Visit to San Juan with Rick: May 28

With Rick here, he is energized and motivated to go see the kids as much as possible.  Monday night we call Jose to see if there is a possibility of stopping by and doing some filming.  We know that some of them have school in the morning and others in the afternoon.  We don’t know if they will be interested, but we try.  Rick calls and coordinates with Jose.  The plan is to meet the girls in the morning and the guys in the afternoon.   Education is not segregated here, it just happens that the boys are the same age and so are the girls.   Jose and Elias, we find out, go to school in a neighboring town. They, along with Norma, attend a school that prepares teachers.

Tuesday morning we leave a little later than we wanted to.  We end up getting to the other side of the lake around 10:30 instead of the 10 AM planned time.  Waiting for boat to leave (more specifically – waiting for 12 people to get on the boat) our schedule it tied to the pace of people coming across the lake that day.

Docking in San Juan, we exit the boat.  On a typical day, I will have the same discussion with the launcha (boat) drivers. Veinticinco, they will say. No, cada vez pago viente quatzales porque yo tengo trabajo aqui.  We go back and forth before sometimes it is a quick exchange other times it is more of a fight.  See gringos and the locals pay different prices for riding lauchas.  They are the only way to get across the lake and all the boat captains work together under the same pretense.

Today’s fight is not so bad.  Without much interaction, I give the money to the captain. Rick and I walk through the doc and are asked by several men, tuc tuc a centro?  No thank you, we’ll walk.  Up the very steep hill we go.  After a right, a left, two blocks and one more right, we are almost at Carlo’s house.  We expect to find the girls there, but we are late. We have no idea if they waited for us.  Instead of the girls, we find Carlos leaving his house to return to school.  He greets us and we greet him.  We ask if he has seen the girls and he says no.  He asks his mother.  No, she replies.  What else she said, I’m unsure as she and her son talk in Tz’utujil.

They finish their conversation and Carlos offers to walk us to the house of the girls.  We walk – first down the hill to the right.  Carlos stops at one house.  I wonder if this is the house of Norma, Lucila, and Juana.  Carlos asks a girl if she has seen them.  The girl replies that they are not here.  I ask if this is their home.  No, Carlos replies, it is their cousin’s home.  We continue on.   We pass the school.  A group of boys looks on.  They say something to Carlos.  He doesn’t hear them.  I often wonder what people think when we are walking through the community with these kids.  What are they wondering?  Is this difficult peer pressure for Carlos to be seen with gringos or does it give him a certain position or power?

I can’t help but think of Marcos.  Was it the peer pressure that tore him away from the project?  I still am not sure that I will ever know, but I only wonder – is there also a stigma of “being white”, what do these communities think of strangers coming in to work here?  My mind wanders again to the first time I met Carlos. He seemed skeptical and distant as if to say, what is your agenda here.  Why here?  Why us?

Since that day, Carlos has opened up and embraced us – perhaps not fully, but more openly for certain.  These thoughts run through my mind as we continue on roads in San Juan that I have never walked.  We continue on up a small hill and into a dirt path.  It is surrounded by trees and it feels like we are going into the woods.  Then a moment later, we are on a stone road again.  We stop at two more homes before we meet the girls in their home.  Their neighborhood has about eight houses. It is very quaint, quiet, and inviting IMG_4884 IMG_4841.

Inside Norma, Juana and Lucila’s House

First Norma and Lucila welcome us, followed shortly by Juana.  Today, we do not work on their stories nor do we take video.  Instead, we enjoy a visit, which turns out to be a small snapshot into their world.

I walk in and there are five more girls in addition to Norma and her sisters.  I ask if they are all family. No, they are their friends.  The friends sit around a large table and at the end, just slightly above eye level a TV plays.  Novellas.  Around the table they are doing some work – homework perhaps.  In their hands, cell phones.

Norma is doing her own homework.  She attends a school in San Pedro (the neighboring town).  She aspires to be a teacher so she is preparing a sample lesson to teach niños English.  The cards are interesting.  Being interested in the construction and deconstruction of media, Rick and I find the subtle messages associated with learning English very interesting.  Here are some examples of the cards.

