Living in Honduras and Guatemala is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Friday, January 31, 2020

Where You Can Expect the Unexpected – An Ode to la Bodegona

It's fascinating how distance creates an appreciation for things we tend to take for granted. Not just the big things, even more so those daily details we're barely aware of until they're not there anymore. Oh, daily life in a Guatemalan neighbourhood... The early morning crack of the whip announcing the herd of goats with their fresher than fresh milk. The scarp collector (“Chatarraaaaaaaa!!!!!”), the fish seller (fresh filet and shrimps every Friday), the cutler's pan flute (also to be heard where I live in Spain!) and the cobbler's weekly visit to the neighbourhood. The Sunday morning rush of people in their best clothes hurrying off to church and the peace and quiet in as soon as mass starts. Small gems of life that I have come to treasure.

Of course there's plenty I don't miss at all. Fireworks about 300 days out of the year? No thanks, not for me. The colourful chicken busses? Love them. But their driving is breaknecking and the exhaustion fumes are brutal. The weather (“Eternal Spring”) is pretty damn perfect, but I could do without the regular earth tremors. Not to mention the garbage you see just everywhere, which is.... No, don't get me started!

Now that I'm travelling back to Antigua next week, something I am looking forward to, is a visit to the local supermarket La Bodegona. I happen to seriously dislike supermarkets in general, but La Bodegona is different. It is not just a supermarket, it's an experience. Granted, you better make sure you you have time on your hands to fully appreciate that experience. If you're in for a quick purchase, you're at the wrong address.

Me and La Bodegona, we're going way back, from the late nineties when I used to travel from Copán Ruinas (Honduras) to Antigua to renew my visa (way before the whole C4 thing). A visit to La Bodegona was always on the agenda. Compared to Copán, Antigua was the First World and a real supermarket close to heaven on earth.

Now, Supermarket Store Layout Design, Brand Marketing and Retail Strategies are acknowledged scientific approaches, seriously applied in most supermarkets, even in Central America. But not in La Bodegona.
Starting with the layout of the store, it consists of two big halls between two streets, connected by a smaller hall, for lack of a better description. Two entrances/exits with cash-registers and merchandise in between. And that's where all comparisons with regular supermarkets end. It's more like visiting Harry Potter's school of magic with its whimsical displays, disappearing isles and unexpected combination of goods than what you'd expect from a store. The isles are narrow (while many Guatemalans tend to be WIDE) and the psychology behind the sorting and stacking of goods is completely baffling. By brand? No, not the case. By type of food? Well, sort of, but not completely. There is sort of a dairy section, but then there's this another fridge in the meat section that contains dairy too. And a few veggies. And fresh parsley.
One week the eggs are next to the candles. And then they aren't. The brand of oatmeal you have been using for years, every day? Miraculously gone never to reappear again.
Is stuff stocked by supplier maybe, according to a plan only known to the initiated? Maybe. I should ask, there are ALWAYS plenty of suppliers' stock clerks around. They tend to know where their own product is located only, so maybe that is the secret after all. In the mean time, if you need something, look for an employee with the Bodegona logo on their ever changing outfits (more about that later on), whom are numerous and omnipresent but as absent as a tuc-tuc when you need one. If you happen to find one, they're usually very friendly and helpful, although sometimes with that bored look of having to -yet again- answer a really stupid question. Dried plums? In the meat section, duh...

Branding strategy exists in having people standing all over the store (but preferably in the connecting hall, where space is scarcest and the crowds the biggest. Mostly on Saturday afternoons, of course) offering clients little bites or swigs of whatever. Guacamole from a bag, wine, all kinds of very pink cold cuts... The promoters are pretty feisty and don't take no for an answer easily. Worst is when people right in front of you decide to sample everything and you're stuck between sanitary pads, carrots and the nuts display. But this can be prevented if your agenda allows it. A friends of mine does her shopping early Sunday mornings (as early as 7am!) and that way she avoids crowds as well as promoters and store clerks. It's an idea...

