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Funny rumors

February 1, 2005

Reflections from January

I have spent so much time writing since I returned to Guatemala on January 4th that many people have asked me whether or not I have had time to do anything else. The answer to that question is easy since I have to have the experiences in order to write stories and reflections. But as February dawned this morning and I stared up at the calendar hanging above the tiny stove in the kitchen, I, for one moment, wondered where January had gone. And, of course, I realized that I still had more to write…

It’s funny. I was sitting out on the bench in front of the office on a Tuesday afternoon reading a piece someone had sent me on how the large supermarket business is taking over in Guatemala and railroading the smaller farmers/vendors. We have experienced this here in quiche with a new huge store that is located diagonal from the back of my house (I can see the back of the store from my kitchen windows) called “Dispensa Familiar” that has everything like the old Mr. G’s grocery store I worked in when I was 15. From the rows of products and the deli to the state of the art scanning check out stations where they ask for your name and/or NIT (tax identification number) which are then printed officially on your receipt before checking you out. The biggest difference is the signs on the wall that are both is Spanish and K’iche’ (man paqal taj “you won’t pay a lot”). I admit that I have shopped at the “Dispensa Familiar” and so have my housemates. Just as the article I was reading was saying; the prices are better and you have everything in one place, it’s just more convenient. In addition, for someone like me who is still a little wary of buying meat on the streets from the large pieces of carcass that have been hanging out open to the elements, the flies, wandering children’s hands, etc., its just more comforting to see the little styrofoam wrapped trays with the meat under a plastic cover and a sticker detailing the meats name, weight, and price. But I do still try and shop more often at the little corner stores, family owned grocery shops, and street vendors for fruits and vegetables. What made this funny though as I sat outside the office on this beautiful warm Tuesday afternoon reading this article was that the dominant office rooster (there are actually two) jumped out of his cage and came over to visit me. He slowly strutted across the walkway and hopped up on the concrete flower boxes that are a part of our raised area outside the offices. He eyed me curiously as he turned his head to the side so that his eye on the right side could get a good look. Then he stretched out his neck and sang his mighty song (as he does countless times a day and not only when the sun rises). I sat there laughing at him for a few moments, the article in my hands forgotten during those brief seconds. Once again, I was struck later as I thought about this experience by the combination of simplicity in certain parts of my daily life versus the grander picture. I was struck by the certain things I have come to expect on a daily basis versus the difficulties of watching and becoming sucked in by “bigger business” as one might call it. the difference between this last Christmas sitting in my mothers living room with her three huge cats and doing the crossword puzzle (as I used to try and do every morning) versus sitting on the bench outside my office this week and reading an article with a rooster. This is my life.

A friend of mine’s nephew left for the states a few days ago. He paid the ridiculous fee of Q50,000 for the trip. That’s roughly $6500. I made the joke that morning when we were talking about it around the breakfast table that if that was the price, then I couldn’t afford to go to the states. We all shared a laugh at this statement but in reality this is not a laughing matter and is a problem continually facing Guatemala (and other Central American countries). The rumors that I hear swirling around regarding the “land of all your dreams come true,” (the United States), are sometimes so far-fetched that I can’t understand how they got started. But these rumors and the dream of wealth fuel the desires of many Guatemalans to uproot themselves from their lives and make the dangerous trek north to “the promise land.” for example, the latest rumor that I heard is that if you live in the states and only have two children, then the government will pay for everything for your children; health care, education, etc. this is why Guatemalans think that all people in the United States have only two children. My friend’s nephew basically has sold himself into indentured servitude, in my opinion (or a very tame way to say slavery). He had to borrow money to raise the Q50,000 for the trip and I am sure that a part of that he borrowed from the coyote that will have him pay it back at an incredible interest rate while he works a low-paying, horrible conditions job. I guess there are some that do all right in the states. I mean, it is a fact that the money sent in from Guatemalans living in the states makes up a huge piece of the economy but at what price? The horror stories I have heard as just as overwhelming. I am asked constantly about what it’s like in the states, whether it’s true about how much money that you can make, etc. I try to put a realistic spin on my answer, pointing out that it also costs a ton to live, eat, send your kids to school, etc. but the glamorous portrait painted by the media, through the American movies that are plastered all over the TV stations and through the rumors is just too tempting.

I haven’t even begun to break ground on these two huge issues that face Guatemala daily. the influence and influx of large companies draining business away from the small farmers/stores/vendors and the continuing trail of Guatemalans fleeing towards the border are constant worries as families see their businesses go under or worry about their family members whom they have not heard from in over a year. This is a reality in Guatemala…


Paul Pitcher is a missionary with the Christian Action of Guatemala (ACG). He serves as a communication and youth worker with ACG.

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