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Latin America Kavitha Dispatch

Todos Santos, Part 2:
Finding a Home Away from Home

 

Part of my new family
Caption
Shawn and I are both living with Mam families. The Mam people are so warm and kind, it's almost overwhelming. I've only been here for two days and already I feel like a part of the family. My mother, Josephina, spends all day taking care of her children, making tortillas to sell in the market, or weaving traditional shirts and pants. I also have five sisters ranging in age from four to fourteen years old. Santa Teresa and Rosalia are in secondary school, while Martina is in primary school. Justina and Julia are too young for school and so stay at home with their mother and grandparents. I have yet to meet Bruno, who at fifteen is the eldest child and the only boy. He had to drop out of school this year to go work on a large corn farm in the lower, hotter regions of Guatemala. My family has a small plot of land where it plants its own corn, but this year there was not enough as the family needs the corn both to eat and to use to make tortillas for sale.

Corn for the day!
Caption
Unfortunately, less than two percent of the Guatemalan people own over two thirds of the land in the country, which means that most people have to work on other people's land to survive. To make matters worse, these large landowners produce crops mostly to export. Rather than producing food that could feed the many hungry people that live here, most of the land is farmed to produce coffee, bananas, cotton, and sugarcane that is exported to the U.S. and Europe. Even though Guatemala produces some of the best coffee in the world, many of the people who live here cannot afford to drink it. Corn is the one staple crop that most people grow for themselves, and believe me--the Guatemalans eat a lot of corn!

Josephina making her daily batch of tortillas
Caption
My family eats corn tortillas with every meal of the day--breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Josephina spends all morning making hundreds of tortillas that she then sells at the market. Today she sold all of her tortillas for 10 Quetzales, which is equal to about $1.50. This money represented the family's income for the day.

You see, Josephina is a single mother and must raise her children without the help of their father. She is not alone in her situation. Many families have lost their fathers, either as casualties of the long civil war (Team - Torture and Bloodshed: Truths of the Guatemalan Civil War) that wracked the country until 1996, or as casualties of a dream, the dream of "El Norte. "El Norte" literally means "The North", and it refers to the United States, the land of plenty. Many men from the villages have escaped to "El Norte" in hopes of a better life. For more information on this topic, check out this article from when we were crossing the U.S./Mexico border: Seeking "El Norte".

Many go with hopes of finding their fortune so they can come back home and support their families. Unfortunately, what they find in the U.S. is a harsher reality. Most end up working as illegal immigrants for less than the minimum wage and so can never afford to return to their families. This is what Josephina and her family think has happened to their father.

Despite all these hardships, my family is full of joy and love. We eat all our meals together in our one room house. The grandparents, mother, and children all sit around the wood-burning stove while they eat, laugh, and tell stories in Mam. Justina, the youngest, loves to dance, so if there's any music to be heard, the dancing's sure to begin. When it's time to sleep they all bundle up in wool blankets and sleep on various cots around the room. If it is too cold at night, they light a fire in the middle of the room, right on the floor! That's one of the great advantages of having a dirt floor...and, oh yeah, no one gets yelled at for spilling!


Did you miss part one of this dispatch? Check it out now! Todos Santos Part 1: Rough Road to Paradise.

Please write me at kavitharao@bigfoot.com, or post a message on the Discussion Board!

Kavitha  
 

Team - Torture and Bloodshed: Truths of the Guatemalan Civil War
Shawn - Uncovering the Riches of Todos Santos
Abeja - The Flourishing Quiche Culture
 
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