Guatemala: A Hope Offering

This post is part of the Hope 2012 Blog Relay started by the indomitable Melanie Crutchfield and the not-so-subtle nudge from my wonderful mentor and friend, Melissa Tucker. The basic premise, you guessed it, is to write about hope. 
So hope, the enemy of self-respecting cynics the world over. What could a sarcastic-around-the-edges gringa possibly have to say about hope from the city of La Antigua, Guatemala?
Thus far my life here has been idyllic. Each morning I’ve attended one-on-one language classes where every stunted phrase I’ve uttered in Spanish has been reinforced with a friendly nod and a “Buen trabajo” from my encouraging teacher. I’ve spent my afternoons meandering the cobblestone streets while sliding slippery mangos from plastic bags onto my tastebuds rapt with anticipation. I pass women in colorful woven skirts and tops pressing their palms together in the pat-pat-pat of tortilla making. The city of Antigua, where poverty is smoothed over by smiles and tourists just like the renovated facades of its 16th century architecture, makes a postcard perfect backdrop for the next year of my life.
In Antigua, the souvenirs, the coffee, and the bars are easy to find. It’s the tumultuous history and subsequent signs of hope and reconciliation you have to go looking for.
I don’t know how much you know about Guatemalan history, but for over 30 years, from 1960 to 1996, Guatemala was entrenched in brutal civil war. When I visited Guatemala during my semester abroad, we visited an organization committed to helping people who had lost friends and relatives in the civil war. Not an organization so much as a support group, un apoyo mutuo. Hundreds of portraits lined the walls. There were young men, old men, fat men, some merely boys. All were missing. Gone.
Desaparecidos. Disappeared.

As the leader, an indigenous woman wearing a crumpled grey skirt as crinkled as her wrinkled, weary eyes, described the group’s brave and somber purpose, I snuck back to the bathroom. I returned during the question and answer segment. I had just slid into my cold, metal chair when one of my classmates asked the question we’d all wanted to know.
“How many men have you found?” “Cuantos han encontrado?” The group was devoted to searching for the missing family members, los desaparecidos. Surely, some must have been reunited with their loved ones.
Cero,” the woman stated matter-of-factly. “Zero.”
After the war, the Historical Clarification Commission estimated that “more than 200,000 people were killed — the vast majority ofwhom were civilian indigenous people.” 
Six years later, the eyes that used to haunt me from these posters, the faces I used to call forth to justify my anger, the stories I used to tell to bash ignorant Americans, now implore me to look for a different reality. To look for hope in the scenery around me, in the life around me in Guatemala.
If I allow myself to look deeper, to not be seduced by cheap tours, cheap drinks, and cheap Spanish classes, I think I will find this place I now call home to be a country of great hope.  Hope against all odds. Reconciliation and healing and redemption against all odds.
If I look closely and sensitively enough, I will see that the woman wearing traje (the typical indigenous dress unique to each village and people group) isn’t just the source of my lunchtime tortillas (a gift in itself), but she is also a sign of hope.
I will see that the parade I witnessed this morning wasn’t just a festive reason to yell and shout and dance, but was a symbol of the survival of a culture despite great adversity and discrimination in celebration called,  Dia de los Mayas (Day of the Maya).
I will glimpse the magnitude of healing that has taken place as people who used to kill each other now walk down the same streets, shop in the same stores, and send their kids to the same schools in peace.
I will hear the Kaqchikel words a mother whispers to her wide eyed child in the dentist office not just with linguistic amusement, but with awe and gratitude that the syllables will be passed to the next generation.  
While driving through Guatemala City, I will see the Mayan flag waving from the palace as not just a splash of color in the cityscape, but as a sign of inclusion, a step toward reconciliation.
This year I have the chance not only to learn Spanish and eat mangos and dance salsa, but also to share meals with some very brave, very inspiring people, to hear stories of unbelievable horror and unbelievable healing, and to learn from a country that is, poco a poco, choosing hope. 

Fabulous blogger friends of mine… you interested? If you want to join the Hope Relay, let me know!

Adrian Waller: Life Before The Bucket
Anita Mathias: Dreaming Beneath the Spires
Tim Høiland: Tim Høiland

7 thoughts on “Guatemala: A Hope Offering

  1. MelTuck says:

    Como siempre… just what I needed. This is lovely, Al. I miss you. AND I am soooo glad you are there. Besos

  2. Aly Lewis says:

    Thanks, Mel! And thanks for the invitation! I miss you too!!

  3. What a beautiful contribution. So wonderfully written. Thank you so much for taking the baton!

  4. Gorgeous post, Aly. I felt the hope well up in me for Guatemala as I read each word.

  5. Aly Lewis says:

    Thanks, Melanie! I'm happy to be a part of the relay!

  6. Aly Lewis says:

    Can't wait to read yours, Adrian!

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