Indigenous Calendar January, 2013: K'iche' Women have no Laundromat in Momostenango

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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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In western Guatemala, nestled in the highlands, lies the large village (township) of Momostenango, which is the administrative capital of the municipality of the same name. Almost everyone who lives here calls it "Momo" and is of Maya descent — specifically K'iche'. While Momo is a very old settlement it has recently entered the Twentieth Century; it now has electricity.

Yet for all this modernity Momo is in many ways firmly rooted in the traditional Maya past. It is probably best known to outsiders for the locally-made, hand-woven wool blankets, chamarras. Although I didn't go there to buy one I was fortunate enough to be there on a Sunday, which is also a market day. I saw a few chamarras on sale as I wandered through the market looking for photos and was very tempted to buy one.

Instead I stuck to my main purpose for being in Momo — to observe the national run-off election. Guatemala was plagued by a thirty-six-year long civil war at the end of the Twentieth Century. So democracy and voting are relatively new concepts to Guatemalans. In 2007 a K'iche' Maya woman was among the original candidates but was not part of the run-off election having taken only 3% of the vote.

There were a few polling stations in Momo that day but I decided to visit just one of them and spend a few hours there. A steady trickle of people came through to vote during those few hours. It was impossible to tell whether they'd come into the township that day principally because it was market day or principally to vote. I suspect the former. I don't know what the official recorded turn out was that day for the Municipality of Momostenango but I know from what I saw that it was low. I also don't know the reasons for the low turnout but the following could be among them. This is one of the few areas left in Mesoamerica where the Maya calendar is still followed. Not the Long Count calendar, that was the subject of great media attention recently, but the Short Count calendar in which "weeks" last twenty days and a "year" has thirteen of them. Because near-term events are still marked this way many eligible voters may have simply lost track of when the election was scheduled!

I spent that night in Momo and wandered around again the next day. I was surprised to find an Internet café. There isn't much to do in Momo compared to more tourist-oriented destinations. (On the Sunday evening I struggled to find anywhere still serving food after about 7:30 p.m.) I was even more surprised when, shortly after seeing the Internet café, I saw these women doing laundry in the river that runs through Momo. Then I realized that a place that gets an Internet café before it gets a laundromat may soon have to decide how important its cultural heritage is to its people.

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