Norma, focused on making her flashcards.  She shows us the cards and we share the name of the objects in English and Spanish.  She is very proud both of her work and of the words that she knows. We move from standing around a table to sitting around another one.  We help Norma prepare her cards and talk a bit about many different things.  Juana plays with my iPhone.  Lucila looks on.

I’m usually very work-minded when we visit with the youth groups, but today, we just visit.  I come to the realization that this social aspect is just so important.  These visits reveal the pride that they take in showing who they are and what they think.  Norma, for example, is posed and confident when she tells us more about her story idea.  Last week she wanted to film butterflies and this week, she goes back to her original story idea – temescals (Maya saunas).  Stay tuned for their importance and significance to this community and culture.

In our conversations around the table, we also hear about an upcoming event happening on June 21 in San Juan.  Communities here have what they call feria.  They are local fairs.  All towns in Guatemala have a saint associated with their name.  And any town with the same name will have a celebration during the same week.  Here the name of the town is San Juan La Laguna, on of many San Juan associated towns.  The feria to commemorate St. John begins on the 21st of June.  On that night, there will be a traditional dance.  Lucila’s topic is traditional dance so we make a plan to film that night.  I can see by the light in their eyes as they talk about it, that it is a night of importance to them. I tell them that I will stay here and help with the filming.

We spend about an hour and a half in their home before we leave.  They need to prepare for school in the afternoon and we want to give them time to do that.   My ideas return a moment to the realization that work did not really happen today – work in the sense of checking things off a list or making visible progress.  But in this work, socializing with these group is very important.  Social interaction time with these groups is part of the work and as important as the “academic” time.  Seems like perhaps… I’m letting the Guatemala demeanor seep in little by little.  Here, things will come in their own time.

Carlo’s House

Rick and I take our own break and have lunch in a small restaurant overlooking the water.  When we finish lunch we make our way over to Carlo’s house.  We find him there with Perdo.  The others haven’t shown up yet.  We aren’t really sure if they are coming.  We start the conversation with Carlos and Pedro.  Pedro is rather quiet today and Carlos is somewhat serious.  Carlos tells us about how he tried to video a person working in the field.  The man refused.  Carlos was frustrated and confused.  This is hard he said.  We empathized and agreed.  Some people do not like to be recorded, some people will be suspicious, and some will accept willing.   Here is an excerpt of our conversation with Carlos (subtitles to come).

Essentially we suggest trying to explain the purpose of the project and the interest that Carlos has in telling it from within the community.  We propose various other strategies, being inform or being formal (it is a matter of reading the audience) or we share, you could go in a group where it might be more comfortable.  Carlos liked the idea of going in a group.  He recalled that this was very natural when they interviewed people in the town about their thoughts regarding the Rios Montt case.

It was a productive afternoon.  Like the social rewards of visiting, frequent check-ins are helpful.  These provide an an opportunity to catch challenges and frustration early in order to brainstorm solutions together.  I recall feeling almost guilty (yet fortunate) for having the ability to do that with this group.  I did not have the luxury of doing this with Chirijox.  Between the physical distance and my holding a “9-5” job, this just wasn’t an option.

But in this moment, I also reflect on the similarities between the groups.  The kids did not film as much as I wanted them to in Chirijox, at least not in the beginning.  After walking in the field with them, I realized that it was not because they didn’t want to, but rather it was because they were timid.  They didn’t find people who did not want to be interviewed like Carlos had, but they did feel more comfortable going out as a group.  What is more, I see similarities between Carlos and Carmen.  They both have strong leadership qualities.  They both have a very strong sense of self.  It is rare for either of them to show their vulnerabilities.  In this moment, Carlos reached out.  His willingness to discuss possibilities for approaching his topic and successfully interviewing members of his community with us, is a sign of maturity and a sign of his passion for his work and his theme.  Every time that I converse with him, not unlike my times with Carmen, he impresses me more and more.


