The greatest lessons that I have learned working here in Guatemala for ADIVIMA are patience and faith. These may seem like simple lessons to learn, however, they appear to be ones that I must keep learning here over and over again. Coming from one of the most fast-paced cities in the world, Washington DC, to rural Guatemala was a total shock to my very sense of time. For a meeting that is supposed to start at 10 am people begin drifting in around 11:30 am, and for a deadline for the newsletter, two weeks late seems perfectly acceptable. In DC, if you are five minutes early to a meeting, you are late. If you were to turn in an article two weeks late, you would quickly find yourself without a job. I have had to alter my plans for work here countless times in order to deal with new challenges or late submissions of information. However, I have also learned that sometimes when plans do not work out, with a little patience and faith, something much better than you ever hoped for just may.
Last week, a compañero and I started out to go visit a rural community to deliver an invitation to come to a workshop on community organization and voter participation in the upcoming elections that we are hosting. As we were leaving the office, he turned to me and asked, “So, you like to walk?” I quickly replied naively that of course I love walking and that I walk all the time in DC. The last time we went to visit a rural school, it was a pleasant van ride and short walk away, however, today would be much different. We waited near the town plaza for a pickup truck to take us about an hour and a half outside of Rabinal to the community we were to visit. When one finally came we crowded among the campesinos standing up into the back of the pickup truck to begin our journey. The further we went out of town, the worse the road became. It is the rainy season here in Guatemala, and the last night’s rains had decimated the already horrendous dirt roads we were travelling. As we were bouncing along the steep mountain roads I cast a decidedly worried looking glance at my compañero. I felt that any second I was going to bounce right out of the truck and tumble down the steep cliff at the edge of the road. He quickly told me not to worry and that we were perfectly safe. However, he then stopped to think for a second and related the story of a woman who fell out of the back of a truck a few months ago on this road and died. Guatemalans have had a funny way of reassuring me during my time here (*for another anecdote on this subject, please see below). Finally, we came to an incredibly steep and muddy part of the road and the wheels of the truck began to spin. The driver looked back at us as he repeatedly tried to force the truck up the mountain side. Eventually, he just told us to get out, because he could not go any further. He told us not to worry though, because the community we wanted to visit was just two blocks ahead. What he meant by “two blocks” on an unpaved mountain road in Guatemala, I must say that I will never know.
So we jumped out of the truck and began trudging uphill in the mud. It was then that I asked my compañero if he had ever been to this community, to which he nonchalantly replied, “No.” When I asked him if he had directions or knew where to go, he replied, “No.” So, surveying my condition, I realized that I was over an hour and half away from the nearest town, on an impassable road, with the only person that I knew who spoke Maya Achí that did not know where we were going or if we were on the right road to get there. I began sweating and breathing hard in the hot and steamy Central American air as the sun beat down on our faces. We stopped to ask at a school if they knew where the woman to receive the letter lived, and they simply replied, “Arriba,” or “higher up.” Each person that we encountering along the way was friendly and helpful, but the answer was always the same, “Arriba.” We walked uphill for almost two hours before we reached a fork in the path, with no one around to direct us. Left or right? At this point, I was at my wits end. I had been trudging uphill in the mud for almost two hours, not even knowing if we were going in the right direction, and here we were faced with a fork in the road. The though of choosing incorrectly and having to come back down and go back up again the other way was horrifying. After a few minutes of debate, my compañero chose the path to the right. I asked him three times if this was the right way, and he replied, “I think so.” So, I took a leap of faith and followed him as the path wound steeply upwards. Finally, after thirty more minutes of uphill hiking, we reached the house, where we were warmly greeted and asked to sit in the shade. I collapsed into the plastic chair offered to me and took a deep breath. It was then that I took the time to look around me. As I looked out from the top of this gigantic mountain, I saw one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. The lush forests of Guatemala were covering the mountainous highlands and took my recently caught breath away. We stayed awhile at the house and rested and played with the kids who lived there, who were incredibly inquisitive and energetic. I had not yet been out of the office here in Rabinal, and I must say it was incredibly refreshing to interact with the community and beneficiaries of ADIVIMA´s work. Meeting this family and these children only more fully dedicated me to working for ADIVIMA´s cause and made the tribulations and uncertainties of the day fully worth it. The day had not gone as I had planned, not even close. However, with a little patience and faith, I had been rewarded with something better than I had ever planned to accomplish that day. It reminded me that in life, sometimes the best things are unplanned and the most influential people in your life are those that you happen to find along the way.
* For the first two weeks that I was here in Guatemala, I was constantly startled by the loud noises of what sounded like twelve gage shotguns being fired at all hours of the day and night. I heard these noises at three, four, five in the morning and all afternoon and evening. Finally, I worked up the courage to ask my host sister what these noises were and if I should be afraid. She laughed when I asked if they were gunshots, to which she quickly replied that they were fireworks. She explained that the cofradias, or religious clubs here, often shot off fireworks to celebrate fiestas of their patron saints. After this she quickly added a statement that, “Don’t worry, if they want to kill you around here, they would do it with a machete.” A machete? The thought of death by a machete, rather than a gun, was supposed to reassure me?
Posted By Abby Weil
Posted Jul 24th, 2007