Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 02/24/2011

Simple Sundays

23-febrero 2011 – miercoles

Mi patio y flores

Giving a flavor of life in Guatemala …as I lie in bed on Sunday morning, I can hear the footsteps on the cobblestone street as people head to market, and of course, there is the inevitable music blaring from the TIGO truck, advertising that its cell phone company has the best coverage in Guatemala. Hunger finally forces me out of bed around 9am…

El día del Mercado is a kaleidoscope of colors, smells, and sounds. Armed with my large bag of  plastic weave (costal) and my shopping list: bananos, naranjas (oranges), pepino (cucumber), tomates, brócoli, moras (blackberries), aguacates (avocados), and more, I walk the two blocks to market. I pass by women in traditional dress seated on the ground with plastic baskets filled with food, their babes in slings peering out or dozing. I inquire about prices, but generally now seek out my favorite venders. Despite the problem of desnutrición (malnutrition) in our municipio (town), there is considerable variety of verduras (vegetables) and frutas each Sunday.  There are approximately 25 vendors of food and household items lined in the street or within the market building,  and for the hungry shoppers there is street food of shaved ice, corn tortillas with guacamole + cheese, and baggies of cut-up mangos or watermelon. Someday I will purchase a traje (traditional outfit) from the vendors of colorful Mayan textiles.

My view of the neighboring towns and hillside

My costal weighing heavy, most market days require two trips …occasionally I feel guilty that I buy enough fresh produce to feed a family, however, I do relish this abundance and variety. At the end of an hour, I have most of my food for the week…minus meat. Grand total is 85 quetzales or $11. The same items would have easily cost 3 times more in the U.S. Last week I quizzed one vendor where she came from, curious if from our area…no, she came from near Xela, about 1.5 hrs away….I am wanting to find out what is the variety of food grown within our central town and surrounding villages, that may be key information for combatting the malnutrition here.

Later in the day is Part II of food shopping: disinfecting. Here, I float tomatoes, apples, and cucumbers (any food to be consumed raw) in a bleach solution for 15 minutes to kill any bateria that might cause problems, then rinse with purified water. Funny how such practices become routine…it will seem strange not to follow this procedure in the U.S.  Another chore of Sundays is clothes washing…by hand of course. I fill a large plastic tub with cold water from my pila (outdoor sink), throw in some detergent + baking soda (kills the fleas) and let clothes soak for 30 minutes before rinsing and hang them on the clothesline…these warm, windy days of verano (summer) work in my favor, and in a few hours my clothes are crisp and dry.

I have a standing invitation for Sunday lunch at the home of my friend, Doña Fina…and head 4 blocks to her home at 1pm. (The main area of town is a 6-block radius.)  This was to be a birthday celebration, however, she is alone making lunch…when a grown daughter wanders in I ask about a cake. She gestures to the 2 cake mix boxes atop the frig. I get an affirmative to my question if there is time to make the cake and with some help swirl the flavors of chocolate and vanilla together for a treat after lunch. My friend appreciates my gift of peanut butter (for the next peanut butter square treat) and a photo calendar. As more family members show up, it feels more festive and we lunch on a beet salad, tortillas, potatoes, and guacamole. I tell her the funny story of my neighbor’s helper throwing out my large bucket of compost and worms because he thought it was trash…fortunately I had given Dona Fina some of my worms before they got carted off and thrown on the hillside which serves as the city dump….I comment: “mis gusanos están felices ahora porque están en la tierra” (my worms are happy now because they are in the earth)…a cultural misunderstanding of what constitutes as basura (trash). Next month I’ll fetch more worms from the Peace Corps office and very clearly mark my container next time: “No es basura!”

As the afternoon winds down, I head to the baños with Claire, another volunteer…we  walk the 2km, moving to the side of the dirt road as

Me, Kiki, and Claire- The St Bart Peace Corps volunteers

pickup trucks filled with people race along to the same destination. Sunday is a favorite bathing day for visitors and residents, so we check out the different tanques (10ft square concrete tubs) seeking relatively clean water, and position ourselves on the low concrete wall to scrub up before entering the pool. An infant in his mother’s arms is crying loudly, protesting the hot water as she bathes him….I sometimes worry about babies overheating, but at least there is usually breastfeeding afterwards so the infant gets rehydrated. We often draw curious looks, and I introduce myself and why I am living in San Bartolo….often I am asked the following questions: how old are you? Are you sad to be away from your family? Will you take me with you when you return to the U.S?  After an hour of soaking in the warmth of the thermal baths, Claire and I each buy a baggie of French fries for 3 quetzales ($.40) and cram into the van for the 10 minute ride back to town, all the women with hair wrapped in towells, the end of an inexpensive spa afternoon costing 1 quetzal ($.15).

My Sunday winds downwith baking in my toaster oven….ambitiously, I prepare a blackberry cobbler and 18 banana muffins with chocolate chips, the latter to be gifts to my colleagues and friendly neighbors.

My 80+yr old neighbor, Dona Paula, and her 16 yr old caretaker, Adelia

Time to give back to my neighbors because they have been treating me with delicious food. Finally I crawl into bed at 11pm, having enjoyed a day of simple pleasures and routines.



  1. Sounds really awesome Jan. I love the pictures! You look great. We’re thinking of you and we love hearing how you are doing. Thanks for a “picture” of your typical Sunday. Awesome!

  2. Nice writing, Janet.

    You look great in the pics.

    How are things going in respect to The Peace Corps’ decision to discontinue your program?

    Keep on keepin’ on. Missing your dancing spirit1


  3. My muni program will continue while I am here…there’s just no opportunity to mentor future muni volunteers and not much incentive to develop more muni materials. I still want to have a positive impact not only for my town, but also Peace Corps Guatemala…so I am pursuing an idea of creating an Environment committee to share ideas and materials in all 6 Peace Corps programs in Guatemala.

    Maybe I’ll start with getting some interest in celebrating Earth Day with activities throughout the country…so I am hopeful.

  4. Hi Janet,
    I love reading your blogs makes me very homesick for San Bartolo. Your Sundays sound very similar to what I would do. Bathing at the hot tubs is one of the luxuries of our town!!! Tell Dona Fina hola and that Abi ( my husband) and I are thinking of them everyday. I am happy you are adjusting well and loving San Bart.

  5. Hey mama!

    Did I read that correctly? Do you have a neighbor named DON-YA??? You just can’t escape that name, can you? 😉


  6. Hey Smartie Pants,
    “Doña” happens to be the respectful way to address a mature woman. My neighbor’s name is Paula Champet, therefore she is Doña Paula. I am addressed here as Doña Tere…so I guess, yes, I’m back to being “Dounia”. Love Mom

  7. Janet,

    Enjoyed reading about your typical Sunday. Espicially enjoyed the pictures of you. You looked happy. I am thinking of you and enjoy reading your updates.

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