Guatemala differs from the United States in many obvious ways from lifestyle to landscape (Case in point: I ate lunch next to a cow today.) Of all the differences, the innate camaraderie among strangers here is what strikes me the most.
I can’t speak for the US as a whole, but the citizens of the greater New York area are not particularly chummy towards people outside of their inner circles. I consider making eye contact with someone on the street then quickly looking down and smiling a completely acceptable salutation. If the woman sitting next to me on a plane asks me how long the flight is, she becomes a good friend. When I run into a former classmate at the supermarket, I might give an enthusiastic “Hey! How are you!?” and then continue on my way.
In Guatemala, these actions are nowhere close to the norm. People go beyond “Buenos días” all the time. Two days ago, we passed by a hospital on our way to the Cacabals. There were two parents waiting outside with their young daughter. Freddy rolled down the window, stopped the car, and asked what was wrong. They explained that their daughter was having trouble processing food, and couldn’t keep anything down. We listened intently and Freddy wished them good luck before we continued on our way. Today, we went to the Agua Viva school and then went to the director Manuel’s home, where he told us, strangers, without hesitation the hardships that his family and community were experiencing because of the drought. Tonight at dinner, we asked the waiters their names, and then had a lengthy conversation about their work, their jobs, and their desire to learn English.
These open conversations are immensely important. In the United States, I reserve anything deeper than small talk for my close friends and family. However, these close friends and family inevitably live similarly to me, and have little trouble understanding my needs, because they have the same ones. In Guatemala, deep conversations on serious topics are commonly held among strangers. This openness allows the people here to sympathize with those who lead fundamentally different lives. Sympathy, respect, and understanding are so important to peace and progress, and I admire the Guatemalans for practicing these traits.