Thursday, February 19, 2009

Adios Guatemala, Hola El Salvador!

Hello! We made it to El Salvador, safe and sound. It feels great to be here and to look back on this past month in Guatemala with gratitude and awe for all that I learned, saw, contributed, enjoyed and suffered.

I know Guatemala as few know it…actually, possibly only Rolene knows it the way I do. Not that the way I know it is better or worse than any other way to know this country, but I can’t imagine that many foreigners know the highway as intimately as I do, nor have they been to as many schools or evangelical churches. I got to see great beauty and serious ugliness. I was welcomed into several families for a few days at a time and left each one with a heavy heart, sure I couldn’t possibly meet another family as kind, warm and generous. I was proven wrong again and again.

I started off thinking I would walk across every kilometer of Central America and the perfectionist in me didn’t like how often we skipped sections in order to get somewhere on time or avoid dangerous or very unpleasant walking. But, I suppose we are only human, after all. We have this support vehicle that helps us get where we need to go, houses us, and makes us freakishly conspicuous with the locals. It seems a bit ironic to have a car for a project called Walk With Earth (especially since we’re asking people to eliminate the use of gasoline within 10 years), but again, if this trip is to succeed, perfectionism needs to be left at the door.

I don’t know how I might sum up Guatemala. I usually know a place by the friends I make and the snapshot memories that stand out in my mind, which makes it hard to answer questions like, “How was Guatemala? Did you like it?”

It was nice and, yes, I liked it.

I was struck by how different it felt to be in the western highlands the first two weeks as opposed to the eastern section of the country for the last couple weeks. The climate was different (high-elevation mountains in the west and low-land, semi-Mediterranean in the east), but I don’t think that the climate accounted for much of the difference. Most of the indigenous population lives in the west so their cultural influence was obvious, but even this isn’t necessarily the difference. The simplest way I can say it is that the air in the west felt sadder and angrier than in the east.

My sense is that the 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996 with the signing of peace accords, weighs heavily on the psyche of the people in Guatemala, and most heavily in the west, which suffers much more poverty and indigenous discrimination. During the war, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, hundreds of villages were exterminated and more than 100,000 fled north to Mexico and the US. To add insult to injury, they had a series of natural disasters that left tens of thousands dead and homeless. So, they have reason to be traumatized and it is unsurprising that people were more closed off, more suspicious, more inclined towards a sideways glance than I remember from my other travels. Not that the people in the east were not affected by the war, but it seems that their more middle-class status either spared them some of the horrors, or has allowed them the resources to rebuild life more quickly. Of course, these are generalizations and should be treated as such. The individuals we met and stayed with were as open-hearted as any people I have ever met and the joy I felt in their homes was more acute than the dull depression of the general population.

That said, it was a relief to get to Zacapa and Chiquimula in the east because the sadness that settled into my bones in the west was lifted a bit and I can’t deny that it was nice to have the comforts of a more prosperous area. It was also nice to put my long johns away because we were finally out of the chilly mountains and into the hot, hot, hot climate I expected of Central America.

Our time in Chiquimula was pretty jam-packed. Christian Sosa had set up numerous appointments for us to be on TV, radio, and talking at about 20 schools and churches in a week. I didn’t go to all those appointments because, as I said in my last post, I was fried and opted out of some gigs. While I really love the Sosa family who generously put us up for 4 nights, it’s also nice to have a break from the expectant and obligatory socializing and the many meetings with conservative and evangelical folks.

Christian with his sister, Landy, and his brother, Lester.
Their parents, Edwin and Amanda.
With his grandma, Amanda. I tried to add a photo with us with the whole family, but it didn't load.

I’m not sure if anyone from Guatemala is reading this, but if you are please accept my deepest gratitude for your warmth in welcoming me into your lives and your patience with my insufficient Spanish (which I’m glad to say is actually measurably improving) and foreigner’s misunderstandings of social etiquette. I will remember this fascinating country in all it’s natural glory and all it’s faulty humanity and can only hope that the rest of this trip is as rich as my time in Guatemala.

No comments:

Post a Comment