Guest Blog By: Kelley Scholl
Kelley grew up in lovely Northborough, Massachusetts, but is now lucky enough to have pieces of her heart scattered the world over. Her interests are: politics, kind people, pretty places, and good beer. She attended University of Delaware where after approximately 80 majors, she graduated with degrees in Sociology and Biological Sciences. A few weeks later, Kelley left for the greatest adventure… Peace Corps Guatemala!
Currently, Kelley lives in a small, indigenous village in the Western Highlands where she facilitates a Healthy Schools program in 14 schools. The idea is to utilize schools to promote health in the greater community. Kelley works with the health centers, parents groups, teachers, principals, and her favorite – groups of 5th and 6th grade peer educators.
Please check out her blog to learn more about her experience and contact Kelley with any questions you may have about Peace Corps or Guatemala!
“It’s really difficult for me to write about life in Guatemala. It’s hard to talk about it. It’s hard to tell my very best friends about it. When I left for the Peace Corps 17 months ago, trouble sharing my experience was not on my radar as far as developing world difficulties, yet it is something that I think of nearly every day now.
The reason it’s so hard to share my experience is that Guatemala is a place I both love and hate. Like any culture close-up, it is one of contrast. It’s a land of poverty, yet that’s not what is truly holding it back. It is a land where women are generally in charge of the family’s purse strings, but have no reproductive rights or even the right to walk down the street safely. People are kind, but not friendly. It’s a land of extreme Christianity, and also a place where alcohol abuse and adultery are rampant. In a cruel, ironic twist, its children have the 6th highest rate of malnourishment in the world, while its adult population has the 10th highest rate of obesity. It’s a land where I am impressed by how respectful and hard working the children are, but truly saddened by how quickly they must grow up. It’s a land where people wake up before the sun to farm, but government workers will not stay a second past their workday, no matter what the benefit may be to their community. It’s a land that centers its tourism industry on being the ‘Land of the Maya,’ but allows 73% of the indigenous people to live in poverty.
Even the beautiful, traditional Guatemalan dress (at left) – or ‘traje’ – is a point of contention. Those who wear it do so to respect their past and their indigenous heritage. Others point out that the traje is not truly Maya, but something forced upon the Maya people by the Spanish conquistadors in order to contain and oppress them.
So, when people say, ‘Tell me about Guatemala,’ I want to tell them everything and nothing at all. I usually tell them nothing, which is a shame.
Recently, I’ve begun to think that the only thing worse than misrepresenting Guatemala is not even trying to share my experience in the ‘Land of Eternal Spring.’
Despite my own inability to wrap my head around my experience in Guatemala, let alone my inability to share it, there are still beautiful lessons that everyone should learn from Guatemala.
One of these lessons can be learned at Laguna Chicabal (pictured below), a sacred, crater lake, nestled in the forest of San Martín Sacatepéquez, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
However, Laguna Chicabal is more than just a pretty place; it is one of the most important sites in the Maya Cosmovision and a place that receives the highest reverence from its inhabitants and visitors.
So, here’s how the story goes… A long, long time ago, the lake was lower down on the volcano. Today hikers pass by this dry crater on their way up to the current lake. However, the people who lived by the lake did not take care of it. They washed their clothes in it, bathed in it, and did not understand what a sacred gift the lake was. So, the gods took away the lake and when they gave it back, they relocated it to higher up on the mountain. Since then, the people around the lake have vowed to preserve it, to keep it clean, and to protect it.
While Guatemalan rivers are typically filled with trash, Laguna Chicabal and the area surrounding it is pristine. Swimming in the lake can get you kidnapped (supposedly). In a part of the country without much in the way of resources, the community has dedicated themselves to watching over this sacred gift, this lake. People don’t toss trash on the lake’s beach, and if they do there are daily trash pick-ups to clean up the mess. There are many beautiful places in Guatemala – volcanoes, beaches, forests – yet; I have never seen Guatemalans take such an interest in maintaining an area. Community members care for this part of the world better than they care for their own backyards. With not much to give financially, locals dedicate hours of hard work and give their upmost respect to this parcel of sacred land and water. The sign below greets visitors on their way into the park.
What is so amazing about the protection efforts at Laguna Chicabal – unlike many of our own attempts at environmentalism – is that it isn’t rooted in a political movement, or a need to increase tourism, or a desire to preserve enough resources for our grandchildren, or concerns about changes in weather. It’s simply a way of life. The people who watch out for Laguna Chicabal do so because of a deep, profound respect for the land. They have known for a long time what the rest of us should figure out – the Earth is a gift and that’s the only reason we need to protect it. We must defend the Earth, not because of a catchy slogan or even scientific facts; we should watch out for the Earth because we respect it and it is our duty.
I guess if can view only a few experiences and lessons from my time in Guatemala with total clarity, a reverence for the Earth is not such a bad thing to learn.
Now I just need to expand this view from Laguna Chicabal to the rest of Guatemala to everywhere else. Wanna help?”