Workshop May 25

My longtime colleague and friend, Rick Duque landed in Guatemala on Friday, May 24th. He is a professor of sociology at St. Cloud University in Minnesota. I was very excited for him to come as we have both been doing research related to putting cameras in the hands of locals in order to have them tell stories from their own perspectives. His work has largely been with adults and my work has been with youth. Because he is a sociologist and I consider myself in the cultural sociology/anthropology camp, our styles and philosophies differ slightly, but our aspirations of creating spaces for local voices are similar. Because of these differences, and like any academics, we argue from time to time. I really actually appreciate this. The differences allow for opportunities to challenge our own understandings, belief systems, and strategies. It is always a pleasure to be working with him. His scheduled his visit with us lasted for three weeks and I look forward to the conversations ahead.

Less than 24 hours later after his arrival, I had him immersed in a workshop that I held for both the Chirijox and San Juan groups. This day held particular aims – some separate and some collective. For those from San Juan, the goal was to begin envisioning their stories, both in words and in images. I was hoping that these six (now seven) young men and women from San Juan would have an opportunity to learn from the experiences of those in Chirijox thus far. For the youth from Chirijox, the idea was to have them do a little more editing and then talk through their unfinished documentaries with the San Juan group. Together, the goal: reinforce the message that we are here to learn from them. The day was simply amazing. I catch myself saying that a lot, I suppose. So why was today amazing? I’ve already spoken of Carmen in another blog post. The poise and professionalism that she displays makes one think that she is 30 years old. And while she stands out among her companions, there are other quiet subtleties to pay attention to as well.

These are seen throughout the day, which began with us all sitting in a circle and introducing ourselves to each other – Chirijox to San Juan, San Juan to Chirijox. Fabiola, Catalina, and Carmen all shared their experiences thus far and told a little about what they were working on. The students from San Juan listen and simply state their names and how old they are.

in circle

Following this, we split up into two groups – the Chirijox group worked on editing. When you watch the videos you will notice that Carmen is using iMovie and Fabiola and Catalina are using Premiere. I personally prefer Premiere because of its flexibility (and probably because I learned it in my Master’s program). It really was a result of an accident that these two are using it, but they have taken to it seamlessly and authoritatively. Now that Carmen sees its power over iMovie, it is safe to say that she wishes she had used it. Next movie, she says quietly and continues on. Just a note that Carmen has taught me things in iMovie that I’ve never seen before. And Catalina and Fabiola took to Premiere like they were experts.


While the editing was ongoing, the San Juan group had a conversation with Rick. Rick began the conversation by talking about how he became interested in being in and making films. I’ve reiterated continuously that our aim here is to listen to local voices, perspectives, and stories. This message – overt and covert – continues to be the tone. The placement of expert and knowledge holders is continuously communicated. Rick fell right into step with that message as he told his story. He shared that he entered Hollywood (a one time aspiring actor) because he wanted to alter the way that the Latin American story was begin told. As he watched films, he became concerned with the ways in which Latinos were depicted (Note: Here the term more prominently used is Ladino). He remembered thinking “This is not my story.”


For that reason he became interested in filmmaking. Yet, he expressed that changing the ways that people tell stories is not easy. Despite this, he told them, if you do not tell your stories, someone else will come and tell them. Your stories will be more authentic coming from you, as you are living the lives that you share with us. This example reinforces to the youth that we are here to learn who they are and how they see themselves in the world. Staying true to this comes back to a concept (theoretical as it might be) that I have yet to explicitly talk about. That is, the concept and understanding – in this case – indigenous knowledge and life in Guatemala. It is a question that I will address in a future post. For now, I want to continue painting the day, as the documentation of what occurred is the focus of this entry.


After Rick’s story, the group was encouraged to continue writing their stories. We had begun this process in San Juan during one of our Saturday visits. It was my hope that they would write longer descriptions, examples, and thoughts, however, this did not materialize. Why? Is a question to which I often return. This is the moment were I try to think consciously about what I’m actually doing and not just talking about doing. What are my assumptions about how to bring out or afford opportunities for local knowledge and ways of expression? In my framework, that is the first part: The Importance of Gaining insight into Local and Cultural Knowledge and Interests… Remembering that, I think about how easy it is for “outside lenses” to assume that the short paragraphs and the lack of motivation to write more is a result of poor education, ignorance, lack of motivation, etc.


