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A letter from YAV Emily Brewer in Guatemala

May 2010

Every six weeks or so when we have a retreat with the other volunteers and Marcia we have a topic to study and a book to read that helps guide our discussion. A lot of times the topics aren’t necessarily specific to Guatemala, but we talk about them in the context of Guatemala and how our thoughts and ideas have changed since being in Guatemala.

The past retreat our discussion topic was climate change and how we are seeing the effects of the global climate crisis in Guatemala. First I thought about some of the communities I visit that have no water. Some communities have pipes, but there is no water in the source to pump through the pipes. Other communities don’t have pipes yet to get water into their houses, and many don’t live near a natural water source, or for at least half the year during the dry season there isn’t water in the streams. Sometimes when we go to visit a group in Chanchinel some of the women are just coming back from their daily water trip at 9:00 in the morning. They usually wake up and leave around 4:30, walk for an hour and a half, wait in line at a communal water spicket, and then carry their water home in buckets on their heads and their babies strapped on their backs. It’s hard not to think about the big swimming pool in my backyard in the States and all my appliances at home that use water — washing machine, dishwasher, coffee maker, etc. — when I see the rain catchers that are rigged up on the roofs of these houses. It’s even harder not to feel guilty about it, although I know that guilt alone doesn’t help anything.

Then I thought about the bus I ride in to work every morning here in Guatemala — the old U.S. school bus that probaly no longer meets even U.S. emissions standards — and all the pollution it contributes. But despite this 45-minute bus ride that pours who-knows-how-much pollution into the air, I like that, overall, I feel my life here has a much lower impact on the environment, and in turn on our brothers and sisters in the Two-Thirds World, who generally bear the brunt of our excessive North American lifestyles.

I like knowing that my food has been through a lot fewer steps and traveled a much shorter distance from the time it is pulled out of the ground (or killed) to the time it ends up on my plate. For example, all the corn my family eats (which is about 30 pounds a week in the form of tortillas) is grown on the land around the house. Most of our vegetables come from a town about four miles down the highway, and even though where I am is at a very high altitude, the coast is only about an hour away, so we also get bananas, mangos, and all other kinds of tropical fruit I had never seen before. I have gained a little weight this year, but overall I think I am healthier because I eat so much more real food — almost nothing we eat is processed or comes in packaging, except sugar, oatmeal, and the oil used for cooking.

I also have not used a microwave or hairdryer in almost nine months, and hardly ever use a car, computer, or television. I also shower a lot less frequently, because bathing first involves building a fire and waiting for the water to heat up before I can take my bucket bath. Oh, and did I mention that we don’t have indoor plumbing in my house? So that’s another way we save water and fertlize the corn and fruit trees at the same time. I used to hate having to walk out to the outhouse when it’s still cold in the morning, but I don’t think I’ll ever again in my life have a bathroom with such a gorgeous view of the mountains and blanket of corn plants that seems to stretch almost to the foot of the volcano in the distance.

Clearly there are some things I probably won’t continue when I go back to the States in about two months, like using a latrine or getting fresh cow’s milk delivered to my door every morning. Other things, though, I hope to practice when I am home, like eating simpler, more local meals, driving less, using less electricity-hungry appliances, and in general just living with less “stuff.”


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