Below are reflections from the delegation from University Church that visited the village of Saq Ja’ in April 2015.

April 24, 2015 We are on our way home – Reflection by Sharon. Our group of 7 has had a great time together this week, but all good times must come to an end. Dan Dale left yesterday and Sara and Andy are leaving today for Xela to attend the wedding of Omar and Allison, Barb and Charlie Havens’ daughter. Julian, Martin, Dan and I are headed to the airport to fly home to Chicago.

It’s been a great week of deepening friendships with people in Saq Ja’ and among ourselves. a special thanks to Martin for having the idea of setting up this blog and then urging us to post what we experienced so the whole church could follow what was happening in close to real time. Thanks to Julian for constantly pushing us (in a good way) to communicate better. Thanks to Andy for continuing to work towards publication of a children’s story about a person from Saq Ja’, written in K’iche and Spanish (for Guatemalan publication) and Spanish and English (for US publication). Thanks to Sara for having the longest continuing historical memory of this partnership and such good ideas for activities to bring our two communities together. Thanks to Dan Dale for all the translation work and for prodding us to set our partnership in ideological and theological context. Thanks to Dan Hunter-Smith for keeping our feet on the ground and going in the right direction, managing and accounting for the trip money, making sure we had clean water and didn’t bump into protruding stone balconies in Antigua. As Martin said, “Every group needs a Dan.” I’m so grateful for the role each person played on this trip–every group also needs a Julian, an Andy, a Sara, a Dan D.

April 23 – Why there are monkeys – Reflection by Sharon (Update). I want to complicate the monkey story I wrote yesterday. I didn’t write it down as Lorenzo was telling it to me, but a day and a half later. By that time, my mind had already put it into a framework that i could understand, and I gave it a Rudyard Kipling style title, making clear that it was a folktale explaining the origin of monkeys and simultaneously giving a moral lesson to children. But that’s probably not right. Lorenzo gave it no title. He didn’t say that the children were lazy, just that they slept late and didn’t do chores to help their parents. I came to the conclusion that maybe the story was trying to make some kind of moral point, because that is one reason stories like this are written in our culture, but it’s possible the story was just trying to say that the children were still very young and had not been given many chores yet. Maybe their being turned into monkeys was not punishment for not helping around the house, but rather a comment on the similarity of the playfulness of both children and monkeys. Maybe it was making a point about the interconnectedness of animals and humans. Maybe it was making a point we can’t even begin to imagine. Lorenzo ended the story by saying they think maybe this really happened, maybe it wasn’t “just” a story.

I always return from Saq Ja’ with these questions. Things are said. We think we understand, but sometimes we don’t, and sometimes we don’t even know that we don’t. Other times, we share an experience in Saq Ja’ with someone there, and we are both able to articulate the different ways we feel about that experience. For example, in Martin’s April 22 post, he described how German felt when he listened to the sound of the water rushing out of the spring while we sat under the forest canopy in the mountains. It made German sad, because he remembered the 16 years he had to live up in the mountains to escape from the army that was massacring the Maya people–16 years of hunger, no shelter, on the move to stay away from guns and bombs. I was thinking how beautiful the forest was, how clear the water, how quiet it was compared to the city. We were looking at and listening to the same things, but the meanings we placed on them and the feelings we had were so different.

April 22 – Why there are monkeys – Reflection by Sharon. I was sitting outside the Saq Ja’ community house on the bench talking to Lorenzo, when he told me this story. Earlier that morning, some of us had hiked on the road further up the mountain, and we had heard the sound of monkeys in the distance. Later, on the bench, I asked him if the community had heard any of the Mayan sacred stories or if there were other stories that had been handed down through the family or community. He remembered this story, to which I have perhaps misleadingly given a title, which may or may not be what the story is about.

Once there were parents who had two children who were very lazy. Their son and daughter slept late and didn’t help their parents by doing chores in the morning.

One day the parents asked their children to go up into the forest in the mountains to gather the large green leaves used to wrap tamales. The children left the house, playing as they went along.

When they got to the place where the large leaves grew, they each strapped on a belt with a bag hanging from it, so that they could collect the leaves in the bags. Suddenly, the bag started turning into a tail, hair started growing on their skin, and their faces changed shape. They had turned into animals, and they climbed up a tree.

When their children still hadn’t returned by late afternoon, their father left the house to search for them. As he got higher up the mountain, he heard animal noises. Looking toward the animal cries, he saw the two animals up in the tree. When he listened to their cries, he was somehow able to understand that one animal was saying, “Papa! I’m your daughter!” He was so scared that he ran back to his house and stayed there, and the two children who had turned into animals stayed in the mountains.

And that’s why there are monkeys.

DSCN1226April 22 – Is coming down the mountainside any less treacherous than going up? – Reflection by Martin. Your delegation to Saq Ja’ descended the mountain today and arrived back in Uzbantan on our way to Antigua. The next 30 hours or so will be an opportunity for rest as we prepare to return home Friday morning.

And before you ask, Germán was at it again. He loaded in some folks who needed to get down the mountain, a woman who is in grief and simply didn’t have the strength to walk back down last night, and her grandson. Then we picked up one of the elders’ daughters who was returning home from a visit, and her two children. We picked up a student who needed a ride, we stopped at the store and made groceries for someone and then took a detour to deliver them. We did all this with supplies on board that included THREE 25 gallon pots that needed to be returned after being used for our comfort. So, as with going up, coming down was a hoot. Sara rode in the back of the truck, instead of the cab, to help give Julian some back relief. He wound up telling her he wishes that she had rode in the cab since the driver was leaning, talking on the cell, sending text, and doing other odd jobs while descending the mountain at warp speed, effectively ceding his back pain thinking to other more pressing feelings!

