Paul Pitcher - Guatemala

It is here in Guatemala that I am able to look back and realize that in the United States I spent much of my spare time connected. This is a very different "connection" than what I sense for Guatemala.

Paul Pitcher - Guatemala

It is here in Guatemala that I am able to look back and realize that in the United States I spent much of my spare time connected. This is a very different "connection" than what I sense for Guatemala.

I feel a connection in Guatemala to people, to the atmosphere, to a certain experience, to spending time walking with people in their lives and struggles. Yet while I was in the states I had my cell phone to my ear, a text message slowly leaping off my fingers since I still can’t get used to typing on that small phone keypad, a computer on my lap with instant messages popping up, an email being composed, photos being sent, etc. I didn’t ever take enough time to just be. My life was consumed by going somewhere, being attached to something, doing something, never just sitting and starting out the window while my mind roamed the open countryside. A good friend of mine suggested the following statement; “The US requires an attention to where you aren’t, in the Zen sense, while Guatemala requires an attention to where you are.”[1]

I feel like there are times in my life where I don’t take enough time to just BE, to separate myself from everything else and use all my senses to take in the world around me, to let my mind wander…its almost as if some days I just need to go back to my roots, to the earth and leave behind those technological wonders which invade my life, to find that certain beat, a rhythm in my life. And when I say “I or me or my” that could easily be replaced with “we or us or our” to encompass more people around the world and their search for rhythm...

It’s the rhythm that an expectant mother hears the first time she listens to her baby’s heart. My Guatemalan friend Cristy stood in her kitchen one evening with a huge smile on her face and told me about listening to her babies heartbeat pitter patter. The rhythm is in the simple things that I must remember to take with me wherever I go, a babies heartbeat, a laugh on a cool summers evening, a day of getting my hands dirty…. It is, ”the rhythm of life, of nature, of our breath, of our hearts, of something that is in us and around us and not man-made[2]. Let me tell you about where I am generating the moments of “being” of setting my days and time to the rhythm of being…

I am staying most of the time in the small village of Cucabaj I. It’s a very different atmosphere and environment from Santa Cruz del Quiché, a city of 20,000 where I lived for the last two years. Cucabaj I has about 330 homes in it spread apart over the rolling bumpy terrain. Its located 45 minutes more or less from the department capital of Santa Cruz del Quiché. That’s 20 minutes by a rag tag duct-taped together fleet of cramped mini-vans, small yellow school buses or backs of a pickup trucks along a windy rollercoaster of a road and then a 20-30 minute peaceful walk along a dusty rock filled one lane road that snakes past a corn grinder, tiny family stores, corn fields, livestock grazing and a primary school. This is where you will find the simple 3 room grey block, metal roofed, dried cornstalk fenced-in home of my close friends Juan Carlos and Maria Cristina. Juan Carlos, Maria Cristina and I were housemates in Santa Cruz del Quiché for the 2 years I lived there. They are a huge piece of my family here in Guatemala.

One gentle afternoon I was helping Juan to get their field prepped for the rains to come and the time of la siembra (sewing seeds). In actuality we were mostly laughing and telling stories while occasionally swinging our pick or hoe down into the hard dirt that broke hesitantly, creating holes in parallel rows. We did end up getting the work done since if we hadn’t, Cristy would have been mad at us and you don’t want to anger a pregnant Guatemalan woman. It’s peaceful out in the countryside even with all the random noises of animals, fiestas, drunks, etc....

On a laid back evening Juan, Cristy and I were walking down that long road when a recognizable noise evoking childhood memories galore came note by note out from just out of sight. A spectacle I had never seen before came bouncing and jolting down the road, it was an Ice Cream Truck. Well, more or less. The truck was a pickup with a big wooden box in the back that had the word “Helados” painted on it and a hole in the side where you could get your ice cream Cristy ordered three strawberry ice creams for us and each came with a tinge of vanilla, the color of the ice cream matched the color of the clouds on the horizon as the sun set. We walked off into the hills with our ice cream cones, laughing and watching the strawberry pinks and vanillas dance over the hills…

As the sun went down Cristy and I sat down to get the kernels off the dried corncobs so that the corn could be taken down to the molina (corn grinder) and made into maza (the tortilla dough). This was such a simple task yet with a certain connection to the earth and food, a task, which Guatemalan women perform once, twice a week, sometimes daily. Well, some of the corn was a bit stubborn coming off the cob and I was twisting it with both hands like ringing out a wet t-shirt. Little did I realize that my hands are not the hard and calloused hands necessary to do this and so by the end, when all the corn had been done I looked down to see my raw and bleeding hands, the skin ripped off by the corn. Cristy then explained to me how I was supposed to do it, using another already bare corncob to strip the obstinate little nubs from their sockets. Cristy felt really bad but I just laughed and made a joke about not ever being able to be a Guatemalan woman. I said this referring to my hands not being strong enough or my mind not being knowledgeable enough but in reality, all jokes aside, I can never be as connected to the earth as a Guatemalan woman…there are so many lessons to be learned…

I really enjoy these simple experiences out at their home in the country, getting the land ready for the next corn crop, moving adobe blocks, getting the corn ready for tortillas, making tortillas, watching the sun set over the hills, etc… And though my hands are covered in Band-Aids this morning, the bandages are a wonderful reminder of the simplicities, the beauties of living in the fields, the connection to the earth and a reminder of how to just be. In a way, it’s what life is really about yet I can only tell you what life is about for me so I leave it to you to find your own connections


Paul Pitcher is a missionary with the Christian Action of Guatemala (ACG). He serves as a communication and youth worker with ACG.

[1] Sheryl Fontaine, Professor of English at California State University, Fullerton who reads drafts of my writings and responds.

[2] Ibid.