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Translated by Marvin Najarro
I grew up among the mud, dusty places and rusty sheets. My childhood was a broken and incredibly beautiful poem. I grew up in the heart of a marginalized neighborhood which had a love affair with the village and the grassland. I roamed ravines and climbed fruit trees, ran between rows of cornfields and vegetables and also walked in the long boulevard of my great love, so many dawns.
My evenings were populated by flame flower colored sunsets and ashen skies sleeping in the arms of the bottle green mountains of San Lucas Sacatepéquez. I grew up herding goats and pigs. I was accompanied in the fragile age of innocence by crickets, scarab beetles, fireflies and cicadas. Jabado chickens, ducks and the flock of green parrots cheering up the mornings when flying through the skies. It was poetry the white moss hanging from cypresses and pines in the village of El Calvario, during the cold season.
I grew up with time running out against me in the urgencies and difficulties of work, home, and the upbringing of the young children. I matured suddenly on various aspects of my life, I became an adult while carrying my ice bucket on my shoulders, long hours under the sun and pouring rain; in others as an act of rebellion and survival I remained a child, to protect the magic of innocence at the age of reverie.
My children’s games had nothing to do with dolls, cars and electronic games; mine was the countryside and muddy places. Playing pick-up football soccer, for which I had to pay in flesh and blood when my mom whipped me for my act of daring, every day. And it became the passion of my life, for the intimacy and complicity.
Endless binge drinking at the age of adolescence, and a bar that was the shantytown’s kids refuge. Open streets that embraced our frustration as outcasts, escape from social cleansing and defense of joy. When there was food it was a pleasure to dip tortillas in beans broth, if not, you fold them with salt. Making an act of juggling so the 24 hours a day were enough for us to cope with all the chores in the house.
I don’t remember a single minute sitting down doing my homework; I used to take care of it while walking and milking the goats, cleaning the pigsty, the hen house or sweeping the patio. On a piece of paper I wrote down what I thought was an important summary of the unit and took it with me to read it on the way while carrying on my shoulder the ice bucket toward the Fresera, the market or the village. Or when we went to the Military Detachment of El Calvario, crossing the village between rows of vegetables and fruit trees, to go to sell ice cream, chocobananos, pupusas of chicharron and atole.
The deprivation and the ravages of poverty sparked my imagination, and for the Christmas season I used to ask for a double liter of soda on credit at the grocery store on the corner of the block, and made raffles in the market among the vendors, I sold the numbers to 25 cents apiece, with that I could pay the double liter and saved the extra money to buy school supplies in January.
For the Christmas season I used to make decorations with paper the market miscellany would sell me on credit, and I sold them along with the ice creams. There was hunger, lack of shoes, clothes and school supplies. Two toddlers beginning to walk and the anguish so they will have anything they needed and not have to live the severity their older sisters went through. We were mothers without giving birth, unwittingly, it fell suddenly upon our childhood and that responsibility stole our childhood.
When the street vending wasn’t good, I offered ice creams to vendors in the market, most of them had migrated from Sololá, Toconicapán, San Marcos and Huehuetenango, all indigenous who lived in the Settlement, had invaded plots of land. When buying something from me and staring into my eyes they would say: you have to leave this place, you have to go to school and to college, you have to do it for you and for us. I never forgot that, and in the long mornings when the routine was hiding from the collector because he would throw away my ice creams for not having a fixed place and standing in the corridor, I traveled in time to remote locations and the clouds were my carriage, I was going far, far away.
The newspaper seller was the one who allowed me to read, every Sunday he would leave me the Prensa Libre on credit because of my fascination for the Revista Domingo, I devoured the pages and dreamed with the stories I red there. Sometimes I paid him back and on others gave him ice creams in return, and faithful, timely, dour and pariah as he was he left me the newspaper and his eyes lit up when he saw my joy upon getting it.
No learned person ever put a book in my hands, instead was a newspaper seller, father of five children that also worked as a buss assistant, garbage collector, selling fruit smoothies, sometimes a as blacksmith’s helper and as a newspaper seller every morning.
I grew up with the deprivations of poverty and social exclusion. I come from one of Guatemala’s deepest slums, where forced migration, police abuse and social cleansing are breathed. Where hunger and the smell of death lurk in the night and early morning. Where drinking water is a yearning. Where drugs are a way out. Where children addicted to glue abound, abandoned, beaten and wounded more in the heart than in the flesh.
I come from the crude reality of social exclusion, I have drank the bile of misery and on my skin live in rotting, countless mournings that I never fulfilled, because there was no time to mourn the dead when fighting for life in the marginalization of the periphery. For a classist, racist and inhuman society that sees the slums children and adolescents as criminal cliques, I’ve always been intrusive, smelly and HIV infected whore.
In the years of misery and endless economic needs, when I was a weak and frightened girl and in my difficult adolescence, all that I received from the well educated were abuse, insults and accusations by my lower class origin, by my skin color and my job selling ice cream.
Instead those who knew my name were the sniffing glue children, the gang members, the HIV prostitutes, the bus drivers, the children who collected garbage and the market vendors. The girls and women coming down from the village to sell their vegetables. The María del Tomatal. The newspaper seller and the drunks from the Galaxies bar, shelter of the deranged.
For the well educated from the capital I was always the ice cream girl, who was a nuisance when she stood at the exit of the University of San Carlos, when she was 12 years old, to sell her ice creams. With the illusion and promise that one day she would graduate from the same university. That same ice cream girl that stood at the exit of the Municipality and got in the workers way when she offered eagerly, tired and with a forced smile, her ice creams.
The same girl who stood at the entrance of Irtra on Petapa Avenue, offering her ice creams as she watched how other children had fun inside. Who had to run behind the busses to be allowed to climb on Bolivar Avenue and offer her ice creams. The innocent girl who walked with a hunched back by the weight of the ice bucket, which stood at the exit of the drivers office and was knocked out of the way because she was in their way.
I come from there, from the hunger, poverty, deprivation and exclusion. Form the deep depression that call to suicide, to immigrate and drug addiction.
I had no opportunity to read books, much less make it a habit, reading is a waste of time in a slum where children work to try to survive. Already a grown up I became familiar with books while studying teaching in physical education. I have the habit of reading but I read very little, because in spite of the years it is still hard for me to stay focused on one thing for a long time. The only thing that keeps my attention is writing, and my writing is absolutely cathartic. It is a journey to myself and to the anxiety of my emotions.
By chance of life and destiny, perhaps, I want to believe, ended up writing. And I write poetry which is my most transparent expression. And I write stories and opinion pieces. But I’m not a journalist, much less an international analyst, as many times they try to portray me, I just write. But I do write because if I don’t, I get drown in my own emotional labyrinths, because deep inside I’m a hurricane.
I don’t belong to any club of poets, journalists or writers. I don’t rub shoulders with such personalities. I don’t like it, I shy away that world where I feel awkward and out of place. I don’t attend recitals or exhibitions of any kind. I don’t commit to lectures or anything like that. I just write and let my writings go into the wind, from the window of my blog so that free they break away from me and find their own destiny.
I don’t like to write with big words, I don’t want to pretend what I am not, and I’m not interested in big applause, congratulations and much less flattering. I’m not interested in important contacts. The important thing for me resides elsewhere far from the academy and its ills.
My expression is natural from the slum, the town and the village, it belongs to the market and in this way I will keep it until the day I die. It is my thing, it is what protected me in my childhood, it was the shelter in my teens and it is my identity. I don’t have to hide who I am. I have no reason to write to please anyone. Much less with the academy.
When I write, it comes to mind La María del Tomatal, the market vendors talking to me and buying the ice creams, and their words ringing with nostalgic echo. My friends the scavengers, the sweatshop girls, the sniffing glue children. It comes to my mind the particular smell of my slum, the longing for the cropland and the deep green mountains that captivated my childhood. And it is the only thing I need to know about what my place in life is and what my political position is when I write, and for whom I will step up and risk my skin until the day I die.
And I write in this way, natural, transparent so that if one day my writtings reach their hands they know that I did not betray them, that their words stayed in my heart, and understand in their own language what the educated write with class getup. So that they know that one of them exist and exist for them. So that the newspaper seller knows that his seed blossomed. And that I just write with the dignity of being a market vendor.
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To my alma mater, the market of Peronia City, and my great love.
Ilka Oliva Corado. @ilkaolivacorado firstname.lastname@example.org