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Finding Home in Two Worlds

Part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Diego plays soccer with his brother and a friend from his village.
photo by Ellen Guettler

Diego was excited to play with his siblings. He loves soccer and thought they might too.

Here in Santiago Atitlán, physically, Diego is just like everybody else. But he has trouble communicating with his siblings. He only speaks English and they only speak Tzutujil.

While the kids play, our friend Dolores helps us talk to Isabel.

"Tell me about the health of you and of Josefa and Juan," I ask. "How have you all been?"

"She works hard for food every day," Dolores translates.

"What do you eat during the day?"

"Sometimes she goes to the mountain and if she finds some wild herbs. That's what she brings to feed her children," says Dolores.

I want to know how Diego's sister Julia died. Isabel says she had stomach problems that got worse because of an infection or a curse, but it wasn't clear. A lot of times, Isabel tells me stuff that doesn't make sense to me. Still, every time we're together, I feel like there's a mutual respect and affection.

It seems like visiting Julia's grave is something we should do together. Julia reminded me so much of Diego. She was so sunny and she laughed exactly like he does.

Isabel at Julia's grave
photo by Ellen Guettler

Dan stays at the hotel with Diego and the kids. Dolores, Isabel and I get into a three-wheeled taxi called a "tuk-tuk." The cemetery is part-way up the volcano, overlooking the village.

The cemetery is a jumble of pastel tombstones and unmarked mounds of dirt. Julia's grave is covered with weeds. Isabel begins yanking them out.

I help her pull weeds because it seems like the right thing to do.

When the grave is cleared off, Isabel stands at one corner of the mound and begins to cry. It sounds like it might be a prayer, it is so mournful.

Later, Dolores tells us that Isabel is crying to Julia; calling out the memories they'd shared. She says poverty always pursued them, that she tried to save Julia and she couldn't.

Next: part 4

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