Community and resistance and what that means for us
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”
One reason I (Raquel) am so enthralled with Guatemala is that community is at the center of life and what revolves around community is simply all the rest. As I approach my mid-thirties it is interesting to find oneself wanting, once again, the community that is essential in making sure that one belongs, feels at home, feels as though they have a place. The twenties were a time in my life of constant exploration and making sure that experiences were at the center of what I was doing. My purpose in life, in a sense, was making sure that I was experiencing new things, new places, new cultures, new languages, etc. Now, all those new things are extremely welcome, but I have come to want something more along with the new.
This something more involves community and Guatemala is a fine place to be experiencing it. During our time in San Lucas Tolimán and working with IMAP or the Institute for Mesoamerican Permaculture, we had the opportunity to visit Quixaya, a community agriculture project that was very inspiring. The project began because a number of years ago there was a finca, or farm, that went bankrupt. They could no longer pay or support their workers and so it had to sell. The workers that had been part of the finca got together and decided they wanted to buy the land. Seventy-five families came together to buy the land and raised 2 million Quetzales (exchange rate is about $7.4 so you do the math). They needed another million and so they took out a loan from the Catholic Church in order to pay for the land. Now there are about 150 families that farm the land that had once been a monoculture of coffee and sugar cane.
Approaching the valley that is just beneath the town of Quixaya your eye is flooded with vibrant shades of green and your ears are captivated by the flowing sound of the river running at the foot of the valley. As we make our way down to the riverbed Gregorio, our IMAP guide, explains to us that at the foot of the river the main crop is watercress. The next level up is made up of different crops of veggies and the milpa system (corn, beans, and squash grown together). The last level is forest where various plants and trees make up the landscape.
The families have divided up the land in accordance of their needs and what they would like to plant and have worked hard to get the soil back to the nutrient-rich earth it was surely characterized by before the finca. This pulling together of resources and needs of a community is beautiful to hear about and getting to experience it is even more of a treat. We visit Quique’s, short for Enrique, plot of land and he, like other locals, have also added some natural pools for people to enjoy during the heat of the day. He has few fish ponds where he grows tilapia and snails. The tilapia is good fried and the snails are scrumptious in ceviche, we found this out first-hand the following day when we tried both.
Our group used tools we had hauled from IMAP to carve out a flat terrace for another bed of watercress and then we bathed in the pools to wash away our dirt, sweat, and tired muscles.
These last few days we have spent in Pachaj, a quiet highland town just south of Xela, Guatemala’s second largest city. We are here at Chico Mendes which is a project founded by Armando Lopez with the goal of reforestation. There are many problems in the area and one of them is that many trees are cut down, 10,000 a day he tells us passionately, but no one is planting more. Our goal during our time here is to help out with the project, study Spanish (the students each have a Spanish teacher from the community), and live in homestay families (students are paired up and have been enjoying their time so far).
The aspect of community that has struck me during our time in Pachaj and specifically Chico Mendes is the fact that Armando tries to incorporate the local youth. He has 380 youth that take turns caring for the tree seedlings in the space by his home as well as planting the trees in surrounding areas. They then participate in the care that comes after planting like weeding and pruning. It is inspiring to see that it takes a whole village to raise a tree and this is something that Dragon students are also witnessing.
As instructors we are trying to bring up different issues that Guatemala is facing, but the students are realizing that these issues are part of a web of different problems that are also present in their own hometowns and the world as a whole. The ways that we look at solving these problems are questions that we raise and students grapple with on a daily basis. One question that Lindsey asked after a conversation at the dinner table is “What is being done to resist?” The question is very fitting for the situation that we find ourselves in. Many times we look around and what we see is brokenness and heartache, struggle and injustice, intolerance and fear. What Dragons students are being immersed in as they sometimes find themselves out of their proverbial nests, as Pema Chodron describes as the only way to fully come alive, are the very roots of resistance that one student asked about. These roots grow into fulfillment and community, further resistance and steps towards equality, a growing understanding and hope for the future.
Armando challenged us today to be part of social movements and to become agents of change even if the act is as little as planting a tree. Even if that tree has to be planted over and over again because it has been uprooted, burned, or dies a natural death. We hope that our group of dragoncitos can rise to the challenge and we feel as though they are already well on their way.
We hope that this reflection finds friends and family well!
Raquel, Juancho y Este