Yet, my interpretive eye moves into a different space. Spending time within the communities, I am reminded that these youth live in primarily an oral cultural and community. There are not many writings in the languages of Tz’utujil. There are more than in the K’Che community, yet in both communities, there is little written in the local language. When I ask the kids to write in their local idioma, they often say that they cannot, they have not learned to do so. Spanish is their second language and while their education is in Spanish, most of the day they speak to their families, neighbors, and friends in their local language. So I ask myself – does listening just including voices about their stories, or voices about engagement? For me it is both of course. I hear my academic voice ask me, “Am I imposing a western practice again?” There is a constant tension and intersection between the only structures of education that I know, live, and have been taught and the participation structures of these communities. Pay attention and ask, what are the differences, the overlaps? What in their ways of doing things become messages on how they would suggest that they engage in brainstorming their ideas, their evidence, and their trajectory for their visions of their stories? For me, these are questions and concepts that needs to stay present in every interaction that we have. It is of particular importance for the Unlocking Silent Histories team as we move forward with future implementation in their communities and other communities around the Lake Atitlan region.

sanjuan6 sanjuan3 sanjuan2

An hour passed quickly. Both groups were working hard as well as socializing or listening to music (these are teens you know!). At the close of that hour, I brought the group together. Carmen and Fabiola and Catilina to present their films (in progress) to the San Juan group in order for them to get some feedback. In theory, the San Juan students would provide feedback and critiques and their interpretations. My vision is for people from different communities to eventually question and negotiate meaning held in the films. But we aren’t there yet. More on the in a minute… Carmen went first.


Her presentation on the relationship between her community and nature was nothing short of professional. Later that day, Rick said most PhD candidates couldn’t do what she did there. And he might be right. She explained, she connected ideas, she talked about choices that she made. You have seen her presentation in a previous blog post, when I talked about Carmen’s journey thus far (see previous post)

Catalina and Fabiola (who are working a story about tejidos (weavings)) – went second.


It took some coercing and convincing that they would survive speaking in front of these young strangers! I told them that it would be a good opportunity for practice for the film showcase. Despite their hesitation, they walked to the front of the group, sat down, and began sharing their story. Fabiola and Catalina took turns presenting what they have constructed so far. They did this together with quiet poise. Their delivery was not as eloquent and mature as Carmen’s, but they are four years younger and much more timid in front of groups. I am so very proud of them and proud of how this is coming together. A bit of a confession, we (the facilitators from Maya Traditions and I) were a bit concerned about them. Their story was very fractured and it was very difficult to get them to film. But now they have more film than the others and their story is quite complex and cohesive. We are thrilled with how their story is connecting many levels of the weaving process and how each level is connected to their community. In this video clip, we get a glimpse of their story (subtitles to come!).

As I look on into the audience, I try to read the faces of the youth from San Juan as they watch each presentation. They are quiet and polite. At times their eyes are fixed on the presentation and I times they seem distracted. There were two reasons that the presenters faced an uphill battle to maintain the attention of the audience. First, the interviews were in K’Che – an indigenous language yes, but one very different than San Juan’s Tz’utujil. Second, the sound coming from the computer was low. Despite this, the San Juan students did stay with the presenters. Yet they barely asked questions or offered suggestions.

This brings me back to what I mentioned above. I said, in theory the San Juan kids would provide critiques of the videos and offer suggestions to make them better. The concept reflects one of Unlocking Silent Histories’ goals – that is to contribute to the promotion of cultural understanding by connecting youth across geographical boundaries. We are starting small here by asking students to share their movies with people of similar histories and geographical position. To see this in action and work through the best methods of cross community discussions, we are doing this in person. Again, theoretically, these means learning to “read” texts – images, sounds, and words, to interpret the meaning of the author as well as the meaning of their own. I envision the different groups to asking questions, interpreting visual and textual meaning, giving their impressions from their perspectives and then negotiating the significance in order to learn more about each other. But as mentioned, we aren’t quite there yet. There is an aspect of developing trust and comfort first that will make these conversations possible. Since these two groups just met, they are shy with each other. The San Juan audience is respectful and pensive. For today, we won’t know their perspectives of the movies, what they connected with and what they question. Stay tuned for more on how this part of communications and negations of meaning unfold.

