Thursday, June 2, 2011

The 2012 Nonsense

At the height of their culture, the Maya were fascinated by astronomy.
They developed elaborate calendars counting thousands of years into the future.

They had a 260-day calendar known as the Tzolkin, a 365-day solar year known as the Haab and a 52-year cycle known as a Calendar Round.

The current nonsense surrounds the longest Maya calendar, known as the Long Count, which most scholars consider to have started on September 6, 3114 BC.
Just as our year ends on December 31, so will the current time period of the Long Count.
The Maya celebrated the ends of their many and diverse "years" in the same way we celebrate New Year and there is absolutely no evidence that they read anything more significant into these dates. They had so many of them so why would they?
The Maya didn't die out with the arrival of the Spanish - there are still seven million Mayas living in modern-day Mexico and areas of central America. None of them attach any significance to the 2012 date.
I live at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula and spoke with several experts - all of whom dismissed the so-called 2012 prophecy as totally baseless.
Indeed, one leading authority has said that the 2012 myth is a "complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in". I wonder where we've seen that before?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How I got to Chichen Itza


Sometimes we find something that changes us so profoundly that we don’t even know we could have looked for it earlier. 

A personal encounter in Chichen Itza

As with so many good things in life, they come to us when we least expect them or when we are not looking for them. The same can be said about my involvement with the Hacienda Chichen and the Maya Foundation In Laakeech.
As a commercial photographer I traveled around the world, met interesting people, had a successful studio in Cancun, Mexico, took responsibility for a wife, kid, employees and a dog. Everything looked just fine on the outside, yet I was restless and constantly looking for something. For many years I thought I am searching for the perfect light, the perfect setting and the perfect model for that perfect photograph that will get me into the history books of photography. So on my pursuit of that perfect photograph I hired more assistants, got more equipment and turned into a photo producing machine racing from one photo shooting to the other. The art directors and clients were happy with the results and for many years i steadily grew a nice business yet the perfect photo still eluded me.
Then came the swine flu followed by the finical crisis and my business, which was heavily relying on advertising photography went down. My wife divorced me and my grown up daughter went to live in Germany.
All I had left was a huge pile of equipment, my dog and the feeling that something really good might come out of all of this.
This is when my friends Belisa Barbachano and Bruce Gordon came into the picture. They are a happily married couple and the owners of the lovely boutique hotel Hacienda Chichen in Chichen Itza as well as the founders of the Maya Foundation In Laakeech.
I met Bruce a few years earlier in Cancun through friends and we stayed in contact and became friends as well. When they learned that I sort of hit a rough spot, their generous nature came true.
Belisa and Bruce invited me to stay at their Hacienda and do some volunteer work for the "Maya Foundation In Laakeech".

My first thought was "Where on Gods green earth is Laakeech and do they have a Starbucks there?". Only later would I find out that "In Laakeech" does not refer to a place but comes from the Mayan language and means " I recognize in you my other self".

Intriguing as it was, I wasn't to sure about the invitation and me fitting in there.
All my adult life I have been a city boy, living a fast paced life. Accustomed to glitz and glamour and the amenities a modern life brings. I had a hard time picturing myself in the middle of nowhere in the Yucatan jungle, hundreds of miles away from the next Starbucks.

Besides that, in the past I always felt very uneasy, anxious and in general uncomfortable when I encountered anything Maya. When I saw Mayan people in the city I was strangely drawn to them and wanted to photograph them yet something was telling me not to. Mostly I just looked at them and they looked at me and their smiles left me wondering what they could possibly know I don't.
Having lived in Mexico for the past twenty years I of course have visited some of the famous Maya sites such as Chichen Itza, Tulum and Uxmal. But whenever I set foot on some of these sites, those strange feelings grew even stronger.

I remember one encounter at Chichen Itza very distinctively.
It was many years ago when visitors were still allowed to climb up the Kukulkan pyramid and to go inside to see the Jaguar Throne of Chak Mool.

All day long during this visit I had the same old feelings of uneasiness as I always had. But as always I just ignored them and of course did not tell anybody about it. When my friends suggested that we go inside the pyramid to see the throne of Chak Mool I agreed and followed along. As we climbed up the tight staircase inside the pyramid and as we came closer to the temple, my feeling of uneasiness grew stronger and stronger. As we finally stood in front of the temple I stared at it for awhile and that strange feeling of something pulling me got so strong that i had to turn around and leave in a hurry. When i was finally outside again, looking back at the Kukulkan pyramid I wondered what this was all about and why I got so spooked. 

I thought it might have been the steep and narrow stairway but from my time as cave diver I knew that i am not claustrophobic as I have been in much narrower spaces underwater. Nor am I spooked easily. I walked around the Bronx and Harlem in the middle of the night. 
I jumped out of perfectly fine airplanes and was strapped to the outside of a helicopter to get the perfect angle for a photograph. But I never felt anything close to what i felt when i stood in front of Chac Mool's temple inside the Kukulkan pyramid.

This was the last time I had anything to do with anything Maya and I never went back to any Maya sites nor did I interact with any Maya people.

This was until the invitation came from Belisa and Bruce to stay with them and to possibly getting involved with the foundation.
The foundation is seated in the village of Xcalacoop, which is about 6 km from the ruins of Chichen Itza. Some of the goals are to bring opportunities and support to rural Mayan communities through education, community health care and the preservation of Mayan traditions. Another central focus of the foundation is to educate the rural community about sustainable agriculture and combine this with their ancient wisdom of the land.
The main focus however is on the well being of the youngest. The foundation with Belisa, Bruce and their two adult children Izy and Ruben together with volunteers from all over the world are actively involved on a daily basis with the school and the children's day care center in Xcalacoop. Volunteers mostly teach english and in return they receive generous smiles and big hugs from the children. 

As for me. I didn't jump in right away upon my arrival here. It grew on me. The bungalow, which is provided for me by the foundation is on the grounds of Chichen Itza. The Kukulkan pyramid is about a two minute stroll away and I can see the observatory from my backyard. At first I had these same old feelings about everything Maya but over time this changed dramatically. It is the shy, almost reserved but friendly nature of the Maya people that got me out of my shell first. After having had their superior knowledge about astronomy almost entirely destroyed and being exploited for hundreds of years, I can feel a renewal of pride in them. It is not a pride that is boisterous but a pride that transmits gratitude and humility. I also met and got to know one of the Shamans here and had the honor of participating in some of the ceremonies he holds. These are not fake tourist attractions as you might see in some of the theme parks close to Cancun or on a indian reservation in the US. These are real ceremonies, rooted in ancient wisdom and believes, kept alive today and guarded by shamans. By having the opportunity of talking to these healers and learning more about the meanings of these ceremonies, I am starting to understand and to feel the power of this blessed ground.

With the help of the Maya Foundation In Laakeech, Belisa Barbachano, Bruce Gordon and the Shamans of this region, I am currently working on a photo series to portrait the Maya of today and to document the lessons they have for us.  This series is set to go on tour in 2012 in form of exhibitions and multimedia shows.

It is true, we come here with the best of intentions to share our knowledge with the Maya people.
We teach them english, basic computer skills and show them how they can better their lives.
In almost all cases this has a positive effect on them, but in all reality it is us who walk away with so much more then we could ever give.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Mayan legend of the farmer who did not believe in Chaak

This legend is very well alive and still told throughout the Mayan population of today.
It is mostly told by j-men (shaman) and meant to demonstrate that it is the energy of the universe that is in charge and not men.
It can be interpreted that only if you believe and trust in theses energies you will be able to succeed.
Just as the farmer in the legend is able to eat only after he started to believe, so will we succeed today in whatever we do if we can connect with and respect the governing forces of nature. 

And the story goes...
A long, long time ago a farmer lived in a little village near the great city of Chichen Itza, where every morning at 4, when the morning star rises in the east he gets up to work his fields.
His wife prepares the corn soup for him and after he eats his breakfast, he fills his gourd with water and leaves on the long and hard way to his cornfield.

The farmer is a very angry man and can't understand why fate has dealt him such a hard life and why there is no rain to water his crop. He can't see the purpose of his labor, nor can he enjoy the fruits it harbors. He is so discontent, that all he can feel is bitterness and rage and every morning on his way to his field he shouts insults at the heavens.

Then, one morning, just as the farmers insults reached its worst, an elderly person appeared in his way and asked: "Son, what it is with you, why are you so upset ?"
The farmer, still angry and defiant answers " I don't know you nor do I know who you are, I only answer to my father."
And the Elder responds: " Look I don't know what you are doing, but every morning when you leave your house you are complaining about your life and this is insulting us" .
"This is insulting you?" the farmer cries out in astonishment. "Why is this insulting you and how many of you are there?" he demands to know.
The Elder looks at him and mildly says "There are four of us."
"Four of us" the farmer mocks the Elder and asks cynically "I don't see anybody else, where would the others be then?"

