We left the beautiful country of Guatemala two months ago. I loved so much about that place- except for the driving and getting lost and almost missing our plane in Guatemala City part. I haven’t posted much recently (except through our Instagram and Facebook accounts) and wanted to share with you some things that got me thinking while I was there.
The kids and I took Spanish language lessons for 4 weeks. We took private lessons so we could really focus on what we needed individually. My teacher, Gabby, would always ask me deep and interesting questions- I thought at first it was to stretch my language skills, but I started to get a feeling that she was trying to figure us out- see how people from the United States tick. Why we are the way we are. And in these conversations and in her questions, she revealed some of her confusion about her students and about Americans in general. She asked about family and traditions and politics and daily routines. Here are some of her observations.
Gabby asked a lot of questions about family and what is important. She told me that she had a family who recently took lessons at the school. She tutored the daughter’s nanny, who revealed a lot about their family life. The family has a three story house. One level is for the daughter. The second is for the mother and the third is for the father, who both own their own businesses and work from home. But they never see the daughter, even though they are home, because they are always working.
They have plenty of money to get her whatever she wants, but the nanny says she really just wants her parents and is very, very lonely.
Gabby was baffled and asked if this is common. I told her that, unfortunately, it was very common for parents to be so focused on their careers that they sacrificed quality time with their family. She asked why it seems that Americans always want money and things and don’t value their time with their families. She explained that in Guatemala, people are more important than things, and people would rather work less and spend time with their families than be gone all the time and have a nicer house. The part of this situation that baffled her the most was that this family said they were Christians and she couldn’t understand why Christians would have their priorities in jobs and things and not in their people.
During our conversation one day, I asked Gabby if she had kids. She said that, no, she was the only child of her parents, as if that explained everything. It didn’t, so she helped me. She said her parents need her help, and this is the reason she hasn’t left the house or gotten married. She works hard all day with students. She doesn’t get days off, ever, except for Christmas Day. But, all this hard work is not for her and her dreams. She works to help her parents survive.
Gabby had an American student in the afternoons and she told me that this man was a friendly guy, but was very unhappy about everything. He complained about the weather. He was unhappy with the restaurant he ate at the night before. She said he had been to Spain for a month studying Spanish and said he didn’t like Spain at all. He didn’t like Guatemala like he thought he would. He always had something he didn’t like and complained about everything. She noticed that he was very discontent and wondered how he could be this way all the time.
My teacher mentioned another student in the school whom I also knew from my homestay. She said he was also very discontent, but more than just discontentment, he was very demanding. He wanted the perfect Spanish teacher. He wanted his teacher to have lesson plans laid out for him weeks in advance and wanted to know what her goals were for the end of his time there. She had heard him raising his voice at another teacher, her friend, and said he was very disrespectful to her. When he was telling me about his discontentments over lunch at our Guatemalan home, he told me that he paid good money and spent his vacation time to come here, and that he was going to make sure to get what he paid for. I reminded him that he was paying his teacher about $4/hour and he could never get a private tutor for that back in the US. I reminded him that this was the teachers’ only income and that they were struggling to survive.
He told me that there is a different standard of living here, that they don’t need as much, and that they’re used to it.
I wondered if he actually thought that that make it alright? Since they are “used to” living in poverty, they can just go on living that way? And since we are “used to” living with anything we want, can we just go on living that way and being as demanding as we want at the expense of others? Because that’s what we are all “used to”. I hope you feel the sarcasm oozing.
This man also told me on his first day that his bathroom in his homestay smelled bad and he had asked for a chair for his room that he didn’t receive yet and he didn’t really love this food he was being served. He was thinking about switching homes because this wasn’t cutting it for him. I explained to him that our house mom was almost 70 years old. She has incredible pain in her eyes, especially from the heat when she cooks for us and has pain in her legs when she walks. She cooks for up to 12 students at a time, 3 meals a day, and then cleans up without accepting help, no matter how insistent we are in offering. She cleans everyones rooms and bathrooms. All by herself. He told me, “If she is too overworked to even bring him his chair, she needs to hire someone to help her. Because surely she is rich with all the money we were paying her.” Which, like with our Guatemalan teachers, was hardly anything. We wouldn’t have been able to even go out to eat every day in the same city for the price we were paying to stay with her, but we were getting a room, 3 meals a day, and a maid. I learned from later conversations with her that she was hardly making ends meet.
Gabby asked me about politics, in shock and confused about what was happening in the United States and about the candidates we had chosen. She asked me why all Americans love Trump. I assured her that not all Americans do, and she told me that from what she sees, it seems that many, many people do, and that it especially seems that all Christians do. She told me this was confusing because he was very arrogant and says cruel things and is not at all what a Christian should be. She couldn’t understand why a Christian would vote for such a man who, as a person, is so opposite of who Jesus is. And how it was that these two candidates were the two people that we had voted as the best of the best to lead us.
One last statement that Gabby said completely threw me off guard and I really didn’t know what to say. She asked if we were planning to have more kids, and I told her that we weren’t. Then she said, “Oh, then when are you planning to adopt?” I was a little confused, wondering if I had said something in my broken Spanish, implying that we were going to have more kids, and I told her that we didn’t have any immediate plans to adopt. Then she matter-of-factly said, “You’re a Christian, right? And Christians adopt kids.” Not a question. A statement. I thought of so many of my friends and family who have adopted. I thought of my parents and my brother. And of my friends, the Gregory’s, who adopt kids out of the foster system who have physical and emotional issues that many would run from. And so many other friends who have sacrificed so much to love these kids and have committed their lives to raise kids who need a family. I am humbled and awed to see their patience and love. And Gabby could see that this is what Christians do. This is what Christians SHOULD do. They adopt kids. They love the forgotten. They put their lives on hold to love another. They pour out their lives and do everything they can to show the love of Jesus.
Gabby’s questions have had me thinking for awhile. What message are we sending to others? It seems that the way we are, our culture, is accepted as normal in the United States, but does that make it right? Is it right because that’s what we are used to and because that’s how things are for us? Maybe we need to see ourselves with new eyes. Maybe normal is not necessarily right. Maybe the “way we are” is not the way we should be. Gabby’s questions have me thinking about my own life, about who I am, and about how I am perceived by others.
Leave us a comment below. Have you been challenged in your thinking recently? How are you rethinking the way you should live?