Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cold, rural households and gender

There are some things that I often forget, surprisingly given that I lived here for a year and that I've traveled here several times both before and after. One is the cold in the mountains at night. Luckily I left a few items of warm clothing here (although I see that my friend has adopted the winter jacket I purchased at a paca -- used clothing store -- when I had to travel to Montreal in the fall of 2011), and I brought a few. And in comparison with the northeastern United States, or the Ozarks, it's not THAT cold (a mild complaint about the cold on Facebook elicited some one-up-manship from an Okie friend, who boasted that the weather there was in the teens, and windy).  But it's more the contrast with the sunny and often quite hot daytime temperature that shocks the system. 

And I also don't always remember to include in my calculations that it takes longer to do everything, especially living in a rural household with a wood-burning stove and no hot running water. So making a simple breakfast of oatmeal and tea and bathing oneself involves gathering wood, kindling, figuring out where the household matches are kept, cleaning the ashes from the previous day's cooking, and then patiently tending the fire until it is well established. I try to be self-sufficient but have ended up having to wake my hosts (well, actually only the female half of the couple, since this would be her domain -- whether or not I like the gendered division of responsibilities, that's how it is, and if I woke the male half of the couple to ask where were the matches were or the ocote -- the resinous heart of a pine log that is used to get the fire started -- he would turn to his wife and ask her).  I did ask them last night if they could put out everything I would need to start the fire in the morning since I get up before anyone, but they apparently forgot.

Which leads me to observations about gender. My friends are both typical and atypical of highland Maya couples. The man is seven years older than his wife; she was 17 when they married. That's actually pretty old for a woman in a rural area, and they only have two children, by choice, and I don't think they plan to have more. That is also atypical. But he is much better educated than she is (typical), although he would like her to be able to attend school and at least complete high school (atypical). She is able to read and write, which neither her mother nor her mother-in-law can. Her husband does help out around the house some. Last night was her birthday and they held off preparing the dinner until I had come back from Chichicastenango (I got back close to 8 p.m.) and we all worked to make the meal. They killed and grilled a chicken, and I made my now-famous shredded carrot salad with Middle Eastern spices, and the best I could render of a French-style potato salad (I knew there was a reason that I had squirreled away some packets of Dijon mustard from a restaurant, although I didn't find the bottle of olive oil that I had left here in August until this morning -- I assumed they had used it so I didn't even look, but there it was in a desk drawer this morning). They both worked to make the meal, but when I needed to find one utensil or implement or another, and I asked the husband (since he was inside the kitchen at that point and his wife was outside), instead of looking for it, he called outside to his wife and asked her where it was (it was on the table, actually, about three feet away from him).  So, as enlightened as he is in many ways, there are still some deeply-ingrained patterns of patriarchy that seep into daily life.

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