Friday, July 29, 2011

Rabinal, part two

 Okay – now time for part two! After a very successful Monday with San Rafael, we spent Tuesday with the Flor de Algodon group in Chuaperol, helping with the distribution and planting of medicinal plants. Though all of the women met us in the house of Mariana (the leader of the group), it turned out that all of the women lived far – like really far – away from each other…meaning visiting each house to help with their gardens was going to be a bigger challenge than we had anticipated. But, like everything else, Mildre and Lety took this challenge in stride. To be more efficient, we split up – I went with Mildre, Darcy went with Lety – and we headed off into the countryside.

The first woman I visited with Mildre was named Angela Bertha, who lived about 5 km away from the group meeting spot. As we left Mariana’s house, Angela grabbed her basket of plants and balanced it on her head – I’m still amazed each time I see one of the indigenous women balancing huge baskets, bags, and packages on their heads! – and we headed out into the hot midday sun, through cornfields, under barbed wire, and over rivers, all the while on barely existent paths. After nearly an hour, we arrived at Angela’s house – more of a half-collapsed mud hut, which had recently been destroyed by heavy rains – in the middle of a cornfield, where she lives alone now that her only son is grown up and working. The house is completely isolated, has no electricity, and very limited access to water. As we planted her garden, Angela explained that she though she’s still a member of the cooperative, she recently stopped weaving – “estes cosas se cansan de una persona” (these things are tiring after a while) – and she has no other income, but that she’s generally able to subsist on the food she grows herself and the animals she raises. Her story was sad, but she wasn’t telling it to get sympathy or to complain, and as we worked, she smiled, joked, and laughed with us. One thing that was very clear to me was how much her cooperative meant to her – though she seemed happy living by herself, in near-complete isolation, even just having meetings once or twice a month gave her an important sense of camaraderie and connectedness with other women, and helped her learn skills and confidences to help her live on her own. After leaving Angela’s house, we spent a few more hours hiking through the beautiful countryside to plant some more gardens, and then headed back to the town of Rabinal for a late lunch at Pollo Campero.

After a much-needed nap, we ventured out for one more walk around the town, and ended up sitting on the steps of the church, overlooking the marketplace, just talking and enjoying each other’s company. We returned to the hotel and to our surprise, Lety had arranged a surprise dinner for us as a despedida, which we all enjoyed together as we shared stories from the day. Lety and Mildre also surprised us with gifts – cups and keychains engraved with our names and with “OB” and beautiful handmade earrings – and we took a bunch of pictures together, promising to add each other as facebook friends as soon as we returned. It was a wonderful meal to top off an amazing trip, with two women who I now consider to be not just coworkers but also great friends. Darcy and I always talk about how the word for coworkers in Spanish – compañeras – simply does not translate properly into English. The word in Spanish signifies not just someone you work with, but someone you consider to be a friend, a partner, a companion, and a collaborator – and there just isn’t a word in English that carries this same significance. Having the opportunity to travel to Rabinal and spend so much time with Lety and Mildre – two amazing indigenous women, only a few years older than Darcy and I – was a true illustration of the significance of this word, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in Guatemala. 

Our trip back to Pana on Wednesday was quite an adventure – exhausting, to say the least – but we finally made it back late Wednesday evening, leaving Darcy just enough time to pack up her things and head back to Guate in the morning for her flight home. So now I’m relatively alone in Pana – the past few weeks have been full of despedidas for the various summer volunteers and interns who are leaving– but there are still a few people around, and my parents are arriving on Tuesday to join me for my last few days here and for OB’s International Day of Indigenous Peoples event, which is happening next Saturday – my last day! Of course, I still have plenty of work to keep me busy – including some outreach work with Los Zumos, a group based in San Juan which I visited with briefly this morning. But more on that later!


  1. It must be amazing to see these women balancing large objects on top of their head. I would love to see a youtube video.

  2. here's one i took in rabinal last week!