Photos of the Tour

This gallery contains 62 photos.

New ideas and actions

Two weeks ago today the Solidarity Tour set out from Guatemala City for Rio Dulce. With many days of group travel under our belts, we were getting good at long bus rides.

In the region around Lake Izabal, three meetings were planned with the partner organizations forming the Breaking the Silence Alliance, as well as a highly informative Skype chat with Jen Moore of MiningWatch Canada.

In El Estor, the Team for Community Studies and Psychosocial Support (ECAP) showed us a moving video they produced documenting the struggles of two groups of Q’eqchi women who have faced land dispossession and human rights abuses. We had the privilege of meeting with members of one of these groups – the Q’eqchi women from the community of Sepur Zarco who are the plaintiffs in the first criminal trial for sexual slavery committed during Guatemala’s armed conflict. Here’s the documentary:

Some of the Solidarity Tour participants are sharing stories and photos with their friends, and planning for presentations they will make to their communities. Many of us are still digesting what we saw, heard and learned: the reading continues, the writing helps us sort out our thoughts, and more.

The Guatamala Reader was on the bus with us, thanks to Bill, and is recommended for anyone interested in the country’s history, culture and politics. Some folks are reading The Beast, by Oscar Martinez, about the fates of the large number of Central Americans who seek to get to the US illegally by train jumping. It is a grim story, very well told.

The Guatemala Reader

The Guatemala Reader

Karen, the neuro-psychologist that was part of our group, has written up an incredible reflection on trauma and healing. Here is the start of her piece:

As a psychologist listening to the stories of Guatemalan men and women who lived through the internal conflict — torture, homes burnt, family members killed and “disappeared”, rape, living homeless and starving in the mountains — I could hear and feel their distress about the trauma they still live with. They experience anxiety, sleep disruption, chronic pains. Yet these words sound so clinical and cold compared to their own Mayan word for their experience, which is far more eloquent: “susto” describes the feeling of being “disconnected from the heart.”

Women from CONAVIGUA

Women from CONAVIGUA

At Inter Pares, we are caught up in follow-up actions in Canada. We are preparing a letter to send to John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is rumoured to be heading to Guatemala later this month. We want Minister Baird to know about the concerns we have for the safety of the women we met at the centre of cases of sexual violence during armed conflict; the role mining companies play in dividing communities, causing violence, destroying land, increasing food insecurity; and about migrant workers’ human rights.

There are other important actions coming up – continued advocacy regarding the Rios Montt trial, and joint efforts to spread the word about the Open For Justice campaign on corporate accountability, particularly around mining operations abroad.

The trip ends. Solidarity continues.

Back home, remembering faces

Half the group stayed on in Guatemala, and the other half came home late Friday night. I suspect that those who came back to winter are feeling alike: emotionally and physically wiped. There was so little downtime and process-time on the Solidarity Tour that my body is crashing a bit and my mind feels heavy.

Don, who is still in Central America, sent along this reflection:


The radiant face of a Catholic nun, now returned from exile, serving migrants in a church complex that was the scene of torture, murder and worse;

The painful truths spoken by Mayan women, widowed sex slaves during the internal conflict, standing together, seeking justice from a government still under the control of the perpetrators;

The migrant workers, blacklisted by corrupt recruiting agencies for seeking fair treatment on Canadian farms;

Their history and culture filling the pages of the tourist brochures, the Mayans are the hidden victims of 36 years of internal war, their existence an impediment to globalization and industrial exploitation;

Away from the archeological sites and tourist markets, these are the unseen faces, the unheard voices, of Guatemala.

Thanks, Don, for this. It’s hard to switch worlds so abruptly and describe such a full experience to family and friends, so we might all lean on your clear words.

Among our travellers, there is an unmistakably deep commitment to make further gestures of solidarity with the people and organizations we support in Guatemala. We’ll use this blog to digest the experience, to share their stories, to spread the word about action, to continue accompanying, and to stay in touch. Inter Pares’ strong, long-term program in Latin America and our collective desire to seek and see justice will guide us through the next steps.


