We are here in Guatemala – a little way outside a small village called San Marcos la laguna on beautiful Lake Atitlan which is a few hours west of Guatemala city. They call it the land of the eternal spring because the weather is mild all year round with not too much sweltering heat and lovely cool mornings and evenings.
I am sitting in a little palapa with a hammock hung in front of me, looking out at the surrounding volcanos – thankfully sleeping mostly, although one of them, Volcan Fuego smokes and throws off lava which you can see on a clear night I’ve been told though we haven’t seen it yet.
I love listening to the bird calls. One sounds like an owl and another like a clay flute. I will have to learn their names. And there are banana trees and orange trees and mango trees and all other sorts of edible wonders to marvel at.
And what are we doing here? Well – it is a vacation of sorts but also, a journey. A journey to show our children how most of the world lives – to jolt them out of their comfort zone and take time to reflect on those things and grow from them in a relaxed, nurturing environment.
And I would like to make time to do some reflective writing of my own after eight years of full-time parenting and home-schooling with only brief sojourns for deep thinking. Today is my first real day of this after a week spent travelling and getting settled into something of a routine.
San Marcos is an interesting kind of place. Travellers from North America in the 70’s “discovered” its beauty and tranquility and stayed to make their mark so that it is now a haven of alternative health and healing centres of ex-pats amid a predominantly Mayan community. The end of the Mayan calendar cycle on December 21st of last year brought a huge influx of northerners anxious to witness the end of the world or the turning of the new era and many of these mostly 20-somethings are still here – their base close to the dock from where the launcha (the boat that is like a bus between the different villages surrounding the lake) comes and goes.
Higher up and up into the mountainside live the Mayan people who you can see coming down in the morning carrying bananas, papayas, tortillas, weavings, chocolate – anything to sell, mostly to tourists. Others stop me on the street to ask me if I need someone to take care of my children, do my laundry, clean my house. They are anxious to get any kind of work they can from the gringos.
Because, yes, the distinction between affluence and poverty is glaringly apparent and can’t help but lead to growing restlessness and resentment. Shoeless boys as young as 6 hang around the docks waiting for the boats to arrive in hopes of getting a bit of work hauling suitcases and bundles of visiting travellers. Girls, slightly older, spend their days going from restaurant to restaurant selling chocolate or standing on corners selling bananas or weavings. They all look slightly gaunt and sad yet remain surprisingly friendly and gracious despite it all. I can’t help but wonder at how much of this grace has been lost from contact with more materially affluent northerners, even though they are, on many levels politically aware. We can’t help but be who our culture has shaped us to be despite our efforts to resist the aspects of our upbringing that we know are unfair.
We talk with our son about the children working and point out that this one or that one is his age encouraging hime to notice how they must spend their days. It is a delicate balance because we want him to think about the inequalities we see here, while at the same time acknowledging that he is of the northern world and has naturally assumed its attitude of privilege and entitlement despite our efforts not to pamper him.
Will we become hardened to the situation as we get drawn into the vortex of socializing that the ex-pat community presents us? As humans, we naturally yearn to connect with others whose ways are familiar, but we also want to reserve a part of our thoughts and actions to reflect and think of ways to make meaningful connections with the Guatemalan people and changes in ourselves.