Friday, September 11, 2009

King of the Mountain!

At Common Hope we partner with an affiliated man and his family that live and work in San Miguel Escobar - right at the base of Volcan Agua. Don Filiberto Salazar is his name and farming the volcano is his game!

King of Volcan Agua!

Every single day, Don Filiberto hikes about 5 km up the volcano to his property where he grows coffee, corn, frijol (black beans), avocados, and flowers. He carries all of his tools and crops up and down the volcano on his back and usually makes the trip at least twice a day! To make a living, Don Filiberto is involved in a co-operative of 20 coffee farmers that have joined together with the help of the organization As Green As It Gets to receive fair wages for their product. Together they share the responsibilities of the processing of the coffee and even export it to the US. In fact you learn more about it and even purchase it (with free shipping) right here. And let us tell you - it's some of the best (and certainly the "greenest") coffee we've ever had. Plus it's traded fairly and supports honest farmers and their families.

green coffee, not quite ready to be picked

Aside from farming Don Filiberto also gives tours of land and tells an interesting story about his life. Many of our vision teams at Common Hope chose to participate in his tours and are never disappointed. The tour starts out at his home where he and his family of 11 serve hot chocolate and pan dulce (sweet bread) to the group while Filiberto shares the story of his town, San Miguel Escobar that was named after a rich man, Miguel Escobar.

According to Filiberto, eruptions from Volcan Agua destroyed the village and many people left. A number of indigenous people stayed. They had no formal government, so Miguel took charge of the village. After awhile the village started to grow again, but during this time, Miguel died. To honor him, they named the town after him. It is also believed the first cathedral of Central America is here in this town. Some excavations were done in which they found jewels, swords and bodies which have helped them to date the church and on June 12, 2001 the national press confirmed that indeed San Miguel Escobar is home to the first cathedral and not Ciudad Vieja, like many people believe. The church in Ciudad Vieja was found to be a Franciscan Convent and not a cathedral. Ciudad Vieja considers San Miguel Escobar to be Zone 6 of Ciudad Vieja and the government does not recognize San Miguel Escobar as being it it's own town. However, the townspeople do not want to lose their identity so they always tell others that they are from San Miguel Escobar

After their breakfast snack and story the group hikes an hour and a half or so up the volcano to Filiberto's land where he shares a bit of history while his wife prepares some of the yummiest fresh tortillas, beans and guacamole that we've ever tasted!

warm beans and fresh guac - yum!

Approximately 60 guerrillas, including women and children, hid in the mountains near Don Filiberto´s land. On one occasion when Don Filiberto hiked up to tend to his land, two guerrillas came to see him. They told him to bring water and food for them and threatened him that if he told anyone about their presence they would kill him and his family. Obviously worried for his family's safety, he began to taking water and food to them, carrying much of it himself and using his mules to carry the rest. He had to be very careful because if the army caught him assisting the guerrillas, they would have burned down his house and family.

Once the army even stopped him and asked him why he was carrying water. He lied and said that he needed it to fumigate his crops and he would carry insecticide with him to prove it. To hide the food, he would wrap garbage around it so that when the army slashed his bundles with their machetes, they would only see the garbage, which he said he was using as compost for his crops. When the guerrillas met him at his land to get the food and water, they would sit next to him with their guns and ask him to tell them what was going on in Antigua. Filiberto told no one about what he was doing except for his wife and he would only talk to her about his experiences after his children had gone to sleep.

One day, when he was up at his land, Filiberto heard bombs exploding. He was very frightened and ran back home where he found out that the army had encountered the guerrillas. He didn’t return to his land for 15 days. When he did go back up, there was no sign of the guerrillas who had gone further into the mountains. Shortly Don Filiberto started to talk to his neighbors and soon discovered that they too had similar experiences. He continued to lived in constant fear of both the guerrillas and the army until the peace accords were finally was signed in December 1996 by then president, President Arzu (now the mayor of Guatemala City).

The government, as part of this peace process, promised jobs to all of the army and the guerrillas, but only in fact found jobs for the higher ranking parties in the army and amongst the guerrillas. Consequently, the trouble and violence have now moved to Guatemala City where there are many unemployed ex-army men and guerrillas with guns. There are now many gangs of disaffected ex-army and guerrillas and according to Don Filiberto, there were 5,635 "disappearances" from January to June 2004 alone and these problems continue today.

The Salazar family, preparing a delicious snack.

Some members from my last team that hiked the volcano.

Upon returning from their hike up the volcano, the team always has an opportunity to purchase some of the hand made goods from Filiberto's daughters. One of his older daughters, Martha, sews aprons made from recycled Guatemalan textiles and is working on creating a selection of teas. Another daughter, Maria Benita, is creating her own line of cosmetic products (with the help of As Green As It Gets).

We think Don Filiberto is a pretty amazing guy - and probably the nicest man we have met here in Guatemala. We're proud to support his efforts in the coffee and tourism businesses and recommend that you do too.

(Information about the history of San Miguel Escobar and interactions related to the Guatemalan Civil War, are personal accounts from Don Filiberto and may not be 100% factual.)

1 comment:

Gregorio said...

Thanks for sharing the story of Don Filiberto. What amazing work Common Hope is doing with the communities and people there. I love hearing stories like this!