Away From Modernity In The Guatemalan Highlands | Mayan’s Struggles & Traditional Ways

A Maya woman stands proudly before her mountainside crops in the village of Chuacorral. Most families are not fortunate enough to own fields, nor keep the crops they grow, as most will be shipped to the city markets, and sold by plantation owners. Feed the Children.

 

Photographer Cory Zimmerman is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  From the project ‘Altos’.  To see Cory’s body of work, click on any image.

 

Although, the Maya sustain on eggs, milk and beans, corn is the main staple of the Maya population, which contributes to a high rate of diabetes, and malnourishment. NGO’s are struggling to provide seeds and garden tools for the woman of the village to garden vegetables, while their husbands are away working long hours on coffee plantations. Primeros Pasos.

 

A Maya woman stands in a corn field in her village of Chuacorral. She has volunteered to help educate the other woman of her village about proper nutrition, as malnourishment plagues the Maya population, especially the children. Feed the Children.

 

A Maya woman stands in her kitchen, which is detached from the house to prevent filling the tom with smoke, as she cooks over a wood fire. She raises her arm welcoming me to view the inside of her house, which is nearly a shack in the village of Las Joyas. But like most Maya, she is proud of her home. Feed the Children.

 

A young girl sits beside the crate of bananas her mother sells, in the village of Las Majadas, as they wait for transportation, the bed of a pickup truck, that will take them down the steep and rough mountain road to the nearest town for a few Quetzales. Primeros Pasos.

 

After working with the caravans of Central American migrants in Mexico, I felt the next logical step was to journey south in search of answers to questions not all that different from those being asked by one another in my home country, the United States. “What is driving these people from their homes, and what is being done to improve living conditions in Central America?” I now find myself in the highlands of Guatemala, an area known as the “Altos,” and home of the indigenous Maya, a people whom account for a great portion of the mass exodus.

I have embedded with three NGO’s, Feed the Children, ASSADE, and Primeros Pasos, and with their help, I have been given rare and intimate access to the lives of a people long ago driven by colonialists to the mountain tops of a nation once their own. I arrived with what I believed was a fairly thorough knowledge of the dark history of Guatemala, including a civil war that ensued for 35 years, one greatly funded by my own country, and former president, Ronald Regan, and one that led to the mass genocide of 200,000 Maya, an official count, but many believe the numbers may reach into the millions.

I had come to learn as much as an outsider could, of an infinitely dynamic situation, and to document what and who I found here in the Altos. But now, I feel confronted by what I have seen, I feel haunted by my photographs, haunted by faces, and images of inescapable realities, now forever etched upon my mind, on film and in pixels. When I first arrive to a home, the intensity is mutual, the embarrassment of strangers studying one another out of the corner of the eye, subtly becoming acquainted. The kindness and openness is virtuous, as they allow me into their home, a home most would consider nothing more than a barn for livestock, yet livestock they cannot sustain without. But with pride they endure, and find joy and the will to live with dignity upon dirt floors.

Although the Maya of the Guatemalan highlands speak twenty-one indigenous languages, we are left only with the language of the eyes, when suddenly I notice a pair glistening from the doorway of a darkened room. But, I cannot yet see the dreams hidden deeply behind those dark pupils. And as the earthen feet of the young girl swiftly scurry from the darkness and out of the shack, nor do I sense the dreams that flee with her into the fog and corn stalk.

After a few portraits, we bid farewell, and as I step out of the dark shack and into the glowing mist my shadow casts lightly on the dirt path upon which I came. I am drawn to these places, where the world is still real, where on can still walk there. Where you can feel the past, and the connection between things, and the course of events that led everything to this point. Where you can look back and see the path upon which you came, a path not so easily paved over by denial nor disillusionment.

I turn back and see golden teeth glistening through the fog, and with their image, I walk away, back toward a world they will never know, a world that only exists within their dreams. And, as I set forth to set their image free, I feel the sharpness of the other edge of the sword, as the reality of whom these people are, I know will be tarnished through the filter of modernity, through false judgment, and pity. Yes, the poverty is pitiful, but we forget to pity modernity. Pity for a lack of community, of innocence, culture, of an ancient connection. And, pity for a lack of understanding of the earth and stars, of the dirt and the divine?

As I walk along the dusty path, the young girl who had fled, suddenly emerges from the stalk with a small boy clinched by the hand. I glance at her with a gentle smile, and she drags the boy’s stumbling feet to the border of her family’s land, a border I continue far beyond. I consider beyond her shyness she doesn’t want my eyes to leave, that she truly does want to be seen and that her fear is of never being seen again.

In a community as close as her’s, as predicable, to walk away, never to return, for seeing eyes to never see again, to the innocent mind of someone who possibly feels unseen by the world, is a feeling akin to death. As I reach a bend, I turn back, and there she stands, and through the fog I can see the vanishing silhouette of her waving arm, and a dream as clear as day.

 

Scarecrows in a highland field in the village of Chuacorral. Climate change has become an enormous issue for the Maya, as the rain season has become more difficult to predict and drought has plagued the region, increasing the vulnerable of an already food insecure population. Feed the Children.

 

A Maya woman and two of her six children cook tortillas in her smokey dark kitchen, in the village of Chuacorral. Feed the Children.

 

Two Maya women in their home in the village of El Bujucal. A village heavily dependent on the support of NGOs. Feed the Children.

 

A boy sits outside his home in the village of El Bujucal. Feed the Children.

 

As they walk down the road a Maya mother and daughter fade into the clouds that regularly engulf the highland village of Choiguel. Feed the Children.

 

All images and text © Cory Zimmerman

 

 

See also:

Between a Sword and a Wall

By Cory Zimmerman

 

 

 

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