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"You may delay, but time will not" - Benjamin Franklin

Written on: Sunday February 8th, 2009

A journal entry from: Guatemala, mi amor.

I wrote an entire rant and rather than posting it at the beginning of the post and boring you all, I put it at the end so those who want to read it, can ☺.  I loved this week because we went to the Guatemalan Congress and were lucky enough to meet a woman named Ninet Montenegro.  She was one of the most influential activists during the civil war.  Her husband was a union leader in one of the factories here and obviously a threat to the despotic rule of the military government and so he was kidnapped.  She never heard from him again, but knew that he was taken away to a military camp.  The paper trail ended there.  It is incredibly unlikely that he survived, but in reality she will never know.  Because she lost him, she decided that she had enough reason to fight back so she participated in hunger strikes, public rallies and became a national and international figurehead for human rights and justice in Guatemala.  Many people connected with her or who knew her were killed along the way.  She is now a congresswoman and has been re-elected 3 times.  She works incredibly hard on the fiscal responsibility of the government (a difficult job here) and works primarily in the education system ensuring that children are receiving the programs (such as lunch programs) are provided for them. The rest of congress was ok.  We also saw Rios Montt.  For those who do not know Rios Montt, he is an ex president and responsible for most of the killings that went on in Guatemala many years ago.  To many, he would be comparable to Hitler.  To others yes he was bad, but he kept delinquency down.   It all depends on whom you ask.  The fact that he was sitting in congress that day and that his daughter is an active member of congress (in his political party) are both expressions of the Guatemalan political environment (in my view).  
    My roommate Mel and I went to see our family's little plot of land!  It was absolutely beautiful.  They were doing milpa planting.  We drove around a few different towns as we were running errands and I had a lot of fun with the family :D we got to sit in the back of their pick up truck ☺ Our host dad is a coffin maker (honestly, that's a pretty good business which is a little bizarre to say) and he picked up one that had been completed.  We sold some of his coffee, picked up some eggs? all in like, 5 different towns!  I have pictures so feel free to check them out on facebook.
    The days are starting to fly.  We're heading into double digits of February and I can't believe that it's that time already.  It just felt like January took so long to end - not that I'm wishing time away, but the days felt long – now I'm wishing for longer days.  I have a midterm on Monday and it's coming faster than I would like it to.  I get frustrated when I think about it actually.  We're reading things that Spanish speakers say don't make sense to them.  Popol Vul (I spelled it wrong in my last blog) is literally foreign to all Western minded people, Bernal Diaz del Castillo is Shakespearean Spanish, and Hombres de Maiz by Miguel Angel Asturias is like Lewis Carroll's opium dream? in Spanish.  This class would be beautiful if we weren't classified as being in a beginner's literature class.  I do really respect each reading we're receiving.  They're poetic, symbolic and brilliant.  They just don't make any sense to me right now.  There's so much that we could take away from the class if we could only just spend more than an hour and a half on each reading.  I'm sure an entire 'proper' semester could be spent focusing on the intricacies of and connections between Popol Vul and Hombres de Maiz.  The fact that I'm also taking this class against my will is also frustrating.  
    To decompress a little, after my geography class this weekend I'm going to be taking a little mini holiday to a place called Earth Lodge.  They have treehouses for people who are interested in being awesome, but they're all booked up so unfortunately I'm settling for the picturesque dorm room.  I've stayed in dorm rooms with strangers before so it will be the exact same thing!  My friend Verena is coming with me.  It was a strange thing arranging this because we're such a big group here, and everyone wants to do cool stuff, but it's crazy hard in a big group.  So, I think it will just be the two of us, but there may be a few others joining us in the end.  
Ok, now for my rant? If you have thoughts, questions or comments, tell me!  
