BBtv debuts "BBtv World" series. Episode 1: El Molinero (Guatemala)

Watch this episode in Flash above, or download here: MP4 download link

On behalf of all my Boing Boing and Boing Boing tv colleagues, I'm excited and proud to announce the debut of a new series within our daily video program: BBtv World. This ongoing series will feature first-person glimpses of life around the world, told through the lenses and voices of Boing Boing editors, guest collaborators -- and through the people in these places, their own stories, their own way. When we can, we want to place the camera directly in the hands -- literally -- of the people whose lives, cultures, and lands we're visiting.

We're kicking this off with an episode I shot during a recent visit in a K'iche Maya village in the highlands of Guatemala. I go there a few times a year to work on sustainable development projects with an international nonprofit managed with local indigenous leaders.

"El Molinero," the title of this debut piece, refers to the corn mill where young girls go every day to grind soaked, hulled corn ("nixtamal") into soft dough for tortillas or tamales (in K'iche, the dough is "k'osh").

The old machine -- hacked together by local craftsman from various components -- is extremely loud, spews smelly fuel exhaust, and like many aspects of daily life and work here, is not neccesarily safe.

The K'iche girls you see in this episode helped me shoot some of what you see. In future episodes, they'll tell their stories themselves, and we'll visit other places -- Tibet, Africa, Mexico, China, India, and Japan, to name a few of the destinations planned.

Tech note: some of the footage used in this episode was shot on micro-mini digital camcorders donated for review purposes by Pure Digital Inc. (the Flip camcorder) and RCA (RCA Small Wonder). I'll post more about the tests on those devices, and how the people here are using each of them in experimental "distributed documentary" projects.

SPONSOR SHOUT-OUT: The BBtv crew wishes to thank Microsoft for underwriting this episode, and generously supporting the launch of the "BBtv World" series. In this ongoing video series, we will be looking at the intersection of social causes & technology around the world from a number of perspectives. Through their new "i’m Initiative," Microsoft shares a portion of the program's advertising revenue with some of the world’s most important social causes when users email or IM with tools such as Windows Live™ Messenger and Windows Live Hotmail®. For more information, visit or

Related posts from the Boing Boing archives:



  1. Xn wld lk t thnk Mcrsft fr spprtng ths scl css nd thn shttng ll vr thm lk dntng t vllgs n frc wth th Bll nd Mlnd Gts fndtn nd thn tkng mny frm sd fndtn t nvst n crprtn tht s plltng tht vllgs wtr spply 5 mls wy. Grt jb Mcrsft nd kp p th fckng mnply. W wll cntn t vrthrw y n th pn src wrld nd spt n yr vntl grv.

  2. At risk of being disemvowelled myself, I’m surprised at the plug for Microsoft products. It doesn’t seem like a good fit for BoingBoing. Just my impression.

  3. B crfl… pprntly crtcsm f Mcrsft wll gt y cnsrd. Sd t sy tht Bng Bng s nw lkng mr nd mr lk crprt sllts. nd ths sd t b my sf hvn.

  4. Xeno,

    You’re being a dick. Until you decide to underwrite some of this stuff, somebody has to. And if BB was your safe haven, you have bigger issues than corporate sponsorship. BB exists to entertain and sometimes inform, not to conform to the tangled and contradictory socio-political expectations of each of its readers. If you don’t like the flavor of the free ice cream, go elsewhere.


  5. Bollocks. BB are sponsored by all sorts, and they say what they like on their blog. We get entertainment, the bills get paid, get over it.

  6. Xeno, go suck on a stale tortilla. Here’s how much restriction Microsoft placed on the editorial content in this mini-documentary series:


    I’ve worked in a number of different news organizations, and I can tell you it’s rare to be able to produce exactly what you want, exactly how you want to, without sometimes clueless editors or sales people breathing down your neck.

    I can say with a clean conscience that we are under zero pressure from this sponsor to alter or edit what we say or what we feature here. Do you realize how totally fcking awesome that is?

    Online video is not cheap to produce, edit, host, or distribute. It’s not the same as writing blog posts. And it’s not like we can take the BART train for $3 when we go to these different remote places around the world we’re gonna feature.

    We rely on sponsors to make this project possible, and when a company steps up to do that with no strings attached, and helps me and my colleagues fulfill something like this, something that has been a personal dream for years — I personally feel a lot of gratitude for that opportunity. These guys are being completely cool with us, and they are supporting something that matters to me and my partners. It’s fine.

    These stories and places and people are important to me, and I hope they will be important to others. We are exploring and experimenting with this medium, and I am grateful for the sponsors that step up to give the project the lifeblood it needs to survive.

  7. every godamned time someone starts the advertising whinge the topic gets lost: I’m watching the video now.

  8. Takuan, I hope you like it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. We really are experimenting with something new here.

  9. k, ndrstnd ppl dnt lk crtcsm. Bt bng fr th FF nd gnst th R nd th MP nd thn cnsrng ppl jst bcs th dn’t lk yr dvrtsrs? Hw cn y b fr fr spch n scnd nd thn cnsr whn t sts yr nds? sn’t tht hypcrtcl? cn hndl ppl shttng n m fr bng crtcl f Mcrsft… bt y shld ls fc th fct y r bng hypcrtcl. dbt tht wll hppn t ths pnt thgh snc sm t gt cnsrd ch tm spk p. Cnsr n…

  10. scary. Unguarded belts and flywheels, a grinder big enough for arms, loose long hair…

    Who volunteers for the history lesson?

  11. fuck… the thing i was going to snark about happening happened before i got my snark out!

    please note that i have no criticism for boing boing over their use of sponsorship in this case…

    but i do think that the comments by “xeno, superior princess” shouldn’t be disemvoweled.

    it would be easier to understand the disagreement if they we’re left legible. just my opinion…

  12. ooh,cross comments there. Yeah, I liked it. This is the kind of real life, ordinary folks level media coverage that breeds workable, just international relations. Full points to the on the ground reporters. The “joke”about kidnapping though sent a twinge through me, I understand people get beat to death by mobs when someone cries witch.

