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It seems like we have made it through another year and into another era successfully, and it’s time to check out our realities to decide how we want to proceed. As some of you know, I have lived and grown on Lake Atitlan since the 70’s, and never regretted the winds that blew me here. Through the years I have watched waves of people come to the same conclusion as me about trying to stay and really live on the lake. Really live on the lake…. that implies some major lifestyle and fundamental attitude changes for anyone who grew up anywhere else. Some few of us figure out how to stay year round, others figure out how to be here part of the year, most try for a while and end up moving on, always keeping a glimmer of the magic of Atitlan somewhere in the back of their consciousness.
We have evolved into a very complex and colorful alternative community since I first arrived. The folks who arrived in the 70’s came here as hippies, looking for a place to live alternatively and grow our culture and community without the usual social restrictions (the local indigenous folk LOVE the Hippies…. We came with a lot of respect, wanting to learn how to weave, how to live more in tune with nature. We actually LIKE them, not just exploit them….). In the intervening years things have definitely changed… people end up here for all kinds of reasons…. Some make it, some don’t. The lake decides. I will say that it’s been a very humbling and powerful experience …. To be transformed by this incredible place that has so many powerful features, from the cool lake to the hot volcanos and the blue sky…..
So, community….. What does that mean to you? To me, it is all of those things that we, as complicated and varied as we individually are, have in common. I acknowledge that money is probably at this point in time our most common denominator, but that is an unfortunate accident of history, and I believe that most of us came to Lake Atitlan looking for
another paradigm, a different outlook on life. So therefore, the other things that join us become more important. Whoever you are, you came here because where you came from wasn’t enough….. So, in this place of great power and possibility, let’s get creative and actually take actions that will make life better and easier for all of us.
Community doesn’t just exist all by itself… it is an experiment in human interactivity, and therefore an opportunity to experiment and see just how much we can do. Here on the lake the status quo is such that little guys like us can actually make a difference. Here is a great example:
In 1990, when the locals chased the army out of Santiago, the forests on the volcano, that had been virtually unmolested since the armies occupation of Atitlan (almost 11 years), came under siege by people looking to chop it down and sell it as lumber and firewood. When I found out just how cheap land on the volcano was (and is), I called for a meeting to discuss some sort of way to preserve some of the cloud forest that was disappearing under the chainsaws very quickly. That was the birth of S.I.E.M.B.R.A., the cloud forest reserve that we have been custodians of since then. What’s beautiful is how we did it. We gathered the musicians and artists, got donations of music and pieces of art, and put together great concert and art sale at La Posada de Santiago. We even had Susana putting on a fashion show….With the proceeds we managed to buy 100 cuerdas (about 65 acres) of beautiful cloud forest, some of it unmolested for centuries. A couple of years later we did it again, and raised enough for an additional 65 cuerdas, with money left over to manage the monster for a while. The titles were all made with as many different people as owners as possible to forever tie it all up legally, and we have been taking care of it since then… it is an amazingly beautiful place, and is a huge piece of earth lung. We did it together, without too many complications….. Nobody made a single centavo; nobody made a big deal out of it.
The Festival Atitlan grew out of these experiments. I started organizing them in 2000, with a large group of musicians who were living in Santiago at the time. We built a stage with rented cement form wood and talked one of our friends into bringing his sound system…. It took us a week just to set up. About 300 people came… great start to a tradition…. I loved the social interaction and the amazingly talented people who came out of the wood to do something neat and creative… a sort of natural order would set itself up. The ambiance was such that everyone who came caught the bug, and people who had never even thought of being kind started inventing projects for the next year. The event grew, and has become the most popular alternative event in Guatemala. We have still always tried to maintain the feeling of family and the free and easy ambiance that has made the event so popular. We still are totally NON commercial and have no big sponsors of any kind, and every year we have had funds left over to help support some of the great local community support groups.
The dream has always been to make it the community’s cooperative event, a gathering of the tribes, with different groups sharing their arts, labor, and wisdom, building our dream world, if only for a day. But, somehow, in the last few years, Festival Atitlan has not reached that potential. It is mostly produced by myself, my family, and a few friends, and takes a LOT of work. Too much for the amount of help we have. There are always plenty of folks who will help for a bit, but not many who want to get creative and become part of the planning that makes Festival Atitlan special. I wanted to provoke a community event, not just the best party of the year.
So this year I haven’t started my 4 month usual job to pull another Festival Atitlan together…. It’s time for those of you who appreciate the Festival to come forward and start talking about how we can put this great ball of energy back on track. I’d like the Festival to continue, but it needs to evolve in order to survive. The reality is that, in Atitlan, if we want to have interactive cultural events, we are going to have to organize them ourselves. So, I am calling for a meeting of interested parties on the 19th of January at Solomon’s Porch in Panajachel at 1 PM, to see if we can pull together a group that can effectively promote and organize not only the Festival Atitlan, but other cultural events on a regular basis.
Some of our good friends once sang: “And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”…. Let’s do it!