As I interviewed one of my friends, a young Maya K'iche' woman activist, on the balcony of her family's home in Olintepeque, the conversation turned to the issue of women's involvement, or the lack of women's involvement, in community affairs or politics. We looked down at the street below, where day after day, several women, mostly middle aged or elderly, spread out their vegetables, flowers and fruits, and try to earn a few quetzales. My friend commented, "This town has a lot of these small merchants. And so this is why Cristina's mother (pointing at one of the women) can't come to the meetings. She has to be here selling every day for hours. And they do this to have something to eat today. They aren't working for savings. They are trying to sell things so they can buy food, shoes, clothes. So it's very hard for these women to participate. And then it creates a cycle. They don't come to participate, so no one takes them into account, and then they say that the women don't participate, so they don't have to make accommodations for them. Women who want to be involved have to do three things: they are housewives, so they have to take care of domestic chores. They work to earn a living. And then if they do something for the community that is a third task on top of the other two."
Two of the vendors have their selling spot on the driveway of the bakery and so they have an arrangement with my friends to store their goods overnight. I didn't quite understand that when I arrived here on Friday night and saw bags and bunches of vegetables stacked inside the patio, but the mystery was revealed early Saturday morning when two women walked through the door and started to haul out their wares, and one very politely asked if I could move the truck up because it was blocking access to their spot. I readily complied. And then in the late afternoon they started to pack up and bring everything back inside.
As Eunice and I sat on the balcony, we watched the vendors as a few customers stopped, fingered fruits, asked prices, perhaps bargained a bit, and then walked off, with purchases or without. It's a small town, not a lot of job opportunities here. Xela is nearby, with a somewhat more expansive economy, but one has to get there.