I began to think about the mountain experience as we descended and held one of the ladies flowers she had purchased to spruce up her home. I continue to be amazed with the way these people live. Dirt floors, no plumbing, sketchy electricity, chickens running in and out, and goats, pigs and bulls tied up outside and she’s buying flowers to beautify the place! Magnificent, yet a bit perplexing!! For disclosure, I’m told that she may be selling those flowers.

We’re always told that the mountain is one of ascent and that the ascent is where we gain our metal, where we learn how to be tough. Faith traditions teach the mountaintop experience, and we all can relate to this experience of the climb to represent overcoming chaos, hurt, or headwind. With this thinking, there is the assumption that coming down is easy.

But this narrative, which is a Europeanization that doesn’t match Mayan, Aesop, slave or other narratives, assumes that the mountain is like a triangle; that there’s an upside and a downside and a base. What this misappropriates is that the mountain experience is riddled with valleys, plateaus and hills, many of which are on the side of the road. That the side of the road may not have guardrails and may be washed out. I don’t think that this triangle narrative is a misplaced narrative, life is certainly a series of ascents and descents for all of us. But it fits into a thinking that we overcome period, and not that overcoming is relative, insatiable and a moving target. It also assumes that we are working off of a shared definition of overcoming. Finally, it presumes that life stops with overcoming.

I’ve been thinking of the up the mountain experience as the spiritual (not to be confused as simply religious) experience while the down the mountain experience as the work experience and these experiences change daily and with the fabric of our lives.

As we went down that mountain, I saw children walking on the side of the road, parents carrying things to sell and/or for their homes. All of them worn by the sun and heat, yet toiling along. But DSCN1813 then, after descending, here comes a steep climb, and there are no guardrails. I’d look out and see nothing but mountain so far away that they were almost invisible. Then I’d look over and see a plateau and see that there was someone living, in a one room house, on that plateau, and among all the dirt and dust, there’s a bed of flowers and a goat grazing next to their home. I’m thinking, these people are living here, they have found a place on this mountain, and here I’m trying my hardest to get past this plateau. We had to descend a hill and that hill had no curbs, or pull-offs, and there’s nothing but emptiness below it and I look down and see that someone is planting corn in that valley, and harvesting and feeding themselves and others and with that corn, grown in a valley on the mountain. But I’m still not getting it, despite what is before my eyes.

Yesterday, we went to the spring with Germán, Juan Chop and Sebastian to see where they get their water. When we arrived at the spring, Germán started to talk about the sound of the spring. He wondered how someone might hear that spring if they had to live next to that spring. He revealed that it was a haunting sound. Sharon didn’t understand. She remarked that as a city girl she loves the opportunity to commune with nature and the mountains, and this is a common, fair response. But Germán had a different feeling about that sound and nature. He remembered fleeing state violence into the mountains, and being alone and hungry and afraid, having lost his family in the war, and it was not a reminder of peace and tranquillity. It wasn’t a place of commune, it represented terror and disconnect, and loss of life. And yet, Germán lives on that mountain and has fought to repopulate that mountain with dignity and honor. I have gotta spend more time with Germán so we can find shared experiences. I wasn’t a slave, and neither were my parents, or their parents-parents before them, but I can imagine from stories shared and passed through my ancestry and in my experience as a person of color assaulted by the state, including those who feign support and understanding, that Germán’s and my ancestral understandings have common threads that support an attitude of listening and understanding, one that sees the world from the back of the bus (see my earlier post) and presses on anyway.

I started to think about how I might apply this contradiction to my life and how might I address the contradictions of living among the muck and mire of life, up in the mountains, where I am DSCN1711terrified and want to descend from. I’m convinced that Germán recognizes that you never really ascend and descend the mountain, it is a fallacy, a false hope that you can really ascend the mountain, conquer it, and then coast down it to peace and happiness, having found the source of contentment. It’s the fallacy of color, it doesn’t exist, it is a creation meant to deceive and steal, the stories and livelihood and freedom. I am determined that Germán is making certain that he is going to remain the teller of his story. And that is the story of black people in the United States. There is an inescapable part of being black that means that the story goes with you wherever you go, even when you don’t speak. It is being pushed into the metaphorical mountain by police bullets, or those who really do find you as a Mandingo and exotic, and would use law like bullets. It is to be anything, or with anyone, but you. It is to steal your wealth and your treasures and then return them to you under cover of generosity. No, you never ascend and descend the mountain, I think you find trails.

I think I’ll learn some K’itche and go hang out with Germán for a while.

April 21 – That was some real Iq (Eek)! – Reflection by Andy. You might ask what’s Iq. Iq (pronounced eek) is 1 of the 2 salsas we have at most meals, along with the ever present beans and tortillas at Saq Ja’. The wonderful handmade tortillas we have here are story all by themselves we see them first as corn kernels being boiled in a lime solution in a huge pot in an open pit fire near the community house. After cooling off for many hours the soft corn kernels are taken to a gas powered grinder where Lorenzo supervises the production of masa. The masa is then mounded into large bowls and carried back to the community kitchen. There the women pat the masa into tortillas. We hear the gentle patting of masa before each meal and that means fantastically fresh and delicious tortillas are on the way. Most meals have rice but occasionally we have perfectly boiled potatoes.

