Friday, July 03, 2009

Chajul, Guatemala


Another outing we had from Nebaj was to the neighboring village of Chajul, which was another hard-hit area during the civil war (noticing a pattern?). We met with a group promoting education, community organization, and women's rights in Chajul and outlying urban areas. After that we walked down to the church and she told us what it was like to live in Guatemala during the armed conflict. In all my traveling, her account was the most vivid and riveting.

For a long time, people remained in the town while the army moved in, and the violence escalated as people were "disappeared." One had to be very cautious and clever during this time. For example, the woman we talked to told us of a time strangers came to her home and urged her to join the guerillas in fighting the army. If she had gone with them, she would have been tortured and killed, because it was army men in disguise, looking for people who wanted to resist them. The church, below, was taken over by the army and used for torture--when the conflicts ended, bodies were found in it.

Eventually, the violence got so bad that people had to leave the village. The only place they could escape was into the jungle, where communities formed. The woman we talked to lived in the jungle...for 9 years. People starved to death, laundry could only be done when it was cloudy and helicopters wouldn't spot it from overhead, and the people formed "schools" to educate the kids growing up this way. It was pretty amaziing to hear about this way of life-and that this happened during my lifetime!

Even now, there is some conflict in Chajul, because there are neighbors that may have fought against each other (and indeed, killed each others' families) during the war.

On a lighter note, Chajul is also the place we went where we attracted the most attention. Acul, though smaller, has a few backpackers that go through on a loop through tiny villages, but I got the idea that white skin is not seen often (if ever!) in Chajul. Kids ran away from us, or followed us as we walked through the streets. When we were in our meeting, they watched through doorways, but ran off if anyone tried to talk to them. The people stared. I got used to being the only white ones around in Guatemala, but it was weird to be stared at with such curiousity, fear, and amusement!

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