Living the Questions

26 06 2007

I arrived in Todos Santos on Sunday night after five hours of sharing the back seat of an old American school bus with three others. The dirt road climbed and twisted to 12,000 feet before it plunged to our village, which rests somewhere around 8,500 feet. The weather was cold and rainy, and after meeting my new family, which includes four generations of twenty plus people, who range in age from two to eighty something, I decided to take a nap. In all honesty, my first thoughts were, ¨What have I gotten myself into?¨ I tend to have this feeling the first night I am in a new place here, a feeling of, ¨Where am I again and who do I think I´m kidding?¨

However, after waking up Monday morning and viewing the majesty of these mountains and the people, I realized I had stumbled upon a treasure. This place will do just fine.

It feels good to be off the beaten track. My school consists of five other students, and there are a few other tourists in town, though none are American. The town is sleepy and the men all wear traditional dress: red striped pants, an embrodiered shirt, a bamboo like top hat, and some other things I can´t really describe. Being as we are in the highest non-volcanic mountains in Central America, I have already hiked two times, though not without difficulty. This morning, I hiked up to 12,000 feet, and the change in altitude was palpable. However, the views were amazing.

It is also a good place for me to do some reflecting. I find that after three weeks of learning about the history of Guatemala (in addition to Spanish), I have a lot to process. I have never been in a country before where I can so clearly see and understand how the consumption of the U.S. has negatively affected a country´s past and present. It´s not a tricky thing to understand; we first had a huge fruit company here that essentially bought up most of the arable land and paid nearly nothing for the property or the labor. This company was closely aligned with the U.S. goverment…sort of reeks of a Halliburton story…and when our presence was challenged by an emerging democracy and local demand for fair treatment, we both broke up the corporation into our old friends Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita and trained Guatemalan military to overthrow the new democratic Guatemalan government, leading to decades of civil war here. The stories I have heard of burned villages, torture, kidnappings, disappearances, and downright terrorism are horrifying in their own right and because of their close connection to our military training and to our generous supply of arms.

Enough for the shaky history lesson. The point is, I am not clear where to go with this information or exactly what kind of responsibility the U.S. should own up to. It´s not a new story. Our country´s politics are often determined by our desire to control the world´s resources and by the resources that we have decided we need to consume. And as I consume certain products or demand a certain type of economic stability from our government, the ripples are felt here, by these people, my teachers, the families that house me, the women who offer me smiles and directions every day.

So, what to do? This country has many needs…economic, to be sure…but it also needs healing, fair land distribution and labor practices, clean politics, and a working justice system, to name a few. Arguably, the U.S. needs all these things as well, which is why we are not even equipped to lead the charge. One option is to at least shut down our school in Georgia which continues to train Central Americans and others in ¨counter-insurgency¨tactics, but that would just be the tip of the iceberg. (For more info, go to That might solve some of the future political corruption, but there are legacies everywhere of the past ills and corruption.

And then, on the other hand, the greatest source of income here is money earned in the States and sent back by Guatemalans. Is that some form of equity? I don´t know.

Enough deep thoughts for today.

Enjoy that world out there, folks.



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