Rick in group

While the goal of negotiating meaning between storytellers and communities is somewhat down the line, there was a more immediate outcome today. As writers, we find the practices that make us better. We have peer reviewers, we storyboard, we outline, we talk out loud… Digital storytellers and documentarians find themselves engaged in similar practices. Yet, it has been my experience that there is something inherently different about the digital process. Putting a story on paper is one thing, but pulling together a cohesive visual story is another…

And with that statement, I will slide back into an academia mode for just a minute. Technology in my experience is an important tool for making thinking visible. It’s visibility is not only for seeing what has been recorded. That is only one aspect. Yes, it is nice to have the immediacy of knowing if you like your shots and if the lighting and sound is just right. However, there is more to the story here. The visual story is not about solely aesthetic shots and composition. It is that but it is using these images and shots to pull together a compelling story. The visual representations accompanied by the subtitles that the students added, help to create a dialogue between author and authored piece. Using the technology puts the ideas in “seeable” terms. From this and from externalizing one’s on the screen and then to the audience (however small), illustrates several aspects of the digital storytelling practices are seemingly revealed. From today’s workshop, these include:

  • Hearing themselves talk through their process and how they are connecting different parts of their stories.
  • Utilizing the subtitles to make visible where the connections fell short.
  • Reflecting on the effectiveness of their images (the angles, the lighting, the feeling that they want to express)
  • Connecting one image to the next
  • Engaging with the audiences and responding to their reactions and questions.

The back and forth process between “having” your story and building it as a multimedia production shows itself. While these youth from Chirijox entered this process in January with a vision of what they wanted to tell, it has been only through the interactions between themselves and their own thoughts, themselves and their community interviews, themselves and their media/digital story program, and themselves and this audience that their real story emerges. It has been evident here that each of them started with a story, but their vision of how it materialized was an ongoing dialogue. That process does not end in today’s workshop. There is still a ways to go until they complete their digital timelines. I for one look forward to each step of the journey. For these youth, sharing their reality comes in the making, in the process, in the dialogue between their ideas and their representations…


After an action packed day, we say goodbye to the kids. It took a much longer time to say goodbye to Carmen, Fabiola, and Catalina. They stayed to talk with us. The focus? English. We shared words and they wrote them down. We laughed at ourselves – me of my Spanish pronunciations and them of their English. As we walk out together, I see Fabiola stop to look at clothes. We separate as they enter the tienda and I realize how far we have come together. Building relationships with them has been perhaps one of the most fun parts of our journey together.

After this week’s workshop in the Maya Traditions sala, I am reminded why this focus is so important to me.  This week, we brought the two pilot sites together – one closer to the end of their projects and one group just beginning.  Watching the energy emerge from Carmen, Fabiola, and Catalina as they strive to complete movies was exhilarating.  And feeling the wheels turning in Carlos, Pedro, Jose, Norma, Juana, and Lucila as they try to conceptualize what they want to tell reminds me how far the kids from Chirijox have come.  They have yet to feel the satisfaction of a finished project, but they are nearing this end.  As for the San Juan youth… they are just skimming the surface of what is yet to come.

When you are confused, you are on the verge of learning something (Koz, 1985…)

….Part 2 of May 23rd…. the elated emotion that countered the news about Marcos.

The same day that I heard the bad news about Marcos, I witnessed one of the most pivotal moments with Carmen.  Carmen, what can I say? She always amazes me…  I have described her as a natural leader and that she is.  But I have also noted in my personal journal that there are qualities about Carmen that might prohibit her from being an effective leader.  Namely, Carmen seems to want to give the impression that she is under control at all times and she knows it all.  I see leadership as more than that.

