River of Mud

Living through the rainy season was difficult as it was, mud and more mud everyhwere. It must have been an incredible nightmarish roar that interrupted the gentle sound of rain falling upon the tin roof of his home, a roar that suddenly awoke him and his family from their sleep. It was a sound and a rumbling of the landscape greater than anything they had heard before. And it was coming closer.

They survived, unlike perhaps as many as 1,500-2,000 of their fellow villagers around Lake Attitlan. They must have sought higher ground. Did they climb a tree? There are few left. Most were ripped from decades old roots, fodder before the approaching mud tsunami. Did they climb onto the top of their house? Perhaps for a few minutes, though it couldn’t have been for long. The house was left buried, four feet of mud hardening upon it as if a coffin in a grave filled with dirt. How many must have been buried in such graves? They couldn’t have outrun the mudslide. It was far faster than their feet could carry them across fields already soaked with water beyond what they could hold. He must have rushed his family to the top of their animal’s shed, a newer, far sturdier structure than their home. The shed survived, only half buried. They survived, all their possessions buried beneath them.

Six months later this survivor, watched by his sullen wife, attempts to resurrect the belongings of their past. He digs with a small shovel and with his hands through the now hard-packed dirt atop what was once their home. It would mean so much to recover things, to give them back their past. Taking a break from his digging, his eyes penetrated the lens of my camera, zigzagged off its mirrors, and bore through the viewfinder and into the eyes of my mind. His look touched a nerve; it illicited a response. Empathy. For a few seconds before and after the camera’s 1/250th second, I understood his pain, shared his feelings. They were written upon his face. Pain. Anguish. Regret. Hopelessness. Fear for the future. His possessions, his land, anything of wealth, his home… gone.