Breakfast is my favorite meal. To accompany the beans and tortillas we generally have an egg dish that is somewhere between a fried egg, an omelette and scrambled eggs. Somehow it is both crisp and tender and so delicious. Besides coffee we also have a drink called mosh, a drink somewhat like oatmeal. It’s delicious and nutritious. We have also had a wonderful chicken soup made with free range chicken, potatoes, carrots and squash and this brings me back to the Iq salsa. I put 1 tiny drop of the Iq salsa into my large bowl of soup and it produced all the heat I could take. Iq salsa is very powerful stuff.

While in Saq Ja we also have had perfectly ripened fresh bananas and delicious slices of cantaloupe often appear as an afternoon snack. I think it is safe to say that we all have been nourished by the simple and healthy, AKA high fiber and low fat food we have enjoyed in Saq ja. But we have also been nourished by our experiences here like the one Dan, Sara and I had at Maria Guadalupe’s home. There l shared Allison Haven’s illustrations for Margarito’s Forest, a story I wrote about Maria Guadalupe’s father, a mayan man who against all odds raised a forest on his land. While Dan read the story to Maria Guadalupe in Spanish, she nodded her head in agreement and smiled. She said that for a long time she has felt she was the only 1 telling Don Margarito’s story. But that she wanted people to hear it because so many people seemed to be cutting down trees without thinking about how important they really are. She added that someday she will die but she is comforted knowing that children in Saq Ja’ will hear Don Margarito’s story because of the book. I am grateful for the opportunity to share Maria Guadalupe’s story, and I have been nourished by the Iqsperience.

April 21, 2015 Reflection by Martin. We are departing Saq Ja’ tomorrow, after 4 days of what could be confused as a vacation. I say vacation because despite the schedule of activities, there is no imposition of a meeting, deadline, excuse or laze. We got up today and went for a walk to find Internet, found Internet (probably how Columbus felt, finding things that were already there – hey, where’s my holiday?) ran back down the hill racing schoolchildren heading to school and proceeded to read, play with the kids, do an art project, have great conversations, take pictures, pictures and more pictures (you didn’t think I wasn’t going to take a lot of photos, did you?) and take naps, all before noon!

DSCN1597Andy went and spent time with Maria Guadalupe to update her on the book he is preparing about her father, the book’s title Margarito’s Forest, honors the life and teachings of Margarito. A few years back, a previous delegation read the story to the children in the school and they were asked to draw pictures about what they read. Those drawings were presented to Allison Havens who, using the children’s drawings, made collages to be used as the book’s illustrations. A very moving experience for Maria Guadalupe.

Some of us also took a hike to the spring that supplies water to the upper village of Saq Ja’. On the way, up and up and up the mountain, we saw flowers and ate blackberries. This writer fell down a slope trying to keep up with German, me in boots, him in sneakers. I wondered if he would like a pair of mountain boots to help him walk faster, as if he could walk any faster! Anyway, this spring emerges from under a rock inside a partially open cave in the mountain. It runs at about the force of a bathtub faucet and seems hardly equipped to provide sufficient water for more than a bath. The village built a holding tank to collect the water. The tank can hold about 100 gallons of water and does have an overflow valve because at night, of course water usage drops and the tank overflows. A previous delegation came up expecting to help dig the trenches that would hold the water and found that the men had already done the digging and merely wanted to show their work.

DSCN1663The distribution trunk from the tank has 2 inch pipes. German told us that they are thinking of upgrading these pipes because an expert told them they are too large. You see, they can get more water down to the system with smaller pipes because the system doesn’t carry enough water for 2 inch pipes. As a result, air gets trapped in the system and halts the flow completely. By making the pipes smaller, you can get more water because there won’t be any air inside the pipes. Amazing how that works, bigger pipes, less water, smaller pipes, more water. Now, insert money and, say, happiness, and toughened and friendship, and see how that reads.

DSCN1595Sara introduced an art project where all the participants drew on the art board and moved around the table in a counter-clockwise rotation to allow each to offer a small interpretation of the drawing on each section of the board. The result is an open interpretation due to happenstance. We left the drawing at the community house.

We ended the evening with a traditional Mayan blessing ceremony. We started with everyone receiving a candle. This candle represents a light into the community. We were asked to think about what we wanted to pray for and after a reading, we lit the candles and expressed an intention to the four directions of the earth.

Everyone was tired, we packed up, pre-cleaned and by 9:45, we were all ready for bed, to get up and be on the truck down the mountain for 7:30.

April 20 – Where’d You Pee? – Reflection by Sara. I want you to know that this is my most recent of many, many delegations. I’ve been coming on these delegations for a long time and love the people of Saq ja’. I especially love the way they have found a way to live peacefully despite the war. I’ve made many friends here and hope to be able to come back many more times to see them each year, even as we begin to try to expand participation in these delegations.

This particular delegation has five guys and two women, and that’s a whole new ballgame. Have you ever had to go on a trip with five guys, trying to load them into a truck, or get them to get up off a comfortable bench?

This village is great, but it only has one baño (outhouse) and sometimes that can be challenging, especially since the two Dans and Andy are old men, with old men problems. One day, we were walking and they were talking about using the bathroom after a bunch of kids had used the only outhouse and no man wanted to squat, after what seemed like the kids had all had missed the hole. And I overheard the guys talking and the question was asked, “where’d you pee?” And I had never thought about that, because we have an outhouse, and if you’ve gotta use it, why wouldn’t you go, so I asked well, “where’d you pee?” See what you learn when you go on a delegation with five guys? They haven’t learned to squat!

