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January 17, 2003

a bit about roberto barrios and my experience

paisaje: i was living in the jungle, next to a river. not enough but a few times when the water wasnt muddied by the rainstorms i went and swam in the river, i have a new afinity for dunking my head under moving bodies of water and listening to the passing sound, it wasnt even that cold. the mud there was a pain in the ass when it rained, but out of some sort of luck i was there during a 6 day period of no rain, it dried up and we didnt have to wear the rubber boots all day.
probably the most beautiful water falls ive ever seen in my life were a quick 15 minute walk from our campamento. its a series of 7 falls, but not falls in the strict sense of the word. instead, the water streams down of these rock formations that have been worn down by the centuries of water passing, but the surface isnt slick, its full of ridges so that you can walk right down the falls. its kinda an optical illusion, to walk up this steep slope of tan colored rock with 3 inches of water flowing around your feet, if you look over at someone it looks like they should have fell already.

zapatistas y nios: almost every night the kids would come to our cook shack, which was next to our dormitorio, and hang out, talking and playing chess and telling stories. this one set of brothers were the most fun, they recounted stories told by their grandfather of settling the land and clearing the trees for the milpa (growing field). the grandfather had told them of 10 meter long snakes eating goats, of waist high monkeys that they had to kill with a rifle cause the monkeys would attack, and of some strange 4 foot tall at the shoulder mini elephant that killed the mensdogs with its trunk. i doubted that last story, but they were pretty earnest people and didnt seem to be leading me on about that one. the jungle back then must have had tons of animal life that would have blown our minds had it not been killed or died off.
the also told stories of the oppression and persecution by the government and the paramilitares. a big bone of contention in the community is the waterfalls, the priistas want to build a hotel there and bring in tourists, and the zapatistas wont have that. apparently some paramilitares from the group paz y justicia (peace and justice, the mother of all misnomers for a guerrilla group) killed a man from honduras there a few years ago, and had killed some zapatista men more years ago. back when the military came in, i think it was 96, all the men and boys fled to the mountains, israel one of the youths was with them, he said they had hardly any food, just a little bit of maiz and tortillas. finally they were able to come down, where they found their crops burned and their houses burgled. crazy stuff.

way of life: , they didnt seem bitter much, regardless of all thats happened to them, the indigenous way of life doesnt seem to have room so much for grudges, they all talked about how much they enjoy being out in the milpa planting and harvesting the crops, israel for instance had went to learn to be a carpenter, he said he was pretty good at it, but then he came back to work on the familys piece of land out at the milpa instead. at first glance the village seemed desolate, but they all have the base staples of food and the kids run and play and help gather lea for firewood, they know how to get by in their own way, and thats all they really want.
it must be weird in a way to have westerners in the community, sometimes the younger folks would come up and just look at us, id say hello and ask their names, and half the time theyd ignore me and walk away. the native language there is tsetal, but most everyone spoke good spanish as well. i feel like they warmed to me more after i went to the church, the only place in town that i didnt feel the tension between the zapatistas and the priistas, and helped hook up the vcr so they could watch some movies about the plan puebla panama and about genetically modified corn. earlier id been out on the grass in front of the church roughhousing, swinging the little boys around by their arms and legs and throwing them up in the air, and after seeing that i was a good guy the people seemed friendlier with me. i felt weird at times when i would use my fancy water filter or my cookstove or my mp3 cd player, and the kids would all look at it like it was stuff from outer space. they all get by just fine without stuff like that, i realized that i dont need any of it either, but then again its useful at times and dont mind lugging it around on my back.

fun times: one night in the cookshack where we all sat around the kids, and one of them looked at me, very seriously, and said, that squeeking sound, thats the lizards that live in the roof, the quiquis. theyre very poisonous, be careful. now no one had warned me of this at all before, so i was skeptical, but they all agreed and i began to feel a little worried. poisonous lizards? hell. then a few days later, one of them climbed up my leg, onto my shirt. one of the boys said, kill it daniel! quickly i stood up and launched it across the cookshack, kinda shaky. the next day i cornered their dad, antonio, and he said they had been pulling my leg. damn kids. hehe.

last thoughts: i had a really good experience, think i already wrote that, but it was nice to see a group of people so different then me. i plan to go back to a community the next time i go back. when i left, antonio said i should tell people where i live to come down as well, he seemed really concerned that their would always be international observers there, that it was important for the community in case (or more realistically, when) the government comes back to screw with them some more. they impress the hell out of me with their resolution in the face of the inevitable.

a popular slogan they wrote on the walls of buildings there comes from a hundred years ago when zapata was fighting to free mexico from the corrupt government of back then. la tierra para quien la trabaja. (the land is for whoever works it) i sincerely hope that the zapatistas get the land, they deserve it.

Posted by bendan at January 17, 2003 01:14 PM

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