Posts Tagged ‘My Town’

3rd February
written by Michelle


I am so excited to be guest posting today over at Rachel Pieh Jones’ blog. I kind of think of Rachel as an expert in cross-cultural living, mothering & writing as an expat living in Djibouti. And if we’re ever in the same country I would jump on the chance to grab coffee with her just to listen and learn from her. I think you’ll find her perspective refreshing, honest and challenging.

A while ago she invited readers who to share what they observed while strolling through their town. It’s been a fascinating series with women writing about life in Cambodia, Tanzania, Russia, Ireland and about every other country in between!

So I wrote about life in Guatemala. Some of you know last year I did a little project of my own to appreciate and take note of my town. You can follow along on instragram with the hashtag #mytownGuatemala to get a glimpse.

Here’s my piece from Rachel’s blog:

. . .

Most afternoons before the sun starts to fade I put my daughter in our oversized stroller and push her up the hill from our house. We walk through two metal gates to get to the street. She waves at the white dog that always sits by the corner looking for scraps of food. We pass a woman balancing a basket on her head. She greets us, “Buenas Tardes” and then pauses to smile at my daughter. Babies are universal conversation starters. She asks, how old she is and then comments, “Esta bien grande” I smile, knowing from personal experience, that to be called “big” is a compliment. In my head I have learned to translate “big” into “tall.”

To read the rest click here:

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Also, if you’re looking for some more of Rachel’s work, these are a few of my favorite essays and posts of hers | This piece from the NY Times Modern Love Column | The Proper Weight of Fear | Rethinking the Christmas Story | I Don’t Promise To Keep My Kids Safe



20th March
written by Michelle

{Week 10: The Pila}

I posted this picture yesterday as part of my year long photo project to document my town. It’s a small way for me to practice noticing, appreciating and being thankful for where I live.

 . . .

Now, if f you live in Guatemala or have visited than you probably have seen these public washing basins before. Every town in Guatemala has one, sometimes a few. It’s called a pila. /pronounced: pea-luh/ Earlier this week I was doing a tour of Santa Maria de Jesus with a group of high school students from Canada. We usually ask some of the girls who have recently graduated from Proximos Pasos, our girls school, to be the tour guides. We believe that since they live there, they really are the experts of their town. As we walked by one of the many pilas in Santa Maria  one of the Canadian students asked out of curiosity, “Do boys ever wash clothes at the pila?” I translated the question for Roxana, our local student tour guide. She shook her head without thinking. No, only women and girls. Her response was has matter of fact as if has asked, “Is the sky blue?

 . . .

Now I realize for Roxana, and for most of the Guatemalans who live in towns like Santa Maria, this is just a way of life. The way it’s always been. A division of labor based on gender. Men work in the fields. Women cook. Boys play soccer. Girls carry their younger siblings on their backs. Men pull horses carrying piles of wood. Women wash clothes at the pila. And you see how it goes. This goes against everything I believe and understand about equality and sharing responsibility and dividing household roles based on skills and abilities, not gender. However, maybe this has always worked here. Or maybe it works because it’s how you survive. I am aware how dangerously easy it is to critique a culture that is not my own. I bet if someone from a majority world country came to the US for the first time they may be shocked how we throw food and electronics in the trash. And they would probably critique us for how we consume 40% of the world’s resources without even blinking an eye. And maybe rightfully so. Maybe sometimes it’s good to have an outsiders perspective. Someone to say, ya know there is another way to do this? If know me well or have read along on this blog, then you know that there are numerous things that I absolutely love about Guatemala:

the resilience and beauty of people who know how to work hard

the friendly way you greet one another

how the community matters more than the individual

the color of the fresh fruits and vegetables

how nothing is wasted and everything is re-used

how people live with less and yet, are so generous.

And how every-time I hear a Guatemalan pray they start with, “Thank you God for another day of life” because nothing is taken for granted.

  . . .

