From the Journal of: Erica
August 8, 2011
Sensory overload defines my every day here. Dogs limping and barking, beautiful Spanish phrases floating through the air, breath-taking scenery next to tin roofs of concrete one-room homes, unrecognizable heaps of trash, the feel of dirt in our hands and on our faces and necks, the earthy smell of tortillas, joyful smiles, struggling to handle group dynamics, hot tears, blisters rising, thunder, lightning, rain, hot Guatemalan lunch with warm jamaica (hisbiscus) tea, basketballs bouncing, feet shuffling over tile floors, plaster spraying in my hair and eyes , sledgehammers pounding into tires, shovels scraping the earth, cool breezes, and just the feeling that everything here is raw and just under the surface, ready to pour out.
Yesterday, we viewed a mural of Comalapa’s history and heard the story behind each panel from Genevieve, Long Way Home’s Director of Operations. The mural was bright and graphic. The history of Comalapa is deep. The part of the history that affected me the most starts in the 60’s. US fruit corporations held lots of land that used to belong to the indigenous people. The indigenous people began to fight for their land rights and socioeconomic equality. The CIA and the US fruit corporations funded a coup and installed a military dictator. This dictator mobilized an army and instated mandatory conscription. If you were a male in Guatemala and did not join the army, you were considered a guerrilla and were subject to murder or imprisonment. Indigenous men fled the villages and hid in the mountains to avoid conscription. Women and children remained behind. This war raged for 36 years and over 200,000 people were killed. The military controlled the government. Corruption was and still is rampant. In Comalapa, 300 women and children were burned alive in the major church in town. Today, there is corruption in the government and lack of social services for the indigenous people. Unemployment is 75% in Comalapa. There is no water system, trash collection, healthcare, or education past the 6th grade. The struggle and the pain is palpable. Somehow, from this great struggle, joy abounds. There is a huge focus on family and community. There is patience and love everywhere we turn. The final section of the mural contains the hopes and dreams of the Comalapan people. The panels of hope symbolize education, access to fresh water and healthcare, and the increase of tourism to the area. The message of this mural is clear: out of great struggle, comes hope.
From the market to the dump to the mural to the school worksite, I draw a clear connection. We are here for a purpose that is so far beyond filling tires with dirt and bottles with trash. Our service is part of the hopes and dreams of this community and this community feeds our dreams. By being here to build this school, we have grown immensely, both individually and as a group. We have learned so much. As we serve, we are helping to build the school and simultaneously we are gaining so much from this rich community. When we leave here, we will be forever changed. We will never be able to look at injustice and idly stand by. We will feel the unmistakable urge to fight for those whose voices are silenced. I am so deeply impassioned by this work and by this place. The blisters, the tears, the backaches, the swollen knuckles, the bruises, the plaster in my hair and eyes, the dirt on my face and neck and legs – these things ground me. They connect me to the struggle and the hope. We are one. Our struggle is one.