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A Mountain of Corn

June 18, 2019 (429 words)

The phrase “true grit” has iconic overtones.

To movie audiences of a certain age, the term may conjure images of an older John Wayne, circa 1969, in the role of Rooster Cogburn, a crusty, broken-down old lawman who still has what it takes.

Younger film buffs may think of Jeff Bridges, who played the same role in a well-done remake a few years back.

But after spending a day in the Guatemalan countryside recently, only one image can possibly spring to mind when I think of true grit.

a new definition from an unlikely source…

I learned the indigenous women in the grindingly poor rural areas of this country are responsible for growing their family’s food supply on rented plots of land, located in some of the unlikeliest corners you can imagine. They produce the corn that will feed their families, while the husbands try to find work wherever they can to cover daily living expenses.

The group of Americans I was traveling with visited a multi-family plot of over six acres that had rows upon rows of small corn plants just starting to sprout, as far as the eye could see.

But this was not your typical expanse of flat farm land, a gently rolling pasture you might pass on a leisurely Sunday drive in the country.

No, this cornfield starts on the very edge of a busy roadway and gradually makes its way up the steep slope of a small mountain.

with all the work being done by hand…

Under the sparse shade of a scrawny tree at the bottom of this incline, we met with the half dozen or so woman responsible for clearing this acreage by hand with machetes. They also do all the planting, fertilizing, and weeding by hand.

Then come November they will harvest the crop by hand, and carry it in heavy sacks to their homes, which resemble what we would consider little more than makeshift campsites, located on the far side of this same mountain.

This is a daily ritual, an annual ritual that defines their existence.

One-by-one they stepped forward to speak to us (through an interpreter) of their labors. Each woman slight as the hoe she was leaning on. The tallest of them may have topped out at about 5’-4”.

Altogether they formed a rag-tag assembly, with a combined physical presence easy to dismiss as inconsequential. But we gringos learned this fragile exterior conceals the most formidable will and level of endurance imaginable.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
June 18, 2019

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