Carmen Morcos (Guatemala)

Carmen Morcos (Rights Action and ADIVIMA, Guatemala): Carmen graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2000 with a B.S. in Finance. She then worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers in their Dispute Analysis & Investigations Group for almost three years. At the time of her fellowship, Carmen was pursuing a joint degree at Georgetown university – a Master of Science in Foreign Service and an MBA with a concentration in international development in Latin America.

Los Pajales

01 Aug

Iñaki came into town and we went over some objectives and divided up the work for our August 7th workshop. I was in charge of the violations suffered by the communities and their needs. I was also in charge of comparing the census from Dr. Gaitan’s anthropologist report on pre-dam conditions with actual conditions.

These were tasks that really did not take long, so once again I was in search of something to do, trying to continue creating work for myself. One of those days I was at the museum and I ran into Bert, and he said that they were going to Los Pajales the following day and asked if I wanted to go. Los Pajales is one our dam-affected communities, but one who was affected culturally rather than physically.

What is interesting is that its inhabitants are descendents of Rabinal settlers who had migrated there over 100 years ago. Although they are in Quiché, a different department which speaks Quiché, their community continues to speak the Achí of Rabinal and wear the traditional Rabinal dress. Bert had gone a few weeks ago and had really enjoyed the journey, as you have take a boat across a large river, hike through the mountains and cross several streams to get to the distant community several hours away. Perfect. Something to do.

So we met the following morning at 7 AM and the first question asked was “Where’s your sleeping bag?” Well, I didn’t have one. “Then where are you going to sleep?” Great, need to find a sleeping bag. Called Evelyn, another international volunteer working in Rabinal, and she lent me her sleeping bag.

We rode in a pickup truck to Cubulco, where the driver let us off and we began our journey. I cannot even begin to describe how excruciatingly difficult this journey was. Bert had said that it was an easy hike along the river and only a few hours away. Easy for Bert translated into impossible for me.

First of all, the heat was unbearable and the humidity nearly killed us. We could barely breathe, as it felt we were in a sauna the entire hike. Not to mention the sun beating down on us and a trail which was NOT an easy hike along the river. Uphill, down hill, uphill, down hill. And every time we had to cross a river we would strip down to our underwear so as not to hike with soaked pants.

I cut my feet several times on the rocks crossing these lovely streams. The fact that I had been sick again a few days earlier thanks to my amoebas and with no food in my stomach made everything ten times more difficult. There were four of us in total: Bert, Rolando, Victoriano and myself. To me, they seemed like sprint masters while I trailed laggingly behind.

Rolando ended up taking my sleeping bag, Victoriano carried my backpack, and Bert was in charge of giving me water. Nearly 4 hours later we arrived at Los Pajales. My legs were trembling and ready to fall off at any moment. Our last leg of the hike we took our time and passed all these kids who had just gotten out of school.

I got so excited seeing so many kids because I had brought all these packets of gum to give them. I ran out in about 10 minutes. I don’t think I’ve seen that many kids in awhile. Many of them were on their way to the river to bathe and play games. Sounded so exhilarating considering the blaring heat.

The community consisted of about 1000 people, all living along the river. There is no electricity in Los Pajales and the only way they knew we were coming was because Bert had put an announcement over the radio several times to meet us at the school at 4 PM. Most families owned a little radio and operated it with batteries. We got to Victoriano’s aunt’s house and sat, drank Pepsi and had lunch.

After lunch we walked along the river and decided to go for a swim with all the kids. I had no extra clothes, but dove in wearing only my underwear and shirt. We all did. And it felt so good, especially for my muscles, which were still trembling from our hike. We played with the kids in the water and the guys jumped off cliffs with them. After our afternoon swim, we headed back to the center of the town.

The “center” consisted of a few school buildings in block formation with a little church at one end. That evening over 60 people showed up to take part in our meeting. The objective of the meeting was to invite the community to the workshop on August 7th and invite them to formally participate in the efforts already taken by several dam-affected communities. And if interested, to select their representatives.

The community was very excited to participate and selected their representatives in no time. While they selected, the four of us went off to have dinner. By this time it was already dark, so we turned on our flashlights to head to Victoriano’s aunt’s house. Our dinner was noodles and beans and of course freshly made tortillas. Eaten in candlelight.

That night we slept in one of the school buildings. Victoriano and I slept on wooden beds and Bert and Rolando slept on the floor. But realistically, none of us slept. I think we were all too exhausted to sleep. And I was already nervous about our hike back the following day.

Morning finally arrived and we stayed for a bit to take pictures of all the kids coming to school. They loved having their pictures taken and kept following us everywhere. By 8 AM we were back on the road. The hike back took less time than the hike there, as there were less uphill battles and we were well fed. I got to actually enjoy the hike back and even carried my own backpack.

Hours later we arrived in Cubulco and our pickup truck wasn’t there to pick us up. I nearly started crying. My legs had decided to stop functioning and I could barely move. We continued to hike along the road for almost an hour before arriving at a store and waiting for our pickup truck to pass by. The guys kept talking about how if it never came and no other car passed by, we’d have to hike back to the town center, which was another 3-4 hours.

I think at that point a tear almost fell down my cheek. And then our blue pickup truck showed up. I don’t think I’ve been that happy to see anyone in months.

Looking back, I can definitely say that this was one of the best trips I’ve taken in Guatemala. All the agony endured throughout the hike and even the 2 days afterwards where I couldn’t walk were well worth it. And what a story.

Posted By Carmen Morcos (Guatemala)

Posted Aug 1st, 2004

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