Life in Rural Guatemala

Updated: Dec 2, 2018

I was walking around some lost streets in El Hato, a village outside of Antigua Guatemala when I met Juan Francisco and his wife, Maria. I was walking around there because I wanted to experience the real rural Guatemalan life with its everyday challenges, simplicity and humbleness. Juan Francisco was fixing the garden on his land with a machete. After a buenos días, we quickly started to talk about life in El Hato, his kids, and agriculture. It didn't take more than 5 minutes for him to invite me to his house for a coffee.

He quickly apologized for the humble conditions:

"We live a simple life. We have no electricity or water. The water used to arrive till our land but it stopped a few years ago because there is not enough pressure any more. One of our relatives brings us a few gallons every Sunday that we use for drinking, cooking and cleaning."

Juan Fransico has been living there forever. It is a big land on such a steep slope that even I was struggling climbing up and down on it. They have a small house made from clay and wood, just big enough to enter a single bed where they both sleep, a wood burning stove and a table with two chairs.

He said:

"I inherited this house and land from my parents and they, from their parents. It is humble but what we have is a great view to Antigua and the mountains, and look at all the plants and trees in the garden. I'm 88 years old, my wife is 99 and we have no pension or anything like that. All our revenue comes from my selling our avocados and herbs once a week at the local market, and our only daughter supports us a bit as well. We are poor but happy. Here among the poor people, we help each other. We buy strawberries from the young girl in the street who needs to take care of her children. People buy rosemary from me, friends and family bring us water, bread or rum. We can't complain."

I ask Juan about their relationship, how everything started and what their secret is for such a long and happy marriage. He tells me:

"I was 24, and my wife, Maria 35 when we started dating. I brought her flowers. I took her to dance. I told her if she was with me, I would take care of her. I would stay on the farm and she could go the the city whenever she felt like it. I would give her enough money to buy the clothes she wanted, to get herself a meal or an ice cream. Denying yourself is a sin and I wanted her to never lack anything."

Maria, who can't see or hear me well, had an accident one month earlier, explains Juan Francisco. She fell off the stairs and twisted her ankle. At her age, it heals very slowly. Despite all this, she is sitting next to the stove for hours and preparing tortilla with a smile on her face. She sais:

"I always prepare tortillas for 3 days. It takes me a whole afternoon. Most of the time, we eat eggs, beans, tortillas and sometimes meat for all 3 meals."

Later, I asked Juan what if he had 3 magical wishes, anything that he could ask for. He said, "If I could ask for 3 things in life, it would be meat, fish, and more meat."

That's it. After a short time for thinking, this is all he could think of, all he misses and needs in life. He said no for my questions about electricity, a bigger house or a car. He just wants to have more and better food.


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