“What is the most interesting thing you have eaten?” – Brad Kessler (Evans School classmate and current Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan)
Questions regarding what I eat are unending. The most common foods in Guatemala are beans, rice, and eggs (often scrambled with tomato and onion). And, of course, tortillas accompany most every meal. Carne and pollo asado can be found in just about every comedor (small, inexpensive cafeterias). Stews or caldos are common, along with all manner of soups, and I’ve mentioned the ubiquity of tamales.
All in all, I’m usually pretty satisfied with the food here. Both host moms have fed me well, treating me with special Guatemalan dishes (estofado!) or demonstrating their worldliness by serving me things like spaghetti. In fact, in my first five months here there has only been one dish I’ve turned away – a kind of tomato based stew called champan (or something similar sounding) made with the innards of something or other.
But, back to the question at hand. Most everything (minus the innard stew) is pretty basic fare and I am rarely surprised by what’s on my plate. However, I have come across some new fruits and vegetables. Last week I ate a red banana and have come to accept guisquil as a regular part of my diet. Something called a zapote has also piqued my interest as it is a fruit that looks like a football and tastes just like baked yams. But, in the end, the strangest thing I have eaten has to be tacuazin. I still have plenty of time left in country, though, so who knows what’s in store. After all, I did open up the fridge a few weeks ago to see this:
“How far does your money go?” – Brad
This is also a popular inquiry. Some people (mainly Guatemalans) seem to be under the impression that I’m getting paid an american salary in dollars and am therefore loaded with cash. In fact, I am being paid in the local currency at a rate that is supposed to allow me to live at a comparable level to other Guatemalans. I have heard that we make slightly more than teachers do. This is important because it is supposed to allow us to better integrate into the community. After all, it would probably alienate my neighbors and adversely affect my relationship with the community if I had a really nice house filled with all sorts of gadgets and lived in a way completely outside the realm of local custom.
All in all, I receive around 3000 Quetzales per month (about the equivalent of $350) to cover everything: rent, food, travel, internet and other incidentals. Which (even though the next few months will be tight moneywise as I hopefully move out of a host family situation and into a private space) I feel like is about enough. I’m hoping to rent an apartment for 600Q, I can get a month of internet for 150Q, tortillas are 4 for 1Q and travel is fairly affordable. Though we’ll see how things are in a few months. I hear there are some volunteers that dip into savings or get support from generous parents to make life a little easier.
At first I marveled at how cheap things were when compared to dollars, particularly food (you can buy a decent meal with drink for 15Q or about $2), but I have since had to stop doing this because I am not dealing with dollars, I am dealing with quetzals and would soon be broke if I legitimized every purchase that way (I should totally buy these shoes! They’re only $15!!). Though, sometimes, after I’ve had a particularly good weekend out of site I convert what I spent on into dollars to escape some of the guilt…