A Simple Life
Is it just me, or does anyone else think too much choice is a burden?
Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the Western Highlands of Guatemala. I stayed in a village on a glorious volcano-rimmed lake that is home to the indigenous Mayan people. The natives lead a simple, traditional life made easier by living with fewer options.
One size fits all
Each village has its characteristic costume. Where I stayed, the women wore a lovely shade of lilac. Every woman wears four items: a huipil (blouse), a corte (skirt), a faja (sash), and a tzutes (all purpose cloth).
A huipil is woven on a back-strap loom. Two panels are sewn together, a neck hole is cut and embellished with embroidery, the sides are stitched together - and it's good to go. The corte is another woven rectangular panel with the ends sewn together to make a "tube-shaped" wrap-skirt. Step into the tube, pull it around and bind it with a faja. Too tight? Pull looser. Too loose? Pull tighter. Pregnant? Hoist it up over the belly. The tzutes is a baby-carrier, shopping bag, shawl, and a pad for balancing a basket on the head. Every female regardless of age, wears this outfit. Low maintenance, indeed.
The one and only look
The Maya have a distinctive look. Their size and shape, height and weight, skin and hair color are all about the same. Nearly every woman wears her long black hair in a ponytail at the nape of her neck. Every woman looks like her mother, grandmothers, daughters, aunts, cousins, and nieces too. No one is thin, slim, skinny, or fretting about her looks. I doubt if ever a scale is used. Mirrors also seem scarce.
The one way to eat
At the Mayan market, there is nothing for sale but healthy food. I saw a few mini-bodegas with candy and bake shops selling cakes, but the "market" is an open-air place where vendors spread their goods in baskets on crates or on the ground. This is the food I saw:
Apples, bananas, blackberries, cantaloupe, guava, limes, mangoes, papaya, oranges, pineapple, pomegranate, strawberries, and watermelon; avocado, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, garlic, kale, onions, peppers, plantains, radishes, squash, tomatoes, and yucca; corn (maize, blue corn and elote), rice, every dried bean known to man, and all nuts, including cashews, coconut and almond milk; beef, pork, chicken, fish, sausage, and turtle (I'm told); eggs (with the hens nearby), herbs and spices, yogurt, ice cream, sour cream, coffee, tea, beer, and soda because the water is bad.
Is that a list of 50 perfectly adequate foods? They have been eating the same Guatemalan dishes forever, simply prepared, correctly seasoned. Want more food? Help yourself – we ate it yesterday and we'll eat it tomorrow. How can you be tempted by the food you eat again and again?
And so, perhaps I missed something because I wasn’t there long, and, yes, the people are very poor by Western material standards. But they did seem happy and they had lots of friends and no one seemed to care about the lack of choice.
Are our lives overly complicated and full of temptations in the name of choice?