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Our main purpose in coming to Peña Blanca was to conduct research on how the rural poor budget their income and how we can further empower them to lift themselves out of poverty. For the past week we have been consumed by learning to survive on a similar income. As the authors of The Portfolios of the Poor have said, “For those of us who don´t have to do it, it is hard to imagine what it is like to live on so small an income.” After only a little over a week I am becoming to appreciate that statement. I can feel my energy level and body begin to change and adapt to the lifestyle. However, while our experience here has begun to help us realize the importance of little things we take for granted in our daily lives, our research is where we will be able to delve into what it means to live under a dollar-a-day.

 Yesterday we conducted our first interviews in the community of Tierra Linda, which means “beautiful land”. The village is dually named because it sits above a massive valley overlooking a vista of stunning green mountains. While it is beautiful we quickly learned in our interview that it was also prone to disastrous mudslides. Tierra Linda is only ten minutes from our new home of Peña Blanca but the only road there is in itself an adventure. The grade of the roads here seems impossibly steep. On our arrival we were greeted warmly by two Mayan women who welcomed us into their home.

We had a friend with us from Banrural Grameen Guatemala who served as our translator during the interviews. Chris and I both speak Spanish but have trouble with the Kaqchiquel that permeates and is mixed freely with the rural Spanish here. Having another local with us proved to be a valuable asset. As the authors of The Portfolios of the Poor had warned us in emails before we left, the interviews are a messy process. However, we were successful in conveying the questions of our initial interview without any major mishaps and were pleasantly surprised by the information we were able to garner.

We are lucky enough to be using digital SLRs (Canon 5D MarkII and Canon 7D) which appear to be normal photography cameras. However, in order to build trust we were careful to leave the cameras behind. Our initial interview consisted of simple questions that covered information on their family, their house, and their microfinance history. These questions provided us with insight into the level of poverty the family faces and if there is any especially interesting or telling aspects of their lives that will be useful in the documentary.

The three interviews were helpful in calming my fear that the people here wouldn´t feel comfortable opening up their personal lives to us. Thankfully, we were quickly invited back by all three women and will continue to conduct our initial interviews in Tierra Linda and Peña Blanca in order to figure out which families to follow for the documentary.

Talking with these women also was an important reminder that while events may quickly leave mainstream media they continue to have devastating effects. Guatemala was recently hit by torrential rains that caused a news splash in American media because of the enormous sink hole in Guatemala City. This storm however continues to affect the lives of the rural poor here. Rosita, one of the borrowers we interviewed, lost half of her crop of onions, which was worth Q 10,000. This is a devastating amount for a family at that level. She had built this crop up with loans from Grameen Guatemala over a period of three years of continually larger loans. Recovering from these major events is a major part of the poor’s life. This tragic event will be an important part of our research in how the poor are able to use the financial tools available to them.

These initial interviews have re-energized our commitment to follow through with this experience and our research (although I was hoping Mireille would have enticed Chris back to the states by now so we could share his portion of the budget).

Brody
6/25/2010 08:25:58 am

you guys rock. just watched the video, and i'm glad you're feeling better zach. also you look pretty clean shaven for being in the wild. what's up with that?

good luck to you and chris and sean and ryan (we can pretend we've met, you two). i'm sending you good thoughts, if not food.

brody

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spoon
6/25/2010 11:09:24 am

word to brody. glad you are feeling better zach! keep doing the videoblogs! guatemala looks beautiful and it definitely assuages my mama bross fears to actually see you guys alive and in action :) much love (pass it on to chris too!)

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6/25/2010 04:19:34 pm

seems you've had a great start! :D
Keep it the spirits up you guys are doing great things! I just found you guys so I'm a noobie, but I will be following up on all your stuff! though sure Zach your the first one I've read so I'm a little more speaking to you all. Don't worry! I'll read all of theirs too. Also my comments will be more personal to each of you, instead of vagueness like I am now.. okay yeah I'm rambling.. Best of luck to you all!
~Nat justartison

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Smitch
6/27/2010 02:17:36 pm

This all sounds so cool. I can't wait to see the film. I have found that the people here in India have been equally welcoming and helpful to me as a total stranger, to such extremes. It's amazing how surprising this is for us as Americans to experience this kind of hospitality from people that have so little. It sure says something about our own society. Food thoughts are currently being sent ------->

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Mabel
6/29/2010 03:44:07 am

I'm going to eat nothing but worms and rice until your safe return. SOLIDARITY!
Also I had a dream where you wrote a book about your experiences and it was published and in book stores by the time you returned... So start writing.
Stay strong, love you,
Megan

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4/26/2017 10:41:31 pm

Peña Blanca of Guatemala is known to be one of the poorest provinces in its country. It is a sad fact that even their government are having a hard time solving the problem. By the way, you chose a very good topic on your research. I hope you'll get an accurate result and let it be a great representation of the current state of Peña Blanca. At the same time, I hope it will help to solve the problem!

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