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JENNIFER HARBURY: BACK IN GUATEMALA Pg. 3 A JOURNAL OF FREE VOICES JUNE 30, 19 95 $175 Keys to the Kingdom BY MICHAEL DAECHER j UST OUTSIDE of Jutiapa, Guatemala, Ernesto Ramirez’s home sits on the edge of arid maize and bean fields. It is the dry season and the brush fires send massive clouds of white smoke into the distance, “el tiempo de la quemadura”the time of the burn, says his father. Ernesto’s mother and sisters throw water on the dirt floors to temporarily escape the flying dust, whipped through the house in great gusts. The Ramirez home is a one-story concrete box with a corrugated zinc and clay tile roof. Inside, a chest-of-drawers, dinner cabinet, and other large furniture divide the space into four rooms. A 1993 Chinese restaurant calendar and handknitted “Dios Bendiga Esta CasaGod Bless this House” are the sole wall decorations. The older children sleep in one room and the others sleep with their parents in a wide bed behind a solid oak chest. For my stay I have been given the older kids’ room. Every so often Ernesto’s mother takes the broom and sweeps the floors. The red dust covers everything again within minutes. In front of the family’s home, flanked by dust-covered palms is the family pulperia. From this makeshift store, carbonated water, laundry soap, eggs, bananas and other items are sold to help make ends meet. For a family of 10 there is very little, if any, private space. Ernesto is an athletic young man of medium height, with curly black hair, usually concealed by his Chicago Bulls cap pulled low over his brow. He rarely shares his thoughts, choosing instead to observe and listen. The neighbors are extended family, grandmother to the right, aunt to the left. The smell of wood smoke wafting through the house as his mother prepares meals is a constant companion to the salsa music at full volume, the hip-hop of Cypress Hill that Ernesto brought back with him, and the glow of the Continued on p. 6 Ernesto Ramirez left his impoverished family in Guatemala, seeking work and ” a better li he had to go through Mexico.