Thursday, February 22, 2007

Guatemala #6: Windows into life in Guatemala

Subtitle: 3 months of conversations and experiences rolled into one blog entry!

Looking over my last few updates, and then this new one, I realized that the last couple have been very chipper. The chipperness does reflect a reality, but so that you aren't surprised by this entry, the tone of the following isn't exactly chipper! All of this stuff is what I've been learning and experiencing for all of the 3 1/2 months that I've been here. Only now have I been able to sort some of it out in my mind in a form that I think communicates what I'd like it to communicate!

The temptation, when in a new setting (especially a new country), is to analyze things like life, politics, people's attitudes, the economy, etc., etc. I think it tends to be easier to do that type of analyzing when you're in a different country than your own, even though I know less about Guatemala than I do about the US. I want to emphasize that I've been here for 3 months, so please don't take what I'm writing here as a definitive treatise on Guatemala. I also want to emphasize that all of this stuff is normal, meaning, try to read it as if it was the normal way things were in the country you lived in. (I can now construct hypothetical sentences like the last one in Spanish, yay!)

Some interesting conversations I've had...and some thoughts and observations:

Missions…volunteer work, etc.
-What would it be like if foreigners (of a skin color and/or nationality that means power, the ability to travel and wealth) often came into your lives, your communities or your churches? What if they came to serve, or to help you, or to teach you? (Remember, you have no control over when, how often, or why they come, and most often, no control over what they do either)

-Some people in one of the Mennonite churches have told me that before, there were very few evangelical churches in their neighborhood, but after the earthquake in 1976, bunches of missionaries and churches began to sprout up in the neighborhood. Now there's a different little church around more or less every corner!

Immigration
-What might your view of your Mom be like, if you were a three year old kid and you hadn't seen her in 7 months because she was in the US? The most vivid memory you have of her is that when you saw her she took you out to eat pizza.

-What would it mean for your country if people were constantly leaving to try to find work in another country? They are constantly leaving, but also constantly returning through deportations. Think about lack of stability-affecting every part of life here.

-What might it be like to attend your church on a Sunday in Chichicastenango (a town in the department Quiché) and hear that the majority of the congregation's prayer requests are asking for prayers for family members that are in or on their way to the US?

-What might it be like if there were also usually foreigners in your church, because they want to see how you worship, and then buy things at the huge artesan market that is in your town? What might it feel like if it was normal to have to be dependent on money from your relatives who are immigrants in the US, and the money from tourists who come to buy things?

-What would it feel like to be a 12 year old boy whose father has been in the US for 3 years? Adding on to that, you are the only boy left (of your friends who participated in an MCC supported health education program) who hasn't gone to the US. After talking with this young boy and his sisters and friends in a small village in the mountains, we were saying goodbye. We had talked about my work and my friend Toby's work in Guatemala City and El Salvador , respectively. As we were saying goodbye, each of the youth said to us, "I hope you can come back and teach us the things that you know."

Education/Lack of opportunities and resources
-This is something that I feel like I don't have a good grasp on yet...the unequal access to opportunities. These youth that we talked to (from the above story) were so eager to learn, anything. There just aren't opportunities, sometimes for even basic education, much less for things like arts, literature, specialized interests or skills. This creates an attitude that, if there is an opportunity (to learn, to earn some money, or to get some money, or whatever else) you have to take advantage of it. From my judgment, this can be a good type of attitude, as well as a damaging one, because it also plants distrust in terms of people taking advantage of each other. To have opportunities to learn is a privilege...one that we take way for granted in much of the US.

People
-In 2006 Guatemala was the country with the 2nd highest rate of adoptions by US citizens, number one being China. (4,135 Guatemalan children were adopted in 2006, and in 2005 there were 3,783 children adopted) Can you imagine? The population of Guatemala is around 12 million....what does that do to your population? (this has got to be one of the more complex issues, and I know very little about it so I won't give any more commentary yet, but the numbers do blow my mind.)

-What would it be like if around 60% of the population of your country was comprised of indigenous people?

Economy
-How would you feel if, in the past 4-6 months two major banks went bankrupt, and the entire country ran out of cash? (meaning that, even if your bank wasn't one of the ones that went bankrupt, you still couldn't take money out of the bank, because there was hardly any cash....)

-Thankfully now there is cash, but what happened was that they got rid of a bunch of old cash that was falling apart, and there was no new cash printed....

Politics
-What might it be like to read in the paper that George Bush was going to come visit Guatemala in March..........for 3 hours? Also, to read that the last US president that came to visit your country was, I think, Johnson, who came for 50 minutes and only stayed in the airport? (Actually Bill Clinton made a visit to Guatemala in 1999 for two days...sorry for the mistake!)

-The civil war in Guatemala lasted for 36 years, and the peace accords were signed in 1996. However, in the past ten years since they were signed, there have been incredible amounts of social violence, theft, etc. Although the war was mainly fought in the mountains (the altiplano, or highlands) the violence since the war ended has permeated much of the country, and is a daily reality in the capital city as well. And when people tell me stories of things that have happened, there's hardly any shock value...meaning that there is frustration, and sadness, but not amazement or incredulity, because it's something normal that happens.

These are some of the realities, some of the stories I've heard, things I've been thinking about as I've been learning Spanish, getting to know some really amazing people, slowly getting to know some of the churches here, as well as planning and trying to organize a music program. It's definitely been overwhelming, but continues to be a rich, in-depth and incredibly valuable learning experience, for which I am very grateful!

1 comment:

Rachel J said...

Very interesting. Thank you for sharing all that (I've just read every entry you've written on Guatemala straight through in chronological order (after reading everything that everyone else had written in the last couple months).)
It's amazing and lovely the way Guatemala sounds like home to you. I wonder if you'll be inspired to write such blogs (like this last analytical one) about the USA when you get back after being gone quite a while.)