Bright Future

Voices, squeals, and laughter echo in the afternoon air as raindrops start to patter on the metal roof above. Girls and boys are scattered around the basketball court. A pack chases each other, dribbling a basketball. A lanky girl with hair pulled back in a ponytail squares up and shoots with great form, the ball bounces off the rim and away the pack goes. Two boys dart past, kicking a football at each other. Other kids are sitting, chattering away. This, for me, is another moment of holy cacophony, now manifest in a chorus of children.

Close your eyes for a moment, and you’ll hear them, too, no matter where on this earth you plant your feet. They’re your kids, the kids on your street or in your classroom; they’re the kids you grew up with and the kids you’ve yet to meet. Children the world over laugh and play, live in the moment, and have hopes for their future.

The rain intensifies, roaring above the children at play. I have the urge to join them, but hold back after sneaking a shot with a stray ball. It’s time to get on with the afternoon schedule.

My feet stand in San Juan La Laguna, a town on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, among the Tz’utujil Mayan. Brightly colored murals on the side of houses and shops line the streets with multi-colored umbrellas strung above create a vibrant backdrop to this small town.

These children are the children of older generations of Guatemalans who experienced torture, forced disappearances, sexual violence, and genocide at the hands of their own government. An estimated 200,000 Guatemalan citizens, mostly Mayan, were killed during the Guatemalan Civil War from 1960-1996. In 1954 the United States backed a coup against a democratically elected president resulting in right wing dictators, war, and genocide—the United States, in its fervent political and military opposition to all things deemed “socialist” or “communist,” was complicit in backing dictators and militaries who perpetuate crimes against humanity throughout Central America.

I am here as a result of a partnership between the local community and a non-profit focused on empowerment through tourism. Through this partnership, the needs of the community are addressed, and a rotation of families offer their homes and open their lives to tourists from around the world through the tour company and via Airbnb. Co-ops of weavers, midwives, and artists bring more opportunity for residents while supplying tourists with beautiful handicrafts and knowledge of Tz’utujil Mayan culture.

In the Ruk’U’X Keem weaving co-op, a young 16-year-old articulates the struggle to keep their culture alive and how she hopes her work to educate and encourage her peers will help. A midwife explains the natural remedies used for generations. A Mayan artist shows his paintings and the unique bird’s eye perspective being used among the artist co-op. Later in the evening as I conversed with my host mother with limited Spanish, we laugh about my inability to pat the dough into a tortilla and share the basics about our lives as her children and their cousins ran about the courtyard playing. She is a weaver and made the cloth that adorns the table around which we eat. Once she learned I had been an English teacher, she wrote down a few phrases in Spanish and asked for a translation, as sometimes her guests don’t speak any Spanish at all.

The rain stopped, and before we had returned to our host families for the evening, we passed by the basketball court again. The kids, organized by a coach with a whistle, were running basketball drills. Two long lines of mostly girls, stood focused and ready. These young children, enjoying themselves in the moment, will be faced with many challenges ahead–poverty, oppression, lack of opportunity, generational trauma, and more. The one night I spent in San Juan is but a brief snapshot in time, and indeed I have much to learn, though I am ever hopeful that like the vibrant colors on their walls and in weavings, their future is bright.

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