Monday, November 30, 2015

St. Pauli, Guatemala and other fascinations



-Article originally published in Saku Magazine on October 17, 2015.
By: Nancy Sabas

One as a traveler, he tells me, asks about many things.
One should enjoy the morass of pleasure,
and shouldn’t ask about pain and miracles.
But one cannot, explains my friend Raul,
because in the distance, the boats sirens are Heard
Of those who come.
Of those who go
And you should know that under the luminous skin
of this reconstructed Hamburg, the things of St. Pauli boil up,
 the misery of St. Pauli,
the pain of St. Pauli,
the commitment of St. Pauli ,
so human and so hard, that smiling, it curses you:
look at this miracle you foreigner
Go and tell it to the world,
so that they know, so that everyone knows the enormous amount of pain that is paid
for the nice words and for your credulous ignorance
 When you go to the Port of Hamburg,
urges my friend Raul,
do not forget St. Pauli,
I beg you, do not forget St. Pauli.

- Portion of the poem ¨St. Pauli¨ by Otto René Castillo

Guatemalan fabric. Picture taken by: Matthew Kok




Otto René Castillo, a poet whose words and struggle were punished with his life during the brutal years of civil war in Guatemala, left this poem about St. Pauli: a German port known for its outrageous entertainment that historically has seduced sailors and travelers from around the world, including Castillo.
St. Pauli is the figure in which I project this land where I am standing: the robust Guatemala.


For decades, holding the promise of eternal spring, Guatemala has attracted travelers from around the world who are fascinated with its sun, cloud forests, mountains, colorful mausoleums, coffee and embroidered costumes wore by land skinned people. Guatemala has been given to the tourism industry over and over again. It has also retained visitors, over and over again.


In a few months,  I will reach three years of living in Guatemala working as learning groups and multicultural exchanges coordinator with a relatively small international NGO compared to the standard. Their values are rooted in peacebuilding and social justice and the job consists in accompanying local organizations in their development processes.
Each year, I coordinate around 8 educational tours in the different communities of Guatemala and El Salvador with North American participants who are interested in learning about the context of the country and the work of our local partners.

Most of these participants have never visited Guatemala before, and with each day in Guatemala is almost a vivid memory of my experience when I first got here ... sharing the excitement and skepticism that the promise of the eternal spring will be fulfilled in the tour, seeking for adventure exploring Guatemala and looking forward  to learn.

A learning tour traveling to the community of Toniná, in San Marcos Guatemala. Picture taken by: Matthew Kok

Each trip or exchange seeks as an objective to explore the contextual reality in the country, raise awareness and help participants to think of ways on how to take action about a specific topic either through disclosure or advocating before their congresses. The goal is to affect the structure that holds the unjust relations between their countries of origin and Guatemala / El Salvador.
A few weeks ago, we organized a tour focusing on the issue of Mining and Monoculture in Guatemala.

One as a traveler, he tells me, asks about many things.

One should enjoy the morass of pleasure,

and shouldn’t ask about pain and miracles.

But one cannot, explains my friend Raul,

because in the distance, the boats sirens are Heard

Of those who come.

Of those who go


We interviewed Crisanta Perez, an anti-mining Mayan activist in the ancestral community of San Miguel Ixtahuacán.
With tears of outrage after being criminalized and harassed for her work in defense of Mother Earth in a land that is now shattered and exploited without community consultation by the Canadian mining company Goldcorp [i] -, asked to our Northamerican participants with her strong voice cracking in tears:


Who here is Canadian?
I translated the question into English, but nobody answered.


Crisanta continued tearfully: I went to Canada on a tour to raise awareness about how the pension funds of Canadian citizens are invested in mining companies, gold that is extracted from here and is destroying our Mother Earth and dividing our community … guess what I saw there in Canada… People there do not walk by foot, nor pulling their loads of firewood on their backs. They go by car. They extract what is ours and even dare to treat our Guatemalan migrants poorly!


The group cried silently and nobody could answer.


And you should know that under the luminous skin

of this reconstructed Hamburg, the things of St. Pauli boil up,

 the misery of St. Pauli,

the pain of St. Pauli,

the commitment of St. Pauli ,

so human and so hard, that smiling, it curses you:

look at this miracle you foreigner

In each learning tour, after long hours of travel from community to community, a bright sun rises, and the road shows mountains, forests, Lake Atitlan, volcanoes, the highlands, the corn and the coffee, colorful mausoleums and fantastic embroidered huipiles wore by indigenous women with earth-colored skin. Guatemala is never left owing anything to visitors and always pays the eternal spring promise to each program participant that visits.
 What one does not know – and that I did not know either- it is that beauty brings her pain. And with its pain it also brings a commitment that permeates and burns.



Go and tell it to the world,

so that they know, so that everyone knows the enormous amount of pain that is paid

for the nice words and for your credulous ignorance

 When you go to the Port of Hamburg,

urges my friend Raul,

Volcano in Santiago Atitlán. Picture taken by: Matthew Kok
do not forget St. Pauli


Today I received two emails from two people who participated in this last tour learning. One told me about a presentation that he will make before 500 people in his hometown, focused on what he witnessed in Guatemala to raise awareness about the effects and implications of mining operations in San Miguel Ixtahuacán. The other one told me about how she lead two classes at a University in Indiana regarding the extractive industry in Guatemala.

A few weeks ago I received an email from another participant who made a presentation at her church in Canada. Members of her church agreed to sign a letter to the Congress expressing their disagreement and concerns with the operations of the Goldcorp company in Guatemala, which also has presence in Honduras, in the valley of Syria.


It is certainly exciting to hear about the specific actions that the participants are taking. After reading about it, it is almost irresistible to succumb to the temptation of measuring results and feeling like we found the solution to the big problem. Without wanting to overshadow the tremendous potential of advocacy in changing an oppressive structure, the biggest challenge will always rest in internalizing the problem and assume the responsibility that comes from us being part of it, ie, allowing ourselves to a questioning of our daily actions that help maintain unequal structures.

It takes the discomfort to stop perceiving the political and social problems as other foreign and academic vanity.

¨A change of heart or values without practice is just another pointless luxury of passively consumerist life. The problems will cease only when people, individually and in their communities, recognizes that these crises are actually the result of a large number of small crises in their lives as individuals, as families and as a community. The greatest power is reflected in how we live.¨ my boyfriend reflected.

There are many stories reaching me from the North and from the South collected in these three years in Guatemala. Three years believing in the miracle of bringing people together and let their struggles join by questioning privileges and walking towards more just relationships.

Three years of holding into the promise of an eternal spring.



References:

1.  S. James Anaya, “Preliminary Note on the Application of the Principle of Consultation with Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala and the Case of the Marlin Mine, ” UN Human Rights Council Report A/HRC/15/37/App. 8 (July 8, 2010), http://unsr.jamesanaya.org/special-reports/preliminary-note-on-the-application-of-the-principle-of-consultation-with-indigenous-peoples-in-guatemala-and-the-case-of-the-marlin-mine-2010




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