Let’s Go Flaneuring in Antigua, Guatemala

Today’s Let’s Go Flaneuring post is by Michelle Acker and takes us through Antigua, Guatamala.

Most afternoons before the sun starts to fade I put my daughter in our oversized stroller and push her up the hill from our house. We walk through two metal gates to get to the street. She waves at the white dog that always sits by the corner looking for scraps of food. We pass a woman balancing a basket on her head. She greets us, “Buenas Tardes” and then pauses to smile at my daughter. Babies are universal conversation starters. She asks, how old she is and then comments, “Esta bien grande” I smile, knowing from personal experience, that to be called “big” is a compliment. In my head I have learned to translate “big” into “tall.”

My daughter’s head bounces along and I am reminded why I never see anyone else pushing a stroller on these roads. Babies are carried in wonderfully woven wraps on women’s backs and hips and held close while on motorcycles or bicycles.

I remember once driving home, I stopped to talk to neighbor who was in the park. I waved out the window and she asked where my daughter was. I rolled down the back window to show her. She gasped. You leave the baby back there, BY HERSELF? I nodded. Carseats are virtually non-existent in most of the developing world (or majority world, according to this npr article).

When we get to the main road we stop by the local bakery. No one waits in line here. You kind of just huddle toward the front and call out what you want. The woman hands me a plastic bag with an assortment of sweet breads. It costs about fifty cents. Guatemalans are serious about their pan dulce. Every afternoon fresh bread is delivered in large baskets to bakeries around town. It’s something you buy every day, just enough for that day. No one buys bread for the week. Or bread to freeze. It is, in the most simplest sense, daily bread.

Never before have I understood the significance of a prayer I grew up repeating, “Lord, give us this day our daily bread.” But, Guatemalan’s live that prayer every day.

We make it to the central plaza, where the orange church façade is a standing reminder of the Spanish influence and conquest decades ago.  From the hillsides checkered with corn and coffee crops, comes a horse and his owner.  Both of them carrying corn stalks piled up tall. They walk in unison past the internet café on the corner. Three girls in plaid skirts and white polos sit on a bench near the park, giggling, looking at their cell phones. I imagine probably sharing text messages and watching videos on Facebook, things teenage girls do everywhere.

My daughter interrupts my thoughts, “Agua! Agua?” She points.  Yes, there’s the water sweetie.

Right behind the schoolgirls is the pila, the public washing bin, where woman scrub clothes the same way same way their mothers and grandmothers have done for generations. I am struck by the juxtaposition, the new and the old, in the same place.

We stop and get some fruit from Doña Marta. “Just pineapple and watermelon today?” Yes, I tell her. Just pineapple and watermelon. She’s a savvy businesswoman and always tries to sell me more than what I ask for.

The brightly painted school bus, blows its’ horn and the ayudante calls out, “Antigua, ‘tigua.” The bus engine starts up and exhausts spews out from behind. I turn the stroller and try not to breathe in the fumes. A few guys hop up on the back of the bus and hang on to the ladder as it begins to move. I watch as a motorcycle wizzes by carrying a family of 4, all nuzzled together on one seat. No one is wearing a helmet.


We wait to cross the street as a small pickup drives by, cylinders of gas rattle in the back as the megaphone shouts, “Zeta Gaaaaaas.” The church bells chime. Mass is about to start.

I glace down to check on my daughter. Her little feet dangling over the edge of the stroller. I sigh. These noises and sights and smells are still new to me. I have had to learn what they are and how things work.

But I realize what’s often still foreign to me, will be familiar to my daughter.

We start to walk home past the elementary school and the one pay phone in town. We pass the local ice cream shop on our way. My daughter is still young enough to not notice if I am licking an ice cream cone, and she is not. I intend to take advantage of that fact for as long as I can. I ask for a single scoop of “Espresso Fudge” which when pronounced with a Spanish accent sounds something like “ae-sspray-sso foodge.”

I notice they’ve added white bars across the entire counter. I ask the woman what happened. She reaches for a cone and explains that they were robbed last week by a man on a bicycle. Ironic she says. I am now behind bars, but the robber roams free. I nod, empathetically and fight off the fear inside. I tell myself there are plenty of wonderful things about living here, but I make a mental note to watch out for men on bicycles.

As we walk down the bumpy road toward our house, I remember we need some printer paper. I am now regretting bringing our stroller because it won’t fit in the doorway.  I unbuckle my little girl and hold her on my hip while looking for my cash. I tell the gal behind the counter that I would like 100 pieces of paper. There is no such thing as a ream of paper, you by paper by the piece. She tries not to stare at me aghast. No one buys 100 pieces of paper at once. You buy daily paper, like daily bread. Guatemalans don’t operate in land of excess or abundance, but necessity. You only buy what you need.

We round the corner, past the cornstalk walls and cement houses as the sun dips behind the purple volcanoes. My feet our dusty and I am pretty sure the bread I bought is being squished by the watermelon in the basket below the stroller. My 100 sheets of paper are gently stacked on top of the stroller. I thank the guard holding a gun as he opens the big metal gate for us. I see my husband’s truck parked in front of our house. My heart and hands relax. I hear my daughter’s voice, “Dah-da! Dah-da!”

It is in this town where I met the man I would later marry. I became a wife and a mother in this place. And it is now here, where I now call home, a country different from the one on my passport, but perhaps equally a part of my heritage now.

. . .

Michelle is a born and raised California girl who now calls Guatemala home. She and her husband work in community development and are committed to raise a bilingual & bicultural daughter who currently says things like “mas beans.” Michelle writes about motherhood, marriage and life in between two cultures and countries atsimplycomplicated.me. You can find her on facebook | twitterinstgram.