The Guatemala Delegation departed for SaqJa on April 14 and will return on April 23, 2016. We will be blogging on this page as we did last year. Stay tuned for regular updates! (Photo at left is the 2015 delegation.)
NOTE: This blog will be continuous, with the most current entry following the previous one so it’s in chronological order from the oldest to the newest.
We are in Saq Ja – April 14, 2016 (by Martin)
The beginning of my 2016 journey to Guatemala began with a ride in the backseat of an Uber car driven by a driver who, despite his youth, had a calming, mature disposition that reminded me of the old men who like to drive in the left lane, at the lowest speed, gaping at the sights and marveling in wonder at seemingly nothing. What confounded me was this young man’s keen ability to engage in meaningful, incredibly thoughtful conversation while driving and responding and remaining defensive against the Chicago driver who is inevitably in a hurry, blowing the horn, while yelling profanities to the window; my driver seems to be completely unaware.
Anyway, Jaime and I talked about the Uber model and how it is a new form of exploitation for many who are seeking to supplement or perhaps are unemployed or underemployed, even as it serves simply as extra income for many. This new “air” model leaves the responsibility on the employee to secure savings and health care and sick pay all while enriching the rich with the savings that result from stranding the worker. Jaime listened to me ramble on, politely agreed, and gently reminded me that people in the part of the world where I was trekking (and taking water purifier, boots, a nail clipper and the other accoutrements of comfort) live on less than $3 dollars per day, “and it would be nice if we learned to reside with less, rather than consistently seeking to secure more, at the expense of those who have nothing.” He, the Uber driver, is 30, y’all!
The creation story teaches us an important lesson about learning to reside in provision, to think of what we have as sufficient. But what we really have become is consumers who believe that we have a right to more. More income for more gear, more friends for more happiness, more land, and we glorify and strive to be in proximity to excess in these things, even as we march, protest and demand for basic necessities. There seems to be no possibility to turn back to a peaceful co-existence with the land and animals, plants and natural resources; we are engaged in a fateful push to conquer all that there is, even as more of us fall under the proverbial bus of poverty.
Indigenous communities always seem to have an understanding of the Earth that encourages a living with the land, while those of us who roam are in a constant search for the “more.” It is in this search that we find ourselves so cruel toward one another, and it is why gentrification schemes, for example, are such effective tools in the cycle of more — this desire for proximity allows us to trample less powerful, but willing folks, without giving thought to the cruelty of our economic principles. These are my economic principles, as much as it pains me to admit that.
For just a few days we will put head to dirt, consume fowl that have been loved and nurtured and, yielding to the wonderful cycle of life, surrender their bodies for our nourishment, and put our bed of roses aside to reside in a place with people who feel blessed by the land and have learned to live in it, if for no other reason than that they are forced there by the cruelty of Westernization and supremacist beliefs — the Trail of Tears — that we refuse to acknowledge and all of us, with our stuff, are complicit in its continued promulgation.
Your delegation has landed and we hope you’ll journey with us up the mountain, into the clouds with this blog, which, we hope, will be written largely by our young people who are standing here in a state of awe that this could be.
April 16, 2016 (by Troy)
As cliche as it sounds it’s a whole other world. No movie, documentary, story or first hand experience can only mock the reality of this city. The first distinct sign that caused me to realize this other world was the traffic. No organization, chaotic, loudand yet somehow continuous. The flow was dangerous yet was harmonious after a while. The large buses seemed to be racing and competing with the swerving and speeding motorcycles and scooters, so much so that passengers jumped on and off the bus without it fully stopping. Insane was my first thought, but now I’m hoping to hop on and off one myself prior to our departure from the beautiful land that is Guatemala.
April 17, 2016 (by D’Angelo)
The journey up the mountain to Saq Ja was a great climb and took a lot out of me because we had to backpack all our stuff to the community house. After reaching the community house we were greeted by some of the community members and a dinner. We called it an early night so we could get up early to visit two of the neighboring communities where some of the young people live who are on scholarship. I was in the group that went to Pamaxan. After a great journey on foot, we met and talked with the students and some of their parents. We broke the ice with some games, which everyone enjoyed because they don’t get to take off much time from their busy schedules to play.
