Field Day and Home Stay

Day 6: Saturday, August 4, 2012

We woke up at 6 to hike to the top of a hill overlooking Chajul that contains religious shrines and offerings. It was a beautiful morning and a nice way to start the day. We got some good group photos from the top of the hill.

We grabbed breakfast at LHI and then hiked to fields about two miles from LHI for Field Day. There was a league soccer game with a lot of spectators there, and we walked over to a school to play games. Christy led some Simon Says games and Alan and Sally oversaw some arts and crafts. Christy is a great teacher and had us running around and learning new vocabulary in fun new ways. We then found a space to play Capture to Flag. I taught the group of about 40 students the rules and we used big branches to delineate the two sides and we made flags out of sticks and colored paper. It was a lot of fun. The Chajul girls were a little passive and made a circle around their team’s flag so it was impossible to get it. It was a lot of fun.

We then had a tortilla-making lesson at a home and ate our productions. I made my tortillas too thick and they did not cook completely, but it was a lot of fun.

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Back to the posada and we had the privilege of hearing a former guerrilla fighter from the Civil War tell us about his experiences during the Civil War that gripped Guatemala for nearly 40 years. He is 41 today (it was his birthday!) and he told us about when he was 11 30 years ago and the army came to his village and started killing people. Antonio told us how everyone lived peacefully and harmoniously until the military moved in and started to steal land. He said he and his family were not aware of the massacres that happened in other parts of the country, and no one from his town of Ilon had ever seen a gun before the military moved in. He talked of the military kidnapping people and he could hear screams at night of people being kidnapped. He said the military saw people as animals and killed them. He and his father had been out farming one day and they came back to find much of the town had been massacred. The military frequently raped women. His wife was 6 at the time in a neighboring village and saw her aunt raped by 30 soldiers in front of her. One morning the soldiers in his town escorted men to the church and they would be sent out in pairs and one would be killed. They had killed 95 people by 1 p.m. Kids had to dig graves for parents. The army would kill and torture no questions asked. Chajul was controlled by soldiers. On the day of the Ilon massacre the army then burned down the town and Antonio and others became refugees in their own country. There was no food, water or resources. People were treated like slaves at a plantation where they lived under awful conditions. A few children would die every day because of the conditions. There were massacres in every town. Antonio was forced to participate in civilian patrols or be killed. Eventually, he refused risking death. He had no childhood. No education. Today Antonio has traveled to places like Spain to attempt to try the former president of Guatemala during the time of these massacres of genocide. The current president of Guatemala, elected in 2011, was the general in charge of the Ixil region during the genocides. It is amazing to me that he was elected (on the platform of being tough on crime) in a country where he oversaw a genocide. The president denies there was a genocide, but Antonio continues to travel around spreading the truth about his experiences. Antonio said that Guatemala is beautiful but the rich in the country are causing poverty by taking from the poor. He said, “people going to the U.S. don’t want more, they just don’t have any.”

After the moving talk from Antonio, Frank and I packed our sleeping bags and went with Esperanza, Edilma’s sister, to her house for a homestay. There, we talked with her mother as she made tortillas. We played with little Brian and Esperanza’s little sister. We had tortillas and beans for dinner and during dinner Brian nearly choked on tortillas but his mother scooped it out of his mouth. It was a scary moment. After dinner the women on the other homestays were given traditional earrings and learned how to weave. Frank and I watched “Commando” on Esperanza’s LHI laptop. It was an experience. The whole family gathered around and the little sister hummed the theme song. It was not the first time they had watched the movie. After the movie, Frank and I taught Esperanza how to play Rummy 500 and we played for quite a long time. We stayed up for Edilma who was off doing school work. The bathroom was a pot behind a cinder block area covered by a tarp in the kitchen. We went to bed in our sleeping bags on the hard concrete floor at about 11:30 and awoke at 6 a.m. and headed back to the posada down the street. It was quite an experience, but I was glad that night to sleep in a bed. The house had a few rooms and everyone slept in beds, some sharing space. When it rained at night the pit pat of the drops on the roof was loud. I could not imagine living in a house like that, and it was one of the nicer houses we visited on the trip. I really felt an appreciation for everything in life, and especially some things I take for granted.

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About prcloth

I am a high school math teacher in Boston who spent two weeks on a volunteer program in a town of mostly indigenous people in the highlands of Guatemala. I worked closely with the sponsor NGO, Limitless Horizons Ixil, and the residents, students, teachers and librarians of Chajul to extend educational opportunities to the region. I have included some details from this rich, authentic cultural exchange.
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