  13. Tak, thanks for getting us back!

    Xeni, that was a great film, what a beautiful, tough place to grow up. And you speak Spanish so well :)

  14. A wonderful segment, but I’ll be damned if I ever eat a tortilla made from corn ground in that thing!

    Also: I want a little red pet pig.

  15. @Takuan, thanks. Mob justice is part of rural life there, but the context is more complicated than it seems at a distance.

    The kidnapping thing wasn’t so much a joke, as — everywhere I walked, with and without this posse of girls, younger children ran screaming from me. Guatemala is one of the top “sender” countries forforeign adoptions, second only to China IIRC, and there is much corruption and injustice in that system. A lot is broken. There are well-meaning people on the adopter side, but direct exploitation is prevalent, and the Guatemalan justice system is deeply broken. And the communities where all of this impacts the social fabric the most are the poorest ones — like this Mayan village.

    So the story is complicated, but they are actually running with the total, committed belief that this gringa is going to shove them in a sack and sell them off to a buyer in Miami or Sausalito or whatever. It’s really sad, the whole system, because as you can see the lives there are pretty tough.

    I believe that helping these communities become economically self-sustaining is a better way to help than just adopting kids en masse, and helps preserve the cultural and social fabric.

    Some of the adults in this village told me they refer to this phenomenon as “el robo de los ninos,” the theft of the children. They see this as like — the Guatemalan civil war killed one generation of the indigenous population, now poverty and racism and the adoption industry in this place where injustice is prevalent — that’s robbing *this* generation.

  16. “pet” pig? I know this tough old broad that spent her girlhood in Chile. There fluffy bunnies were handed to little girls to be whacked with sticks before they were skinned (the bunnies, not the girls). The cute doggies on the street occasionally packed up and ate the homeless who slept on the beaches. At the market they slapped the thick blanket of flies off the the side of beef before carving your order. This pig, I do not think it is a “pet”.

  17. @Rob, I wanted the entire episode to be that little damn pig, I loved him so much. If I’m gonna kidnap any living thing from that pueblo, it’s gonna be that li’l red marrano.

  18. Xeni @ 22

    Wow, that’s crazy!
    I hope you get the chance to tell that depth-of-story along with all these segments. Really paints a vivid picture that adds greatly to the watching of the clip above.

  19. @#26 arkizzle, cool, I’m glad you find that part of the story interesting. I think we’ll be doing simple pieces to start off with that just give you a “sense of place,” kind of a “one-note” piece? Then I want to expand to tell specific stories in a lot more depth, such as that one, really including the voices of the people themselves. Maybe some investigative works, too.

    News is old news. Unfiltered experiences of the world, through the world’s eyes, as it were — that’s what I believe is truly new.

  20. You know, complete disenvowelment seems overly strong and nearly impossible to read – might as well just remove the whole thing. There needs to be some sort of intermediate like transposing consonants within words or removing half of the vowels. Or worse, converting the whole thing to leetspeak.

    Sometimes I really want to read what they said that was so wrong to invoke disenvowelment. After all, without knowing the crime, how am I supposed to avoid it?

    That said, Microsoft has some good social programs.

  21. excellent work xeni, hope to see more bbtvworld soon.

    p.s. i have a pet pig but he’s black and named pinky and not so little anymore!

  22. #28: yeh! :)

    Xeni, I hear ya.
    Really I just hope you add the type of stories @ #22 in the comment threads of the rest of the vids. Coz it really helped set the context for this one, me having very little knowledge about that part of the world. It adds a nice dimension to the film, and breeds nice discussion to boot!

  23. That pig is the greatest.

    The corn-crushing machine is scary, especially its fan belt; but if they didn’t have it, the women and girls would spend a lot of time crouched over a stone metate, and everyone would have dental problems from the fine grit in their food.

    It’s one of the constant problems of a corn-based culture. Dried corn is by far the hardest and toughest of the major grains, and it needs some heavy processing before it can be eaten.

    Still, it would be nice if that machine had a metal casing.

    Aloisius, JamesGyre, disemvowelled text is easier to read than you might imagine. Also, I know there’s a site that has a rudimentary re-emvowelling device, though I’m not sure where it is.

    Xeno, please go read the moderation guidelines before you say anything further. You still have perfect freedom of speech on a website on your own. You just don’t have the liberty to behave like a complete jerk here.

  24. Xeni, I agree that additional writing along with the post would be great. I LOVED the bit of video, but wanted it to be so much longer. Additional writing could fill out all the details that don’t get told in the 3 minutes. Maybe more photos, too? What cute girls. :) Can’t wait for more!

  25. In case my previous post was confusing, spot the odd one out: Tibet, Africa, Mexico, China, India, and Japan.

  26. That was lovely and very compelling. As a long-haired clumsy adult who this very morning got my hair caught in an electric fan when I leaned too close, seeing the little girl with the long hair leaning over that rickety machine made my heart stop for a moment.

    1. Fine, Tavie,

      You asked for it (sort of). A friend of a friend was doing research in an agricultural area. Her long hair got caught in some device out in the middle of a field and it scalped her. She had to walk a mile back to the road carrying her own scalp. Hair kills. Actually, it was reattached and she was fine, but still.

  27. …having very little knowledge about that part of the world…

    maybe people would like to know that the U.S taxpayer helped fund the overthrow of their democratic government in 1954 and
    helped train and fund the death squads that were responsible for tens of thousands of murders. The U.S, your international friend and helper.

    Now wonder kids run away screaming…

  28. Yeh Hodge, it isn’t a country, but maybe she hasn’t picked a country (or countries) in Africa yet. I took it: she will be also visiting not-yet-specified African countries.. good enough for me.

  29. She could have as easily said “Eastern Europe” and it would have been just as clear.

  30. I’ve been reading Boing Boing for seven or so years now, and rarely delurk (which was easy for all those years between quicktopic and now). But felt compelled to say…

    This is really awesome. Please, do more of this.

  31. #41: That’s probably the bit I knew. The effects of all that on the ground, what Xeni’s film and comments describe, is the bit I didn’t. The human bit.

