Tuesday our hostess Helen drove Gloria and me to the Atlantic City bus station and we caught a bus back to New York City. We were headed back to Paulette and Mark’s home on the lower east side. Paulette and Mark don’t speak Spanish but they are both psychologists and very good communicators. We sat back, drank a glass of wine and ordered Chinese dumplings. Then we thought we’d watch a little TV, maybe a little Spanish TV for Gloria. Well, there was nothing on in Spanish or in English that any of cared to look at – except a public television show on how whales propagate. It needed no translation and we who had turned up our noses at sexy ladies and sexy men on game shows, novellas and adventure, were fascinated by these sexy whales. We laughed and laughed.
Wednesday Gloria and I accompanied Paulette to her work at the Veterans’ Center in Queens. There Spanish-speaking staff, all veterans themselves, interpreted and explained their work with veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and gave Gloria some materials in Spanish. The staff explained the signs of PTSD and the work they do with individuals, in groups, and with families.
Gloria asked if the staff had served in combat. Yes, they had. Did they need treatment for PTSD when they came home? Yes, they did. I said this was an important conversation because of the PTSD in Guatemala. What PTSD in Guatemala? the staffers asked.
So Gloria described the military experience and genocide in Guatemala. When she told about staying for three months in the jungle with a community of villagers being chased by the military, one of the men was amazed at her willingness to be in solidarity and at the suffering they all endured. He had lost his legs in the war in Iraq so he knows about suffering. It was the willingness to stand with those who were suffering that, I think, touched him so deeply. He said, What did you all eat? Where did you sleep at night?
Gloria described how the villagers who were fleeing the military built shelters, how they foraged for food, how they planted and harvested, and how members of other villages would bring vegetables and tortillas regularly and sometimes a goat for slaughter or a cow for milk for the children. She talked about their fear and she told one terrible event, the slaughter of some of the villagers, including children, their heads bashed against rocks.
It was a hard conversation, the hardest I was present at during the whole tour. It touched the veterans deeply and they talked more about their experiences coming home.
But there was more. Thursday Gloria met with a representative of the Guatemalan Mission to the United Nations. She and I walked from 1st Street to 44th Street and back to Paulette’s again, a terrific New York experience. The UN is undergoing renovation, so we were not able to take a tour, but we met members of several working groups and Gloria gained a much fuller sense of the work non-governmental organizations (NGOs) do at the UN.
Then on Friday Gloria led about 30 people from United Nations NGOs plus a number of Loretto members in a Mayan service, spoke about Guatemala and answered questions. This time there was a projector (In an earlier blog I wrote that I had forgotten the one I’d promised to bring.), but I thought Gloria’s talk was not as good. It was longer and the questions were not as free-ranging.
After Gloria’s talk, we went to the Methodist Church Center chapel for the celebration of Rosa’s co-membership and out to dinner. Here’s a note about the Methodist Church Center, a small bit of interest for the political tourist.
After World War II, the Methodist Women’s fund had accumulated to a sizeable amount. The Methodist Men said, “Let us manage that money for you.” But the women answered, “No, we have some plans.”
To the astonishment and, to some degree the horror, of the men, the Methodist women bought two buildings, one on 1st Avenue in New York, right across from the United Nations construction site, and the other in Washington, DC, on Maryland, across Second Street from the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
For 60 years these two buildings have offered low rent to non-profit organizations to work for justice and peace at the United Nations and in the halls of Congress. These buildings were a great investment in that the property is worth many millions; but far more important, the buildings enable the Methodist mission.
I’m slipping over Rosa’s co-membership celebration. We celebrated her becoming a Loretto community member, not a sister, but a community member. The Holy Family sisters have been very interested in this expanded relationship and Mary who had come in from Delaware and Mary Peter took turns interpreting.
Saturday and Sunday Gloria joined a Loretto meeting. A small group meets twice a year to foster community. Mary Peter, Rosa, Mary Bundy and our Long Island hostess Vivian took turns with the interpretation. We had planned Gloria’s visit so that she could be a part of the meeting.
Then Gloria and I returned home. It had been a great immersion in Guatemalan culture as found here in the US.