An example of this adherence to those qualities is evident in the interactions between Marisol and Carmen.  On many occasions, Marisol would say to Carmen – what do you think about this idea?  And how do you think it would be to have this as a representation of your ideas.   Ummm hmmm Carmen would say.  It was a response almost to say, yes, I hear you, but I’ve got this.  And usually she would say something that goes with that image. I got it, I have everything that I need.

I can empathize with Carmen’s “resistance” to hearing new ideas and taking constructive criticism.   I have my own history as to why I’ve been known to react this way, but with Carmen, why could this be?  I reflect on many possibilities: she is a woman in a predominantly male dominated society, she needs to show her strength to be considered equal in the eyes of others in her community, she is driven to be seen as strong and intelligent (her desire is to obtain a scholarship and study in the US), she is just plain stubborn (with a smile)… these are some among many interpreted possibilities.

This is not to say that Carmen is not open to learning.  It is exactly the opposite.  Carmen wants to learn everything.  What is more, more often than not she is organizing these external activities and taking on teaching responsibilities in the community.  But it is not often that Carmen will show her vulnerability.  It is quite rare that she will ask questions that might insinuate that she doesn’t know something little let alone something inherently more complex.

This day was different.  Carmen, reached out.  I saw a new characteristic in Carmen, one that she has hidden from us.  It was a moment that I won’t soon forget.

Let me take us back a little and share how it happened.  Marisol and I were late that day.  Although theoretically, the car should get us there more quickly, the detours in Solola and construction on the Pan American highway slowed us down.  We arrived at 9:30 AM.  Carmen, Catalina, and Emilio had waited for a short time, but then went home.  They assumed we weren’t coming, mostly because the workshop in Pana was scheduled for two days later.   Marisol immediately called Carmen.  Carmen answered and said that they were there, but they left.  Why would they leave, I wondered?  But then Carmen explained.  Carmen was the only one that came back.

There is a luxury about confusing the schedule and with having a lack of consistent attendance.  Specifically, we get to the opportunity to have one-on-one consultations.  Today was Carmen’s day.

I take out one of the Macs, the one that Carmen has been working on.  She opens it, immediately launches iMovie and gets to work.  She sits poised in front of the computer.  She begins, in unbroken concentration, to work on her edits.  Not too long after, she pauses and looks toward us, back to the computer and then back toward us.  I see a hesitation in what is her normal fluent and persistent work.  A moment later, her eyes find their way somewhere between the computer and us.  She doesn’t look directly at us she looks down.   I don’t often see in Carmen do this.  She always holds eye contact even when she and I are speaking our own languages trying desperately to understand each other.  Looking down, she quietly says,  I’m confusedI just don’t know how to put this story together. 

I can feel a slight smile emerging on my face.   I hold back my elation. Carmen is asking for help! Carmen, strong, confident, and resolute Carmen is confused! And she’s willing to admit it.  I can’t help but think of the famous words of my favorite professor Koz, Susquehanna’s famous Koz. He would always say, When you are confused you are on the verge of learning something.  It is a line, I often refer to – because in these states of struggle is often the times that we learn the most.  And what I hoped for Carmen was that she would be learning more than “how to” put this story together.  This was a time for her to learn that opening up and talking through confusion means an opportunity for talking about possibilities, seeing new ways of doing things, and finding in that the way she wants to tell her story.  It is completely within her – she just needed to talk it through.

Carmen is still looking down.  Marisol looks to me.  Then Carmen raises her eyes as she feels me energy and enthusiasm flow toward her.  Oh, I say, there are many possibilities!  I’ll share two with you.  I offered a linear and a non-linear model in order to illustrate possible extremes and hopefully give way to the grays in between.  The linear example implied that she could just show each interview in a sequence that she thought made sense.  The non-linear model is one that emulates ethnography.  That is, Carmen could watch the video and find themes.  Then she could decide a sequence for those themes and pull chunks from the interviews, interspersing them where it made sense.  Marisol helps me to explain this.

