Transitions have always been very difficult for me (and seem to become even more difficult, more un-settling as I age and settle into the patterns of my life). Our re-location this past weekend, from Guatemala for Costa Rica, was no exception. I really did not want to leave Xela, our family and the school there. Landing in San Jose, Costa Rica was a real culture shock: it felt so cleaned up, so “smart”-looking--as though we’d returned to the USA.
But then we had a long (four-hour) drive from the capital up to Monteverde (half the trip on a road like the one that runs through our farm: nothing but potholes and the mud in between). And as we bumped our way up into the rain forest, looking across astonishing vistas, of mountains with rivers of clouds wrapped in their valleys, I could feel the weight of all the stories we’d heard and read and seen over the past six weeks, all the tales of Guatamala’s civil war, and its horrific aftermath, lifting; I felt so joyous to be entering such a beautiful—and peaceful--space.
I also wasn’t convinced that we’d find anything @ the end of this incredibly bad road—it didn’t seem possible! But eventually we arrived @ Monteverde, a very strange and uneven mixture of, oh--Colorado, Maine, West Virginia, Switzerland, along with some of the funkiness of New Paltz or Woodstock NY…. There are beautiful vistas and horrible roads; locals and tourists; lots of poverty and lots of large empty hotels. The mornings are astonishingly clear, and the light then is marvelous. But in the afternoons, the rain sets in, and the difficulty of living here seems to deepen proportionately….
I eased my transition from Guatemala to Costa Rica (as Jeff says, “from a land with too many stories to a land with too few”) by reading three more books about Guatemala’s past and present: Huberto Ak’abal’s Poems I brought down from the mountain, along with two short story collections: Mario Roberto Morales’ Face of the Earth, Heart of the Sky, and Mark Brazaitis’ The River of Lost Voices.
Ak’abal’s selected poems are spare and beautiful: Rumi-like, Basho-like, they ask you to pause, just for a moment, and attend to what is:
at the foot of any tree.
These poems are examples of what, in contemporary Latin American literature, is known as contraconquista
: refusals to submit to dominant cultural forms. One of the ways that Ak’abal’s poems allowed me “to be rocketed out of the cultural logic” that I know so well—not to mention the cultural logic of Spanish
that I’ve been having such a hard time comprehending-- is in their reminder that there is no verb to be
in the Maya dialects, where events are not so sequentially oriented in time and space. Shades of current understandings of the loaf of spacetime,
the simultaneous existence of all-that-was/is/will be! As with their notion that “all is energy,” the Mayas seem to have anticipated some of the key insights of contemporary physics…
Morales’ stories get to the same place via very forms. They comprise a hybrid collection that actually attempts to model the totality of the “metizo ensemble” that is Guatemala. There are 24 fragments: pre-Columbian religious texts, testimonios of contemporary indigenous, directions for filming a documentary, excerpts from a military training manual, and fragments of a fictional plot about an Indian boy forced to fight in the Guatemalan army after his father is tortured to death.
What such una mezcla means is that Morales doesn’t flinch from representing all views—including those of the villagers who felt betrayed both by guerillas and religious activists:
Long ago the people lived happily here…until Catholic Action came and made us see…things like discrimination and injustice…because Christianity wants all to be equal….that’s when the repression started to come down upon us….
The army hasn’t lied to us…the guerrillas have….the guerrillas said, we are going to liberate you….We are going to take power for you Indians. And they didn’t do it…the guerrillas who go around saying beautiful things also kill—when they feel like it—people who refuse to give them food or go with them to the mountains…and they run away when the army comes…
What I found striking was not only Morales’ willingness to take a controversial position regarding the sins of the guerillas, but his concomitant willingness to take the story of Guatamala’s huge social problems back to the time before the Spanish arrived:
Pedro de Alvardo defeated the Indians in war because the Quichés were at war with other nations, and then those nations helped the Spaniards in their war to keep the Quichés from building an empire….division has been our misfortune….we Indians do not get along with one another…
Just as striking is Morales’ capacity to imagine—and ability to argue-- that there are also (potentially!) some very good consequences to come out of the civil war:
The ethnic groups, the towns, they are mixed together, and maybe that is good in the long run, so that in this way all of us Indians will come to understand each other. We will learn the languages of the others and be able to start building larger communities…. now we will have to look for apprentices…not just among Indians. It is time for the knowledge to spread and win other hearts…“the world is a trampoline for discovering other worlds.”
So: that’s the concept I’m working with this week—using this world as a “trampoline” for discovering others. Rather than trying to reproduce, here, what I know best and am most comfortable with @ home, trying instead to jump off from the difference here into different ways of being in the world (or out of it!). This can take very simple forms, such as realizing that I really cannot be “at home” @ our homestay, and so must look for alternative spaces: internet cafes for the afternoons, bars for the evenings. What a trampoline that is, to give up the tightly-held pleasure I take in privacy, and seek out more public spaces to be in…