Shotguns and shocks

During my first week in Guatemala, I found out that my host brother, Melvin, got his girlfriend pregnant a few months before, and they had to get married as soon as possible. They planned to move into the second floor of the family's formerly one-story house.

I arrived on a Monday and the wedding was the following Saturday. In order to have the house ready for their wedding, the construction for their new house continued through the night. (Sidenote: I'm on anti-malaria drugs which have humorous side effects, including hallucinations or vivid dreams that tend to manifest during the night.)

On my second night in the house, I must have heard the hammers working above, and I had a crazy dream that the ceiling was collapsing on me. I woke up and ran out of my room.

As soon as stepped outside, I saw my host father walking out of his room in a Speedo. (Not part of the dream.) I'm sure he was embarrassed and certainly did not expect to see me that early in the morning. I was mortified. I also realized that my life in Guatemala for the next two months would be far from normal.

As the family prepared for Melvin's wedding, I learned more of the birth saga, even though I could barely understand Spanish. My host family explained the story to me on multiple occasions, and all I could understand was that his girlfriend was either five months pregnant or was going to have five children.

Even though they live with less than most families in the U.S., the wedding was a grand event. This shotgun wedding was "small" and only had three hundred people because they had to plan it quickly (and because a few family members boycotted the wedding because of the pregnancy). My older host sister had over one thousand people at her wedding. I can't even imagine someone in the U.S. trying to plan a wedding of that size.

Some of the traditional customs surprised me. They could not have the wedding in a church because of the bride's pregnancy. On her wedding day, she wore pink, because she was not allowed to wear pure white. The person performing the wedding even chastised them publicly for their "sexual love" and said they needed to find a new form of "Godly love." Guatemala was nothing like I expected; even the daily customs contrast sharply with American life.

Before I went to Guatemala I made quite a few assumptions about my trip. I never truly understood what it meant to live on less than $2 a day. And I thought that if I was a bit tanner and wore Guatemalan clothing, I could fit right in with my dark hair and Mediterranean olive skin. I could not have been more wrong.

In Guatemala all white foreigners are called "gringos," a term that can be both affectionate and insulting. At 5-foot-7-inches, I am taller than almost everyone in this country, including the men. My hair is too light, and my facial features are too foreign. I've never been in a country where I could not blend in with the local population. I am a total anomaly.

We need hiking boots to walk in the muddle streets, and it would be impossible to roll a suitcase down these roads. The camping backpack is a necessity. My newest homestay family does not even have soap in the bathrooms, and I'm preparing to take my first bucket shower tonight. I know I will not be American-style clean for the next two months.

One of the hardest things for me in this country was figuring out the difference between surviving and adapting. In many cases when my kitchen plates are dirty and I have no way of cleaning anything I own, I think about how I only want to survive this trip. The water is not safe to drink, and I am forever itchy with bites.

But I realized that if I'm living day to day as if I am just trying to survive, I will never have a full experience. People live like this here, and many of them are happier than people I interact with on a daily basis in the U.S. Now that I am no longer only trying to survive, I'm learning to see life like locals. Flies in the kitchen no longer faze me. I have no fashion standards (zip-off pants, manly hiking boots, and rolled-up jeans are all fair game). And the more Guatemalan I become, the more I realize how much I love this place.

Andrea Coravos is a Trinity junior. This is her final column.


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