BootsnAll Travel Network

True Life Planet Interview No 1: Alfonso Perez

Alfonso Interviewed on January 12, 2008 with the help of Moira Murphy, at the Scientific Research Station in El Refugio de Vida Silvestre, Bocas del Polochic, Guatemala.

Background: El Refugio de Vida Silvestre, Bocas del Polochic, is a wildlife refuge in Central Guatemala, It is the home of many plants, trees, and animals, many of which are endangered. It is also the home to an isloated community of Qúiche´Indigenous people, who reside in the village of Selemphim.

The following interview is with Alfonso Perez, 51 years old. He Lives in Selemphim and runs the Station in Polochic.

Q. What is your job title?

A. ¨Guardia Recourso¨

Q. Describe a typical day in your job?

A. ¨I clean the station, I clean the forest. I maintain the science station, I take care of something when it breaks. When people visit, I take care of them and make sure they are content. I take them on walks thru the reserve, I tell them about the plants and the animals. I organize the people here to help the visitors when they come.¨

Q. How did you get your job?

A. I was offered my job by my friends who worked in the Defensora office in El Estor. Before I had this job I had only worked on my land, the the maiz, and at the coffee plantations(not my land).¨

Q.How was your new job different than your job working with the maiz?

A. ¨There were many new things to learn-the first year I wasn´t paid, I just got trained. I learned how to take care of the trails, how to make the trails; to respect the animals; and how to live organically.¨

Q. Who employs you?

A.I work for the government, for the Council of Natural Protected Areas (However, the frefuge is managed by the non profit, FDN; the Foundation of the Defense of Nature.)¨

Q. What does FDN do in the refuge and for your community?

A. ¨They train the men, who keep the trails good and who act as guides for the visitors. They have special police that come every month andf lok around the refuge. The police make sure the people are respecting the the laws(regarding the animals-in particular, poaching endangered animlas, such as manatees). If they didn´t come, the people would not follow the law, because not everyone respects the animals.
FDN also had a teacher come out here for a month, to teach us about where we live and how to care for this place.¨

Q. What animals live here?

A. ¨Snakes( including boa constictors, parrot snake, fer-de-lance,green headed tree snake, Guatemalan pit viper, and others…);¨
¨Lizards(including green iguanas, fence lizard, jesus christ lizard);¨
Caimans and Alligators¨;
¨Birds(including toucans, martin pescadores);¨
¨Tree frogs, frogs, and salamanders;¨
¨and mammals (including armadillos, raccoons, agouti, kinkajou, bats, otters, coati,oppossums,anteaters,tapir,manatees, and jaguars);¨

Q. Are there any animals that are endangered living here?

A. ¨Yes-many. Jaguars, alligators, and howler monkeys. And many many more..¨

Q. What about the plants here?

A. ¨There are many trees and orchids here.¨

Q. Tell us about the community o9f Selemphim.

A. AT first, there were only five Qúiche ¨families living here. Now we have twenty-eight families, including forty children. We have one teacher, one priest, and one minister. We have one school and two churches.¨

Q. How long have you lived here?

A. ¨Since 1970. Before coming here, we lived in Altaverapaz and it was very hard, much povertry. there was no land for our maiz, no land for our people.
¨We had to walk very far to farm our maiz, those of us that even had any. We had to buy it.
A couple of our people were looking for better land. they came and saw the land, and saw it was good for maiz and frijoles and other crops, so we asked the person…who owned the land if we could move here and they said yes.¨

Q. Your whole community moved?

A. No, a little at a time. a few families at a time.¨

Q. You manage the research station. But you have also figured out ways to help your community with the income you recieve from visitors. How does this work?

A. ¨Sometimes I pay a person a little when they have no money, and they pay me back whern the visitors come, with tortillas, cooking, or cleaning.

¨Visitors pay for their meals here. I ask different women to cook for the visitors, and I pay the women. Or. maybe, the visitor..wants their clothes washed, and I pay someone to do that. I try to spread out the work, and into different groups, so everyone gets a share-we are a community.¨

Q. Does your community practice any Mayan rituals or beliefs?

A. ¨We don´t practice any rituals, we have lost our way…we have lost our rituals. We do speak Qúiche¨. our language. Our children learn Qúiche¨first in school, and then, they learn only a little Spanish, in third grade thru sixth grade. They stop going to school after sixth grade.¨

Q. Women here do not wear traditional colors or patterned skirts of similiar design. Why?

A. ¨In other places, the women do that..when we used to wrap ourselves , we did that but now, we just buy our clothes, peopel wear the same style but different colors. We don´t have that tradition anymore, it is lost.¨

Q. Men wear traditional western style clothes, but the women don´t?

A. ¨Yes. Men wear jeans and shirts-we don´t wear traditional clothes, we haven´t worn that in a long time.¨

Q. The Qúiche´community here does not like any photos top be taken of them. Why is this?

A. We don´t like is not our custom. We think the gringoes are going back home and selling photos of us. It makes people angry when people try to photgraph them, they get angry and cover their faces. people get very upset, it is not our way here.¨

Q. Why do you want people to visit Polochic?

A. ¨because we like them, we like the visitors. We want people to come to see the animals, not to see us. It is very good, very beautiful here. ¨

Q. Finally, what is your favorite saying?

A. ¨No ay paina.< meaning: don´t worry!¨


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