The Underbelly

A note: This post has some intense stuff that may be triggering for survivors of violence.

And so there were these two autonomous villages I was visiting, certainly poor, but showcasing a level of community and solidarity that I’ve never seen in the US…in my very particular suburban culture…I’ve tasted it in my extended Alaskan family, but nothing this strong…

But this is all romanticizing, because the reality of life in Fatima, Nuevo San Jose, and I imagine much of the countryside in Guatemala is something much deeper and harder than it first seems.

First, the sexism. The work of the women…everyday, for every meal, making tortillas from scratch (literally, often from the whole kernels of maize), washing the clothes (every day because of so many kids, and by hand…which I had to do at the mountain school, in the giant sink that’s called a pila…and it just ripped apart my arm muscles trying to ring all my pants out…and those were just clothes for my one person!), cleaning, taking care of kids, cooking, shopping…and then…being available to their husbands.

There is a reason there are so many kids here, and the reason, plain and simple, is male domination. It is the men who refuse to use condoms. It is the men who reject birth control (it is widely believed there that getting a vasectomy makes a man gay…which I’ll talk more about in a second). It is the men who expect their wives to be always available to them, and who judge their maleness on the number of kids they have…it is sexism, plain and simple…

And it is the men who are spreading aids in these communities…yes, aids, because these men don’t have work or they only have work in other cities…and so every day they are traveling to other cities…where they have mistresses and prostitutes…and then back to their wives…where aids and other sexually transmitted infections are spread…and this is not just general, this is a reality in Fatima and Nuevo San Jose specifically. Sexism and machismo are very real here…and they are deadly…as they are in the United States also…I didn’t hear any stories about domestic violence, but I’m sure it’s a reality, just as it is everywhere.

And as for sexuality…here it is something that isn’t talked about…and since children aren’t supposed to move out until marriage…there aren’t many options for clandestinely queer folks either…but there are queer folks in Fatima and Nuevo San Jose…closeted…and at least one of them is an alcoholic…

Also, there was a teacher in the school in Xela who is lesbian, and who had to flee to the United States in order to be with her partner without being harassed, attacked, and completely rejected.

And there is the work. The constant work. Work to chop and gather firewood, work to support the family, work on the fincas during certain seasons…these people work extremely hard, men and women…but especially the women and girls.

And there are gangs (but not in Nuevo San Jose and Fatima…yet), and there drugs, and there is alcohol, and there is a family with a developmentally disabled baby…who has never seen sunlight because the family is too ashamed to take her outside…she’s three years old…

And things are just simply hard…painful in ways that I’ve never seen or understood. What aspirations are there? What ¨I can do anything if I just work¨ idea? These people have been working for generations, not even asking for anything but sufficiency…and they were denied even that…until they fought…and they are still fighting, simply to have water, to have a little school…to have houses that actually can stand a windy day…and still, there is no work…the school is the most stable work…and with growing free trade (the reason there is no work is because free trade concepts have destroyed the notion of fincas having permanent employees…now it’s walmart, temp job style…where people are hired for three months at a time…paid almost nothing with no benefits…and then fired) policies, this situation will not improve.

There is a reason why feminism and socialism are talked about so much here (and the women talk about feminism a lot…not the women in the villages, but my teachers)…and that’s because they are needed. Period. They are needed.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi