Alberto Arce and Rodrigo Abd present a moving piece of photoreportage on AP, telling of the ongoing struggles of the population of Quejá, in Alto Verapaz, after hurricane Eta struck in November last year.
The day before he left for the United States was a busy one for Victor Cal. He went from relative to relative, collecting money to buy food during the journey north.
His mother was disconsolate. “I begged him not to go, that we could live here,” she said, again and again, “but the decision had already been made”.
He and his parents shared a small lunch — a couple of chiles with sesame seeds — in silence. His mother’s gloom weighed upon him; he announced he had to find somewhere to charge his phone. “to receive calls so the coyote can tell me where and when we will finally meet.”
He set off on a bumpy, dirt road, looking to hitch a ride to any place with electricity. A motorbike pulled over and drove him to the nearest outlet, miles away.
At age 26, Cal felt he had no choice but to leave. The makeshift town where he lived, born of disaster, offered only hunger and death. It seemed the U.S. was the only way out.
Eleven men from his town have gone north in 2021. American authorities say they have stopped more than 150,000 Guatemalans at the border this year, four times the number in 2020.
Many were like Victor Cal, famished and impoverished. He had served in the army, mustering out as a corporal. An indigenous Mayan who speaks Pocomchí, he failed to find work in Guatemala City. When the pandemic hit, he joined thousands who fled the capital to return to their agricultural hometowns in the mountains.
His father’s land in Quejá, with its coffee, cardamon, corn and beans, sounded like a safe place. At least there will be food, he thought.
He was wrong.
In his worst nightmare, he could not imagine that a hurricane’s rains could bring a mountain down and destroy it all — house, land, town. He and his parents were left destitute by a fierce hurricane Eta, displaced and dependent on relief from international organizations in a desperately shabby settlement called Nuevo Quejá.
Among many sad stories, the story of Flor Maribel Cal is particularly sad.
You can read the full piece and view the stunning photos here, Survivors of Guatemalan mudslide face death or emigration
Some of the photos were also featured in The Guardian here, Guatemala mudslide survivors – in pictures.