Now that I’m moved into my apartment and have my own kitchen (yay!) I finally meandered over to the market this weekend to buy some basic provisions for the week. It was just as I remembered it – huge, bustling, and full of amazing, fresh, colorful produce. Even the “tomato lady” that I was used to buying from the last time I was here was still there, in the exact same stand that she was at two years ago. Of course she didn’t remember me, but nothing really beats selecting your own, oh-so-fresh produce directly from the person who grew it. It makes the simple act of grocery shopping an act of community and interpersonal connection, and for me, gives meaning to the foods that I eat.
So now, I once again have my “tomato lady.” But I also have my laundry guy, my boat guy, my shuttle guy, my water guy, my boot guy, my label-making guy…you name it, and I can probably find someone to help me get it. It’s sort of how things work here, as I mentioned in an earlier post about informality. Everyone has cell phone(s) – yes, it is true that there are more cell phones in Guatemala than people! – but very few people have smart phones, or even anything close to consistent internet access. That means that instead of calling Uber for a ride, asking Urban Daddy for a nearby cafe recommendation, or asking Siri for directions, you’re going to have to do the leg-work and find someone, who knows someone, who knows someone…who can help you with your problem. It’s all about networking and word-of-mouth. But it’s also about customer service – if the quality of the product or service you’re providing drops suddenly, chances are you’re going to lose a few customers, and as those few customers talk to their friends, families, and coworkers, losing a few customers will turn into losing a whole lot of customers. Chisme (gossip) spreads like wildfire here, so if something’s not up to standard – or conversely, if a service or product is particularly great – that news will quickly filter through an entire community or town.
It’s a really different vibe from what I’m used to in the states. I’ve lived here for less than two months, and been in Pana for less than half of that, but I’m already greeted by name whenever I walk into the hotel where our students are staying or the bank, and definitely recognized by face whenever I walk into my local tienda, internet cafe, or many local cafes/restaurants. Part of it is probably a small town thing, but a lot of it is simply life in Guatemala. And I could definitely get used to it.