November 12, 2019

By: Andrea Currie

Once again, we awakened to a lovely day in this beautiful country that evokes such a mix of powerful feelings.  We are absorbing as best we can, the stories our partners here are telling us about the horrific trauma of massacres, sexual violence and enslavement the Maya Achi have endured at the hands of the state, and yet… every day… we are greeted so warmly by generous, open-hearted people who are not only willing, but eager to share with us.  It’s a lot to integrate. The capacity for joy and generousity reminds me of the way many of our Residential School Survivors are at home, whose ability to joke and find joy in simple pleasures like just being together, is a constant inspiration.

After breakfast at Qachu Aloom, Lillian and Reyna gave us a presentation about their organization, the name of which means “Mother Earth” in English.  After hearing about their work saving seeds and cultivating traditional plants of the Maya Achi, offering nutrition education, scholarships for member families, hosting groups at thier hostel and meeting space, producing and marketing products at their store in Rabinal, we were treated to a tour of their nursery.  We crossed the road and entered a garden full of lush green seedlings and trees, with winding paths that took us to plots of traditional medicinal plants, trees of sacred significance, plants that can be raised for food, ponds for reserving water, with countless butterflies flying all around us, doing their part in the pollination process.  My senses were filled with beautiful sights and scents, bird song, all the textures of a biologically diverse ecosystem, and even a taste of a seed from the moringa tree, known to be excellent for treating diabetes. I felt the plants communicating with us, telling us how happy they were, to be respected and cared for in this way. I sensed the ancestors ( who according to our Anishnabe teachings back home, are IN the earth and manifest their presence all around us in the natural world) smiling to see respect for the ancient seeds restored.  Lillian, our guide, radiated happiness in the work they are doing there.

Then we visited Nueva Esperanza, the New Hope Foundation School, where we were welcomed by the Director, the Principal, a teacher, the school nurse and 6 students who had come to be part of a presentation for us – ON THEIR SUMMER HOLIDAY (which is only 25 days long).  We were so very grateful. Before we began, Pedro played a song for us on the marimba – so familiar to me, as in our Indigenous communities in Canada, we begin many gatherings with a song. Sandra Lopez, the Director of the New Hope Foundation welcomed us and connected the school to the story and human rights work of Jesus Tecu Orsorio, Olga spoke about how Maya Achi identity, language and cultural teachings are woven throughout the curriculum.  Griselda took us to the clinic where she provides health services and health education for the students, and from Armando, who teaches agro-ecology, about all the farming and animal husbandry projects the students work on as part of their education. This is truly land-based learning! I was wishing Albert Marshall, our beloved elder in Mi’kmaki, could see the amazing way the Maya Achi’s ways of living on the land are being taught in this school. Albert has been a leader in calling for more land-based learning in Mi’kmaki.  I can’t wait to tell him about this school!

Amaranth forest at the New Hope School.

And then the students filled our hearts with their stories of what it meant to them to learn the true history of this country and what their people have endured.  How they love the practical aspect of their learning, how inspired and motivated they are to continue their education. We all were struck by their self-confidence, the strength of their individual and collective voices.

We exchanged gifts, and left them with a basket made especially for the school by Mi’kmaq basketmaker extraordinaire, Ma’lklit Pelletier, who had woven in the four sacred colours shared by the Maya Achi and us – red, yellow, black, and white, and some candies and cards for the children, and received from them crafts made by the students at the school.  We sang the song, “Forgiveness”, written by Pi’kun Poulette, a survivor from Eskasoni, about his experience in the Shubenacadie residential school, and letting our partners at the New Hope school know how deeply we appreciate that they are providing Mayan Achi children with education in their own language and cultural ways, on the land of their ancestors – something that we are also working toward as we continue to heal from the impact of the residential schools on Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island.

Later, after driving to the Chixoy dam, where we felt the power of the Guatemalan corporate and state power as our permit to pass through to go to Rio Negro was thoroughly (and lengthily) questioned, we arrived on the shores of the lake created by this monstrous dam, wihch destroyed so many communities, many through massacres, and our boatmen were patiently waiting for us in the growing dark.  Despite the lateness of our arrival, their knowledge of the water and the shore reassured our harried spirits and reminded us that we were now in the hands of the ‘lnu’, the people who belong to this land, who are part of this river and these mountains and more than capable of bringing us safely to our destination, the exquisitely beautiful and astonishingly resilient…Rio Negro.

Read day 2

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