Reflections on the Daniel Fast

A little while ago, our church and school here in Guatemala participated in the Daniel Fast. If you’re not familiar, the Daniel Fast involves saying no to certain food choices for a short period of time in order to focus on spiritual growth and renewal. It’s based on the foods that Daniel (from the Bible) eats when he is brought to Babylon in captivity. 

This is not the point of my blog today, but may I invite you to consider cultural differences for a moment? If you live in North America, imagine your pastor announcing that everyone is going to complete a time of fasting… and then everyone (or more or less everyone) does it. They don’t argue. They don’t complain (publicly). They participate. I cannot imagine a hypothetical situation at my church where my pastor would announce a Daniel Fast that we’re all doing because I can’t imagine people actually doing it. Cultural differences are wild, y’all.

We completed three weeks of Daniel Fasting. Because the school and church are very integrated, the school staff and church members participated. School families either participated or didn’t based on their involvement in church. (School staff all attend the church that’s connected to the school; many families attend the same church, but others attend different churches or don’t attend church.)

I live outside of Antigua. It’s about 30 to 45 minutes to get into town, depending on how long I wait for a bus. While I never feel unsafe inside the compound that I live in (with security cameras, concertina wire, and a security guard at the gate), it’s not wise for me to walk around our small village after dark. So I don’t generally go anywhere on weekday afternoons after school. It would need to be quite a quick trip to catch the bus into Antigua, run whatever errands, catch the bus back, and arrive home before dusk. 

That means that a) weekend trips into Antigua are valuable because they provide some variety in my week and b) I almost always go out for lunch since it’s many restaurants here are very affordable and I’m not spending money on anything else throughout the week. I have a strict budget, but a weekly lunch out is much more affordable than in Canada, for example.

We started the Daniel Fast on a Saturday. No eating out for lunch that weekend! Two weeks before we started, I caught Covid. That meant the weekend before the Daniel Fast began, I also didn’t get to go out to lunch. I was feeling a little sorry for myself about that. One of my few pleasures in life… gone! An extra opportunity taken away, just because I was sick!

Because of the general once a week trip into town, I plan my meals carefully and make my grocery list accordingly. I usually have a couple of easy-to-throw-together-with staples-won’t-go-bad meal possibilities in my pantry cupboard, like pasta noodles and a jar of pasta sauce, just in case I need something additional during the week. Preparation for the Daniel Fast was much more extensive. I spent numerous hours online before the first Daniel Fast grocery trip, researching recipes, planning out meals, and making my grocery list. Subsequent Friday afternoons had at least an hour dedicated to recipe research and planning. 

I ate healthy, flavourful food with a lot of variety. And yet, I got really tired of what I was eating. I got tired of not being able to eat certain foods. I got tired of all of the rules. And I was still really grumpy about missing my weekly lunch out.

I had really great intentions about taking lots of pictures of my food during the Daniel Fast. Instead, I took exactly two photos. This one… (a salad with a great homemade salad dressing)

And then I was reminded about where I am and how much privilege I have. I have the time to research recipes and make a variety of food. I have the financial resources to buy not just a variety of food, but enough food. I have the ability on a regular basis to eat out once a week. I live in a world where somewhere around 800 million people face hunger. I live in a country with a vast amount of food insecurity – where close to half of children under 5 are stunted due to chronic malnutrition. And I can eat a variety of healthy food and not be hungry… and I am still complaining about it. 

I needed a big attitude adjustment. 

Our return to regular food after the Daniel Fast was nice. I enjoy being able to buy a bigger variety of food and to not have to plan so thoroughly for every meal. But I hope I don’t quickly forget that attitude adjustment. I hope I remain more grateful for what I have and for my ability to choose what and when and where to eat.

… and this one. The start of a delicious vegetable soup.

A Few Quick Dallas Highlights

Last week’s blog was pretty heavy. Writing it also reminded me of a couple more topics that I want to write about, but my mom reminded me last weekend that I did promise an eventual blog about my Dallas vacation. So here we are – some quick stories and reflections about my four days away during June. 

So, Dallas. I knew basically nothing about Dallas when I began planning my trip. I quickly found out that it was the location where JFK was assassinated. (Pardon me, but I’m a Canadian millennial, so that happened long before I was born and I didn’t have to learn the details in high school history classes.) As I began researching and recording ideas of things I could do or needed to do or hoped to do while I was in the US, I focused a lot on outdoor options. I didn’t want to do a whole lot that required indoor spaces, because, you know, Covid. Not to mention that I knew I would need a negative Covid test in order to return to Guatemala. And ending up contracting Covid and having to quarantine in a city where I didn’t live and couldn’t afford to spend an extra 10 to 14 days was a pretty big nightmare hypothetical situation. 