Carmen, like the sponge that she is, listened intently. A light comes on for Carmen.  You could almost see the wheels turning in her mind.  She got it… right away her demeanor transitioned from insecure and unsure right back to confident and determined.  And away she went. She began sequencing the kinds of questions that she asked and putting them in a way that made sense to her.  She began to grab pieces of interviews and put them together as support to the sequence she created.  And what is more, this is yet another example of a moment where one of the youth is asking for a direction and instead of us telling her “the” way or any way – we engage in conversations that assess possibilities and tell her that the next step is her choice.

In this video, you can see and hear how in just two days, Carmen became more confident about what she was telling, how she was telling it, and why the sequence was going to be what it is.  Professional, is a word that comes to mind, as Carmen tells the new San Juan group about her experience and her journey thus far.

Even without subtitles, one can see from this video that Carmen has command of her subject and is in essence finding her voice.

Rear view Mirror: Marcos


In moments of loss, we tend to reflect on the past – what has been done, what did we miss, and what could we have done differently?

On May 23rd, Marisol and I entered the house in Chirijox. It was a day filled with emotional extremes.  Both ends of the spectrum deserve their own blog entries, as both are important learnings.

First, the sad…  That day I got the news that Marcos would no longer participate.  The only explanation I got was that he had to work daily from 6 AM to sundown.  I know that this is a choice that he made – I know that from earlier conversation with him.  What could have happened?  I wanted to put my energies to that question, but for now, I had to compartmentalize my sadness in order to focus on Carmen that day.  I didn’t have the luxury of really feel this loss until we drive Carmen to her house.

On the way to Carmen’s house we see a group of young men working.  Marcos is among them.  I stop the car.  Marcos, can I talk to you?  He shakes his head no.  He is standing with a shovel in hand surrounded by his peers.  I didn’t think at the time that talking to him in front of his peers may not have been the best idea for me.  I continued – Just for a minute?  He walks to the car and greets me in my driver’s seat.  I don’t really feel like I’m driving this situation, I feel completely helpless.  Are you coming this Saturday? I ask (our workshop, bringing together the San Juan and Chirijox groups is Saturday).  No.  he says.  Why? I ask.  Because I have to work. He responds.   OK,  I say, Are you going to finish your film?  No, he says.  I say whyBecause I don’t want to.

I sit frozen, hearing the words and watching Marcos.  His eyes barely catch mine, mostly, he looks down.  My heart drops.  I’m devastated.  Marcos and Carmen have been our leaders – each in a different way.  Marcos always encouraging and reminding the other that this is a great opportunity.  I never thought we’d lose either of them.  My mind shifts back to the conversation.  The only thing that comes out of my mouth is: We are going to need your camera.  It’s not really the response that I wanted to give, but I was so shaken by his words, that I wasn’t actually thinking.  In these moments we don’t think.  Our hearts and souls go into this work and we draw our energies from work and success of our youth.

Marisol and Carmen both sit quietly – Marisol to my right and Carmen in the back seat. Neither says a word.  Marcos shakes his head yes and returns to his friends.  I don’t remember him even saying goodbye.

I drive away, feeling the sadness coming over me.  I just can’t seem to shake it.  The construction in the village that Marcos helps with doesn’t allow us to drive far enough to take Carmen home.  Symbolic, I think to myself.  Can’t take us all the way…  I feel that Carmen gets the sense that I’m upset but I try to put on a happy face as a watch her walk away, one of my computers in the bag over her shoulder.  She smiles and waves.  I smile back and again I see before me a leader, a soldier, and a woman with poise, grace, and vision.  Emanating from her is an amazing strength that I’m continuously inspired by.  All this I see in a young woman, who I barely know. The reality is that the distance – physical and linguistic – prohibits me from fostering opportunities: more time and more words that might allow me to more intimately understand what makes Carmen Carmen.   That, I know will change.  I have time with Carmen, but not with Marcos.

Carmen walks away and immediately my thoughts return to Marcos.   While my first reactions were personal, I start stepping back and thinking about the loss from the perspective of Marcos. I release a little of my personal emotions to take an opportunity to think more deeply about his world and the various possibilities that might make him walk away. Has he felt the need to return to the necessities of his community?  Does to the necessities of taking care of his community?  Was it peer pressure?  Was it that he was angry with us or frustrated with the project? Or could it possibly just be that Marcos has come to see that this is not a part of enhancing his future?

