Notes on 'With the Ants in Guatemala'
Diana Khoi Nguyen
I should have said that I am on the brink of emotional disaster, sitting alone at the
end of a rustic dock unsure if whitecaps from the lake sways us, or if it is turmoil
from within. There have been no ducks, perhaps never any at all. Every morning, a
hummingbird dipped in white and black before the garish flowers.
I should have said that ants are a way of looking down instead of looking up, that
leafcutters in particular, form the largest, most complex societies after humans. I do
not think there will be much left after us. On Earth — where traveling against the
flow of migration leads me to indigenous cultures, revealing one privilege of the
place where I was born.
And when a woman from Michigan on la lancha shared with me her amazement at
how the Mayans suffer poor vision but never go get glasses, that she sends money
each month to the family of her adopted child, that she hopes the local boys fishing
with spools can grow up to have “good lives,” it is because I am practicing restraint.
In watching the ants, my footsteps had razed part of their trail and they frantically
skittered around the intrusion. Guilt, I think, is dangerous to act upon without long
I don’t know how to tell you where I am, a place my mind grasps at. Volcán San
Pedro: where tourists hire armed guards to flank them on their trek to the top. Do it
for your safety, do it for peace of mind, the forums say. “Tourista Policia [sic] armed
with 9mm Beretta pistols,” and the beaming, damp-faced selfies, panoramas of Lake
Atitlán from up top — shared thousands of miles back home with captions like
“Living my best life.”
I should have said the staring from men in trucks as I walk the rocky path between
villages feels more menacing when we don’t share a language. What am I doing
I should have said that back home, I lived in a house with a man and his guns. That
a lawyer told his wife how cases of rape and domestic violence skyrocket after major
sporting events like the SuperBowl.
I’ve been avoiding you. Stray dogs cry into the tropical valley below. I should have
said: a woman travels to a lake with her lover, then alone and she wakes up from a
nap to the dark. The lake is unmoving, it doesn’t reflect anything. She leans out over
the dock — is she alive? Is she alive?