It is almost ironic that as I sit here in my village of Rabinal writing my blog, I barely even notice the date I write it on. July 4th. Independence Day. Today, this date means nothing to me, here so far away. Yet I know that if I were in the States, I’d be at a BBQ with my family and friends, preparing to watch fireworks this evening.
I just finished reading Rigoberta Menchú’s book: I, Rigoberta Menchú, An Indian Woman in Guatemala. She talks about how Independence Day means nothing to the Indians; it was not their fight, and it is not their independence day.
Even after Guatemala’s independence from Spain in 1821, treatment of the Indians was often worse and more brutal by the Ladinos (mixed blood who speak Spanish), particularly during the years of civil war (60s-90s). I cringed throughout the entire book, aghast and disgusted by how people could treat their fellow human beings with such disregard and disrespect, torturing and humiliating them at every opportunity. Animals were not even treated so horribly.
It’s funny to reflect upon myself and see how differently I look at the world, particularly my own country and its way of life. A big, gaudy celebration right now has no appeal to me whatsoever. Yesterday we had a meeting all day with members of the dam-affected communities in a village far away, San Antonio Panec.
I remember last night about 22 of us packing into the back of a pickup truck, all standing of course, and driving through the mountains to get to our hostel. I felt so content and knew that at that moment there was no other place in the world I would have rather been. My time in Guatemala, particularly working with indigenous communities, has changed me.
Even if it is only for the time being, I look at things differently now. I look at things through their eyes, I feel what they feel, their concerns are my concerns. I’ve become a lot more sensitive to their needs and even had to adapt my American work style to their more considerate, collective and time-consuming work style. I love getting to know them, one by one.
I love that they feel more comfortable with me and go out of their way to talk to me, even looking to me to answer some of their questions. Some members had to leave their villages at 1 AM, walk for hours and take several buses to even make it to our meeting. This is how important this fight is to them.
I have a hard time thinking that most Americans would go through such efforts to attend a meeting. Then again, the convenience of our country would not require this of them. Traveling on buses for 10 hours within a 24-hour period is almost normal for me now. I don’t think twice about it. People here do this all the time, and travel even further distances. I can’t wait to share this life with my parents, who will be here in less than 2 weeks.
A few weeks ago, when President Reagan passed away, my family and friends recounted the whole funeral procession and ceremony to me. And although I know how loved he was by many, it’s hard for me not to think of the US’s foreign policy during the 80s, particularly towards Guatemala. All the massacres and violence that my work revolves around occurred in the 80s, under the counterinsurgency umbrella, which was mainly funded by the US government.
Even if I go back home and jump right back into my American lifestyle, at least I’ll know that a little part of me has changed. I’ve realized that direct contact work, particularly with indigenous communities, is something I love. Who knows, maybe my future career path will bring me back to Guatemala. And if not Guatemala, then to some other developing country to work directly with the people. And not just sit behind a desk and talk on the phone with large institutions.
Posted By Carmen Morcos (Guatemala)
Posted Apr 5th, 2007