Last week a well-known French geologist and professor at the University of Lausanne, Dr. Brochard, his two assistants from the University of San Carlos, and I were thrown out of a community just south of where I live. There is a major geologic fault called Polochic which passes through this area and has caused many destructive earthquakes. Dr. Brochard has been coming to this area of Guatemala every year for the past 4 years to study the Polochic Fault, culminating in our recent attempt to open up a trench where it was likely he could have recorded the recent history of the fault's activity. Recent for geologic time that is! Earthquakes leave their mark in various ways. In this area passes a river and in the sediment near the river he would have been able to determine what has happened here. His past research has provided the municipality where I live with valuable information resulting in new school designs and locations appropriate for construction which would be less affected when this area experiences another destructive quake. He is also taking water samples to determine if there is an underground water source near the fault that could potentially solve the communities every growing water problems.
We had been working in this community and surrounding areas surveying ideal trench sites. We had multiple meetings with community members. The mayor attended meetings with us in order to build trust in the communities. In short, we did just about all we could and eventually received permission from one land owner to open a trench on his site. His neighbor, however, did not want us around and when the municipal machinery showed to dig a trench the driver was met by a shower of rocks coming from the neighbor and his sons.
At this time I went to the municipality to speak with the authorities about this small obstacle. They sent a few police officers down and asked some local village leaders to get to the trench site immediately and diffuse the situation. By the time everyone arrived the machinery was in place to open the trench, the neighbor had stopped chucking stones, and the driver was ready to break for lunch. This gave certain members of the community time to gather supporters. So when we returned in the afternoon there was a much larger crowd, mainly angry women, ready to kick us out of their community. And that's exactly what they did.
After two years of living here in rural Guatemala and as I enter my last 3 months of service I've come to understand certain things. I understand that when I'm hungry, I'm a bit frustrated and I'm sure you feel the same way. Now apply that to a community where about 100% of the population is in a constant struggle to put food on the table. They anger easily. This being a region torn apart by a recent 36 year long armed conflict, there are certainly those factors working in tandem.
Living in extreme poverty, having been a victim violence, still trying to recover from that trauma, not being able to read and write; all these things and more would have you feel as if you're living in a constant state of shock. The mind, not being able to endure such conditions for long periods of time, needs some type of solace, some type of warm, safe shelter to seek refuge from the past horrors and present problems stemming from food insecurity, incest, etc. For the vast majority, if not literally everyone around where I live, this solace is found inside churches. It's found in the seemingly peaceful biblical messages. If this were all it were, nice passages from the bible and a cup of hot tea shared with fellow church members, I probably wouldn't have much of a problem with it. But this is not where it stops. The church leaders demand a complete and utter personal surrender to an omnipotent supernatural entity that can not and should not ever be challenged.
Getting kicked out of a community for reasons I've mentioned, reasons stemming from the aftermath of the armed conflict and food security, are things I can understand and sympathize with. But it really salted the wound when people kept saying things like "God only knows when earthquakes happen and he will protect us." Well, last I've heard God isn't conducting geologic studies in the area nor advising people before he decides to move the earth around. Preventing geologists from doing their work which would have put in the hands of authorities the information they need in order to plan for future disasters is an almost direct result of religious mind manipulation. It's ignorant and it's dangerous. Instead of jumping around hollering all day about personal surrender I suggest that local church leaders dedicate more time (and their enlarged coffer!) to teaching people how to read and write and think critically. But then again this would be working them out of a job.
This is not a well thought out blog rather a ramble from a recently frustrated development "professional" dedicated to the advancement of rural communities. I encourage your comments.