Feliz Año Nuevo!

OK so 2014 was a tough year. That’s why I stopped writing posts. Who wants to hear about how miserable someone feels? Or maybe it’s OK. Everyone has miserable times. And according to Susan Miller’s Astrology Zone, 2014 was a tough year for many. So if that was you, let’s have high hopes for a better year this year. Because the darkest hour is just before dawn. Let our year burst with a sunrise so peachy it bursts open the sky.

In 2014 I was in Nicaragua and stubbornly would not give up my 6-month job even though I was crazy lonely, was deserted by my work partner, got robbed in a car, had a bike accident with subsequent stitches on my face and had to travel for 5 hours to find any form of romance (or surf). Coming back to Guatemala, I had to deal with a tragic drowning, crazy team dynamics and chikungunya.

BUT there was light too. Being away from my house and my project in El Paredon, I had fantastic staff – Seth and Kate – who I managed remotely. They made things happen – opening the first library in El Paredon and laying the groundwork for the construction of a new school. We hosted 6 volunteer groups for Surf for Life on my return and have started a bag making project with local women which is going great. And being away made me realise just how much I love this place, El Paredon and how connected I feel with the people who live here and those who are snooping it out as a place to live in the future. People who come to visit come back and a cool little community of outsiders is forming too – people who respect the community, who are not big party-ers and who can live a little rough to find peace.

At the moment I’m living with 6 dogs and three people and it is as ever exhausting, wonderful, challenging and joyful. Three of the dogs are tiny puppies made by Twiggy who Seth and Kate adopted when they lived here.

The people are Ben and Megs who started as interns and have made a massive visual impact on our organisation. Ben has made crazy-good films about the project and revamped our website. Megs has designed sample bag products and made beautiful artwork for the house. Photographer Garrett (check out his website) has just moved in too- who found my place on my air b and b listing and has already been roped in with DIY projects and photographing our products for our etsy shop. And we’ve had cool guys stay and build us a new sofa! So bring on the new year full of optimism, productivity and good health!


Jinotega at nine


Jinotega at nine

The streets are pale with pink and the basketball court lies empty

A white dog, scruffy, scouring and sniffing

Patters down the slope, the Hospedeje Doucalis gathering its girls

Behind slapping shutters

And men with baseball caps shift their groin as they leave


There is silence now

Nine o clock the city sleeps

Tender buds of coffee shrinking out there on the slopes

The slopes that nest this place

So no one can get in to spread their joy


Here no one shouts out proudly or beats their chest with pain

But squirrel away, on a rocking chair, fiddling with the laces of second hand American shoes

Talking amongst themselves

How hard to feel embraced in this place, how hard

To squeeze coffee from a bean

Summer School creative work with kids

As my five week teaching contract in Surrey comes to a close, I sigh a breath of relief, happy to be out into the wide world again.  At times being here has felt like a prison sentence – only half an hour from London but miles from any shops, mobile phone signal, friends – and for me to think this is remote – well I have been practically living on a desert island for a year and a half.

However, one good thing is that as well as teaching English, I have taught creative projects and workshops:  shadow puppets, cookery, photography, drama and this week stop frame animation.This is me making tapas with the kids (their idea).

making tapas with

Here are the three short animations we (kids aged 9-14 – Russian, Chinese, Italian, Bulgarian, Ukranian) made this week (one is also at the top of the post.)

I also taught business skills workshops where the kids watched ‘The Apprentice’ and were given the brief to think of a business idea which would make money for the charity The Koala School in Sierra Leone on the final disco night. One group of kids decided to organise a raffle and the other to make and sell ice lollies, which we did in the school kitchen. They made £60 and it was brilliant fun.

Now I need to try and figure out what I’m going to work on between now and Dec 14, when I am bridesmaid at a wedding in London….I hope hoping for some interesting new challenges!


lolly business DSC_0512

With love to you grandad

My wonderful, talented, loving, charming Yorkshire grandad passed away during my time in the UK.

John Harriman. People called him Jack.

94 years old.

Sign painter, pianist, entertainer to the army, Castleford resident, vehicles repairman, father to 5 kids, grandfather to many more, Filey lover, careful driver, seaside worshipper, loyal and loving husband to my grandma Mary.

Still living in his own home.

Still playing a song on his electric organ every day.

