This month, I am getting a crash course in local government. January in Guatemala means new alcaldes – local government leaders – which for us, presents a great opportunity to reach out to new communities with whom we would love to collaborate. Here in Sololá, this means presenting at of comudes, official meetings bringing together all of the alcaldes in a particular municipality.
Before presenting at a comude, Juana and I have been visiting each municipalidad to ask permission – a relatively complicated and precise process, that involves printing two copies of a solicitud – a letter addressed to the indigenous leader, formally explaining our organization and why we would like to present at the comude, presenting our case verbally, asking for an authorizing signature to prove that the letter was received…and then waiting for a confirmation days or weeks later. The intricacies of the process are what have been throwing me off sometimes – like, the time I printed a letter addressed to the indigenous alcalde rather than the “community” alcalde by mistake (local governments here have side-by-side leaders, one representing indigenous interests and the other representing general community interests), or how I’m sometimes unsure of how to greet or say goodbye to the alcalde after he listens to our presentation. So I’m really glad to have Juana or WIcho with me at each of these presentations, as they definitely understand these customs and protocols way better than I do.
Last week, we had our first comude presentation, in Solola, just down the road from our office. We were assigned a time to present – 10:05 am – though of course we waiting in the lobby for about 45 minutes before being invited in to the meeting. I was honestly pretty nervous – I’ve done plenty of public speaking, but there’s something a bit more nervewracking about presenting in front of a group of 70 local indigenous leaders, lined up on either sides of long tables, with their staffs of power – many of which were decorated with multi-colored tassels – lined up neatly in the middle of each table, in groups of five. How did the presentation go? Hard to tell. I gave the introduction in Spanish…and then Juana jumped in and gave the rest in Kachiquel, often looking at me to nod with approval (which I did, despite my almost complete inability to know what was going on). Even in a language I don’t speak or understand, though, I was still so impressed by Juana’s poise and confidence, even in presenting to a huge group of exclusively male government leaders. We had hoped to pass around contact sheets to get phone numbers from each of the alcaldes but unfortunately were not allowed to – but we were able to make sure that each alcalde had our contact information, so hopefully we’ll be contacted soon by some of them and will be able to plan some campaigns for the next few months.
And…some pictures! Mostly unrelated to this post but here are some snapshots of what I’ve been up to lately.