populations by analysing their needs and fulfilling them. For example, they noticed food was in limited, so they stored up grain to fill that need. This is why the brutality of the Spanish invasion was so effective at conquering them. The Spanish also brought illness that decimated the population, which accelerated the decline of the Incas.

As I upload this last blog of this journey, I am already back at home in Caye Caulker, though still getting unpacked and settled. It was an incredible journey. Thanks for going along with me. I plan to occasionally add to this blog under the theme of leadings as I am led. Stay tuned!

The Sacred Valley of the Incas

When we arrived in Peru we initially flew into the Lima airport with wonderful views of the Andes. Then we flew from there to Cusco and crossed the continental divide from west to east.Andies-5 During the nine-day FWCC Conference we had one day of excursions. The Urubamba River that formed the Sacred Valley of the Incas flows to the Amazon to the Atlantic Ocean.

It was a very large group who chose to take the Sacred Valley Tour which went to several sites. We all left at about the same time in twelve vans with six guides and went to the first site, Pisac archeological site, the same name as the town where the conference was held. We were told to remember which van we were in, so we identified ours because it was the only one with a spare tire on the roof. The Pisac site was mainly residential. Since we had no guide, we found an English-speaking guide who was very informative. Pisac-1 Pisac-2 Pisac-3

The dead were buried in holes on the side of the hill in fetal position because they were to be born again. They were buried on the hillside with food and water for their journey down the Urubamba River. The river disappears into the jungles of the Amazon, so from there the Incas believed the dead went up to the Milky Way to be born again.

Pisac-burial-2 Pisac-burial

The first problem of our day occurred as we tried to leave that site. There was a huge traffic jam because there were many vans and buses all wanting to take their guests as close as possible, so our way out was totally blocked. My Mexican friend Yanire Zamora and I were in the front seat with the driver. She commented, “in Mexico, we would get out and go see what is the problem. OK, I’m going.” And she got out and disappeared into the traffic jam.

A little while later the traffic began to move, so our driver began to make his way through, but we didn’t see Yani. After while someone said, “I see her! She is directing that big bus that was blocking to back all the way down the hill.” Because of Yani’s direction, we were the first of our vans to leave that site. We picked up Yani and continued on our way. She said she kept telling all the other vehicles coming in to just park, not to try to go any further.

We had no guide our driver didn’t seem to know where we were going. When we asked him a question, he usually said he would have to ask the organizer of the tour or one of the guides. But a young man among us named Elias had been around the area for awhile and knew these sites, so he became our guide. We became the renegade van and told our driver to just go on to the next site.

As we arrived at the next site, Ollantaytambo, we realized that our van had a flat tire. Our driver told us to enjoy the site and he would change the tire. This site had two temples, the water temple at the bottom and the temple of the sun way up on top of the hill. Most of those in our van were young adults and they all went running up all the stairs. The two of us older women decided that we didn’t want to climb, so we stayed below and explored the terraces. There were grain storage areas high on the side of a nearby hill.GrainStorage-1 GrainStorage-2 Ollantaytambo-1We thought about how hard it would be to carried 100-pound sacks of grain up that hill for storage.

Ollantaytambo-2Since the Incas lived in areas of very steep mountains, they developed a system of terraces, the best way to get agricultural production from these steep slopes. Everywhere you look at the mountainsides, you see sets of terraces. From a distance they look very narrow, but those that we saw were wide enough for about 12 rows of what looked to be potatoes.Terraces-2 Terraces-3 Terraces-4 Terraces-5

Elias explained to us that the Incas had developed a way of telling time using the way shadows that look like the profile of an Inca man fall in a concave sculpture.


When we arrived back to the parking lot, our driver Serpio had the tire changed and was ready to go on to the next site. There were two more planned sites, if there was enough time for both. We decided we wanted to go to both and we were ahead of the other vans, so we went on to the Salt Pans. It seems there is salt embedded in this particular mountain, so the water running out is very salty. The Incas constructed “pans” on the hillside into which they ran water and let it evaporate to get the salt. These salt pans were at least 500 years old and still in use. There were shops selling salt of various flavors, as well as craft items. I bought some salt with rosemary.saltpans saltpans-2

By the time we arrived at Moray, the last site of the day, the other vans were already there. Moray is an area of spectacular terraces in a complete circle. MorayThere is evidence that these were used for agricultural experimentation.

