"Sarito is a river flowing towards the ocean. Expecting the unexpected, I have everything I need to live well and take care of myself. I am open, spontaneous, trusting, free, creative, and light, loving and in tune with the whole, I am good enough, and there are now problems now. So breathe, let,s go and see the joke. Keep it simple."
I saw this board when I returned back to Panajachel to celebrate my friends birthday. I had to take a picture because I felt as if the board was speaking to me. The message seemed pretty straight forward and served as a reminder on how not to make things so complicated.The month of April felt incredibly short because in Guatemala, they celebrate Semana Santa or what is their holy week here for Easter. It is very festive and almost everyone is off from work and school.
Livingston, Izabal, Guatemala
We decided to spend our Semana Santa in Livingston. I heard beautiful reviews before we left but I did not expect to have such a magical experience.
As soon as cross over by boat onto the Island, you feel as if you are in a different world. I felt the heat, as I began to sweat, immediately sweating as we were walking to the hostel. When we arrived off the boat we were greeted by two tour guides Eddie, and Sambra. These two made a good duo as they were filled with all jokes. The shift in my energy was all relaxed the second I stepped foot onto the Island. The guides were awesome as they helped us carry some of our bags to the hostel Iguana but somewhat all over the place.
Eddie walked up the bush, grabs the leaves off and gently places it in my hand. He says, it’s” weed!” My jaw drops and as I go to smell my hand he says “Ahhhh” Just kidding it’s Basil. I lose it immediately. I am thinking to myself are these guys for real? All in good fun I could not help but laugh. What seemed like an hour walk was actually fifteen when we reached Hostel Iguana? Everyone went to their respective destinations, we had a nice size group of 7 women all of which had fantastic energies. On the search for a place to get our hair done, Eddie agreed to take us to his sister’s house who could do them for us. On the way to her house, he gave us a brief tour of Livingston.
It was incredible, feeling that occurred on the island. From what I observed Island the actual Garifuna population was small in size. However, the vibe of the island was beautiful as you observed the diversity of people in one place of Garfifuna, the Ladino population, and the tourists of course and all the people traveling. It was beautiful as you overheard the Garifuna speaking Spanish intermixed with English. A vibrant beautiful mix of culture all in one spot! Parts of this place reminded me of Africa, all the way from the climate to the trees. It was true Caribbean living or easy living. I have never experienced such a paradise.
I say this because all of the beautiful aspects of culture you could observe and hearing a plethora of reggae music from Bob Marley to Lucky Dube. I felt at home, and again it almost felt like Africa. Even from the way the people welcomed you, we would get questions about where we would from. I would respond from the United States but currently live here in Guatemala. They would shoot back, “No, you are from here!” This answer pierced my soul with warmth and love. When we went to Eddie’s sisters house, again you see a few of the Garifuna folks standing outside conversing. There was a little girl by the name of Rosalyn, she had her hair braided with the little ponytails and cracker balls at the top, similar to the way I would where my hair when I was younger.
Through a brief observation and time spent on the Island, I wanted to learn more about how this Island and how it was founded. Here you observe the beautiful and ugly sides of history. As shipwrecked slaves you were dropped of somewhere far from home. According to research, “the civil war was the basis of a brutal, race, class, and gender struggle that occurred in Guatemala.” According to scholars, “the failure of Guatemalan nationalism needs to be explained, rather than presented as explanatory.” Where as many writers in the past or scholars have tried to do. Eric Hobsbawm a British Marxist writes, “In developing countries that have been unable to build or maintain a cohesive economic or political structure, emerging social movements attempting to construct or challenge national identities are often dismissed as tribal or ethnic.” He tried to combat this notion throughout his work.
On the contrary, the history of Livingston was very different, as it was not linked to the history of Western Guatemala but explains why a majority of the black Guatemalans live on one side of the country. From what I read, Jose Felipe Marino rose to power in Guatemala as head of state in 1831. He had a plan to colonize the north and eastern parts of Guatemala with European Interests in areas that were considered under populated however this was a plan that failed. Under his rule he authorized that the departments of Chiquimula, Izabal, and Peten be granted to the British, Dutch, and Germans for business. Which explains the presence of the Europeans that we saw there.
The island is called Livingston as part of the origin, from the Garifuna language which was the mouth (la boca) of the area. The early Spanish settlers referred to it as this because literally Rio Dulce, expands and opens up into the Gulf of Honduras. The name of the island was founded in 1831. Back to Marino, he adopted the Livingston codes which were a set of laws for prison reform, which received world wide reform in the United States and European Reform. These laws were composed by Edward Livingston (1764-1836) a United States man, politician, and wealthy landowner. In the honor of Livingston, and little regard for the black residents that lived there, Galvez announced that the province that was Chiqimula to be portioned off and form a new province known as Izabal Guatemala. This included the already established provinces known as the north coast (Marino Galvez). This is why Garifuna day is celebrated on November 26th of every year.
Two days after we left Eddie, I ran into him again at Iguana. This time, he hesitated a little before greeting me. I said, “Hey Eddie! What are you doing?!” He said, “I’m working!” I persisted to make plans for the evening as we were leaving the next day. Of course my attachment to strangers was intensified because I felt he was my friend. I saw the beauty in Eddie as he saw in me. We were the same but different as we were coming from different walks of life.
To him, I was just another vacationer passing through that he didn’t know when he would see again. I also saw his struggle as tour guide, doing what he knew how to do best. His work, his luck, and art was waiting done by the shore for tourists like me hoping to make a buck or Quetzal off a travelers generosity. My guess is that him and his family did not get to leave the Island much. I wish I could go back and hear more of his stories, just spending a day and a half with him our first days on the Island, I sensed that he led an interesting life.
For example, he talked briefly about his opportunity to go to school in Belize and where he learned English. I heard more about his experience with Racism. I did not get a chance to hear But just from some of his comments I could sense some of his anger. He says, “They are F@#Cing rascist.” They are stupid, you know if they mess with me. I mess with them right back”! I never found out who they were but if I ever go back I would like the chance to find out. The second to last day, I spent on the beach with my work mate, just soaking up everything. My eyes had been open to the people and place of Livingston. The beach was not that great, but I could have stayed there forever. On our way out leaving the beach, I saw the little girl Rosalyn again. She was with different family members that I did not met before. I stopped and said hello, and I could tell she remembered me because she gave me the biggest hug and smile back.
I felt as if she was my family in this weird way. Seeing the diversity and how free life was there compared to the Western highlands. My soul has been rejuvenated, after spending 6 months in Guatemala, I felt like myself again. As soon as I stepped on the Island, I felt alive and free and it was a different experience and I long to go back.
The Blood of Guatemala (2000)