Seven Days of Solitude

February 15, 2010

Lancetillo, just after sunrise

Yes, I am aware I have not posted for almost two whole weeks. I promised myself I would never let that happen (self-discipline is highly necessary in the post-collegiate world), but I failed. BUT I have a very, very good reason. I spent the last seven days in a town located twelve hours by bus from Guatemala City in the mountains of Quiché, a town with no electricity and no internet. The houses are still built out of wood, and there are no paved roads. If I were Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I would call it Macondo. But tragically I’m not, so I have to admit that the real name is Lancetillo. But if there was ever a place that illustrates the extreme solitude of underdevelopment, the Zona Reyna – the name of the region where Lancetillo is located- is it.

The Zona Reyna is three and half hours in a microbus from the municipality of Uspantán. Located in a valley in the mountains and composed of over 50 tiny communities, the Zone is named for the owner of a finca who originally controlled the area. Now very few of the people are tenants, but they still live in extreme poverty. Most survive as subsistence farmers, growing beans and corn. Cardamom is also grown as a cash crop. Last year was a good year: cardamom sold for $1.25 a pound. Usually, it sells for less than 25 cents.

Almost no one we met spoke Spanish. Even though the Zona Reyna is located in the province of Quiché, residents of the Zona Reyna speak Q’eqchí. Why? Like the neighboring Ixcan jungle, the ZR was settled during the Civil War by peasants who fled the violence in the bordering provinces of Alta and Baja Verapaz.


The unusual facade of Lancetillo's church, built to commemorate a priest who was killed by the military in 1981

The linguistic and geographic confusion means that both the official municipality- Uspantán- and the neighboring municipality of Cobán (in Alta Verapaz) claim they are not responsible to provide services to the region. Although there are schools, it would seem that classes are offered only sporadically. Consequently, P is already invested in education programs in the Zona Reyna, partnering with a school run by nuns in Lancetillo. Last year, my project set up five literacy groups in three communities, enrolling over 90 students. I visited two of these communities last week, and I have lots of stories to share. And I’ll be sharing them here, one a day, every day, until Friday.

The niece of one of our facilitators, waiting for the microbus in Saquixpec


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