The entire day was filled with spectacular mountain views, including some with snow and a glacier. I took many photos as I gasped in awe as each new view unfolded before us.view-1 view-2 We arrived back at our hotel right around sunset after a very satisfying excursion.


For Mary Gilbert and I traveling together, FWCC started in the Lima airport where we recognized Quakers from Mexico City. With them was Yanire Zamora (Yani), who was a last minute substitution for someone who could not come for health reasons. We all had two days in Cusco before going to the conference at Pisac. But because it was last minute for Yani, she had made no hotel reservations in Cusco. We shared a taxi from the airport and invited her to join our room at the Tierra Viva Hotel Saphi. By then it was time for lunch and the hotel recommended a wonderful vegetarian/organic restaurant. Mary and I are both vegetarians and used to having only one or two choices, but this menu had so many choices that it was hard to choose.Mary-Yani There were nine appetizer offerings with the option of ordering a plate of three, so we three ordered them all and rotated the plates. I have now forgotten all the dishes, but here is a photo of that glorious

In preparation for this international conference, we had commissioned translations of some Quaker Earthcare Witness pamphlets into Spanish. Most I had proofread with my Spanish teacher earlier, but one came in late and I worried that I had no native Spanish speaker to proofread it. But Yani lived for several years in Pennsylvania, so is fluent in both Spanish and English and was quite happy to do the proofreading. One of my tasks in Cusco was to get copies printed. I had the file on a flash drive, so it was a two-step process: get one copy printed at an Internet café in color, and then find a “copias” shop that could copy in color. I managed to find both and got copies made for our display.

FWCC stands for Friends World Conference for Consultation. The organization was formed in 1937 to gather all the varieties of Friends (Quakers) worldwide together. Quaker missionaries have gone to many parts of the world, bringing Friends spirituality, worship, and culture. Kenya has the most Quakers of any other country. Thirty of them arrived late to this conference because visa issues had to be resolved, but they were 10 per cent of our 300 participants. Thirty-eight countries were represen1ted in Pisac, Peru. We are divided into four Sections: Americas, Europe and West Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, and Africa. Each day a worship service was led by a different group, further dividing the Sections into North and Latin America, East Africa and West-South Africa, etc. Worship styles range from the unprogrammed silent meetings of my tradition, to the lively programmed styles of Latin American and East African Evangelical Friends. Though missionaries mostly from the United States started these religions around the world, each country has put their own spin on it according to their cultural experience and sensitivities. A photo of some who demonstrated their national dress gives an idea of the variety.NationalDress From left are Friends from Jamaica, Kenya, Bolivia, Scotland, USA, Kenya, India, and Bolivia.

When I walked into the room before the East Africa worship was to begin, I was greeted with singing, those instant, spontaneous African harmonies! This blog began in Africa in 2011 — Oh, how I miss Africa! Although we were asked not to photograph during worship, we hadn’t quite settled yet, so everyone had their cell phones out. I made a short video that I hope will give you a taste of this joyous feast of song and dance. I uploaded it to youtube <;.

We each draw from different parts of the history of Friends that began in the 1600s in England with George Fox challenging the established church of England. But we share the basic values that are expressed in the Friends Testimonies which are represented in the acronym SPICES: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Sustainability. At this conference Sustainability, which is a new addition to the testimonies, has been prominent. The previous FWCC world conference was in Kenya in 2012 at Kabarak University. If you scroll way down in this blog you will see reports from that conference. A “Kabarak Call” was issued <; which challenged Friends to respond appropriately to the current interconnected global crises of climate change, environmental destruction, and economic inequalities. One task of this conference is to follow up on the Kabarak Call, to hold ourselves accountable. By its global nature, FWCC has a large travel footprint. There are serious modifications to the FWCC constitutions proposed that would put more authority into the Central Executive Committee (CEC) and less into the World Plenary so that World Conferences would not be held so often. The original constitution required a world conference every three years; it is already changed to four, but the proposal now before us is “up to twelve years.” FWCC is exploring other ways of communicating that do not require so much travel. Quaker process requires unity in decision-making, beyond consensus. The new constitution was passed, although the timeframe was changed to “up to ten years.”

