Que pais magnifico! What a wonderful country! Despite Guatemala’s horrendous history and recent past – I find a deep sense of serenity and welcome here. The climate is deliciously perfect. The scenery is astonishingly magnificent. The people are impeccably kind and friendly. The arts and crafts are an explosion of color and gorgeous design. Antigua is a city of remarkable beauty and charm. The artistic life is pulsating –from traditional crafts to contemporary art – painting, sculpture, architecture. Oh fellow Global Citizens, we are blessed with such an amazing planet and so many rich cultures!
Yet amidst this beauty, serenity and charm, I find myself repeatedly triggered when confronting the beautiful and pervasive colonial influences. I feel my stomach tighten and churn, as every historical figure, church, painting all make me think of Los Conquistadores – the cruelty, greed, violence, genocide that has swept this land for hundreds of years with their wanton destruction of so much of Mayan culture – which manifested in the last century in the cruel greed of “Banana Republics” and CIA supported death squads. (With Israeli supplied helicopters.) I feel culpable and sad.
When I visited a small anthropological museum here, the descriptions of the Mayan relics were so shallow – yet I know each aspect of every item is filled with many symbolic and spiritual meanings. Why did they not consult the Mayan elders and shaman to enrich their understanding? It hurts to see the disrespect and ignorance of deep, spiritual culture all around. I am hoping to gain more understanding and exposure when I reach Atitlan later this week.
The shameful gap between wealth and poverty is sharply evident (as at home!). Chic boutiques, luxurious cars, upscale restaurants abound… While in every corner of this old town, dozens of village women in their lovely traditional huilpes, infants slung to their backs, as well as children ply the streets offering their wares – lovely scarves, handicrafted jewelry and emobroidered cloths for just a few dollars… It is wrenching to know what a difference each sale must make for their family, yet what can one do… I was shocked to see an older woman sit down on the curb in front of the Plaza Central… with a puddle soon showing.. .until I realized, where else could she urinate? Surely none of the restaurants or hotels would allow her entry.
It’s been hard to read about present day realities of Guatemala: the levels of poverty, illiteracy, infant mortaility, polluted water, denuded forests, etc. exceed all other Central American countries – indeed, amongst the worst in the world. I look forward to visiting a number of inspiring NGOs working to combat these conditions – an important role for we USA’ns since we contributed so much to the problem.