Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 6 - quite/rest day

Market colors

We were supposed to climb Vulcan Pacaya today, but we decided for a quiet day at home instead. It is an hour away + a 2 hours climb and we thought it would be too hard and strenuous for the children. I think it was the right decision. It gave everybody an opportunity to rest and to reflect on our first week in Guatemala.

We went to the local market in San Lucas and bought vegetable and fruits. Then we stopped at the more contemporary, local grocery store. Going to a store and even a market here makes us realize how fortunate and spoiled we are as Americans. Both Norine and I feel guilty that we can fill our cart with food and products we need, practically without having to worry about it. It is not our fault, of course, that we are so well off, but the difference between how well we live vs. everybody around us is painful... Maria, who cooks and cleans for Gregory and Anita, instead pauses and thinks everytime she needs to buy something for the house, even when spending 50 cents for a couple of apples.

So, my realization for today is that being on a mission trip is not just handing out green bananas to the poor or building a woodenbed frame, but also observing the differences in all the small daily things we do and how dramatically differently people function here. We had a choice of two grocery stores in town, and Maria adviced us to go to "La Torre", because you don't have to pay for plastic bags there. Back from the store, we started unpacking. A plastic bag had a knot tight and I could not open it easily, so I ripped it. Maria was quick to repremand me. "Why did you do that? We reuse everything here!" We ate tostadas with guacamole for lunch. We paid 70 cents for 3 avocados. Maria told us that most Guatemalans only eat guacamole on special occasions, because it is expensive. She also told us she has to bring some food to a family with 6 children. The wife is blind. The husband and 2 boys (16 and 14) have no education and work at a bus stop helping to unload the freight packed on top of the roofs. A whole day's labor is worth about 30 Q or about $5 per day IF they are lucky enough to even find work on a given day. One sad story follows another here. Suffering is woven into everyday of their lives.

Also,being here exposes us to how different we are from most people in the world. Here, if the children are naughty, their mother whaps them over the head with a plate. This is pretty much the only way they can keep 7+ children in line in the midst of their poverty, but even seeing this does not make me disrespect the people. Rather, I have great respect for how they survive the brutal conditions.

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" for the rest of the trip. And here, everything is a LOT cheaper. 1 Quetzal is about $0.13 in America. I am glad about this because it means I can buy more, but at the same time it is also part of the reason for all this poverty. It think it would be a good experience for any 1st world person to do a trip like this. No words or National Geographic article, or documentary, for that matter can really reveal how priveledged we are, or, ironically, how dignified the poor are.

Another thing that amazes us is the juxtaposition of the poor and the rich in Guatemala. Today, for example, we went to the large shopping center in town, definitely directed toward the wealthy, and standing right there, was a ragged little boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, asking to shine shine people's shoes.

These are all such sad, but meaningful messages. Isabella Contolini

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