I will be in my 80s by the time the next conference happens. As I wrote at the beginning of this blog, I didn’t even intend to come to this conference because I thought it was time for me to stop these big trips to save both the carbon and money. The good news is that there is a large group of young adult Friends here who are taking considerable leadership.

Among the four Consultancies designed to provide output of the conference is the one on Sustainability. The writing group that is transforming the content of the discussions into a Minute for the conference to approve is mostly composed of young adult Friends. It is their future! The Sustainability Minute was passed. As soon as it is up on the Internet, I will update this blog with the URL.

One to the nudges that brought me here was to generate submissions for a new book that is proposed by What Canst Thou Say, an independent Friends magazine focused on mystical experience and contemplative practice. This book, Immersed in Prayer, is intended to include submissions from Friends around the world on their prayer life. We hope to publish a bi-lingual book in English and Spanish. My task is to encourage submissions, so I offered a writing workshop. I was very nervous about it, but it went well. Yani was a life-saver because she translated for the workshop. Including the 14 people who attended, I gave out 20 invitations to write with author guidelines in English and 20 in Spanish at the display.

My display represented four organizations: Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW, Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF, What Canst Thou Say (WCTS, and Producciones de la Hamaca ( So, we made it into a square.FWCC-Display All the literature offered has been picked up, which included two pamphlets from Quaker Earthcare Witness that were translated into Spanish, one on population and one on climate change.

The translator of the population pamphlet was Emma Condori, the new Director of an international Friends center in Bolivia. She is the recipient of a Mini-grant from QEW to conduct workshops on environmental education and sustainability with children. She was most appreciative of the pamphlet, “A Friends Witness on Population,” because that information was all new to her. She said it was very important to the women of Bolivia and she intends to conduct workshops based on it. I told her we have five more of these QEW population pamphlets (trifolds) on Adoption, Abortion, Child-Bearing, Immigration, and Sexuality, so we made an arrangement for her to translate the other five. All are available on the QEW website <>. A sixth pamphlet is in process entitled, “Empowering Women: The Link to Population.”

These connections are the real purpose and value of FWCC. Conversations around meals, standing in lines, and sitting waiting for events to begin make connections for future work. I heard about the problems that Ruwanda has from too many refugees coming from Burundi because the current crisis there. I heard about 30 years of conflict in the Congo and the British Quaker project to help Friends in the Congo. In a conversation with a young man from Lesotho I learned that they are an independent country surrounded by South Africa with similar issues to Belize, which is claimed by Guatemala.

It has been a wonderful eight days as we begin the last day, the finale of Business Sessions to determine the outcome of the conference and then the difficult good-byes.


Cusco, Peru

Mary Gilbert and I traveled for two and a half days to get to Peru reasonably rested. We were advised on altitude sickness not to get too tired. I thought spending all night in airports waiting for flights was not a good idea. On Friday, Jan 15th, 2016, we took a bus from Xela to Guatemala City to stay overnight to catch a 6:30 am flight. On Saturday, we flew to El Salvador and Lima, Peru, arriving in time to spent the night in a hotel before flying to Cusco, Lima. We stayed two days in Cusco to get used to the altitude, which is 3400 meters, or 10,300 feet.

The hotel had coca tea waiting for us, so we drank quite a lot. Even so, I had some altitude effects — headache, fatigue, breathlessness, and rapid heartbeat. The first day I rested a lot, but didn’t nap and had a hard time sleeping that night. Later the desk clerk told us not to drink coca tea after noon as it is a strong stimulant. The next day I drank the other tea they offered, a mint tea, and was able to sleep, so I felt better.