The possibilities racing through my mind keep me quiet on the way home. Marisol interrupted the silence by saying, I’m afraid that we’ll lose Emilio tambien since they are so close.  I hadn’t really thought of that.  My first response was; No, I think that he’ll still come.  He was there today even without Marcos. I realize that maybe I’m trying to convince myself.  There certainly is a chance of that.  This group is a community; it is a team.  The words of Marcos rise up in my mind:  We are in this together and all of – Marcos said – are successful or none of them are.   Is this going to be true?  And in light of this, how will we define success?

Recalling his words, I return to silence and introspection. Where did I go wrong?  Like in other situations, I become hard on myself.  About half way home, I stop car to allow Marisol to make a delivery to a Mayan healer.  She stepped out of the car and walked back toward a road that we had just passed.  I simply stared in the rearview mirror.  Again, this becomes symbolic.  Looking back into this mirror.  If only we could always look at life through it.  If only we could see what has passed and then make all the right moves to ensure that what we do is “correct”.  But we can’t.  What is more, moving through these hiccups in “our plans” is part of the learning process.  I know I can’t change what has happened, but still I stared looking behind me thinking about the intersection of past and present.  And again, what is reflected in this mirror is also symbolic.   I watch as traditionally dressed Maya women carry their children wrapped in cloth on their backs.  Others hold the hands of older children as they walk on the side of the highway.  Men are going about their everyday routines.  Several, also more traditionally dressed, carrying heavy packages –wood bundles on their backs, large baskets – likely food they sell or necessities that they are gathering for the family.  A modern highway sets the stage filled with historically resonant activity.  The intersection of past and present is so evident.

Seeing the connection between past and present (and ultimately future) is a goal of this project – using video to question and investigate the past and thinking about how that past overlays the present and influences what they see and want for their futures.  Questioning what to hold on to and what to adopt.  Making informed decisions about how they want to present themselves.  Video work becomes a record for this – and puts the voice of their community in their hands.

Marcos’ story did just this.  What he was going to tell is so powerful and important.  The first time that I read it, I was so moved.  While we might not have the opportunity to finalize a video made by him we still have his voice captured on paper. Marcos, my mind on of course is still on Marcos.   Vibrant, strong, intelligent, inquisitive, Marcos.  Again, I think: what happened?

I want now is to understand.  It is easier to make assumptions about why he quit.  There is a tendency to make assumptions that are historically grounded in what we believe about impoverished or marginalized communities and what we think is good for them.  But understanding from Marco’s perspective is the only way to really know.  And perhaps if he tells me that this project helped him to see his future, I have to accept that – because that is after all one thing that I hope for.

Weeks have gone by and I have attempted to reach out to Marcos. I have written to him in facebook.  I have sent a text.  I have talked to his cousin Carmen.  I have asked the development direct, Erin from Maya Traditions, to call him.  So far we are unsuccessful.  I think about dropping in on him, but this is not as easy as I’d like it to be.  Getting to Chirijox takes nearly an hour and a half. Dropping in and hoping Marcos is home is an unlikely.  I have not given up on talking to him.  I am still determined to find a way. It may take me months, but I’d like to hear his story of what happened.  I do hope also to come to find a way for him to finish.

To lose these kids – any of them – is painful, but the risk is a reality.  Losing him was like losing Rosa from her project (our beautiful, intelligent scholar from the Dominican Republic).  I’m not sure it’s the same, but it feels like those emotions are coming back.  This is part of it Donna, I think to myself. This is all part of doing this work and hearing the messages from within the community as to why this happens.  What do they want?  What do they need?  What structures work for them in terms of persistent participation?

Will Marcos come back?  Will he finish?  Does he really not want to?  I’m not sure.  But part of knowing what happened is part of being able to look forward and being able to strengthen this work.  Learning from him to consider structures that help them stay and enjoy success of completing what they started.  It is after all, about learning from them.