Guatemala - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Last night, many of the delegates had a very meaningful conversation with Armando, who works as a security guard during the day and stays at the Sister Parish Center at night. He is originally from a small village in Quiché, one of the 22 departamentos (states) of Guatemala. Although many of the people in his village speak Spanish, they are of Mayan origin and speak the Ixil language. Armando was very young during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996), but he told us what he remembered as well as the stories he has heard from his parents and older brother. The Guatemalan army completely destroyed his village in 1982, a few years before he was born. Nearly all of the men were killed or forced to join the paramilitary. The women, children, and just a few men (including Armando’s father) escaped to the mountains. They later returned and rebuilt the village. Armando’s brother is now one of the witnesses in the human rights cases against the leaders responsible for the genocide. We thanked Armando for sharing these painful and emotional stories with us. The violence that his family (and thousands of other families) suffered is unimaginable.

On Wednesday morning, some of the delegates went on a long walk with one of the UPAVIM women who needed to do an errand in a different part of the city. We passed many people selling fresh foods like fruit, fish, tortillas, and orange juice. We even saw a man with a herd of goats, squirting milk right into a cup to sell. It was a beautiful sunny morning and a great chance to continue exploring the city.

Later in the morning, all the delegates went with Carrie (from the Sister Parish staff) to the Museo de los Mártires (Martyr Museum). The volunteers at the museum were relatives of people that disappeared during the internal armed conflict. We learned about the 45,000 Guatemalans who disappeared (captured by the police or army and usually executed), the 2,000 remains that have been found, and the very few bodies that have been identified. This is very tragic for the families because they still don’t know what happened to their loved ones. The purpose of the museum is to promote tolerance and reconciliation, rather than hate or vengeance. We saw the remains of a man who was identified thanks to the Diario Militar (“Death Squad Diary”), a government document from the early 1980s that recorded when, where, and how the army captured 183 Guatemalans. It was very impactful to hear from our guide, Salomon, whose brother appears in the Diario Militar but has not been found yet. Visiting this museum helped us see the human side of the tragedy, instead of just statistics.

After a delicious lunch, we pile our suitcases on top of the microbus and headed north to Chichicastenango. The seven delegates were accompanied by six UPAVIMas, as well as Brian and Julieta from Sister Parish. The ride lasted four hours, but it was fun to watch the landscape change from urban to rural. Since Guatemala is such a mountainous country, the farmers have to take advantage of all arable land, even on the steepest slopes. We arrived at the Ruth and Naomi Cooperative in Chichi, where we were greeted by Pastor Diego (a Methodist pastor who helped start the cooperative) and his wife, Juanita. After a delicious dinner and lots of laughter, we had a meeting with the UPAVIMas to discuss our goals and how to improve the relationship between UPAVIM and DGFUMC.

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