I wake up early to capture a family preparing the first meal of the day. The family shares one room and one kitchen among nine members. My presence is unavoidable but remains new and exciting as the kids gather around and pose between the lens and the reality of their morning routine. I don’t speak the languages, neither Katchiquel nor Spanish, but I am able to interact through smiling in my presence without the need for words. Before the meal is finished, the two oldest boys, Julio and Carlos, ten and thirteen, are sent to weed the families plot of onions on empty stomachs.
I follow them down the road and past the community. Everyone is going about their morning routine, making their way to the fields with tools in hand. I pass women washing their onions in the stream that runs alongside the road, trash and debris all around. Those who are fortunate enough, to have the time and the money for books, walk to school to receive an education as Julio, Carlos, and I veer off and begin descending down the dirt path. We exchange lessons through the little we each know – English and Spanish, sometimes Katchiquel.
We make our way past a pool of water where the stream collects; we take a moment to wash our faces and cool-off. We continue on, passing through an open field and then again down another steep-dirt-path. The view is by far a spectacle I am grateful for not having gone without; hillside upon hillside of onions, corn, and other crops cover the land that looks out to the lake, the volcanoes, and the clear blue sky hanging overhead.
We arrive at two small plots marked-off by blue flags; this is all the land that belongs to the family. Beyond these two plots, the two boys and their father work in the fields tending to another man’s crop. The only land they can afford is a couple miles from their house. The trek took more than thirty minutes to reach and is considered worth-while with less than an hour of time spent weeding the family crop, and then it’s back to the house for a late breakfast – five little tortillas and half a handful of beans and lightly salted broth – a meal they occasionally go without.
How do those behind ever catch up? This family is unable to receive a microloan because they lack reliability and trust to pay it back. They need money to earn money, to prevent watching their house fall into the stream, to feed the family, to educate their children, and to go on living. What one bank offers might be their only opportunity but the decision is made outside their grasp and there is nothing to be done without the consent and support of the community.
Later that day I followed the two boys through the rain down another valley to cut wood and carry it back. After their daily task they stopped by to receive more lessons in English. Their desire to move up is not what holds them back.