My house is also a regular old zoo, with the kids from all over the community coming over every day to hang out with me. I introduced a few of the kids to Memory the other day, and it was an instant hit! We are still working on learning how to follow the rules, but at least everyone is having fun! About half an hour after the first round, a whole new group of kids showed up at my door, asking about the new game that their friends had told them about, so we played Memory all over again. It’s very popular!
My house is also literally turning into a zoo. On Thursday afternoon, a chicken ran into my house and under my bed. I thought I had chased it out of my house- one of the kids told me that he saw it run out. However, I woke up the next morning to a clucking noise coming from the kitchen. I looked around the corner of my mosquito net, and sitting on my table was a chicken! When it saw me, it jumped on the counter, on my dish rack, and then I finally managed to kick it out of the house, but not before it left me some presents! My little friend told me that he had thought it would be funny if I slept with a chicken, so he had told me it had left. There was also a mouse running around the other day, and a small lizard fell of the wall onto my arm. I’m spending some time disinfecting my kitchen this week.
I’m learning to adjust my lifestyle and be flexible. Depending on the occasion, meetings will often start at least thirty minutes to an hour later than scheduled. Even cooking food takes longer than in would in Canada because there are no processed convenience foods available here. Everyone eats a lot of rice, which must be cleaned first, giant roots like yucca and ñame, which much be grown, picked, peeled, chopped and then boiled, beans, which never come from a can, coconut, which must be chopped open, peeled and then grated, and fruit juices, which must be picked, peeled, chopped, blended and then strained. Laundry is often done by hand; even those few people who have a washing machine end up washing about half their laundry by hand because the machines here are not powerful enough to get out stubborn sweat stains. (Sidenote: I saw a woman walking down the street the other day carrying a washing machine on her head- amazing!)
However, many of these things are good changes for me, even as I do acknowledge how much more tied people are to typical gender roles or not allowed the opportunity for education because they are needed at home to look after kids and to cook. After spending the last four years being extremely busy doing homework, going to class, working and all sorts of others things, it’s exciting to think that I now have the opportunity to experience life at a different pace. When I want to cook something that takes a long time or bake bread, I can. If I want to engage in hobbies, I have time.
Part of my work this first month is building confidence with the community. This means that I spend a lot of time wandering around Mampujan, sitting down with people, introducing myself and chatting about life. It’s good to be at place where I can talk to people and have afternoon naps without feeling guilty. Life will get busier for me, that I am sure of, but I think there will always be more time and opportunity to enjoy just being and taking part in a community.
However, lifestyle adjustments are not all pleasant and often catch me off guard. For instance, I went to Maria la Baja, a larger town about three miles away with three of the youth girls from Mampujan for a larger grocery shop, to buy things like vegetable, oatmeal and lentils and other items that are not as available in Mampujan. It was embarrassing to have the ability to spend, what for me felt like a relatively small amount of money, to what for them seemed like a very large amount, on food for just one person. Most people here send their kids to the store each day with instructions to buy fifty cents worth of oil or seventy five cents worth rice or twenty five cents worth of garlic, so that they can cook their afternoon meal. I, on the other hand, have a ready supply of money and the ability to spend twenty dollars at one time on food to last for over a week, and that is a huge contrast with everyone here. How do I adjust to things like this? What practical things can I engage in?
It’s also uncomfortable to deal with standards of beauty and western lifestyle here. The people here are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in my life, yet as the only white person, I am told that I embody the standard of beauty that they are most looking for. One woman sells Avon-like beauty products- I looked through her catalogue, and there was not a single woman of color featured as a model. An afternoon custom here is to watch telenovelas (Spanish soap operas), where all of the characters are white and live in mansions in Mexico. It’s hard to figure out my place, when I arrive in Mampujan as a symbol of all of this. There are so many incredible, strong and brave women in this community, yet so many of them have low self-esteem. Therefore, what does my role look like in this environment? How do I live my life in a way that is respectful and doesn’t reinforce the messages that are broadcast through the media about wealth and power, yet at the same time acknowledge that I do come from a radically different part of the world? All of this takes time and adjustment.