Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stores and sociality

Chinique, like most small towns, is full of small stores, most of which sell the same sorts of things. Stores can be found not only in the town centers but in more remote aldeas. I haven't done any kind of scientific study of stores in relationship to migration and remittances, but I think there are two sorts of connections. One is that there is more money around to be spent on the kinds of things you can buy in stores as a result of migrant remittances (the relationship between migration, remittances, consumption and modernity has been discussed by a number of anthropologists who have studied transnational migration and in particular who have looked at "sending communities") -- so more money, desire for store-bought commercially produced goods that signal modernity (from bouillon cubes to prepackaged rice to brand-name toiletries -- Crest is very big in Guatemala, as is Dove, L'Oreal and Garnier Fructis). Also, migrant remittances (or the money brought back by returned migrants) is probably one of the major sources of investment funds for small businesses. The two stores that I know of up in the far reaches of Tapesquillo (where I am headed tomorrow-- Jan 28 -- morning) are both owned by returned migrants. 

Many small general stores in small towns (but not all) are basically the street face of the family home -- that is, proprietors often live behind/above the store. My landlord's family has a store at the end of the block on which they live.  

I have started to try and patronize the stores near me, rotating my patronage so that I get to know all the store owners and don't create resentments unnecessarily. And, also, different stores have different specialties or better prices on certain things. Dona Teresa, for example, had the same plates that were being sold by market vendors for 2 quetzales less. The store at the corner of my block, closer to the exit leading to Chiché, was one of the few places that gallon jugs of bottled water (which seemed to be the right size until l decided to get the 5-gallon size and then, more recently, a little pump that goes on the top).  

Stores are also sites of socializing. In the evening, they are sites of male sociality. Women and girls do move around town on their own, especially in the early morning and day, and it is not that unusual to see pairs or small groups of girls out and about in the evening; I occasionally see women in the streets (although the streets are pretty empty as a rule after dark).  I don't go out much at night -- having internet at my fingers means I can keep myself occupied reading, catching up on news, blogging -- but I have chanced out a few times to make some purchases or "recharge" (purchase airtime) my cellphone. A few nights ago I went to the store owned by my landlord, to pick up the 5-gallon jug of water that I had purchased (but not carried home) earlier in the day. I hardly recognized the storefront. In the afternoon when I had made the purchase, Modesto's mother was behind the counter and there were perhaps 2 other customers. Now, at 8:30 or so in the evening, the store was tightly packed with men and teenaged boys; there were a few bicycles leaning on the curb outside. I was the only woman, and while I did not feel in any way menaced, I certainly felt extremely visible, and as though I were temporarily invading a male province.

This evening (Jan 27) I stopped at Dona Adela's store after I returned from Antigua, hoping to pick up a few tortillas to heat up with my dinner. She would not sell me the tortillas; she said she didn't have any for sale but went back to her living quarters and brought out a small bag  -- 5 blue corn tortillas, which would go for 1 quetzal in the market -- and refused payment (last week I stopped in just to say hello and she filled a small bag with some produce for me -- a few tomatoes, chilies, and lemons, along with a few tortillas -- this was where I got the idea that maybe she sold tortillas).  So I purchased a hand-carved wooden spoon (you can always use more wooden spoons) and some green mangoes, and then she also scooped out a bit of some hot chile relish (cabbage, chile and vinegar) into another small bag and gave it to me (as she knows I am very fond of spicy things).  I will go back in the morning to buy some flowers from her, and hopefully some kind of container for them.

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