Watsi fellow Elizabeth Sherwin chronicles a day in her first week at Wuqu' Kawoq, Watsi's medical partner in Guatemala.
“Doña Emiliana!” Estelita’s voice sings through the trees, the echo lingering in the breeze. “I can feel my adrenaline!” Dámaris shouts in Spanish, the three of us having just navigated down the muddy hill without falling. I follow Estelita and Dáramis, two community health workers on the Salud Móvil program with Wuqu’ Kawoq.
“Doña Emiliana!” Estelita chimes again, raising her voice over the sound of the corrugated tin roof rustling in the wind. A woman in her forties steps out to greet us, wiping her hands on her colorful apron. Emiliana is a comadrona, midwife, in the community of Zaculeu, not far from the WK office in Tecpán. She ushers us into a windowless building with straw flooring. A table along one wall boasts Christian images surrounded by several lit candles, offering warm light to the dim room.
Our first visit of the day, and my very first time out in the field since arriving in Tecpán just a few days before, I struggle to follow the conversation in Kaqchikel. But through hand gestures, the few Spanish words I pick up here and there, and lots of help from Dámaris, I learn that we are visiting Emiliana because her daughter-in-law is pregnant. Emiliana is mother to eleven children, but this will be her very first grandchild.
Emiliana’s daughter-in-law sits with Estelita as she explains the Salud Móvil program. Estelita consents the young woman into the program so that if anything goes wrong with her pregnancy, Emiliana can contact WK to help. I think of the slippery road we traversed to arrive at their home and imagine trying to cross it during labor. Hopefully this woman can give birth at home like most women in the community. But if she experiences hemorrhaging or other complications, it is important for the comadrona to call the WK team so they can get an ambulance there as quickly as possible.
As Estelita finishes up the enrollment process, family members continue to pile into the room. They serve us Pepsi in metallic coffee mugs along with the most delicious sweetbread. Several women sit on the floor, their young children nibbling on rolls and hiding behind their moms. I look around at these women, their faces weathered by hard work, yet soft with compassion toward us visitors and their children. I turn toward Emiliana, a mother figure not only to her own eleven children, but also to all the women she helps give birth. On our way out I ask Dámaris how a woman like Emiliana decides to become a comadrona. “It’s a talent, a calling,” she explains.
As we continue the visits for the rest of the day, I am struck by the beauty of the women we meet. While their physical beauty is remarkable—the way they walk with such grace in their colorful trajes—it is their strength I find most beautiful. They tie their babies onto their backs and carry them around all day while cooking, cleaning, and chasing after other children. Most of the women we meet run their own business, typically making tortillas or weaving tejidos, intricate fabrics that make up the gorgeous trajes they wear. The patience they have to work on one piece of fabric for months at a time, weaving in complex patterns and nature scenes, astounds me.
As a young woman raised in the United States, I was taught that to be strong meant to be independent, get an education and have a career, and maybe raise a family someday. But these women are helping me see that as just one of many paths to strength. I am convinced that these women do more in one day than I do in a week. They are resilient, brave, hardworking, and continually make sacrifices for the betterment of their families. In the coming months I hope to learn more from them and hear more of their stories.
Author: Elizabeth Sherwin