Women’s History Month


Get ready. Women’s history month really isn’t that far away. And this year, at the University of Akron, the Women’s Studies Program has great programs in store.

Catie Curtis

The month will be kicked off with folk singer Catie Curtis. The “out” Boston folk singer is known for her songs about homelessness, social problems and her life. She will perform at E.J. Thomas at the Stage Door at 7 p.m. on March 2.  Special thanks to the Gay Endowment Fund and E.J. for their support of the program.

Lilly Ledbetter

There is already a lot of excitement about the fact that Lily Ledbetter will be at the University on March 10.  See Paula Maggio’s post to learn more about this incredible woman and her journey to change America.

New York poet and performer Staceyann Chin will perform on March 31 in the Student Union Theatre at 7 p.m. The event will close out Women’s History month and be part of the kickoff for the Graduate CROW conference at the University.   Earlier in the day, activist Kathy Kelley will speak in the theatre.

Watch this blog and the University of Akron Women’s Studies Web site for more information.

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Xela women’s prison


I was able to go to the prison for a program about all the activities they have for the women there.  It was actually quite impressive, but almost all of the people running programs are volunteers. There are Guatemalans who come several times a week to help these women.  Interestingly, the woman who got the most applause was the psychologist, which I think shows the women really do want help. Another favorite was a professor from the Universidad de Xela who teaches acting. He gave a dramatic performance and all the women cheered!

I was not permitted to take photographs because they don’t want anything negative on the internet. The women smoke and some dress quite provocatively and the admininstration is afraid people will get upset if they see the photos.  But they are going to permit me to post the educational powerpoint with all the programs in the prison which I will be able to share.

The program was held upstairs in the prison. The floors are wooden and uneven. In some areas there are boards sticking up that will trip you if you don’t watch out. The paint is peeling off the walls and there are only benches without backs.  There are only benches downstairs too but it is not so obvious because everyone is not lined up. The indigenous women sat together against the wall in their traditional clothing while the others sat in the open areas and we all watched the program. Some of the women talked throughout and one kept trying t0 leave. I noticed one woman in particular because she was breastfeeding her baby to order to keep the baby quiet.  All the women seem to help take care of one another’s children.

After the presentations the guests were served pastries prepared by the women.  They had taken a class in the preparation. The inmates were not supposed to have any but I could see outside of the room into the open courtyard and several of the women were eating. There is constant favortism and having a pastry is the least of the problems.

We needed to have a copy of our passport or the passport itself to get in. They kept them until we were ready to leave. Then we weren’t able to get out until the prisoners were counted to make sure we weren’t trying to take someone home with us. But some two and a half hours after we got in, we got out. Happily, I walked back to my room and celebrated the concept of freedom and the American system of justice.

It is so hard to understand how these women just sit there all day. I asked one woman when she will go to court and she said she has no idea. Another said she has a fine to pay, which she will never be able to. Will she be there 20 years like  another woman?  I don’t know.  But I do really appreciate being an attorney in the United States. And to be honest I appreciate it more than I ever did before.

The bus ride


Today I decided to go to Panajachel, the place I stayed last year.

I got up early and went to the bus terminal. The buses are all old U.S. school buses painted elaborately, usually with Christian symbols. It was necessary to ride the bus about two hours, then change to Pana.

I, however, missed the stop. So I keep riding and riding and I’m dying to go to the bathroom so I think, “It must be two hours.”

I finally ask someone, and my stop is over an hour back. I am almost to Guatemala City. So I have to get off, run across the Pan American highway and catch the bus back.

A very large woman sits next to me. The buses are really crowded, sometimes three people in a seat. The woman keeps falling asleep, and her hand falls off the railing every time we round a curve and she hits me. Then she puts her head on my shoulder and snores.

The driver apparently cannot live without music.  It was the loudest music I have ever heard. I had to plug my ears with my sweatshirt and so did a couple of kids.

But you couldn’t understand a word of the songs because the speakers were bad so it was like living in a Rally commercial for three hours. One guy got up and shut it off but the driver just turned it back on.

I call this my vacation? It is so interesting…. but sometimes I think I am crazy. I read in the paper today that Guatemala has imported more guns than any other country from the United States. mmm

Amazing day


A Mayan woman

I had an amazing day yesterday, Christmas. Luis, a weaver, the man that I bought my blankets from, invited me to his home.

Two other students went with me. One is a young man getting ready to start medical school, and the other is a Brit who came to America for a girl who dumped him as soon as he got here.

We got a micro-bus made for about 10 people that had as many as 25 in it at a time. They leave the sliding door open, and people just hang on.  The weaver’s home is in Momos, about an hour from where I am staying.

