My "I Don't Need No Stinking Help" Face
As an American living in Guatemala I often feel like putting on my, I-don’t-need-any-help face. You know that face; it’s the cousin of the I-want-to-prove-myself-here-face. Americans often think that not asking for help is a sign of strength and independence. This is because our country and culture was built on the philosophy that success comes from working hard without asking for handouts. For an American, asking for help is a humbling prospect. It’s like admitting a weakness. When I arrived in Guatemala, my I-can-do-it-myself mindset shifted into overdrive. I wanted to prove that I, raised on relative luxury in the U.S., could survive and thrive here. I wanted to be accepted and I wanted to be like a local. I thought the best way to do that was to show that I was tough, and by association, to show that I was independent.
But, this line of thinking has its limits.
Being tough and being independent are two completely different things. Here’s a quick example from Guatemala.
When we first moved into our house, we did not have access to clean drinking water. So, once a week we would fill two or three 5-gallon jugs from the very top of the hill where Hogar Ayau is located, and hike them 2 miles down the hill back to our house. This was ridiculously difficult, and at times I contemplated if I really wanted clean water. In time, I discovered that a house 15 minutes away from us on the lake had potable water and were willing to allow us to fill our jugs there. We could even use their kayaks to paddle them over to our house. Finally, three weeks ago, my next door neighbor told me I could use the water from her well to drink, 20 feet from my front door. We thought we had to try and figure this out alone. We were wrong. If we had asked for help from the outset, we would have saved ourselves months of difficulty, and become closer to our neighbors.
One has to be tough to live here. But that doesn’t mean it has to be done alone. Communities, neighborhoods and families in Guatemala are tight-knit for a reason. Everyone relies on each other to survive. Turns out, trying to be independent is not the way to prove oneself here. But you can prove yourself by learning the language, relating to your neighbors, asking people about their families, and humbly admitting when you need help. As their preconceived notions of me (emotionless, rich, and gluttonous) ebb away, my preconceived notions of them break down as well. In the place of these preconceptions I can begin to see something called community.