A rather unique and much more sympathetic way to promote business is the way La Bodegona dresses up for each and every special event. And big time too! Not just a few Christmas streamers and a jingle here and there for the season, but bigger than life decorations and even “real” snow! Not just for Christmas either, think Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Easter, Summer, Father's Day... Huge displays, some a storey high, hang from the ceiling. Hearts! Fish! Neck ties! Suns! It might be me, but they seem to get bigger every year. And decoration is not limited to the store itself! The employees dress up in lederhosen in October (because of the German Oktoberfest) and Hawaiian shirts during Guatemalan summer. Superheroes, polar bears, Santa, sexy elves, all can be found in La Bodegona in due time...

But maybe best of all are the”atados”, the special offers, tied together with meters of tape. Not because of the free stuff you get, but the most wonderful and mystifying combinations. A bottle of whiskey with a plastic spoon. Toilet paper with a cup. I wonder if there's a full time employee at the Bodegona coming up with this stuff. I'm not the only one fascinated either, there's a group on Facebook called “Shit Taped Together at the Bodegona”. Check it out!

So yes, soon I'll free up some time in my schedule and venture into the store for a much missed fix of The Bodegona Experience.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Doggies in Heaven

Luca (Honduras, painting by Carin Steen)

Today is World Animal Day. It is also exactly two years ago I buried my dog Luca on a beautiful mountain overlooking the valley of Antigua Guatemala. It was grey and rainy that day, quite fittingly, but just when we covered her grave with dirt, the sun came through as if paying its last honours. A little later, just after we purchased a much needed bottle of wine, the skies broke open into a torrential downpour. Also quite fitting.

Monster (Honduras, painting by Carin Steen)

As sad as it was to burry my dog, it was also beautiful and harmonious. Luca had been with me for a long 15 and a half years. I met her the day she was born and she died in my arms. In between she had a wonderful life and I’m happy I was there for the beginning, middle and end. But World Animal Day is now forever the day that Luca died.
Ganja (Honduras, painting by Carin Steen)

I usually couldn’t care less about what International Day of What it happens to be today, but World Animal Day has always been special, ever since I was a little girl. I was one of those animal nerds, who rather crawled into the rabbit cage than playing a game with other kids. World Animal Day was almost as good as my birthday. At school we did animal-related activities and some teachers even let us bring our pets to school. Which might actually not be the best of ideas, stressing those poor kittens, hamsters and Guinea pigs out for educational and recreational purposes. Even stupider was the idea of a teacher at a school in my neighbourhood in Guatemala to build a cardboard arc of Noah and telling her kindergarten students to bring a live animal, to celebrate the love of Noah for animals. So every kid grabbed a random puppy or kitten, always plenty of those around in Guatemala and brought it to school whether the poor thing was ready to be separated from its momma or not. Those kittens and pups, all unvaccinated of course, spent the whole day cuddled up together in a cardboard boat. When it was time to leave each kid was given one animal to take home. I really wonder how many of those animals are still alive today.
Noah (Guatemala, painting by Carin Steen)

So that’s how I got Noah. My neighbours were not pleased at all when their 5 year old daughter came home with a puppy. She was only 3-4 weeks old, way too young of course to be separated from her mom. Big brother went to look for the mom and siblings but couldn’t find them. And that’s how she ended up in my home-Noah turned out to be the craziest and funniest pup I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, she died when she was only 13 months old, probably of a brain aneurysm. That really sucked an there was nothing beautiful or harmonious about it.
Gaviota (Honduras, painting by Carin Steen)

By the way, I always thought World  Animal Day is celebrated on October 4th because it’s Francis of Assisi’s day, patron saint of animals. But as it turns out, it´s an initiative started in Germany in 1925 by cynologist Heinrich Zimmerman. And a cynologist is someone who studies dogs. Who knew! Thanks Google. (Now I think I want to be a cynologist, later when I grow up.)
Tres (Honduras, painting by Carin Steen)

Anyway, going through the dog portraits I have painted over the last few years, it was sad to realize that so many have already passed the rainbow bridge. So here a little tribute to all those fantastic dogs, our buddies and besties. Cheers to you all, dear doggies, I hope you’re having a ball in heaven! (Pun intended.)
Lupita (Honduras, painting by Carin Steen)

And in case you´d like a portrait of your own dog, check out the Shop section on this blog!
Murci (Guatemala, painting by Carin Steen)
Bambi (Honduras, painting by Carin Steen)
Roxie (USA, painting by Carin Steen)

Bombero (Honduras, painting by Carin Steen)

Hazel in Heaven (Guatemala, painting by Carin Steen)
Unidos para los Animales shelter, Guatemala (and not all deceased yet, thankfully!)