It seems that in life, you're either lucky or you're not and that's just the way it is.  Many people here always talk about how difficult their lives are.  I would not dispute that for a minute.  They have to work hard for everything they get, but it's the same all around the world.  My point is, the luckier you are, the easier life gets and the type of hard work changes.  That's obvious.  The thing that appears to be less obvious to people is that if you're unlucky in one country, it doesn't necessarily mean your luck will change if you move to another one.  Canada has a tight immigration policy.  If you fit certain criteria, you will be accepted into Canada as an immigrant.  Chances are I would not be allowed to immigrate to Canada.  I don't have a skill in a trade and I don't have a 'professional' degree.  I'm basically university educated with a degree in critical thinking.  I'm not trying to degrade my education in anyway because I certainly think that my degree is worthwhile and if able to do it over, I'd do it again.  But, youth in Guatemala get degrees in law, medicine, or engineering (to name the most popular ones – from my own observations).  All of those degrees to a certain extent have a function everywhere.  There is a guarantee that there will be a job on the other end of the school term and its only a question of what the pay scale would be like.  They could stay here in Guatemala, or they could move elsewhere where there is a demand for their skill set.  Now, back to my initial point.  The kids here that are getting these degrees are lucky in that they were born into a home where they could get a primary and secondary education.  That alone is a big step and if the education is of any quality, that's an even bigger step.  The next big step is if they are actually able to afford to get a university degree.  All three of those things are extremely expensive and difficult to do here with all the demands on youth.  One of the greatest demands is to simply survive birth and the first few years of their lives.  If its not fighting off a respiratory disease, they're defending their bodies against diarrhoea.  The chances of either avoiding or surviving those two depend on the child's luck of being born into a smaller family with medical care, clean water or simply good hygienic practices.  If the child has survived illness, then he or she's lucky if he/she is able to attend school rather than have to work to provide for his/her family. If they have to work, that means they will not receive the education that is most likely a key factor in alleviating the great challenges.  When I say challenges, I'm basically talking about the challenge of consistently being able to have food on the table, communicate with government and the like, or have a home that doesn't blow over on windy days.  
Now back to my secondary point.  People here seem to have the opinion that Canada and the US are the answers to their problems.  Indeed, there are many positive elements of Canadian and American life that really does not exist here.  Canadian health care is pretty amazing (the American health care system somehow manages to be drowning in the shallow puddle of common sense?but that's beside the point) There are other things that make Canada and America decent countries to live in.  Only those kids who were able to grow up with luck on their side are able to live what has come to be arbitrarily known as 'the American Dream'.  People who were born unlucky or have become unlucky in Guatemala and still manage to make it to Canada, most often spend the rest of their lives doing jobs that people born in Canada don't want to do (janitorial jobs, hard labour, security?) and don't get all the perks that a Canadian citizen would receive (such as the health care, an inexpensive and stable home or apartment, a fuel efficient car, acceptance into society and all that fun stuff).  For many of us, we've been incredibly lucky to have a great family, good friends, and incredible experiences (like going to Guatemala for example).  Some of those things did come as a result of hard work, but in many ways, the journey could have been much harder had I not been lucky to have all three.  It really is hard to go from poor to middle class, having nothing to having something or being uneducated to educated when there are things in your life that you've had and still have no control over.  
In my view, its not about giving people money.  If you just give people money its not sustainable.  That's why the international community's effort to just give is completely wrong.  If you give people the opportunity to have a good education, sufficient nutrition or proper medical services, things change immensely.  I think that Guatemala should make the changes itself and start gaining independence from the international community's assistance.  USAID is into everything here!  The Guatemalan government just seem to lack the political will and the people seem to lack the ability due to numerous obstacles.  
In many ways, my point about it being about luck is a simplistic way of approaching this because there are soooo many factors at play in so many things we do.  More often than not though, the only sufficient response to many of these issues is a shrug and a 'that sucks' because there's not a whole lot that can be immediately done.


Take care all and best of luck!
Megs

 

From George Barnhart on Feb 9th, 2009

No question we are likely to be born in Canada (Iceland, Norway, Australia, Canada and Ireland are ranked as the top 5 countries by the UN as 'the the world's most desirable country to live in'). Agree here are many factors (i.e. being located on abundant natural resources) but I believe the 'luck' of the country is also made - made by leadership. People with vision, integrity and courage, like Ninet Montenegro, need support of the people or Guatemala will struggle to realize its potential. Have fun at Earth Lodge.