The Odyssey

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Rigoberta's Story
The Odyssey

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Rigoberta Menchu
I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala
pages 38-41

We'd been in the Finca for fifteen days, when one of my brothers died from malnutrition. My mother had to miss some days' work to bury him...

His name was Nicolás. He died when I was eight. He was the youngest of all of us, the one my mother used to carry about. He was two then. When my little brother started crying, crying, crying, my mother didn't know what to do with him because his belly was swollen by malnutrition too. His belly was enormous and my mother didn't know what to do about it. The time came when my mother couldn't spend any more time with him or they'd take her job away from her. My brother had been ill from the day we arrived in the finca, very ill. My mother kept on working and so did we. He lasted fifteen days and then went into his death throes, and we didn't know what to do. Our neighbours from our village had gone to different fincas, there were only two with us. We weren't all together. We didn't know what to do because in our group we were with people from other communities who spoke different languages. We couldn't talk to them. We couldn't speak Spanish either. We couldn't under-stand each other and we needed help...

The little boy died early in the morning. We didn't know what to do. Our two neighbours were anxious to help my mother but they didn't know what to do either - not how to bury him or anything. Then the caporal told my mother she could bury my brother in the finca but she had to pay a tax to keep him buried there. My mother said: 'I have no money at all.' He told her: 'Yes, and you already owe a lot of money for medicine and other things, so take his body and leave.' We didn't know what to do. It was impossible to take his body back to the Altiplano. It was already starting to smell because of the humidity, the heat, on the coast. None of the people living in our galera wanted my brother's body to stay there, of course, because it was upsetting. So my mother decided that, even if she had to work for a month without earning, she would pay the tax to the land-owner, or the overseer, to bury my brother in the finca. Out of real kindness and a desire to help one of the men brought a little box, a bit like a suitcase. We put my brother in it and took him to be buried. We lost practically a whole day's work over mourning my brother. We were all so very sad for him. That night the overseer told us: 'Leave here tomorrow.' 'Why?' asked my mother. 'Because you missed a day's work. You're to leave at once and you won't get any pay. So tomorrow I don't want to see you round here...

The fifteen days we had worked we weren't paid. Not only my mother and I; but my brother had worked fifteen days and wasn't paid either. The overseer said: 'No, it's because you owe a lot to the pharmacy. So, go on, out of here. I don't want to see you around here again.' But my mother knew that she hadn't been able to buy medicine for her son and that's why he'd died. The trouble is that we couldn't speak Spanish and the overseer spoke our language because he came from our region. He threw us out and said he didn't want to see us round there again

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