I hope you’re loving this blog post and hopefully, you’ll come on a future delegation soon. The people are great, I can’t say so much for the baños, but hey, there’s more to life than using the bathroom sometimes!!!

April 20 – Reflections by Martin. We walked down to lower Saq ja’ today. For context, think of descending 500 vertical feet within 1/2 mile, add your back pack and a scorching hot sun, on a diet road. Get the picture?

DSCN1361Today, we went to visit the destroyed church of this community, accompanied by Jacinto and Juan Chop. In 1981, the Guatemalan army destroyed the church, which also served as a community center so that it could keep the community from having a place to organize a resistance to the war. The church was called “The Chapel” and now is called “The Ruins” since its destruction. You can still see the bullet holes in the walls where the army destroyed the building. After driving the community away, the army occupied the building as a look out post. This ruined building was the site of a ceremony to celebrate the life of Virgilio Vicente Velasquez, the precipitator of our relationship with Saq ja’.

Next, we went to the school where the children welcomed us with much fanfare fit for dignitaries. They had prepared the path with pine needles and Monja Blanca flowers, the national flower of DSCN1383Guatemala. The women were escorted by the male students and men by females to the staff of the school. We were presented with the artwork of the students including embroidery and paintings. The schools principal, Marcelino Pacheco Hernandez, proudly showed us the new computer lab with 9 computers and 2 printers. The students parents donated the material and labor for the tables and also wood tiles for the ceiling.

The students are being taught horticulture where they grow, among other things, carrots, beets and cauliflower. They are using  the flower of death, a most beautiful flower, as a natural insecticide. They are composting with both animal and human waste. This is an important aspect of their planting. In the U.S. we would disdain the use of human waste as a compost material. But the use of human waste also serves as a practical solution for them. In the hillsides, there is no indoor plumbing. In order to dispose of waste, someone must dig a hole in the ground. My suspicion is that, just like in the old days of outhouses in the U.S., someone strapped on a rope, another someone lowered them, whilst they dug a hole, shovel by shovel, until they hit water 6-10 feet later. A solution to this difficult work is to compost it. J Kwest made an appearance and taught the kids how to rap. The kids were a little confused, but they were great sports. We had a traditional lunch of freshly made tortillas, beans and mosh. DSCN1410

Next we went to the waterfall. Photos to follow of a wonderful sight. I can imagine that future delegations that include young adults might like to camp overnight at the waterfall. Dan Dale climbed the wall next to the fall and jumped from 10 feet. He’s daring for a 90 year old….just kidding, he’s only 88!

Finally, we went to visit Daminana Vicente Tikiram, wife of Monico Aquare Velasquez, the cousin of Virgilio. She has been ill and requested a visit for prayer and concern. She was vastly thankful for our visit.

We then hiked back up the mountain and many of us took a cold shower in the outdoor shower, where you can’t be prideful…there’s no room clothes in the shower vicinity.

A great day today. It was exhausting, but exponentially fulfilling to spend the day with the folks of the community.

April 19 – Reflections by Martin. Back in March, I met an anti-oppression trainer who was teaching us how not to oppress. I wanted to know how this trainer had connected with a bunch of “Spanish-as-a-second language” people and she couldn’t speak Spanish. I mean, it might not be relevant, but it was a fair question. She told me that she had tried, and realized that she didn’t have the tongue for Spanish, and that was it. She went on to tell me about how one of her best friends in the whole world is a Spanish speaker and every time she sees him, they have to endure these hours long conversations because they can’t understand each other. They’re looking at dictionaries and pictures in order to explain their conversations, kinda a like a life in pictures. She said TV shows are their best possibility for having good hearty laughs because they can use closed caption in one language while the speaker uses the other language. How much trouble must this be, I thought. Why not just take some basic language so you can have some kind of conversation. All the laughter that she was causing me disintegrated when she told me, because “he is me and I am him so when you’re both at the back of the bus, you get the same picture of the front of the bus!” She went on to explain that learning Spanish for her would be a transaction, not a real relationship. I’ve toiled with her words since she delivered them. Not only to ponder them, but to figure them out; she’s clearly smarter than me.

DSCN1356Now I’m spending time with people who have had to learn the language of the empire in order to preserve their own. It seems to me that the Native peoples of what became of the United States refused to obey the command to learn the language, actually and metaphorically, of the empire and were slaughtered and still suffer extreme oppression as a result. The story of Kunta Kinte in the book Roots is real in many ways, including Kuntas refusal to cede himself to the identity of the empire. The refusal of the slaves to cede their history and their humanity resulted in a forced concession. And it seems to me that these Mayan people, faced with the same reality, have adapted and are now speaking the language of the empire.

I think it’s wonderful that so many people are interested in the Mayan communities of Quiche Department in this fantastically historic, eye-dot of humanity. The work in this part of the world is important to helping advocate and acknowledge the suffering of so many people here. Despite this, it seems wrong-headed to disconnect the struggle of people in a place that has most violently perfected the suppression of the poor and people of color, and done so with great economic success, from the people who suffer here. And I’m not talking just about those old, broken-down arguments that the resources for the United States ought to be for the United States, or that we have so much to do in the United States that we should be focusing our efforts there primarily. Indeed, the struggles of people around the world are linked and must be matched one to another in order to work to expose oligarchy.

