Palenque Rojo: pasión, música, danza y mito, 8:00pm @ the Daniel Zabadua Theater. We had front row seats to the vibrant musical spectacular, an imaginative and resplendent representation of the ancient Mayan city-states of Palenque and Toniná, the costume regalia were intricately opulent, the myriad of textures and smells of pine needles, sounds reverberated through entire cavernous theater. The interpretation of the animal kingdom, leopards and humans moving with such grace, such clean acrobatic feats and choreography with swaths of red, orange and blue.

I applauded with abandon, feeling awestruck by the romantic story of the fall of an empire, humbled by traditional Mayan wisdom, and everything noble it aspired to be. Perhaps just as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon represented an artistic touchstone for the esteemed values of self-sacrifice and dignity that the Chinese aspire toward, Palenque Rojo was a potent symbol, one that left me refreshed and enamored with the Mayan culture… at least what it used to be several thousand years ago. Or what it attempted to be.


Shots from the Despedida de los Alumnos de Ibero

…So yesterday was the completion of week twelve, three months at Taller Leñateros and I am deeply satisfied with our sales revenue in the past six weeks to balance out our expenses. Income isn’t the problem…I’d been grappling with another issue prevalent in Chiapas: mismanagement and suspicious accounting. Last week I was at personal crossroads: either (a) I would make my experience more fulfilling by achieving a sales target of an increased $7000 per diem, or (b) dedicate energy and strategies to another cooperative that played fair and was more deserving of what I could offer.

However, weary from the web of lies, ego struggles and energy-sapping gossip that people engage in, today I officially removed myself from Taller Leñateros to dedicate efforts toward proposals and building a sustainable business out of another deserving but ailing projects. Such freedom, more learning. On a personal level, I had aimed for $5000 daily revenue. I’d been told that historically even in high season sales rarely go over $10,000 a week and with innovative efforts we’re almost quadrupling that so I feel awesome… but more subtly, the employees are still relatively unappreciative, deliberately occulting information, whispering gossip, and manipulated and weakened by an unpredictable despot…kept miserably under mind control to keep working because they lack the confidence or guts to leave. I swear, sometimes the way Mayans behave in the workplace remind me of the Jerry Springer Show.

It saddens me but it was best to make a clean resignation with all my objectives accomplished and feeling good about my contributions, drawing my boundaries and knowing that I wholeheartedly committed for the promised duration as an individual rather than linger out of pity or defiance or hoping things will change and begin to feel cynical toward the Mayan poor, who’re being used.

The doubts I have about the accounting issues are real: we are authorizing vague expenditures with no specific explanations. Some personal payments are so outlandish they reek of abuse and corruption. I suspect more sales revenue might contribute to fraud and mismanagement, in which the victims will be exploiting indigenous Mayans themselves. For the last try, I’ve asked politely for the records in order to analyze the expenditures of our escalating debt, and the vacillating and stalling and obvious discomfort with the issue sent me warning signals. First they hesitated saying they were waiting for me to complete certain tasks in order for them to hand over the numbers… now they only want me to see the revenue data, not the expenses, and not every month of the year… and now they’re telling me they don’t have most of the numbers, and it takes weeks to create the files, in which I know takes less than ten minutes. Oh, what did we Americans call this again? “Creative” accounting.

We have to ask Ambar” to which I received “No. Ambar says you can’t see it” and the greater issue that Ambar is never here. And Ambar is thinking of leaving Leñateros with its inheritance of $5 million crisis debt, with no clear managerial talent who can cope with its English-speaking clientele, nor really lead because historically anybody who has demonstrated contrary opinions to hers had been threatened, stared down, spread smear campaigns and summarily fired (even though theoretically our big sales point is that this is a “cooperative” that heralds indigenous associates). Pretty messed up. There are days when I consider my interactions around the region and I feel like Mayans can’t be accountable or take responsibility for their actions. But I don’t take this learning experience personally, and I wouldn’t blame anybody of being a “bad person” so much as seeing the whole incentive system is set up wrong.

Anyway, for the kind readers embroiled the unfolding drama, this will be a fun learning model. (Oh come on, even Fair Trade has its share of unfair practices that I would criticize.) I’ll write up an informative case study about different dimensions of contemporary Mayan work culture. It focuses on Taller Leñateros and citing specific examples and numeric data, although I’ll try to let you come up to your own conclusions… mainly to the ends that you might better understand strengths, inefficacies and deficiencies in a developing region, of why poor people remain poor, and my own musings of its solutions.

“Wrong Turn” — Jack Johnson

And I’ll wait here a while
Just long enough to be sure
That you didn’t make a wrong turn
And I’ll wait long enough
Maybe an hour or two
Before I decide it wasn’t me, it was you
It wasn’t me, it was you.


Spanish Words of the Day: “balbuceos” mutterings | “torbellino” whirlwind | “masa abrasadora” scorching mass | “alevoso” treacherous” | “cárnico/a” meaty | “aplastar” squash, crush | “rifar” to raffle | “despedazar” to cut into pieces or shreds