Over the course of the half year I have been here, I have figured out where to get a lot of things that are not immediately easy to find in Guatemala. A lot of that has been thanks to the other ex-pats who have been here much longer than me. (Special shout-out to Lexi who included orders for us when she placed an order from the Asian food store/restaurant in town. I got fish sauce and curry paste – hooray for Thai chicken soup!) Very occasionally, we’ll end up visiting Paíz for various reasons – that’s the Guatemalan… Walmart grocery store? (Like, it’s a grocery store that has the Great Value brand stuff.) (And I do mean occasionally, because we have gone twice.) But sometimes a person just wants to be able to shop at Target and a real Walmart, especially if this person can’t shop at Target in Canada any more. So Target and Walmart visits were high up on my list. 

And I know I am probably making myself sound like the lamest tourist in the world with an announcement like that, but maybe you have not lived in another country for six months without all the things you take for granted easily accessible. I’m happy to report that I picked up some flip flops (lots available here, but good gravy, not in my impossibly-large-by-Guatemalan-standards foot size), a three-ring binder (Guatemalans LOVE their folders with those metal clip things – like literally the kind of filing system a hospital would use? or used to use before going digital?), dividers (I’m really hoping we get students in school in person, and then I will actually need to have some better organizational systems for papers!), and some Polident tabs (there is no better way to clean a coffee cup!). I know. I am really. Living. It. Up. 

The one thing these Target and Walmart visits convinced me of, though, was that I was right in my decision otherwise to avoid indoor spaces at all costs. Texas had never been too keen on their Covid protocols, and by the time I arrived, they were whooping it up maskless everywhere. Seriously – almost every place of business I walked past had signs saying that if you were fully vaccinated, you no longer needed to wear a mask inside. In Target, I was in a serious minority of people wearing a mask. I would estimate somewhere between 10 and 20% of people were wearing masks. 80-90% of people were living their best lives without masks. At the time, Texas’ vaccination rate was around 35%. Recall my worst possible nightmare and understand why I only went into locations after that to pick up to-go food and eat it in my hotel room or in outdoor spaces! (Also because it was Texas, lots of businesses had signs on the front door saying you couldn’t bring a concealed or open-carry weapon inside. Okay then.)

Side story here, but one more Covid tale: Even in the medical clinic where I got my Covid test before returning to Guatemala, no one was wearing a mask. In a medical clinic. The person who took my nasal swab put on gloves before taking the swab and did not put on a mask. He did not know why I was getting a test. My mind is still boggled at that one. Like, to each their own, but really, buddy? 

Okay, no more Covid talk! 

Dallas has a lot of outdoor art in their historic downtown, and it was cool walking around to see it – enjoying some of it while on my way walking to Target or Walmart, enjoying others while out for runs (how nice to run at such a low elevation after months of living and training in 1600-1700 metres!), and others enjoyed while just walking around to be outside and see the city. 

Giant cute street art
These guys were across an intersection from each other. Note the little birds around them both.

My hotel was right across from Thanks-Giving Square, a very interesting space with a beautiful chapel. Since no one was ever in said chapel, I would often stop in on my way home from wherever and just lie down on the floor, enjoying the stained glass ceiling. 

The chapel in Thanks-Giving Square
The stained glass spirals up the ceiling of the chapel. It’s the second largest horizontal stained glass arrangement in the world, apparently. Pretty great place to just lie and pray after a hot day.

Of course, I walked over to the JFK memorial and assassination site. After reading up on the assassination, I was very tempted by the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, but I didn’t have to weigh the risks since it didn’t end up being open on the days I had available post Target and vaccination / test appointments. There’s an X on the street that marks JFK’s location when he was shot, and it’s a pretty busy location for traffic exiting the historic downtown. I wondered about how long the idea could hold significance, knowing you’re driving over the spot where a US president was assassinated, before it just becomes something you don’t even think about as you drive to work every morning. 

JFK memorial

And I saw homeless people. A lot of homeless people. I have not seen that many homeless people in a downtown core ever. I don’t know if the problem existed before Covid and has just been exacerbated by the pandemic, or what, but it was impossible to ignore or overlook. I have a lot more thoughts about that, but they will have to wait for another day to be more thought out and written down. 

Okay, that pretty much hits the highlights, and as I write this I am really reflecting on how lame this trip might sound, but may I remind you again of the limitations of a four day trip from someone on a missionary stipend and not a regular salary, of four days with all important Target trips and vaccination appointments squeezed in, and of the necessity to stay out of contagion zones! Whatever. I enjoyed my trip, and I don’t need your approval of it to still enjoy it in retrospect! 😆😇

One last public art photo: My hotel was right next to this – The Giant Eyeball. You can’t actually enter the grounds – it’s private. Why someone would feel the need to buy this and then not let people come close to enjoy it, I don’t know. That’s one great thing about art – to each their own.

Life in Guatemala Volume 11: The Market

The market is a central hub for every village and town across much of the world, but it’s an experience unfamiliar to many North Americans unless they’ve experienced the hustle and bustle of the market in another country. 

Imagine a maze of aisles and stalls, partially indoors and partially outdoors. The outdoor section tends to have slightly wider pathways, but they are almost always crowded with people. Unbelievably, every once in a while, cars will traverse the path. It is technically wide enough for a car to pass through, but the car has to travel so slowly because there are so many people who have to realize that the car is there and squish themselves onto either side to make room. In my last trip to the market, a police pick-up truck passed through, and as it rounded the corner where I was standing, I was very sure that – even with my back plastered against the stall – I was about to have my toes run over. Thankfully my toes were spared, and as soon as the pick-up passed, the path flooded full of people behind it, as if it had never passed through. I don’t know that it helps at all that vehicles can’t enter the “indoor” section of the market (indoor meaning there’s a roof). The aisles are so narrow that sometimes you cannot pass someone coming in the opposite direction without leaning over someone’s wares. That also means that if someone stops at a stall, you might need to wait for oncoming traffic in order to pass around them. 

A rare view: almost empty market aisles

The market sells everything imaginable. It might be easier to list what I have not seen for sale in the market. Here’s a partial list of the things I noticed on my last trip:

  • All manners of food, both fresh and dry goods (like so much packaged noodles)
  • Any kind of meat… just hanging and waiting for you to pick it up
  • Fresh flowers
  • Household cleaning goods
  • Small appliances like blenders
  • Pet supplies – dog leashes, food, etc
  • Umbrellas
  • Knives
  • Clothing (complete with mannequins)
  • Lingerie
  • Shoes
  • Small power tools (like drills)
  • Materials for home repair (plastic piping?)
  • Wallets
  • either wallet organizational systems or fake IDs… I couldn’t quite tell from the rapid-fire Spanish being yelled at me
Anything plastic that you could need or want

As you walk down the aisles, you will hear the sounds of vendors hawking their goods. They’ll call out what they have, yelling prices. In addition to the stalls with vendors, though, there are a lot of people just wandering through the market, selling things they’re carrying. They might range from packaged cotton candy to kitchen knives to SIM cards. Bubble blowers for kids are super popular too – maybe because you can demonstrate what your product does and get a lot of attention that way. I don’t even know how you would attempt to find your way to a vendor like this that wanders. Do you just wander until you find them? Do they stay in the same general area? I have no idea. 

One of the outdoor sections of the market

Our original routine was heading into Antigua and going grocery shopping and then stopping by the market on Saturdays. Saturday morning is definitely a popular time at the market, and it was BUSY. For a while, rumour had it that the market was going to close earlier on Saturdays – like by 1 in the afternoon – because of pandemic measures. I don’t know in what world it helps to have shorter times available to reduce the risk of Covid being spread in a market, because of course, everyone still comes, just in a shorter window of time. So there are more people. That was an insane time. Thankfully, that rule was dropped very quickly.

I don’t buy flowers, but the flower section of the market is gorgeous and worth it to walk through just to enjoy all the colours…
So. Many. Flowers.

Eventually we tried out a weeknight. This also frees up Saturdays for other things. (I personally have been using that time for my coursework now that my class has started again.) An evening trip mid-week is so blessedly calm in the market. I love the hustle and bustle, but I also love being able to walk places, you know? 

Finally, I leave you with my favourite little mannequins. As you walk down the aisle towards these little guys, they always look like they’re ready to start a fight with you. Why are they always posed with their fists up???