Friday, September 27, 2019

Guatemala`s Plastic Ban

Guatemalan Landscape I (Painting by Carin Steen)
n the fisrt day of 2019's Global Climate Strikes, Guatemala’s government announced it will ban all single-use plastic bags and disposable utensils. The country will have two years to find alternatives for plastic cups and straws.

Great news! But is it?

Everyone who lives in Guatemala has been stuck at least one behind one of those (in)famous chicken busses and knows about its big black clouds of exhaustion fumes. Mining companies dump their waste wherever they bloody like it.  The gorgeous Lake Atitlan is an open sewer. The pollution of the Motagua River not only poses a serious risk to public health, but is also destroying the Mesoamerican Reef. So is a plastic ban really going to make a difference?

The problem is that there are too many problems.

One of them is people´s attitude. Of course children learn at school where trash should go and to take care of the environment. But it`s a sort of a theoretical knowledge that isn`t often applied. Or thought through. Example: Last May I was painting a mural at a school while the children celebrated National Tree Day. Besides the regular national anthem, prayer and many speeches (including a looong one by the director about all the obstacles she had overcome in order to get the school some computers), the celebration mainly consisted of each grade presenting a huge tree made of paper. Made of PAPER!!! And to make matters worse, while the festivities were going on, some workmen were cutting down a big tree on the schoolyard. And no one even blinked.
People know. But people don´t act.

Another problem. Trash collection. In Antigua Guatemala, trash collection is a private affair. You pay one of the “companies” to dispose of your trash. On specific days guys knock on your door and haul your crap to a lorry from which the trash is dumped at the municipal garbage heap. Or so you hope. Who checks where the trash really goes? Not that I doubt those guys, the thing is, there is just no control. As there is no control of who pays for garbage collection and who doesn´t. In the small town I used to live there were plenty of people who didn´t and dumped their trash at the creek. Or behind my house. But to be fair, in the town I used to live in Honduras, garbage collection was serviced by the municipality, there was no way not to pay, but people still threw their trash on the streets anyway. 
Guatemalan Landscape II (Painting by Carin Steen)

Of course there wouldn’t be as much trash if there wasn`t so much single-use plastic. And the poorer people are, ironically enough, the more plastic. If you walk into any tiny neighbourhood store, the amount of plastic packaging is simply appalling. Besides some eggs, tomatoes and onions, everything else is covered in plastic and most of it individually wrapped. Because people are poor. It is less money (not cheaper) to buy a sachet of shampoo than a whole bottle (and no, those fantastic packaging-free shampoo tablets are NOT widely available to the poor!).  Cookies, drinks, oil, sauces, chips, candy, everything comes in mini amounts with maxi packaging, so you think you get something worth your money. While wat you really do is buying trash, of course. But hat argument doesn’t fly when you only have a few cents in your pocket, just enough to buy some crisps and a soda. 

For years, in my work with kids in Central America, I’ve addressed the trash problem in any possible way I could think of but it seems to be a lost fight. Garbage slogans and songs got forgotten, bins got stolen, signs got ruined and pollution continued. And I still don`t know why. Of course, if you go to small mountain villages, it wasn`t all too long ago that trash wasn`t a problem at all. You threw everything, all organic, out through the window and it got taken care of by dogs, pigs, chickens or bugs. The transformation from pure organic waste to an avalanche of single-use plastic went much faster than the disposal of it, not to mention recycling.

Funnily enough, if you ask a kid, or anyone, for that matter, whether she/he prefers a clean environment over a littered one, the answer is always yes. But oh so little is being done about it. Although, I must say I was thrilled to see that this year some schools in Central America instead of marching for Independent Day, cleaned their community or planted trees. Isn’t taking care of your country real patriotism? Please people keep that in mind next Semana Santa when you flock to coast and rivers and leave literally tons of your CRAP on shores and beaches! Not fun at all! And you know what, it can be done! Spending much time on the beach in Northern Spain this summer, I’m baffled every time I find the beach squeaky clean in the early mornings, knowing that just hours earlier hundreds of people spent their day there.  Every morning. It CAN be done! Really, not difficult at all.

