Erik W. Lang
Our group departed from Miami in November 1987. We spent three months at a training center in the aldea of Jocotenango, just outside of Antigua. I lived with a very poor family during training. They cooked on an open fire and everything tasted like smoke, even the watery oatmeal. We ate beans and tortillas almost all the time. My stomach was unsettled during my whole two years of service, and I drank a bottle of Pepto-Bismol about every week (not really). I survived by trading my smoky tasting food for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Out of about 50 trainees, about 45 of us were sworn in as volunteers in February 1988 in Guatemala City.
My project was called appropriate technology. Mostly I taught people how to build stoves. The indigenous population was used to cooking on the floor. Basically they would put a pot on top of three rocks and use wood they gathered from the nearby forests. This caused their one room adobe houses to fill up with smoke. The smoke caused eye and respiratory problems, particularly for the children. This method also used a lot of wood, which exacerbated the terrible deforestation occurring in the highlands. The stoves that we built, if used correctly, used less wood. Even if they were not used correctly, they usually got the smoke out of the house. I think we built close to two hundred stoves while I was there. And I know that they continued to build them after I left.
I also taught people how to build latrines, mostly pit latrines. However, we built a few composting toilets. I did not have an official counterpart, but worked very closely with a fantastic individual named Julio Marin Quijibish. He spoke Spanish and the Quiche language. He was paid by a religious based health clinic called Clinica Cristiana. It was a project funded by a church in Falls Church, Virginia. They did exceptional work. They had North American doctors who spoke Spanish and Quiche fluently. I spoke only a few words of Quiche. We also built a few solar ovens and a few fero-cement storage tanks. However the stoves were the most successful. I had a little motorcycle and traveled to many rural areas outside of Quetzaltenago to build stones.
There were three different types of stoves being built in the time period I was in Guatemala: adobe, ceramic, and brick. My counterpart Julio had been building adobe stoves before I taught him how to build brick stoves. The adobe stoves were harder to build and took longer. The brick stoves were more durable and efficient. There was a ceramic stove maker in a neighboring province, Eleuterio Ramos Guinil,who had been trained by a previous volunteer. He lived in Cajola and worked mostly on the coast. My counterpart and I built mostly brick stoves in and around Quetzaltenango. We had two helpers: Santiago & Thomas. My counterpart, Julio, invented a somewhat portable brick stove built on top of a cement slab. He was very smart. He and I also wrote a manual on how to create cement slabs and make pit latrines. Some other volunteers, Barry & June Moline, came to my site and built a large bread oven for Julio, and he started a small bakery out of his house.
More information about my photographs from Guatemala and Guatemalan paintings from my friend, Harry Danvers who lives and operates a language school in Quetzaltenango: http://www.guatemalan-art.com/