Traveling in Guatemala is always an adventure. The bus I was in passed two cars at a corner to turn left because they weren’t moving fast enough for him. You travel up and down winding roads with little or no edges. There are also frequent mudslides because the land is so steep and they constantly are cutting down trees since  most people cook and heat with wood.

 At Luis’ home there was a steep, and I mean steep, path down to his living and studio. It is all in the open, covered by a roof. There were chickens, turkeys, etc. running around, including in the kitchen.

My room in the school

He has seven children. The oldest is 22 and in medical school. The youngest is 7 months and in a papoose. All of the children have to work in the family textiles. One boy around 12 showed us his hands, and they were like rocks with calluses.  On Christmas morning he was already at work making a rug.

The amazing thing is everything about Luis’  products are natural. The colors come from bark, plants, insects and rocks. They are soaked in water and boiled to get the color into the wool. He explained how he then adds calcium or ashes to the dye so the colors won’t fade. Several colors can be made from the same substances, depending on how long the wool soaks. They have huge skeins of yard hanging all over in different colors.

There were several large looms. One he told us was more than 150 years old.  I got to try my hand at weaving. It is not as difficult as it is time consuming. The young man was working from an example, so he had to keep looking at it to know when to change colors. So if you buy a rug from Luis in Xela or Momo, I might just have had a hand in making it.

He then took us to look at all his goods. He makes woolen gloves for three dollars so I brought a pair. Anyone who knows me knows my house is kept at about 55 degrees, so they will come in handy. Even though I had already purchased too many things from him, I had to buy a beautiful  cotton scarf woven by his wife. At first I didn’t believe it. I thought it was one of those scarfs like you buy in Chinatown. But in talking to her, she showed me the cotton and how it is made. It is so beautiful. It was around $12. I almost feel bad at how cheap everything is.

His wife then took me to their kitchen. It was a traditional kitchen with no door and an open fire pit. The chickens came and went along with the children from the kitchen. She was making tortillas on the open flame from corn they had dried and ground. It was my first fire-baked tortilla and was so good. She also had beans and a special home made picante. The best part was this Guatemalan tea. It was so good, but I looked in the stores and didn’t see it. I think maybe you just get it in the country where they go out and pick it.

 I, of course, had to ask to go to the bathroom. It was past the work area by the cows. It was an outhouse with a bucket of old magazines, etc. for toilet paper, although they did have a roll of paper for guests.

When I was talking to the mother in the kitchen, she told me she cannot read or write. Her father didn’t think girls needed to. So now she has a son in medical school, but she will never read.   I told her she must be so proud. (By the way, neither of the guys ate what she fixed. I think they were afraid of germs.)

In the market you can buy all kinds of Guatemalen look-alikes from China. Visiting a family business like this where all the beautiful textiles are made by hand by a family makes you realize how important it is to buy with integrity no matter what you are buying. If you buy at Starbucks, are you driving an independent coffeshop owner out of business? If you always buy at Amazon, are you driving your local independent book dealer out of business to save a few pennies?

We need to make educated decisions as consumers or soon there will be one bookstore, one coffeeshop, etc.  Oh hell, what does all that have to do with Guatemala?      

I may ride the bus to Panajachel today. That should be an adventure.

One-credit lecture series on Women & Spirituality offered


Need a one-credit upper-division course for spring semester? Or just interested in learning more about women and spirituality? Consider the Women’s Studies Lecture Series, which will focus on women and spirituality this spring.

The eight-week course is available for both undergraduate and graduate credit. It is also open to the public at no cost.

If you are a Women’s Studies minor, you must take this course at some point.

You can download the Women’s Studies Lecture Series Schedule.

Here are the course details:

Course Number: 1840:490:180 (undergraduate) and 1840:590:180 (graduate)
Day and Time: Tuesday, 7-8:30 p.m. Lectures are held weekly, Jan. 12 through March 2, with the exception of Feb. 16, which is the date the University of Akron observes President’s Day.
Location: Whitby Hall Room 210

Members of the public may attend one or more lectures at no cost. No R.S.V.P. is required.

For more information, contact the University of Akron Women’s Studies Program at 330-972-7008.

Las mujeres


I had my first chance to actually enter the prison yesterday. I took little care packages for everyone. Not great presents, but I guess if you need it, it would be like a new car…Kotex, shampoo and soap.

There are 41 women of all ages. I learned that one has been there 20 years. She is the informal program director, and it was necessary to get her permission to interact with the women.

It reminded me of something from a Dickens novel. The women actually live there, and you can see how it becomes their life. There is a huge kitchen where they cook, and most of the women live together in a dormotorio.  I did see one woman in a locked cell, but she was allowed to come out and get her gift.

Today I am going back. I didn’t know there would be children living with their mothers in the jail, so I am going to take some coloring books. I think they go to school from there. It really is like Dickens.

