I hesitated a little bit in writing this post because there’s no big event to summarize or dramatic change to explain. Anything is a bit of a let down after a volcano, right? (Thanks so much for the support after that one, it made me feel strong and ready to roar).
But life is proceeding and things are happening.
First of all, summer is almost over and for the first time since 1996, the year I started preschool after a traumatizing summer in which I got a little sister, I’m not going to school. That feels weird on many levels and I know it would feel weird in New York, or London or Mexico or wherever. But it’s true and it will feel strange for some time to come.
The end of summer also marks some changes in the dynamics of Santiago. All of our summer interns have gone home to school and we are left with a much smaller core group. It’s about 8 people and they’re great but the fervor of summer is gone. One of the advantages of a short term stay is an urgency to do things, whether social events, trips. There’s less focus to crafting a long term lifestyle and more emphasis on fun, which is, well, fun. T his is a moment of transition and I remember feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the flurry of activities just a few weeks ago. For example, on Feria weekend, one of the peaks in activity, we visited San Juan, one of my favorite lake towns to enjoy a wine and cheese filled afternoon, rode questionably stable ferris wheels, had pregames on the roof, spent way too much time at claro, cooked a group brunch and ended the weekend with dinner on the lake. It was a bit of a bender but so much fun.
I’ve been thinking about perceptions a lot lately, prompted by a few moments. When I was boarding a lancha a few days ago, one of the hawkers asked me my name and I told him I worked at Cojolya, hoping to get a lower price as a santiago resident who is here to help this community. He started telling me about how rich Cojolya was and how big Candis, our founder’s, house was, and how all of our weavers worked in big spaces. He even explained that we had tons of money, dollars and euros. None of this true, except that Candis has a nice house, built over 20 years ago over the course of almost ten years. But it did illustrate the way many locals feel about Cojolya and the power of rumors, years after the fact. We also are located on the same street as the dock, a block away from other stores selling crafts of varying quality. Our pricepoint is higher and our client is different and I can see how that creates resentment. Another note on perception relates more to the changes that are happening in Santiago. A french couple visited the store yesterday, visiting Santiago for the first time in 18 years. They couldn´t stop talking about the changes and the very rapid development, something I’ve heard about from Candis, our cofounder and others. About 30 years ago, this town had no electricity. There were dirt roads and straw roofs. In the 90s there was one telephone in the whole town and Cojolya operated out of Guatemala city to fulfill orders. Now there are tuk tuks and three story houses and ads and coca cola and some kids are struggling to learn tzutjil and men (and some women) are abandoning traje. It’s a lot of change and sometimes a long absence and a cultural distance makes it more visible. On one hand, the older generation is happy tourism is generating income, even creating a Santiago middle class of sorts, but the change comes at a cost. Another difficult moment happened yesterday on a lancha from San Pedro to Pana where the lanchero quoted us a ridiculous price and would not waver. We explained who were were, that we knew the prices and he absolutely refused to budge, not even by five quetzales. Eventually, he told us that he had been to the US and knew how horribly they treated immigrants, justifying his discrimination with our alleged anti immigrant behavior. This made us all furious because it’s terrible logic, terribly insulting and has terrible implications for people from various parts of the world treating each other well and building relationships. We reluctantly paid and stomped off. I’ve also been so fed up by catcallers lately and it’s something we talk about all the time here. Women are not remotely seen as equal and there are so many things that need to change, especially in the very separate spheres of men and women that perpetuate this inequality. This article that Robin found does a good job at explaining how the political gains carry so little gains in respect. More Guatemala issues: The presidential election is a mess, the mayoral campaigns are taking over town, the lake is overrun by cynobacteria (it’s visible and everyone has stopped swimming in the lake).
If you’re also struggling with transitions, whether in season or role or location, I recommend podcasts and routines. One of my favorite discoveries has been Death, Sex and Money, which basically asks people from all walks of live about those very topics. The episode on Siblings is a good place to start. People are interviewed so often about work but so rarely about relationships, strange since play a defining role in our lives. Speaking of relationships, my dear friend Emma published a modern love column about kissing someone on the plane on her way home from birthright (she didn’t get to pick the headline). So proud, especially since we met at hebrew school.These recent This American Life episodes (part one and two) on school integration are also very much worth your time and the title is chilling: The Problem We All Live With.
Working in somewhat of a retail space made me pay way more attention to cool sites like Of a Kind and the Citizenry and their approaches to artisans and sales. Sometimes it’s odd to be surrounded by products whose origins I know personally while I’m wearing clothes that were probably made in a sweatshop by god knows who, typing on a computer made of metals extracted from who knows where. I don’t like it. Of A Kind was founded and is run by two best friends and they have a podcast from the every hip Heritage Radio Network which operates out of Bushwick, of course. I like the show’s tone and the way they discuss big and small everyday topics. I also liked this article about how complicated international shipping is, #preach. And this german grocery store sounds very cool.
For real books reading (handy when the power goes out for five hours sometimes), I’m working my way through Bitter Fruit, which I appreciate far more in Guatemala than I did when I started it at a coffeeshop in West Philly during senior week (miss you greenline). Reading a history book makes me grateful I’m not writing a thesis this fall but also makes me miss that process a little bit. I’m also very into Broadly, Vice’s new platform, very impressed by Cup of Jo this summer, worried about how wonderful and heartbreaking being a parent will be someday, voraciously getting dinner ideas from Food52 and interested in the exploits of bakers who keep starters alive for decades.
On the routine front, the decline in social activity means i’ve been cooking more, with my kitchen reinvigorated by my parents visit and the goodies they brought. Seriously, hot sauces and mustard and spices make such a difference! I’m also slowly working through the magazines they brought me and trying to get into a workout video groove (if you have any workout youtube channels that require pretty much no equipment, I’m all ears. So far popsugar has been a good option and I also like fitness blender). Other people here feel similarly so we’re working to set up some routines, like packing lunch on Wednesdays and eating lunch outside and we’ve had a few movie nights, both at quilas and at people`s homes, watching Interstellar, Gone Girl and Like Crazy so far.
There is a real commitment here to make life exciting and fulfilling and meaningful, though it’s difficult at times. This weekend, for example, we went to San Pedro, got hummus and walked around to explore the town beyond the tourist spots by the dock, then met up in Pana to have a nice night out. I got to meet some of the other expats who work there (the Pana crew is way larger since ten plus NGOs operate there and they have way more choices in terms of activities and foods and nightlife) and even did some grocery shopping at a health food store. September has some trips (to Antigua, Xela and hopefully Mexico) and my birthday is in a few days so my days and weekends are far from empty. Part of me still feels like I should be choosing a first day of school outfit, running into friends and frenemies on Locust Walk and asking and answering the question, “How was your summer?” It was pretty great actually.
Lastly, if you’re reading this on your phone (or not), you must read this.