The advancement of women certainly follows a different path here in Guatemala than in Canada. A way here to increase a woman’s confidence and make her feel valuable is to encourage her to take part in a beauty pageant. Beauty pageants are very popular and I have already been to three of them. Pageant contestants perform in front of an audience, which most local women are terrified to do. They must dance to traditional music, give a speech in Spanish and in their indigenous language, Mam, and demonstrate a custom that is particularly important to them, such as weaving.
Although some would argue that a beauty pageant is not the best way to improve the status of women, I think the local people would disagree. When visiting literacy, leadership or business development classes I’ve heard participants say time and time again “no puedo” (I can’t) or “no sé nada” (I don’t know anything). In the past, girls were more likely to spend their days washing clothes, cooking food and working around the house rather than going to school. If they don’t know how to read and write they can feel they have nothing to offer. Women are often too shy to even introduce themselves in front of a group and never want to draw any attention to themselves.
These feelings are deeply ingrained from years of being told, directly or indirectly, that women are not as good as men. I’ve spoken with many men here about this who tell me they believe strongly in women’s rights and gender equity. So although the situation is far from perfect perhaps the situation is improving.
These past few weeks I’ve really noticed the close relationship that women have with their children. I find it amazing how women do anything and everything with a baby on their back. They wash clothes, cook meals, work in the garden and do whatever else needs to be done with children around them. Many of the women come to the literacy and business classes with 1, 2 or 3 children. During class babies cry, mothers breast feed, children play and the women still get their work done. This would definitely not fly in a Canadian classroom, but I think it’s really neat to see how easily children are included in these everyday activities and aren’t seen as ‘getting in the way’.
Perhaps eating street food immediately after arriving in Guatemala wasn’t the smartest thing to do because I’ve been sick off-and-on since I’ve been here. I first tried to cure it myself by taking antibiotics I had brought from home, but that didn’t work. The local doctor said it was a bacterial infection and put me on three different medications, but I still had zero energy and could hardly get out of bed. Finally I went to the hospital in Xela and was told I have a parasite (which I refer to as Bob). Good times. At least I’m (hopefully) on the mend!
Faith and I have been quite comfortable in our house and haven’t had any major issues – until last night. At 10:30 I was washing my hands in the bathroom when the tap broke off and water began shooting out with such force that it reached the ceiling. Faith ran to our landlord’s house yelling “¡Tenemos un GRAN problema!” (We have a BIG problem!). I just stood there in my pyjamas trying to prevent a full on flood. Our landlord and his entire family came to check it out and in the end had to cut the water supply off to everyone in the complex. The whole situation was ridiculous and I couldn’t stop laughing hysterically until long after it was over. Today we hear our landlord repeatedly talking to the neighbours about “the bathroom”, “water” and “the girls upstairs”. People around here already think of us as the crazy Canadians so this probably isn’t too out of character.
On being more patient
One thing I’ve learned since coming to Guatemala is the importance of patience. Most Guatemalans I meet have a smile on their face no matter what the situation. If something isn’t going as planned, they laugh about it instead of getting mad. It’s like they already know that things don’t always go smoothly and when there’s nothing you can do about it there’s no reason to get yourself all worked up.
In Canada, people seem to be constantly making plans and trying to achieve goals. When I ask program participants here to share their goals and dreams with me, they find it difficult to respond. Perhaps they feel like they have less control over their future because obstacles often get in their way.
These differences struck me the other day when we took an eight hour tourist shuttle to the Mexican border. Shuttle vans are fast and comfortable, but that day I would have preferred being on a chicken bus because the tourists complained about EVERYTHING. They thought the driver was reckless and said the speed bumps were disturbing their naps. They were angry when we actually had to get out of the van to get our passports stamped at the border. It was never-ending.
I just sat there thinking to myself: this is the safest driver I’ve had since being in Guatemala, and if they think speed bumps are bad wait until we drive onto unpaved roads. It made me embarrassed that foreigners were complaining this much. I think we could be a bit more like the Guatemalans and laugh at obstacles we have no control over – such as the bathroom tap breaking off or getting a flat tire when you’re already hours behind schedule, or standing for hours on the bus because every seat is overflowing with people.
© Jessica Sunter 2010