The women also asked someone for gloves. It gets down to 30 at night, and there is no heat. The gloves are around 5 cents in the market, so I will get them some. But of course there isn’t heat in the house I am in either.

The rooms in the prison are built around an open courtyard, and when I got there, the women were mostly just sitting around. A couple were playing cards and two were making jewelry. They have a stand in the central market and two are able to go sell things, which is pretty amazing.

The women are pre-trial. But there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for how long they are in there. One women told me she had been there two years. When I asked why it was so long, she answered it’s politico. But like everywhere, everything is political. The biggest surprise was a 10-day-old baby, literally wrapped in swaddling clothes.

The w0men were fun to be with. A few spoke a little English, and I spoke a little Spanish, so were were able to have a little conversation. I told them I’d be back tomorrow and they clapped.   Even I can be fun when you are in prison.

Christmas is celebrated here today. We will have school in the morning and then the big meal tonight.

Tomorrow I go to Momo for the dance of the devil. In some places they actually burn the devil in the street, but I’m not sure about Momotestenago.

I bought two blankets from a man and his wife, and in talking to them, found out they were from Momo; it is famous for woolen blankets colored with natural dyes from insects, plants, etc.

When I asked him if they had the diablo dances, he said yes and that he would come get me. So I’m off tomorrow with a stranger in a car to Momo. It doesn’t seem so weird when you are here. I have pictures, but I couldn’t get them to post for some reason.

This is an amazing place. I think it is like going back in time. But I am not a romantic, and I don’t think life is easy here. But it is a great place to visit on very little money. And learn a little Spanish while you are at it.

Hola from Xela


Yesterday I left Atlanta to travel to Xela. What a trip.

First, everyone was trying to get on the shuttle from the hotel. We are were in the same boat (shuttle) in that our flights had been cancelled and now we needed to get to the airport. Fifty people were on a shuttle made for about 15.

People were sitting on the laps of people they had never seen before and would never see again. The grab bar in the ceiling was literally coming out by the screws.

Delta didn’t have me in the system, so I had to get into the special line for special people. But it actually was faster than regular check-in, so I was happy.

The plane to Guatemala was pretty full, but I got to watch the last Harry Potter movie. I don’t understand what happened at all. I will need someone to explain it all to me.

The most interesting thing on the airplane was that immigration was there to put someone on the plane.  She was a beautiful young woman and the steward was trying to find out what she had done. But the offiers weren’t talking. They just explained that when she got off she should be given her new Guatemalan passport.

The most important thing on the plane is that of course there is no food. I had bought peanuts but thought I could eat before getting on the bus.

However, the airport has no food. So now after six hours without food, I make my way to the bus station.

The scene outside of the Guatemala City airport is always amazing. Hundred of people are waiting for their family members to get off.  Tourist companies are there to pick up people with reservations and to try to get more. If someone asks you if you want a taxi and you say yes, they take you to a cab. So then they expect to be paid for walking you a block. I forgot that but always remember how poor everyone here is.

I took the taxi to the bus station and got my ticket. It was around $10 for a seven-hour ride. The taxi tried to rip me off, but didn’t have change for a twenty U.S., so he had to wait for me to get my bus ticket, and all of a sudden was happy for $7.

When I got to the bus station there also was no food. The Linea Dorado is a first-class bus because it doesn’t make stops. And that is the only reason. That makes it a lot more expensive ($9 for seven-hour ride, really pretty cheap) than the chicken buses. They are chicken buses because people bring their chickens. Really.

The first-class bus still smells really bad. I asked where the restaurant was, and they said around the corner, but I never found it. But there I am, lugging my suitcase down cobblestone streets in Zona One, the most dangerous area in the country. I eventually went to a little store and bought Coke, cheese and yogurt because those were things I could say.

By the time the bus made its way up the hills to the highlands it was around 8 o’clock. So all  I did last night was go to bed. There are four student here and around 20 other people in the house as far as I can tell. The owner, Gladys, said she started the school to help her people economically. And it looks like she supports her family and everyone she kn0ws.

My room is a double bed and smells like cat pee. There are around 10 cats in the yard. No one fixes animals here, so dogs and cats are always lying around. It is sad, especially the dogs. They are always skin and bones like junkyard dogs. They just ignore you when you walk by, even though they look like they could kill you.

After class I walked downtown. This is a pretty big city. Men with machine guns are everywhere. I went to use the bank machine and inside the little room with me was a machine gun. Made me want to kick the shit out of the thing.

My teacher has a degree in psych0logy and worked with children in the government’s mental hospital. She said it was terrible, and I think that is why she quit.

She is a great Spanish teacher, but I think she wants to commit me because she told me to stand in a corner and talk Spanish. When they come take me away, you will know where I am.

Have a good one. I need to study irregular verbs.