Place: Uspantan, Guatemala
Interview and tranlation by Lena Dorfschmidt
I want to share with you my community’s story.
Ealier it was called Macalajau, but in the eighties, after the armed conflict, it was called Tierras Asesadas, because many people here were killed. I was young at that time. Macalajau earlier meant “Lightning.” Or also “Rainbow,” which comes from the [[K’iche’]] word “xoqa’ab’”.
p style=”text-align: left”>We learned about our history through our grandparents. From those old people that survived, as many died in the eighties. They tell us how the arrival at these lands was. Our grandparents arrived, looking for land. They came from very far away. They didn’t have lands to cultivate and were looking for land to stay on with their families. Herbs, flowers, corn and beans is what we have here. The people more or less survive with that. And with firewood. The people go down to to sell it there. Sometimes they also sell here, but here they get paid very little. They don’t pay for transportation, only when they take more then two quintals. One quintal is 100 pounds. And if we talk about fire wood, a charge has fifty pieces. These fifty pieces they sell at twenty Quetzals and they pay five Quetzals for transportation. So they keep fifteen Quetzals. The keep very little. But there is no other way. Here the families are big. They get to have eight, ten up to fourteen or fifteen children. Selling fire wood helps them to provide what the children need. We face a lot of malnutrition. Sometimes you see ladies with many children. The work the children do is to watch the goats and sheep. The men often leave to work on the coast, because they pay a little better there. They go for six months. They earn little. A man was telling me that if he can stand the six months he will bring home between twelve and fifteen thousand Quetzals. That is a lot of money, but they leave their families. It is a lot, because here in the community they get paid very little. If someone does the corn harvest, or cuts fire wood… they pay them thirty five Quetzals per day. With all they earn during a week the go to the city on the weekend and they have enough to buy soap, the basic things. The money isn’t enough. Many families do not consume vegetables. There isn’t enough money. Now they are harvesting corn and beans and are happy. A farmer eats a lot. He eats between fourteen and fifteen tortillas, those who work on the fields. And he drinks three glasses of atole. That gives them strength, because they carry heavy a lot. Thank God there are some organizations helping. ProMasa for example provides some rice, beans and atole for the children. Now, the snacks at school got a little better, We, the teachers, were fighting for that in the capital. Thought with the change of government it got a little worse again. But what we can give the children is atole or mosh. And sometimes a small bread.
There are some people that sometimes come without having eaten. And we saw how they fell asleep in class. But with the snacks that got a little better.
In the school we give them vitamins and parasiticide, because many of the children don’t grow, but have a big tummy. We talk to the Health Center. They give us half of it and we have to see how to collect for the rest. And they also give us iron and vitamins. The children don’t like it, but it is each teacher’s work to give it to every child, dissolve it in a glass of atole and try to make it so that you can’t smell the vitamins anymore, because they don’t like it. That is what we give them at school, because if we give them the drops to take them home, they will just be thrown away.
Today I was buying some herbs for a girl that used to be very malnourished. But thank God it is getting better. Her family is very poor. But now people are waking up a little. We are getting taught. They say we shouldn’t have so many children anymore. But they don’t like that. They say children are a present from God and that we should receive them. But is so hard to take care of them. And the nutrition, because here where we are there is no work.
Sometimes the children come ill or with many pimples. Hygiene is another problem. There were some five girls that had many pimples on their ear. Their mum said she couldn’t bath them, because it was too cold and they could get ill. But how can she not bath them. Hygiene is important. In summer, sometimes there is not much water and the people don’t want to waste it on bathing their children. And the lice… there are many cases of lice in the school. We put something in their hair, so that they go away.
The disintegration of the families is also a big issue, when they just abandon them. The mothers just go to look for work in Uspantan. They leave their children alone.
At school I do the K’iche’ class with the children. The parents don’t want their children to receive K’iche’ classes, because they know it already. But they don’t know to how to read and write it. And nowadays every professional will be asked if he is bilingual, because in the villages there are still many people that don’t speak Spanish and we have to attend them. I also teach English, but only the colors and the numbers. More than that, I don’t know.
With K’iche’ we start in first grade. In sixth grade many say they don’t want [[to study K’iche’]] anymore. But it is necessary that they know their language. Many people mix K’iche’ with Spanish. They say “Are jun ‘pato’” [[It is a duck]]. But it is “patux”. We use a K’iche’ grammar book. But we don’t agree, because often the people that write the books are foreigners. And that is not our K’iche’. But last year we got together with some teachers and worked on how it is really spoken here.
K’iche’ nowadays is very important. That is how some students of mine in ninth grade told me. First they told me that it wasn’t necessary to speak K’iche’. But we saw that it is. To work in a hospital, in a lawyer’s office in the municipality you are required to speak K’iche’. Often the problem is that people don’t speak Spanish. And they have to attend them.
There are children at school that don’t know Spanish. We have to teach them. And that is difficult. Some don’t speak it well. “La caballo corra en el campo” [[incorrect article and verb conjugation]]. And that is not correct. I had a girl in third grade last year that didn’t speak Spanish. I made her read. And she didn’t do it. Kin kowin taj, she told me, Kin kowin taj [[I can’t, I can’t]]. What we want is that [[the children]] learn well.
The school’s vision is that they become good professionals. That they keep in mind everything we tell them. Because we are struggling for them as much as we can. But the problem is that sometimes in third grade they drop out. They drop out and don’t study anymore. The problem here is that they get married at the age of thirteen, fifteen. And they stop studying. They get lost. And we get lost. That is what we say.
We fight for you, and we want the community to continue further. We want to see that everyone gets a job. That they don’t stay at home as guards of the house. Suffering with many children. That was our vision. Take them from primary school to middle school, to high school. We have many dreams, but sometimes they don’t support us. The most painful thing for us is when they study just a little and then drop out.
In the village we are very few professionals. In the village there is no work for professionals. They would have to travel. There are many that became teachers. But there is no work. They are not hiring anymore. That is difficult for us. The children became educated but don’t get jobs.
Some people still preserve our ancestors’ culture. But many don’t anymore. Grandchildren should give their grandfather their ancestral greeting. But they don’t do that anymore. Sometimes they just walk by and shout, “Granfaaatheeer!” It is changing a lot. And people are getting used to it. They don’t want to use the traditional clothes anymore. I should be using the traditional clothes from Uspantan. I should be using clay pots, as everything used to be cooked in clay pots. The same applies for the sandals. They should be made of leather. And the girls… even if they wear corte [[traditional Mayan skirt]]. They put on make-up, they paint their nails. Everything is changing. They still use the corte, but not like it should be used. Sometimes even like a mini skirt. And they should be wearing their hair with a listón [[ribbon]]. Now only very few still use it.