In Antigua

Always when I land in Guatemala am I struck by the gross unfairness of human society. One doesn’t need to visit Guatemala to pick up on this unfairness, of course, but still.  Fifteen minutes into a cab ride out from Guatemala City and unfairness is the only air available.

Yet everywhere here there is great beauty: The tribes of people in their traditional clothes; the palpable affection Guatemalans have for each other and family; the centuries-old architecture; the eons-old landscape; the beautiful faces of children as they shout and play tag in pure squalor.

When Quetzal and I go out walking, people are never sure what to make of it: a 11 year-old Guatemalan-born girl walking side-by-side with a fifty-year-old American man. In Antigua, where the streets are walled in all directions, sometimes when look over my shoulder I’ll catch a face peeking after us from around a corner.

And out of the million girls born here 11 years ago it was Quetzal that happened to come live with us? What kind of magic is it that wraps around us? that can just as easily shelter us as cast us to the winds?

At the big traditional market west of town, the Mayan women and girls lay out their goods early in the first light, two acres worth of produce heaped high, beans and corn and cabbages, live chickens, chunks of meat, flowers, and every day almost I find I must go there to pass through it all: the chattering, the bartering, the shoulder-to-shoulder, the good smells, the stench smells, the young girls nursing babies, the face-down drunks, the press of flesh against flesh in its unrealized primal creep through one more day.

Yesterday in Antigua I followed a father and son for the full length of 3 Calle Oriente. They were each carrying a 6′ dresser on their backs. A strap, which they had wrapped around the dressers’ legs and across the length of the dressers’ height, continued on across their shoulders to their foreheads and so held the load. And somehow all was perfectly balanced: the two leaned together as one into their respective burdens and made their way due north. They never stopped or paused. They never looked left or right. They never made adjustments. They never communicated. They simply walked, the father leading, the son following.  And I, shamed for a variety of reasons, tagged along ten steps back. I carried nothing, nothing but curiosity.





6 responses to “In Antigua

  1. Ain’t it amazing? The life of another people? I saw a movie recently. You notice the collateral beauty living alongside the injustice.

  2. I think you carry more than curiosity – also perhaps a sense of fairness, some kind of magic and wonder. Maybe the load you carry is heavier than the dresser. Who knows?

  3. Chris. You stopped by. Thanks. I was away for a few days climbing a volcano. Curiosity, fairness, magic and wonder there with me for the duration.. I was close up on the climb with 4 Mayan boys. To warm their tortillas, they threw them directly into the camp fire and grabbed them out burning their fingers, Theirs is only one degree of separation from the earth. magic and wonder

  4. I liked this Will, reminded me of an instance when my dad cried here in the church in Chicago. Driving him home, I cautiously asked why he was crying, the sermon was not that impressive anyway, so I was wondering. He explained that it hurt his heart seeing American Lithuanian ladies in polished nails and fancy flowered impeccable hats while in Lithuania same generation of ladies sit in churches with shoes that flip flop off their varicose vein marked legs worn from 60 years of farmwork, the shoes they got for .50 cents at second hand store, and some beg at the church entrance because land was taken away, and state pension does not even pay for utilities. And so I remember my dad’s tears that day, and I still cry.

  5. Hello Bee. This by Victor Hugo: “There is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher.”

  6. Amen on where the riches lie.

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