Saturday, October 30, 2010

Southern Sensibility - Part 1

Every morning our walk to school begins on this lovely path 
next to the ruins of Santa Rosa Cathedral.

Several weeks ago I wrote about the process of Culture Shock (see Lost that Loving Feeling post). Here are more thoughts on the cultural differences we experience on a regular basis. Recently, there have been several things that really bother me. I have had a hard time naming exactly what it is that drives me crazy ... then one day I realized that not only does this culture rub my "American" skin the wrong way; my southern sensibilities are often offended as well.

For example, in the South we are generally considered to be polite, warm and hospitable. We like our tea sweet and our vowels wide. We love our country, our family and our church. We really love food and gatherings built entirely around food - we invented "comfort food." In the South, we go out of our way to show kindness and respect for one another. It's just the way we are, it's in the soil, our roots soak it up and we become Southern. With the exception of sweet tea and wide vowels, Guatemala is very similar. The people are warm and hospitable, they love family and food as well. Yet, there are some major clashes with my southern heritage.

Generally speaking, in the South drivers give a wide berth to cyclists and pedestrians on the street or in parking lots. It's bad form to hit people with your car. You also don't want to scare them or in anyway give the impressions that you might run them over. This is definitely not the case in Guatemala.

Walking in Guatemala can be very dangerous for a number of reasons. The first being - respiratory health. The streets are full of diesel and gasoline fumes. I don't think the Commission for Emissions Control has ever heard of Guatemala. The second danger is the sidewalks themselves. They tend to be narrow, many places you cannot walk two abreast - single file only. The sidewalks are crumbly, they have varying elevations or open holes - perfect for breaking an ankle. In addition, one must always be on the lookout for dog poo. Completely foreign concepts - Walk your dog on a leash and clean up after your dog. The dogs don't look well fed, but the sidewalk has evidence that proves otherwise. One thing I love about Antigua - the amazingly beautiful window boxes - until you whack your head on one. They make the sidewalk even more narrow and they are the perfect height for causing brain injuries to even the most observant of pedestrians.

Watch your step - it's a big drop!

Window box - perfect height for bashing your brains out!

So far, I have only covered the dangers of walking on the sidewalk. You can see why we frequently end up walking on the edge of the sidewalk or in the street. Here is where the cars, tuk-tuks and motorcycles become really dangerous. At times it seems as if they want you think they are going to run you over. The street can be wide open, no traffic and a tuk-tuk or motorcycle will ride right up next to you, within inches of your body. It's one thing to do this to me or Lee but I really get bent out of shape when they do it to my children! I keep thinking  "Really, you have to drive right here? REALLY? You can't make a little room for pedestrians?"It's infuriating.

Sometimes the sidewalk is there, sometimes it's just dirt.

We pass this hole in the sidewalk everyday on our way to school.
That's a broken ankle and a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Pedestrians beware!

So how do I reconcile this new culture with my Southern sensibilities? I can't decide - "Is it me? or is it them?" Well, there's more to it than just getting used to the insanity of walking and driving in a foreign country. I keep looking deeper at what this behavior says about our new culture. What does it say about me? More thoughts to come....

Despite the dangers, the vistas are truly amazing!

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