There’s a night bird that starts to sing around 10pm for awhile, then again in the morning. Tonight it accompanies the full moon lighting the surrounding hillsides. It’s been a great Sunday kind of day at the finca. The workers were on a day off, the TV crew mostly away until later today and the Somos team doing their own thing including various jobs until the afternoon. Denis started the day cooking breakfast for us all, then swept the dirt floors at Tortuga as a guft fir Heather and Greg for their return from Antigua, Derek adnutted to being obsessed with his bathroom tiling job, I focused on cleaning out the bodega shelving and preparing tonight’s supper and doing laundry, Corey added to his tan on the patio of Conejo, and helping out on various tasks including sanding, Gaby was dog caretaker and all of us on dish washing, playing cribbage (a daily task!) cleaning, compost emptying, skyping or phoning friends and family, drinking Mynor’s coffee (the caterer for the TV crew) practicing spanish and sitting in the sun. A light breeze has made the day truly lovely with blue skies and occasional clouds, but the heat of the sun became pretty intense. The dogs know when to stop playing and can be seen prostrate in the dirt, models of ‘chill out time”.
Corey, Derek and myself went for a walk to Chivarabal just up the road. Good thing we took our cameras, as we were hailed wholeheartedly by one large family from up a street inviting us to come closer and eager to have their pictures taken, talk to us and who made us feel so welcome. That continued all along the dirt road winding into the hills, as we passed the groupings of dwellings people would or appear in doorways; adults and chidren who followed us, giggled and warmed our hearts with their shy but eager attention. Being on foot and meeting people one on one, I was deeply touched by the obvious poverty evident in the living conditions that I’d been seeing since coming here, with few belongings, makeshift buildings, rickety wooden fences and structures, concrete block and galvanized roofing for walls. Yet impoverished is not a word I would use for how they live and the spirit of most of the people we’ve met., The brightness and color of their clothes, their ready smiles and responsiveness as we attempted to communicate, the reality of how hard they work each day to sustain themselves in this environment is humbling. We seem to be a curiosity for them, this is not an area that a lot of visitors would walk about in and they were a heart warming experience for us.
Trucks roar by with people hanging on in the back going home from church, chicken buses and vans all honk a greeting and a standard ‘buenos tardes’ in passing. People zoom along the uneven dirt road on bicycles, our eyes delight in the ever present brightly colored laundry strung on rooftops and in courtyards, and we are aware of the smoke and smell of cooking fires from ineffective stoves. Now stripped dried corn stalks lining the roadside fields rattle in the wind, we see drying corn cobs in yards and in the fields, an occasional bird call pierces the air, roosters crow, dogs bark, we catch strains of music and singing from the churches in various parts of this town and from somewhere in the hills. All this in a backdrop of distant volcanos, steep curving hills, ravines and valleys with bushes and trees, patchwork patterns of cleared corn and bean fields or fresh growth of a new crop. It’s an artists delight with the bright green contrast of the yucca like plants marking the boundaries between the now browning land parcels. The hot sun beats down, I feel an awkwardness in greeting a hardworking man in his small yard and house as we walk by with cameras and feeling aware of our privileged leisure.
Guatemala has many faces. Here in the Western Highlands with these traditional people I feel at home somehow. I know I cannot even begin to understand the politics of poverty here, the history of cultural oppression or the intricacies of the modern world meeting this reality, but I know what I feel when I’m around people who don’t seem to define how they meet each day and their lives by what they own. People who reach out, respond, tease, play and laugh, do what needs to be done and are so generous in spirit.
I’m aware that I might be romanticizing what I’m experiencing, and I don’t want to do that. Being here even for these three months is something I will never forget. The challenges are many for Project Somos on so many levels, taking on innovating, enhancing and providing resources in the midst of this complexity is no small task. But it seems to be being perceived as a good thing. An elderly woman Marianna was sitting with a pan on the side of the road smiling as we passed. We exchanged greetings and names and when I said I was a volunteer with Gregorio and Alicia at Somos, (the finca) she held my hand, looked me in the eye and thanked me. What do I make of such a thing except to be grateful that somehow I’m here and that all is well in this crazy world wherever we are and willing to meet each other in our humanness and spirit which endures beyond the comings and goings of our fortunes.Maur