From Carla, who is a textile artist and professor. She has been in and out of Guatemala since the 1970s.


This poem came to me a few years after my first trip to Guatemala in 1975. I no longer recollect where the poem came from, but it resonated at the time and has become more potent over the past ten days.

This I Ask Ye

Who have looked on cloth of Guatemala

And found it beautiful

In power beyond description

Power to evoke a gentle life

of land and water

of Kulkulcan and Chac;

of Ixchal and thick green jungle,

of yellow maize

and red and black

of white bean flowers,

and of hammocks, lacy under blue sky.

Brown skin, soft and white smile

flashing shy;

Think of her then, and her baby,

Weaver woman and son:

What future they?

This I ask ye:

Let thy feelings be known:

Write! Speak!

Weave thy life into life

too for her

and her people

and her life.

If you have ever loved cloth of Guatemala

You owe the weaver a debt.

For the cloth came not of no-one.

It was a woman wove it.

It was a child got tangled in the threads.

Love not only the cloth:

Love also the weaver.

And now we Must

We Must

accept responsibility of love

Sympathy is not enough:

Read, Listen, Think,


–author unknown



My first exposure to the developing world and studying with the Ixil weavers in 1975, made a profound impression on me. Although the military presence was evident in many places, the internal conflict was invisible to the casual traveller. In the late 70’s, news of the political situation and brutal repression of the Mayan peoples in Guatemala began to emerge. What I did not realize was that since the peace accord of 1996, little has changed. The systemic oppression continues through the activities of multinationals and as a result of extreme poverty.

Today, the Mayan people continue to struggle to heal and overcome the devastation of 36 years of internal war. The fabric of the society has been torn. Many of the children, tangled in the threads, have grown up without parents, family, or land and with limited education. As the youth migrate north for some opportunity, many are murdered and disappeared. The land is being destroyed through multinational hydroelectric and mining projects and the water rendered undrinkable.

This trip has been a crash course on the human rights issues the Guatemalan people face under the rule of a corrupt government in a once again increasingly militarized country. Our government is complicit with weak protection for foreign temporary migrant farm workers in Canada, and Canadian mining companies have taken advantage of the Guatemalan government’s willingness to exploit the land and people in pursuit of economic development.

Our Inter Pares team has been witness to the continued resistance and strength of people who have lost almost everything, but continue to hold on to their holistic Mayan Cosmo Vision and hope for a better future for their children. We have met some of the courageous people who are accompanying them. The seeds of a change are here if only justice can prevail.

We have spent a week listening, our hearts wrenched open.

Sympathy is simply, Not Enough!


Late homework

We compiled the contributions for the post on ‘Reflections from the group’ early yesterday but a few participants were late with their ‘homework’. This post will collect those reflections as they appear.

Kathryn said, write something, anything, but my head is filled with a jumble of images: long views of mountain ridges and the mine at El Estor; colorful fabrics in the markets and horrible violence. Maybe I’ll sort these images someday, but here I’ll limit myself to one thread that has been constant: our group.

We are alike in many ways. We are all white, in our late middle age, thoughtful, well-read, and well-travelled – so well-travelled that when I think of myself, I sometimes wonder if I ever left home. At the same time, we differ, especially in what a census taker might call our occupations. I can’t stop to list them, and I hope it is enough to say that they involved work not only in Canada, but in many other countries, work of many different kinds, and a broad range of knowledge and expertise. For me, these differences have been much more than a source of mild interest; instead, they have helped me understand. During our travels, we have learned about wide range of problems. Some seem at first like ones we have at home in Canada, such as how to make decisions about large infrastructure projects, and some are the horrible violence and injustices. We have often talked about these problems, especially at mealtimes and in the bus, when we weren’t sleeping or eating, and maybe our similarities have helped us talk easily. In these conversations, our different perspectives and pools of knowledge have been a wonderful source of illumination and ideas. I won’t be so foolish as to say that I understand much about Guatemala, but I do know that my little bit of understanding is larger than it would have been without these discussions and our differences.