  32. Xeni,

    If there is anything I can do to help you on your Japan leg, let me know. Pretty much fluent, and know about many of the hidden gems here. And my services are free. Whee!


  33. Me gusto este video Xeni! Sorry, my Spanish is rusty. I love the ending. Whenever I go to Mexico, some of my relatives are so poor but they’re also happy. It’s like everyday they wake up is another victory.

  34. if nothing else came of this thread, imagine if someone sent enough money or sheet metal to put a cage over that belt and flywheel?

  35. Muchisimas gracias a la señorita Xenu por este video tan conmovedor. Me ha alegrado mucho ver que haya realizado un video tan simple mostrando una realidad que ha de mover hasta a el mas duro de corazón. Hace muchos años que no visito Guatemala y este video me hizo recordar de su gente bella y las tantas otras razones para ir a visitar de nuevo.
    Muchas bendiciones y espero que continue con su trabajo,
    Laura Alvarez

  36. This was a thought provoking film, unfortunately my mind is malfunctioning. So, several thoughts occured to me

    1: I need a red pig
    2: I need a monkey who can ride the red pig, I bet they’d get along
    3: I wonder if a monkey could shoot a crossbow
    4: they could go on a cross country adventure, a bit like that old Disney flick ‘The Incredible Journey’ , but with a touch of Mad Max
    5: This would make a cool film

  37. To All:
    Thanks for watching! I know this piece was very personal for Xeni, and really for all of us. It truly means a lot to read your discussion. We’ll be sure to pass the good word on to Wendy and everyone else at the peublo.

    Stay tuned for more!

    Derek Bledsoe
    Segment Producer, BBtv

  38. Hey Xeni. I really liked the video.
    Besides the tortilla, do they prepare beer with the corn?
    About self sustained development, in one word: the most important thing is basic education (school), the rest comes along.

  39. #51 L Alvarez bablefished:

    Very many thanks to the Xenu young lady by this so stirring video. It has cheered much to me to see that it has realised a so simple video showing a reality that is to move until a but it last of heart. Many years ago that I do not visit Guatemala and this video made me remember of its beautiful people and the so many other reasons to go to visit again. Many blessings and I hope that continues with its work, Laura Alvarez

  40. Thanks for weighing in, everyone!

    @#33 hodgestar, ah, I can see what you’re saying. So, specifically: Benin, Togo, Nigeria, and Ghana. Four West African nations. Those are the countries we have footage from, those are the countries we have episodes possibly planned for within the coming weeks. I was writing my comment in haste, and didn’t mean to commit the common, ignorant sin of “Africa = one homogenous nation.”

    @#30 martha_macarthur, hah! :-) I bet he’d be tasty, too. JOKING.

    @#31 arkizzle, @#35 ninnyfriedcheez — that’s really interesting feedback. OK, so maybe we will try to do somewhat longer blog posts to accompany these episodes, to provide more context. Longer than regular BBtv blog posts.

    @TNH — you are right about the stone metates. I’ve spent time with families who still use these, and it’s worse. As you mentioned, also hard on the teeth because of stone grit in the meal. Daily life here is just a hell of a lot of hard hard work.

    @TNH — wow, I did not know the other meaning of the word “marrano.” I will say that when my spanish was even crappier than it is now, I once called a pig a “coche” in Guatemala (that’s a regional slang word for pig in some other countries, cochinita, cochina, coche for short) — and someone asked why i wanted a car. Coche means car in Guate, pig elsewhere. It was funny at the time.

    @#47 HeroicUnderstatement thank you very much!

    We really appreciate all of the ideas, criticism, and feedback everyone. So grateful. :)

  41. @Takuan:

    if nothing else came of this thread, imagine if someone sent enough money or sheet metal to put a cage over that belt and flywheel?

    Thanks for bringing that up. How DO we offer donations of the monetary or sheet-metal variety to these folks? That’s the first thing I thought when I saw the video; people are going to want to help, offer gifts, to these hardworking people. What’s the most efficient way to do so?

  42. @#54 cbarreto, I am not aware of corn being used for this purpose in this community at this time.

    Alcohol is a whole separate topic… bottles of rotgut white rum are readily available and affordable in the little market in the center of the pueblo, and alcoholism is a huge problem there which claims many many lives… but affordable antibiotics and safe drinking water are not readily obtained.

    So, yeah, no need to homebrew the stuff.

  43. @#51 L_Alvarez,

    Le agradezco mucho por sus palabras; nos dan mucho honor y orgullo.

    Ojala que los videos que vamos a producir en las semanas que viene — de Guate pero tambien de otras partes del mundo — les brindan un conocimiento de cada lugar, de la gente, y de la vida tradicional en cada lugar.

    Si, vamos a seguir. Y vamos a explorar todo que es posible. Con mucho corazon, mal’tyox.


  44. @#56 Tavie and others who wish to help:

    I spoke at length with the directors of the nonprofit referenced in this video (I am part of that organization, too); the decision from the pueblo was to just give this a little time, then share more details on the place, the people, and the specific ways people can help.

    When Boing Boing points traffic and attention at something fragile like this, something in a relatively young developmental stage, the flood of attention — well-meaning though it may be — can be too much all at once. It is important that the structure of the organization be solid, and ready to handle an influx of donations from foreigners, or offers of volunteer help, before we shine a nuclear-powered floodlight in that direction.

    For now, the intent is just to tell their story honestly and with respect. There is much gratitude and respect for your response, and I will personally relay these comments (translated to Spanish) to the families, the elders, and the young people whose stories are told here. I’m emailing the pueblo tonight. :)

  45. #58 babel mutilated
    I thank for much to him by its words; they give to much honor and pride us. Hopefully that the videos that we are going to produce in the weeks that come — of Guate but also of other parts of the world — they offer a knowledge them of each place, people, and the traditional life in each place. If, we are going to follow. And we are going to explore everything that is possible. By far heart, mal’ tyox.

  46. @#61 Antinous, that’s gonna require a 6-unicorn chaser in my head now. THANKS. a head which has its scalp intact i might add.

  47. @#57 xeni, question arouse because around here natives prepare the kãguy from corn, manioc or sweet potatoes.

