Friday, April 9, 2021

Commitment, Effort, Perseverance and Respect

April is not my favourite month in this part of the world. The air tends to be hot, dry and dusty, opaque and in unappealing shades of a yellowish grey. Gusts of wind scatter ashes from volcanoes or forest fires as well as sand from dirt roads. The mountains are brownish, the earth eagerly waiting to soak up the first drops of rain. But since it’s not raining, it is of course a good time for mural painting.

My time in Guatemala is finally coming to an end. I’ll probably paint no more community murals in the next few months, so I was very happy to end my stay with this one. I found a perfect wall through my assistant Henry Calel who went to his old elementary school to pick up some paper work. It turned out his then favourite teacher is now director of the school in San Miguel Escobar, a suburb of Ciudad Vieja in Guatemala. While catching up with her, he told her about the murals he had helped painting and she was very interested in having one at her school. The wall she offered was just the way I like it, big, in a good shape and very visible.

Finding funding for the mural wasn’t a problem either. The Dutch foundation Colour4Kids generously offered to sponsor the mural, preferably with a theme that involves children’s rights. A design was quickly made, the theme the right of every child to engage in play and recreational activities. Sport in this case, since the wall is at the school’s basketball court. The mural also represents the right to gender equity and equality as well as the values of commitment, effort, perseverance and respect.

So off we went! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to involve any children in the painting process because the school is still closed due to the pandemic, with only teachers present to prepare homework assignment for their students. The wall was in a pretty good shape and the weather good in the sense that it was dry. Very dry. Also, very hot and windy, with gusts so strong we were almost blown of the ladder a few times. But we managed and the mural is up!

While painting this mural I realised once again that, despite challenges such as the weather, there is hardly a thing I enjoy doing more. I hope to come back rather sooner than later to pick up my paint brush again and transform some more walls.

In the meantime, thanks are due! I couldn’t have done this without the help of my ever so lovey assistant Henry Calel who has become quite indispensable. Of course, many thanks to Erik, Hassan and Jos of Colour4Kids for sponsoring and all the support. And Catherine Corry, thank you for driving us there and back!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Dogs at the Lake

Funny how dogs make my world go round. Besides many fantastic pooches I’ve met some truly amazing people through my dog connections. Dogs also have become an important subject matter in the art I create. So it isn’t much of a coincidence that I ended up painting two big dogs in Panajachel, Guatemala.

You see, Selaine d´Ambrosi, director of AYUDA, an NGO that provides spay and neuter clinics around Lake Atitlan, posted a picture of a pretty dog mural on Facebook and commented she’d like to see something like that in Panajachel. That resulted immediately in a message from Dr. Jim Bader,a common friend and US veterinarian who has been coming down to Guatemala for years, providing free surgeries as well as many supplies for Unidos para los Animales, the NGO I volunteer for. He told Selaine he knows an artist (that’s me!) and that he was willing to sponsor the mural.

So here we are! Selaine found us a wall in the centre of Panajachel, owned by a family of dog lovers. On their request, I painted Chispita, one of their most beloved pets. She passed the rainbow bridge already, but is still in their hearts and now forever on their wall. The second dog was also a request, by Selaine. It depicts Tripod, the first street dog she picked up about thirteen years ago when she moved to Panajachel. He was hit by a car and his left front leg needed to be amputated. But that didn’t stop him. Tripod became an icon in Panajachel and was mostly found in the Palapa bar where he’d sing along with the musicians and let himself be treated as a king.

Selaine thought he deserved better than that and found him a real home. But despite all the cuddles in the world and the best food a dog can dream of, Tripod found an escape route and made his way back to La Palapa. This happened several times, so in the end she decided that would be the best place for him to be. It definitely was in his opinion.

Unfortunately, Tripod was killed by a car or tuc-tuc, from what I heard intentionally. (May the driver rot in hell.)

So off we set for Pana, my assistant Heny Calel and I, all prepared for working long hours in the sun. It is dry season after all, the mountains now yellow, the air suffocatingly hot and dry. We were quite surprised when the first day started with quite heavy rain. It did stay pretty dry the rest of the day, but it was uncharacteristically cold. But we made good progress. And day two made up for the previous one in hours of sun and temperature. But since the mural is facing north, we were mostly working in the shade. The eleven-meter-long wall is only two meters high, so we didn’t even need a stool to stand on. The surface was quite rough, it was like painting on corrugated (cement) carboard which made painting details a bit difficult. There was lots of traffic passing by, which is good of course, giving the work lots of exposure. All in al it was a fun job to do and we got great response. Many people recognised Tripod. Others reacted very positively to the message of the mural: So you don’t want to see dogs on the street? Well then: adopt, sterilize and don’t abandon! (I phrased it in a way it works both for people who hate to see dogs on the street because they love them, as well for those who hate them.)

With the work done, Henry and I treated ourselves to a little excursion to San Juan la Laguna, a village across the lake famous for its murals. Nice to admire other people’s work for a change!

This mural is truly a community effort of dog-loving people! Thank you Selaine d’Ambrosi of AYUDA for initiating this project and all the great work you do with AYUDA. Thanks also to Maggie and family who provided the wall as well as drinks and snacks for us painters. Many, many thanks to Dr. Jim Bader of Mapleview AnimalHospital and Headin’ Home Pet Rescue Inc. for all you do for animals both here and there, and of course for sponsoring this mural. You are the best! Also thanks to Regine Herzog for putting me up; to Gerson Ordoñez for being our trustworthy designated driver and of course to Henry Calel, my super assistant. Feeling tired but content and infinitely grateful!




Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Women & Dogs in Jocotenango

Jocotenango is a buzzling town leaning against Antigua Guatemala. It has about 22,000 inhabitants with as many dogs and cats it seems. Luckily, a lot of them have responsible owners interested in having them spayed or neutered. That’s why  Unidos paralos Animales, a local NGO, keeps going back there with its sterilization campaigns. (For my blog post on those campaigns, please click here). During three clinics between December 2020 and February of 2021, no less than 278 animals had surgery, with many more on the waiting list.

Part of the success of those campaigns is the perfect way it is organized by Dirección de la Mujer, the Municipality’s Women’s Office. These women (and a few men) are in charge of the publicity, inscriptions, disinfection at the entrance, carrying the animals from operation room to recovery, disinfecting instruments and a lot more. The clinics in Jocotenango are always as smooth as can be and a joy to volunteer at.

Henry at work
As a thank you for this great service (as well as promoting a good cause) I offered them a small mural at the entrance of their building, which they happily accepted. Today my assistant Henry Calel and I got to work and were spoiled rotten in the process. Juice? Cookie? Lunch??? They could not have taken better care of us.

This mural was (yet again!) sponsored by the ever so generous and art loving Dr. Jim Bader, our very favourite veterinarian who comes down several times a year from the US to do surgeries, in Jocotenango and other places in and around Antigua Guatemala. Thanks so much, Jim!

This girl and her dog were attended at a clinic in Jocotenango in November 2019

"Each puppy deserves a happy home. Let's sterilize."

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Colours & Critters in San Andrés Itzapa

Work in progress...

So things don’t always go as planned. Exactly one year ago I arrived in Guatemala for a two-month stay, to paint some murals with kids. But just as we were about to start painting, after a full week of workshops, the state of emergency was declared because of Covid-and the project postponed.


Exactly a year later and I’m still here. Very excited to be able to work with kids again, this time around in San Andrés Itzapa, a town about an hour from Antigua Guatemala. I've been coordinating the project with Colleen Supanich and her husband Luís Azurdia who run a small NGO called Compartiendo Nuestros Bendiciones in this town. During the pandemic, Colleen and Luís have been distributing food for those most in need in their community as well as organizing educational activities for local kids who have missed a whole year of school. These kids have no computers or internet, often they don’t even have electricity at home, so no virtual classes. Colleen and Luís got permission for the mural at a public bilingual kindergarten (Spanish/Maya Kaqchikel) that caters mostly to children from poorer families on the outskirts of San Andrés Itzapa. Colleen has been planning to organize a clean-up in the neighbourhood as a supportive activity for the mural that promotes a clean environment for both people and animals. Older kids from the neighbourhood were going to help paint and for the little ones I designed colouring pages with the same images as the mural, to involve them as well. More activities were in the making, such as singing the wonderful environmental children’s songs by Guillermo Anderson.
I bought new paint and other supplies, including oversized used T-shirts for the kids to paint in, lots of hand sanitizer and extra face masks. The afternoon before the start of the mural I sent Colleen a message that I was ready to go. Promptly I got the one reply I wasn’t expecting:

Permission for the mural had been revoked.       

San Andrés Itzapa had just gone from orange to red on the scale of Covid cases and all public events were prohibited. Darn!

Luís, Colleen, Henry and Marissa

But thanks to Luís’ perseverance and persuasiveness, basically talking to everybody in the hierarchy of the ministry of education, we did get permission after all. As long as we didn’t involve the kids, practice social distancing and wear masks. We were somewhat disappointed but relieved that the project didn’t get cancelled altogether.

First thing I noticed when we arrived on this chilly but brilliant Tuesday morning, was that the wall was much bigger than I had anticipated. Somehow it looked much smaller on the pictures I had been sent. Reality was 42 meters of wall, about 2.75 meter high at its lowest point and over 4.5 meters at its highest. I wondered if I’d brought enough paint and planned enough time…

But we did pretty well. No kids to help us, but Luís was a great asset, as well as my ever-lovely assistant Henry Calel. The second day my friend Marissa Loterina came along and somehow we managed to finish the whole thing in just two (loooong!) days! What helped a lot was that we were taken care of so well. Luís and Colleen provided us with a delicious snacks in the morning and both days we were invited to their home for some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Piluyada and pepián, both super delicious.

The last two were so far my favourite days of the year! Yes, the wall was pretty rough and we all ended up with blisters and sore wrists. The sun was brutal, the chill on the shady side of the building biting.  The ladders were a bit wobbly and quite heavy, but no complaints. It was lovely to see the reaction of the kids that were walking by. “Look, they’re painting my school! ¡Qué chevere! How cool!”

The one thing we didn’t get to do (or rather, didn’t want to, too tired), was painting the base at the bottom. But I left some money with Luís to buy paint and hire someone and it has already been painted! Just when we were finished the director of the school, Wendy Roxana Machán Cán, came by with a diploma for each of us and words of appreciation. I suggested the metal door at the entrance could use a new layer of paint and she promised to take care of it. She’ll also have signs with the name of the school made, to be put at the two designated spots on either side of the entrance. Then we were really done. We left behind a colourful corner in San Andrés Itzapa and new friends. Hopefully we’ll be back one day!


Henry, Marissa, Carin, director Wendy, Luís

This mural (as well as 250 colouring pages for the kids) was possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of Dr. Jim Bader (of Mapleview Animal Hospital, Holland, MI, USA). Many thanks, also from Colleen, Luís and their community in San Andrés Itzapa!

And of course, also many thanks to Colleen, Luís, Henry, Marissa and Gerson for driving us…

The base done too...

Colouring page