Yesterday I traveled to the finca, soon to be named PAXIL (Parque Agroecológico educativo iXIL). Guatemalans like their acronyms, and they like them to sound good. This one actually has another meaning – Paxil, pronounced pa-sheel, is the name of the place in the Popul Vuh, the ancient text of the Mayans, where corn came from. This is a very sacred place and therefore the word is of great importance to the Mayans. I went with my new counterpart José Castro who is about 40 something years old, has 5 daughters and 5 sons aged 5ish to 25ish, and who is also the pastor of one of the four local Evangelical churches. We left at about 7 in the morning not to return again until 2 or 3, so that’s at least 7 hours spent together. And we’re going to be doing this once to three times per week. I’ll write more about my work at Paxil later, but today I’m going to write about an interesting conversation that we had during one of our breaks.
We had just walked non-stop about 2 ½ hours down steep hills to visit a river and climbed back up for about ½ an hour. We decided to rest, drink our water, and eat our bananas. The week before when we made a different but equally long journey I explained to him that I had brought so many bananas on our trip because they’re good for the muscles when they tire and also for cramps when we climb and descend such steep hills. This time he brought two bananas also. He started asking me about my house in the US, if it was very big, if we had cows and chickens, if we farmed our own maíz, etc… I responded that my house was not very big, that my mom’s house had two bedrooms and a small kitchen/living room, and that my dad’s house had three bedrooms and also a small living room and kitchen. What astounded him the most was that my mom and dad did not live together. I had already told him on multiple occasions that my parents were not together, that they had gotten a divorce when I was young, but maybe in the typical Guatemalan way he needs to hear things a bazillion times before it sticks. I spent at least 10 minutes explaining the various reasons why people might get a divorce, what happens with the children, no I do not know how much it costs to get married as I have actually never been married myself, yes they were actually married legally by the government, no they were not just boyfriend/girlfriend, no I don’t know if they had a religious ceremony as I had not been born yet, no they did not tell me the story later in life because by the time I had grown up they had already separated, no neither of them have remarried…questions of that sort.
He then asked me, also not for the first time, if it was true that the US permits men to marry men and women to marry women. I told him that some states permit it but most do not. We have a set of national laws but states are also allowed to form their own laws too. He, being an Evangelical pastor thinks of homosexuality as a sin because that’s what it says in the Bible. I debated in my head for quite some time whether or not to point out some of the many instances of homosexuality in the Bible, and then decided not to. Surely this conversation will come up again and I’d like to have my evidence a little more clear and eloquent before I start bringing in biblical references. He asked me what I think about homosexuality; if I think it’s a sin like it says in the Bible. I said that I don’t think it’s a sin. I called on the power of God to back me up here; I said to him, “if God makes us, if God makes us all different, if God gives us different preferences, how can what God gave us be bad?” He really didn’t know how to respond to that. He asked me again, as if my response wasn’t clear enough, what I thought about homosexuality. I told him that I had plenty of friends that are gay and they are still nice people, hard workers, they love their family and their friends, so I didn’t see a reason why they should be treated any differently than anyone else.
I asked him if he though gay and lesbian people could be hard workers, could love their family, and live good lives. He agreed very heartily, but still wasn’t sure about the whole marriage thing. He asked me if I believed they should be allowed to be married. I said I didn’t see why not if they were willing to love each other for their whole lives. He didn’t argue, but still wasn’t convinced. He continued to question me so I thought of the simplest albeit a little cheesy analogy I could think of. I have certain foods that I like a lot. My friend has certain foods that she likes a lot. Sometimes I don’t like the same foods that my friend does, but that doesn’t mean they are not tasty, just that they are not tasty for me. We may not understand why other men prefer men or other women prefer women, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong for everybody, just not for us. With a pondering look on his face that felt like it should have been accompanied by a rub of the chin and a glance into the far off distance, he thought about what I said and nodded his head in a very sincere way.
But here’s where I started to get a little more uncomfortable. He asked me how I thought a man and a man or a woman and a woman would have relations. He said very simply that their “apparatus” just doesn’t work. He asked me if I knew how it would work, and started making gestures with both his hands as if trying to figure it out. I simply said I did not know. He then asked me why I had never asked any of my gay or lesbian friends how it worked. I just said that was a very personal question that I did not feel comfortable bringing up, even with close friends. If this moment was a cartoon movie, that would be the moment that milk would come spewing out of my nose. Or rather water, because I don’t drink milk here.
We chatted a little bit more about how homosexuality is, overall, more accepted in the US although there are still many areas not as open. In the end it turned out to be a very interesting discussion and I was quite pleased that he actually seemed to listen to my answers and think about them rather than trying to fight with me with vague or unfounded arguments. This is the type of conversation I have been wanting to have since I got to Guatemala. A discussion where one side actually learns from the other, a discussion about something meaningful that includes an exchange of ideas and beliefs rather than an exchange of comments about something obvious (the rain sure is heavy today, isn’t it? There’s quite a lot of mud in the road, isn’t there? The milpa sure is green on this plot of land, don’t you think?) And while sometimes it’s frustrating to be repeating the same things over and over, as if nobody can remember back 48 hours to the last conversation we had about the exact same thing, it’s worth it to hold my temper and frustration to see where the conversation leads.