I don’t know whether Inter Pares considered differences of this kind in assembling this group. If I ask Kathryn, she won’t tell me. She will just offer me another granola bar.*


*Editor’s note: Bill Fairbairn bought a stock of 90 granola bars to have on our bus. We didn’t want the group to go hungry, ever! 

Reflections from the Group

Our Holiday

As we bump along these (sometimes) amazingly rough roads, I have a chance to think about the nature of this trip. We are from all appearances a group of twelve mostly white or gray-haired white people on holiday, seeing beautiful Guatemalan countryside, touring Antigua, clambering up the steep steps of a Mayan archeological site and shopping in the local market in Chichicastenango. This appearance conceals the reality of our expertly guided trip into some of the realities of Guatemalan life. We return to our hotel at night from hearing heartrending stories of the internal struggle in this country, the incredible bravery and dignity of women who testify against those who raped and murdered in their communities, the struggles of indigenous people against the (some Canadian) mining interests, and the problems faced by temporary migrant workers (in Canada and here). It is not always “fun”, but it is real. And we come to appreciate again and again the skill with which we chose our parents.

–Gail and Dick

Out of my Comfort Zone

I was brought up with basic Christian values. Respect people. Respect their privacy. Never owned a firearm. Other than elementary school rough-housing, never been hit or hit anybody – at least off the hockey rink. I knew there had been problems in Guatemala. Never really knew much about them – maybe never wanted to – out of my comfort zone.

Imagine living in a country torn by 36 years of civil war and genocide – and being on the losing side – and still losing the peace. How do you recover from watching your family be tortured, raped and killed? House and crops burned. Hunted down like animals by the army? I can’t even ask these women questions about what they experienced. Out of my comfort zone.

How do they find the strength to testify in court about what happened to them over 30 years ago so one of the men responsible might be brought to justice?

Visiting a church where the army and civil defense forces tortured, raped and murdered people. Nearly 4% of the population killed in just a couple of years. Nearly all Mayan. Pictures of victims lining the walls of the torture chamber. A Canadian among them. We light red candles, the Mayan symbol for blood, in their memory. In the church court yard where 27 bodies were found stuffed in a well, we lit black candles for the dead but also white candles because life goes on.

But what a life. Thousands of young people migrating north in hopes of finding work. There isn’t much for them. Many die as victims of crime or accident along the route. Thousands are caught at the borders and returned – only to try to escape their poverty & future here. Asked why do they do it: the answer is – does it matter where you die? Guatemala in poverty or somewhere else trying to find a future.

I always thought Canadians were the good guys. We play by the rules. Other guys cheat.

Mayans have been forcibly removed from their lands so Canadian companies can mine precious resources in the ground. Women protesting forced evictions were raped so Canadians can mine. This isn’t who we are – or is it? It’s too easy to be complacent and say somebody else must have done that. Canadians aren’t like that – at least I’m not?

I have been a proponent for Inter Pares while at CIDA & a supporter since leaving CIDA. I have seen their work in Bangladesh & the Philippines. Guatemala has really touched me. Way out of my comfort zone.

I hope my small contributions to Inter Pares have helped improve the lives of some people who have been victims of abuse and are still struggling for their rights. I know my friends at Inter Pares have helped make me a better person.

–Rick McT

Action begins at home

Now in our 7th day in Guatemala, we have come down from the mountains to a tranquil lake near the coast. Here we are each taking a pause to reflect on the many ways our experiences of the past week have opened our eyes and touched our hearts. We have been particularly moved by the courage and resilience of women of Mayan communities who have shared their stories with us, and inspired by the women and men who are supporting them in their efforts to assert their rights and dignity. For my part, the meetings and discussion have reminded me that I can and should take action to address social injustices on my own doorstep. One such issue that links back to Guatemala is social justice in the production chain that brings fruits and vegetables to markets in Montreal – we have learned that some 4000 of the 5300 Guatemalan temporary migrant workers in Canada this year were agricultural workers in Quebec. While this largely hidden workforce is necessary to produce foods at prices we have come to expect, the situation of these women and men is often precarious with respect to pay, job security, and health and safety. Follow-up on this issue will be one practical starting point for responding to this immensely rewarding journey.


