I slept a whopping 11 hours! Traveling from one place to another really whipped me out. I opted to spend the extra Q10 to get my own room for the week. I stayed at Media Luna Medio Sol. The amenities were basic and my room was confortable–painted in a nice shade of yellow with wonderful natural light that came in through open windows.
I spent my first morning in Nebaj becoming familiar with the city. I explored the local markets and ended up finding the Centro Cultural Kumool. This small brightly painted museum has extremely well preserved Mayan artifacts that were excavated in the local Nebaj region.
I was happy to encounter a large group of overly excited grade school student in the museum. Their excitable note taking and laughter made me happy to be around such energy. Though this museum has signs in both English and Spanish I opted to practice my Spanish reading skills.
That afternoon started my Spanish classes at Nebaj Language School. My Spanish teacher Domingo and I spent the majority of the day talking in the park about the history of the armed conflict in the Nebaj region. The sounds of the Ixil language fill the air. The women of Nebaj walk gracefully around in their red cortes and purple, green and yellow pom-pommed hair braids. Everyone waiting in anticipation to see the princess of Nebaj. He took me on a tour of the church and I learned a bit about this old beauty. It was freshly painted and later in the week had beautiful decorations that blew gently in the wind.
It was in that church that I came in contact with a very real reminder of the lives lost during the armed conflict in the 80’s. Each cross has the name of a person whose body was recovered in the mountains. This is a small number of the people who actually died in this region. This woman prays in front of this memorial—to whom I am unsure. Never the less I bear witness to her prayers.
Chajul and Visiting Ghosts Day 2
I spend my second morning getting to know the small community of Chajul. I visited the bustling market and ate at a local comedor. While eating my typical plate of eggs, beans and fried plantains I read Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny. Reading this book has been a bit of a challenge for me. 1) It’s an intermediate Spanish level book 2) It’s yet again another reminded of the atrocities that still affect the Guatemalan people. As I walked around Chajul I appreciated the resilience and beauty of this community.
In the afternoon I spent the majority of my Spanish class discussing new vocabulary and discussing this book. At one point in our lesson I felt my eyes become a bit heavier and felt a lump in my throat. As I look at the blissful cloud covered mountains of Nebaj I not only see beauty but also death. Imaging the pain and suffering that occurred in those mountains hit me while we discussed how entire communities were lost.
In the afternoon Domingo took me to the cemeteries of Nebaj. I really love the cemeteries I have visited in Guatemala. The vibrant colors of each plot—each demonstrating a bit of character. The fresh flowers—a reminder of those who refuse to forget.
Domingo showed me the rooms in which Mayan ceremonies take place. One dark room displayed the remnants of a recent ceremony. Ashes of a deceased fire billow this cramped and dark room. A reminded of the people who passed through this space that I now occupied.
I then learned about Caterina. A fierce freedom fighter that tragically died in a plane crash. She was one of the first indigenous female deputies from Nebaj. As her gravestone says “a tireless fighter whose work always focused in favor of indigenous communities and small towns in Guatemala, will remain a worthy example to follow”. What a beautiful way to be remembered. I hope that one-day people will remember me in such a way. But for now I am inspired by Caterina and other Guatemalan women I have crossed paths with.
Then we got to the part of the tour that impacted me the most. We passed the graves of those massacred by the army during the armed conflict. It wasn’t necessarily the reminded of the atrocities that got to me but it was the fact that the bodies were so recently discovered and given a proper burial. These bodies had in the last 5 years been resumed from their graves in the mountains. Some families have the knowledge that the bodies found were indeed belonging to them, due to DNA testing. But for many communities, there is still no remains identified only those who have ‘disappeared’.
This was one of the most exciting mornings for me. I woke up early in anticipation of one thing—cheese. I had heard about this mysterious cheese farm from a nice couple I met at Ranchitos de Quetzal. Domingo and I walked 2 hours through the beautiful forest and arrived in the community of Acul around 10 am.
These two farms were started by two Italian immigrants, the Azzaris, in the 1930’s. Now nearly 90 years later the families continue their legacy of making incredible cheese.
As I tasted this cheese I couldn’t help but to close my eyes. I like to say when something makes you close your eyes in joy you know it’s good. In this case I didn’t only close my eyes but also did a little happy dance when I thought my instructor Domingo, and guide for the day, wasn’t looking. This was truly one of the most luxurious experiences I have had. We sat out on the patio eating delicious quesadillas and drinking coffee with fresh warm milk. As we walked back to Nebaj we passed happy cows grazing on pastures that run for miles along the hillside.
Nebaj Day 4- Chasing Waterfalls
I’ve realized that experiencing nature is really important for me. Breathing fresh air. Getting away from the bustling of a city, which I find both exciting and stressful. This morning I got my nature fix through checking out a few waterfalls close to Nebaj. Domingo set my up with a friend of his and we went chasing waterfalls.
I really enjoyed my time with Sabastian and it was fun chatting it up with another local. His love and appreciation for these magical falls gave me a new appreciation for these natural beauties.
When I told Domingo that I had never tried Boxbol he quickly picked up his phone to ask his wife if they could have it the next day for lunch. Boxbol is a delicious traditional dish from Nabaj. It is masa wrapped in squash leaves with a delicious squash seed salsa. We feasted on this local dish while discussed the joy of students who had passed through his home.
After lunch Domingo’s son Javier showed me around the garden. I was amazing by how many fresh fruits and vegetables this family grew—even more impressive Javier’s knowledge and excitement for what grows in his back yard.
After lunch we walked around Nebaj to do some more sight seeing. Here is a picture of the first church build in Nebaj. In this beautiful room covered in fresh palm leaves you can often find Mayan ceremonies being performed. Colorful candles and soot-covered walls are the remnants of these ancient ceremonies that still take place today.
We then walked up small dirt path covered with overgrown pants and the occasional dog to this sacred site.
Pregnant women and their families come here to pray for protection and the bright future of the new family member yet to be born.
And after, when the child is received into the world, here is where the families go to pray yet again for that child.
Earlier in the morning I casually found out from Sebastian that Domingo isn’t only a Spanish teacher, he is also a nurse and published author. When I later asked him about this he casually mentioned that his book can casually be found in the White House library. He shrugs his should and gives a little confused look as if to say—ok maybe I’m a bit deal. I think he is and I feel so incredibly lucky to have encountering such a wonderful human to spend my week with.