In Jalapa, women’s work can be crippling
e is hard in Jalapa. That fact is as inescapable as gravity.
For most people living in these Guatemalan mountains, every day means straining their bodies just to meet the necessities of life.
Drive along the winding mountain highways on any given day, and you’ll see people walking slowly along the side of the roads carrying something — bundles of sticks for fuel, food that is going to or from a market. And of course, water.
The women in the mountain communities are the water bearers.
They learn from as early as age five how to balance 18-kilogram water jugs on their heads. They will walk for kilometres up and down the steep roadways, often under a blazing sun, to fetch water and return home.
How difficult is it to haul water this way? As it turns out, extremely.
The Wells of Hope volunteers I have been working alongside were taken by team leader Norm Hauer to meet his friend Suzanne, a local woman, to get a taste of what it is like to be a human pack mule.
Suzanne walks down and up a steep highway that runs past her home, then down a craggy dirty path to reach the nearest watering hole. Like most of these basins, the water is unfiltered and untreated mountain runoff.
We joined Suzanne at her watering hole, about two kilometres from her house. After she filled a water jug for each of us, we lifted it up and balanced it on a rolled-up cloth resting on the top of our heads.
Then we walked up the uneven path back to the highway to her home.
I had assumed that while the task would be tedious, it surely could not be physically demanding. For days, I have watched old Guatemalan women and young children carry water up and down the mountains, and I am bigger and stronger than they are.
How hard can it be?
Oh, how wrong I was.
The moment the jug is placed on your head, you feel the pressure on your neck and upper spine. As you climb, the pressure increases until it starts to feel like your spinal column is being crushed.
You can press upward on the jug’s handles to provide some relief, but eventually your shoulders will get sore and you’ll let the jug rest fully on your head again.
Many Guatemalan women have deformed spines because they start this work as young girls. Years of this sort of activity can permanently warp a woman’s spine.
When we were finished, I was able to manage a short conversation with Suzanne using the little Spanish I know, telling her how sore my neck and back were after the two-kilometre hike from the water hole to her home.
I asked if her neck and back hurt as well.
She told me her neck and back always hurt. She lives in constant pain, yet makes this trek three to four times daily.
They may be small, but the women of the Jalapa mountains are some of the toughest, strongest and most durable people on the planet.
By Grant LaFleche Published on St. Catharines Standard on Tuesday, April 21,2015 http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/04/21/in-jalapa-womens-work-can-be-crippling
Photo source and credits: http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca Grant LaFleche/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network