    I guess here is some info.

    Besides, it would be interesting to know if there are links between native languages in Central America and South America.

    BTW, alcohol, cocaine and lack of schools are dooming the future of South American native populations.

  48. @ Xeni, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for all you’ve done and are doing.

    @ Antinous, I’ve had some close calls in jacuzzi tubs, but your story is pretty much guaranteeing I will never: 1) visit a farm 2) go outside again without piling this massive mane on top of my head and locking it down with millions of hairpins.

    So, thanks…

    Fetal-position time.

  49. @#64 cbarreto, ah wow, thank you for your comment! Really fascinating food for thought. I take it you are in brasil… we also have some episodes planned from there (shot by other people, not by me).

    BTW, alcohol, cocaine and lack of schools are dooming the future of South American native populations.

    Wow. [nods]. I believe it.

  50. FYI and for what it’s worth – I will be avoiding any BB/Microsoft content, and (with this one exception) the comment threads attached. No hatin’, just statin’.

  51. I often site the word “pig” as an example of the need to have cultural reference when translating al español. e.g. cochino, puerco, marano, cerdo…

    @#10 Easy way to get “south of the border”, Get falsely deported!
    Step 1. Be Brown.
    Step 2. Live in a border town. (close enough and they’ll do “catch and release”)
    Step 3. Work in construction/gardening/restaurant
    Step 4. Forget wallet/ID the same day la Migra raids your work.
    Step 5. Exorcise your 5th amendment right to not speak (English).
    Step 6. Tequila weekend!!!!!

  52. @#68 Eustace, suit yourself, you’ll be missing good stuff, and Microsoft isn’t placing restrictions on what we do here.

    The BBtv World video series will continue as an ongoing feature beyond the term of their immediate sponsorship, with other sponsors to follow, and we intend for it to be something that makes everyone proud.

    @everyone, I forgot to add this before, but just amdended the post to point out that…

    …some of the footage used in this episode was shot on micro-mini digital camcorders donated for review purposes by Pure Digital Inc. (the Flip camcorder) and RCA (RCA Small Wonder).

    This is no egregious product placement, we were really wondering how small, cheap video devices might make it easier to tell small, intimate stories — and make it easier for us to put the storytelling in the hands of the people in each place. More on this in future episodes and posts…

    1. Would this be a good time to call dibs on India and Tibet in case you need a gofer? Also, I can haz Bhutan?

  53. Xeni @55, I’ve run afoul of regional Spanish. NYC is good for that. My favorite was the time a guy from the local livery car service tried to tell me something about my car battery while we were jump-starting my engine. I kept a straight face while I wondered why he was telling me my battery was an asshole.

    About an hour later, my personal lightbulb went on: sucio. He meant my battery leads needed cleaning. When we were first in NYC, our neighborhood had been full of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. I’d heard the first-cited sense of the word rather oftener than the second.

  54. I like the potential of this kind of program and its documentary of what’s going on in remote places, and Xeni is a charming host.
    The Microsoft sponsorship doesn’t destroy the principle of what this show is able to do, and in that same sense, if Microsoft truly has anyone cool or with integrity working for them, it isn’t a bad thing. And I thought Xeno’s comment was that of a narrowminded tard with crossed wires, that if he ever was an evil terrorist his operating cell (not the brain cell) wouldn’t tell him where to run and instead roll him out a van with street meat tied to his chest in the parking lot of back to the future. hahaha
    I rant about that comment of his because maybe one day penetrating the most evil of all megalomaniacal zaibatsu power conglomerates will be honest people working hard and with integrity, and having an open mind, to the benefit of people filmed in conditions like this, and other interesting places.
    Great short story Xeni! Cute pig, cute kids, scary machine.

  55. Excellent video storytelling. Makes CBS/NBC/ABC look like imbeciles. If this were on network TV news, I’d watch it. It’s absurd that with all their resources, their foreign video stories are so lame. I’m impressed with the little Flip camera too. We gave one to a coworker as a wedding present and she took it to Costa Rica on her honeymoon and she loves it.

  56. Felicitaciones Xeni por este excelente trabajo!
    Este video me inspira a hacer algo parecido en la ciudad en donde vivo que es Cordoba, Argentina.

    Yo tengo una camara digital Sony pero estoy pensando seriamente en comprar una Flip despues de ver este video.

    Me gusto mucho el lado humano que logras transmitir en el video. Exitos en tus proximos proyectos!

  57. lazy-fish
    Xeni congratulations by this excellent work! This video inspires to me to do something similar in the city where alive that is Cordoba, Argentina. I have a digital chamber Sony but I am thinking seriously about buying a Flip after seeing this video. I like much the human side that you manage to transmit in the video. Successes in your next projects!

  58. Wow, this brought back some memories of Peace Corps Guatemala where I spent a couple of years in the mid-90s sweating and sucking wind in the hot yukky coastal part. Those handmade tortillas rocked my world.

    Glad to see your comment about including more voices of the people in future installments. It made me sad to hear almost everything those sweet little girls said coming out as words put into their mouths (but I also know how shy they can be). I will look forward to more…

  59. Kudos upon kudos for this.

    Regarding the complaints about Microsoft sponsorship, I’ll say the reasons to accept their money and use it for good are valid. But what about BoingBoing setting up a “tip jar” so people who complain can put their money where their trolling mouths are.

  60. Great video, Xeni. I’d just suggest that there’s relevant context missing from the video. You mention that these are indigenous Mayans internally displaced by the Guatemalan civil war. Might be more accurate to say that they, as indigenous highlanders, were targets of a genocidal “scorched earth” policy that wiped out nearly 200,000 villagers in the 1980s. Given that there’s a large US audience for this site, it’s especially relevant that the violent campaign was materially and politically supported by the United States. Reagan called Rios Montt, one of the chief perpetrators of the genocide, “a man of great personal integrity and commitment.” To date, neither Montt nor his backers have been held accountable for their crimes while Mayan communities are still struggling to recover from the violence, as the video indicates. We in the US have a direct connection to the enduring poverty and lawlessness in Guatemala.

