Going on this Guatemala trip, I had no clue what to expect. We had all heard stories from our professors in class about their experiences in Guatemala and Chajul, but it wasn’t until we got to Guatemala that we got a feel for the country and culture for ourselves.
The culture shock was quite real once we got to Chajul. Experiencing how most of these families live by being invited to lunch at their homes was an eye-opener. Many of the homes that we went to had dirt flooring, and only one or two beds for an entire family to sleep on, all in the same room. There wasn’t any indoor plumbing in most of the houses, which made me think that sanitation practices were probably not a number one priority. Many of the meals that they ate were just comprised of corn tortillas and salsa. We talked to a couple people that said that when times were hard, they would have to go to the mountains to pick herbs for their meal that day. I can’t imagine that a diet like that has the proper amount of nutrients needed by the human body for healthy living.
Another shocking experience was that the stoves that most people used to cook are just a couple of cinder blocks and some fire wood. The walls of the houses were all dyed black from the amount of smoke that passes through them daily. I can imagine that the people’s lungs must look like the walls from inhaling that much smoke throughout their lives.
A shocking observation that I had was the amount of pollution that goes into the water sources there. People often do all of their laundry in the river, which causes soap chemicals to pollute their water. The river was filled with trash thrown into it. The slaughter house in town has a pipe going down into the river that all of the blood from the animals would run into after slaughter. The water from this river is the same water that people get in their pipes and use to cook, drink and clean with.
Even though living conditions are not the best and food access is very limited, people in Chajul have an amazing sense of community and family. It amazed me to see how many people that we talked to say that if they had the opportunity to get a job outside of the village, they wouldn’t take it so they can be close to their home and family. It’s such a strange concept to me, because in America we all leave home at the age of 18, and usually don’t go back.
This experience made me think about how much we take for granted in our lives. I value things like clean water, protein-filled diets and every other luxury that we have a whole lot more now.