Today is April 23 (which is when I wrote this) and I haven’t written a blog entry in almost a month now. What are we up to and what do I want to share with you? There is a lot, I believe. But I will do this in two parts. First, I will share a special moment in Chirijox. In my next blog, I will talk to you about our new location – San Juan la Laguana….
What happened today reminds me why I do what I do. It was so brilliant. This is trite to say perhaps, but I couldn’t have planned this better if I tried.
Let me explain. Today, I entered the house in Chirijox where we meet every Thursday. The house was dark and empty. Empty, with the exception of one of our students Emilio. My heart sinks again. I have traveled on three buses to get here. The trip takes nearly an hour and a half, sometimes two hours. If the trip weren’t trying enough, I am lugging three computers, two cameras, a backup drive and an ipad. The bags are heavy and every trip comes with a risk. It’s not exactly safe to be traveling on public transportation in Guatemala with so much technology. I don’t want to insinuate that it is dangerous, but things happen as they happen anywhere. So weighted down with my equipment, I am prepared for nearly anything that might come up. This is important when all of the kids are here, but when there is just one, you ask yourself, why I’m making this trek if only one person shows up. But to look at things so negatively, is to miss opportunities. And every day, no matter who or how many show, is an opportunity. You realize that no matter how many times things just don’t seem “perfect”, they really are. We just need new lenses to see them.
Emilio was there first, and then I turned around only to see Edgar. Edgar! I screamed happily and with great surprise. Edgar has missed many of our sessions and I was very excited to see him. More importantly, I was very excited to hear that he wanted to continue. He is behind, but he will catch up. I have absolutely no doubt about this. The two of them consulted their introductions and wrote a shot list of what additional films they needed. They are taking charge of the process and taking on their own direction. It is a beautiful site to see.
It seemed almost enough to watch our two youngest students working together and heading up to the community to film. But the best of the day was yet to come.
Carmen walked in the door just before Emilo and Edgar were in the community. She had told Marisol that she would walk down to tell me that she was sick and wouldn’t be coming and here she was. It was funny because she said that she wasn’t able to do work with us today, but there she was ready to do work. She handed me her introduction – talking about the importance of nature in her community. She asked me to look at it. She had all the video that she needed for this part of her film. It was the mechanical aspects that she had, but still not the heart of the story.
Every week, we seem to have this conversation. I wondered and worried if we would get her past this. Every week, she would say, yes I understand, but it didn’t seem to change what she would do. Then the moment came. Out of nowhere, the conversation about the crux of unveiling the history came.
I was telling her again that the connections were what she was missing. She has pieces, but she is not getting at the tension of the past and present relationship that her community had and has with nature. I was asking her if she remembered that in “When the Mountains Tremble” Rigoberta Menchú talked about that her ancestors asked for permission to plant the crops? I’m interested, I said to her, what the relationship was with you and your ancestors. Carmen, said, we don’t do that anymore. We don’t ask for permission. We use to ask permission to plant or cut the trees, but now we just do it. Ever since we adopted Evangelical religion, then we stopped.
There it was. In a moment, we had it. We were trying to get her to pinpoint the tension that she feels. We were trying to help her uncover the history of why she felt so strongly about nature and bringing attention to it. We were trying to help her see why others in the community were concerned with the disintegrating relationship and disrespect for nature. We can’t say for sure that this is the only influence of course, but it is one that is very profound. Religion was a prominent factor in disrupting the cultural connection and relationship of the K’iche community with nature. This came directly from her, and immediately she and we all saw it. She said, I can ask my abuelita. Yes, this would be great! That is a start – and ask others in the community as well. Where did this religion come from? What influence did it have on your culture?
But there was more. It is so obvious how committed Carmen feels about nature. It became more obvious today as well. Her time with us was short today. She had to go, not only because she was sick, but also because she told us that she had to go give lunch to the workers. This was an additional tension that came up that day. Marisol asked her more about the workers, who were they? Carmen answered that they are the ones that are cutting down the trees. They work for her father. Here Carmen is feeding people who do work that she does not approve of and she is trying to stop. But this commitment to family and to her community and the respect for people doing work is obvious. It is a responsibility that she has, one that she takes very seriously. To counter her feelings about this, she is planting tress every day.
I want her to tell this part of her story. I want her to capture this and let her tell you what this is like for her. Today, we made not strides, but leaps to getting her on track to tell you, to tell us what that history is and the social and political implications for her community and her personal identity around who she is in this world.