One of the best moments was meeting the high school students, who expressed their gratitude for scholarships. I asked if our youth could share some stories about ways they see connections and how they feel about hearing the youth stories from Saq Ja. This opened a great discussion among all of them, as they discussed similarities and differences. Both groups of youth shared emotional stories that touched everyone. It was an amazing experience to witness!
We then took time to have fun and play soccer. It was wonderful to see two communities connect in such meaningful ways that I believe will transform everyone present. This is what God calls us to as the beloved community. Our youth lived it out and we should be proud!
April 18, 2016 (by Niara)
There are many differences between the US and Saq’ja, such as the clothing and language. Today we met with some of the high school students of Saq’ja and found out that the US and Guatemala share one big similarity: the discrimination of people of different cultures or people who are not considered to be the “ideal” person of society.
One high school student shared the experience she had with her professor, who is racist towards the indigenous people of Guatemala. Because her professor offered no help to her, since she has Mayan heritage, she ended up not doing very well in her class, and was held another year back in high school. In the end, she ended up leaving the school and switching her major. The youth of University Church were able to connect this story to the racism and segregation in the US.
People still have not learned that you should “judge a person by their character, and not the color of their skin,” or their culture. Being able to share our experiences with high school students of Saq’ja lets us know that we are not alone. “Together we stand and divided we fall,” which is why it is important that University Church has formed a partnership with the people of Saq’ja. With these two groups willing to fight against discrimination, there is a much better chance that we will be able to intervene in the discriminatory situations that go on today.
April 19, 2016 (por Ignacio)
Queridos amigos, envió estas palabras desde la comunidad Sa’qa en las montañas del Quiché en Guatemala Centro América.Un pequeño lugar cerca del cielo, con aire puro, gente linda, rica y nutritiva comida. Hombres mujeres y niños, encargados cada uno en hacernos agradable y bella la estadía.
Para mí personalmente ha sido una experiencia maravillosa, reconectar con una comunidad muy parecida a la de mis ancestros, principalmente con personas que sufrieron el genocidio, masacres y persecuciones por ejércitos entrenados para ser despiadados con los mismos de sus raza o etnia.
Se han pasado momentos de gran intensidad emocional, como cuando los alumnos del instituto apoyado por nuestra comunidad, nos representaron la historia de la desaparición de la comunidad, como sus miembros huyeron a las montañas para sobrevivir y como con la fe, esperanza y el amor de nuestro Dios, han renacido, crecido, fortalecido y comparten de lo poco que reciben de nuestra Comunidad de fe.
Personalmente estoy muy complacido de ser parte de esta Iglesia y estar formando parte de esta delegación, que recibe los agradecimientos, cariño y amor de cada uno de los miembros esta comunidad de Sa’qa.
Su amigo, compañero y hermano en Cristo, Ignacio.
Dear friends, I sent these words from the Sa’qa community in the mountains of Quiché in Guatemala. This is a small heavenly place with fresh air, beautiful people and delicious, nutritious food. Each community member here has made sure our our stay is pleasant and beautiful.
For me personally this has been a wonderful experience, reconnecting with a community very similar to that of my ancestors: people who suffered genocide, massacres and persecution by armies trained to be ruthless towards members of their own race or ethnicity.
There have been intense, emotional moments, especially when school students our church community has supported told stories of the disappearance of their community, how community members fled to the mountains to survive, and how because of their faith, hope and love for God, they have been reborn, have grown and strengthened, and now share with each other what they receive from our faith community.
I am personally very proud to be part of this church and this delegation, which has experienced the affection and love of each of the members this community of Sa’qa.
Your friend, comrade and brother in Christ, Ignacio.
April 20, 2016 (by Cate)
Coming into a different country there is a worry that you won’t be understood. But throughout the week I have seen that comprehension isn’t the main issue—it’s also control. In many countries the primary language demands priority over the other languages. In some cases, like the U.S., that can have a negative impact on its citizens by making most of the citizens speak only that one language. But in the village of Saq Ja’ almost all the residents are bilingual. I see this use of dual languages as a way to defy the government and preserve the culture that the government tried to destroy just twenty years ago. Language has given a sense of power to the village as well making so that they can maintain their culture and still be successful in a society where they get laughed at and hated because of their culture. Language has been a strong ally to the village of Saq Ja’.
