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Why do I envy those with so little?!

We have been spreading roots here. Our seeds of friendship have fallen on fertile ground! It's been a grand experiment of self-examination and questioning lifestyles in general, and we have much food for thought.

A standard home in rural Guatemala consists of tin or stone walls, a wood-burning stove of some sort, a foam mattress or two on the ground, and a table, some pots. The floor is either bare concrete or plain dirt, and the main living area usually consists of outdoor space. Bedrooms are commonly shared between parents, in-laws, children, grandchildren, etc. One of the main feelings I've been exploring and pondering has been the jealousy I feel when I walk into the homes of friends that have so little.

When we first arrived last year, the first place we looked at renting was nothing more than mud-brick adobe construction. After a few more viewings, we quickly realized that a fridge or gas stove is considered a total luxury to the local population. When visiting friends here, we see little to no art, no appliances, no couches, no rugs. It seems so basic—just the essentials. (I've told friends about dishwashers, and they did not believe me!) I must note the exception here: televisions. Everyone has one, no matter how 'poor.'

But there is a beauty to this simplicity that I'm trying to grasp because it stirs in me a feeling of (I feel 'inappropriate') envy. Due to the emptiness of the homes, there is a clutter-free feeling that is instantly relaxing. Adding to the calming nature of the cultural esthetics are many plants that multiply with little effort and no expense.

My friend Edwin has told me a story about how his family bought their first couch years ago. "What a moment it was!" he said, "We saw families on TV with couches, and we thought, look how nice it would be to sit on one."

He went on to describe the irony of it all. Once they had the couch, they had an extra monthly payment. Therefore, they never had time to sit on the sofa, as they had to work to make the extra income. The story ended with a lament: "when we were out of the house, the dog took over the couch, made it his bed, and wrecked it."

I recently heard a quote stating that we do not buy things with money; we buy them with hours of our time. In this case, Edwin's family purchased a couch with the few hours they had left of the day for sitting and relaxing, rendering it useless.

So this causes a lot of reflection for me in my own life. What are our pointless family expenditures burning up our time?

What are yours?

Here in rural Guatemala, with homes and living standards so simplified, family members living together get a lot more time with one another. At its core, it is a custom that strengthens the overall community. Grandparents spend the days with grandchildren while parents go to work. Imagine that!? Parents don't have to go to work to get paid to pay for child care, and inheritances aren't spent on care home fees. While Westerners may perceive this as poverty due to limited material possessions and "personal space," it is a life choice and mentality only recently challenged by American television programming and the arrival of (high interest) credit.

The heart-breaking reality this new programming is producing is that many families here are breaking with these traditional norms to set out to America to trade time there for the possessions they now feel they need.

Our neighbor's family is one of many who bid farewell to the man of the house on a dangerous journey led by "coyotes" searching for a 'better life." The complicated nature of the entire situation is well worth observing. Immigrants beckoned to crave the American dream through her channels (on those TVs bought on credit) are now risking their lives to achieve the HGTV boardroom's version of success.

And so, the grass continues to grow greener on the other side.

I admittedly would find many issues with living in the same room with my in-laws or parents with my wife and children. I do not want to be naïve in highlighting the pros and not at least acknowledge the cons. It is likely a contributing reason why affairs seem to be more culturally "accepted" here. Little room for privacy inevitably would lead to less intimacy between couples.

But.. there must be some sweet spot in the middle of all of it. Hopefully, the cultural exchange between local families like Edwin's and ours will lead us closer to a nice balance. After all, throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not our intention. These thoughts fuel the experiment and drive us to continue learning about life in such a wonderful community.


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