Tuesday, March 25, 2014


As I reflect on my time in Guatemala, I have been "comparing."  It is inevitable.  As we try to make sense out of our experiences, we hold them up to previous experiences.  How is the same or different?  Is it better or worse?

Paul and I outside of our house
in Downers Grove
Poverty.  My growing up years were set in the context of poverty brought on by my dad's alcoholism.  Things improved when my mom overcame years of depression and went to work at Wescom.  However, even with added income, our standard of living was much different than most people in affluent Downers Grove, Illinois.

At first I perceived that my host family in Guatemala lived in markedly deeper poverty than my family of origin.  Our house was bigger.  We had more furniture.  We all had bedrooms, even if Paul and Nick shared.  We had things like hot water and a functioning refrigerator and doors that closed - when there were doors.  While my mother broke her back washing clothes in a wringer washer for years, she never had to scrub our clothes on a washboard outside before hanging them on the line.

Rosario's shower and
"cover" for shower faucet
Even with my dad's illness, he had a "male" skill set that could fix leaking roofs, frozen pipes, and deteriorating linoleum flooring.  Rosario's household of four women had some ingenious fixes for doors that had no handles, roofs that leaked, and faucets that needed to be replaced.

Rosario, like my mother, controlled the finances.  While my mother kept the cash in her purse, Rosario had a jar.  Anyone who had income in Rosario's house, contributed to the household "account."  All expenditures also went through Rosario.  It was much the same at home, with Mom managing the checkbook and each of us, including Dad, asking for money as needed.

Sheet draped furniture at Rosario's
While we dealt with frozen pipes, mice, sewer backup, a typical musty, once-in-a-while flooded basement, my Guatemalan family faced mold on the walls, washing clothes and pots outside, and a general lack of space. Poverty manifests differently in different places.  People develop coping skills and clever "work arounds." Perhaps this similarity is why I was not too wigged-out about where I lived in Guatemala.  I pined for a hot shower.  I figured out where to sleep so the spring that was poking out of my mattress didn't scratch me.  My latent OCD wanted to "organize" the clutter much as I attempted to do occasionally while growing up.  But the sheets that covered old furniture reminded me of the sheets covering old furniture when I was a kid.  Mismatched, random plates looked just like ours.  The worn dresses of Rosario and the nice clothes of Yesica reminded me of my own mother's sacrifices for me.

Grandpa, Ida (Marilynn's Mom)
 Dad and Mom
On the normally sheet-draped couch
The biggest difference I think in the two households was the atmosphere.  In Guatemala I lived with a family who certainly struggled to make ends meet, but who also showed great love and support and a unity that made even cold mornings feel warm.  Without a doubt, we loved each other in my family and were there for each other when the chips were down, but there were also huge tensions brought on my dad's alcoholism and the collateral damage that often causes. There was no yelling at Rosario's although there were sharp inflections at times. Their lives were centered around their faith - Rosario, Abuelita, Natalie, and Yesica - all practiced an active faith. My family's lives were centered around making it through the day.  While there was faith, it was not the focal point - alcohol was.

Poverty is poverty.  Different but the same.  People trying their very best to make it through life using everything at their disposal and surviving.   Downers Grove.  Xela.  A three generation, female household or a two parent nuclear household.  God present everywhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment