Thursday, 21 November 2013

La Familia Gonzales

 Wednesday afternoon we started studying at our new school, this was a new prospect as we have a teacher each which means we don't get to relax and daydream while the other students pick up the slack for a while.  So after stammering and grunting through 3 hours of the hardest class of our lives like inarticulate, drunk village idiots (no smart comments please) our minds turned to our home stay accommodation that compliments the course....

We climbed the really steep hill, we walked through the poor district into the really poor district into a 'building'.  In my mind buildings have walls and windows to create a kind of enclosure for people to live in comparative comfort compared to the hardship of eating and sleeping outdoors.  This structure had a different idea.

Downstairs is a wooden gate onto a corridor with 6 rooms, one of which is our bedroom, the rest are for the children that still live there.  There is a 'bathroom' with a very dark (non-flush) toilet, a shower (not that you would understand as a shower) behind a well worn pink sheet and a water trough type system where the laundry gets done.  All really wet and dark.  A foot square gap in the bathroom wall is the only window in all of the downstairs.

Upstairs is half maize storage barn and half kitchen / diner.  There are some supporting walls but no glass in the gaps and it's lovingly topped off by corrugated iron.  The kitchen has another trough, a hearth on which things are heated and a dining table (wall paper paste table really) where the flies rest themselves during the day.

As we were introduced to a mesmerizing array of children/adults belonging to our hosts, Manuel and Anna, we tried to string some of our village idiot Spanish into anything that calmed the screaming we both had at the back of our minds....

We realise now that significant differences aside we were meeting incredibly genuine & generous people who just happen to also be the poorest people we've ever met too.  Not that they would ever think of themselves that way I'm sure...  Anna kissed us hello, so did Manuel (cue the awkward surprised semi head butt), they introduced us to the available children....

- the most inquisitive 9 & 12 year old boys you will ever see complete with the sharpest mischievous eyes on the planet - here's their cat - in a dress
- 3 teenage boys with different proximity to manhood, but with an unmissable sense of unity and deference to the family and it's farming business
- 2 young women who support Anna but are also constantly correcting and rolling their eyes at their oh-so-much slower brothers
- 2 young men who made sure there was always a conversation for the 2 scared and phased gringos in their kitchen
- a quick visit by the respected middle aged oldest brother and family leuitenent (3 months younger than me)

Here's a piccy of most of them from later in the week....

And here's some pictures from Gulliver's travels:

All 11 people who lived there had absolutely no qualms about us becoming a real part of their family for the coming week.  After Gayle had finished explaining to the staunchly catholic family that we are completely godless (while wearing a scarf laden with skulls!), we enjoyed spinach soup (spinach in warm water) with freshly made tortilla & a drink of coffee (5:1 sugar to coffee ratio).  We retired to our Jesus strewn room with a complete sense of disbelief at everything we'd just witnessed - our distress at the conditions and the growing realisation that our new family are quite simply, lovely people.

Over the next day or two our Spanish started to improve a bit (still a long long way to go) - Gayle's teacher just wants to chat and smile, mine has me learning the intricate structure of the language... Straight after the lesson each day Gayle has the best part of a bottle of wine and I have 4 large vodkas to calm our heads from the lesson and embolden us to the next language test at the homestead.

Stuff we now know:
- our family have 14 children but this isn't considered anything to write home about. Manuel has 14 siblings himself & when one of them died he took in their son as his own
- all but 1 of the children live at home or within 3 streets. As do Manuel's parents who are living independently in their 90s. The missing brother married a gringo & moved to the US
- Guatemalans earn on average Q50 a day (our family will be a lot less). In Guatemala City a Big Mac costs Q25.
- the men work 6 days a wk, starting at 5ish - first task, to beat rats out of their crops before they can harvest anything. On Saturdays the youngest boys work in the hills too. M-F they go to school (til the age of 16)
- the women get up 30 mins earlier to make them breakfast & a packed lunch
- the family grow crops to survive, they sell v little because they need it for themselves. Crops are maize, green beans & some coffee bushes. Other things (like chocolate to drink) they swap with neighbours. 
- although the house has electricity they admitted on day 3 they can't afford to use it to heat water so showers are cold (and quick)
- other than a ball, the kids have no bought toys - they make their own kites & animals from paper. Kite fighting is big news here. 
- the downstairs has no windows presumably to save heat, as it doesn't have any form of heating either
- food is v basic but high protein (not necessarily a good thing when sharing one un-touchable loo with 13 others). Beans, eggs & tortilla are staple foods. 

Despite living in conditions we associate with a Comic Relief appeal they are an incredibly tight knit unit who laugh a lot & share everything they have with us.  Massively mixed emotions between wanting to get the hell out & feeling very humbled. 

We have had to engineer a bit of rest time by ourselves over the weekend and we are planning the best way of leaving as early as possible for better conditions without being the most disrespectful and ungrateful gringos ever to struggle with less than ideal living conditions.  When we return at night the young boys are still up waiting for the chance to see what amazing things we have in our room (like contact lenses) and quiz us on our every move, all of which entertains them immensely.

One couple we know are staying in the most luxurious and clean hostel in the entire area (for less than we pay for the home-stay!) and another couple are doing a home stay but in their own brand new suite that isn't shared, even though the family has a frankly measly 4 people... They are all missing out on some serious character building!

Wednesday will bring on another move onto Antigua where I can practice my skills at conjugating reflexive verbs.  I just need to learn what they are now!  ("I wake myself up" - who talks like that!?)

1 comment:

  1. Whoah, what an experience. So good to see what you guys are up to. I bet you wont forget this family ever.