There are some moments in life that come like dreams. Sometimes I find myself in a place I never thought I'd be, with people I never imagined I'd know, experiencing something so pure and fleeting it makes me wonder if it's real. Every now and then we are gifted moments of peace which transcend all worries or fears we've been holding onto; and it is the small moments such as these that fuel my belief in the simple goodness of life.
Recently, I was sitting on a stool in a small house in San Martín, Guatemala, watching three generations of Mayan women prepare their noon meal. My crew and I had been invited to the home of Luciana - the leader of the women weavers' group at Xela Aid, as well as the main subject of our documentary. On this rainy afternoon in Luci's small, warm kitchen, I felt the kind of peace that comes only as a gift you can't deserve.
Luci lives in a three-room house with her mother-in-law and her seven children, four of whom she adopted when they were abandoned by their parents. She works at Xela Aid cooking for the staff as well as running the weaving shop where she and other women sell their products. This strong, hard-working, beautiful woman was the product of her mother being raped. She grew up in the knowledge that she was born despite many attempts at abortion, and as a child, Luci was forced to work instead of attending school in order to help support her family. At nineteen, she married a man in hopes of finding the love that she never received from a father, but her husband became abusive. After seven years of marriage, she made the decision to leave her husband for her children's sake - a difficult decision for a woman in Guatemala, where it is often hard for women to find jobs outside of the home. Luci, of all people, knows the concept of machismo well.
My crew and I heard Luci's story and felt that this woman's strength and fortitude was something that should be shared with others. Becoming involved in programs at Xela Aid provided the financial and emotional support she needed so that today it was possible for four gringos to crowd into her kitchen and see how her family thrives. We sat inside and watched Luci pat corn tortillas into shape and lay them flat on the surface of the hot stove to cook. When they were done, she handed us each one and wrapped the rest in a colorful woven towel to keep them hot. Her children sat down around the table and said their prayers before they began to eat, and Luci joined her family in thanking the Lord for their meal.
In the wake of her own abuse and abandonment, Luci has made a home for her children that is marked by unconditional love. We sat with Luci and her family through the afternoon, observing this quiet, private moment as they ate their meal together and the rain poured down outside the doorway of the small kitchen. This moment was peace in its purest form. There were no stainless steel appliances, no gourmet kitchen, no silver flatware - just a mother and her children gathered around the simple table, finding happiness from a warm bowl of soup and the knowledge of each other's presence.
I don't think I've ever met another woman who has been through as much as Luci has, and yet still holds so strongly to a sure faith in God and a readiness to see the good in all things. She is a woman of grace, a mother of selflessness, and a leader of humility. This woman who has been dealt such difficult cards has taken those circumstances and used them as a mold to shape herself into someone her childhood self would have admired. Out of violence and shame, she has made her story one of healing and change. Luci's life reminds me that happiness is often a decision we must choose for our lives rather than an emotion we feel when things are going well.
The time I got to spend with Luci and the people at Xela Aid has been a great blessing in my life. Truly, having the opportunity to get to know others on a deep, personal level is one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever known. It seems to me that the subject of a documentary film often has more to give to the filmmaker than the filmmaker could ever leave with their subject. Yet, perhaps sharing a story like Luci's can, in some small way, deepen the ties of empathy between us as humans. Perhaps when people across the globe hear Luci's voice, and see her simple, full life played out before them, a seed of hope can be planted in the heart of someone she has never met. Perhaps, through film, a strong Mayan woman leading her small community in Guatemala can teach, inspire, and lead us all to positive change.
Luci's story is told in the short documentary, "Rompiendo El Ciclo," filmed on location in San Martín, Guatemala this June by a crew made up of myself and three other students. The film is available online for free on the Actuality Media Vimeo Page.
For more information on the Xela Aid organization and how they are working in San Martín, please visit www.xelaaid.org.