Sunday, November 21, 2010

Personal Space

“I guess I am most surprised by the lack of respect for personal space.”

This was Julia’s response to my question, “What about Guatemala is different than you expected?”

It’s true that the buses are so crowded that passengers are expected to sit three to a two-person bench seat. Every time the bus pauses, at a corner, at a stop, at a road block or in traffic, vendors and preachers climb aboard pushing and squeezing their way through the already crowded aisle. Plump women carry dehydrated plantains, fruit or fried chicken on their heads while conducting a sing-song sales pitch in a tight nasal voice, “plataninas, jovenes, plataninas.” Boys hop on carrying nuts, candy and beverages and clean shaven men tote bibles and preach the good word, instantly converting the bus into a mobile house of worship. Julia got a taste of all of this while visiting me and quickly realized after being smacked by a basket carrying chili rellenos and a life size piñata why the window seat is the most coveted spot on the bus. Luckily, she kindly considered our bus rides cultural experiences.

Julia also got the full exposure of boom box and loud speaker presence in my town. There is not a moment of silence here. Beginning at 6:30 am
the guy across the street gets on his loud speaker and preaches to the town while sitting on his front porch with a microphone in hand. At about 8:00 my neighbors to both sides alternate playing their radios at maximum decibel levels. Lastly, the day is topped off by the broadcast of the evangelical sermon and accompanying congregational clapping and singing down the dirt path. I guess the constant blaring noise isn’t what you’d typically consider a physical encroachment on one’s personal space but it is still behavior that effects one’s ability to live without outside influences. In order to better block out the noise, Julia requested that we leave my fan on at night so the humming noise would drain out the early morning gospel and allow us to sleep at least until 7:30.

She got one more dose of lack of privacy while in my town. One day Julia and I were in my backyard eating lunch and she asked me where my neighbor’s bathroom and shower was. She was peering through the chain link fence that separates my yard from my neighbors and I turned to see what she was looking at. One of my neighbors was showering in her pila- fully clothed in a tanktop and shorts. “They have a shower and toilet under the steps but I think they just prefer to shower in the pila,” was my response. It makes perfect sense really. After washing all the clothes Saydee, my neighbor, is hot and sweaty and ready for a wash herself, so she just starts dumping water over her head, scrubs and showers right then and there in the middle of the backyard.

Thanks for visiting me Jules and letting me rediscover Guatemala through fresh eyes.

1 comment:

  1. We have only ourselves to blame for the pervasive sermonizing in Latin America. North Americans going around the world proselytizing. Disappointing and embarrassing.