Time is flying by! Today marks the halfway point of my internship. This week’s prompt asks about cultural differences and difficulties we have experienced during our practicum. I had to think about this for a bit because to be honest, the adjustment process hasn’t been too difficult as far as cultural aspects go. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Central America before coming here to Guatemala so I knew what to expect. Guatemala City itself is very modern and urbanized. It actually reminds me a lot of Los Angeles – terrible traffic and rush hours, perfect weather, tons of little neighborhoods that combined make up the city proper. Yes, I can’t flush toilet paper and going to the grocery store on foot is not my favorite, but those are not things that I would consider issues of “cultural competency”. When I’m actually at my placement site I don’t think about it too much either because I’m in an office, with quite a few people near-ish to my age who have all spent quite a bit of time in the U.S. I’m still hoping to be able to get out into the field in some of the more rural areas where the Council works here to see that side of the country, but for now it’s been a pretty easy cultural adjustment.
One thing about Guatemalan culture in general that has been a bit challenging during my time here is what they call machismo. There isn’t a direct English translation for this word, but it’s similar to chauvinism. If you search the definition you’ll probably see something like “exaggerated masculinity”. It is a cultural undertone that exists in some form or another across Latin America, but I have never felt it as strongly as I do here. When I’ve discussed this feeling with other people – both Guatemalan and friends/family back in the states – I am careful not to condescend Guatemala or its people as a whole. Most Guatemalans are very warm and welcoming, and I know it’s not the only place where machismo occurs (we’ve got a ways to go with this idea in the U.S. even!). But when I walk places I am constantly getting whistled and/or honked at. I’ve had moms tell me their daughters won’t move away from home because “girls can’t do that” and women tell me they can’t go anywhere without their husband’s permission. A man called me a “modern woman” because I work and study things related to women’s health. Perhaps working with an organization focused on girls’ empowerment has made me hypersensitive to the issue, but through all these little interactions I’ve really been able to see the need for building girls up. The narrative that there is anything girls “can’t” do is a dangerous and limiting one, and I think about the girls who have been led to believe it almost every day here. My experiences thus far have only given me more encouragement to continue challenging these ideas for girls everywhere!