An Assault of the Senses

February 23, 2014 – Stove Day & Church

One thing I’m learning is that time is not the same here in Guatemala as in the States. As Anna explained to me when I first got here, people are pretty much late to everything. But it’s not that people disrespect your time, but instead, it’s because something came up that was very worth causing a delay, and there are lots of things worth causing a delay. For example, if you are on your way to a meeting, and you run into a friend, it is normal to stop to take time and chat with them. It is considered very rude to say “I’m on my way to something else, let’s talk later,” like we would in the States. Because of that, no one is ever offended by someone being late, because they must have a good reason, or even if they don’t, it’s not necessary to be bothered by lateness. Things also run at whatever pace they need to here, often much slower. People take their time to eat a meal, because food is precious. If someone is late for work or to meet someone, they will still eat slowly and not rush. We obviously have very different cultures, but I do kind of like this lifestyle (maybe because I’m just late to everything and usually, in my mind, I have a good reason for it). This also means that if Feliciana tells me that we will eat dinner at 6pm, this usually means preparations may start at 6, but we will probably eat at least an hour after that. But who am I to complain? Dinner is always delicious!

Breakfast however is usually on time according to when I let them know I’ll be eating. I think the family is still sort of unsure as to what I’m doing here, because they keep asking me what I’m doing tomorrow, and the fact that I had to go to the office on a Sunday might have confused them. But if I tell them I want to eat at about 8:30 or 9 am, it’s probably gonna be ready at 8:30, usually earlier, since their days obviously start much earlier than mine have been starting.

After breakfast, I got ready and headed to El Centro Parque, in the center of town (duh), which is about a 10/15 min. walk from my house. Sunday was “Stove Day” for the office, or Dí de los estufas. This even is basically just a big event to explain, and hopefully sell, the products that Soluciones Comunitarios sells. These products are: Well-designed stoves (Guatemalan style), Solar Lamps, Glasses and sunglasses and protective lenses, and Water filters, as well as a few other small items. So we spent several hours in the park, chatting with locals, inviting them for a free eye exam (which I got to help with), and passing out Agua Pura (Water from our water filters), and popcorn and hot chocolate. It was a hectic day, full of energy, very loud music, a few of the guys yelling out the promotional features of our products through the loud microphone and standing out in the sun. The post is called an assault on the senses because that’s exactly what a day in Guatemala is: loud music, dogs barking, cars and chicken buses, motorcycles (being driven by 13 year olds) and tuk-tuks (3-wheeled taxis, which are all over the world. I rode them in India too!) flying by at high speeds and leaving a cloud of smoke in your face. There are street vendors trying to sell you things, though not nearly as aggressive as most vendors I’ve experienced in other countries. There are the smells of fresh pan (bread), fruits, dirty water, dogs, dust, car exhaust and more. And often you can taste the stench, or dust gets swept into your eyes. So yes, a daily assault on the senses.  I finally ducked out of the event a little early since I still hadn’t quite gained back all my strength and wanted to rest a bit before lunch.

When I got back to the house though, the band was playing. Now I’m not exactly sure the background of this band, or where exactly they play. Often it sounds like this band is right outside my bedroom window, but I think they play a few houses, or maybe even blocks away. However, this was probably at least the 3rd day of non-stop music. And in Guatemala, it’s apparently common to stick to VERY few chords, and play them for a VERY long time. The piano guy likes about 2 or 3 chords, and every so often will throw in a surprise, but often I think it’s only a mistake, but I really can’t tell. Then there’s the singer, who is painfully off-key, but sings with such volume and passion, it’s actually pretty impressive. There’s also the drums, which sounds like the roughly put together and not real children’s’ drum sets we have in the states – the ones you want to throw across the room anytime they’re played for more than a few hits of the cymbals. And finally comes the car engine noise making thing. That’s all I can call it because for the first day or so I kept hearing it, I legitimately thought I was hearing a car engine. I think the best way to describe it is if you have a manual car, pretending to go up a very steep hill and continually revving its engine, then letting the engine sort of muffle as it glides backyard down the hill for just a second, and then back up again, and it’s doing all this to a sort of musical beat. But not really. So as you can imagine nap time was not possible. Although by now, I honestly have almost found a way to turn it into a normal noise that I can easily ignore, but not quite yet.

After lunch was a quick stop at the internet cafe and then back to the house to get ready for church. They had asked the day before if I wanted to wear the trajé de Nebaj, and I did, so they dressed me in the intricately sewn outfit, with a pullover top, wrap around skirt, and thick wraparound belt (Don’t worry mom, I have photos coming soon!). Then we headed to afternoon church. Wow was it an experience, and again, assault of the senses, but a fun one! The service started with extremely loud music, and everyone singing along. A few songs in and about 2/3rds of the congregation was bawling their eyes out (in a good and thankful way – I think). Then there were announcements and then the pastor. And wow, did he like that microphone. I honestly didn’t catch a lot of what he said, except that he read from Mark 9… I think. And I obliged with lots of clapping and hand raising. And overall awesome experience. Oh and there was no way to fall asleep in this church. There was too much energy, too much noise, lots of standing and sitting back down, and if that weren’t enough, the ushers came around poking anyone who fell asleep. Kind of a really good idea! Although I heard a pastor once say, “hey, you know what, if you fall asleep praying or in church, what better place than as close to the father as you can be!” Definitely a fun experience, and after the service we headed to Feliciana’s sister’s home for dinner. She has a daughter, Paulina – who is 9 years old, little Pablo – who is 5 and very shy but goofy around me, and twin 6-month old boys. Adorable!

By the way, I’m officially convinced that my host family thinks I’m a legitimate porcelain china doll. After the first few “cuidados” and “calientes” I was totally accepting of their slightly overly cautious behavior. But now I’ve even got the younger ones telling me to wait to drink the coffee they poured straight from a boiling hot kettle on the stove, and asking if I’m too cold when I’m not wearing a jacket even though I’m not shivering. I’m actually pretty humoured by it all. Like today I leaned over to grab the coffee pot and accidentally touched the oven vent and I quickly realized what I had done and let go, no harm done, I barely felt it. But the entire kitchen almost erupted in agony over what I’d just done. I had to show them that my fingers had not in fact melted off the bone, or even turned the slightest bit pink. Seriously humourus. I mean I’ll give it to them that I may look like a deer caught in the headlights half the time they’re talking to me because I only catch about 75% and there’s always those couple words that just totally throw me off. I mean, I guess I’m glad they just treat me little a delicate little thing instead of just thinking I’m slow in the head. I mean I’m really trying guys! I’d like to see little Claudia (15) thrown into my home for a week and see how her reactions turn out, because I say I’m doing pretty well. And I’m certainly learning quickly; that’s definitely the benefit of living with a family! 🙂

Hasta Luego!


One thought on “An Assault of the Senses

  1. It’s definitely an interesting and delightful change from how things are in the United States. No one is ever rushed and things are more relaxed. People love to tell you a story while having a conversation and are always willing to help. I can’t say how many times we have stopped to ask something from a random person on the street, and if they don’t know, they direct us towards someone who can help us out.

    I enjoy reading other people’s perspective of Guatemala and hope to read more in the future! Que tenga un buen día!


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