The 4 Witches come to our village
category: Jims Guatemala

aunties_houseSM.jpgI mentioned before that my mom and the aunties were pretty excited to come to our village. This is a huge challenge. Not that they’re really old or anything, but the trip is HARD: about 10 hours of bone-jarring, cramped, dusty, diesel-smokey, suffocating chicken bus travel. Some legs of the trip are sweltering hot, others are freezing cold. They don’t stop if you have to pee or vomit. On occasion, the chicken busses roll over or plunge off of cliffs (not joking). I just didn’t feel comfortable subjecting my mom to that.

microSM.jpgThen, we had this great idea: pay one of our many local bus driver buddies to come get us and take us where we wanted to go. We pondered, narrowing it down to two good candidates that we knew were reliable, didn’t drink, and owned their own busses. They each asked about the same price, and they were thrilled to have a chance to do something different and interesting, meet my family, and earn money at the tourist-industry rate. 1700 quetzales? A lot for a guy to make in one day (about the same as 55 days of field labor!), but a pretty good deal for us. It came to about $35 per person. We ended up hiring them both: one for the trip to our site, the other for the trip back south a few days later. This was mostly to spread the economic benefit around, but also to prevent any one driver from being the victim of persecution when all the others found out (which they eventually will).

iximcheSM.jpgSo, with Ricardo and Pablo taking turns at the wheel, we made the long journey northward. Having your own chartered bus is pretty nice: you can bring a bunch of extra groceries, stop to pee any time you want, don’t have to worry about thieves, etc. The drivers were super accommodating, and became part of the fun. The aunties wanted to see the Mayan ruins at IximchĂ©, but Ricardo suggested we stop there before I even got a chance to mention it. They helped us find the ruins, asking locals for directions along the way. I think Ricardo and Pablo enjoyed the chance to play tourist a bit, too.

We stopped at the supermarket in Huehuetenango on the way back, and the guys helped us fill all the cracks of the microbus with the various supplies we bought. Then, we all went to lunch. It was a pleasure to have them at our table, and we told them to order anything they wanted from the menu. No, really, guys. I mean it. They were a little uncomfortable at first, but soon realized that we liked them and just wanted to have a good time together. A good time was had by all.

paintSM.jpgWe saw some very Guatemalan funniness on the way back, like a bottled water truck that had sideswiped a paint truck. Man, what a mess! The day wore on, and it soon became apparent that due to our lollygagging, we would NOT be getting back before dark. Despite their reassurances to us, I could tell that the drivers were worried about travel after sundown. When we finally rolled into the village at 8pm, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Before we left, Emily and I told very few people that my mom would be coming. We told Nas Palas and Manuel, of course, so as not to offend them. But we didn’t want the whole marimba-and-fireworks thing, partly because it’s tiresome, but mostly because my mom is a very quiet, nonassuming, introverted person. Manuel wanted a big ceremony to present my mom to the village, something that would really be uncomfortable to her. I explained that she was a quiet and timid lady, and really just wanted to meet and thank the friends and family in our village that have supported us so much during our time here. If she got to meet other villagers, that would be a nice plus, but a big presentation in front of the whole village was a definite no-go.

So, it was a great relief to only see Manuel and his family when we arrived, greeting us and helping us carry groceries up to the house. But imagine my suprise and annoyance when Manuel said to me, “OK, I got everything ready for the big ceremony tomorrow at 3pm. We’re going to present your mom to the entire village! This will be great!” I shook his hand goodnight, and sent him off with a promise to talk to him about it the next morning; I knew I was too tired at the time to say anything civil or appropriate about his total disregard for my mothers’ wishes or well-being.

The next morning, we started with a quick breakfast of bananna-nutella crepes (a house specialty), then we went over to ask Nas Palas’s wife Lina about her opinion on the whole thing. “I agree with your mom!” she replied, as she doesn’t like being in front of crowds either. “You just ned to tell Manuel that you’re not going to do it his way.” This was a big relief for us; we don’t care if we annoy Manuel, but I didn’t want to make the village feel put out. Lina didn’t seem to think it would be a problem.

kitchen.jpgThen, we brought over my mom and the aunties to meet Nas Palas’s family and share some atol with them. Here is a picture of my mom with Lina in their kitchen. Yay!  

