Sunday, July 31, 2011

Land and liberty//tierra y libertad

Just a short reflection, really. Driving in the Guatemalan countryside, especially here in the altiplano, is a meditative and reflective experience.  The roads are sparsely traveled, especially on a Sunday.  Even on the Panamerican highway, one of the major arteries, which I travel between Chimaltenango and Los Encuentros at least twice a week (once in each direction), there are times and places where there are blissfully (or frighteningly, depending upon your point of view) few cars, and I am very much alone with my thoughts.  Today I drove back from Cobán, where I had gone to witness the election of the Rabin Ajaw (which means "daughter of the king"). I'll describe the pageant/festival in a separate entry; it's a contest to select the young Maya woman who will be the representative or emblem of Maya womanhood for the coming year. Selection is based only in part on physical appearance; candidates have to be well versed in cultural issues and -- at least judging from what I saw -- able to express themselves on a range of topics from indigenous rights to the environment. The festival, now in its 43rd year, was started in the late 1960s during the early years of what would be come to be known as the "movimmiento Maya" (Maya movement).  

Coban is in Alta Verapaz, immediately to the east of Quiché.  I'd never been there; all I knew about Coban was the distinctly-flavored dried chile pepper that bears the city's name, and that are sold throughout Guatemala (I just made a sauce of Coban chiles for my dinner tonight, as I had been eating it throughout the weekend in Coban and now craved it), and that it housed the Rabin Ajaw festival. I drove alone; some weeks back a few acquaintances said they were interested in going, but we hadn't spoken since and I ended up deciding to just go alone.  I wasn't sure how long the drive would be (and I certainly hadn't factored in time spent waiting for political gatherings to stop blocking highways).  

The road was very sparsely traveled. I went through Santa Cruz del Quiché, then headed north on a highway that goes to Sacapulas, and then went to Cunen, and from there through San Miguel Uspantán and Chimacán, and then to San Cristobal Verapaz (which is in Alta Verapaz) and from there to Coban. It's hard to describe the countryside without sounding very cliched: breathtakingly beautiful. Rolling hills, steep slopes, deep gorges, rivers running through valleys.  But it is hard for me to just appreciate the landscape on its own merits. As I wrote in an earlier entry, I have many friends who participated in the armed struggle in one form or another.  And when I look at these swelling green hills, the cultivated fields, the adobe brick homes, the children playing soccer on the highway as it is the only flat surface around, and breathe in the moist and earthy air, I start to understand in a corporeal, not an intellectual way, why my friends were willing to risk their lives, to sacrifice their lives, for this land. 

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