But the one thing, probably more than anything else, that drives me crazy about life here in Guatemala is the deeply machismo (or machista) culture. I could rant for days about this, but I won’t. I have accepted that part of living here means I have to accept how things are. A s a women, I hate it. As a mother raising a daughter here, it angers me. As a human, I will never fully understand this patriarchal tradition of giving power and division and privilege to men. I know I am over simplifying a very complex idea and way of life. Of course, not all Guatemalans are machista. Sometimes men are actually more open to equal opportunities and it’s the grandmothers or the suegros who keep women in the kitchen and men out. The truth us I will never like it, but I know I can’t change an entire culture. All I can do is work toward changing the next generation. That’s why I want to teach my daughter how to wash clothes. And one day if we have a son. I will teach him, too. Although let’s be honest, it will probably be in a washing machine, not at the pila. I want my daughter to know that when she grows up she can be a doctor or engineer or teacher, and one day if we have a son, I want him to know the same. I want my little girl to learn how to make pasta and pancakes and really good banana bread, and I would want my little boy to learn the same. I hope my daughter learns how to take out the trash and mop a floor and was a car because those are such good life skills, and the same would go for our son. If my daughter wants to play soccer on a team, I will work to form a girls league, because a most teams are reserved only for boys. I know for most of you, these ideas for probably just a given, but in Guatemala sometimes I feel like they are radical. Some days I get discouraged and frustrated. I worry about the girls at the school where I used to teach and my own daughter. What kind of message are we sending them? What happens when a little girl grows up and only sees women cooking or only boys playing soccer? How will she know something different? Sometimes I lose hope. And then sometimes I notice; something is changing. Slowly.

  . . .

As Elena and I took our afternoon walk yesterday, we walked by the pila in our town. We stopped to look at the water, which we often do. There were the usual group of women. Women of all ages standing, scrubbing, hunched over, arms engaged in a rapid back-and-forth motion. Dipping their plastic buckets into the water, rinsing off the suds. Working their way through the pile of wet clothes, methodically, calmly. And then I saw something I have never seen before. Two men. Probably in their 30s or 40s. Washing clothes. At the Pila. Men! My little heart applauded. Now I don’t know if they were brothers, or husbands, or fathers, but they were washing clothes. They were helping to take care of their households. I smiled and kissed the top of Elena’s head. A small step in the right direction. A small step toward a society where men and women will be given equal opportunities. And where both women and men will wash clothes at the pila.


{Week 11: It’s Spring…Bougainvillea}

19th February
written by Michelle

I know the idea of a weekly project is to have… umm, weekly pictures & posts. But these days, I always feel a little behind, so why not combine 3 into one, right?

Week 5: My mom was visiting and I snapped this while we strolled around Antigua one morning:

We loved having Nana here. She did lots of rocking and playing and holding (for Elena) and washing, cooking and cleaning (for me!) I think she wishes we lived closer to her town, but for now she makes more frequent visits to our town and for that I am so very thankful.

Week 6: Last week had a medical and dental team here and we took a Elena for the first time to the community where we work. The days were hot, long and rewarding. I was a little nervous about bringing Elena out in the middle of no where with dirt floors, dusty roads and sweltering heat. But she did great. I swear she was more content being outside under a mango tree, napping in the hammock and playing with the kids than she ever is at home. Ironic, no? This was the moment we drove home and took a second to appreciate the stillness and tiredness that comes at the end of day when you’re body and heart feel tired and full.

And This Week (wee7 ): Elena and I both enjoy our {almost} everyday afternoon walks. We usually find a neighbor watering his lawn, visit the playground or walk to buy some fruits and veggies from our friends. This is Monica. She has two sweet little girls, 18 months and 3 years, who come and help her sell her veduras in the park. Whenever they see us coming they say “hola, nena. hola, nena.” (hi, baby girl). Elena gets a free ride and I get some fresh fruits and veggies without having to drive to the store.


What’s been happening in your town recently?


