There are days when I forget that I am living in a foreign country, and days where I cannot feel like anything around me is home. Differences often make things feel foreign, and there are so many of them between my country here and my home country. Some differences I notice daily, and others are so subtle that I don’t notice until I go back to the states. Differences are not always bad. They often mold us and cause us to grow in areas that we would not have done without being forced to do so.
One of the differences I am reminded of daily is that my culture raised me to always be in a hurry – and now I live in a culture that is not time sensitive. I am often on my motorcycle driving and I pass cars and other motorcists in the street and think – am I driving fast? The truth is that I am actually driving at a slow speed, but there is not hurry or rush to anyone’s lives. This is seen when I am at a corner store buying a water or waiting on something. In the states the goal is customer service and speed. Here both are defined very differently. I have adjusted to some of the speed of the culture, yet there are other days that I am not sure if I will every adjust to this speed.
Friendliness and Hospitality are two parts to this culture that I really enjoy. Although Guatemalans are not extremely emotional, they do greet each other when they walk into a room, or a store, or on the street to pass each other in a car. I am a person that lies to go unnoticed, but I have learned that if I walk into or out of a room without greeting everyone, that it is considered disrespectful. I also really like the willingness to help out – whenever and whomever. If I am stopped in the road, people will stop and ask if I need help. If I am asking about directions to someone’s house, I often get an escort there to make sure I find the right place. Often it is out of my comfort zone, but the difference is one that I will embrace.
Leisure activities. Often we say that there are none here. Because it is different. There are no malls. There are no movie theaters or restraunts or parks to visit. Travel is slow and the process can be painful. And so simple is usually what happens. A motorcycle ride around the same roads that I always travel. A walk up the mountain. An ice cream cone. Or a trip to the river.
Community. In the states there were places that you could disappear. You could disappear in your own house for a day and no one would notice. If you were gone 24 hours, most people would not ask where you were. Community has possibly been the most difficult adjustment that I have had since I have lived on my own for many years and am an independent person. Sharing a house, and a room and a car. Sharing meals, and responsibilities and decisions. Sharing frustrations, and trials and answers to pray. My life has changed from one where I made decisions on my own and didn’t have to answer to many other people in my life, to sharing everything that is done. At times it is suffocating. At times it gives me a head ache. But most of the time, I have embraced it as there is nothing I have to do alone. The greatest support comes from the community that is experiencing the very same trials and joys.
There are so many differences that give my life here a feel that I am out of my culture, out of my norm. The longer I am here, the more people I recognize though. The more people I know. The more conversations I have in the streets and the more brown I become… the most Guatemalan I become.