Sunday, August 10, 2014


It is hard to write about the human, emotional, interpersonal side of my time in Guatemala --and particularly in this remote corner of Huehuetenango -- without sounding sappy, like a stereotypical first world tourist gushing about the warmth, sincerity and genuineness of "the natives" or "the locals".  By emphasizing the political and social I run the risk of dehumanizing the people whom I have met and who have, for the most part, welcomed me into their communities and their movements, and some of whom have invited me into their homes.  To be sure, I cannot count the times that someone has approached me for help with raising money for a worthy project. But that is more than balanced out by the acts of generosity and kindness, the modest gestures of friendship and inclusion (I was going to write "simple gestures" but want to stay away from stereotyped representations of indigenous peoples).  When I stepped off the bus from Barillas, which is sunny and warm most of the time, and was not prepared for the colder climate in Santa Eulalia, a friend swiftly offered to lend me a warm jacket for a few days.  When I spent the night at the home of Alfredo, one of the leaders of the movimiento social here in Santa, and one of the leaders of the Gobierno Plurinacional, his younger daughters wanted me to read books to them, and begged me to walk them to school in the morning, and were adamant that I should stay another night with them. 

But I was especially touched by the reception from the family of Daniel Pedro Mateo, whom I met only once. As I sat and talked with his widow, Reyna, warming ourselves at the same stove where, a year and a half ago, I had interviewed her husband, one of her youngest daughters came over, and, a slight smile glimmering across her face, held out her hand to reveal four plump dark crimson globes -- late-season cherries from a tree on their modest property. The skins were a little wrinkled, but the flesh was firm and sweet. As I got ready to leave the house for my next appointment, Reyna's mother, who has lived with her since Daniel's assassination, handed me a small bag of mustard or turnip greens (as I had been admiring the fat, healthy leaves that she and one of the daughters had been trimming and readying to be cooked), and another daughter came in, proudly bearing two greenish apples that she had pulled from one of their trees. It started to rain hard, and Reyna and the children found an umbrella to loan me (my route home would take me past their house). "Thank you", while clearly appropriate, seems a woefully inadequate response. Here was a family whose lives had been torn apart by a brutal murder -- Reyna teared up when she talked about the empty space in their family unit and how they had been "complete" on my previous visit -- who was eagerly sharing the little they had with me. Reyna pressed me to stay with them the next time I came, and when I returned a couple of hours later, the youngest daughter ran over, and wrapped herself around my knees, and then raised her arms so I could pick her up, and threw her arms around me in the sweetest embrace I've had in a long time.

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