In this episode of The Ask author Michael Sullivan discusses his work on Not Our Day to Die: Testimony From the Guatemalan Jungle
About the Book:
In the farming communities of the Guatemalan jungle, the simple life was a good one, sustained by family, faith, community, and the pilots—like Mike Sullivan—who linked their isolated villages.
Then the repression began, the random, violent government purges—aided by the U.S. military and CIA—that wiped out crops and villages and forced men, women, and children into desperate lives of hiding in the dense jungle—for sixteen long years.
When peace accords finally were signed, it was a story Sullivan knew had to be told. Returning once again, he talked with the people he’d known long before—giving us the fascinating, painful, but most of all, deeply human tales of strength and survival that fill this book.
Our Episode Guest:
Author Michael Sullivan
Born and raised in northwestern Illinois, Michael Sullivan studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Colorado following a tour of duty in Vietnam. In 1972, he got a pilot’s license and traveled south, meeting Father Bill Woods in Guatemala, flying for the land reform project that was reshaping the Ixcan region, and meeting the people he later interviewed for this book.
Sometimes it’s said in the foreign service that one’s first overseas posting is the one that stays in the heart. For Sullivan, that has been true of the Ixcan; he’s been back time and time again. Though he has been called a pilot-anthropologist, he says instead that, “I was simply a good listener, interacting with the people of Ixcan who had become trusted friends over a period of forty years.”
Early in his flying days, he sought to become an airline pilot, and asked a friend working in the industry for a reference. The friend refused, saying he saw someone who would be driven crazy by the monotony of flying the same route over and over. Instead, Sullivan embraced his love of adventure and began exploring the world. He drove a small Honda motorcycle down to Guatemala, where he first began work as a bush pilot.
He has since taken his love of flying around the world, working throughout Central America, Alaska, Indonesia, and Africa—including many years with Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the Cousteau Society.
He and his equally adventurous—and eternally patient—wife, Tina, have passed on their love of adventure and appreciation of different cultures to their five children. His work as a pilot, in addition to being something he loves, has also enabled him to bring positive change to the world as a humanitarian and environmentalist. He has quietly worked as a documentary photographer, videographer, and photojournalist throughout his life to protect and support the communities and environment of the places he’s come to love.
He is the author, with photojournalist Tony O’Brien, of Afghan Dreams, a book of haunting images and interviews with Afghan children talking about their lives, fears, and dreams.
Sullivan lives now in Santa Fe, New Mexico.