Translated by Katrina Hassan
I have a clear memory of the instant when the words got stuck in my throat, whirling around inside. My heart beating a thousand per minute and the spell barely letting me walk. I left that place in a daze. I found myself in the pale dusk light, hugging the night. I looked around, took a breath of air and walked to the bus stop. I was in zone 1 of the Guatemalan capital and I was 17 years old.
The Physical Education Magistrate was studied all day everyday from Monday through Friday. The students are given one afternoon off so they can rest. That was when I would wander around zone 1. I loved to observe everything and stop everywhere. This is how I would end up in churches, just to take in the incense smell that I love. The candles, their colors, their light, burning slowly, taking with them whatever predicament the congregation members have left there. The silence in these places is peculiar. The cool air below the pews is like a current touching one’s heels.
I had never gone past the streets of my neighbourhood and the aisles of the The Terminal market. Walking through zone 1 was a monumental discovery, like when I discovered the arch of the entrance to the post office. I remember going in and observing everything slowly. I wont even mention the day I walked by the national theatre, that great big animal! I walked because I had no money, not even enough to buy chewing gum. I had always lived with this monetary limitation to buy everyday necessities, shoes, food, monthly tuition. In those walks I relived it again when I walked into bookshops and I couldn’t afford a book. I would fall in love with them, then I would put them back on the shelf, with a broken heart. Every two months I would get the exact amount of money to provide for 60 days of transport to and from town and I would spend it all on books. I went from the bank straight to the bookshops and spent it all on books, up to the last cent. I would later figure out on the fly how to get money for transport. Those books were my companions for those years. I would buy them in the student versions, pocket sized, the cheapest, all so that I could buy the most quantity of books possible.
One evening walking around near the Santo Domingo church, I saw a poster announcing a documentary projection. I didn’t even know what that word “documentary” meant. I didn’t know what it was, but I went in anyway because of the name of the title.
I was so lucky because they had free entry and two minutes later the viewing started. I marvelled at all of this. The enclosure had white walls, like in the villages, rustic, painted in white with lime. There was an enormous white blanket on to which the film was projected to. I couldn’t believe that these black and white images came out of that small apparatus. Such atrocities, so much beauty, such history coming out of it. I left with my heart in a million pieces and with a mix up of emotions that tingled on my lips. In that instance, I realised, for the first time, that I was incapable of expressing myself. The feelings I had when I watched the documentary about the life of Anne Frank, I could not tell anyone ever. What I felt that day was so deep that I cried in a way that the weeping did not come out of my eyes but got stuck inside my chest.
By that time, the poetry that I had started as a teen, was buried deep, about 6 feet under. I ditched it in one go. All that I had written at 14, buried deep. The same way I buried painting. After many years had passed, far from the times when I sat perched staring at the bottle green mountains far away, poetry came back to save my life one more time. I have published 15 books since then. Far from those buildings, from those streets, from adobe walls. Why have I written a blog and published books? My blog is my log, my diary, the only way I can express my deepest emotions. It is the only form of real communication, it is pure. I might be able to speak, make videos, do interviews (although I avoid them; I don’t like them) but the only form that I can deeply express myself from within is through writing.
I am stubborn. My books resemble my stubbornness, my insistence and my gratefulness. Self love, which I work on everyday, can be learned in the same way we learn to walk.
With that obstinacy, I gave shelter to that teenager that wandered aimlessly through the capital’s streets. I want to tell her that she can create her own books, express herself through poetry, stories, and paint whatever doodles she wishes. She shouldn’t worry if people criticise her emotional instability, or her ways. There is no precise way of expressing the deepness of the soul. With that instant, the one at the doorway of that building, I will accompany her home after discovering not only the monumental magic of that documentary and Anne Frank, but the deepness of her silences and her expressionlessness.
Through her I will show other adolescents that are afraid to dream because they were told that dreams aren’t for poor people. They are told that dreams aren’t for crazy girls, whores, glue sniffers, single mothers, or for those that are sold in the aisles in the markets. Not even for the ones that work from Monday through Saturday. Dreams are also for women that only come out for a spin on Sundays, wandering disoriented through dusty streets of the big cities. Their arms sore from so much mopping and waxing floors. Yes, my books are also for them. I know that one day we will meet, maybe even through daughter’s daughters. That day we will interlock arms and embrace in a great warm hug, finally. My words are for you and so are my paintings. My insistence is for all those alienated women. There are opportunities out there and dreams really do come true.
Note: On the 8th of September 2019 I published my 15th book Norte. This photograph wasn’t published but it’s my favourite from the series taken by the magnificent Moira Pujols. I celebrate it like I celebrate one of my paintings, each and every one of my babies.
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Ilka Oliva Corado @ilkaolivacorado