Work-Life Balance in Guatemala

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During our first year in-country, Andrew and I often woke before the sun to start our manual labor for the day – be it transporting bricks and sand for a new house in the community or heading to the fields to care for the crops. As the morning wore on, we toiled under the sun with our neighbors, and exhausted ourselves at the end of the day with the sheer repetition of laborious physical activity. But through it all, a constant, immutable reward was offered every 3 hours for our work – a refacción. An invitation to relax, take a snack, and re-energize.

We would sit on upturned buckets in ramshackle, metal topped sheds with a Coke and a piece of bread talking about local news and gossiping with our neighbors. We would take that beautiful, sacred hour to poke fun at Benjamin’s height, play with the bees swimming in our drinks, or discuss Adolfo’s apocalypse bunker design. Although Andrew and I had always lived in the community, those were the moments our community came alive to us.

Laboring in our first year here, we realized work was not separate from life. Work was an essential function that contributed to the richness of life. It solidified friendships and created new ones, it called for physical sacrifice in exchange for a pay-off at the day’s end, and it became a forum for discussions and new ideas.

Guatemalans understand full well the paradoxical nature of the phrase “work-life balance”. It’s as if to say that “work” is a form of reality so undesirable that it cannot even be classified as a form of ”life”. If we spend 116 hours awake in a week, and 40 of those hours working, the “work-life” dichotomy implies we do not exist in the “life” category about 36% of the time. If we are to believe this dichotomy exists, that means about a third of our waking lives is not actually spent living. What a waste! Time we could spend innovating, becoming wiser, or discovering new things is actually spent in a series of activities so useless and void of purpose that we actually classify them as outside life itself.

The great thing about working in Guatemala with FTF is that this “work-life dichotomy” does not exist. Everything we do is a part of our life here, and every way we live is a part of our work. From the back-breaking transportation of a concrete tube down a mountainside, to meditating in front of the rising sun as it crests over the mountains outside our room, to lifting weights with a single pole and two cinder blocks, to stumbling through a conversation in K’iche with our host-grandmother.

Everything is work, but all of it contributes to the richness of our lives.