On January 19th, Glendi and I lost the baby we had just found out about days before. We nearly lost Glendi as well, from the internal bleeding. That exact same day and hour, Glendi’s dad was hospitalized for the fourth time because of end-stage kidney disease. Glendi’s mom, newly diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver (maybe from malaria or hepatitis, we still don’t know) had been running a fever for 3 days. Weeks later, she’s still running a fever. Our 2 years of savings ran out just about right then. We have no insurance for Glendi’s emergency, so we’ll just have to wait and see about that. And then, on January 20th, Glendi’s cousin was murdered in Guatemala city while attending a funeral for one of his other cousins. He died along with six others, gunned down right in front of the church by gangsters.
This is just the pain of 2011, so far. 2010 was already one of the hardest years yet. More hospitalizations; paying over 2 thousand to secure Glendi’s brother a teaching job, only to have him not be paid a dime (in a public school!) for the ENTIRE school year, and then to be downsized at the end of it; her other brother finding a job driving trucks that pays only $250 a month, with an average of 20 hour days, 6 days a week–no exaggeration. And I won’t say much about 2009, because it was no joy either.
Just so much struggle, while still only moving backward.
With emotional cycles that already swirl between inspiration and depression, this reality has been hard for me to take. The first few problems, I could face it optimistically alongside the family, with an attitude of, “we’ll make it through this thing, things are gonna get better.” But then after a few years of nonstop crisis, the optimism has gotten really ragged. I think one reason for the even more constant numbing activities–video games, tv, online window-shopping, almost never being able to be alone with my thoughts–is that I don’t know how to think about myself, my family, or our future anymore. One becomes scared of making plans or hoping, because that is one more thing that you’ll probably lose.
Sometimes, from my perspective and upbringing, this feels like some kind of grand, almost poetic or operatic tragedy. Something from a movie. It’s been easy for me, and the people from my world and community, to get stuck there. But that is not what this is. What this is, actually, is exposure to the global reality of poverty. What looks and feels like personal tragedy when seen from an individual and family lens is actually the institutionalized experience of millions of people around us. This pain is the status quo in Guatemala and in so many other places across the world.
We are not alone with the malaria, cirrhosis, or kidney disease. They are rampant in Guatemala. We are not alone with the unemployment or terrible, exploitative jobs. We are not alone with the street violence. Just talk to Glendi’s neighbors, cousins, colleagues; all of them know these stories in some form or another. It’s sad to hear what is happening to the family, but it’s no surprise for folks.
In the U.S., there is a simplistic notion that countries in the global south (or in the poor U.S.) are there to provide resources and cheap labor and wide open markets to the rich countries. This is true, on a systemic level. However, this is not actually what makes a whole country like Guatemala run. There is only so much profit to be made in Guatemala from resource extraction and labor exploitation, and there are far more people there than are needed to make that profit–that is, there is a huge surplus population. The coffee and banana workforce have been downsized and converted from a feudal system of peasants who live on the land where they are exploited to a day-laborer system with no job security and no economic stability. This means that there is a huge swell of people with few work prospects and desperate needs, and this creates a roiling economy of poverty that is brutal, predatory, and ever-present. Narco-trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, bribery, sex trafficking, scams and schemes, robbery, this is what fills in the spaces where there is no more room for the traditional exploitative jobs, or the small household stores, or remittances from the U.S.. And the hunger, pain, violence, and disease that accompany this reality are also sources of exploitation and predation.
I write about this not to diminish or even distract myself from the pain of our personal reality, of this terrible 2011. I’m writing about this because I need to realize that I’m not alone in this pain. And being in the U.S., Glendi and I have access to resources that millions of others don’t have. So to lose too much hope, to give up the fight against this system, it’s just something that I can’t do. It’s a shock to see how so many people live, and to see the people who I know and love living it. But for them, it’s sad but not all that new, and they keep trying to move forward.
I’m hurting, we’re hurting, but we’re not alone. Sticking together, trying to stay present with each other, with our feelings…maybe we can build the resilience to push back even harder at this system. This is why Tunisia, Egypt, Venezuela, Bolivia are so inspiring. Because sometimes these humble and hurting people can fight back and win. Hopefully that parallel reality can help me stay away from the constant video games for a few days, at least!