In August last year, Antigua Guatemala announced its new law to prohibit single-use plastic, a law that went in effect on February 10. As much as I applauded it, I was very sceptical. It’s a great initiative, but to see it implemented is another thing. There`s also a law that forbids animal abuse.  And one that says you can`t kill people, but that one isn´t taken very seriously either. But I must say, I have actually seen quite a difference.

At the market the regular bags were quickly replaced by biodegradable ones. That is a step forward, although of course not a solution. By the way, I strongly mistrust some of those bags that look just the same to me, but with an “ECO” label printed on them. Is there any control out there? But now that the plastic ban will be implemented nationwide, things can only approve. Plastic won´t be able to be imported from other towns any longer and hopefully there will be more variety in alternative packaging as well as better prices. People are already coming up with solutions that are probably as ancient as the world anyway: French fries in a cabbage leaf, cheese wrapped in banana leaves and a return of brown Kraft paper. Nothing new under the sun.

I thought that the plastic ban would mostly be applied in the visible tourist industry in central Antigua. But to my surprise and delight, it has trickled through all layers of society and now even in the smallest shops you don`t get a bag any more. Want some tortillas? Bring a napkin. Eggs? Basket. You know, just like it used to be not so very long ago.  And if your walk around in my neighbourhood and see the amount of trash scattered around, you realise this could really have an impact.

But enough talk. Let`s try to make some real changes. Forget for now about reusing and recycling. Let`s start with some serious reducing. Deal?

Guatemalan Landscape III (Painting by Carin Steen)

Friday, September 13, 2019


There’s this word in Dutch that often pops up in my head and that I love: halflandelijkheid. It means something like “half-countrysideness” and refers, quite obviously, to places in between urban and rural areas. The word was invented by the poet Simon Vestdijk who used it in his poem Zelfkant (“Self-Side) in 1931. Badly translated, the first strophe goes something like this:

What I love most is half-countrysideness:
Where woozy meadow winds play with clotheslines
Full of laundry; industrial sites where Between miserable grass a lorry rides.

(Ik houd het meest van de halfland'lijkheid:
Van vage weidewinden die met lijnen
Vol waschgoed spelen; van fabrieksterreinen
Waar tusschen arm'lijk gras de lorrie rijdt.)

A lifetime ago, when I was a young art student who knew everything about everything, we got the assignment to “do something” with the theme of half-countrysideness. Even then I was already intrigued by this word and its implication. I set off for an abandoned train depot near my house, the Oostelijk Havengebied in Amsterdam, for those in the know, and spent many happy hours among forgotten railway carriages covered in rust and graffiti. The rails where overgrown with grass, the environment quiet and still despite the short distance from grand central station. I made sketches, I painted and took many pictures. And in the end, I burned everything in a self-invented ceremony to honour the half-countrysideness. Or something like it. I can’t remember exactly except that at the time I thought it was pretty cool and sophisticated. The place doesn’t exist anymore. Humans have won and turned one of the last spots of nothingness in the city into a fancy neighbourhood.

A couple of days ago the weather here in the north of Spain was too miserable to go to the beach but not miserable enough to stay in. A perfect day to explore the trail I suspected to exist leading from my small village to the nearest town. I did find the trail and it was quite nice. There were some goats grazing around freely as well as a horse and a few cows minding their own business, as was I. However, when I turned around a corner of some blackberry bushes, I found a big fat bull lying right in the middle of the trail. The bull was lazily chewing some grass and seemed very mellow. I guess I could have walked around him without a fuzz but I’ve seen a few too many bull-related incidents on TV lately (quite normal in Spain, where people run with bills for fun), so I decided to calmly retrace my steps. Which led me to an area just outside of Llanes that I hadn’t explored yet. It was a perfect example of “halflandelijkheid” where human interventions had invaded the countryside but where pure neglect and force of nature had given the latter the upper hand.

I love those areas that are neither inhabited nor completely forgotten, with small human interventions that seem to get along great with the plants and bugs that consider the space theirs. Which made me ponder half-countrysideness in Guatemala and Honduras and realized there’s very little of it. It’s countryside OR urbanization, even on the edges of towns where urbanizations stops when there is absolutely no physical way to build yet another level or expansion to the existing shacks. It made me think that half-countrysideness is, rather than a sign of deterioration, a bit of a luxury, available only to those who can afford to forget or neglect. And that makes me end this entry with the depressing realisation that yes, everywhere in the world and for whatever reason, half-countrysideness is in danger of extinction. What a shame.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Talking about the Weather

Asturias beach in September
Guatemala is the land of eternal spring, they say. And yup, besides the occasional downpour, the weather is pretty cool. In the Antigua area the days are filled with sunshine that might get a bit too much around noon but is otherwise reminiscent of spring in bloom. The nights cool off substantially and the rainy season is obviously (much!) wetter than the dry period, but other than that the weather is pretty constant. No need for different summer or winter wardrobes, an extra layer when cold will do. There’s also little difference between summer and winter time. In the summer, dusk starts around 6.40pm and at 7pm it’s pitch dark. In the winter that’s 6pm. So, all in all (not taken in account the noticeable effects of climate change), life just calmly goes on without dramatic changes between seasons. That feeling of loss at the end of summer… The falling of leaves and shortening of days that remind you that all will come to an end. Nope, not in Guatemala. Day is day and night is night. Green leaves and flowers year-round. You can harvest lettuce from your own garden any month of the year. Day after day is pretty much the same and that does bring a sense of calm. It also made me always forget everybody’s birthday back home because I strongly associate those with different seasons. No wonder I’d forget my mother’s birthday in December while drinking coffee on my rooftop terrace dressed in shorts and a tank top. (But that was before Facebook started to remind us of our loved ones’ B-days, thank you very much.)
Spanish Bougainvillea
After more than two decades in Central America I just settled in the North of Spain (which is very different from the rest of Spain, climate-wise and all) and one of the most fantastic things I’ve experienced in the last two months is SUMMER!!!!! I had totally forgotten how absolutely amazingly wonderful real summers are! And I mean REAL summers, of course, that start its days with crisp blue skies and corn yellow sunshine. Summer days that seem to last forever and allow you to go to the beach in the EVENING!!! Not a cooling down, dusky sort of evening, but sitting on the beach at 9pm with your feet in the ocean and an ice-cream in your hand kind of evening! Swimming in the sunset at 10pm!!! Loving it!!!

But that is all coming to an end. Almost. Summer hasn’t made up its mind yet. Every time you think it’s over and done with, summer comes back with a few splendid days. The ocean is still pretty warm and as long as you stay out of the shade, you can easily pretend that nothing has changed. But as soon as you enter the shade, the chill creeps into your bones, Even on the beach, the gentle sun might caress your face, but a chilly draft bites your butt. And then the smells… Sun warmed walls and wafts of ripe fruit no longer there… The not unpleasant smell of wet, rotting leaves has already taken over the smell of sunscreen. Yellowing leaves and reddening apples announce fall. And yes, there is that sense of loss… I cherish every ray of sunshine; I spend every minute I can outdoors and still go to the beach for my daily swim. I soak up the very last bit of summer, unwilling to let go. I really, really don’t want summer to end.

But to be honest, I’m actually also very much looking forward to what autumn has to bring and can’t wait for it to start!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Chicken Bus Experience

There is no public transportation today from Antigua to the capital in Guatemala. Yet another bus driver was shot by gangs that charge transportation companies excessive fees in order to be allowed to ride the roads. Not the first assault (fortunately the driver survived this time), but all public transportation is now on hold while demanding from the government measures to guarantee safety in public transportation.

I couldn’t agree more but also see the irony here. Sure, the extortions are a massive problem, but it is not the only issue on the road. Anyone who has ever travelled the roads in Guatemala knows that many bus drivers are suicidal maniacs who put the lives of the passengers in their overcrowded busses in peril. As colourful and fantastically decorated those chicken busses are, as soon as they hit the roads they turn into lethal beasts. In their hurry to haul in as many as paying customers, the ayudantes basically drag people into the busses, quite often doubling the maximum number of 52 passengers, as a forgotten sign over the drivers head mentions, a forgotten relic from when the bus was yellow and used to haul schoolchildren, two per bench, in grey but quiet suburbs.

