Oh, how Guatemala has changed me…

I began this blog nearly five years ago, with the help of my friend Dave (thank you for more than you know, Dave). I started it as a way to share my thoughts as I took my first real journey outside of the U.S., to learn Spanish in Guatemala. Since then it has provided me really vital space for me to reflect, play with my ideas, and, frankly, grow in a lot of ways.

Now I’ve just returned from my 8th trip to Guatemala, and on the plane home alone, I was just weeping, weeping. I was so moved by how much I love that country, its people, its history, and especially the family that has welcomed me in there. Guatemala has changed me in so many ways, I feel like it’s a critical piece of understanding who I am and what I value these days. How could it be otherwise, with Glendi in my life??

But as I’ve eluded to in previous posts, I don’t really talk about it much anymore. I think that as the ties with Guatemala have grown stronger, and as I become more humbled by how much I don’t know or understand, it becomes harder for me to share. It’s not just the class and race complexities that make it hard to talk about, it’s the whole web of it. Just how different the whole picture is from the realities of my life and my friends’ lives in the U.S.

But I want to keep trying. This blog first started as a way for me to talk about Guatemala and my growth as I spent my first six weeks there. Now that I’ve been there 8 times, there are so many deep reflections that I could be doing here, and I want to give myself the freedom to do that.

But for now, let’s just settle for a quick few fun highlights from my trip:

-Riding for 7 hours in the back of a pickup truck on the way from the capital to Glendi’s family’s house. I love the wind, the sickening sweet smell of burning sugar cane, the disgusting, shit smell of the rubber factories, and the way my legs always completely fall asleep. It’s precisely the length of the journey, so many unknown locations and people that we pass, that really affects me…makes me feel so small in the world.

-Setting up two makeshift basketball hoops outside the family’s house, and playing almost daily 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 tournaments with nearly everyone in the family and extended family, from the 6 year old twins to the 35 year-old Inés. Since I’m a giant compared to everyone else, I get to play Shaq style, just totally guarding and blocking everything…that is until they got really good at passing underneath my legs!

-Picking coffee with Glendi’s dad and brothers on our little plot of land…my first time learning how they pick coffee. It was fun, and the social nature of it reminded me of our old family fishing trips in Alaska. I’m glad that even though the family is very conscious of the exploitation they face when they pick coffee at the fincas…that the actual activity is enjoyable for them. For me, even spending one day doing it, I appreciate just how hard they all work under the sun, and with all the bugs, every day of the week. Glendi’s dad also tried to teach me how to cut brush with a machete…but…that’s going to take me a lot longer to learn! Wow!

-Seeing all of the URNG (the old guerrilla army turned leftist party) graffiti on every single road sign in the area. It gave me hope about increased leftist mobilization since my previous visits, and reminded me that next time I want to plan more than just family time…I want to really seek out and spend time with some more organized Guatemalan leftists. However, I also cynically thought that the graffiti could just be one night’s work of just a small group of youth…who would still be great to connect with!

-Reading 5 books and writing all sorts of stuff in my journal, really re-connecting with some of my favorite political ideas….which hopefully I’ll be writing about more. The peaceful thinking time I had, mixed with the playful family time, really allowed me to get grounded with a lot of the emotional and political stresses that I’m feeling in Seattle these days

-Swimming, swimming, swimming!

-Visiting the kids schools was just so, so humbling. To see, generally, how young people live, interact, find their identities within their families…it really makes me question the work that I do in Seattle. What is youth empowerment in the context of deep poverty? What is youth empowerment in the context of barren schools with no books, and only a few typewriters that are in the main office? What is youth empowerment in the context of rigid gender roles that also maintain a very real family labor system…that if not maintained can grind a families health and hygiene to a halt? Wow, oh, wow are these big things to think about…and they just humble me when I think about my job.

It probably sounds like the trip was mostly low-key fun, and though it really was fun, what made it so powerful was that underlying everything was an emotional intensity, and some critical realities that I can’t really talk about here, but which gave everything a real electricity. Guatemala makes me feel in a way that makes me realize how numb I usually am. And it really makes me ask myself why I feel so numb so often. But that’s another thing I hope to write more about.

Until then, I’m home, I’m thinking, I’m feeling. And I’m alive, and that’s so, so special.

Much love,

Jeremy

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Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi