HOW WOMEN ARE TREATED ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD...
If you can consider Guatemala the other side of the world?
I hope this newsletter finds you hale, hearty & happy. And enjoying the year thus far.
I’m just back from a trip to Guatemala in Central America. If you’re anything like me, you would have had to either Google where it is or gone and found an atlas. Well, to save you the trouble, it’s right below Mexico on that strip of land that connects North & South America. It’s not a huge country and is quite underdeveloped. It’s also overshadowed considerably by Mexico, but I got the impression that’s how they like it.
So, why was I there. Well, it was a trip to meet my elder daughter and her boyfriend at the latter end of her 6 month round the world back-packing trip. Last October she chucked in her job in London, sub-let her flat and flew off to Vietnam to start her adventure. Six months and seven countries later (and counting) she met us at the beginning of April at Guatemala City airport to then explore Antigua and latterly St Pedro de La Laguna.
Over the space of 10 days we got a complete eye-full of a Central American county. There’s no slick tourist areas for Guatemala to hide behind and we saw life in the raw. And in some cases, it was very raw. Don’t get me wrong, in both areas we had comfortable accommodation, thanks to Air Bnb.
But as I said, you walk amongst real Guatemalan life. We did saw glimpses of abject poverty but these people who don’t know any better and do what they can to support themselves and their families. Everything from preparing mangoes and selling them by the roadside to collecting wild branches and sticks to sell as firewood.
It was a very levelling experience. And, I was interested to see how women were treated in their society. Which I did, in spades.
Women are, in the main, the care-givers of the family, although we were told by a tour guide who turned out to be an anthropologist as well, that it is mainly grandmothers who look after the children in the family. Because mothers are needed to help bring money into the home, they are encouraged to work and I saw that plenty. Women either operating small, local businesses or working in some of the larger businesses - a large restaurant for example.
The day to day clothing worn by women is also interesting. The national costume consists of a thick, brightly coloured woven length of fabric that is wrapped around the waist and lower body as a skirt which is coupled with a lightweight blouse or top. And believe me when I say that this was worn all day, every day.
Also, during our time with our guide, he explained that in some of the more remote villages (of which there are plenty) by the time she is around 15 years old, if a local girl isn’t coupled with a boy (or a young man) with a view to marry, then questions are asked. She is expected to have her first child before she reaches her 20th birthday.
Our guide explained this was less the case in the cities, but a girl going to university was very much frowned upon, although a few brave young women do so, but risk being shunned by their communities.
All this information made me think about how it so different from what we experience in the western world. I’m the first to bleat on about how mid-life women in this country are undervalued and considered, but we’re treated far better with far more opportunities than a lot of women in Guatemala.
But, who am I to judge? From what I saw, the women were happy in their existence and seemed to be really close with their large families and friends. The women I saw never stopped smiling. And were especially friendly and welcoming. Doesn’t that smack of being happy with their lot?
Even if I don’t sound like it, I really loved Guatemala. It’s a bugger to get to - Heathrow to Houston, Texas, to Guatemala City to Antigua - almost a 24 hour journey - but if you want to experience a society that is so very different than ours, with spectacular scenery (think active volcanos spewing smoke and the occasional lava flow) add it to your “To Do” list.
Here’s a few of my photos of the place - I hope it convinces you…
So, that’s a wrap for this edition. I hope you liked it. I’ll be back in a fortnight’s time. Keep well & happy until then.