Chicken busses, I love them as much as I hate them. As big and fast and scary as they are on the roads, especially when the bus driver starts racing a bus from a rival company, they are absolutely fascinating. Riding a chicken bus while, often quite literally, hanging on for dear life, is an experience that assaults all your senses at once. The smells may not always be the best (the aroma of food sold by vendors squirming through the isle is by far preferable over some more human odours); the music simply deafening; the touch factor a little too close for my taste (don’t forget to hold on to that hand rail with all your might!) and the visual impact not more than a colourful blurs; it all adds up to being totally emerged in the chicken bus experience. If you haven’t ridden a chicken bus, you haven’t lived Guatemala…

The very best are of course the busses’ make-over, both inside and out. The more work, the better, although it’s all for looks and little is done to make things more comfortable for the passengers. The springs are poking through the seats? Can wait. The whole bench is bend so you keep gliding off? Not the driver’s problem. A new dashboard sticker on the market? YES!!!

Many busses have girls’ names. It’s not always clear what the driver’s relation is to the person the bus is named after. A bus on route to my neighbourhood is called Angela, featuring the name in big read letters over the windshield. Underneath it says: Explosión de Amor. Let’s assume Angela is the legal wife or girlfriend in this case, not the driver’s little girl.

It is also very important to ask for God’s blessing in loudly coloured stickers and to decorate the area around the driver with significant cultural icons, mostly Playboy’s bunny, the silhouette of a topless girl and Jesus Christ. Stickers are printed to fit the surface, not to respect the original image, hence the sometimes weirdly warped eyes of Our Lord staring at you.

Many busses now have TV screens up front with a typical mix of music videos (with girls as barely dressed as the chrome ones that decorate the bus) or extremely violent movies. The music is ear-splitting and can somehow always be turned up a notch. Nobody is ever bothered by the distorted sound, not even babies that tend to do the whole chicken bus experience while sleeping anyway.

I think my very favourite chicken busses are the ones from the town I used to live to the terminal in Antigua. The whole route takes no longer than five minutes. The busses are never full (except at the end of a school day) and it beats me how eight different busses can make a living of this route, charging people Q1.50 ($0.20). Students only pay Q1, after a short but fierce war when the fare went up from Q1 to Q1.50. Not that expensive, but a 50% increase nonetheless and it adds up when you have several kids taking the bus to school every day. In the end the war came to a peaceful end when the compromise was made to keep the rate for students at Q1.

The busses from San Bartolo to the terminal and back are not the most beautiful ones, but they are the dearest to me, I guess because they are so much part of the community. No bus would ever leave when someone started running a whole block away (well, what Guatemalans call “running” anyway), holding up the bus for a couple of minutes. Every person getting on gets a heartfelt Buenos días from the driver and the rest of the passengers. And best of all, when the buss arrives at its destination, a whole five minutes later, the drivers says: Servidos! And then you get up, pay the driver and get off with well wishes to and fro.  

And after a day in town the bus is waiting for you at its regular spot. Always and every day.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Cycles of Life

Why an exhibition of round paintings?
Well, why not?
Just wanted to do something a little different this time.

Not half as happy as you normally paint, commented a friend.
Nothing like my colourful portraits of cute puppies. These paintings are based on events I read about in the press and no, that is not something to be happy about.  WTF was mostly my reaction, followed by disgust, anger and sometimes desperation. Here, judge for yourself…

Not One Less… (59cm)
Hardly a day goes by without a woman being brutally murdered in Guatemala. In 2018 there were 228 reported victims. It seems 209 is going to be even worse. 

 Survivor Series (65cm, 56cm, 34.5cm. Double portrait Milagros: 39.5cm)

On June 3rd of 2018 the Fuego volcano erupted and covered several communities under a thick layer of ashes and other debris. To this day there are still people buried at what was named Zone 0. Other people (and animals) did survive. These children were some of the kids I worked with at the shelter. The dog Milagros eerily had “Ayuda” (help) written on her side. We never knew whether help was asked for her or her owners. Milagros (“Miracles”, as I named her) was very sick but made it against all odds en is now living the life in the USA.

Ghost Towns (41 and 20cm)
There are ghost towns and there are ghost towns… The first one is deserted and completely unliveable as is San Miguel Los Lotes after the volcano eruption (although reconstruction of parts of the community is under way).
Another sort of ghost town is a community you invent, such as El Paxtal, so the government will invest in a state of the art highway to this non-existing community. That’s what you do if you’re a congress woman and you happen to own a spa in that place.