We saw parades or protests on each of the three days we were in Cusco. The Sunday we arrived near our hotel was a procession in honor of San Antonio Abad, the patron saint of at least the first university and one of the churches. It seems Cusco celebrates a number of saint days throughout the year in a similar way to what we observed, especially in June and September.

San Antonio Abad was a large, bigger than life, statue dressed in a gilted robe and wore a crown. This was carried by 24 men, 8 on a side, with a swaying coordinated motion. Little boys carried a platform ahead of them, which they set down every block or so and San Antonio Abad’s stature was set on the platform. There were fancy shields carried that define the saint being honored. It seems there are several patron saints honored in Cusco.SanAntonio-1

Several bands and dance groups in very colourful costumes followed the saint and danced in the street. There were silver masked Spanish-looking men with silver pipes in their mouths, large furry monkeys with big green faces, and several different SanAntonio-2dance teams. We were told that these processions are organized by one designated person who has to raise the funds needed, which are considerable because all the bands were paid.bands-1 bands-2 bands-3 bands-4SanAntonio-4

Our second day in Cusco there was a massive protest against mining in a protected area. I saw signs saying, “Protect Our Sanctuary,” protest-1 protest-1a protest-3 protest-4“Go Away Mine, protect our patrimony,” “Mines contaminate.”

The protest looked much the same as the San Antonion Abad procession the day before because many saints were represented by the same gilted banners.

There was a wall of “cases.” I just took a photo of one which said that mercury was put into the community’s water. The recommendation was to evacuate the area, but only medical palliative measures were taken. Many people suffered. The parade ended up in the main plaza. It all happened in the midst of a rainy day. I wondered if these protests happened often. Mining and oil exploitation in the lands of indigenous peoples are big issues in Peru.

I went to two museums and a folkloric ballet performance. I wanted to learn about the Incas. The Inca Museum showed artefacts such as pottery and metal works from various areas of Peru beginning 14,600 B.C., representing different groups, as many as 35 distinct groups, each occupying a small part of what is now Peru between 1,000 A.D. and the rise of the Inca civilization. Each of these different groups existed relatively independently with their own lifestyle represented by the artefacts remaining.

I was surprised to learn that the Inca civilization did not really start until 1438 A.D. when a pastoral tribe formed a city-state in Cusco and began an expansion that brought the other groups occupying the areas of current Peru and Ecuador under their control. Unfortunately, none of these museums allowed photos. I will try to find some examples online.

By the time the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived in 1532, the inca empire was devastated by illnesses brought by earlier Spanish invasions and the two sons of the Inca King were involved in a civil war for power over the empire. By 1572, the Spanish had executed the last Inca emperor and taken control. The remaining conquered elite Incas took up Spanish lifestyles— clothing and furniture, which are shown in painted portraits. The Spanish used religious art to convert their new subjects to Catholicism as demonstrated by numerous paintings displayed that were painted by Incas. Garcilaso de la Vega, who was born in 1539 the illegitimate son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca princess, documented the Inca civilization in the book, Royal Commentaries of the Incas, which documented the entire history of the Incas from the beginning until the final downfall in 1572.

On our third day in Cusco, we saw yet another procession honouring another saint as we were leaving for Pisac for the world gathering of Friends (Quakers), the ultimate objective of this trip.

Farewell to Guatemala: Hot Springs

Our last event in Guatemala was a visit to Fuentes Georginas (Hot Springs) near Zunil. The water came cascading out of the volcanic rock very hot, enough to burn. Then it cooled off a bit farther away from the rock wall with the waterfall. One could adjust to their desired temperature by moving nearer or farther from the back wall.hotspringshotsprins-2

There was a lot of steam around which gave the area a mystical feel. That was amplified by the giant leaves. I could have stood under some like a giant toadstool in Alice in Wonderland.giantleaves-2