The Elder then whistles three times and from a little path in the jungle three old men appear. With the aid of their walking sticks they come slowly closer and stand around the farmer. As the Elder points to each one of them he explains to the farmer: "This one to your north is the guardian and in charge of the northern hemisphere and the one opposite of him is guarding the southern hemisphere of the heavens. 
The third one", he continues "is in charge of the west and I am guarding the east and together we help the farmers so that their seeds grow and their harvests are plentiful".
The farmer laughs in their faces and says: " You are crazy, for me you are just a bunch of old and sick men who want to live off the fruits of my labor."

With this said, the sky opens suddenly and a wide path appears before their eyes. It is filled with the brightest light the farmer has ever seen and is leading straight into the skies. "Where does this road lead?" the farmer asks in astonishment and the Elders reply: "Why don't you come with us and we will show you the place where we work and teach you how to water your field"
The farmer does not know how to answer and falls silent as the Elders lead him gently towards the sky.

After a while they reach a wide open space of enormous dimensions. This space is filled with clouds and a well with fresh water.
There, the Elders give the farmer a hollow pumpkin and ask him to fill it with water. The farmer does as he is told and is then handed a stick and instructed to mount one of the clouds.
One of the Elders turns to him and says: "When you hit the cloud with this stick it will move through the sky with you. Go now and see that you can find your field. Once you have reached it, empty the water from your pumpkin until your field and the crop is well soaked."

The farmer does as he is told and as he waves his stick through the air to hit the cloud, lightning strikes his village and as the cloud moves, thunder can be heard.
The farmer moves with his cloud through the sky only rushing from one place to the other without finding his field. He spills the water from his pumpkin and rain falls on the village and the fields of his neighbors but never on his own. After a long time and when all the water is depleted he returns to the four Elders.

"How did it go?" the Elders ask. "Did you find your field and watered it well?"
The farmer answers: "Yes I think so since all the water is gone, I must have put it on my field alright" and without going further into it he turns to the Elders and says: "I am very hungry now, did you eat already?"
"Yes we did" they said "because we were invited and you were not".
"But why wasn't I invited?" the farmer wanted to know.

The Elders sat down with the farmer and explained to him. " While you were gone your family was very worried and afraid that you were lost. They asked the shaman of the village for help and offered food to us and the other Gods. Since you don't believe in that" they explained further "you can not possibly be invited to eat as well. Come with us, back to earth now and we show you the tables they have prepared."
As they reach the site of the offering they show the farmer from table to table and explain: "Look, these are the offerings your neighbors prepared for the Gods of the rain, the forrest, the air, the sun, the seeds and the earth."

While the farmer is beginning to understand, the Elders continue with the lesson and say: "Son, as a farmer you must understand that it is not you who directs the weather. It is you who is planting the seed but it is the God Chaac who moves the clouds with the water they bring and it is the sun that shines on the soil to make your seeds sprout."

The farmer now fully understands the power of the Gods and the need for the ceremonies to ask for their support. As he becomes aware of his bad behavior in the past, he bows his head and says to the Elders: "Dear Gods of the four points of the heavens, I thank you for the lessons you taught me and ask for your forgiveness"

The Gods of the east (fire), the west (night) the north (rain) and the south (abundance) know that now the farmer truly appreciates his place in the universe and send him on his way to his house.

Almost fainting from hunger, but filled with the believe that the Gods are with him, the meals on the offering tables become available to him as well. With great appreciation he eats until he feels no hunger any longer and then falls silent for three days.

After this period of silence and reflection he goes back to his village to reunite with his family and neighbors. And from this time on they celebrate the ceremonies of offering food to the rain God Chaac and the Gods of the four cardinal points for helping them grow their corn.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Blogger now

Finally on blogger now.
Having used twitter for awhile I realized that 140 characters are just not enough to express what I find here in the jungle of Yucatan.
I have worked all over the world as a photographer and have decided to live here in Chichen Itza now until at least December 21, 2012.
The last 5 months have been very interesting and I became friends with some of the Maya here and specially with one of the shamans.
Shamans are called j-men (pronounced sh man) and there wisdom and close proximity is just incredible.
Over the next weeks and months I will update these blogs regularly and hope that you enjoy the postings.