Episode 2 – Not Our Day to Die: Testimony From the Guatemalan Jungle
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.
Some twenty years ago, my wife, Jennifer and I created a small non-profit charity called Great Commission Air. Our charter was to provide air transportation for humanitarian relief and to support Christian missions. We met Mike Sullivan through associations with Wings of Hope, who were putting together a Cessna U206 aircraft for us (from parts) that we would later use in the Ixcan region of Guatemala.
Mike spent a good deal of time with me, showing me the location of all the old airstrips and introducing me to the village leaders – generously helping us to get an aviation program restarted there – based it the village of Mayalan. Mike allowed us to live in the small house that he built there.
My family and I lived and worked there over the next 10 years. My son, Robert Jr (Beto), was born there and Ana Maria (whom Mike speaks of in your recording) was the mid-wife. We flew hundreds of emergency medical missions from many small village airstrips scattered throughout the region and neighboring regions. Many lives were saved as a result and it would not have been possible without the help from Mike Sullivan.
Thanks Mike! You’re a “good gringo”.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for listening to my interview with Mike and sharing your own experience establishing the Great Commission Air in the Ixcan region of Guatemala, Robert!
– Waise @ The Ask