You cannot walk down a street in the loneliest Guatemalan town without encountering it.
The gentle enthusiasm, friendliness, and sociability expressed by every local, from the oldest woman to the youngest baby. Travel to China, India, or Thailand and you’ll be accosted on every street corner with wares and services—but not here. There is a gentle civility that blankets the commercial clamor. A kind, creative calm.
And it’s not just social etiquette. Mayans give off such a radiant vibe that it colors the atmosphere around them. It is palpable resilience, proud and authentic. Decked head to toe in the most exquisite hand-embroidered traje, broad smiles and quirky curiosity discretely betray the hardships they endure.
One day, I was walking down the main street in Panajachel, lost in the doldrums of un-actualized intent. Slowly twilight began to soften the edges of the sidewalks and cast the volcanic peaks in a scarlet haze. My gaze swept gently across the lane. A colorful woman smiled at me and beckoned me over.
“Where are you from?” She asked.
I told her about my journey from Australia, her gaze teeming with wild fascination. “I hope that one day, maybe when my family is grown, I too can travel like you,” she said.
Beaming with pride, she stepped aside to reveal a sprightly little girl. As she danced in the milky half-light, I tried not to notice her bare feet or the mud caked under her tiny fingernails. The girl smiled slyly, then dashed into their booth. She came out holding a stack of warm, freshly baked tortillas.
“Amigas,” she said. “siempre”. She held one out to me like a mother offering her newborn child. There was no refusing such an offer. They smiled warmly as my taste buds melted on the first Mayan food I had tasted.
Over a month into my time volunteering with Mayan Families, I find that the same warmth and character oozes from every corner of this amazing country.