At her 17th birthday party at her house in a remote small village outside of Panajachel, Guatemala in June 2012, Cristobalina wished to learn more of painting and English this new year, as well as to have another birthday party for her next birthday. However, she recalls, that she wished to die when she woke up with her both hands and a part of right foot amputated after an electrocution accident in November 2010. The accident happened when she touched a high-voltage wire that was not properly covered in the house where she was working as live-in housekeeper.
I believe that Cristobalina’s case contains many aspects of issues of Guatemala such as poverty, early childhood labor, unequal social status and discrimination against women and indigenous, as well as the high number of electrocution accident cases that are too often described as not uncommon in Guatemala, which makes Cristobalina only one of many other victims. Documenting Cristobalina is also personal to myself as I am interested in an aspect of human lives which somewhat are defined by its birth of country and culture, races and other conditions, and other aspect of which can be changed in very one moment, such as accidents.
Since an accident, with a support from local non-profit called Mayan Families, Cristobalina underwent several surgeries to release scar tissues that cause her legs contracted. In the course of adjusting to new life without her hands, she taught herself to write and paint with her mouth.
Like many others in indigenous community in Guatemala, Cristobalina’s family is a large one with 10 children and is on a very low income. As the family struggle to secure daily necessities, Cristobalina started to work at age of 11. Worked and lived away from her village, she had not lived with her family since then until she returned home after the accident. Though non-profit have been able to support the family for cost and necessities for Cristobalina’s recovery, however her parents still struggle between keeping enough income and taking care of their daughter.
As high-voltage wire burns rank the third cause of admitted patients in the burn unit at Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City, electrocution accident is not uncommon in Guatemala. However placing responsibilities has not been simple. Though many claims that electronic companies are to be blamed, the report shows more ample scope as many accident sites and constructions were built without permissions. There are some cases that accident victims were succeed in taking legal action, but most victims are left with severe lifelong scars both physically and emotionally, yet with no one to blame.
In Cristobaina’s case, an owner of the house disappeared after the accident and Cristobalina and her family were never be able to locate him.
“Im bored. “ says Cristobalina. “I don't know and I don't think much about what I want to do for the future, but now, I want to go back to school and study.” In a small remote village where she lives, her normal day consists of playing with her small nephews and nieces, taking a walk in the mountains in her backyard, listening to music on the radio, painting and drawing. Except for a weekly physical therapy appointment in Panajahel, the town of one and a half hour away from her village, Cristobalina almost never leaves the land of her house.
Cristobalina, who has 10 siblings and 22 nephew and nieces, likes children. However she does not think about having her own children, a boyfriend or getting married anymore. “I had a boyfriend at the time of an accident. But he left while I was staying in the hospital for four months. We don't talk anymore.” She adds that she saw him on the bus while ago, but he did not notice her.
Cristobalina had learned to do most daily tasks by herself. Though she still needs a help to bathe, comb her hair, and to change clothes with buttons and zippers, she is able to feed herself, go to a bathroom, brushes her teeth alone. Every night her mother needs to put humectant cream on her legs, and one of the biggest nieces sleeps with Cristobalina to help her change in the morning.
Cristobalina’s mother states that Critobalina gets rebelled at home once a while and her primary doctor believes that Cristobalina still needs counseling. However, placing Cristobalina in the session has been difficult due to an isolated location of where she lives.
In April 2015, Cristobalina again returned to Roosvelt Hospital in Guatemala City for 3 months stay to have operation for her scars on legs and physical therapy.