Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My meeting with the Godfather of Cholá

The first community that I will be working in is Cholá. Accent on the ‘a’- it is not pronounced like ‘chola’, as in a female gang member…unfortunately. Cholá is very beautiful but my work is cut out for me. For starters, we have the issue of the health post, which is not really a health post, but rather a rented room with no bathroom. The doctor and nurse, and now me, have no relief when working out there and just hold it until getting back to Uspantan! But the community felt it necessary to build a jail about 2 months ago directly in front of the health post which consists of 2 cells including one bathroom in each cell. The jail cells face the entrance of the Health Post no farther than 20 feet away. The facing wall is all bars and no curtain so while patients come for checkups, they can also check out who was disorderly the night before.

Basically, we are trying to see if we can either get a new health post built entirely or at least rent out one of the jail cells, when not in use of course, to use as a bathroom for the Health Post. Super classy.

So last night the nurse and I went to the meeting of community leaders of Cholá to present myself and such issues.

Each community of Guatemala has a group of leaders basically the equivalent of a City Council who meet to discuss problems and new initiatives. It is important to have the backing of the community leaders as they hold quite a bit of influence especially in rural communities where the motives of outsiders are heavily speculated. The nurse presented me to the community leaders and I presented my project and explained a bit about Peace Corps. It was hilarious and intimidating to say the least.

The meeting was held in the community hall of Cholá which is a large auditorium with terrible acoustics and birds flying all around. The leaders were seating around a long table on the stage of the auditorium. We walked up and presented ourselves to the table of all men donned in their best clothes, cowboy boots and ornate machetes. A very welcoming first impression. At the center of the table sat the president of the community leaders, the oldest man in the group. If there were a Guatemalan mafia, this man would have been the Godfather. Throughout the entire presentation he sat staring us down, hardly moving or speaking. The vice-president mostly spoke on his behalf. We presented the issue of the bathroom among other problems.

The most pressing issue however is that someone in the community is selling false immunizations cards to families who want to avoid a trip to the hospital. This super-genius, however, is dating the immunizations with dates that either have not yet passed (for example: March 2012) or a series of children are reported to have been immunized before he or she was born. To this the Don (no really, in Guatemala all married men are called ‘Don (insert first name)’ so my analogy continues to work!) explained that Cholá has a very efficient vigilante justice system and they would work to catch the perpetrator. To give an example of this magnificent vigilante justice operation he explained that just last week a young boy ran away from home after an argument with his father. When he showed up at a neighbor’s home to ask to stay the night they threw him in jail for disrespecting his parents.

I hope they catch this man because forging immunization cards for children is deplorable and it will be rather ironic when he is thrown in jail and the only view from his cell is the health post.

Anyhow, when the presentation concluded the men spoke amongst themselves in K’iche', there were some nods and a few grunts and finally the men agreed to help us with our fight for a new health post, our plight to form promoter groups and to catch the immunization card forger.

Then the nurse and I walked back to Uspantán is the dark (sorry mom) and I taught him some English along the way. He now knows how to say ‘I am scared’.
I am not going back for next week’s meeting.


  1. "I hope they catch this man because forging immunization cards for children is deplorable and it will be rather ironic when he is thrown in jail and the only view from his cell is the health post."

    You're a gem. MARY BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU WALK HOME LATE AT NIGHT! Don't make me worry.

  2. Mary, why aren't you going again? Wasn't it fun?