  61. @#81 ANSEL, you are absolutely correct. +1 to all of that, and most of all — the last line of your comment. I hope to explore more of this in future episodes.

  62. Xeni, about the episode – it’s good that you understand that brevity is the soul of more than wit. That was a story about so much more than corn.

    (FYI, for those not in the know, pigs are at least as smart as dogs, and some are as friendly)

  63. Here are some things I thought about while watching this video:

    1. Sometimes I feel like Boing Boing’s constant stream of interesting but trivial novelty is more sedative than anything, like it’s distracting me from more important stuff. That’s not a flaw, nor anything I’d want “fixed”; it’s inherent in both the format and the medium, from which the editorial decisions flow, and mostly prompts me to just get offline more often. Unless I wanna be sedated.

    This video is a taste of something much more human and local and direct, and less the detritus of the machine that we otherwise happily consume here.

    I hope that makes sense, and is taken as it’s intended. Do more of this; I want your faces doing more than buying comic books or attending LA gallery openings or contributing to some strange dramatic sub-genre of fake European accents. :)

    2. As Theresa points out, the grinding-machine replaces what were quite literally Stone Age tools. The “danger” that this technological advance presents is easy to identify from here, but in that context it’s utterly normal — so normal, and sufficiently useful and labor-modulating, that it’s not identified as a threat.

    There’s a lot to think about there, if we look around at ourselves, or pretend that we’re in a position to objectively analyze our own set of potentially-dangerous advancements. What will the future think about the automobile, for example?

    And I didn’t intend this to resonate with (1), but it kinda does, huh?

    3. Fresh tortillas, right off the griddle and made by experienced hands from freshly-ground corn, are amazing, amazing, amazing. If you’ve only had them out of a plastic packet from your grocer’s refrigerator case, you’re missing out — like Maxwell House drinkers are missing out on freshly-roasted, freshly-ground coffee beans.

    We didn’t get to see what they put into those tortillas. Maybe some of that adorable little pig, slowly roasted in its own drippings. Or some homegrown beans, cooked in a communal pot. Nom nom nom.

    4. “Wendy”? Ok, fine. Wendy. She’s totally disarming, in any case. I can see why you go back, Xeni — why you’re clearly enchanted by some incredible human beings in striking circumstances. No romance: just folks.

    5. The music behind the end-credits doesn’t seem to be attributed. But it’s good stuff! Central American folk music has sorrow and soul. Let’s hear more.

  64. Eustace,

    I’ve been considering your comment. I would appreciate it if you would go over to the Moderation Thread and explain it fully. I value your opinion and it would probably be an interesting discussion, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to get into it here.

  65. Eustace, I would second Antin’s request. I’m a bit interested because the first of the couple times I’ve been (lightly, but deserved, I was a bit rude) scolded by Teresa was in a previous donnybrook about Microsoft sponsorship. (I’ve yet to be disemvowelled, knock wood). I don’t really have a strong opinion about it, but I’m interested in hearing what people have to say about it.

  66. Sorry, that above was poorly worded, but I hope my drift was caught.

    Just wanted to add my kudos on the video and the whole idea of the BBtv World.

  67. Great episode. I’m excited to see more. I loved how it was from a real perspective of the kid’s lives and Xeni’s honest dialog with them. Don’t see much of that in the MSM, if ever. I hope this kind of coverage inspires more people to reach out and help.

  68. Could someone write a re-emvowelling plugin? Something like the old ROT13 translators? Some of the longer passages take more effort than they’re worth to read, but the replies don’t make much sense unless you know what they’re replying to.

  69. @#55 Xeni, Woot on Benin, Togo, Nigeria, and Ghana. As someone who lives far too the south, these are countries I know very little about. Looking forward to the later episodes. :)

  70. Xeni @ 22

    Thanks for taking a moment to shine a little more light on the adoption situation in Guate beyond the passing and awkward reference in this great episode of BBtv.

    Our family has a great love for Guate and her people. My wife recently returned from a medical mission in K’iche villages surrounding Mazatenango, and we have both spent time serving in orphanages in and around Guatemala City.

    It is difficult to learn that Guatemalan families could adopt these children for free but do not because of the impenetrable caste system there — while there are families in the U.S. willingly paying tens of thousands of dollars to give these children a family, thus the opportunity for corruption and exploitation.

    In some of the larger Catholic-run orphanages I served in, there is no attempt to find these children families because of the widespread belief you site in the episode — that white people adopt the children to steal their organs, As absurd as that sounds, it’s very real. And at 15 the kids can no longer legally be in the orphanges…

    On the other side, private orphanages (there is no state run social services system in Guate — no state orphanages or foster care, only private or church run) have been decimated because the entire adoption infrastructure was shut down last year due to the comparatively few cases of corruption and the efforts of UNICEF. Both the US and Guate also became parties to the Hague treaty on Inter-country adoption and the new process has not yet been formalized or implemented in Guatemala. Which means, with no adoption fees coming in, the private orphanages are drastically downsizing or closing. And where do the orphans go?

    The poverty Xeni describes is very real, and the opportunities for a better life are slow in coming. In a perfect world, these children would all have loving families who would raise them in their native culture — but as other commenters have pointed out, the Mayan people have suffered greatly at the hands of the government in Guate. Put them on a postcard to attract tourists, but then take their land and kill them. (Hmm… sounds vaguely familiar)

    The difficulty with adoptions in Guatemala (and any other poor nation — for example, the hundreds of thousands of children orphaned by AIDS in Ethiopia) is the balance between those who are being exploited and the children who really do need families.

    Sorry for the long and rambling post but the plight of orphans in Guate is a complicated thing, much deeper than a passing reference to the arguably-valid cultural fear of gringos kidnapping babies. There are loving families desperate to give a child a home, and there is the corruption of money and government.

    For more, you could check out,, and

  71. I was moved by the video. I didn’t see the danger in the corn mill, I saw the benefit. (I now see the danger)

    I had some knowledge of the fear of gringos kidnapping children, but not to the extent that many children would go running away at the site of a gringo/a. I still did not get this until reading the post.

