With the Widows of Chontolá, by Ben Crozier

On June 7, 2013, in Uncategorized, by Tim Broyles

First of all, I’d like to assure my family that I’m doing alright and I would also like to wish good luck to the Brophy Crew quad that will be competing at rowing nationals this weekend.

Wednesday was our last true day of immersion trip activities before our time in Antigua and then our long trip home. This morning, as I was still recovering from being sick the day before, we took a winding and occasionally very bumpy road to the village of Chontolá in the Quiche state of Guatemala. In the United States, for the most part, widows are the product of fatal illnesses or tragic accidents, not murder at the hands of the government.

On the path to Chontola.

It was in this small, nondescript mountain village that 40 men were killed by the military 31 years ago. It was 31 years ago that a reign of terror under the misnamed “Civil Defense Patrol” claimed more lives. Men like Maria Tomasa’s husband were killed simply for having the courage to stand up and say no to joining the patrol that was abusing its power in the village. Men were killed and then their families were not allowed to bury them; to do so would be to associate with a man the Patrol had deemed as “bad”.

Maria Tomasa, telling our group about the day her husband was killed by the Guatemalan military. Maria spoke to us in Quiche, her native tongue. She was translated into English by our guide Fidel.

We heard these tales of horror from Maria Tomasa, one of the 85 widows from that town alone. The government or the government appointed Civil Defense Patrol created 85 widows in one of the smallest villages I have ever seen and to me that was shocking. The people killed in Chontolá were not rebels, they were not guerrilla fighters. They were farmers, and they were innocent. The pain communicated through Maria Tomasa’s eyes was tangible; it was enough to completely bridge the emotional gap inherent in using a translator to communicate. I could tell that her pain and the pain of the other widows endures to this day as even now no form of apology has been made by any government of Guatemala.

The one ray of hope that shines through in this narrative is the reaction of the widows and one Pastor Diego after both the military and the Civil Defense Patrol had left the village for good. The widows, finally having returned to their home village, found their homes and farms burnt to cinders. Seeking help from Pastor Diego, the local Methodist minister, 25 widows were able to start the co-op we visited today. Starting with chickens then moving on to sewing and weaving elaborate garments, toys, and blankets of all shapes and colors these women courageously built a new life for themselves. They put away the hatred and anger felt towards the men who had killed their husbands and instead looked forward and put their minds to productive and beneficial tasks. Today the co-op has become the main and sometimes only source of income for the 12 widows still alive to operate it. Passing on much of the work to their children and grandchildren, the widows built something to support themselves through the toughest period in their lives and ended up creating something that will provide an education to their grandchildren.

As I sat in my green lawn chair, still a little queasy from my intestinal issues of the preceding day, my problems looked very mild and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Sure they were important to me, but it really put my suffering in perspective. Maria Tomasa gave birth to her third child while fleeing her village through the woods with her other two. I couldn’t fathom the pain and confusion that must have permeated those years of terror like some dark rain cloud always on the horizon.

Some of the widows of Chontola making lunch for us– Fried Chicken! It was soooo good!

I wanted to lend my support to these women, at the very least share with them how grateful I was to all of them for their hospitality, but especially to Maria Tomasa for sharing her story. Up until now we had merely heard of the destruction and atrocities committed by the military during the civil war but this was what really brought it into perspective for me. I can’t imagine 85 people in my close community being murdered for no other reason than standing up for what they believe in. I want to share Maria Tomasa’s story, one of both horror and hope, with as many people as I can. To spread awareness of this atrocity I can be a small part of preventing something as terrible as this from happening again.


3 Responses to With the Widows of Chontolá, by Ben Crozier

  1. Susan Charlton says:

    What an amazing experience Benjamin. We enjoyed reading your blog.

  2. Ms. Cardinali says:

    Great sharing, Ben. Thanks. These stories do lend a new meaning to “suffering,” don’t they? Hope you have fully recovered from your illness now that you are home!

  3. Mary Crozier says:

    Better late than never. I just read this today and was impressed with your experience and visit with the widows of Chontola. It greatly saddens me that the world has such injustice. The strength and spirit of the widow’s rebuilding of their lives is remarkable and inspiring. Both sad and glad you had the opportunity to see and be a part of this.

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