I try to remember what life was like before Guatemala, the bliss of
ignorance allowing me to feel that I was somehow living in a better
time. Scott and I were happily skipping through our D.I.N.K.
life (double-income, no kids) enjoying the finer things - travel,
dinner out with friends, weekends on the coast, drinks at happy hour
- unaware of so much of the world around us. Before coming
to Guatemala, I had never been exposed to the harsh realities of
poverty, the injustices suffered for the sake of human rights, and
the struggles of third world countries. It never really
occurred to me that there were countries that actually wanted to
people down - uneducated and therefore, manipulated.
had no idea what we were in for!
Recently, I was struck with such utter
sadness as we watched "Romero", the story of the martyrdom
of Archbishop Romero in his struggle to stop the violence in El
Salvador. Before now, I would have thought the movie, though
based in reality, had been sensationalized to accentuate the
horror. After reading and hearing personal stories about Guatemala's history, I
realize not only is it true, but that there are 1000's of other
stories like it.
Two days ago, we went to Centro
Maya, our rockin' language school and were chatting with
Tito. As with many Mayans, once you get to know them, they
often have more stories to tell than you have the time or the capacity
to take in. We were telling him about our struggles
with Spanish as well as our small victories. We were enjoying
sitting on the couches, a rare treat in our lives these days, and
soaking in the sunshine on their patio during break. We
mentioned we were were reading I, Rigoberta Menchu and Guatemala,
Nunca Mas and how sad and heart-wrenching these books
were. Tito said, "Yeah, I had three friends killed in
Zunil. We were young... in our twenties. They lived in Zunil."
"Zunil?!" we both said,
Zunil is a town only ten minutes
from where we live. We often catch the cram-packed Zunil
chicken bus to get home from Xela. We have a special love for
this place with its beautiful, wild, and sometimes wacky corte
fabric that is black but filled with colorful images, from dogs to
chickens to zigzag patterns.
Tito told us that you don't hear a
lot about their past because it is a place that has chosen to
forget. They weren't found in the lists of massacres in the
book we were reading, that has been condensed down from four
volumes. He said in this town, they were hit hard. One
day, the army would come in and slaughter a bunch of people, then
the next day, the guerillas, and then the next, the army.
It all sounds like a bad plot to an
even worse movie, but instead of being a
fiction-novel-turned-bad-screenplay, it is the history of
Guatemalans and Central American families.
Where is all this going? What
can we do? These are questions I grapple with almost
daily. How is the U.S. still a part of t his? What are we
really doing in Iraq, and how many friends have been killed in a war
they can neither understand nor want? Why do governments
insist on fighting? What as it ever accomplished?
Some would say FREEDOM, but freedom
from what? What if countries didn't believe they could own the
earth, but rather we should just feel privileged enough to be able
to live in such a place?
One girl who suffered a seizure
while in Guatemala continued on the trip after she
recovered. A mom who received a call from Guatemala saying her
daughter was in the hospital, eight hours later told her 17-year-old
that if she wanted to stay and felt she was safe, that she
should. After the trip, a 16-year-old boy wrote a seven page
paper "to get the word out" about a new reality he saw
with his own eyes. I remember being a junior in high school,
but I can't remember EVER being motivated to write a paper because I
WANTED to. Sure I could write notes to my friends of that
magnitude with a fancy paper fold, but my writings were all focused
on my teen angst and my wretched middle-class existence. Oh
how naive! How refreshing to see that there are others now in
my place with "readier" souls and a service-minded vision.
I have yet to determine what all
this means to me, but I know that forever my life is changed.
I now have family in Guatemala. They all have smiles and tears
and faces and names - memorable laughs and endearing
May God continue to open our eyes this year and
help us to see where we go from here.