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San Juan Cotzal Homestay

It is 5:30 pm as the sun begins its descent in the small, secluded town of San Juan Cotzal. I am sitting outside on a wooden plank for a chair, intensely watching my homestay mother, Margarita, meticulously handcraft intricate designs on a scarf she has been working on for 20 days. She will continue to work on this scarf for another 10 days until it is finished. Margarita is a part of the women’s weaving cooperative in San Juan Cotzal and works to provide for her 4 children and mother. Given that she speaks the native language Ixil, and I speak English, it naturally came as a surprise for me when we communicated non-stop for the next hour.

She started off by proudly displaying her previous garments, then explained in rough Spanish what her specific task is at the cooperative. On the subject of craftwork, I showed her the 4 different bracelets I made with my ISP mentor in San Juan La Laguna. In turn, her 15 year old son brought out the bracelets he’s made, which mine do not compare to. One conversation lead to the next, and pretty soon we had talked about almost everything in butchered Spanish; the work Dragons does, her previous homestay daughters, and my family life at home. We did not talk about the civil war and its impact on her family, however I have not seen a father figure leading me to believe that it had some sort of affect.

After a traditional dinner, her 10 year old daughter Maria showed me how to make her famous lemonade. The first step is to boil water or make “aqba pura”. Next, she squeezed 2 lemons in the water and added a cup of sugar. It was finally ready to taste and I was intrigued because I had never tried warm lemonade. It was amazing; a delicious blend of sweet and savory.

It is now 7:15 and time for me to get ready for bed. As I walk back to the room I share with her 18 year old daughter Catharina and her grandma, I notice Margarita’s 3 year old son tearing up newspaper. I later find out that they use it as toilet paper in the latrine hole.

As I sit here writing this yak, I can’t help but think that the scarf isn’t just an item of clothing, that the lemonade isn’t just a tasty drink, and that the crumpled newspaper isn’t just an alternative for cloth toilet paper. These are all metaphors for the idea that this community strives to create something greater than what they started with. These metaphors have helped me better understand this foreign place and its indigenous inhabitants, and I have yet to see a mother and family as hardworking as this one. Feeling incredibly inspired, I hope that for the last week of this course I can continue to explore and grow in my personal journey of becoming a more hardworking person.