The great equalizer

We have heard so many stories from indigenous peoples about being the target of the genocide, about being left out of public consultations on resource development, and more. After 30 years they are still asking what happened to family members who were kidnapped? They find out about mining and hydroelectric dams when the projects are already far along. It’s a case of information is power. And power is in the hands of the government.

However, technology may be the great equalizer. Think of the power of cellphones with cameras and video players -instant images – instant evidence. Think of the Internet with online networks for information sharing – think instant blockades. There’s a new generation of indigenous peoples that has the potential to speak truth to power!



I have come to admire on our Guatemala trip the Mayan women. They have lived through 35 years of war. There have been food shortages. The women and their children then and now live in severe poverty. Many Mayan women fled to the mountains for safety while other family members were murdered in their homelands. In the mountains, they had shortages of food, clothing and blankets.

Their inner strength and courage is overwhelming. After living with this strife, they are gracious and strong. This Solidarity Tour has been life changing for me.


Painful / Positive

This Solidarity Tour has made a powerful impression on me and the members of the group. There have been painful experiences, such as our meetings with the women whose families and Mayan villages were ruthlessly murdered in the 1980’s. Their homes and crops were burned. In the past two years, many women have testified in the genocide trial of former President Rios Montt.

We also had powerful positive experiences. The very fact that the women we met had the strength and courage to deliver their testimony at the trials affirms their strength. Then there were the Catholic sisters and staff at the church in Zacualpa that was turned into a centre of torture and murder. Today that centre serves as a place of healing and comfort for those impacted.

Finally, it’s painful to see what appears to be the unwillingness of the government to recognize the indigenous Maya, who form over 50% of the population of people who deserve education and just actions, to be strong and valuable citizens of Guatemala.

Inter Pares is walking, step by step, year after year, to support the Mayan people in this country.

–Bill van I.

Le prix de la justice

Quel parcours, quel cheminement nous vivons depuis notre arrivée au Guatemala il y a une semaine. Difficile de faire sens en si peu de temps de ce que nous vivons, entendons et ressentons.

En écoutant les touchants témoignages des femmes mayas du Quiche et des femmes K’eqchies rencontrées aujourd’hui, sur les atrocités qu’elles ont vécues au cours du génocide des années 80, je continue comme elles à être habitées par l’insensé, l’incompréhensible, d’un État qui extermine sa propre population. La recette de par le monde est la même : faire de ses concitoyens l’Autre et puis l’Ennemi, et se couper suffisamment de son humanité pour oblitérer l’horreur de tuer.

Comment se remet-on de l’extermination systématique de sa famille, de sa communauté, de tout ce qu’on connaît? Comment la guérison est-elle possible?

C’est la question que plusieurs d’entre nous ne cessent de se poser au contact de ces survivantes. Et à voir leur courage, malgré tous les obstacles, à témoigner dans le procès du dictateur Rios Montt, ou contre leurs tortionnaires des bases militaires, à voir leur détermination à exiger justice envers et contre tout, j’en suis venue à penser que cela est leur manière puissante de donner sens à ce qui n’en a pas. Comme nous le disait dans sa sérénité Sœur Ana Maria de la Pastorale sociale de Zacualpa, sans une forme de réparation, il ne peut y avoir de raison de vivre, ni d’horizon, ni d’espoir. Si le prix de la justice semble très grand, long et difficile, les veuves du procès Sepur Zarco l’on dit éloquemment aujourd’hui encore, c’est pour leurs enfants qu’elles le font, et pour que l’horreur ne se reproduise pas.