During the war, he was called off the truck twice going to the front line to France so he could play the piano to the troops.

Aged 80 he took his first flight on a plane. And it was on Concord. It was what he wanted all the family to club together and buy for him. Because grandma was scared of flying, of any travelling, he hadn’t gone before.

Earlier on, he stopped playing the piano in the clubs and bars because grandma didn’t like the smoke.

But he played a song to her every morning and took her a cup of tea.

You will be missed

Thank you for being such a special person in my life

Even though we only saw you once a year I loved you dearly.

How to put on three pounds in 8 days

Tip for any actress who needs to gain weight for a film role – eat what I have eaten during the last week.

I have been eating double or triple what I eat in El Paredon and cannot resist all the treats in the full fridge or delicious puddings my mum presents to me each night. I need to surf again, soon.

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Ah little handmade notebooks how I have missed thee

Yesterday I went to Edinburgh.

And got caught in the Fruitmarket Gallery Bookshop. Got caught with saucer eyes over all the amazing books and notepads and stuff to make  – stuff you would never EVER find in Guatemala. Because people there just don’t have the money for all this stuff you don’t really need to survive. But it all looked and felt and smelt so nice.

So I got a bit overexcited and bought some things to inspire our project and the kids out there (and me and Carla):

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Cut Out and Make Menagerie animals by Alice Melvin and her beautiful book The High Street, Tree of Life block puzzle by Charley Harper (which we can make a version of out of wood blocks in El Paredon), How to be the Best Bubble Writer in the World Ever by Linda Scott (for getting the kids to think about using text as art) and the most exciting of all, Waterlife by Rambharos Jha – gorgeous folk paintings of fish which use detailed pen techniques almost like aboriginal art. And a lovely little handmade notebook.

I then wandered into little boutique gift shops on Cockburn St and Victoria St to get inspiration for displaying our products in El Paredon, especially good The Red Door Gallery,  with lots of Scottish work. I liked how they displayed earrings on bits of recycled card:


The nice girl there told me where to find good cheap Indian food, food I have been craving for the last 3 months.

Cafe Mother India. Fresh crispy onion bhaji, succulent lamb sag, buttery peshwari naan. And a pint of beer. All for me. No compromises on what to have. And I sat alone, the first meal alone in months, absorbing the atmosphere of a buzzy restaurant feeling quite content reading my book about bubble writing.

PS: I LOVE this typography I saw on a sandwich shop

The Circus

In Guatemala, life is surprising, shocking, funny, tragic, uninhibited.

Health and safety and ethics.

Some things that the developed world would question or condemn are celebrated, or accepted there. And vice versa. Every day allows me to question my morals  and my values in a way I never have to at home. Teenage pregnancy – condemned in the UK, celebrated in El Paredon. Turtle egg eating – same. Drinking alcohol – condemned in Guatemala, celebrated in the UK. Families living apart – same.

Before I left to come home for a month, the circus came to town. A great night out for only Q10 (80p) I shot a video below of a clown with his son. Is this funny and entertaining, even amazing? Is it abusive? Is the kid happy? Seeing the family together wandering around town, they are together, loving and just trying to make ends meet like every other Guatemalan.

Now I am home, sitting safely by the fire in my parents house in Scotland, rain drizzling down the window pane, listening to the grandfather clock tick and looking at recipes with my mum.

Ah what a different life. I am trying to work out which life is the better one for me.

3 days home, I am still searching for the bin to put the toilet paper in, still revelling in a hot shower without sand or frogs, savouring mouthfuls of warm brown bread, fruit cake, cheese, appreciating  being cared for, loved and the humour and warmth of my family.

But I already miss those incredible small people running out of their homes calling my name, big open hugs, a big sense of home created by being part of a community, the everyday adventures in a life that values living, not just working.

At the doctors today, she told me the brutal facts about the dangers of contracting dengue again. Five tubes of blood were taken from my hiding vein, to be sent to some tropical medicine clinic ‘down south’ when I will be given serious advice from a Western expert about living in a dengue area again.

So let’s just wait and see.

The friendship bracelet bar


Friendship bracelet bar

Carla has made a friendship bracelet bar at the front of our shop which is one of  the best inventions ever. Kids fight for a place at it.