DSCN1321What is making me struggle with this language thing is that part of the language of empire is to not only steal the prime wealth of the empire, but to also covet the spoils. You see, in order to destroy something, I have to remove its most effective part. Simply put, a gym shoe without a string had lost its effectiveness completely; have you ever tried to play dodgeball with a shoe and no shoelace? A people without their language can be marginalized, pushed up into the hills and problematized, if only they had simply given up their language….and traditions.

I’m also noticing how the roles of the men and women differ. They are the roles that are traditional to all patriarchal societies, including the United States, where the women tend to cooking, cleaning and children, while the men build and solve problems. My empire response to this is to judge and work for it to match my (relatively) newfound ideas about the roles of the sexes, disregarding that my ideas about the extent of change I’m willing to push for is relative to the resulting tension that will occur. It would be nice if my empire response could be one of respect for both traditions, mine and my friends. To respect would mean that I would not use the language of the empire, I would use the language of my friend. But this would mean shucking the friend who can get into the best restaurants and get me the best bang for my buck and who wants to do that when it’s easier for me to return to what I know, and secretly covet?

I’m thinking about learning K’itche!

April 18th – This Truck is Full Enough – Reflection by Martin. It is fascinating to see people who live, in a way, with extreme poverty, yet who seem to have the richness of family and friendship..community. It means that to see richness as possessions, or simply to have electricity means that without these accoutrements one is poor. But to see these families carrying water on their heads, tending one another’s children, sharing resources, paints a different picture of resource value.

DSCN1630We arrived in Uzbantan on Saturday and were met by German (pronounced HER-man) and Juan Chop. All of our things were loaded on a 4 x 4 pickup and we began our trek on up the mountain, climbing perhaps 1500 feet, sometimes on slopes as much as 20 percent grade. Many of these roads are not more than 10 feet wide and here we are riding, 10 deep in the back of a truck, holding on to bars for dear life as the driver guns it to make sure we hit the hill at the speed that will allow us to actually ascend it. But for some reason, as full as our truck is, German (photo left) keeps telling the driver to stop so he can add someone else to the truck, a neighbor lady who had been to market, an old man who was returning home from work, his daughters. I have to tell you, I’m thinking ‘why can’t these people stay down and wait for the truck to return?’ I mean, don’t they do this everyday, or at least a couple times a week? Can’t these people see that I’m afraid this truck is gonna break under the weight, and I’ll have to hike up this hill, because a refund is not an option? But no, German just keeps on packing ‘em in, banging the side of the truck to stop, telling us to “move in a little bit”, banging the truck to go again! What is wrong with this man?

So, after about 30 minutes, we pull up the final hill and Maria Guadalupe and a load of other women throw flower petals at us and welcome us to Saq Ja’ and all is well, the truck has delivered all these people to their destinations, and us to ours, with a greeting of sweet smelling flower petals and a boat load of food. We are eating our food, and of course, me who never eats, is eating too much and I’m thinking, I gotta kiss the lady who made these tortillas, dipping and dunking with every bite. They’re like the hot water cakes that my mom used to make as a child of Louisiana. I’m dipping them in my beans and caliente!!! green chile salsa that somebody knows how to make really hot. I’m drinking my fresca, cold water with lemon juice and sweetened Mayan style, and look who walks in, the little lady returning from the market we picked up on the side of the road. Maria, has emerged from the kitchen to deliver us a fresh load of tortillas!! This is where I become thankful for the little truck that could, and the man with the strange pronunciated name that couldn’t…say no!

DSCN1050These people are walking around with strange little pots on their heads, gathering water for me to drink, picking and grinding corn to make me these mighty fine cakes, and I can’t be bothered with them interfering with my program, which is designed to help me!

So, here I am, about 6500 feet above sea level, where birds don’t even bother to fly (they do), looking at a rain cloud that’s five feet away, and causing pitch black to look like a scaredy cat, with folks who all walk up to me, hug me and welcome me and don’t even know that I was hoping the truck would leave without them. Someone had figured out that, despite their poverty, and despite their social status, they’ve got enough for someone who needs them. They’ve even got enough for me, who wanted to leave the one who was destined to make, and present me my dinner!

As the prophetic, well-read poet of Crooklyn said, I’ll repeat with unsimilar prophetic humility, “well, shut my mouth wide open!”

Saqarik! This term is K’iche’ for good morning!
April 18, 2015 – Reflection by Martin.
 Your delegation is headed to Saq Ja’ for the next four days with much anticipation, but preparation. You see, the dogs on the roof barked all night to DSCN1045protest their loss of liberation due to our presence. It seemed like every time I would doze off to sleep, one dog would bark, as if to say, “if I have to be up on the roof, you’ve gotta join me, in a non-actual sort of way!” So, sleep was much needed, but this Collie would wake me up with a bark. And for good measure he would gallop across the tin roof to make sure his objective had been accomplished. Finally, this dog tired and off to sleep we both fell, me slumbering with delight and him, I imagine, lying on his back, paws up, tongue hanging off to the side, with a big smile on his face thinking , I no sere conmovido (I shall not be moved)!

But while the dog had decided to relent, a couple roosters up the road decided to take up his slack and at about 4am, the old cock-a-doodle-do started, and continued, and continued, and continued, until I, in a huff, kicked the covers off, jumped up and yelled, ‘fine, you want me up, I’ll get up, but I’m feeling up for some poultry with my beans and tortillas this morning!’ Ahhhhh, the sound of silence….