It was a lovely, relaxing afternoon, our last in Xela.giantleaves-1

Xela: Quetzaltenango


After the Quaker program, Progressa, was over, Mary Gilbert and I went to Xela (also called “Quetzaltenango”), where Aracely Cummings grew up — thinking of you, Aracely! It is the second largest city in Guatemala with a population of 500,000. Today we took a tour to some surrounding towns: San Andres Xecul, Zunil, and Almolonga. We had an excellent guide, Henry. These are not Mayan villages like we would find in Belize, but big mountain towns with steep narrow streets. We spent most of our time in Xecul, walking up to the top of the hill overlooking the town. Henry told us there were three sources of income in this town, manufacturing fireworks, agriculture, and dying cotton. We could see strands of different colored cotton threads drying on roof tops, to be woven into huipiles. We had each bought a huipile before leaving Antigua. dyingHenry-Mary

We visited Maximon, the folk saint, in Xecul. We lit green candles for Mother Earth and had a short silent worship.Maximon-1Maximon-2 Maximon is not sanctioned by the Catholic Church, but we also visited the church. I took some photos of the detail on the front.Xeculchurch Xeculchurch-3 Xeculchurch-2

Everywhere around we saw various vegetables growing. They export to all of Central America from here. I expect the vegetables I buy in Punta Gorda that come from Puerto Barrios are grown here. Henry had lived for several years in Puerto Barrios and said the road to Barrios from here is loaded with big trucks headed for the port. I showed him the view from my house in Barranco where I see mountains in Guatemala.

A wedding was happening in Almolonga. The bride was coming out of the church. We saw pick-up trucks, one with furniture, and the other with a loom for weaving, both of which were wedding presents.

I also took pictures of the detail on this church. At the top there is a quetzal sitting on the letter “J”.

Wedding-2 Wedding-1 Loom Quetzal-churchWe had one more stop at a 400-year-old church and market in Almolonga.

We finished our tour with lunch at a restaurant on a hill with a great view of Xela. Henry answered my burning question about Guatemala’s recent political changes. It seems the people of Guatemala had had enough of corruption! I was only vaguely aware of the serious protests last August that threatened to shut down the country, calling for the resignation of  President Otto Perez Molina. Not only did he resign, but his immunity from prosecution was removed; he was convicted of fraud; and is now in prison. That was September 3rd, 2015, just two months before their Presidential election in November. The Vice President, Roxanna Baldetti, also resigned because she was implicated in the scandal as well, so a temporary President was appointed, an older politician that Henry said was widely trusted. Jimmie Morales was elected in November. He is not a politician, but an entertainer, a comedian. I asked if he was like Donald Trump, but was told “no, because he is humble and intelligent.” Jimmie Morales is to be installed as President of Guatemala tomorrow as I write this on Wednesday, January 13th.

I am interested in who will come for the ceremony, both from the U.S., and from Belize. Henry and other Guatemalans with whom I have had a similar conversation are cautiously optimistic that he will be a good president and avoid falling into corruption. They will be watching!AlmolongaChurch church-sign market



Progressa: Guatemala Friends Scholarship Program

I switched to the other side of the table and have spent a week teaching English to Guatemalan students who have scholarships under a Quaker scholarship program called “Progressa.” It has been a wonderful week, a great privilege to work with these wonderful students. Each of the fifteen teachers was assigned one student. The first day of class we prepared to introduce each other in English that evening, so we had to learn about each other. My first student was Aurelio Rodriguez Sajche, a very talented young man who is studying in university to be a teacher. He has already taught in primary and secondary schools. He is also a painter and a poet. He said, “I study each morning; I paint in the afternoon; and I write poetry in the evening.”Aurelio-Capuchinas

The theme of the second day was family. We had all, teachers and students, been asked to send photos of our family and our homes. That evening we all introduced our families through a slide show of those photos, in English. Teachers and students went together each afternoon on an outing to places in and around Antigua. On Tuesday we went to Capuchinas. The first photo is Aurelio there. We also went up to the Cross on the Hill. The next photo is Aurelio with Aurelio-Jose-AntonioJose Alejandro Peres Tazj and Antonio Carrillo Puac.

