By Azfar Hossain '17
It’s a lazy afternoon in the Mayan pueblo of Santa Cruz la Laguna, Guatemala. The sloped dirt roads are mostly empty, and the only audible sound is the soft sizzling of tortillas on skillets. After a long morning of providing tooth brushing lessons to fifty rowdy first graders, I finally sit down to enjoy some peace and qu—
“¡SOMOS MÁS! ¡SOMOS MÁS! ¡SOMOS MÁS Y MÁS Y MÁS Y MÁS!” I nearly fall out of my chair as the noise erupts from nearby loudspeakers, ending my five minute nap before it even started.
To be honest, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Amplified chants of “somos más,” a political slogan meaning “we are more,” are a daily ritual in Guatemala as the nation prepares for upcoming national elections. The song follows us everywhere—in schools, in homes, and even as we hike back down the mountainside after long days at work. While spontaneity and the unexpected have shaped much of our fieldwork experience, cheers of “we are more” have been a constant presence since we arrived in Santa Cruz three weeks ago.
As I’ve heard the cheer again and again, however, I’ve begun to realize how relevant its words are to our SRT team. We, too, are more—we are more than a summer program that ends when we get on our flight back to Durham, North Carolina. In this isolated region with few other foreigners, we essentially become the face of public health workers in the eyes of the Mayan community. If we accidentally lose or abuse the trust of locals, we could hinder intervention efforts in the area for years to come. (It sounds dramatic, but we’ve already had to deal with the consequences of previous unethical studies in the Mayan highlands—check out Jaclyn’s blog on that topic here.) On the flip side, our research on sources of E. coli contamination, childhood cognitive development, and dental hygiene practices will hopefully contribute to improved health outcomes in several impoverished villages. We’re working closely with Maya Medical Aid and other organizations to ensure that these findings translate into real changes for families as soon as possible.
We’ve inherited the responsibility of maintaining this community’s trust, but that task also comes with an opportunity to leave a long-lasting impact. With this in mind, I can’t wait to see how the rest of our project unfolds. Although I’m not sure what challenges and successes await us in the coming months, I know there’s at least one thing that we’ll be able to say with confidence: “Somos más.”
Azfar Hossain is a Trinity junior majoring in Global Health and Evolutionary Anthropology