Put yourself in someone else’s shoes…The flipside of the same coin…The shoe is on the other foot. Pick your idiom. This is where we’re at these days. Where we were once the producers, we’re now the consumers. Where we were previously the teachers, we’re now the students, and I for one am loving being on this side of the coin.
Supermarkets don’t exist here on Lake Atitlan. This is the land of tiendas, small general stores that serve the basic needs of the immediate neighborhoods around them, and there are many dozens of them within walking distance of our bungalow. Each one has its own focus of goods and its own personality, and over the course of a week, we tend to visit ten or more different tiendas to get a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
And then there’s the market, where we get most of our fresh fruit and veggies. San Pedro’s market sits in the center of the town, and on it’s two main days, Sunday and Thursday, there are well over a hundred vendors packed into the covered pavillion and the streets surrounding it. These are all small farmers, making their living off of the local economy, so we tend to spread the love to as many different vendors as we can…a tendency we learned from many of the customers that supported us and our market in Raleigh for many years.
On a shopping day, we’ll easily buy from half a dozen produce vendors at the market, and another half dozen tiendas between our place and the market, which is a 15 minute walk away. Haruka and I are really enjoying this style of shopping, which provides great exercise, and also gives us a chance to personally interact with the producers and sellers of the food we eat. It gives us the opportunity to truly embody the feeling that our customers used to feel as they perused our market, chatting up the various vendors and picking up their favorite foods for the week. The difference here is that the entire society does their shopping in this way, as there’s no other option. And while some folks here would possibly jump at the chance to do all of their shopping in the convenience of a supermarket, or mall, I sense that there is a happiness and connectedness amongst Guatemalans that eludes many in my home culture.
In order to function in the marketplace, our Spanish skills have been quite tested. Luckily, we happen to live in a Spanish Language School, which has given me the opportunity to brush up on my high school Spanish, and hopefully expand well beyond that as our travels in Latin America unfold. In our career before farming, Haruka and I ran our own English school in Japan for seven years, and we both taught English in that country for over eleven years, so we’d like to think that we know a bit about teaching a foreign language. It has been very humbling to be on the other side of the classroom, seeing how the teacher adjusts to our learning styles and finds ways to convey the nuances of the language even though we may be ridiculously bumbling through the most basic stuff at times.
As we get deeper into our travels, our intent is to work on various farms and permaculture projects to further expand our skills and experience in that realm. Though it may be challenging to take instruction and direction on a farm from someone else after having taught our own style of farming to nine different apprentices over nine years, it is something that I’m really looking forward to. I understand that I must put all ego aside and be a very receptive listener in order to truly gain value from such an experience. Already I’ve started putting myself into that role of the student/worker here at the Spanish school, where they have a beautiful edible landscape and vegetable garden. I’ve been volunteering just for the fun of it, and what I really appreciate most is how thorough their instructions are for even the most basic tasks, because it’s important to get that stuff right.
One’s garden, and the land where they grow food for their family and community is hugely important, and it’s critical that they are able to convey that importance to their volunteers or staff, and have follow-through. Haruka and I get that so much, but we also understand that putting ourselves on the flipside of that same coin will be an exercise in humility and personal growth. And if we are ever teachers or producers again on some level, this experience of being on the other side of the coin will pay massive dividends. We’re curious if any of you out there have any experiences of being in someone else’s shoes for awhile, and what valuable lessons you may have gained from those experiences. Feel free to share…