No puedes amar una vagina si no amas los pelos
You can’t love a vagina unless you love hair
The last couple of months have been filled with working on The Vagina Monologues. Ever since I came to Guatemala, I knew that I was going to put on a production of The Vagina Monologues. I participated in Vagina Monologues when I was in college, and it was truly a transformative experience. I went from a relatively meek girl who kept her thoughts to herself to an empowered woman who was not afraid to voice her opinions. I was surrounded by amazing women who carried their nuanced experiences with them. Women who weren’t afraid to be outside of the box, women who felt free to color outside the lines and be unapologetic about it.The Vagina Monologues taught me how to speak my truth and not be ashamed about it.
And so I carried all of those women in my heart and in my mind when I set about trying to do this show. I won’t lie, amidst all of my excitement for the show, I never knew it had the potential to be powerful or extremely well-received out of a Peace Corps audience. Given the context that Guatemala is the country with the highest rate of femicide in Central America, a country that is still dealing with the trauma from the civil war 20 years ago, a country where 98% of cases involving the murder of women remain in a state of impunity, you would think this show would be well received. However, Guatemalans are also very reserved and internalize their feelings. So, if you imagine a show such as The Vagina Monologues where women are freely talking about their vaginas, using colloquial words for vaginas, and openly talking about sex, that’s a big deal.
However, my doubts were assuaged by seeing the passion and drive from the cast. Our cast was made up of 24 women: 15 Guatemalans and 9 Peace Corps volunteers. We rehearsed every Monday and Wednesday for about 6 weeks, which is considerably less time than 5-6 months prep that we had in the States. I remember our first meeting one of our cast members, Yuly, shouted , “coño! coño! coño!” (translation: CUNT! CUNT! CUNT!) with so much enthusiasm, I blushed because I was embarrassed she said cunt out loud. Who would have ever thought a Guatemalan woman would be enthusiastic to say such a word with a smile on her face? I certainly didn’t.
That moment is what characterizes why The Vagina Monologues are so important in a place such as Guatemala. I remember when we would do the play in the States, and it would have an “Other” factor. There are some monologues written about and for women in other parts of the world, and when reading them, its easy to say, “Wow! How hard it must be to be a woman in X country,” which make your struggle seem comparatively less harder than someone else’s. Doing the show in a X country, so to speak, showed me while yes, it is hard to be a woman in Guatemala, it also showed me the power of resistance. Resistance doesn’t necessarily mean how well you can quote Third Wave feminist authors. Resistance doesn’t mean protesting (even though that is important to do!). I’d say, resistance is living out loud when society tells you to be small. Laugh and say CUNT because its changing the dialogue that women can love and be proud of their bodies. Cry for the women that we have lost to gender-based violence. Stand with your back straight, your red lipstick on, your sexy black dress on and your heels on for surviving another day in la cultura machista. Because yes, you DID wake up like dis!
From the beginning, I let the cast choose their own monologues, choose the rehearsal time, and I emphasized that the show is not my show, its our show. I wanted The Vagina Monologues to be a space where Guatemalan women could speak their truth in a loud and clear voice. That’s what I believe, this show accomplished. Many of the cast had never been on stage before, none the less, speaking about their vaginas. It’s been amazing watching the show grow organically, from our first meeting where one cast member did not want to be in the show if men were involved or present, to the final product. I couldn’t be more proud. I also grew a lot too. I had to learn to break away from my Type A tendencies to plan everything. I had to stop comparing what the show looked like in the States to what it is was here. I had to be flexible and patient, especially when the week of the show, I was admitted to the hospital for two days (I had a severe allergic reaction to pork and was almost sent back to the US!!). I had to trust and love all the parts of this process, just like you have to learn to love your vagina and all her hairs.
It was so different being the director of the show versus being a participant. So much work goes into the show, from re-working the script, securing the venue, planning rehearsals, publicity. I have so much more respect for Rachel, Mei, Jordie, Jess, and Maggie for all their work because it was NOT easy. I definitely would not have been able to do this without Farah and Angela. They were my left and right hands and were really invaluable in this process. Also, we had so much support from Guatemalans in getting this production off the ground. Luis helped us with the planning process and recruited Guatemalan women to participate from his organization, Xela AID. The Mayor of the municipality of Quetzaltenango even offered to do internal publicity for the event on top of donating the National Theater (the largest venue in Quetzaltenango) for free for the use of the show. The Municipal Office of the Woman Quetzaltenango were our official collaborators for the event, and the play was performed on Saturday, March 7th 2015 to commemorate International Women’s Day. I also helped them promote their walk and town hall about violence against women.
The show was more successful than I imagined, and trust me, I was praying about the show every day. We made changes to the show to make it less Western and more Guatemalan by incorporating sensitive topics such as domestic violence in indigenous communities, acts of violence committed against women migrating to the United States, and positive masculinity. The positive masculinity monologue was performed by 5 males: 2 Guatemalans and 3 PCVs. Two of the monologues were performed in Mayan languages (K’iche’ and Mam). Of course, we had to end the show with Beyonce! My friend Cole created a video where he dubbed Chimamanda Ngozi Achebe’s speech in Flawless in Spanish with the voices from the cast and the video we opened up with, The UN Girl Declaration. The video is attached below:
In total, there were 300 attendees, the majority being Guatemalan and/or women between the ages of 18-25 old. The audience was very diverse, including people from Peace Corps, Uruguay, France, and Australia were even present. 100% of the proceeds (total of Q 2,149.85, about $275) were raised for the beneficiary of the event, Pies de Occidente. Pies de Occidente is a non-profit in Quetzaltenango that promotes health education with Mayan women about reproductive health and domestic violence prevention in rural indigenous communities in the Western highlands of Guatemala.
Without a doubt, this show was the most important event of my service. Even though I have a year left to go, I would still argue that nothing will ever cap this level of significance. This show exceeded my vision and my expectations. I am honored and proud to have been able to share a part of my life with other people and that people were able to interpret it and make it their own unique experience.