A Heart for Guatemala

A Heart for Guatemala

Lucy Cantrell, Features Writer

In 1976, my grandfather, David Long, was in Denver when he heard about an earthquake that had just happened in Guatemala. The earthquake devastated the area, killing an estimated 30,000 people. After he heard a first-person account from a Guatemalan man who recalled watching the ground open up between his feet before closing again, Long decided he wanted to do something to help. So, he flew to Guatemala to join in humanitarian aid efforts. He helped deliver blankets and medicine. Long was also tasked with driving a truck that could hold five tons, and he would drive to places and get materials to build things. 

On one trip, Long and his friend were driving to get materials when they had to go up a narrow steep road along the hillside. Long was getting tired so he pulled over and took a nap. His friend was about to get out of the car and noticed there was nothing on the side of the road, because of how small it was, and in some areas, only one car could get through at a time. While Long took a nap, a bus drove by. When he woke up and started driving again, he noticed the bus had fallen off the side of the hill and several were killed.

David Long (center) poses with a couple of workers helping the Guatemalan people in the aftermath of the 1976 earthquake.

Every morning at 5 a.m., Long heard a slapping noise outside his house. Upon investigating, he found women shaping and making tortillas. They were huge, thick, and round. He ate lots of rice and fruit, and a normal meal there would cost a quarter. He said his favorite foods were the mangos, bananas, and soup made from a Chopite, a bird-like turkey.

Women would wear shirts called Guepills which were made from big looms. Every village had its own beautiful headdress with different colors and designs. When women went to the market, they would have to walk 15 miles with a basket on their heads carrying produce. If they had a baby, they would hold them and her other children would follow. Most people walked for transportation in smaller towns but would ride the train in the more populated areas.

When my Grandma Long went to Guatemala after marrying my grandfather, she learned some Spanish but my grandfather usually translated for her. She would walk to the market, which was 15 miles away, and she would buy food and clothing. My grandparent’s house had mud-brick walls and floors. It was a one-story building but didn’t have a ceiling. My grandparents went to church, and Long said, “We had one of the nicest churches in the whole area.” They sang many songs, like Alabare, which translated into English as “I Will Praise Him”. The church had a Bible study and Sunday School.

Guatemalans owned pets like dogs, but the dogs were skinny because they weren’t fed very often, relying on leftovers from their owners. Most people had livestock for food such as chickens and cows.

My grandfather had a great time in Guatemala and has so many awesome stories to tell. I really hope that one day I will get to go to Guatemala and experience the culture.