The Simple Life

20 September 2012

The Simple Life

We have arrived back to modern society in Xela.  We just spent four days in the rural indigenous community of Chuitziribal, just outside of Cantel.  For me, it was like stepping back in time to when life was much simpler than it is today.  No television, no computers, no high-tech technology.  You walk places rather than drive.  The people of this indigenous community–a community of 30 homes or so–do not have much, and do not need much.  They eat delicious and nutritious food, live off the land, and are comfortable with their lives.  It was much like camping for us, but for them, it’s their life.

We arrived via the back of a pickup truck on Sunday afternoon.  Met by my professor, Eduardo, who told us an overview of the upcoming events for us, as well as where and with whom we would be living for the next 4 days.  I was paired with my friend Adam, a 6’ 6’’ fellow junior from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, by way of Wisconsin.  The two of us were also housed with the Guatemala Director for the Center for Global Education, Fidel.  Fidel is a native of Guatemala, having grown up in an indigenous community and having completed higher education in Minnesota; a down-to-earth and great person.  The three of us were placed with the family that has historically houses the two program facilitators; the family of Doña Alejandrina, Don Santos, and their grandchildren.

The home of Doña Alejandrina and Don Santos is simple.  They speak the indigenous language of Xiche (key-chay), as well as Spanish.  Which proved to be a bit hard for Adam and me to understand because of their thick accent.

We are in a separate edifice from the main home, each of the three of us getting out own room.  Each room is not much.  A bed, well actually a box spring, a chair, and a small table.  There is one light on the ceiling and a window.  The main house is much the same.  I did not see much more than the kitchen, which for this family and most other families, is the main gathering place.  The kitchen is where each meal is served, and where the mother usually spends most of her time preparing meals.  The main patio area has low-hanging power lines and clothes lines.  On one edge is a large concrete sink, with a main sink and two side sinks for cleaning clothing and dishes.  There is no internal plumbing in their home.  The sink is outside.  A latrine is where one relieves themselves.  For us, it was much like camping.  Brushing our teeth at the outside sink.  Using a latrine, which is enclosed by a structure of sticks covered in plastic.  Also, most people in this community bath by warming up water, and using large tubs.  One family did have a full shower with hot water, but for us, such a thing was nonexistent.  I chose to forgo the task of bathing for the four days we were in the community.  This was surely the simple life.

The food was always fresh.  Often there was a medicinal purpose of the dish or the beverage.  We had soups, stews, rice, meats, and many, many tortillas.  The tortillas were made with yellow corn flour, often went directly from the wood-burning stove to our mouths.  Some of the common drinks were Chamomile tea, or in Spanish it’s Manzanilla, and Soya Café, which was a sweet soy bean drink.  After eating this food, I began to contemplate the difference between the preparation of food in this home and my own back in the United States.  The differences were many.  A wood-burning stove replaced our electric flat-top.  The food was much fresher, with the ingredients of each dish being market-bought rather than store-bought.  Each beverage was made from boiling water, not a electric kettle, a coffee maker, or sticking a mug of water into the microwave for a minute and a half.

Roads throughout this community are just as simple–dirt, with just enough room for a small pickup to get through.  Each “street” winds through the corn fields, with a home every 100 feet or so.  Throughout our four days I found myself reminded of the film, 180° South, and its premise of living a simple and conscious life.  Further more, I was also reminded of the film, 23 feet, which is a film that explores the simple life styles of a handful of people who have chosen to live simply in order to pursue their dreams of outdoor sports and living.  A quote from legendary rock climber Ron Kauk from 23 feet was on replay in my mind.  He said that, “Living simply isn’t that it’s easy… It’s about knowing what survival is and what values are.”  I believe that is true about the lifestyle of the people of this community.  They are living off the land, often eating foods that have a medicinal purpose, and their values are indigenously traditional.  Respect is huge, and love is even greater.

The children in this community were great.  We played soccer with the children in a local open space just down the lane from our home stay.  The field was filled with pot holes, and was slanted about 20 or 25 degrees.  Goals were nonexistent until we threw a few sweatshirts on the ground.  For us, it was all we needed, and it got the job done.  It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.  Not to mention, the kids in the community are really good at fútbol, especially a little ten year-old girl named Juanita, who even went up against Adam during the soccer game multiple times.  As a sort of farewell get-together, last evening, our last evening in the community, we held a community bonfire and S’mores.  We walked to the school, where the bonfire (it was actually a small fire not a full on 6-foot bonfire) was held, through the rain.  Upon arrival though, the rain ceased.  One of the host mothers, in traditional indigenous garb and a baby wrapped to her back started the fire, while a couple of local kids our age sat by and watched it all happen.  Talk about an awesome woman.  S’mores was a great way to put a smile on everyone’s face.  The children were ecstatic; running around, chasing one another.

The only space big enough for the fourteen of us students and each of our teachers to meet for class each day was at the local Evangelical church.  Class time was as usual, 8 AM to 12:30 PM, with a half hour break at 10:30.  These classes, however, were a bit more casual than those at Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco Language School; I mean, our teachers had to get in the back of pickup trucks to head down to the main road in order to get back into Xela for the afternoon.  One morning a number of us and our professors took a nice walk to the local stream, giving us a good chunk of time to relax and enjoy the sunny morning weather.  Other times, my teacher and I would walk along a path to a point a bit higher than where the church sat, giving us a great view of the surrounding cornfields, mountains, and volcanoes in the area.  On a clear day, we were able to see El Volcán Santa Maria, which is the volcano that most of us in our group climbed during our first week here in Xela.  Other students and their teachers walked the streets of the community to take a small break from sitting at our desks.  Today, on our last day of class, we had a large game of Sillas Musicales (Musical Chairs) with our teachers.  We had a round of just students, a round of just teachers, and then a large round of both students and teachers.

My experience in the rural community was beautiful.  The people were so kind, the food was fresh and delicious, the landscape was amazing, and the overall experience was enriching and humbling.

We are back in Xela until Saturday morning.  From here, we will head to Antigua, Guatemala for one afternoon and evening, and then make the long trip form there to San Salvador, El Salvador.  At our dinner this evening with some of the group at La Crepa Loca, some of us were saying how it is crazy that we are just about to head into the El Salvador leg of the program.  The semester seems to be going quickly, but then again, this is just the beginning.  We still have two countries, and many weeks to go.  For now though, we’re just gonna live in the moment.

Peace and love from here in Guatemala.  Keep it real and take it easy.


My room

Clouds covering El Volcán Santa Maria with possible ash from a nearby volcano.

We stayed in the building on the right.  The main home is the building to the left.

Field trip to the stream with the teachers.

Outdoor sink

La letrina


The grandfather of the host family uses this machine to turn corn kernels into dough for tortillas for many of the families in the community.

Panoramic of the city of Cantel

Panoramic view from just outside the door of the church where we studied

Afternoon skies

Musical chairs with the professors


My professor, Eduardo, and me


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