On Wednesday we changed students. My next student was Miriam Aracely Joj Ajvx. That afternoon we went to Santa Domingo, an upscale hotel with a bus that took us up a hill with a great view and lots of sculptures. Here is Nanci-Miriam-Nati-2Miriam with Nancy Paola Mo Cal on the left and Lidia Esperanza Chuta Lopez on the right. The next photo shows the sculpture they are in front of: a forkful of spaghetti being twisted on a spoon.Sculpture-Nancy-Miriam-Nati

On Thursday we went  to San Cristobal de Alta, a village near Antigua, to an organic farm on another hill with a great view of Antigua and many beautiful plants, including orchids.


On Friday all thirty of us went to visit Miriam’s house in the nearby city of Sumpango, made famous by the beautiful giant kites they make all year and fly on the first of November, All Saints Day. I took a picture of a picture of one of the kites. Miriam told me that the rattling of the kite’s thin paper in the wind is supposed to scare the spirits away that have come out for the Day of the Dead (Halloween). Her mother (shown with Miriam) had a beautiful table full of interesting food. She and her sisters taught us how to make tortillas.

Kite Miriam-hermotherMy third student was Elizabeth Guadalupe Cojiti Ruiz Erazo (Lupita), who is studying to be a systems engineer! I looked up the Peggy Seeger song, “Gonna be an Engineer” to play for her.Yupita-Yoscelin She is shown on the left with Yoscelin Fabiola Hernandez Delgado at the Cross on the Hill (Cruz de la Cerro).

You might wonder, how did this program get started and how is it financed? Progressa is a joint program between Guatemala Friends Meeting and Redwood Forest Friends Meeting in Santa Rosa, California. In 1973 one member of the Friends Meeting in Antigua asked the Meeting to help their maid go to school. The next year they sponsored a few more and it grew into a scholarship program for Guatemala students, mostly indigenous students in high school and beyond. They focus on fields that will help to develop their communities, such as, education, engineering, medicine, etc. About 100 students are given scholarships each year. The program is now headed by one of their graduates, Miguel Costop. The program is funded by the efforts of many North Americans, mostly from California, Oregon, and Wisconsin, under the care of Redwood Forest Friends Meeting in Santa Rose, California. Funds are solicited from Quaker donors and raised by selling Guatemalan handicrafts at various Quaker gatherings in the U.S. and around the world.

The last night the students entertained us with songs and dance. Then we exchanged gifts with each one of our three students. There were many hugs and tears. We took a group photo.GrupoFinalE

It has been a delightful week full of interesting interactions. The students taught me as much or more than I taught them, as I always used to say the one who learns the most is the teacher. They taught me words in their Mayan languages. For most of them, English is their third language and Spanish their second. They helped me a lot with my Spanish as we studied vocabulary together. Thanks to Martha Duggan and Miguel Costop for excellent planning and execution of the plan!

Volcanos and Earthquakes

The earth is active here in the Guatemalan highlands. We had an earthquake last week. It lasted about 15 seconds and was reported to be 5.5 on the Richter scale.

When I was first here, the firecrackers were constant in the streets, so I didn’t realize I was hearing the Fuego Volcano. It was only after Christmas was over and I was still hearing these loud bangs that were a little different than a firecracker. My teacher confirmed it, when she said, “there goes the volcano.” It happens several times a day. At first I took lots of photos of the puffs of smoke that come out in the daytime every time there was that loud bang — thumping sound.

fuego-2 fuego-1Then I looked at Fuego at night and saw the lava. On Sunday evening, January 3rd, 2016, I moved to Posada Belen in the southeast of Antigua with a different view of Fuego. That night it was erupting and I got good views from the second floor of the Posada.fuego-3-web

On Saturday, January 2nd, I took a tour to the Pacaya volanco. It was an hour and a half mini-bus ride and then an hour and a half walking mostly up very steep paths. I was advised to take a horse to get up there. I was really glad I made that decision. I would never have made it up and would have held back the whole group. As it was I was the slowest coming down, but then they were all forty or fifty years younger than me.

When we got as high as was safe to go, we went to an area of lava that had been there only since a 2014 eruption. We were walking on lava, which wasn’t easy. Then we roasted marshmellows where it is still hot in that lava from 2014.

There were spectacular views and it was a beautiful day.