Reggae for relief efforts |

Reggae for relief efforts

Alisha Self, Of the Record staff

Sofia Mileti poured her heart and soul into starting her own restaurant in Jaibalito, a tiny village located on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. When she sold it to her mother, Carmen, and moved to Park City last August, she knew it would be in good hands.

What she didn’t know is that an unfortunate series of events would wreak havoc on the village and its inhabitants in her absence.

Mileti, who handles booking and promotions for Mountain Town Music, split her childhood between Park City and Guatemala City. Her parents owned Mileti’s Restaurant on Main Street for 28 years before selling the building that now houses Bistro 412. They have since permanently returned to Guatemala, her mother’s homeland.

Mileti moved to Jaibalito, which has a population of about 600 people, in 2006 and opened Club Ven Aca, where she served as head chef before relocating to Park City.

Three weeks ago, Mileti found out that Guatemala City and surrounding areas, including Jaibalito, was at the center of devastation caused by an eruption of the Pacaya volcano followed by the first tropical storm of the season, Agatha.

On May 28, the region was covered in a thick layer of ash from a particularly detrimental eruption from Pacaya, which is an active volcano. The next day, the same area was doused in torrential rains, resulting in floods, sinkholes, landslides and clogged septic systems.

Coverage of the disaster in the U.S. has been overshadowed by the focus on the oil spill in the Gulf, Mileti says. Many people aren’t aware of what has happened despite its widespread devastation and death toll.

Hundreds of Guatemalans lost their homes and businesses. CNN estimates that more than 150 people in Guatemala, plus dozens in Honduras and El Salvador, were killed by the double natural disaster. "It’s just a giant mess," Mileti says. "Metaphorically speaking, when it rains, it pours."

Mileti’s restaurant and her parents’ homes were spared from irreparable damage. However, her grandfather’s home, which was located on Lake Atitlan in a town called San Antonio, was completely washed out by a mudslide. "When you look at pictures of where his home used to be, it just looks like a mountainside," she explains.

Jaibalito and other villages in Guatemala have been declared unlivable by the government and the army tried to force inhabitants to evacuate at gunpoint. Many people in Jaibalito refused to leave and are currently living outdoors or in makeshift shelters as they attempt to regroup and rebuild.

Since the government does not support people staying in the impacted villages, it is not procuring funds for relief efforts. "Basically the people who are rebuilding the town right now are the natives, the villagers and the business owners," Mileti explains.

Mileti’s parents are among those who have decided to stay. They have hired an engineer to divert the river near their homes and to build retaining walls to keep floodwaters out.

Mileti was on her way back from the Desert Rocks Music Festival in Moab when she found out about the disaster. When she heard the news, she called Elisa James, the lead singer of Salt Lake City-based band Afro Omega, who is also of Guatemalan descent and has family living in Guatemala City.

Since they knew they wouldn’t be able to reach their families due to mudslides covering the roads, they had to resist the urge to get on a plane. "I felt so helpless," Mileti says. "It’s just sad that I can’t be there right now. It’s really draining to me."

The two women have organized a Dancehall Party Benefit at The Sidecar tonight, June 19, to raise money to support relief efforts. The event will feature music by Afro Omega, Blended Rootz and DJ Knuckles. Doors open at 9 p.m. for ages 21 and older and admission is a suggested $5 donation. The Sidecar is located on the second floor of the Main Street Mall.

Proceeds from the event will go toward rebuilding Jaibalito and Guatemala City.

For more information about the event, search "Dancehall Party to Benefit the Victims of Tropical Storm Agatha" on Facebook.

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