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October 8, 2020

Landslide on Lake Atitlan: the power of community, solidarity and showing up.


I write this with a heavy heart. On the 6th October 2020, the village of San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, where I’ve come to call home suffered a landslide.
A rock, the size of a two-storey building, fell down the mountain into a neighbourhood. Crushing several homes. 4 people died.
Sitting at home, we heard the crash. All the dogs started barking. News started to travel, phones pinging. Lives had been lost. Help was needed.
We started to pack blankets, flashlights, first aid kits, and we headed out to see what we could do.
There was shock, tears and confusion on the streets.
There were so many helpers. People willing to put their lives at risk to help their neighbours.
It was decided that the entire neighbourhood would be evacuated.
Piles of blankets, pillows, mattresses, food and water were gathered to support the recently evicted.
Emotional support was organised for the grieving.
A fundraiser was started and shared on everyone’s social media. The funds poured in from around the globe.
At one stage, there were more volunteers than jobs to do.
Groups and schedules have been organised. Donations are being collected and organised. Food is being cooked and served.
Our neighbours may have lost their homes, some of them their family members. But they will not go cold and hungry.
I am so immensely proud of my village. I hear stories in the media of people being attacked in public, and onlookers not doing anything, not wanting to get involved. That couldn’t happen here.
I’ve heard tourists criticise San Marcos for the divide between the Indiginous villagers and the expats. There is a divide. We’re an offbeat, hippy type of expats; most of us misfits from the mainstream. And we set up home in a small Mayan village, that has been traumatised over generations of invasion and colonisation.
We are an odd combination. There have been difficulties. Tourism has drastically changed the landscape of this place. The gentrification of the area and the rise in prices is a cause for concern. But the grace with which we have been received has not been unnoticed.
When lockdown was announced, many people, who already lived day to day, lost their incomes. For those of us who had the means to bring in funds from the outside world, it was imperative that our neighbours didn’t go hungry. Famine was prevented.
We really learned the value of communal currency. When you had money, you supported the businesses around you; the people around you.
We survived eight months in lockdown, in impending poverty, together. And we became stronger for it. And just as the borders reopened, a landslide hit a neighbourhood.
It felt so personal, so raw. We had circumnavigated so much together. The hit hurt us all. But you cannot fail to notice the grace of the grieving, the passion of the supporters.
Hardships breed a certain kind of solidarity. The differences of culture and religion become surface level. When people practice respect and empathy, and take the time to understand another’s position, these differences become surmountable.
My alarm is set for the AM to volunteer at a kitchen, to prepare food for the recently homeless. And the kitchen is well staffed with volunteers and well stocked with donations.
It will take a community effort to rebuild what was lost, but my faith in our community is strong.
I wrote this piece with a heavy heart. But it’s a proud heart, and a hope filled one.

We are still fundraising for the local people affected by the landslide.

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