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Rain of ashes in Guatemala

PANAJACHEL, Guatemala – Atitlan, the sparkling lake of legends and lore, glistens a slatey grey today. Clouds drape the mountaintops on all sides; boats are making their way across, one by one, taking their places at the rickety wooden docks where they will soon be ferrying people to villages across the water.

“It’s a sad day in Guatemala,” remarks Juan, manager of Restaurante Lago Azul, where I’ve stopped in my morning walk to enjoy a cup of coffee and a hearty desayuno chapin, a traditional Guatemalan breakfast with eggs, black beans, fresh cheese and corn tortillas and crispy, sweet plantains, fried to perfection.

“Yes, it seems like the rain is going to be here for awhile,” I answered, thinking he was referring to the dreary weather.

But he wasn’t – instead, he was referring to the eruption of Pacaya Volcano yesterday just south of the capital city, which took the life of a journalist and apparently also two children.

The city is still in chaos after a rain of ash fell for miles around, with over a thousand people evacuated to shelters, traffic accidents resulting from streets and highways covered in up to three inches of ash, and air traffic diverted south to El Salvador.

Very strange. I could have very well been climbing that volcano myself this week. I was feeling very compelled to do so – and many tourists do. Instead, I got too busy with work and canceled the trip to catch up on writing assignments.

Lo que sucede, conviene, as a Cuban friend once said. I suppose this is one time where not getting my wish might have been the best thing.

The Yes Men Fix the World

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If laughter is the best medicine, The Yes Men are the best physicians I’ve seen in a long while.

This pair of merry pranksters just released their new movie, The Yes Men Fix the World, and after seeing it last night at Houston’s Angelika Theater, I’m still laughing.

Here’s the trailer:

In the world of the Yes Men, not only does Dow Chemical accept responsibility for the Bhopal disaster, but Exxon pays billions to rebuild the wetlands it’s destroyed, the Department of Housing and Urban Development pays to rehab public housing instead of tearing it down, and the New York Times leads with an end to the Iraq War, nationalization of the oil companies with profits to fight climate change and George Bush indicted for high treason.

The pair create fake websites and field invitations to corporate events, where they pose as company representatives hawking everything from candles made of human flesh to the “SurviviBall,” an inflatable disaster suit designed to protect the rich from “anything nature can throw at you.” The performances are slapstick laughable, but their antics illustrate the dark side of corporate globalization. When the media condemns them for raising false hopes with their “cruel hoax,” they visit Bhopal and Katrina to consult with disaster victims and learn their stories.

Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno are two guys in cheap suits and geeky glasses whose outrageous sense of humor is only matched by their sense of outraged justice. Their escalating series of escapades lands them in hot water when journalists catch on to their act, but they are eloquent in flipping lies into truth.

Their aim is not just to entertain, but to catalyze. The last scene pans the crowds receiving the fake New York Times and focuses on the readers’ faces, wavering between incredulity and hope.

“If a few people at the top can make the bad news happen, why can’t all of us at the bottom make the good news happen for real?” Bonanno demands. But, he adds, “It would take more than two guys in cheap suits with fake websites. It would take millions…”

The camera pans back to the milling crowd… and as the credits roll, the Yes Men plan their next move.
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Greening the barrios in Mexico City

Saving your garbage is a tough sell in a place where gardening is seen as peasant labor. But that doesn’t stop Dulce María Vega from rolling up her sleeves, going door-to-door and recruiting her neighbors for a grand mission. IMG_0465

Dulce is the friendly face of sustainability in her neighborhood. With more than 30,000 residents, Lomas de Plateros is one of Mexico City’s largest apartment complexes. When she first teamed up with Noelle Romero of Organi-K, a local environmental group, to establish a pilot Ecobarrios project at the massive complex, people thought she’d lost her senses.

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