Guatemala & US/Mexico border
spring 08

Portrait of a girl from Panabaj

April 21, 2008

As part of students' presentations about their community service locations, each person wrote a description of the life of an individual they met during their 2 weeks of service. Heidi M. wrote the following about a girl from Panabaj, Guatemala, and also read it at the EMU chapel presentation on April 21.

Utz Awah. My name is Juana and although I am only seven years old, my eyes and my hands hold the wisdom of someone much older. I am only seven and still I know the cures the plants of the mountain provide for a stomach ache, how to make perfect circular tortillas with a few simple pats of my hand, and how to wash clothes on the rocks in the lake below my house. I was alive through the hurricane, survived the mudslide, and now I walk to school every morning with more wisdom than could ever be taught there.

I am a survivor, with a smile as big as my heart, and quite a few less teeth. My hands are deft and quick whether I am stringing beads for the cooperative where my sisters work or patting my hands in time to the rhythm that means tortillas are being made. I rise before the sun and am still playing my lonely tortilla beat long after the sun and the gringa have fallen exhausted into bed each night. I wear the clothing of my mother, of women 10 times my age, the same cloth that has been used for hundreds of years to separate us and yet bring us together as beautiful indigenous women.

I speak the language of my mother, but my smile knows no such boundaries as language. I have three older sisters to be my teachers and my example for how I am to work and play in this community and to shape my mind and my tortillas. I have a little brother to be an example for and yet my path will not be the one he follows.

Mine is a life of repetitive motions, up with the sun, work, play, learn, down with the moon, over again. My life will not change much, even with the addition of a progressive cooperative in the community. I have been socialized from birth and before, I will be a wife, a mother, a cooker, a beader. These are my opportunities. Even still, I will have my smile, I will make my tortillas and be an example for my children. My name is Juana and when I grow up I will carry myself with the pride every indigenous woman holds in spirit and yet I will become bent in body by the endless toil my community and my family expects. I will be wrinkled and hunched from childbearing and rearing, carrying babies and vegetables, but my smile will be there, shining through the leathery bent exterior, because it’s all I’ve ever known.

- Heidi M.