It was a quiet stretch of river, a side channel shaded by overhanging trees, and our boat idled slowly along so we could appreciate the greenery on each side. Then, suddenly, there were children standing by the boat, seemingly on the water, until I looked over the side and saw that they were standing in tiny canoes. Their small craft were just big enough to hold one or two children and a small pile of items to sell.
The children eagerly accepted candy from the purses of the women on our boat, grandmothers all. These little boys and girls were selling small, carved dugout canoes, like the ones that carried them, along with shell necklaces and bracelets, turtle shells, and a few other wood carvings.
Everything started at 50 quetzales—a little over $6.00 U.S.—but the price quickly dropped to 35, then 25, then less as our boat began to move away down the river.
Looking to shore, I could see the wooden slab houses, on small stilts in the edge of the river, where these children lived, with small boats and dugout canoes tied to narrow docks. There are no roads to reach this place; all traffic is on the river.
Out in the main channel again, young boys and men fished from dugout canoes, finding food for an evening meal. And I thought about what I had just seen. The phrase “a world away from home” took on new meaning.
I have seen conditions just about as far removed from my comfortable home in Utah as one can get—desperate poverty in Egypt, stark aloneness on the steppes of Mongolia, crowded, wooden-shack slums in Africa and Latin America. The idea that I live a blessed and privileged life while many others struggle in far different conditions is not new to me.
But this time hit home because I saw my grandchildren. I have several the same age as those little boys and girls on the river—Jenson and Ean and Marcus and Alexa and Talmage and Ivan and Abby—living lives that those Guatemalan children may never see. My grandchildren struggle with fifth grade reports on other countries and the foundations of algebra, with U.S. history and writing assignments. Their parents carefully chauffeur them to school because it might not be safe for them to walk by themselves. Parents living beside the Motagua River send their sons out in dugout canoes to help bring in supper, or their younger children out in canoes shorter than I am to bring in a little cash by selling a few trinkets to passing tourists.
As parents and grandparents at home, we tell our children the world is open before them. Those children living along the Motagua might someday have the hope of working in a store along the river, or a business in Rio Dulce or the small port of Livingston.
They did not appear to be unhealthy or unhappy, and for all I know, they may have a happy, wholesome family life. But I hope many of them have the opportunity to go farther, if they want. I wish I could open for them the kind of future that is open to my grandchildren. I pray for them that someday they may find opportunity they cannot begin to see now. I hope they will somehow be able to see the larger horizon beyond the thick jungle foliage that lines the edges of the river.