When I heard Lindsey speaking about Chiapas last January, I knew right away that I wanted to go. At the time I did not believe that it was within my grasp to do so, so I quickly dismissed the idea. But the idea would not dismiss me, and so on June 3, 2014, I boarded Delta flight 864 with eleven other people, and off to Chiapas I went.
I am hard pressed to say what it was that I was expecting from this trip because I did not know enough to form any expectations. The photographer in me is forever seeking some new example of life to capture and study. I want to be surprised; I want to learn something new about who we are as humans, and how we come to be so different yet so alike. I want a clearer understanding as to our relationship with each other and our relationship with this fabulous mysterious creation. As I boarded that plane, I was open to practically anything, and it led me to wonder just exactly how long ago it was that I lost my ability to approach every minute of every day with that same level of openness. One of the things Mexico helped me understand is that the more we believe we know what to expect, the more we believe that we are entitled to predictable results.
We never knew what to expect in Mexico. People were talking all around us, but we were not privy to the conversation because we did not understand the language. Our translator’s native language was French, and so much of what was said slipped through the cracks before it reached our English tuned ears. On our first full day we were told that we were in for a treat because we had been invited to visit one of the communities. In that part of the world, an invitation is required to visit a community, and as we drove through the myriad of tiny villages on our way to our destination, I could easily see how that might be in everyone’s best interest. Isn’t it amazing how so many different entities can occupy the same planet yet live in totally different worlds? I am endlessly astonished by how many worlds are all going on at the exact same time, in the exact same place, yet there is absolutely no possibility that an inhabitant of one world may relocate and become an inhabitant of another. I might be able to visit and observe, I might even be able to occupy, but I can no more suddenly decide to become a Mayan than I can a crocodile.
My introduction to the Mayan culture happened on the first community visit to Acteal, but it took other conversations and events to help me process what we saw and experienced that day. I am still working it out and probably will continue to do so for the rest of my life because that visit is forever imprinted on my soul. It was as alarming and shocking as my visit to Bethlehem – maybe more so because there was no buffer between myself and my own feelings of helplessness. People were trying to tell us their story, but we did not understand what they were saying. We could clearly see the tragedy, but we had no way to process the why or the how. We could feel and empathize with the sorrow, but we could not offer any comfort. Although we were all standing on the same holy ground, there was a great chasm between us, and for me at least, it was highly uncomfortable. I wanted to do or say something to make it better; but I was way out of my league and I knew it. All I could do was hide behind my camera; so that was what I did.
I have always thought myself to be very fortunate to have been born in the U.S., but the more I encounter other worlds the less sure I am of that. Despite their incredible poverty and oppression, what I witnessed in the Mayan people was respect for the earth; respect for each other and the dignity that comes from practicing values. Nothing is wasted in the Mayan world. There is very little trash because everything is used. Regardless how poor and rundown a village might appear to be, we never saw any trash on the streets, and everything was clean. Poverty in the U.S. usually means trash everywhere and an air of utter despair and hopelessness. The more we have, the more we think we need and the less content we are with what we have. We use things once, throw them away and then buy a brand new one of the same thing, never even considering the impact of our waste on the other worlds that occupy the same planet as we do. Coming from a world where this way of living is the norm does not make me lucky; it makes me ashamed. It makes me want to inhabit a different world, but I cannot do that either. So what I am left with is trying to do better in my own world, and hoping that it will ripple outward to all of the worlds combined.
I am grateful for the things I learned from the Mayan people. The biggest thing I learned is that the earth belongs to us all, and if we don’t start learning how to care for the earth and become respectful of each other’s ways of inhabiting it, then none of us will have an earth. No matter how well we think we understand that lesson, we really don’t. Think about it the next time you throw something in the trash, or better yet, think about it the next time you buy something that will ultimately end up on the trash. I know I will.