I am constantly meeting people who quietly inspire me. The most recent example is Miriam, my Spanish teacher at APPE (my new school – they had a good deal for Transitions’ volunteers). She is my age, has been married since she was 20, has two kids, aged 10 and 4 years old…she works as a Spanish teacher, she is studying pedagogy, English and the Mayan language spoken mainly around Antigua (understanding a Mayan language is very useful for teachers). Her husband works as a waiter. She is currently deciding whether to terminate her studies after this semester to spend more time with her children, or study for two more years so that she can qualify as a director for a school. We were discussing the pros and cons of her choices (my strategy in Spanish classes has been to stimulate as much conversation as possible to avoid doing boring exercises), and it was clear that she would probably regret not pursuing her studies, whether it be in the university or through a private course. People like Miriam amaze me and put me to shame – she must be exhausted juggling family, work, school; yet she is determined to progress in her profession for personal satisfaction and so that she can eventually buy a home for her family (Miriam and her family currently live with Miriam’s mother).
Went with Fredy to the bank so that I could deposit a check on his behalf (he needed someone with a passport to cash the check) – who would have thought that walking to the bank and waiting in line forever could be so fun! Fredy is great to talk to…he is patient with my Spanish, corrects me, speaks clearly and not too fast…it was also interesting hanging out with a 17 yr old boy. I haven’t had to interact with teenagers for a long time, and would normally silently shudder at the thought, but hanging out with Fredy has been super cool. He’s a good kid.
My relationship with my landlady continues to be strained. She continues to do things that demonstrate that she is just not a nice person. It struck me today that I don’t know many Guatemaltecas, really only Maria and my Spanish teachers. Most of the folk at Transiciones are male. And I don’t know any indigenas. Nosario is the only Mayan I know, but he is male. It makes me wonder whether my perception of women in Guatemalan society is skewed or not. My impression is that, at least amongst Mestizos and Ladinos, women are regarded roughly equal to men – I see lots of women doing traditionally male jobs, like traffic wardens, drivers. And, the indigena women are BURLY. They carry these heavy loads on top of their heads (tortillas, blankets, handicrafts, food etc) and a lot of them look like they can do a lot more with their hands than shape tortillas. However, like a lot of Latin-American countries, there is a strong machisimo culture here and it seems especially pronounced amongst the indigenous people. A lot of men have never set foot in the kitchen let alone wash plates or launder clothes. And most of them would never even entertain the thought. Maybe because I see women vending their wares all day, or working in the shops, I think that it is the women that do all the work. But perhaps I am being unfair. Maybe most of the men are working in agriculture and I don’t see that. But still, I lean towards thinking that the women are the true pillars. There is something about the bond between Guatemaltecas/Latinas and their children that I envy; not sure what it is…the closeness, the dependency, even? While I would never want to date/marry a “mummy’s boy”, I find the notion just a tad endearing.
Women are relatively conservative in their dress. I’ve been wearing solely long skirts and tops to avoid drawing attention to myself (and my mosquito bite ridden, pudgy legs really don’t need to be seen). Very few women have short hair. Almost all seem to make the effort to look tidy and nice. I think that Guatemalan women are beautiful naturally. I don’t wear sunglasses here, again because I want to blend in, and I do things like wear earrings and tie my hair, again so that I can pass off as being from Guatemala. A lot of people ask me for directions so maybe I am fooling them. I’ve also found that being pudgier has made me more attractive to some of the men here. I hate how I look at the moment and how much I weigh, but I guess in a society where you can be stricken with dysentery at any moment, having some meat on your bones is regarded as a good thing.