And now, thanks to Heidi, Sofia and Alicia (tourists passing through El Paredon) we have learnt how to make 4 different styles of friendship bracelets that our young artists are mastering (and are already looking professional!)

The wrap bracelet

The olas (waves) bracelet

The plano (flat) bracelet

And, the most complicated, the flecha (arrow) bracelet

The kids are already much better at it than we are and are starting to teach each other, which is superb. They are addicted, asking for pita (thread) to take home every night to make more.


In the last 2 weeks, we’ve had our first four volunteers working with us in the workshop. Thanks to Mike, Sofia, Aisha and Cedic for stopping kids nailing into their hands, for your patience and laughter. Anyone else who wants to come and develop our artistic programme, teach our makers new techniques or work with us on our business or sales side, is very welcome. We will be launching our volunteer scheme shortly, so get in touch if you’re interested! Learn to surf in the mornings, work with us in the afternoons and watch the moon on the canal or sit by a fire in the evenings!

First sales trip


Last weekend we recruited some young salespeople from our team and went around the hotels in El Paredon selling our work.

We sold 30 items and made over 400Q!

This gave everyone a big boost.

We learnt a lot from this weekend – mainly to train the kids in selling the products, not take so many people and not to sell when it is the European Cup final!

The Mayor caught us on our way back and he seemed pleased with what we’ve achieved so far. This is him with our young artists:

The energy and enthusiasm of the kids, and a few adults too, drives us forward when we start questioning things. At the moment we are just doing it, going with it, and seeing what emerges, without worrying too much about the future. All we know is that there is a hunger for this project and it is fulfilling a real need. And that is a good recipe…

Beauty before brains

Beauty before brains

There is no wonder kids literacy levels here are shockingly low.

1/ Kids and/or their parents can decide if they want to go to school or not. Some kids aged 6 don’t go because they’d rather hang out at home or their parents want them to do household tasks. Some parents won’t let their tiny kids come to Carla’s English class.

2. At age 16, the only further education option is to go to a town an hour away every day (by boat, tuk tuk, then bus) to La Gomera and learn machinography – a big machine resembling a typewriter – for a year. After this time you ‘supuestemente’ (supposedly) can then work in an office. It seems crazy that they are not being taught real computer skills for the real world. In El Paredon, there are no formal, or semi-formal education opportunities, just learning how to fish, crab, agriculture, make roofs, from your family.

2/ At any opportunity, the school shuts. Two weeks ago, the entire school closed for 2 days as a 16 yr old student, Dayana, was in the regional junior beauty queen contest and the whole school (and us) went to support her.

the judging panel
support banners

Last week, the school closed because one of the teachers’ sisters’ husband was shot in the street in Sipacate. On Thursday, there were no classes because a teacher had a baby shower (a big event here involving different women putting balloons up their Tshirts and the soon to be mum pretending to feed a baby doll).

A few days ago, kids started leaving my class halfway through the lesson as one of the teachers was taking them to the beach, without telling me first. The next day, they left halfway through to take an exam. Having said all this, the kids have fun. School seems fun. There aren’t whistles or boring assemblies. Bullying doesn’t seem to be a major problem. Teachers have a laugh with their students. The boundaries are less defined. And life and education seem to be more mixed than back home.

It is tricky preparing a lesson, without any resources, then it getting shot out the window. But you just have to go with the flow. Most days, kids wander in and out of the class to buy snacks from the tuckshop – empanadas, juice in plastic bags, chopped mangoes, flavoured crushed ice, tacos. It is hard not to get influenced by this lazy approach, to be late, to be less conscientious. I need to get stricter, probably, but the good thing is they come, voluntarily, my core group of about 8 teenagers, and often other randoms who come and go, and they are starting to learn. And the Mayor has agreed to buy us some English language teaching books which we have ordered from Amazon and they are getting shipped to a contact in Antigua, who will bring them to us. That will transform our teaching here – no more ‘what shall I teach today?’ and desperately cutting out things from magazines. My adult night group are keen – a hotch potch mix ranging from the school English teacher to the local painter and decorator to two women who cannot even say hello in English. Again, this is not an easy group but we have fun and it gives me back a feeling of being useful, skilled, needed and seeing them improve and get confident is really rewarding. I am focusing on language they will need to become tour guides – names of animals, ‘you should wear a long sleeved top’, ‘don’t jump off the boat’.

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