    But, I also had some reservations on the sponsorship. MS? Isn’t there some other company? I would think with all BB’s connections to tech and innovation that the funding could come from somewhere else. BB’s readers?

    Kind’a curious how much did the MS add cost? Was it tens or hundreds of $K?

    Please introspect on self censorship. The sideways reference to the kidnapping fear might have been more direct if it weren’t for the sponsorship, might it not? It is really interesting and could be an aid for solving a problem that sending money and metal covers wold not cure.

    I come to BB for it’s unique unconventional and what appears generally to be independent minded prospective. MS does not appear to fit with my understanding of that prospective.

    Consider cutting cost and finding different sources of funding.

    Xeni you have a world wide audience and a unique personal appeal. Don’t dilute it if you don’t have to.

  72. Enough about MS already. It is distracting from the content which is vital.

    If you don’t like MS then get out your holier than thou embossed checks and start paying out or keep it to yourself, I mean really it’s not like they got Nestle, Monsanto or Haliburton for a sponsor.

    I say take their money and make great uncensored content.

    Viva la revolución!

  73. koolkev,

    Seriously. When you’ve set up a production company to travel worldwide and produce videos like these, tell us how you funded it. Really. We’re itching to know.

  74. Koolkev! step away from the Koolaid.

    The sideways reference to the kidnapping fear might have been more direct if it weren’t for the sponsorship, might it not?

    Commenter, please. No, the sponsor didn’t influence this. Despite rampant, primitive gringo superstitions, Microsoft neither sells nor eats babies, so this piece did not run contrary to their business interests.

    Look, this is a short form video piece, and the focus was on another story, and this was a tangential reference to help provide context. I do plan to revisit the adoption dilemma in detail. This was an editorial decision, you can’t tell the entire history of a people in 5 minutes.

    Consider cutting cost and finding different sources of funding.

    Dude have you seen what’s in our fridge? Or the state of our chairs? This isn’t 1999, we’re not editing these on gajillion dollar AVID bays, and the only lines of coke in our office are assembled from crushed diet coca cola cans, when we get bored and our OCD comes out.

    This is a lean, mean, indie operation, and we produce what we do for as little as we can, so we have maximum freedom (and we do have maximum freedom, it’s pretty awesome).

    Xeni you have a world wide audience and a unique personal appeal. Don’t dilute it if you don’t have to.

    Hey, look, thanks for the kind words, and I really am glad you enjoyed the piece. But nothing here has been diluted. All is well in the state of Boingdom.

  75. advertising at the MS level works by sustaining the total, ubiquitous brand. Every frigging time someone raises the advertising “question”, they do MS advertising work. Want to minimize it? STOP TALKING ABOUT IT! Produce alternatives if you want to replace it. Awareness has been sufficiently raised, we are not idiots. Send sponsors or send money.

  76. Antonius, you imply that depending on the funding (and therefore the demands) of massive corporations is the only realistic way to accomplish a project like this.

    Essentially, you suggest that massive corporations are the only entity which can accomplish social justice media projects like this. That’s a very depressing claim, and fortunately it’s not true. There are non-commercial sources to draw resources from. They’re usually harder, but result in more independence and empowerment on the part of the people participating. After all, the people working on this project may have put in some labor, but it’s obvious that the corporate sponsors are the muscle behind the project – as you suggest, it wouldn’t have happened without them.

    This is disempowering – the idea that we need the support of the Microsofts of the world to do grassroots media-making. And each independent blogger that uses the Microsoft model for their project perpetuates that sense of disempowerment.

    Look at Democracy Now, Free Speech TV, or better yet, Indymedia. Indymedia launches projects which empower local people to take control of their own media making without a single dollar from a transnational corporation. The experience of setting up an effective project independently, without a big corporate grant helps communities realize their power to establish other local projects. They’re not left waiting, hoping that their sponsors decide to kick down again.

    And Indymedia projects are viral, because they don’t require a grant to get started. They organize the resources that already exist in the local community. Other communities see that and realize that there’s nothing stopping them from doing the same, instead of looking on and wishing they had their own American sugar-daddy.

    Using corporate sponsors to do this kind of project isn’t really helping in the long term, because it’s just an expensive simulation of real grassroots organizing that makes the real organizing even harder to do.

  77. No, Zikzak,

    I claim Put Up or Shut Up. That’s a radically different claim. Anyone who wants to do the leg work to figure out a different way to fund these would be embraced with open arms. Suggesting that Xeni should spend the time that she uses to make the films to track down funding options is just useless complaining.

    Nobody wants to sow the wheat.
    Nobody wants to harvest the wheat.
    Nobody wants to grind the wheat.
    Everybody wants to eat the bread.

    (Except those of us who never touch carbs, of course.)

  78. In light of all discussion, I propose that the concerned readers disenfranchised with BBtv World’s Mcrwsft sponsorship launch a public funding campaign. Perhaps BBtv should begin bugging readers for monetary sponsorship…

    Until such time, would you rather pieces like this make it to air? Or not.

    We’d rather air them and the dominating comments within this thread are the exemplification of exactly why- the dissemination of indigenous knowledge with the hopes of inspiring discourse and action.

    We don’t allow sponsors to have ANY editorial oversight- which having been in the business a bit, I can promise you is a rarity. If you’d like to have a separate discussion on the merit of corporate sponsorship, I think that’s a very worthy topic. However, lets not detract attention from what really matters in this piece.

    Ever grateful,

    Derek Bledsoe
    Segment Producer, BBtv

  79. I’m pretty sure #60 referenced this, but can anyone point me to a post with suggestions on how to start getting involved with non-profits? I don’t have specific causes or specific regions of the world…I’ll be out of college in less than a year and I want to get out there and see what kinds of stuff I could be doing.

    Thank you, Xeni, for the interesting (but short!) documentary. When I visited my family in Guadalajara, I remember seeing one of these machines and being amazed my young cousins could run the huge thing! There’s nothing like freshly made tortillas either. Thanks for the memories! Just in time for lunch…

  80. Part of my comment was in a round about way of knowing how much put up was required.

    Jardan out of the Kool-aid.

    The plastic coffee story that was recently posted is kinda funny. What is wrong with fox advertising?

    Fox doesn’t appear to be against commercialism. But BB makes fun/ridicules commercialism of a commercial enterprise and yet ridicules (ad hominem attacks(away from the Kool-aid=crazy)) someone for suggesting that BB look at the commercialism that BB supports.

    How much money do you need to get to Guatemala and film a girl doing what she and hundreds of thousands of people do every day? (with free cameras?)

    I’mean really how much. I’d do a few bucks but I don’t have stacks.

    1. koolkev,

      You’re being a bit of a nuisance. These Guatemalan girls are grinding corn on a machine that might rip their scalps off and you’re tripping on who pays for the video. Go start your own blog, produce your own segments and fund them however you want. If you have any comments about the content of the video, we’d love to hear them. Otherwise, put a sock in it.

  81. Well Microsoft has contributed to a lot of worthy causes lately. Does that mean their products are not made from the bones of tortured souls, not really? But when people do good things its important to champion them as much as we decry their evil corporate soul suckiness. So congrats Microsoft for doing something good. And I hope you continue to do good things. People and companies can be more than one thing *Sheesh*

  82. Xeni, just wanted to say that your Spanish rocks! It was also very weird to hear you switching from Spanish to English throughout the video, it’s interesting how a person’s voice can be so altered when they speak another language.

    Anyway, great video, all the Guatemala posts have piqued my interest, since I really don’t know very much about life there, which is bad considering Mexico (my country) only borders two other countries besides Guatemala.

    From what I’ve seen (mostly from BoingBoing) it is very similar to many parts of Mexico (the south the most, obviously), and I know of many places in Mexico which are very similar to this one.

  83. KoolKev, I’m 99% sure I know who you are.

    You’re going to stop harassing Xeni now.

  84. Lvly vd. Bt lstn.

    t’s vry nc f Mcrsft t stmp p th csh fr ths nd gv y cmplt fr rn t mk th pc ll y wntd t t b. Tht’s gt t b rlly nc nvrnmnt t b wrkng n.

    Bt ppl r rsng thr cncrns fr rsn. Thy knw wh y’r dlng wth. f y mk dl wth Mcrsft, snr r ltr, y wll lwys, LWYS gt scrwd. Thr cstmrs, thr mplys, thr bsnss prtnrs, ll cp t n th nd, t tm f Mcrsft’s chsng.

    t mght b ll rss n th grdn nw, bt b vry crfl.

    1. Apparently some commenters are having a difficult time understanding that this thread is not about Microsoft. Comments on the video: welcome. Comments on Microsoft: vowelless.

  85. @#105 ValledeBravo, pues gracias hombre! That’s super cool. My spanish actually sucks but I try. I get frustrated when i can’t say exactly what’s in my head, so things tend to come out simpler. Anyway, very kind words, and I am super glad you found the video worth your time.

  86. Officials in Guatemala say they have the first irrefutable evidence that a child was stolen and put up for adoption in the state system.

    BBC article

  87. Hey Antinous, thanks for posting that. This type of crime is not uncommon, from what human rights workers there have told me during previous visits to the country.

    I met and interviewed this one young woman — maybe 19? 20? — who was at this women’s shelter in Guatemala City, getting help to deal with the police… her baby had been stolen from her in the street just days before I met her, she was in shock, it was indescribably sad. Doubly so because the criminal justice system in Guatemala is heavy on the “criminal,” and, ah, pretty lightweight on the “justice” part.

    The presumption by those helping her (with good reason) is that the child would be sold by middlemen into the *very* loosely regulated and easily exploited adoption system.

    Some of the people I interviewed referred to black market adoption as “Guatemala’s most lucrative cash crop,” next to the drug trade.

    I’ve heard anecdotal stories that sound very very similar to the BBC article, too.

    The link between the corrupt underbelly of the adoption system there and organized crime — which is in turn linked to the leftovers of the death squads, and rampant narcotrafficking — is direct.

    Again thanks for posting this, I hadn’t seen.

  88. I knew a woman once. Perhaps thirty years ago? She was bright and blond and smiles and light and I didn’t realize for perhaps a year that she was quite deaf. I remember her presence at the mutual friends we crossed paths at as a perpetual smile – only later did I interpret it as the happiness learned overcoming tribulation beyond my experience.
    She once had me and friend help her move her possessions from a marriage gone bad, the first time I ever saw a hint of sorrow and strain cross her face. One day we learned she had adopted a baby girl. A solemn toddler with a wise Mayan face. It had been no easy path for her since even then the obstacles for a single, deaf woman taking on a Guatemalan child with birth defects were formidable and many. I remember her happiness at her motherhood and her determined spirit to shower the love she so desperately felt.
    The corrective surgery was booked in a fine western hospital, every care taken.
    She never came out of the anesthesia.

    There are two ends to every tale. These children should not be stolen. But the human power that drives the diaspora of orphan children is not rooted in pure evil either.

  89. And: What is most telling about this article is that it’s presented by the Guatemalan govt as the “first irrefutable evidence.”

    Part of that is the rampant corruption and systemic impunity; but part is that until recently, there were no DNA lab facilities in the country. Any DNA testing had to be sent out of the country…

    Science doesn’t lie. At least, not as easily as people do. This, to me, is a fascinating example of how technology can aid in a complicated real-world problem.

  90. @#117 Takuan and others who’ve posted here about that side of the adoption story — nothing I’ve said in this thread should be interpreted as an attack on the positive intentions of individual people who adopt in good faith.

    This is a very sensitive topic. But a condemnation of the corruption in this system does not equal a condemnation of good-hearted people who want to help kids who need homes.

  91. It’s late, but UK Health and safety has a hierarchy of remedies to risk, something like this, I’m remembering from a course a few years back, I need to refresh.

    1. Remove the Job that causes the risk. –
    Obviously not possible to stop the lasses from having to grind the corn.

    2. Separate the person from the risk – A guard would be good, but obviously material and cost comes into play here. Do it when you get the money. White line the danger areas and tell them that it is do not cross. Keep them away from the spinning belts etc.