Golden Balls (50cm)
February 2018. The Board of Veterinarians decides to raise the price of castrations for cats and dogs to Q950.
In a country where there is a huge overpopulation of dogs and cats and where people barley can afford to feed them, this is completely ludicrous.

Guatemalan Landscapes (41cm, 35cm, 21cm)

Guatemala is a fantastic country with incredible natural resources. However, if you look around it’s mostly trash you see. I would really like to see patriotism being expressed though a better care of this beautiful land…

“Rapists and Murderers” (34.5cm (without frame), ink and watercolour, )
Rosendo Noviega, a 38-year-old migrant from Guatemala, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, holds his daughter Belinda Izabel as he walks along the highway to Juchitan from Santiago Niltepec, Mexico, October 30, 2018. An estimated 2,300 children are travelling with the migrant caravan headed north to the U.S.-Mexico border, UNICEF said, adding that they needed protection and access to essential services like healthcare, clean water and sanitation.
REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Someone else said the migrants were “murderers and rapists”.

Bones of Memory (50cm)
Mass graves from the civil war are still being found and forensic scientists relentlessly work to identify the victims. On June 24 of 2018, 172 Victims of the civil war are finally officially buried in San Juan Comalapa.   

Hogar Seguro /Safe House (75cm)
At first glance quite a happy, colourful painting of a bunch of butterflies in a shadowbox.
However, each butterfly carries the name of one of the 41 girls who lost their lives sat the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home in San José Pinula, Guatemala.
This government-run children’s home had been under investigation for multiple reports of abuse of the children. In March of 2017 a group of adolescents decided to escape the home. They were hunted down as if they were dangerous criminals. While the boys were sent back to their dorms, the girls were locked in a classroom without water or access to a bathroom. After long hours, the girls lit up some mattresses in order to get the attention of the two police officers guarding the padlocked door. The fire got out of hand; the door wasn’t opened until it was much too late. 41 girls lost their lives, another 15 were badly injured.

Cycle of Life (Gouache 27cm) / Survivor of Life (46cm)
And those two beautiful ladies have just seen it all…

This show is on till May 6th, 2019 at Galería Mesón Panza Verde, 5a Avenida Sur, Antigua Guatemala.

All works are for sale except for Survivor: Superhero and Golden Balls. All materials are acrylic, unless otherwise mentioned.
For more information, please contact the artist at carinsteen at

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Story Behind the Painting: The Volcano Eruption Superhero

Superhero, acrylics on metal, 56cm diameter
It was less than a week after the Fuego volcano erupted and it was still chaos. People who left or lost their homes were accommodated in schools and churches. Rucks full of donations kept arriving in causing so much congestion in the centre of Alotenango that it was decided to cordon off the whole town for traffic. Many solidary souls wanted to give directly to the victims while the municipality tried to keep control by storing the goods away and closing the shelters. Still, there were tons of people around, doctors, nurses, psychologist, church groups and others. Some helping, some gawking, but in general too many in too small a space.
And then there was us. Swept along the emotional wave of wanting to do something we had worked our way into the shelter to offer some art activities and story telling to the children. Not such a bad idea, since so far the only distractions for the kids had been one piñata after the other and loads and loads of candy.

That first experience (we went back a total of 25 times) was surreal. While in Zone 0 fire fighters and residents were still looking for the remains of their loved ones (and wouldn’t stop for many months to come), life in the shelter was, little by little, taking shape. Children played hide and seek behind a pile of coffins stacked high up in a corner. Some boys were paying football with the balls they had just been given, dodging women hanging their laundry and making their way to the improvised showers.
Over a cacophony of sounds of too many people in too small a space, the sombre sounds of funeral marches wear still audible. However, most kids were completely oblivious to their surrounding and happily absorbed in their art work. All except one. A little boy with a superhero mask and cape was running around as if the world belonged to him. He ran through corridors, jumped up and down on benches, barely missed a pregnant woman, evaded a man carrying donations before ducking under a table. Nobody told him off or even seemed to notice. Surrounded by many he was all by himself in his own world, very busy saving it. Watching him was like a movie scene in which the world slowed down while the superhero flashed around. I asked the boy if I could take a picture which was allowed. But only for a split second before he was off again, to save the world that needs so much saving.

For more information on our first visit to the shelter, please visit: