There are so many things that we take for granted as Americans. We wash our clothes in a washer, dry them in a dryer, rinse our mouth with tap water, eat food in variety, and take warm showers. There is nothing like experiencing this simple lifestyle to make you realize what you’ve really got. Although we did stay in Hotel San Gaspar, one of the nicer places in the town of Chajul, we nonetheless had to deal with all of these issues. We did as much as we could to immerse ourselves in the lifestyle of a Chajulense; we learned how to make tortillas, attempted some Ixil, weaved pieces of cloth, ate lunch with families, and walked the steep path to the hill of San Andres.
There was no day that was the same; we were always doing at least one new thing every day. We may have worked on a raised garden for three days, but every day was a new opportunity to interact with different people in Chajul. Whether they were older people by the market or little kids in the library, they each had an interesting story to tell, after you broke their shy barrier of course. Although all their stories were interesting and exciting to listen to, I wanted to imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes. Every day I walked in the street, to the market, or up the hills I tried to immerse myself in the environment and take it all in.
It took me a couple days to finally realize how hard it must be to walk in some of these people’s shoes. These people weren’t here for ten days enjoying the scenery; they live here and are here to stay. On Tuesday we had a day of relaxation before we started working on the raised garden. This was the day I put all the pieces together and realized how hard some of these people have to work just to LIVE. Some of us stopped in Nebaj to make a trek up and over a hill to the neighboring town of Acul where we would visit a beautiful cheese farm.
As we began our hike and climbed higher and got more exhausted, I noticed people walking the same trails and some even working atop the steep slopes on parts of land. This was the moment when it hit me; these people make this exhausting journey more than once a week just to work or get to work. Whether it’s to get to Nebaj, Acul, or just to their horribly placed given plot of land atop the hill, it was unforgiving on the legs.
I started to put pieces together as to why a lot of these people are so malnourished, boys start helping their fathers at around the age of 8 and use up all the little nutrients that they do get climbing atop these hills and working on their land. Then there is the process of having to carry your entire finished crop back down the hilltop. This is hard work that I couldn’t have imagined doing at this age besides having to mow the lawn.
We like to live our comfortable lives on our couches, behind our televisions and computers, oblivious to the fact that other people just like us have to work a hundred times harder to earn a hundred times less. It really helps to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and realize that you’ve got it pretty good. Don’t pass up the opportunities that you’ve been given and remember that we all have to work with what we’ve got.