Are you new here? This idea of Project 52 started here and was part of my new years goals to appreciate the little things in my neighborhood. You can see the previous weeks here.


27th January
written by Michelle

It’s week 4 of Project 52: My Town. If you’re new here, every Tuesday I take one photo, once a week of something in my town.

Today it’s our local tortilleria. Most Guatemalans buy fresh tortillas at least once a day if not more! We usually buy them once or twice a week. In every town throughout the entire country there is a local mill, where women take the kernels of corn, add some water and grind them to make a masa. They walk back to their homes carrying plastic tubs full of fresh ground corn balanced on their heads. And in every town there is a tortilleria or two where every day, three times a day, women stand around a hot comal and roll, pat, and flip tortillas. There is a rhythm and efficiency to it that I love to watch.

Traditionally the belief is that before a woman can get married she has to learn how to tortillar. (make the perfect tortilla). My mother-in-law has tried to teach me a few times, and basically I fail every time. Thankfully, I didn’t have to abide by that tradition.

But, I must say, there is nothing like fresh, homemade, warm tortillas.

And as part of my New Years goal of appreciating the little things in my town. I am documenting the things that make my town unique or special or fun. But I realized this week that I don’t want to just document things, but also people. So I added a note in my favorite note app- titled People in My Town. And this week I typed the word Tortilleria, and underneath the names: Isbael & Yolanda.

I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me ask someone’s name once and then forget it 3 minutes later. And then I feel bad to ask it again next time I see them. So I am going to write them down. And hopefully in 52 weeks I will have a note filled of names of people who live in my town.

How do you get to know new people in your town?

P.S. When I asked Isabel and Yolanda if I could take their picture, I told them I wanted to show my friends and family in the U.S. how Guatemalans make tortillas. They thought that was pretty funny.

Wanna join? Take one photo of something, ANYTHING, in your town. Post it on instagram or facebook or twitter or on your blog or whatever social media platform you prefer. Use the hashtag #project52mytown. I’ll post mine on Tuesday. Be sure to leave a comment below with a link to your blog or picture.

21st January
written by Michelle

It’s Tuesday. The day where I post a picture from around my town. It’s something small, a little thing that helps me look around and notice where I live. It sometimes helps this foreign culture feel more familiar. And maybe most importantly it focuses my attention on what is good, beautiful and unique right here where I live.

Wanna join? You can document your town once a week? or once a month.

Here’s the idea: Take one photo of something, ANYTHING, in your town. Post it on instagram or facebook or twitter or on your blog or whatever social media platform you prefer. Use the hashtag #project52mytown. I’ll post mine on Tuesday. Be sure to leave a comment below with a link to your blog or picture.

That’s it.

In case you missed week 1 and 2 are here.


14th January
written by Michelle


There’s a lot of these project 52 ideas going around the blog world. The basic idea is you take one photo a week for an entire year. I know some people are following along here, where you have different theme each week. Other people are doing a picture of their kid each week with this site. However, we all know I probably post more than enough pictures of my little one and I’m not always good about following along when the theme changes week-to-week. It stresses me out.

But, remember how I want to commit to little things this year?

I like the idea of something consistent and easy to do each week (easy being the key!). I like the idea of doing a better job noticing and appreciating where I live.

So, I am going to document my town; the place I live and the people I meet. Where I walk in the afternoons and where I buy fresh tortillas. You know, the little things that make my town unique.

Wanna join? Wanna document your town once a week for a year?

It’s easy peasy.

Here’s the idea: Take one photo of something, ANYTHING, in your town. Post it on instagram or facebook or twitter or on your blog or whatever social media platform you prefer. Use the hashtag #project52mytown. I’ll post mine on Tuesday. Be sure to leave a comment below with a link to your blog or picture.

That’s it.

Here’s to a year of appreciating and sharing about my town.


P.S. And because I’m little late starting this (story of my life right now) here’s week 2: