Monday, August 11, 2014

The resistance movement in Barillas -- getting there

It's a pleasant walk from the center of Santa Cruz Barillas to the resistencia pacifica (peaceful resistance) that they call Poza Verde. You take the main road that passes along one side of the central plaza, past the shiny new buildings that house some bank branches, the hotel Villa Virginia (whose owner is part of the resistance movement), past the pastel-pink municipal building on your right, past the dozens of people who can be found at almost any hour of the day lining the edges of or walking through the Parque Central: shoe-shine boys or men, bent over the feet of their clients or looking out for anyone whose shoes look like they could use a shine (since I mostly wear sandals I am not an object of their attention), vendors setting up their stands, women hurrying children along to school, or bent under heavy burdens, and people of all ages and sexes sitting on the benches, waiting for something or someone or just passing the time of day. One of the town's two or three traffic signals is at the end of the square by the muni (pronounced "moonie" -- short for "municipal building"). After the traffic light, for a few blocks the street remains more or less level, although the pavement soon stops and the road surface is dirt and gravel. There are stores, a cantina (tavern) on one of the first corners after the square, and then the road starts to climb and dip, the houses and businesses are fewer and farther between, and fewer people or vehicles on the road. To the right is the river Kan Balam, which starts way up in the mountains somewhere, meanders its way along one edge of the town, and then curves to the left as the road bends to follow it, heading towards the resistencia pacifica at Posa Verde. For the last half kilometer or so, there are few dwellings, and the trees and plants nearly form a canopy over the road. There are a few paths heading off to the left hand side; one of them takes you past a school, a small store, along the edge of some fields and then to the kitchen area of the resistance, but I no longer remember what the landmark is, so I go the other way, which is to continue straight along the main road until it turns and takes you directly to the resistencia. There is not a lot of traffic, pedestrian or otherwise, once you get past the more populated part of the town.  It was sunny and warm as I walked, saying "Buenas tardes" and "adios" to people as I passed; some responded and some didn't.

It has been over a year since the residents of Santa Cruz Barillas who opposed the hydroelectric project and the militaristic and deadly response of the government and the Spanish transnational set up camp, and I have visited the encampment several times. Since different communities take turns staffing the encampment, it is only occasionally that I find someone whom I have met before, with the exception of the coordinators.  There are two rotations: one for the women, who come during the day, and prepare food, and the men, who take 24-hour turns. The women arrive in the morning, at around 8, and leave around 5. Some groups come once a week, it seems (although some told me every two weeks). One group of men arrives at 6 p.m. one day and leaves the next day at 6 (although judging from my visits in the afternoons, it does not seem that all of the men stay until the end of their time -- the second day I visited, arriving in the resistencia at about 1:45, there were only about 2 or 3 men present). I didn't get a unified answer about how frequently each group of came -- one man said every two weeks, one said once a month. Obviously not every individual comes every single time his or her group comes.

As a reflection of how the situation has changed, the first time I approached the resistance, on Wednesday, there were quite a few people there, including about two dozen men, and when I approached, calling out hello, and stopping before the entrance to the shelter, several men came out and asked me who I was, what institution I represented, and what I was doing. I explained that I had spoken to the coordinators Lencho and Micaela, and I showed them my passport.  One of the man decided that I should write down my information in a notebook he had, and I quickly complied. Of course it makes sense that the people in the resistance should be careful about who comes, and there is no reason to think that because I know that I am an extranjera solidaria (a "foreigner in solidarity"), anyone else would know that simply by looking at me. There has been a lot of talk lately in the mainstream Guatemalan media about foreign "companions" in the resistance movements. Acompañantes is a word that is used a lot in Guatemala -- those who accompany social movements, and I think it comes from the radical Christian tradition, but it doesn't really have an English equivalent. My dictionary translates it as "companion or escort", and possibly "escort" is closer to how it is used in Guatemala. "Escort" in a situation of conflict or potential danger. 

Once I have passed muster, I am invited to enter, and sit down. The atmosphere is relaxed and intimate. The women and girls chat with each other in Q'anjob'al as they pat out tortillas and flip them on two stoves. A few of the men are stretched out resting on the benches, others are sitting together and talking, others playing soccer (futbol) together with some of the boys, or watching.  Some of the girls are eager to talk with me and pepper me with questions. Where do I live? Am I married? How many children to do I have? What is New York like? Can I take them with me when I return? Nearly every time I am with a group of new acquaintances and they find out I am from the U.S., at least one person asks, laughingly but wistfully, if I can take him or her back with me in my suitcase. Then they want to hear me say things in English -- How do you say table? How do you say dog?  I ask them for the equivalents in Q'anjob'al, and take out my notebook to write down the translations, and then ask them to write the words, since I don't recognize all the sounds easily.  So, I have now expanded my Q'anjob'al vocabulary slightly:  ZET CHONEJ -- What are you doing?  CHEMTE -- cutting board. A'E -- water. And some animals: cow, horse, pig, cat, and rabbit. 

Then the girls want to walk across the creaky wooden bridge -- the wooden planks very cracked and rotted in places, and there are large gaps between some of the planks -- and take photos, so I oblige them (I think they are also curious to see if I will flinch at the bridge but I have crossed this one before, although it does provoke a moment or two of anxiety). They are all very pleased with the photos, which I show them on my camera (and I unfortunately didn't have a chance to make copies, but since this group only comes once a week, I knew that I would not likely see them again during my short stay). And then we troop back to the encampment, where I spend another half-hour or so just chatting with the people who are there, and then make my way back to town.

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