Long time no blog! I am using this time of quarantine as a way to get reacquainted with the wonderful habit of journaling and blogging with a first person voice, keeping you and me entertained in the process. You may feel like you have missed a few episodes, or rather a whole season! I will try to catch up as we go. In the meanwhile, stay safe and wash your hands 🙂
First, I would like to thank everyone who has sent me money to buy groceries for families affected by COVID in Guatemala. THANK YOU SO MUCH! I have over $500 and if you would like to donate as well, please check out this post for the why and how.
Living Guatemala to visit the U.S. and my husband-to-be at the end of last year was supposed to be a quick and sweet visit, that turned out into us getting married and me applying for a green card.
Meaning I didn’t get a chance to prepare my houses properly for extended absence, or to prepare myself psychologically for it. But then COVID happened and there was no way for me to get back anyway.
Mid March, Guatemala closed its border, and soon after, proclamed a state of emergency, complete with a strict lockdown and curfew from 4pm to 4am.
In Guatemala, many people live day to day. They borrow a little money, buy fruits, vegetables or household goods, and roam the streets until it’s all gone. They can expect to make $6-15 on a good day.
My hairdresser told me her best month last December, when everyone was getting pretty for family reunions and fancy events, was $800. She said it like I’d mention my guest house making $8,000 a month during high season.
My usual months aren’t half that, so I can extrapolate and imagine she doesn’t make more than $20 on a good day. As I showed last week, $20 buys you food for about a week for a family of 4-6 people.
Not that their income is non existent, it’s not like they can rely on a food bank, or a stocked cellar. With the heat and humidity, it doesn’t make sense to stock things. Aside from my fridge, where I even stock rice and beans, anything I leave outside has a very short shelf life.
If it’s not the humidity, ants and bugs will find the food.
And for as much as I try to beg people to plant more trees, it just doesn’t happen.
My middle class friends are affected too, as the ones depending on tourism, like me, have had 0 income for the past two months. We missed on Semana Santa, the Holy Week before Easter, and the impact has been dramatic.
Many had been tempted to expand, as Airbnb made it easy to rent a place, furnish it and sublet through them, and now they are stuck with a lease they can’t afford to pay.
Middle class Guatemalans live a little like U.S. middle class, scrimping by every month just enough to pay the credit card’s minimum payment and find money for private school, uniforms and rent.
You can’t pity them, like the lower class families who have to beg for food, but it is a very stressful situation nonetheless.
With the money I have received from readers and friends, I am preparing baskets of food, as well as matching donations with in kind work for men in my village.
I don’t need my garden pruned and looking perfect, as I probably won’t see a guest before Christmas, but it gives these guys a purpose, and I’d rather keep the dignity of earning a salary than handing charity.
The food baskets are going to single women who don’t have family support.
Here, I was reading about the homeless, and how food is actually very easy to find, between food banks and local organizations. Even clothes and basic hygiene products. Homeless people lack places to charge their phones to get COVID updates, bus fares, earplugs to sleep, good quality socks, and other things we don’t really think about.
So the best bet if you want to help, is to ask your community, either someone in the streets directly, or the charities helping them. If someone says they’re hungry, you’re better off giving them a list of places to find food, and any cash you plan on donating, buying them things the won’t find at the food bank.
In Guatemala, my baskets include food and soap mainly. Seeing the joke of a response from the government is sad, and it is also the easiest way for me to ask community leaders to hit the markets and find basic staples.
There are always individual cases, like finding asthma medication, or new shoes for a kid with a malformation, but I take these on a per case basis.
A kid who doesn’t eat properly, be it in quantity or nutrients can’t focus and learn. They are years behind a Western kid when it comes to learning. Not that they’re stupid, they just can’t focus on an empty stomach, or a corn tortilla only diet.
“Sal y tortilla”, tortilla and salt, is the poor person’s diet in my village. When it’s all you can afford, corn tortilla fills you up, and salt avoids dehydration when you drink water. It is sometimes accompanied by “fruit from the tree”, meaning whatever is growing at that time of year. Banana, papaya, coconut… Hence my nudges to plant more so they have more.
But when today is an emergency, it’s hard to see the benefit of planting something that may feed you four years from now.
On a health level, Guatemala is doing ok, a few clusters are overwhelmed by the virus, but it’s not too bad considering how people live on top of each other. My region in the North is doing ok and we hope it continues.
When the economy reopens, these people will still have it hard as they depend on disposable income from richer people, who will likely tighten the belt and save their cash.
It’s like when someone dies. It’s not enough to give condoleances. You have to follow up a month later, on anniversaries and dates that hurt, like their birthday. When Guatemala goes back to work, they will still be hurting.
They may get a job, but they’ll have to crawl out of debt at the grocery store. Pay the doctor for the medicine. So my effort isn’t done anytime soon.
Again, if you would like to contribute, my PayPal is tdmpauline at gmail dot com and any amount is greatly appreciated!