Norma said it in jest. But it wasn’t far from the truth. Less than five minutes earlier, the five of us abandoned our chartered bus and decided to walk north three miles into the highlands of Guatemala. Our bus was originally headed to Huehuetenango, but was in a full stop. Up ahead, there had been a fatal accident that had plugged all traffic. Fortuitously, I made a few friends in the Guatemala City bus station, at 3:00 am, and decided to trust their judgement on this unexpected challenge.
Walking past idling semi-trucks, frustrated drivers, and a violently smashed automobile, we made it through the log-jam. . Then we jumped onto a “camioneta” (local bus). Besides the fact that we had to leave our “maletas” (bags) behind on the bus, our decision turned out to be a good one. We beat the chartered bus. We made it in enough time to check into a low end hotel. And we were able to visit a famous “mirador” (viewpoint) over Huehuetenango.
Walking a Mile (Or Three!) in Their Shoes
Gaining a deeper understanding of the life, culture and conditions of my students has been a primary reason for traveling this far into Guatemala (Read that post). In conversations with ‘newcomer’ students and families, it turns out that most of them come from the region of Huehuetenango. Getting to this relatively remote place hasn’t been easy or without risk. But it has been extremely meaningful and insightful.
To be clear, there is nothing I can do to fully connect, empathize, or fully know the experience of an indigenous, mother or father from the highlands of Huehuetenango. I can’t begin to put my mind around the desperation and strength that goes into making a decision to walk away from your country of origin; To leave behind extended family and ancestral burial grounds and towards an American border in hopes finding a better life with possibility and safety.
But I did get a hint of that feeling. Walking three miles down the road, without a clear plan of how to reach my desired destination, I felt vulnerable and scared. With a fleece sweatshirt wrapped around my head for sun protection and books in my hands (we were not able to take our bags), I felt under-prepared. Having gotten up at 2:00am for the first leg of the journey, I felt worn down. Walking past tiny homes, pieced together with corrugated metal, mud bricks and concrete, I imagined my students Antonio or Maira, playing outside.
These are the ways we can begin to make a difference for our students. After all, depending on the time and place, we are all immigrants in need of some friendship, assistance, and teaching.
When I think about our students and families finding success in our context, I will think about the friends I made on the journey to Hueheutenango. They took me under their wing in a stressful and challenging situation. They let me stay with them in their hotel and shared the best of HueHuetenago. I will also think about Abuelita Cristina (homestay mother) in Antigua. Over small bowls of black beans, white bread, and Nescafe coffee she has come to know me well. She offers keen advice and laughs at my jokes. I will also think about my Spanish teacher Miguel. While we have become friends, he pushes me hard towards my goal of learning spanish. By the time I leave, we will have shared 45 cups of coffee and conjugated 245 verbs.
In the News
The BBC just published an interactive story, “US- Mexico border: Step into the shoes of a migrant” that connects readers to the possible outcomes of asylum families, journeying towards the American “frontera.” It is well worth the read.