I write this yak from the curbside of a busy street in Rabinal – “The Entertainer” plays from an ice cream stand on the corner, rogue tuk tuks run rampant through the intersection, the air is hot and dry, and the mountains peek out from behind a tangle of electrical lines. The scene is a bit chaotic for the purposes of quiet reflection, but I’d like to look back on our time spent in the nearby organization, Qachuu Aloom. Not only has it inspired me to become a medicinal herb expert one day, but it has also taught our group lots about loss, growth, and their inevitable coexsistence.
Qachuu Aloom itself means Madre Tierra, Mother Earth. Our guide for the day, Don Cristobal, met us in a corn field clearing to talk to us about the projects and motivations of the organization. We wove through aisles of plant beds packed with herbs and plants that have sustained indigenous people for generations. Agroecology, which places emphasis on plant diversity, variety, and sustainability, is deliberately practiced here. Don Cristobal shared a sample of each plant, laying them in a circle while detailing the medicinal and nutritional qualities of each one. He shared his life mission, to share his knowledge with the next generation, and spoke of his teaching to the community youth (who aren’t exactly supported by the Guatemalan government in their education endeavors). His committment to returning to roots, both cultural and literal, was evident throughout our conversation.
We followed this talk with a walk through a cemetery in Rabinal, the tall pastel graves topped with the occasional bouquet of orange flowers. We eventually reached the painted wall, a monument that pays respect to the lost and condemns the perpetrators all at once. Don Cristobal recounted as much as he could about the massacres to us, lamenting the loss of his family and community. I was left speechless, as there really aren’t sufficient words in any language to truly describe the horror and heartbreak of genocide and this kind of injustice. We can only just begin to understand what the sobrevivientes, the survivors, lived through.
Earlier, Don Cristobal had taken us briefly into the seed house – a small brick building lined with shelves, each one supporting tall clay vases of seeds. We were told that beneath the ground, even more seeds were being protected, and that after 5 years underground, they would hopefully still be able to grow. When he first led us into the room, he noted with a smile that because they have to protect these seeds, they are trusted with the treasures of life, a small phrase that has stuck with me ever since.
Time and time again throughout this trip, we have heard words like luchar, engañar, and perder alongside words like apoyar, compartir, and crecer. We learn about traditional herbs and the teaching of youth alongside a somber walk through a cemetery seeped in the history of unthinkable crimes and pain. It’s a constant contrast of irreparable loss and the necessity of pushing forward nonetheless – the small yet insistent treasures of life. Seeds still grow after five years of darkness, roots don’t break so easily, and people who have lived through heartbreak can find it in themselves to dedicate their lives to fostering the wellbeing of a new generation.
Now, as I finish this yak, I sit on the deck of our house in Rio Negro, yet another destination of remarkable persistence. The shallow river is framed by an impressive collection of dry forest mountains. Select members of the group have taken it upon themselves to sing, rather expressively, the group-favorite song “Hasta La Raiz” (Having found a guitar inside, the quartet was inevitable). Needless to say, it’s a rather thematic way to end this particular reflection.