I met with Manuel a bit later, and explained to him we wouldn’t be at this presentation of his. “But I set it up already!” he grumbled. “I told the people she’d be there! I’m a man of my word!”

This lit up a strange, protective thing in me and really got me incensed. How dare he mistreat my own mother, disregarding her wishes, just to make himself look good? “I don’t think you understand,” I said, trying to stay calm. “My mother is a shy and timid person, and is scared of crowds. I would never disrespect my mother and scare her by putting her in front of 300 people.”

“But I gave my word she’d be there!” he said.

“And I certainly hope no one ELSE would disrespect my mother, my VERY OWN MOTHER, by disrespecting her wishes and trying to scare her with a giant crowd of people.” I looked at him pretty hard, and stopped talking. I think he got the message a that point.

He mumbled something about meeting with the women, and how we couldn’t just leave them. “Well, Emily and I can go meet them and talk to them,” I explained, following a plan we’d made the night before.

So, a few hours later we were at the health center with about 60 women, most of whom are normally at the health lectures. Manuel started to say a bunch of stuff, and Emily waved at Maria, a lady we trust a lot, who is bilingual. She came over and translated into Emily’s ear, making sure Manuel didn’t stray too far from the program. Part of the meeting was also to talk about the disaster that happened a few weeks ago with the girls from Yulais. After Manuel’s opening remarks, Emily took the floor.

“We’re not here to ask for apologies from anyone,” she began, purposefully using Maria to translate her words, not Manuel. Then she went on to explain that there was some confusion about why we are here, what are goals are with the Preventive Health lectures, things like that. We’re halfway thorugh our time in the village, so we set up this meeting with the idea that the village leaders would be there and we could talk about what all of us hope to accomplish in the next year. But because of a mistake in communication, none of the leaders came today, so we regretfully asked for their forgiveness, as we had to postpone the meeting until next time and try to get all the leaders together again.

There was a pause, and Emily looked over to me. “OK, your turn. Make it a happy note.”

Luckily, I just had an idea moments before. I told the women a story, a story about how over a year ago we came to our village and were a little scared and lost, and many kind people came to help us and show us hospitality. People like Nas Palas, and Manuel, and many of the women present there. This was very moving to us, and we wrote letters home telling all our family about what had happened. “Much like all of you here, my mother was very worried about me,” I explained. They nodded, understanding well; most of them have sons in the US that they haven’t seen for years. “Imagine her joy when she heard how well we were looked after.” I continued, saying that my mom realized she would have to visit Guatemala herself, to personally thank the people responsible for helping her son.

They nodded to each other, pretty drawn into the story. “But she is like you,” I said. “She is kind but quiet, and she is uncomfortable in front of large groups.” They all laughed a little, nodding; we always ask for volunteers in our lectures, but people NEVER want to come up on stage with us. “So that is why she is not going to be here today. But she wants you all to know that if any of you would like to see here, she is at our house, and would gladly talk with anyone who wanted to drop by.” I smiled, having successfully pulled off a coup. No one was alienated, my mom wouldn’t have to stand in front of a crowd. All was good.

“Just for 10 minutes!” they cried, bringing me back to reality. “She can just come here for a little, we promise we won’t keep her long!” Hmm. Not the solution I was looking for at all.

I looked at Emily, and we realized that a third solution was in order. “No, my mom will not come here,” I reiterated. “But… we can all go to my mom!” Not an ideal solution either; more like damage control.

There was much commotion and excitement and smiles, and everyone leapt from their seats. “You’d better run and warn her, I will hold them a minute or two,” Emily said. “Now go!”

meeting mom.jpg shaking.jpg

I ran home, bringing the news to my mom and Aunties. Luckily, they were game and thought it a good plan, and put on their shoes. A minute later, my yard was filled with several dozen Mayan women.

Through translators, a few women spoke on behalf of the group, thanking my mom personally for sending her son to come help them with the important work of teaching health to the community. My mom, in turn, thanked them not only for caring for her son so well, but also for being so welcoming to her and the Aunties. It was all very moving, for everyone involved. Then the women all formed a line and took turns embracing my mom and all the aunts.

After the fact, we all agreed that it was the best possible thing. The women each got to feel like they’d in a way become a part of my family. It’s strange how important that is, but you could see it on their faces. And my mom got to put a face to many of the names she’d been hearing about for over a year.

It is late, and was a really tiring day. I am going to bed.

Posted by: jfanjoy