The Odyssey
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Latin America Abeja Dispatch

No More Small Talk: Stories of the Civil War

Abeja with Maria Eluisa and Migues
Caption
We're reunited! Hurray! Jamila arrived in Guatemala City just as I returned from Quiche after the last update. I was the first to see Jamila when she first arrived in Guatemala after her travels through Mexico and Belize. It was wonderful to see her and I invited her to join me where I was living. We headed out and were whisked away on a crowded, LOUD bus to Los Proyectos, where I have been staying. Maria Eluisa, the 11 year-old daughter, opened the door to our knock, and immediately smiled and hugged me. It felt like coming home. The three of us headed off to the mercado to get Sunday lunch: avocados, papayas, oranges, pineapples, yerbas (herbs, in this case, greens for soup), onions, garlic, and carne (meat). While Maria and her 13 year-old brother, Miguel, started the grill, Jamila and I sat down with Maria to prepare lunch.

Trivia!!
Small talk led to more than small talk; soon, Maria was sharing the story of her life, from being a maid for a rich family in Quiche at age 9 (for fifty centavos a month) to organizing campesinos during the 36 year civil war to the surviving wartime atrocities. If only we'd had a tape recorder. Maria had so much to share that I couldn't begin to tell her story. Throughout the conversation, Maria kept reminding us that EVERYONE here has these stories - stories of rape, murder, torture, fear, and starvation. It reminded me of Rigoberta Menchu's books. We listened all afternoon, astonished and horrified.

Miguel and Maria Eluisa teach Jamila to use the computer
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When I look at these humble, gentle women, it is impossible to comprehend how much prolonged, sustained violence and degradation they have experienced. For instance, Maria's six children were separated during the war. Her brother was tortured and eventually killed. Many family members changed their name to avoid meeting the same fate. Her son was kidnapped, but he escaped. Reunited with her son, Maria and he fled from hiding place to hiding place, with nothing but what they were wearing, to keep from being killed themselves. Maria Elouisa was left with her aunt in Quiche when she was less than two years old. This is the first year that she has been able to live with her parents, and she is eleven years old. Miguel moved around as a child, first with a Latino family, who spoke no Quiche. At age five, he was left with a family he didn't know, who spoke a different language. Over time, that family feared it was too dangerous to keep him, and he was moved to a guarderia (orphanage) where he lived for two years. Both children quickly lost their ability to speak Quiche, their native language. Her middle son, Miguel Angel, suffered from malnutrition. Towards the end of the afternoon, Maria described having seen her son's body bloated with starvation; she had had nothing to feed him, even her own breast milk had dried up.

A Little Digital Fun
I whipped out the digital camera, and the fun began. First we took a bunch of pictures; then, we loaded them onto the computer. Maria Eloise and Miguel spent hours coloring the pictures in our drawing program. Miguel, who just won a regional academic award, wants to be a computer teacher when he grows up.
These were just some of the stories she told. We were numb. It was beyond our imagination. "I've seen violence" said Jamila, "but not to the extreme that she has experienced. What can I do? I'm an outsider. It's always easier for someone on the outside to say 'continue with the struggle,' but I know it's not that easy. I think that Maria appreciated us listening, because no one wants to listen."

"For me," I replied, "I felt helpless, and almost guilty that my life has been so good. I couldn't deal emotionally with what I had heard, so I removed myself from it and thought about the big picture - thinking about the US involvement in all of this, both our government and our economic power. To an extent, this oppression was to guarantee that I always had cheap bananas and coffee and sugar and cotton - which I have always had. The finca system here reminds me of the plantation system during times of slavery in the US."

Mother Maria (busy washing) has done all she can to make a better tomorrow for her kids
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Amazingly, Maria's house seems happy now. The entire family is reunited here in Los Proyectos. They talk of just getting to know each other, since they have been separated for so long. Jorge, Maria's oldest son, tells about the beautiful houses they had in Quiche. Maria Elouisa misses Quiche as well; they all want to move back, but there is no work there. "We would die of hunger," Maria explains.

As we were leaving, I thought to myself that it was a great gift to be invited into their home. Their stories provide a real and personal history that should not be forgotten, lest it be repeated. And it was a gift to be with these resilient children, who carry so much love, laughter, and hope for a better future.

Abeja

Abeja - No More Small Talk: Stories of the Civil War (kids version)
Shawn - Smashed Eggs and Sacrificial Roosters: Shaman Healing in Todos Santos
Kavitha - Juventud por La Paz - Youth for Peace
Abeja - 100% Culture Clash--Handle With Care

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