Glad to be here

It is Day 7 of our incredible Tour. It continues to be a deeply moving experience emotionally and intellectually. The personal stories and information sessions are opening my eyes as to what a difficult state this country is in. As well, I am learning how Inter Pares supports so many organizations with so few staff. Remarkable. Break times of visits to markets, historical sites, and dining through the countryside are welcome – and I see how beautiful Guatemala and its people are. Tour is well planned. Our group is sensational. Am glad to be here.



We have so much to learn from the people of Guatemala. My heart has been breaking from listening to the fears and dangers these people live with every day, alternating with being filled with inspiration by their strength, resilience and courage.

My brain is buzzing with a collection of mini ‘aha’ moments that feel like they are converging to eventually create a major ‘aha’ explosion that will rock my personal and professional world-views. With each new group we meeting, I have been trying to listen deeply to connect what I am hearing with what I thought I understood about the world. As a psychologist working in the safe, stable world of Canada, I’m discovering a number of shifts in how I’m understanding both what has happened and is currently happening in Guatemala, as well as in how I’m thinking about my work back in Canada.

It’s like there are a number of threads weaving themselves together into an emerging pattern that is at once more complex and yet simultaneously simpler – more essential in some way.

All the threads relate to transformation in one way or another: barriers to transformation, sources of transformation, transformation in the midst of ongoing wounding, the deep connection between the transformation of one and the transformation of a collective.

What have been most moving for me is seeing this people face the worst humans inflict on one another and struggle to transform it into the best they have to offer – not just for themselves or their families or communities, but for their whole country and for the rest of the world — if we will just stop to listen and learn along with them.

— Karen

Unfair work conditions in Canada are “Made in Canada”

Most of us are probably aware that there are temporary migrant workers in Canada, but we may not be aware of the problems they face here and at home.

Yesterday we had the opportunity to hear about these problems first hand from workers in Guatemala. Inter Pares and PCS support AGUND – the Association of Guatemalans United for our Rights. Our group was invited to AGUND’s Annual Assembly, which brought together its 170 members who have been migrant workers in Canada. We were welcomed warmly and participated in an opening ceremony of traditional Mayan blessing.

In the sunny municipal hall, we heard from workers – men and women – who have worked in Canada but can no longer go back, often for reasons they don’t understand. Their previous work in Canada had provided money to support their families in Guatemala, and they wish to go back, but for various unknown reasons when they applied to return they were “blacklisted.”

As we sat in two circles with former migrant workers, our group heard of abuses some had suffered in Canada. In spite of these experiences, most were anxious to return to return to Canada and asked for our help in stopping blacklisting. Their sense of powerlessness was evident.


Kathryn and Bill discuss migrant worker issues with AGUND members during an Inter Pares monitoring visit, in February 2013

In Canada, these workers provide food for our tables, care for our children and elderly, and do other necessary jobs. The terms of their employment, however, are surprising and do not match our labour standards. For example, temporary migrant workers are tied to one employer and have little recourse if they are subject to abuse, paid unfairly, or for other reasons are unhappy in their workplace. There have been many cases in which workers have not received their full pay, have been ill-treated, and have not been able to communicate with anyone who can help them. If they complained, they risked becoming blacklisted by employers or by sending-agencies in Guatemala.

Fay Faraday, a social justice and immigration lawyer, has investigated the circumstances of temporary migrant workers in Canada. Her report, “Made in Canada: How the Law Creates Migrant Workers’ Uncertainty” contains the information and recommendations that could rectify many of these problems. Different levels of government in both countries pass the buck, and workers have no recourse. Inter Pares works to raise this issue in Canada, making links between workers in Canada and Guatemala, support organizations, the Canadian government, and the public.

It was an honour for the Solidarity Tour participants to attend AGUND’s Assembly.

Catching up…

Now it is Day 6 of the Tour – time is flying. We’ve been out of internet range for the past few days, so it’s time to catch up. It’s hard to know where to start. We have covered so much ground – in kilometres but also in terms of meetings, learning, and sharing.

A quick note to set the stage: today we are in Chichicastenago. Bill planned this brilliantly: we are here on Sunday, market day. For the first time in days, our fantastic participants are out on their own. They are probably enjoying a bit of freedom! Meanwhile, my “office” is the courtyard of Hotel Santo Tomas, and my officemates are colourful, Spanish-speaking parrots. (They make me think fondly of my Inter Pares colleagues…)

Parrots in the courtyard of Hotel Santo Tomas

Parrots in the courtyard of Hotel Santo Tomas

Reaching way back to Day 2 in Antigua (February 19th) we had meetings with Mayra, the Director of PCS, and Miriam, a Mayan woman who is a renowned community leader in Guatemala. They spoke of many themes – among them civil society in Guatemala, women’s rights, indigenous identity, community resistance to mines, and migration. In Gail’s words,

“It would be hard to describe the effect the presentations had on us. There are no words to indicate the courage of the women who work for justice in the mining areas, or the depth of the problems faced by migrant workers. These are not issues we could have understood in any depth from afar.”

Bill van I. took copious notes on both presentations, and painstakingly wrote up summaries on a winding bumpy bus ride from Antigua to the Western Highlands. I’ll have to break it to him that I don’t have time to put it on the blog just yet. The urge among our participants to share the experience of Inter Pares’ counterparts in Guatemala is very strong. We talk often of how we can honour the women and men we meet, and how we can tell their stories of suffering and resistance, once we are back in Canada.

Other travellers might find a moment to write up a bit about the meetings we had with CONAVIGUA (the Association of Widows), the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, Flor de Maguey (a women’s group made up of survivors from the armed conflict), and the Social Affairs Office of Zacualpa. Many of the women who testified against General Rios Montt in the genocide trial were present in the meeting with Flor de Maguey. It was incredibly moving to know that these women, who were sharing their painful stories with us, had also done this facing Rios Montt in person, in court. What courage.

As we crossed the incredible mountains to reach Nebaj, we listened to an interview with the director of Granito: How to Nail a Dictator from CBC’s The Current. Later that night, we watched part of the documentary. Perhaps you’d like to listen to it, or track down the film, and imagine our bus navigating the ascents and descents of the highway.

– Kathryn

There is always time for tortillas

Meet Victoria, “the foodie at the back of the bus.” She’s is documenting our culinary experiences as we go. Great fun. Since we’re in catch-up mode, here’s a lot to chew on…

hugo and victoria

It’s always tortilla time!

Breakfast, lunch and dinner – there are always fresh tortillas on the table. Our driver Selvin tells us the Mayans have four types, each from the different varieties of corn that grow across the country – black, red, yellow and white. He says his mother makes fresh tortillas every day. Covered in guacamole or fresh cheese, dipped in creamy black bean soup, or stuffed and deep fried, we are embracing this local staple.

While our life experiences can be so different the table is where we can share those cultural traditions.

tortilla time

Yellow tortillas

Coffee break takes a different twist…

As we made our way north in our Solidarity bus, along came Val with our mid morning pick-me-up. She was sharing chocolates with centres of cardamom seed and coffee. Thanks to Val’s musician friend Lucas, we were sampling typical flavours of Guatemala – cardamom, coffee and chocolate – all in one little bite.

Choco Val

Val offers us local chocolate-covered coffee beans

What’s ruder?

It was Johanna to first express a question many of us had. Is it more rude to turn down food or accept it and eat only a little?

The question came after a day of meetings where half way through in came trays of food. At the first one it was a local speciality of stuffed vine leaves, chicken tamales and chocolate cake. At the second it was a tamale and biscuit. I would add that it was all eaten with our hands and most of us were scrambling to find tissue to clean the greasy fingers in order to take notes. Ok so maybe this isn’t much of a hardship but we so wanted to not offend the generous hospitality.

