I was having my lunch break at my retail job catching up with my two co-workers, Kevin and Callum. I had taken a leave of absence for eight months to focus on school and my work-study position when my co-workers asked me about my trip to Guatemala – or as they put it, “didn’t you spend a week in like, the jungle or something?” It had been a while since I talked about my travel experience because it is literally all you are asked about for at least a month following your return. So I wasn’t annoyed when I was asked: “how was it?” as I had about two months to reflect about it and adjust back to the routine of the GTA. However, I do always find it hard to describe my experience because of the many things I learned in addition to all the mixed emotions I felt – it’s hard to put it all in a couple of sentences. “It was amazing,” I answered, as I had for the past 30 times different people had asked me the same question.
The conversation usually ends there – unless the person really wants to know more details and this was the case with my co-workers. “What did you do there?” he asked. This is the hardest part to recount because you don’t know where to begin to explain everything you did. So I always summarize the most memorable activities. I usually begin with our three hour hike up the now dormant volcano, Cacique Dormido, as this was the most physically challenging adventure of the trip. I remember freaking out after being told we would do the uphill component of the trek without breakfast or coffee and have breakfast when we got to our destination. I was almost sure I would not make it without my caffeine withdrawal headache. But there was something about starting your day at 5am with a hike and the fresh air of Xela sending all the oxygen needed to your brain. It could also be me realizing my privilege as our trek guide, Eduardo, is over 70 years old and does the trek almost every day as a living. I didn’t get a headache, I was not moody and have never enjoyed breakfast so much with a cup a coffee at the peak of the lookout.
“That’s so cool!” my friend Kevin said, “what else did you do?” I continued on with our homestay in Santa Anita La Union. “I stayed with ex-guerillas,” I responded. Their facial expression turned from interested to concerned at this point. My friend Callum asked, “wait – right or left wing guerillas?” I thought back to staying with Rigoberto and his comrade Aurora (she corrected us when we introduced her as Rigoberto’s wife), and all the long conversations and stories he would tell us at dinner time about the tribulations of being a minority in Guatemala. His passion for defending the oppressed people of Guatemala was something you could see in the twinkle of his eyes. “Left-wing ex-guerillas,” I answered. I began to tell them about how he was the second in command of the guerilla group he belonged to and how he was missing a finger, but I was too shy to ask him about it. Him and his wife’s first-hand experience with social activism is something that shook me to the core. I explained to them about how Guatemala had a civil war that cost the life of many indigenous people, farmers and all groups of minorities due to the military repression at the time. Rigoberto fought in that war. Rigoberto also didn’t think his side won or lost the war. However, he did say that they made an impact. Things aren’t completely better, but there is more improvement and this is why him and his wife will actively continue to fight for Guatemala’s future.
“So you’re an accountant with social justice experience that has lived with ex-guerillas. Put that on your resume,” my friend told me. “I just might have to,” I responded.