Originally Posted in January 2008
I hope you are well, wherever you are, and that the New Year has gotten off to a good start for you all! I have been meaning to write an update for a few weeks now, but I've found it difficult to start: there are so many things I could write about, and so much has happened in the two months since I started volunteering as a human rights accompanier here in Guatemala! After spending my first month working with a team based out of the capital I am now working in rural communities with survivors of the internal armed conflict who are involved in legal cases, demanding for justice for the genocide committed against the Maya people during the conflict.
Life moves at a completely different pace here in the countryside. Traffic noises – honking, buses, screeching tires – have been replaced by roosters, cows, pigs, the occasional firecracker – especially just before and after the holidays – and the clapping sounds made by women "torteando" (making tortillas) at meal times. Instead of the stench of diesel, the air is filled with smells of earth and, of course, the smoke of the wood fires that are used to cook. Most morning we are up at dawn and are on our way to our first visit of the day as the sun is rising above the mountains. Most mornings, the sunrise is simply stunning! A few days ago, as we were travelling from one community to another a little after sunrise, I caught sight of the three nearby volcanoes which appeared to be sitting atop a cloud of fog that covered the valley below us, it is a sight I will never forget!
Another image I'm sure I'll carry with me for years to come is that of the warm smiles and the bright laughter of the amazing and inspiring people I have met in the communities! On days when I start to get discouraged and begin to wonder if our presence here really has an impact, it is these smiles and the warm welcome of the people we visit that remind me of why we are here. These people have been struggling to achieve justice for years – some for decades. They face enormous barriers in this struggle, especially given the fact that they face a system in which discrimination, inequality and impunity are deeply rooted. Our presence here, our visits a few times a month, our interest in their struggle lets these human rights activists know that there are people "out there" who are aware of their struggle and support them. Only a few days ago we visited an elderly man who witnessed first-hand some of the horrors of the conflict. When he started to speak about former accompaniers who had come to visit him and of how happy he was every time he saw us coming down the road, tears filled his eyes just as a big smile illuminated his face (as I write these words, I look about the same as this señor did, teary eyes and a big smile!)...
Since my return to Guatemala, my experience volunteering as a human rights accompanier has brought me to think about a host of other issues, including racism, social and economic exclusion, feminicide, and the seemingly overwhelming phenomenon of migration to the US (of about 80 families we visit in the region I am working in at the moment, only a few *don't* have a husband, sons and/or brothers who have gone to the US to look for work)... I had the best of intentions to touch on some of these issues in this update, but I think it will have to wait for the next email, which will hopefully come sooner than later!
Wishing you all the best,
¡Cuidense mucho! (Take care!)