There's been a bittersweetness to life here in Guatemala. We live in one of the most mystical places on the planet, and yet tourism, the increased use of synthetic non-biodegradable products, and lack of infrastructure to meet the needs of growing populations have led to massive pollution concerns.
A few days ago, we spent time in LaBuga (now known as Livingston) on the Caribbean Sea. We were so excited to get to sea, but arrived there to find that heaps of trash had washed up on the shore - for miles. Plastic Coke bottles and Styrofoam made up a large percentage of the waste. Our hearts sank as an inner dialogue of judgments unleashed within us.
First, we judged the locals. "Why don't they clean up?" we wondered.
"Do we even want to be here?" we questioned.
Then, we realized how much new trash washes up onto the beaches each day. Most of which is coming from the United States - products made in the USA from what we've over consumed.
"Colorado is so clean. Why are we choosing to live here?" we questioned.
Then we looked beyond the beach out to sea. We felt the warm, salty water on our skin and we admired the beauty of the life bearing coconut trees dropping organic nourishment onto the earth in a place where most live in poverty.
It was a bittersweet moment of recognizing Earth’s giving nature and our first world ideation that the world is our oyster and that it should be handed to us for our enjoyment, squeaky clean and picture perfect, and if it’s not picture perfect, the mind says, “I don’t want to look. I don’t want to be here. I can’t share photos of this on Instagram!”
Sad, isn’t it? The human inclination to turn away and refuse to look at the parts of our earthbound experience that most need attention.
I couldn’t see that pattern in myself and not do something about it.
“You know, Dain,” I started as we sat in the sea, “We are privileged to have moved from a place where we are insulated from seeing and experiencing much of the world’s challenges.”
For those that don’t know this, Colorado is a vacation spot for privileged people from all over the world to play very expensive winter sports. It’s a place with well-developed trail systems that you can walk for miles without ever seeing a piece of trash. It’s a place where you can see free concerts in gigantic parks that overlook pristine lakes while your kids prance safely on the nearby playground.
Colorado’s rivers and canyons have soothed me in my heaviest moments. Leaving her was a grieving process that I’ve yet to complete. But my heart has called me to Guatemala, and it’s here that I’m committed.
Dain chimes in now and says, “I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’m actually grateful to see this reality. It’s not pretty and it’s heartbreaking, but this is the real world. Until you see it firsthand it’s easy to stay removed from it.”
In this moment, I realize yet again that Dain is the one I’m meant to be with in this journey. He entertains all my ideas, meeting them with infectious enthusiasm. Then he wastes no time helping us mobilize those ideas and recruiting others to do the same.
I got to witness this part of him when we first arrived to Tzununá, a small village on Lake Atitlán, where we now own land. By the time we moved here in June 2022, we hadn’t seen the land in about a year, and it looked different than we remembered. We were disillusioned to find that heaps of trash had been dumped onto this sacred piece of earth as if it were a landfill. Again, our hearts sank, and we were overcome by disappointment, anger, and judgement.
First, we judged the local community. Then, I considered that before the locals were enticed to sell bags of chips and bottles of soda, these people were eating from the earth. It was no big deal to toss your banana peels on the ground. The trash problem is created by businesses who want to get their products into remote parts of the world and who provide no education or solutions regarding the waste.
We then spearheaded trash clean-up initiatives, led by Dain, with the help of community members (kids included). We learned more about the local challenges with this issue. We are currently in the midst of planning a larger scale community clean-up initiative and intend to use this as an opportunity to educate on the detriment we’ve seen in the U.S. from the use of synthetic products and ideas for how to preserve the beauty and fertility of Tzununá.
In other news, we have agreed to host a local women’s co-op on the land. The project will produce an organic food garden and space where education and skills for food-security can be passed onto the community – an idea presented to us by our Mayan neighbor, Maria.
Much more is underway in terms of sustainable economic support ideas and plans for upcoming retreats.
Make no mistake about it, the views of Lake Atitlan’s volcanoes from our new home are soul nourishing, and you’re going to love it. We’ve just got a lot of work to do to bring nourishment to this land before we ask it to give so much to others.