I realize I've hardly described Nueva Alianza or our daily life at all. It's a completely different world. Everyone's up and working by 6am and in bed by nine at the latest. There are no cars, no alarm clocks; no meetings or offices. In the words of Harper Lee, "there was nothing to buy and no money to buy it with." There's absolutely no rush to do anything ever. As a pretty relaxed girl coming from a pretty relaxed summer job, even I had to readjust and learn to take everything slow, just in order to pass the days. And yet somehow the days pass quickly.
We've been cooking for ourselves an entire week now. Preparing three meals a day takes, I'd guess, at least four to five hours. Tonight we planned on beans and rice but forgot to soak the beans beforehand. We ended up hanging out in the kitchen with three sisters, Sorita (8ish), Roxanna (13ish), and Maria (15), watching the torrential rain fall, lighting candles when the electricity went out, and learning how to make tortillas. Our beans were only slightly less hard when Sara, the hotel's cook, arrived with her adorable 1-year-old daughter Sarita (literally, little Sara). We sat down to our terribly bland meal in a kitchen full of happy women, Sarita entertaining us all.
Hannah: "Look at her, she's gonna grow up with such a great support network!"
Me: "Sí, la comunidad! ...de mujeres (the community! ...of women)."
Hannah: "The best kind."
Feminism is not a thing in Guatemala. Separate spheres are still alive and kickin'. Even on the community bus, fathers sit with sons and mothers with daughters. Typically men pick coffee and work on roofs, and women grind corn and wash clothes at the communal pila.
According to Tara, Peace Corps volunteer and fellow English speaker, it's not uncommon for young girls to marry much older men and women to stay with abusive or unfaithful partners, all for the sake of security.
I don't intend to say anything serious about educational and economic opportunities here... just that I am utterly exhausted every day from doing "women's work." No one's forcing me to do it, but I sort of have no choice. If I want to eat, I must cook - peel, dice, salt, fry, boil, drain - my food. If I want clean underwear, I must soak, scrub, rinse, and hang out my underwear (and hang it out again after sudden afternoon rainstorms). If I don't sweep the kitchen, there are bugs and dirt. If I don't disinfect the countertop, there are ants. If I don't water the plants, they die. The plant thing isn't as essential, but you get my point. I cannot imagine cooking and cleaning for an entire family in this community; it would without a doubt be more difficult than an eight-hour-day in the coffee fields. There are no microwaves, freezers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, stain removers, Chinese take-out menus, or Clorox disinfectant wipes. And we're in the jungle here; things get dirty. They sprout and/or or attract things fast.
All this to say, I'm getting a new and historical perspective on women and the home. I haven't drawn any conclusions yet. All I know is that after I spent three plus hours scrubbing the kitchen and washing, rinsing, and hanging out six dish towels this morning, I kind of expected a resounding congratulations! to descend from the heavens. But I hadn't done anything extraordinary; it was just a clean kitchen. And in an hour it was dirty again.
Tonight's dinner was healthy - black beans, green beans, rice, onion, carrots, and tomatoes - but like I said, terribly bland. It was especially difficult to enjoy as we waited so long for the &*%$@# beans to soak with no real improvement in their taste or texture. We planned on splitting a Snickers as a consolation prize, and upon retiring to la sala, we were surprised to find another guest on his laptop. After exchanging holas, he offered me something in a brown paper bag. I didn't know what he was saying, but I took the bag anyway. Inside were two cupcakes. Happiness. And the guy spoke some English, too. Twas delayed cosmic congratulations from this morning, I suppose.