As I celebrate my win over these two creatures, now, I’m itching like crazy and I don’t know why, until Dan Hunter-Smith, who thinks he’s a dr. because he went to medical school and hangs out at hospitals and medical practices and things, tells me I’ve been bitten, not in a loving way, but in a bloodthirsty way…..by bedbugs. Yes, I’ve come to Guatemala to learn about oppression, the transnationality of struggle migration, and to get bedbugs. This, my friends, is baptism by fire. But like that dog, who refused to relent, and who raised up on his hind legs and tap dances on that roof to remind me that he was the one inconvenienced, not me, and that he, though physically bound up, metaphorically he would not be moved, I will not relent to a bed bug. I shall take my antihistamines (that’s my privilege speaking) and move on to continue my learning. However, I think it’s safe to say that I will suggest that next year, we stay at a different hotel!!!! Ch’ab’ej chik! That’s K’iche’ for….aw, look it up. Just because you’re not with us doesn’t mean you get to have us teach you:-)

April 17, 2015 Is Enough Even Possible? Reflections by Martin. We visited with the resistance movement called La Puya yesterday. This movement is the unity of the two communities of San Jose del Goldon and San Pedro Ayampuc that have joined to resist the extraction of a gold mine that has transferred many corporate hands and now is believed to be owned by Kappes, Cassiday and Associates (KCA), a U.S. Company. Resistance to mining exists within this delegation. Our member, Sara Pitcher, works with the Holden Mine remediation project at Lake Chelan in Washington State. This former copper mine is now owned by The Lutheran Retreat Center, who obtained the rights to the mining in order to stop Eco-system destruction around the mine.

 
DSCN0948The La Puya movement is a leaderless movement. In November 2014, we were visited by Miriam Pixtun, a member of the community and part of the resistance, when she spoke at the CRLN luncheon on the effort of these communities to resist mining the gold from the mine, because of the potential increase in damage that would be exacerbated with naturally occurring arsenic in the water serving this area. How many of us westerners get to enjoy good ol’ water, laced with naturally occurring arsenic, AND a helping of the tailings that comes from silver and gold mining? How many of us westerners would stand by and allow this to happen? There’s quite a lot to unpack about the poisoning of poor and dark skinned folks in the United States in the name of capital — syphillis; coal mining; fracking.

Anyway, we spent about two hours with the people of this movement, who spend 24 hour continuous shifts to provide coverage in the resistance to the mining of their land. A young woman, Ana, who described the history and work of the movement is 22 years old and a law student. With deep historical understanding of this movement, she described for us how the mine company has been protected by the government, operates without a license and how the people of the movement have been criminalized and defamed to undermine and destabilize the movement. She described being beaten and pelted by police with rocks and sticks, women being shot with tear gas canisters and how someone in the movement had been shot to create fear and destabilize their struggle to protect their land. She went on to talk about this merging of the political and capital interests when she describes how a worker from the mine, who came to encourage them to accept payments to cease the resistance, was serving a dual role when he again appeared along side members of the military to again encourage them to cease their resistance. Ana told us how the mining trucks came with their equipment and the residents blocked the road and the women laid down in the road to block the trucks and they subsequently turned back and for them, this was a victory. The residents had meetings with the president of the country in an effort to have their rights acknowledged and enforced. They were assured by the president that he would not allow the mine to be extracted if evidence showed that the mine would cause environmental damage, particularly to the water. This writer will provide more information about the details and experiences of the people of the La Puya resistance during report back. Unfortunately, the mine is being prepared for extraction, but the La Puya movement continues.

When asked to explain why they do this work, why they risk their lives and the possibility of economic opportunity, in the form of jobs and resources for their community, Ana responds simply in her native tongue, “we are motivated to continue because of our children.” She talks about the beauty of the land and its natural habitat. But she goes on to present this concept of enough. She says “how we were before was great. We grew our own coffee, beans and corn. We cannot live from gold, it does not sustain our community.” She describes how the land, even with its naturally occurring arsenic was sufficient to care for them. She had taught me, without effort, that there is a point where we can be satiated with what the land provides, and enough to live happily and healthily. It is mesmerizing to think of people willing to lay their bodies down in the face of a military, police, corporate interests and politicians and to be willing to accept the ultimate sacrifice for their land, because the land is simply enough.

I wish I could say that I have treasured the land and its provisions. I am pondering my own greed. How many pairs of (________) I need, or how big does my abode need to be? I began to consider that I am personally exacerbating the problem of the people in San Jose del Goldon, San Pedro Ayampuc, and many other places in the world, including my own home town, because of my love of gold and all its implements, rings, phones, computers, etc., etc., etc., and all the other things that make my life more decadent, while simultaneously making someone else’s lives exponentially more difficult as they simply try to have enough.

The problem seems to be that I have such a difficult time being ungreedy, or unself-interested, or uninconvenienced, or realizing that I have what I need and that that should be, needs to be, enough. Gonna keep thinking on these things as I commune with the wonderful folks in Guatemala. Alright, I’m gonna go get ready to crow with the roosters, fight off bugs (they always buzz in your ears while you sleep) and get ok with sleeping on a floor, and loving on some rice and beans and squash for a few days, because in the end, assuming the plane lands on the other side, I’ll be back in a warm, dry bed, eating whatever I want, too much of it…..soon.