April 20, 2016 (by D’Angelo)
Today, we heard the story of one’s migration attempt to these so-called United States of this stolen America, which was very moving. Migration and immigration are hot topics in our country right now. Many groups of people who are oppressed are seeing the benefits of uniting in the struggle for liberation.
Sitting around listening to this story, I saw the white individuals’ remorse but I find that it is easier for them to show remorse over this story because they are so removed. Yet, when will they own up to their involvement in the system that causes such oppression? When will they own up to the oppression of this country’s foundation and who gets in or who are left out? When will they see their involvement in the oppression within our own country?
There are so many young blacks being killed in your city. There are food deserts in the disenfranchised communities right down the street from our church. We took people on a delegation to a country far from home and never step foot in those communities that have so much in common with Guatemala.
One thing I am proud of is that we have sent a different delegation this year, one that will really reflect on ways in which we can unite fronts in the struggle for all oppressed peoples’ liberation around this world. We are experts at our own her/history and the experts at our own liberation.
I challenge University Church to rethink who they send on this delegation because we must share stories of struggles for liberation; this is what empowers—not sending individuals who can go back to the comfort of their wealth.
April 21, 2016 (by Martin)
Last year, we went to the spring. Recall that the spring is the water supply for the Saq Ja community. Last year, they wanted to switch to a spring that would supply more water but held by Cristobal and he was being a bit difficult in negotiations. They were committed to working out a resolution, and I’m happy to report that a resolution was reached.
The new spring has twice the flow of the old one and with the upgrades to the supply system (remember smaller pipes, more water) the water service is much better to upper Saq Ja. They’ve installed flow valves throughout the system to allow for a better way of managing the repairs and they’ve locked the valves to prevent the unknown vandal from damaging the system. They still need to return the dirt over the new pipe system but that will be a lot more work and they hope to have it completed by mid summer (Chicago’s mid-summer).
So, returning to the negotiations with Cristobal… They had to figure out a system of compensation for him to allow them to use the water, because the spring sits on his land. I thought of what we would do in the United States if a spring sits on private land. The founding folks envisioned eminent domain as a tool of government to advance the interest of the white, male landowners in providing resources to those white, male landowners. Over time, it was expanded to cover all of those folks who’ve struggled to be included in the constitutional guarantees that were never envisioned for them. But since all violence and poverty are predicated on land dominance, the corporate powers expanded the idea of eminent domain to include private corporate interests thereby guaranteeing that the needs of the corporate citizen wouldn’t be bothered by the needs of the inalienable rights of irritants. So in the US we would simply “take” the land that held the spring, turn it over to corporations and many of the citizens would agree that it would be a good thing, to take the land, and remove the future interests of the owner in the land.
Our friends in Saq Ja found a “novel” approach: they agreed with the owner that they would build the collection tank, collect the water. They would pipe in water for collection and any excess would be returned to the creek for the owner’s growing fields a few kilometers away (it’s a slow, steady wind for the water to make it those few kilometers). There are no standards for volume, or schemes for refund, just a simple system that provides for the needs of all. This is really not novel, it is just not corporate in its conceiving. It seems more like an understanding that the Earth is a great provider if we learn to live with it as a provider, and not with us as takers. We’re probably too far gone to stop that train though…try as I might, and as prophetically as I might communicate, I’m too far gone to get off the train.
April 21, 2016 (by D’Angelo)
It is hard to listen to the ways some people on this delegation talk about the corruption of Guatemala, as though similar corruption does not happen in our country. We like to throw rocks when we live in glass houses ourselves.
The youth on this trip have challenged me the most because they are true “accompaniers”! They have listened to the stories and her/history of Saq ja’ and the larger country of Guatemala. They have observed the daily lives of the people that have transformed them forever (in their own words). They have shared their pain, suspended their privilege, and allowed for the Spirit of God that transcends all barriers to inform their future.
In conversations with them they have expressed their willingness to challenge the systems that keep people oppressed. Some have found their voice through the hospitality of the communities we have visited and their uncomfortable confrontation with their own realities. Your youth have affirmed my call to the ministry of being a worker of God who believes in global citizenship and the unity of all people, especially those who are oppressed daily.
Thank you, University Church, for granting me this opportunity to be challenged and transformed by our youth and the community of Saq ja’! This experience will shape what kind of ordained minister I will become and what systems I will continue to challenge. There is a quote by Assata Shakur, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support (protect) each another!”
