Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mayan Women Warriors - August 5

We traveled outside of Quetzaltenango (Xela) west toward San Marcos to remote Espumpuja - a small village of indigenous Mayan women (not to be found on any google maps). The group of women is connected to Richmond via the Highland Support Project.

The road was very rough and filled with deep ruts and pot holes, we ended up getting out of the van so not to bottom out, we walked a ways up the road, soaking in views of mountains, small patches of sustenance farming plots, children playing, laundry laid on roof tops and fences, small homes pieced together with blocks, rock and tin. When we arrived the women asked us to join them in a circle. (they call them women’s circles)

We did an introduction as they asked us to share what was in our hearts. The Mayan women did a kind of simultaneous chant of prayers. Then we played a version of the game of Simon Says – which was hilarious for all – translated from Mayan language of Mum, to Spanish and to English – we followed non- verbally and laughed together as each of us was called out for not following what Simon said to do.

We then broke up into two groups since there were so many of us and we watched the women cut and fry bananas and we learned how to make tortillas, another group watched them weave. The women are considered backstrap loom weavers in the western highlands of Guatemala, a unique and labor intensive form of weaving – we watched in amazement at the intricacies and patience as they added threads of varied colors and patterns that ultimately created the beautiful blankets, wraps, and table pieces that we saw. Several of our group purchased a large blanket type cover and asked to find it took over 100 hours of time to create – it was purchased for about $60. I purchased a lovely shawl and had the chance to take a picture with the woman who made it with such skill and care.

We shared time together amidst turkeys and dogs and children roaming around the yard. Wood smoke permeated the air as they boiled water to make us hot cocoa. They had a sweat lodge type of building, and a large space for their supplies, a pela to wash hands, and clothing. The women didn’t live at this site, but apparently used if for their weaving and daily activities.

After we had an opportunity to purchase some of their weavings we saw the children giggling and running up the hill picking lily’s and wrapped in a piece of their weavings and they gave one to each of us, with joy and love and big hugs and smiles on their faces. It was an amazing experience.

There are really no way I can convey in words what this experience was like, but without a shared language as a group of people we crossed the divide and connected as women, as human beings, as sisters. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

The Mayan people have been the ‘survivors’ of decades long internal conflict (civil war), which not only killed 160,000 highlanders, and left a million homeless but also attacked the very foundation of indigenous culture in Guatemala. … it has been found that the military and civil patrols were accountable for 91 percent of the killings. Though the Peace accords were signed in 1996, Mayans continue to face incredible struggle, violence and discrimination. One of the speakers at our visit to a group of midwives in Zunil stated – ‘ we were not conquered, we were invaded, WE ARE STILL HERE !!!

They are amazing people and I was truly inspired by their generosity, courage and kindness.

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