Making Light in Yaxhachen


The sun is really tiny before it covers everything up. You can’t even see it when the ironic music begins to boomerang through the concrete block, pole-and-thatch houses. The intro to Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode” is comforting at first, until the rap part is covered up by a slur of Spanish I’ll never be able to understand. But still, the knock-off is a welcome relief from the howling dog packs that roam the streets all night.

After a few nights, I began to sleep right through the eerie barking, and I barely saw the sun when it was tiny anymore. Stumbling out of my one room casita, surprised by the cold that slipped through the colorful strings of my hammock, I adhere to ritual. Target to-go mug and Starbucks Via instant coffee in hand, I sit quietly mumbling my five favorite Mayan words on repeat as Mamá and Rosi prepare hot water for me on an outdoor fire, where they are already making tortillas and laughing. Mamá offers to wash my shirt, and I take her up on it, because I’ve worn it three days now.

I have a lot to do everyday in Yaxhachen. Without any phone service or car, I love being immersed in the feeling of isolation from the big wide world and connected with this one, singular place. Although I’m working to develop classroom space for Ko’ox Boon summer camp, my main goal is to learn more about the mindset of the community, the way that ritual and language work as channels for thinking.


My favorite way to explore these ideas is to go adventuring in the fields and forest with my friends that I’ve worked with at Kaxil Kiuic. Random scatterings of interesting land formations, gardens, and diverse fauna make exploring a daily possibility. Victor, 27, is proud to show me his house that he made himself. He’s proud that he knows to grow diverse plants, because he can sell them and provide a real, sustainable income for his family.

photo (4)

Victor knows about business because of his years spent in the States. When he was 16, he crossed the border. The description of such a crossing is simple: it’s hard. There’s long days and nights of walking and walking and conserving water and carrying extra water and maybe a change of clothes. There are quiet hours spent packed in a van, awaiting, praying, begging for safe arrival in San Francisco.

Seven years and a baby later, Victor was rapidly deported after being implicated in a minor car accident. He will probably never see his baby again.

We don’t talk about it much. It's been a thing that's quietly hung over our friendship for four years now. I want to write something detached and sociologically insightful about it, but all I can come up with is that it makes me feel sad. I don't bring it up to him, because I hope he's forgotten. Like, one of those really powerful mind games that you can play with yourself. Forgetting a whole child of yours out there walking around somewhere in Alabama. With no way in the whole world to get her back. Best to déjalo.

Instead, our conversations focus on his two small children, David and Aime, that he has with his wife in Yaxhachen. He's forced to creatively provide for them. Life is simple, but poverty is real, when there's no one in SF sending remittances (this is the money that is earned by immigrants working in San Francisco and sent back to family remaining in Mexico, usually via Western Union).

Put simply, Yaxhachen is a place with no economy. Farm to live. Live to farm. But what happens when the people stop farming essentially everything but corn? Health declines. Diabetes festers. In so many ways, Victor and I see it similarly.

The gods sold their lot to coca-cola. A wedge in an ever-growing crack between the people and their land. A river of coke, Lays potato chips, and powdered donuts flows throughout the tiny tiendas of Yaxhachen, and on the other side of the river is a bed of knowledge on how to healthfully live off of the land.

I look forward to working with Victor to revive a heritage of diversified planting through the start of a Ko'ox Boon community garden. A way towards a better future for a community of boys that doesn't want to have to immigrate.