April 21, 2016 (by D’Angelo)
My most memorable moments will be when I played with the children, especially one named José. José would stand at a distance and beckon for me to chase him around. After becoming comfortable with me, we started to play fight. He would stand in a karate stance and make noises that one hears in the old time karate movies. I would pick him up, flip him around, and softly place him on a pile of pine needles. He would hop right back up and throw some punches at me, and I would use some of my stage combat skills to fall to the ground. This would crack him up because it would look as though he hit me so hard that the punches threw me to the ground.
He is the one who made the other children comfortable playing with me. This caused them to have tackle fest with everyone running around tackling each other and laughter filling the community house where we stayed.
The day before leaving Saq ja’ there was a soccer tournament that José and I watched together. He would flip over my legs and play in my hair. My hair was fascinating to many. Here is a picture of José and me.
April 22, 2016 (by Troy)
I arrived in Guatemala eager for new experiences. My background is that of being very open minded with broad horizons, thanks to my idols and parental figures encouraging me to learn from my mistakes. Yet post-visit to the villages of Saq Ja’ and Pamaxan I see a distorted mirror rather than external or separate counterparts. The late and great Obj MIGHT HAVE put it something similar to this: “don’t think your morally degrading corner store ain’t up a mountain somewhere too. We fought that three fifths myth cause we are ALL humans.”
My outlook on the trip prior to going was that of a empowering vacation, which is not at all what this visit was. This delegation hasn’t taught me much, instead it has enhanced me. The pains and struggles along these mountains and hillsides look like tears here. Close your eyes and the jungle that is Chicago is less than a block away. Starvation and the lack of drinkable water here directly connects to the poor sources of nutrition accessible to low income households in Chicago and other parts of the U.S.
It somewhat pains me that unbearable struggles and tear jerking stories that I have witnessed and heard here are FAR too similar to that of US citizens and humans in the place I am forced to call home. Corruption in Guatemala is just a revision. Capitalism, the United States’ holy grail, has developed an untamed monster in these areas (3rd world/developing countries) that lack resources that privileged few (like myself) see as necessities.
Rights, justice, and equality are hard to find in the States and because of that, the government officials and people of power within developing countries follow our (United States) steps absent any control or regulations (the successful revolt of the oppressed). Here I thought Uncle Sam only ruined the lives of the citizens and humans within the states boundaries.
Take a big step back, University Church and all humans alike. Our battle that links us with these kind and loving folk isn’t restricted to where I visited. A panoramic picture of injustice could fit all of Earth if the frame was wide enough.
Thank you for allowing me this opportunity, UC.
April 23, 2016 (by Sharon)
Today we visited with 10 weavers from a women’s cooperative on our way back to Guatemala City from Xela. They call their organization “Ancestral Mayan Art,” and Gloria Vicente’s husband Santos Par helped them incorporate legally as a cooperative when Gloria and Santos were working with Global Ministries.
Here is their mission statement: “We are a women-run cooperative organization of women artists and entrepreneurs dedicated to rescuing, reproducing, and marketing woven products like the art of our Mayan ancestors in order to create our own employment opportunities and improve our own living conditions as well as our families and communities.”
What impressed me about this group is that they don’t only want to sell things, although that is what sustains their physical life. They also are proud of the values they carry as Mayas, and the designs they weave, which represent the natural world that surrounds them and the spiritual values of their ancestors. They are also committed to working against machismo and patriarchy. They told us that, unfortunately, some men try to control their wives by not letting them join the co-op.
They value each of the 23 members of the cooperative, from the oldest weaver, who is 80, to the youngest weaver, who is 17. Each has her own history and way of looking at the world, her own style of art. They encourage each other to improve their skills—not just their art, but learning to take on other roles in the organization, to read and write, to discover their vocations and identities.
As we entered the space where we met them, each one was wearing a woven blouse (guipil, in Spanish) of a different style and color, some with flowers or birds, some with geometrical representations of mountains, rainbows, cornfields or animals. The colors were so vibrant, and often represent the connections between different parts of the cosmos—red for the colors of some flowers, but also the blood in our bodies and the color of the sunset.
The weavings are visual manifestations of the Mayan cosmo-vision we learned about yesterday.