Sometimes travel isn’t easy. Sometimes we get slapped in the face by our own privilege to travel and live the lives that we do. These last four nights I had my own homestay with a family in San Juan Cotzal, Guatemala. Their primary language is the local Ixil Mayan language, but most of the family spoke some Spanish as well. I spent lots of time sitting by the fire in the kitchen talking to my hosts, and I got a very close look at how hard their life is. They have five kids between the ages of 12 and 2 with another child due in September. The husband works in the fields but often has to go to the farms on the south coast for a month at a time to make more money than he can make locally. He is thinking of emigrating to the US, like so many of his countrymen have done before him. The mother of the family is worried about what is going to happen with the new baby, when they are already stretched thin in terms of funds. The family eats thin soup and tortillas for most meals, and while the tortillas are plentiful everything else is scarce. As a paying guest I was given little extras, like a fried egg with my breakfast, but I still felt faint after my third day with too few calories and had to start supplementing my diet with extra snacks. I also purchased watermelon, papaya, and bread as a farewell gift as fruit is an expensive luxury in this mountain town.
In spite of these circumstances, this is a family of happy and playful children. All of the kids who are old enough are in full time education, which is important to their parents since they never had the chance to complete elementary school themselves. The kids gathered around to listen to me read aloud the only story book they had in the house, which was a graphic novel version of the Bible in Spanish. As a teacher it made me incredibly happy to share this moment with them, though it was in their second language which the youngest kids barely speak. The future is uncertain for these lovely people, and leaving today has left me with mixed feelings of gratitude, concern, and anger. The Ixil region faced terrible repression during the recent Civil War, and with hard work this community will continue to recover. I hope that means there will be a bright future for this family.