On my arrival, the first meeting was with Fredy Epiayu, project leader at Hilo Sagrado, and with whom previously I had telephone contact. I was anxious and at the same time concerned not to find all the right words, or not to be courteous enough to avoid colliding with the culture from which many myths exist. But my meeting was very pleasant, to find a young, attentive, simple and cheerful person, interested in knowing about the future of the foundation, but most willing to answer each of my questions about their culture.
The next day we began our trip to the hamlet taking the road to Maiapo, a road that lacks signalization and where you will only see desert, arid land, dry vegetation and many varieties of cactus. After about 20 minutes of our trip, Fredy points out to the driver an entry on the right that has a wooden sign, very small and handwritten. We continue on our journey, and while it was impossible to continue, we got off and walked a few minutes until finally, I managed to see the first house of the community.
The houses were made out of mud by the community, there is a brush shelter where several women are weaving and next to them, a man in a Chichorro (traditional hammock of the Wayuu culture); Fredy introduces me and says that first I must explain to Rafael, who is the delegated authority, what we will do and ask for permission to be there. They all look very serious but very attentive to my arrival. After obtaining permission I address to them all and start our presentation.
I began to identify the face and name of each of the women, of different ages but generally very thin, of dry and very burned skin due to the intense sun that shines in this area. The whole conversation is moderated by Fredy because most of them do not speak Spanish only Wayunaiki, the traditional language. Many children are leaving school, and seeing my presence there, they become interested and curious.
After a while they are not so sparing, I could hear laughs and people talking in the environment. A few women rise to prepare refreshments, and I see from a distance the children sucking on the pineapple shells. All of them are eating and there is lots of laughter, but only the next day I learned that the reason they could not stop laughing was that some had never eaten pineapple and the acid was biting their tongue.
Our first meeting with entrepreneur women starts to come to an end, and some women have to leave because they have to walk hours to get home under a blazing sun. I stayed chatting with the women living closer, and it was there that I began to know their personal stories, their age, number of children and the characteristics of the population.
I was surprised to find a very young population, contrary to what their faces appear, with many children although many others had unfortunately died.
Their main economic activity is livestock and crafts. However, currently they do not have much livestock since the land is very arid and access to water is limited. On the other hand, they have changed the ancient techniques of the crafts due to the need to sell at low prices and at least having a minimum income at home.
In each of the meetings and talks, I discovered their joy, the ability to overcome difficulties and sharing with other cultures. One of the tasks I had was to portray each of the women, families, and children, to share this beautiful experience. When it was Ligia’s turn, she tells me she is not sure how old she is and says: “around 28 years” -but unable to read or write- “I am very distressed by not even knowing how to sign.” We started looking at the photos but the constant cry of her youngest daughter Reneris worried me and asked the cause of her tears. She, in her little Spanish, replies that she has nothing to feed her children. When I come to see Reneris, she was biting her hand with the intention of eating it. At this point your soul collapses and from the most deep inside of me, I try to gather the strength to attempt not to cry in front of a mother who lives this every day. It is a truly heartbreaking situation, the hunger and the thirst of everyday living, especially the Wayuu children.
Doing a reading after my trip about malnutrition, I find pictures of malnutrition in children which is recognized by inflated bellies, glassy eyes and hair that looks like straw. A chill runs through my body because many of the children I had met match these pictures without mentioning the problems in their skin, their eyes squinting and pests. However, they are cheerful, loving children; they love coloring and are distracted by any tool, box or jar, and always attentive to new things.
After this experience with which I had dreamed as of beautiful landscapes and the natural paradise of La Guajira, I return with a life experience where the minimum to live with dignity does not exist, where the basic as access to water can take hours to reach, hunger, fatigue, and pain. However, their joy for living, happiness, their will for sharing and their artistic talent is the biggest memory I bring back home.
Therefore, working together every day and joining forces with the Fundación Hilo Sagrado (Sacred Thread Foundation) we can give hope to an ancient culture that struggles for existence.
Autor: Natalia Bertel. March 2015.
Translation: Andres Ochoa.