This post is coming off of a really fun night I spent with the family last night. Whit and I introduced them to spoons and that was a great success. We even got a picture with them, so you can see what they look like finally!
Left to right: Daniela, Me, Kevin, Whit, Jackeline, and Christian.
I really like the family we have. I don’t usually like having kids around all the time, but I’ve discovered I like Guatemalan kids a lot more than American kids. Even at a young age they tend to be less spoiled and exponentially more mature than their counterparts in the States. I think it has a lot to do with the environment they’re raised in.
In Guatemala, a lot of kids are helping their parents out the second they can walk. There was a section in the book I had to read for GV called Children: The Challenge, parts of it are really outdated, but some of it holds true to today’s idea of family. One part in CTC was that everyone in the family should pull their own weight. For example, a child doesn’t want to help the family bring home the firewood, they just want to play. Well then a parent will have to pay attention to the child, which keeps them from helping with firewood, which means everyone else in the family has to pull their own weight as well as do the work of two other people. I can see said child a lot in American families. From a young age we are telling our children ‘they are too young to help with the firewood, they may hurt themselves’ when all they want to do is be part of the family and help. When in reality, if they are already up on their feet walking and want to help, we should encourage them to help and give them small manageable tasks. Unfortunately, by not doing that we are teaching them that they are helpless and that they shouldn’t have to help out because they couldn’t possibly be helpful.
The point being, that in Guatemala that situation rarely takes place. As soon as children can help, they are out there helping their family, and their desire to help is met. For example, today when I was walking home I saw two toddlers, maybe at most a year old, helping their father push logs into place on a path. The logs were about the size of the children, but they were managing just fine, and weren’t in any danger: their father was watching them closely as he also moved wood about.
And you can see the difference in their attitudes as they grow up. At our homestay, whenever someone rings the bell to indicate they want to get into the store, one of our kids will jump up immediately to take care of it, instead of ignoring it and having our mom get it. I rarely see something like this in the states. But, maybe I’m not looking hard enough.
I love the sense of community here, the word has a completely different meaning in Guatemala than it does in Seattle. My parents are very involved with the Asian American community at home. Then attend lots of fundraisers, donate time and money to causes, and they make sure they are close with tons of people who are similar and who have similar interests as them. That is my limited perspective of what community is. Here in Guatemala, community mans something else. Everyone says “buenas tardes. Buen viaje” when they pass by someone, even if they don’t know who they are. The families stay incredibly close to each other. Unless their schedules prevent it, families will always eat meals together. One thing that my friend Sandra (who works with GV and came up with Earthcorps) said that one of the weirdest things she finds about the states is that we usually just grab a sandwich for lunch and go. Here in Guatemala, my teacher gets two hours off to go home and eat lunch with her family everyday.
I think part of it has to do with this being such a small town and everyone knowing each other. But at least in the case of family staying close, it happens all over Guatemala, even in Antigua, one of the most touristy towns (so much so that one of our Chapine friends says it’s not really considered a Guatemalan town. It’s more just a town where a lot of Guatemalan people live). It’s not uncommon to find more than six people in one house. My teacher at language school lives at home with her father, two brothers with wives and children, sister with her husband, and another brother who doesn’t have a significant other. She was saying that many times when men marry they simply bring their wives into their childhood homes to live there.
Family in Seattle, is getting together a few times a year, especially for the holidays. Other than that, we just stay in contact with email or phone calls. I think it’s great. I really do, it just pales in comparison to the idea of family here.
I think over time we’ve become so consumed by the cycle of working, buying, working that we’ve lost the importance of family. We retain a little bit, but not nearly enough. I hope that when I raise children, I can stay close with my family. Recently I’ve been reading letters my dad wrote to me as I grew up, when I was little we used to get together all the time and have dinner with friends and family. Now that has drifted apart, and I’m usually out of the house when dinner is served. Being busy, and raising kids has a lot to do with this shift, but I think after being able to observe Guatemalan culture more and more, I’ve realized they’ve got the right idea.
We should be focused on family. Not money.
If we could get out of the consumer mind set, I think we’d be off a lot better.