This morning I had to make a tough call, that turned out not to be so tough. Supposedly Carlos was going to work on a machine, a rare opportunity to learn from the maestro. The other option was to go see Las Mujeres de Desarrollo en Acción. From Maya Pedal´s website:
This local women's collective produces 100% organic aloe shampoo from plants they grow in their own homes, using the bicycle blender. The sale of this shampoo helps support their families and fund their independently-run municipal reforestation project.
The choice to go becamse clear when Johanna told me that this wasn´t a happening that i could just go stop in on any time, it was a once-during-my-trip opportunity. Plus Carlos probably wasn´t going to show.
Johanna led us on foot to the women´s meeting place, just a few minutes from Maya Pedal. Once there we were warmly greeted by several women and a host of lively children. We were immediately put to work and told that if we were taking pictures we weren´t working. Well... i guess that´s that.
The cameras had to wait til later, but once they emerged this is what they captured.
The aloe spears have to be cut down the sides, the the front and back skins cut off. The snotty fish-like interiors removed and put into a separate container. To call them snotty is really and understatement. Imagine your most snot-filled moment. Multiply it by ten. Then imagine your hands in that moment for hours.
After removing the skins from the flesh, it had to be blended to a smooth pulp. We took turns using the liquadora, which was satisfying, but tiring, for those who tried it. Their version was slightly different from the one in the shop, namely that its base was hand carved as opposed to manufactured. The women´s duaghter made a pretty spectacular effort at the blending, and, well everything for that matter. Clearly, work is the name of the game.
It was disallusioning to see the women pull out an electric blender to work simulataneously, primarily really, to complete this stage of the process.
Once blended, the goo ha to be boiled for a while in a large black cauldron ala the wizard of oz. From there it is strained and allowed to cool some. When its ready its added to 5 kilos of a store bought petro-chemical soap, this was more dissapointing than the blender to most. But as Chris put it, "That´s just real life."
The kids were really a blast, we all had a lot of fun chasing them around and playing games. They thought we were the most intersting things they had ever seen. They intrduced themselves several times and wanted to show us everything. At some point they grabbed a hold of Will´s camera and took a slew of photos, this was the moment that it suddenly became okay for the cameras to be out. We had a ton of fun, the aloe was both disgusting and wonderful at the same time. It really did resemble pure mucus in touch and sight, but there was something about it (taste?) that made it feel refreshing and beautiful, like cucumbers or swimming on a hot day.
Anna Lisa was all about getting the stuff in her hair. She said it felt like something had been birthed on her head.
At the end of it all, the women made a delicious lunch for us. I said i didn´t feel so sure about eating it knowing that they had probablly not prepared things the way that we would for our lack of immunity. Nina made a good point that it wiould have been pretty rude to not eat it, seeing her point i decided not to rock the boat. The food was great- spicy bean soup with homemade tortillas, an excellent vinegar salad, and the best lemonade i´ve ever had. I´m glad i didn´t skip out, and so far so good.
Tomorrow we head back to buy some of the freshly made shampoo. About half of the crew stayed on for while to help with the dishes and work on the bottling. It was good to see the liquadora being put to good use (instead of us just making smoothies for fun). It was also really good to know that these terrific women, doing terrific work, could continue to do that work, if they chose to, with very little fossil fuels. And hopefully, some day it might make sense for them to hook up with a local soap-making group, or perhaps make their own.
Maya Pedal is an organization located in San Andreas Itzapa, Guatemala that designs and fabricates bici-maquinas (bike machines) for distribution to rural Guatemalan farmers and workers. The mission of the organization is to "contribute to the conservation of the environment, the health of the Guatemalan people and the productivity of the local economy."
Its a terrific place to volunteer at- we highly recommend it! To find out more about volunteering, please contact one of us. Our emails are listed below.
You can also visit their website for more information: