We were sitting under the terracotta tiled roof of the Limitless Horizons Ixil office, anxiously eating black beans and rice with tortillas. It was 11th March 2020 and the Guatemalan Health Minister, Hugo Monroy, had just announced that entry into the country was banned for all Europeans. Quarantine and COVID-19 tests were a novelty then, in the first months of the pandemic, and we felt nervous about what this meant.
Filipa, LHI’s current Operations & Project Development Specialist, and I both feared international travel bans and were unsure when or if we’d be able to get back to our respective homes and families in Portugal and Scotland. Meanwhile, Jason, LHI’s Capacity Building & Evaluation Manager, had just arrived from New York, excited to reconnect with friends and travel around Guatemala… none of us could have predicted what the coming weeks would actually hold.
The first case of COVID-19 in Guatemala was announced on March 13th, when Italy already had 2,547 cases and the USA, 556. One week later, the USA had ten times that many cases, while Guatemala had contained the spread of the virus with a host of measures never before seen in the country. All events with any number of people were prohibited, public transport was entirely shut down and a nightly curfew was introduced.
During the following weeks, we watched as cases rose and hospitals became inundated in Europe and the USA. Meanwhile, in Guatemala, face masks quickly became compulsory both indoors and outdoors with fines issued if people didn’t comply. Armed police guarded the market entrances and patrols passed at night as people ran home before curfew.
We stayed indoors with our cat and played board games, conducting our Limitless Horizons Ixil work from Nebaj, no longer able to travel to the office in Chajul. Over the following months, Filipa made it home to Lisbon, and Jason to New York. I stayed on in Nebaj and my partner and I took advantage of enforced lockdown by creating a vegetable garden and greenhouse from scratch. We planted 25 different types of fruit and vegetables with Ixil youth, teaching and learning from them about seeds and agro-ecology. Witnessing the local impacts of the pandemic on food and education access, we became passionate about nature education and community growing strategies.