Our Social Change Intern, Michael Skillicorn, reports from Guatemala!
Sunday Morning, 4:45 A
I am awakened by a tap on my window pane. Someone is calling me, in muddled Spanish, reminding me that there is a trip this morning and that I’m supposed to be on board. I stumble out of bed and walk outside into the pitch blackness and chilly air of a Guatemalan Highland morning. Tio Bale, his brother Sergio and their niece, as well as their 93 year old mother and two other friends bounce beside me in the back of a pick-up. We’re driving down the cobble-stone road leading out of the coffee finca (farm) where I live. From what I understand, the plan is to drive two hours to the coast to go fishing. Details are vague and I’m really just along for whatever Guatemalan adventure awaits me.
I’m tired, the truck is uncomfortable and the wind cold, but as the sun comes up over the mountains illuminating the green, coffee filled landscape, I experience one of those surreal moments where you step back and realize just where you are and what you’re doing, while fruitlessly trying to remember just how the hell you got there. What I am able to figure out is this: Dean took me on as a Social Change Intern and I’ve been living and working in the small coffee community called Santa Anita la Union for a month already.
When we arrive at the coast Tio Bale and Sergio are excited. We are having an adventure; it’s not a work day and tomorrow won’t be either as it’s the 9th anniversary of the birth of Santa Anita, a community of 35 ex-combatant families founded after the end of the 36 year Guatemalan civil war. Bale and Sergio, along with most of the others, are ex-combatants - former guerrilla fighters who spent years living in the mountains fighting against the Guatemalan government’s ruthlessly violent army. I suppose there is a lot to be excited about - they are no longer fighting, they have land to cultivate their coffee on, and they have made a better future for their children.
You could never tell that these men are ex-combatants as we walk down a path through corn fields until we reach a brown, slowly flowing river. After putting down the cooking pots and food that we brought with us, members of the group immediately strip down to underpants and jump, hollering, into the river. Half of them go off down stream with their fishing nets, while the rest of us stay behind to build the fire and prepare the meal. Tio Bale, who reaches no more than 5ft 1inch when standing straight up, begins to build the cooking area. He digs a small pit, wanders off with his machete and returns with four long, green branches that, as he explains, will act as the base for the pot. We find dry wood to burn, and begin boiling up a stew and the fresh corn that we had just picked. Bale says this is how they used to cook up in the mountains - every day a different group would cook the meals, making the fire in the same manner.
The men return with the fish: over 100 little squirmers. It is my job to gut and clean them. I begin by trying to grab a fish, and it leaps out of my hands. I’m wondering how I’m going to bring myself to slice open this little living thing. This is another super-surreal moment: sitting on the edge of a river with a bunch of jolly ex-combatants and gutting fish. But what a meal it was! Fresh fish stew and freshly picked corn-on-the-cob, all cooked over a fire by the side of the river. After the meal we return to the pick-up and begin the two hour drive back to the finca. Not 10 minutes before we arrive, the clouds break open and we’re soaked through. We arrive with the rain pouring down and I run inside, change clothes and fall asleep.
I will be living on the coffee finca for three more months, learning Spanish and hanging out with the growers who produce some of the coffee that we drink up
in the States. There will be more stories to come, so stay tuned!