A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
September 7, 2010
Dear Companions on the journey,
It’s Monday, after a weekend full of disasters caused by heavy and not-so-heavy rains. The sun broke through the clouds here in Quetzaltenango this morning. By mid-morning, the death count was up to 44, with 16 people still missing. Much of the media attention has focused on the landslides that buried cars and people along the Inter-American Highway, but many communities along the south coast were flooded as well. President Alvaro Colom declared a state of emergency on Saturday. Today he called for three days of national mourning for those who have died.
Amid all of the statistics and laments about the much-higher-than-usual amounts of rainfall, there is finally some public discussion of the human responsibility for the ongoing disasters. After the first landslides on Saturday morning, Vice President Rafael Espada reminded the public that deforestation leads to landslides. This morning one of the national radio stations interviewed two engineers. In response to direct questions from the reporters, the engineers admitted that it is possible to build highways through mountains in such a way as to prevent landslides. However, the laws here do not require such measures nor are there funds to construct highways in a safe way. So people here pay for both bureaucratic and engineering decisions with their lives.
It was strange driving around Quetzaltenango this morning. Everything seems normal, though most of the highways around Quetzaltenango are closed. When I went out to take Tamara to school, no newspapers were being sold, but by mid-morning they had come in from the capital. Fresh vegetables were scarce in the supermarket, but other products seemed to be available.
Food supplies may soon be a problem. The heavy rains have damaged crops in several areas, especially the corn crop. The ground is so soggy that the tall stalks are falling over, less than a month before the harvest. Corn, usually in the form of tortillas or tamales, is the main staple of the diet here.
As both major routes from Quetzaltenango to Guatemala City are closed at the moment, my weekly trip into the office has been suspended. Another professor will take my ethics class and I’ll work from home on some writing and other tasks as I follow the news here.
My work as interim academic dean for the Biblical and Theological Training Program for the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) continues. During the last week of August Violeta Rocha and Nidia Fonseca, the rector and the vice rector of the Latin American Biblical University came to visit CEDEPCA and encourage us. They reminded us all that we are a branch of the university.
I had invited a group of professors, students and CEDEPCA staff to gather to spend a day reflecting together about the work of the program in recent years and dreaming about possible futures for the program as we seek to equip people from churches here for faithful service. We had scheduled the meeting for this Thursday, but the fact that I and others who live outside the capital can’t get there right now means that we will have to reschedule. It’s been great to talk with students about how their studies have helped them see their faith and themselves in new ways.
I’m going to enjoy being with my family this week. I may even be able to do some cooking and baking. My husband, Javier, is still working away on his thesis in political science. He doesn’t want to talk about anything else. Our daughter, Tamara, seems to be enjoying her senior year of high school so far. She was elected president of the student council, which should keep her busy. The major task of the student council at the Inter-American School is to plan and raise funds for an annual retreat. She’s excited. We also have Laura Armas, the daughter of the Episcopal priest in town and Tamara’s best friend, staying with us. The manse of the Episcopal Church, which is built into the side of a hill, has been rendered uninhabitable by a landslide.
September 15, a national holiday, marks the 189th anniversary of Central America’s independence from Spain. Due to the rains, the national government is talking of suspending some of the celebrations.
Here in Quetzaltenango the celebrations usually go on for over a week, with parades and a fair.
It’s hard to know what the rest of the month will mean for me, given the weather. Weekly classes will continue at CEDEPCA. During the last weekend in September I’m scheduled to go to Poptun for the last session of the course on mission. Some women in the Episcopal church here in Quetzaltenango have asked me to facilitate CEDEPCA’s “Healthy Relationships” course for them on Sunday afternoons. I appreciate your prayers as we move into these uncertain days.
Occasionally I do find time to read a novel. This month I’d like to recommend Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning. The novel recounts the adventures of a group of Asian Americans who travel to Burma (Myanmar). Tan explores the assumptions of both the travelers and the local groups with whom they interact. Though the context here is different, many of the issues are the same.
The worst of the rainy season is yet to come since October is usually the month with the most precipitation. As you follow the news about the disasters that are resulting from natural phenomena here in Guatemala, please remember that CEDEPCA’s Ministry in Situations of Crisis (PASCRISIS) program continues to accompany people in communities that were affected by Tropical Storm Agatha and the eruption of the Pacaya Volcano. The PASCRISIS team will be considering how CEDEPCA might expand our response and offer more psycho-social support to communities as they seek to recover and strengthen their resilience. At the same time our work in theological education and with women continues. We rely on the ongoing support of friends to make our work possible. Thank you.
P.S. I finished this letter yesterday evening, but rains here took out our Internet for a few hours. There were more landslides overnight.
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 277