The job of “comadrona” (midwife) on the Guatemalan Altiplano, like in many other regions of the world, is a vocation transmitted from mother to daughter. A wisdom handed orally, fruit of experiences lost in the past. The birth of the “casa del parto ACAM” has represented a decisive change in the life of the comadronas of Concepcion Chiquirichapa, concurring to fulfill their dream: to build a pleasant place, clean and supplied with the essential instruments in order to assist the deliveries in complete autonomy. In fact, in the house they do not collaborate with medical staff and the delivery follows the rhythms given by nature. The woman entrusts the acquaintances of the comadrona (traditional midwife) which, beyond practical suggestions, uses curative herbs, known by the Mayan Mam tradition, in order to favor the positive course of the delivery. The moment of the birth is lived with extreme peacefulness: the mother, wearing her typical garment, gives birth in a simple bedroom, encircled by tight relatives and free to express her own feelings in native language, trusting in the full understanding of the comadrona. The birth of the child is celebrated with some propitiatory gestures: the baby, before receiving the breast of the mother, tastes salt and chile (chili pepper) in small amount, as auspice of a life full of taste and satisfactions; moreover he receives in his small hand a money, as wish of prosperity. After approximately one hour from the delivery, the mother enters in a very small room, called Chuj (Temascal) by the Mam tradition, in which the humid warmth is created throwing water on red-hot stones. The comadrona washes the woman with natural soaps and uses special herbs to cure skin abrasions. It is believed that Temascal, beyond possessing a purifying function, has optimal healing properties and favors lactogenesis. Before the family of the baby returns to its own house, the comadronas prepare a meal consisting in soup with vegetables, herbs (rich in iron and vitamins) and Atol (traditional drink made up of maize), taking advantage of the occasion to discuss and joke on the birth of the child.
Living with the comadronas has been an experience of total sharing of the simple and authentic rhythms that you can breath in the casa ACAM: the days, mostly dedicated to kitchen, cleaning and chatter, have been fulfilled by some unforgettable delivery attendances.
The icy wind from the north makes shine the stars while we listen to Arturo telling us the story of its incredible life with Teresa, the director of “casa ACAM” (Asociacion Comadronas Area Mam) and their project to improve the condition of the women and the children of Concepcion Chiquirichapa (near Quetzaltenango, Xela)… At the beginning, man was maize that is, in the Mayan cosmovision, a being that constantly had to look for the equilibrium with the other animals, respecting the instruction given by the Mother Earth. The deep acquaintances of the Mayan ancestors in scientific field, pushed them to build up a society based on a progress which we would define sustainable nowadays, in the full respect of the rhythms of nature. It has been the predisposition of this people to share every resource, humbly demanded to the Mother Earth, that took them to the misfortune, when they were forced to follow a radically opposite model by the Europeans. Therefore began for them a sadly famous phase of marginalization and persecution that, in the history of Guatemala, tragically culminated in the thirty years of civil war (1970-1996): a system of abusive powers, the wealth of the great land owners and the unpunishment of the army, carried out the chaos and the violence in the country. Entire Mayan villages were exterminated and the atrocities towards women and children became the rule, while the men (in great majority indigenous farmers or campesinos), were forced from the opposite factions to kill their similar. A few people could back out of this tragic spiral. Arturo, his wife and sons undertook an intense travel towards the north, after resisting as clandestine in their own land for three years. First, they settled in Mexico, where they found an extremely hostile atmosphere and they were enslaved by the large coffee estate owners. Therefore, they reached the United States (1984), a country that in the 80’s was divided between those who sponsored the terror in Guatemala and those who received refugees in sign of protest. Arturo and Teresa had fortune and found a family that received them like siblings, even though in the difficulties and with the constant penance to have abandoned their people in the blood. From this state of mind, upraised the wish to denounce to the world the atrocity of the civil war and at the beginning of the 90’s, they began to travel along the United States informing the public opinion which, day by day, became more and more sensitive towards the indigenous issue and the Latin American situation. They met other Guatemalan refugees and this increased their wish to help their country in concrete terms. In 1998, officially finished the war, Arturo and Teresa could return to their village (Concepcion Chiquirichapa), after an exile lasted nearly twenty years: they found a community in trouble, many of their friends massacred or dispersed. They decided that, to give a future to their people, they had firstly to build a hope for those women and their children. Indeed originated the idea of the “casa ACAM”, a center of support to the family in which the ready and willing “comadronas” (mid-wives) of the Mayan Mam region could gather and have a space dedicated for the delivery attention. As a result of an intense aid demand activity, Arturo found an enthusiastic answer in that part of North American people who saved him years before: collected the money, began the phase of construction of the center, that culminated with the inauguration in 2004. Today ACAM association, a well-known Guatemalan NGO (non-governmental organization), is a reality that has opened the road towards the future for the Mam community and it’s already an example to follow, although a lot remains to build. The enthusiasm of Arturo and Teresa does not leave doubts that they will carry until the end their fight for a better Guatemala, proud of its past and bound to the Mayan tradition.