Wednesday, August 19, 2009
A Few Minor Adjustments
I arrived in Guatemala about four days ago and let me tell you, every day is its very own special learning experience. The Peace Corps training staff does their best to prepare us during training sessions. Fresh off the plane they even gave us a cheat sheet (not condoms- sorry dad I was mistaken) for our first night with our Santa Lucia host family (we stayed there for three nights before moving to our three month host family): Do not walk around after sunset unless accompanied by a family member, women are not allowed outside the house alone, never drink the tap water or use it to brush your teeth- instead use “agua pura” (purified water), use Don and Dona when addressing the heads of the households, etc. That first night I arrived armed with these cultural notes and called my host mother “Dona Brenda” and she replied, “Don’t call me Dona”. So I quickly learned that although the Peace Corps may have its rules to live by, I’m gonna have to get comfortable with learning through first hand experiences. And since the past few days has been chalk full of these fun learnings I thought I’d share a few with you guys.
Almost everything in Guatemala is done differently. There are three types of handshakes- depending on whether you’re a male or female and if the person receiving the shake is a male or female (males shake, males and females tap each others shoulders and females shake upper wrists and sometimes kiss cheeks) and after a meal you say “muchas gracias” and everyone at the table says “buen provecho”. Some of my favorite learnings have had to deal with bathroom etiquette. Starting with not being able to flush toilet paper- it goes in the waste bin next to the toilet.
I have come to really fear and appreciate bathrooms and all the utilities one may or may not find inside of them. When my roommate Kiera and I got the tour of Dona-Brenda-that-goes-by-Brenda’s home I was delightfully surprised to see they had a bathroom equipped as you’d find one in the states with a sink (even though I’d still have to bring my Nalgene in with its “agua pura” to brush my teeth with), a toilet and a shower. After the tour we met the rest of the family- Violeta Flor del Cielo (Floricita) the most infectiously happy 6 year old I’ve ever met, 12 year old Alejandro or Pablo who turned out to be one hell of a Bankopoly (Guatemalan Monopoly) Banker, the oldest Ceasar (junior) also goes by Paco (If you haven’t noticed, Guatemalans have lots of names), Christian the token German volunteer also staying at the house, and their father Ceasar (senior) who this week had the night shift at the Nestle plant in Guatemala City. Getting back to the bathroom... it wasn’t until we were getting ready for bed that we got the full bathroom download. So yes, there was a sink and toilet and shower but Brenda told us the water wasn’t running that night but no fear, we could use the facilities in the morning. However, if we needed to flush there was a bucket full of water next to the shower for gravity flushing (fill the toilet bowl with water and it automatically flushes). And another plus, the shower was heated. It had an electric shower-head heater. This sounded dangerous: electric + water can’t be good right? Despite the frightening look of electric wires sprouting from the shower head and connecting to the wall electric outlet, it was actually safe and worked quite well. Brenda also taught us how to shower. Since water is scarce follow these easy steps: rinse, turn water off, lather with shampoo and soap, rinse, turn water off, apply conditioner, rinse, turn water off, dry.
Some other things have become quite obvious, like the fact that Guatemalans are kind, hospitable and warm. At night everyone goes to bed to a chorus of roosters crowing, dogs barking and churchgoers singing. Soccer can be played anywhere, for example on a field with cows or on a basketball court with two games going at the same time (which can be a little confusing when there are two balls on the court and two goalies guarding each goal). I learned that you can keep flies out of the kitchen with candles, 15 year old boys put bandaids on their zits, services in the evangelical church is called “culto” (strange but kind funny no?) and the bigger car always has the right of way... but more on all this later. I’m enclosing a few photos so you can begin to get a feel for what it is like down here.