April 16 – Don’t Drink the Water – Reflections by Martin. We spent the day with Ellen Moore of NISGUA, Network in Solidarity with the People in Guatemala. She acted as our DSCN0907interpreter. You may remember Ellen from a visit to the church last year. Today we visited the Archivo Historicode de la Policia — the national police archives. Discovered in 2005, this building and these files are both marvelous and disquieting at the same time. It is here that human rights workers found 80 million police files kept on the people of Guatemala, notably a population of just over 14 million. 57 million documents were historical, meaning they represented a period from 1881 to 1997, which covers the 36 year war period that ended with the peace accords in 1997. The remaining documents cover a period from 1997 to 2005.
 
The Commission for Historical Clarification (aka, the Truth Commission) began to seek out documents from the police and military prior to 2005 because information showed that 95% of atrocities committed during the war were committed by the hand of government. But the military refused on the basis of national security, while the police simply replied that the files were located at stations across the country and that the files were so poorly maintained that they could not give what they did not have, or had no means to gather. Meanwhile, an explosion had occurred nearby one of the police stations, which was being created as a hospital for the national police. Residents, fearing that there might be explosives in this police/hospital station requested that someone ascertain if there was danger. When investigators arrived, they found that there were, in fact, explosives. But they also found a treasure trove of police files in the dilapidated and abandoned building. In reality, the head of the national police had ordered the files from across the country be gathered and placed in the old police/hospital station in an attempt to hide them.
 
DSCN0834Among these files were contact cards that were kept on people. We were shown cards kept on Che Guevara and Argueta Colon, a former mayor of Guatemala City, who was followed from 1957 to 1979. These cards are much like the FBI files in the United States where detailed notes are kept on U. S. citizens and others. Or a police stop card, much like what is used in Chicago when young men are stopped on the streets of Chicago (and all the other cities) by police officers who are trained to create reasons for criminalizing bodies under color of law. These cards, which can be about people, places or organizations, connect people to other files and activities and can create a criminal by default, or because of a failure to obey, nevermind the legality of the underlying initial interaction.
 
What perplexes this writer is why the police didn’t simply destroy the files, though I am glad they didn’t. These cards provide so much information on any number of the 145,000 killed and 150,000 disappeared (and presumed dead) during the war in Guatemala. Indeed, these very archives have helped people find their relatives who were kidnapped, tortured in this facility (can anyone say Homan Square), stripped of their identification and other identifying information and left in the streets by reviewing the contact cards which may have detailed simply what a person was wearing. This is closure for a grieving family, and in some way permission to move forward. Still I remain perplexed as to why the files were gathered, tons and tons of them, using what must have taken bulldozers, dump trucks and many days of manpower to deliver them to a nondescript building and simply leave them. Paper is not a living thing, but the lives of people are intertwined within these paper files.
 
During the several orientations we had before we departed for Guatemala, and during the entire travel time to Guatemala, and even while we were driving to the hotel, we were reminded not to drink the water. Don’t brush your teeth with it, don’t order it in a restaurant. In fact, the only time we should be comfortable being impolite to a host was if we were offered dubious, unidentified water. The water will give you the winds, and “shake you to your core.” The reason for this advice is extremely practical….we don’t have enough time on a delegation for one or more of us to be confined by preventable sickness. Yet, my mind wondered what the people of Guatemala do. Do they drink the water? Shower in the water and let it wash down their throats, as we all do at shower time? Do they gulp it after a workout, when the body craves hydration? And if they do drink the water, what happens to their insides? Does a mother throw her baby over her knee and shake that water out to prevent sickness? Does a person resort to bed, days on end, because they drank the water?
 
I couldn’t help connecting those police archives with the entreaty to stay away from the water. And it wasn’t a tenuous connection, it was a tangible connection. It is the kind of connection that rolls up on you and smacks you useless and bedridden. It renders you moot, when the water is made into fear. Water, like the police, is useful and necessary. But water, left unchecked and undrained grows rank and hostile. It molds and corrupts anything it touches, and it renders us helpless because it has the ability to take on an latent character: it has the ability to offer itself as help, when it really has gently damaged and broken us, and it implores us that there is no time remaining, and there is nothing we can do to stop its ravages. Mostly, it paralyzes us, and makes us bedridden and fearful, even though we could have changed the narrative for someone else, who hadn’t yet been totally broken by its mustiness.
 
DSCN0809The tour guide at the archives told us many reasons why the files weren’t destroyed. When we do a report back on this trip, this writer will share with you these explanations. For this post, I want to propose that they didn’t destroy the files because someone, somewhere, wanted to expose its mustiness and cause us not to forget the suffering we all endure, even when we live in our big houses, and drink our bottled, artesian water and count our ever-dwindling stacks of money and superficially pain for the folks who have had to adjust to the ways of the water, in spite of the water, who can’t spit the water out. The fact is, the water, even if not consumed, consumes us. When we see others consumed by the damage inflicted by the water, we are also inflicted. And we, who are not obviously affected by the water, are not bystanders, we are targets of the water made to feel that the aqua pura is what will keep us safe. These police files indicate the rippling damage caused by police programs designed to oppress some, in the name of the remaining.
 
Tomorrow, I plan to swallow my fear and drink the water and dare it to render me helpless.
 
Nunca mas!

