It’s funny how easy it is to get used to things that at first seem foreign. I’m finding that there are a lot of things I’ve gotten used to in my first 3 months in Guatemala.
I’ve gotten used to drinking water out of a 5 gallon dispenser, putting the empty jug in my driveway to have it refilled periodically, and tipping the full jug back into the dispenser on my own.
I’ve gotten used to the fact that I shouldn’t really walk at night—anywhere—alone or with friends.
I’ve gotten used to guards. Lots of them. I’m used to saying good morning to the 5-7 guards I regularly see on my walk to school. One guard opens the gate at the back of my compound for me with a smile. Two or three more patrol the parking lot I walk through (my favorite in the parking lot is only there sometimes, but he always gives me a big smile and says, “Hola Miss. Buenos dias!”). Two act as crossing guards as cars pull out of the parking lot. And the two at the top of the hill give me a high five each and every morning. One of them sometimes pantomimes reeling me up the hill as if I’m on a fishing line if I’m walking by myself, and he compliments me on my clothes every once in a while.
There are guards on the school campus, too. That’s another thing I’ve gotten used to—a totally secure school campus. Not only is the entire campus walled and gated. Guards patrol the perimeter, strolling along or sitting at their stations. When I run inside the walls in the afternoons, they nod pleasantly at me as I pass by.
And I’ve gotten used to the city, more or less. I still don’t love Guatemala City, and I can’t imagine that will change very drastically, even after I spend several years here. It’s just not a pretty or a welcoming city. When I think of the city as an entity, the first word that comes to mind is “gray.” That’s partly because it’s the rainy season and the skies are often gray, I’m sure. But I think part of the gray haze must be due to pollution that won’t go away even under endless sun. And beyond that, the buildings are not designed for beauty. Though there’s color in the city, my mental image of it is just…dreary.
The next color, after gray, which I feel dominates the city is forest green. In my opinion, Guatemala City has quite a lot of greenery and tall, dark trees. Especially my corner of the city. That is one redeeming quality of the metropolitan area for me.
I’ve gotten used to being surrounded by way more foreign teachers than I was used to at my old school. The past few years, I’ve been at a small school where my social circle was made up of 5-8 other US teachers, and a few locals. This year, when I threw a relatively small birthday party for a friend, 25-30 people attended. A bigger party thrown the next night drew a crowd of almost 50 foreign hires. There are lots of us, and everyone’s nice, and willing to spend time with others, and we all support each other—both professionally and socially.
I’ve gotten more used to my relaxed teaching schedule than I’d like to admit. If I ever have to go back to teaching all day every day, I’m not quite sure how I’ll cope.
I’m still getting used to having a maid. When I first moved here, the idea of hiring someone to work for me was so foreign to me. I felt capable of doing my own cleaning, and frankly, I didn’t want to get out of the habit of doing so. But eventually, partly because there seemed to be so many maids looking for work at the beginning of the school year and partly because the idea of never having to mop was too tempting to resist, I gave in and hired someone. I still dislike the feeling that someone works for me. My condo has a maid’s corridors with a separate entrance, but the woman who cleans my house has a key to my main entrance, and I would be horrified to see her enter through any other door. I don’t like it when she apologizes for things out of her control, and I feel guilty every time I leave her a note asking her to do something extra on a particular day. I’m still getting used to this whole relationship.
And of course I’ve gotten used to plenty of other things too. Taking a ticket when you enter a parking lot (even Walmart). Parking ramps with rows of green and red lights telling you how many open spaces there are available at any given time. Dirt cheap produce at the supermarket. Calling taxis. Haggling for prices at artisan markets. Turning off my water heater when it’s not in use to save a few dollars per month on my electricity bill. Wearing pants or skirts everywhere, because wearing shorts simply isn’t done (and often it’s too chilly for that anyway). Hanging up my laundry because I don’t have a dryer. And a host of other things.
I wouldn’t call it culture shock, per say, because I feel like I knew what I was getting into with Latin America. But regardless, life has taken some getting used to. And more and more, things just seem normal to me now.