It came down to how to balance not offending them and not wasting food. Seems like the group is mixed on how to deal with this cross cultural issue. We face each experience as it arises.

The food machine

By now you should be getting the idea that we are embracing our food journeys. Most of us are glad to have the meal breaks to have a change of pace from the heavy discussions. However, it’s now becoming clear that we are travelling with a food machine, aka, Kathryn.

We aren’t much past a meal or long into our bus journey when the offer of a snack is made. We’ve got banana bread, granola bars, banana bread, Oreo cookies and don’t forget the banana bread.

Gail timed Kathryn tonight and decided she broke a record. We had been on the bus for over an hour before the suggestion of another snack came up. But like pigs to the trough we were all clamouring for more foods.

Pollo Campero: Colonel Saunders move over

Bill pitched our lunch stop as an experience in Guatemalan culture. “Your stay isn’t complete until you have had a Pollo Campero chicken meal, he said”. After several hours on the road through rural towns with few signs of modern conveniences, we entered the fast food world of Pollo Campero. We could have been in a Canadian city fast food joint. It had all the menu items displayed above the service counter. The choices were Kentucky Fried and Pizza Hut rolled into one.

Kathryn at Pollo Campero

Kathryn at Pollo Campero

The servers were incredible efficient taking orders from our large group using a hand held device to communicate the orders directly to the kitchen.

Bill explained that Guatemalans are crazy about Pollo Campero. The successful franchise is now in over 40 countries. There was a long line for the opening of the outlet in Los Angeles, attesting to its Latin American following.

We were reminded that we were in Guatemala when we went back outside. A young girl was standing beside the entrance with a plastic basin covered with cotton. As customers entered the chicken restaurant they stopped to buy her tortilla – 4 for about 50 cents. Isabel explained that she sells while 2 sisters make the tortilla at home. She is at this spot all day and they can make a living from the sales. Now that’s an example of seeing a business opportunity! She knows that Guatemalan like their tortilla with every meal and the restaurant doesn’t sell them. The informal sector is alive and well in Guatemala.

— Victoria, the foodie at the back of the bus

Anticipation / Apprehension in Antigua

Day 1: We’ve arrived in Antigua, Guatemala, and are settled at Hotel Casa Antigua. It was a long day of travel that began with wake-up calls before 4 am. Carla and Don, who flew in from Alberta, joined us late in the night. Despite getting barked at by security and customs officials, having to smuggle apples into the US, and eating delightful airport meals – our group is happy. We already seem to a comfortable dynamic together: conversations here and there, an easy-going vibe, and a supply of excellent books (the autobiography of the Dalai Lama’s sister, a few thrillers) and articles of interest (a New Yorker piece on political conspiracy in Guatemala) that will surely be shared and swapped as we go.

Not that Bill and I have planned much down time for reading! The itinerary for the Solidarity Tour has us criss-crossing the country, with barely a free day. There are too many important counterparts to meet, and we prefer to meet them in their own towns and regions.

The group in Antigua

Our group – finally together in Antigua!

We’ll start Wednesday with another orientation session hosted by Project Counselling Service. Mayra Alarcon, the regional director, will join us and she has invited two speakers to present on current issues. Frank Larue, a labour and human rights lawyer, and Miriam Piztun, who represents a women’s movement, el Movimiente de Mujeres Tzununija.

At the Toronto orientation, I asked each participant to think about and share what they are anticipating about the Solidarity Tour, and what they feel apprehensive about. Over our first meal together, Dick shared with me that his answer is one and the same for both sides of the question: he is looking forward to the new thoughts this trip will trigger, but also apprehensive about his emotional and intellectual responses. Although Dick has travelled extensively, as have many in our group, he has not learned about the pain and suffering civil war has caused in such a personal manner and indeed in the very place where it all took place. It is hard to know how one will respond. A simple reflection but absolutely honest and clear.

I hope to share more about other As and As of the group soon.