I never know what I will come away with after traveling to a new country, but always, I gain new insights and lessons.
As I waited for a flight in Houston during the Great Blizzard of 2011, I pondered the lessons of Guatemala.
We visited the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal and learned they existed from approximately 600 B.C. to 900 A.D. - 1500 years! Archeologists have mapped over 3000 structures over a 25 square mile jungle area, however most have yet to be excavated after being "taken back" over the centuries by nature. What is amazing is how these structures have withstood the ravages of time. It's hard to imagine any of our modern-day structures lasting even beyond a century or two. Compare the 1500-year Mayan civilization to the age of our own country - 235 years. Though we see ourselves as a superpower, even invincible, it is likely only temporary.
Sometimes, I think in our relatively wealthy and technologically-advanced society, we have become spoiled, even soft. Seeing the hard work that is a part of day-to-day life for the people of Guatemala confirms my thinking.
I watched the toil of women and children, first with a bit of pity, then with awe. Children as young as five or six help their families with farming and selling goods. Throughout the cities of Antigua and Chichicastenango, they followed us, trying to sell their goods. I was amazed not only at their persistence, but also at their math skills. In negotiating, they were often quicker than I at calculating quantity discounts and dollar to quetzal conversions. Young children could be seen everywhere carrying their younger siblings on their backs, as their mothers carried stacks of wood on their backs, even on their heads.(Many of my thoughts on Guatemala were similar to those I had of India, posted in my entry, Poverty and Nimiety.)
The landscape of terraced crops was beautiful. But even more incredible was the fact that most of the field work we saw taking place was done by hand. Hand tilling, hand picking. Entire families were working in these fields.
And if only we had vegetable markets like these!
Travel opens my eyes to other cultures. Though I always learn something about the culture of the country I am visiting, and I also get to know other travelers in our group who are often from different backgrounds. On this trip, we met new friends with Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese heritages. We also met a young man from Switzerland, and a couple from Israel. It's interesting to learn about other countries through their eyes, and to hear their perspectives on a variety of topics. It also gives us ideas of new places to visit.
Guatemala is actually a land of many cultures. About half of the population is a mix of Spanish-Amerindian heritage, or mestizo. The remaining population belongs to 23 indigenous Mayan groups, each having its own language. A traveler can see the differences in culture immediately, in the many styles of dress in various parts of the country. My favorite style was in Chichicastenango - so colorful.
Guatemala is a country with a culture as varied as the brilliant colors woven into its fabrics.
Jan Morrill’s award-winning short stories and memoir essays have been published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books and several anthologies. Recently, she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her short story "Xs and Os," which appeared in the Voices Anthology.
Her two children grown, Jan lives on a farm her husband, two dogs and two cats -- that is, when she's not getting new story ideas while on a new adventure somewhere else in the world.
For more information, visit her website at www.janmorrill.com.