    3. Introduce a method statement as to how the job must be done. – Any lass that goes to grind corn, Must tie her hair up out of the way. She must go in company, All corn grinding lasses must know how to stop the motor (kill Switch/off button) in the event of an accident. All lasses must keep out of the marked danger areas.

    It goes something like that.

    OK I’ve used the tools I’ve been taught to use to handle risk of accident in the workplace. Tools to make things safer. Maybe next time Xeni pops down or contacts the people down their she could suggest that the lasses tie their hair back. Something so simple could help prevent harm.

    At the risk of being Disemvowled…

    I don’t see a problem with obtaining money from Big business for something good and useful. Every time I go to work, nasty big business is paying me. (Evil Nation Live Nation being one of the worst) On many of the festivals I work there is sponsorship I don’t like. Some of my pay comes from that sponsorship. Fine, it’s going to a worthy cause; food in my belly; a roof over my head and the ability to buy GOOD beer (Fuck off Budweiser and Carling)

    What I would like say to ‘The Entity Known As’ BoingBoing is beware. Beware that you’re not being used as a catspaw by nasty big business and you don’t get subverted or compromised. This maybe because I have a jaundiced view of the imInitiative because of reading an admittedly probably snarky article on The Register about it.

    Having said that.

    Fuck ’em, take their money, show us the parts of the world we’ll never get to visit and try and make stuff a bit better there with nasty big business’s money.

  92. @ ntns:
    <> clm Pt p r Sht p. Tht’s rdclly dffrnt clm. nyn wh wnts t d th lg wrk t fgr t dffrnt wy t fnd ths wld b mbrcd wth pn rms.

    Tht srprss m, bcs ffrd sm cnstrctv xmpls f mdls whch hlp nbl grssrts md-mkng wtht th nhrnt lmttns ssctd wth cmmrcl grnts. nd vn bthrd t try t xpln th rsns thy wr s mch mr ffctv thn crprt spnsrd nttvs. Bt dn’t fl prtclrly mbrcd. t’s tr thgh, tht ‘m nt th n dng th lgwrk, jst ffrng dvc. Th ld trck f “y cn’t crtcz nlss y’r dng ll th wrk” s knd f trd, thgh. Ys, BngBng dsn’t /hv/ t lstn t m, bt t mght stll b gd d.

    <>Sggstng tht Xn shld spnd th tm tht sh ss t mk th flms t trck dwn fndng ptns s jst slss cmplnng.

    dn’t thnk t’s slss, s pntd t bv gv lt f pstv ds fr hw t b mr ffctv. nd wld cll t mr “crtczng” rthr thn cmplnng, bt tht’s jst wrd gms.

    <>Nbdy wnts t sw th wht.
    Nbdy wnts t hrvst th wht.
    Nbdy wnts t grnd th wht.
    vrybdy wnts t t th brd.

    ctlly, d lt f swng, hrvstng, nd grndng (s t wr) f ltrntv md prjcts. nd s d lt f thr ppl. Th ns wrk n r nn-cmmrcl, nd rntd twrds ndpndnt sstnblty – tht s, nsrng tht, n th lng trm, jrnlsm sn’t dpndnt n th fndng f cmmrcl ntrsts. S cn tll y frsthnd, thr r prjcts t thr whch r dng ths knd f wrk n mr prncpld, lngtrm-mndd wy, t’s nt “BBtv’s wy r th hghwy”. nd f th qlfctn fr cmmntng n flwd nlyss f grssrts md mpwrmnt s “dng tht knd f wrk nslf”, ‘m dfntly qlfd. vn, drsy, mr thn y.

    Bttm ln, thnk vryn grs tht hvng ndpndnt, cmmnty-gnrtd md s mprtnt. t’s jst tht th dfntn f ndpndnt s dffrnt fr dffrnt ppl. BBtv fls tht t cn b bnkrlld by trnsntnl nd stll b ndpndnt. nd whl ‘m sr t’d b mpssbl t lk t n dcsn nd sy “vl Crp md y d tht!”, thr s dfnt clmt f dpndnc crtd bth wthn prjct nd mr gnrlly, mng ppl ntrstd n dng grssrts md, whn bsnss mny s nvlvd.

    Bsnsss dpnd n ppl flng tht thr gnrsty nd frtn s wht’s kpng cmmnty prjcts gng – tht wht’s gd fr th bsnss s thrfr gd fr scty. s thy sy “f y kpt th smll rls, y cld brk th bg ns”. t’s tm t stp hlpng thm fllw th smll rls, bcs th bnfts t s r wrthlss cmprd t th pwr t gvs thm t brk scty’s bg rls.

  93. zikzak,

    Apparently you didn’t take my comment at #113 seriously. You may have worthwhile things to say, but you’re saying them in the wrong place.

  94. Gotta agree with Antinous there Zik, others less honest than you have tried to occlude an important story, now it’s tougher for you, me and everyone else. This thread SHOULD be about Guatemala first and foremost.

  95. Xeni,

    Thanks for this. Every time you visit Guatemala, I get homesick for southern Baja.

    Keep up the good work.


  96. Cha0tic @121: El Reg doesn’t like Boing Boing. We don’t know why.

    The Boingers avoid corruption via a few simple expedients: this isn’t their only gig; they’re lucky enough to have a constant stream of ads, so they aren’t tempted to play to specific advertisers; and (this is the big one) they can’t remember who most of their advertisers are.

  97. Xeni,

    Extraordinary work. I just wanted to say what an inspiration you and the BBtv crew have been to us here at SuperForest.

    I run a sustainable living blog in NYC, and every time I see one of your videos, whether you’re playing a building with David Byrne or drifting weightless with Buzz Aldrin, or lovingly caressing the nose cone of White Night 2, all I can think is: God, I wish I was there.

    The quality of your curiosity is unmatched.

    Yours in admiration,

    Jackson @ superforestnyc

  98. Wow! fascinating work. I’m amazed that in a country not to far from mine, people struggle so hard to survive.

    I’m also moved to see Xeni does this kind of work, people in need doesn’t need just money. They need helping hands, new ideas and good will.

    As for the microsoft flaming how come nobody talks about the weapon making enterprises?

Comments are closed.