BTS Delegation: Blog entry for Tuesday, March 11, 2014 (READ MORE POSTS FROM THE DELEGATION)

We woke to the cool morning fog of Cerro Alto, Chimaltenango, where our group had been welcomed into the homes of families for the night. After a breakfast of beans, chicken, tortillas, and atol (a thick, sweet, hot drink made from rice), all prepared by women from the local micro-credit group, we gathered in the yard for songs and stories. A silly song about all the toads liking chocolate (but the littlest toad has to stir!) got us energized and laughing.

The stories we heard were from women struggling to keep their families fed, to keep their children in school, to share resources and support each other through tough times.
With micro-credit funds, which are divided evenly among group members, some women are investing in raising pigs, others coffee or tomatoes, a few are making shampoo and soap, one woman is making clothing. Last year, heavy rains and frost ruined the tomato crops and the investment was lost. Some women have to use their funds to send their children to school, which makes things very difficult when it comes time to pay back their loans.

Wendy told us about her job in a factory processing fruits and vegetables for export to Europe and North America. She catches the bus at 5:30 in the morning and sometimes doesn’t get home until 10:30 at night. She told us that visits from groups like ours are always a good surprise, encouraging them to continue with their struggle. We are all part of the struggle, she told us, whether it’s a moral or a physical or a spiritual struggle.

After goodbyes and thanks, we headed down the bumpy, rocky, dirt road and back to the capital for a quick change of clothes and a delicious vegetarian lunch (and strong coffee!), then we headed north towards Rabinal. The final part of the drive took us on a steep and twisty road up one side of a dry, scrubby mountain range and down the other, down, down into the intense heat of a flat, green valley full of palm trees.

After checking into our hotel (the appropriately named Las Palmas) we visited a family living in Pacux, a settlement on the outskirts of town created to house people displaced from the Rio Negro where a giant hydroelectric dam flooded the river valley where they had lived for generations Many of their family members were killed by soldiers carrying out a strategy to force everyone out of the region. The survivors went to Pacux.

We gathered on the cement patio of Isabel’s house with most of her eight children, helping her make tortillas on the big wood stove, swinging in the hammock, watching the dog and the cat sleeping together under the table. Then we sat while she nursed the youngest, a baby who carries her name, and listened to her tell her story of a massacre in her village when she was a child. She survived the unimaginable because she happened to be away from home that day. Now she lives in this strange, isolated settlement, trying to recreate a sense of home.

At the end of the day, after a good meal and a cold shower, I sat on the roof of the hotel and thought about the cement that built the dam on the Rio Negro and the houses in Pacux, that paves the roads and floods the villages, that covers and commemorates the graves of the massacred. Cement manufactured by Cementos Progreso, a company with a country-wide monopoly. A company with ties to every mega-project, from highway construction to mining to power generation.

All roads lead us far from home and back around to where we began.