20150415_170734April 16, 2015 – Reflections by Pastor Julian. This picture explains it all to me. Some people ask what brought me to Guatemala? A short while ago there was a civil war here, and in America we even hear the phrase “civil war” as a distant memory – something of a less civilized world. Perhaps. But one just happened in Egypt. Ukraine is having one. Is it our “civilized” nature or our fear and misunderstanding of power, our lack of will to unite and hear one another…is it sophisitcation or cowardice? Our country is thinking more of Selma these days; what we might learn is that our land is quite good at stamping out civil fires.   Guatemala had a civil war. The result was nothing short of genocide of the indigenous Mayan people. This happened during my lifetime! The extraction of resources by big big companies from poor poor people most of the developed world believes those poor people have no rights to. I’m not TRYING to sound like a conflict theorist here, but geez…there are indigenous communities here blocking the roads so mining equipment can’t come thru to drain the resources, which, aside, a mine in Guatemala uses more water in one day than a family will use in a year! Anyway…   Virgilio Vicente lived in a village called Saq Ja, and when the military came thru in 1982, over 30 members of his family were killed. Disappeared. Slaughtered. There is intense PAIN in this country, especially for the elders that made it. More than half the country was born AFTER the war, so there is also an attempt to deny this even happened. No, it happened, and this photo is proof.   Virgilio became an exile and moved from Mexico to, in 1986, Chicago, where he was received into sanctuary by…UNIVERSITY CHURCH. That’s still not why we are here, though. The PAIN is just half the story. Virgilio soon wanted to return home, and in 1998 we accompanied him back to his village for the first time. It wasn’t a mission trip. It was all we could do for restoring community. And with our privilege we brought goods and wisdom for rebuilding, but always done in community. With them making the decisions. With them giving US permission. That is the nature of these delegations. For the new ones like me to learn, and a reunion for others.   This photo is from a column outside the National Cathedral in Central Plaza in Guatemala City. These are the names of the disappeared, the tortured, the families. It is a picture of PAIN. It took years to get this erected – the result of a study called “Nunca Mas,” coordinated by Bishop Gerardi, who was assassinated 2 days after the report’s release. These names are a recognition of intense pain, and also intense HOPE. Hope that if we remember it will never happen again. Hope that, as we walk into the cathedral, we must walk past them and may not worship without remembering them. It was hope that sent Virgilio back home to mostly ruins and made him ask, “What can I do?” He gave that question to UChurch: “What can WE do?”   This trip is about intense pain and intense hope. Progress validates the hope and gives our pain some sense of purpose. Virgilio, who still attends University Church, says often to me, “Because of this, I know my story happened for a reason.” BECAUSE OF THIS. Pain and Hope. That’s what this picture is about. Maybe the entire trip. Maybe many more things.

FullSizeRenderApril 15, 2015 – Reflections by Martin. Many have anxiety around flying, certainly, this writer does. As our delegation sat in the airport awaiting departure, that anxiety grew. And when the agents called the boarding groups, mine being the last, my anxiety grew still. Finally, as we patiently boarded the plane, single file, steely faced, quietly, the anxiety felt palpable. The plane lined up for takeoff, my heart is pumping – a little voice telling me to return to the jetway – but a return to the gate is not really an option, though it seems that this possibility exists. Until we begin the takeoff roll, quickly approaching 200 mph and she lifts the plane gently toward the sky and I find that I am actually at the mercy of the pilot, and it is then that the anxiety, suddenly, magically disappears. Skyward bound, majestically, this seems normal; it is in this place that I submit to the will of the universe and its design, knowing full well that I put this plan in motion.

So to is our reason for this trip to connect with the people in Saq Ja’ and our cultivation of this relationship. This institutional, yet intensely personal friendship, at some point, for someone, somewhere created anxiety and fear. Born out of necessity to protect a family fleeing oppression and violence, someone had to push through the anxiety of opening the dialogue, being vulnerable to the possiblity of rejection and the real possibility that taking off is not synonymous with landing, and embarking on the proverbial plane anyway.   When we acknowledge one another’s humanity, we are willing to do almost anything to secure and defend our undestanding of that humanity. We cannot defend what we don’t know and what we can’t acknowledge. To be in Guatemala with people who subsist on $1 per day and, despite this reality, still find the means to look forward to our presence with expectation and prepare a table for us is a response to a call of God, irrespective. When asked how he would respond to why we must acknowledge the suffering of others, near and far, American civil rights giant, John Lewis said the best way to advocate for oneself is to “help, work for, to push and pull for one another.”

Someone asked this writer “why go to Guatemala?” My response? We must go because to know, one must go, and try. One must go without certainty of arrival, because the effort is the opening for relationship, and hopefully, the anxiety subsides and it all becomes like the plane climbing out toward the sky. Now that we are here, now that we occupy the space together, we can, yet again, for some, and for others begin, to create and  fashion, ponder, and induct, and misunderstand, and not understand and, despite this, remain committed to an open heart that has to, in spite of, advocate for, push for, and pull for someone. Your delegation has arrived in Guatemala…que maravilloso!!!!

April 1, 2015
In 2003, German Hernandez Reynoso who organizes the details of University Church delegations in Guatemala came to University Church and recounted his family’s torture by Guatemalan soldiers. German recounts how he lost his parents and four siblings at the hands of the military. He tells how, while wandering in the forest, others who suffered similar atrocities began to organize to create community and resources for one another. This is his story as told to Sharon Hunter-Smith. German Hernandez Reynoso’s Exile from Guatemala & Return to Guatemala