When living in a new place, one of the most fascinating things I find is the observable relationship between culture, behavior and environment. Where there are people, there is a connection to the land. From the built environment of a room, to geographics and forces of nature, how people live both in realms of tradition and behavior heavily reflect conditional realities.
Guatemala is very alive. With a relatively stable year round environment, and extremely fertile volcanic soil, everything is growing. The city of Antigua is the framework of a centuries old colonial ruin and every unmaintained crack and rooftop is in a various stage of the perpetual taking back by nature. The mix of Mayan heritage with Spanish influence and a heavy dose of western tourism sets the stage for the special cultural bubble that is Antigua. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in the city and work outside in the much smaller town of San Antonio. I cannot provide a thorough account of Guatemala as a whole, but where I live and work provided an adequate canvas on which to reflect.
The sense of community is one of the things I have come to see and love about Guate. On the whole, people rely on each other much more here than what I’ve experienced in the US. Word of mouth prevails, stopping and asking direction is much more effective than trying to navigate with GPS. My impulse to Google anything has waned considerably. The city and living here exists in real space as real experiences.
When sourcing materials for prototype fabrication, I had to go shop to shop, ask people for advice and inevitably trust my instincts and intuition. Such a groundwork fosters resourcefulness and creative problem solving, and it has put me more in tune with myself. Comfort and convenience should not be an ideal. Yes, they have value, but only within an appropriate context. They are not as much a denominator, as it has been assumed in my design education, as they are tools to be used sparingly. Not to stifle human ingenuity, but to inspire it. Guatemala is less a place of convenience and more a place of intuitive value and thus, community. It is better to rely on your fellow man than a fabricated solution. The buses do not have a fixed schedule one can check. If a schedule doesn’t exist, it’s doesn’t create expectation. On many levels, value here exists much closer to natural reality than what I feel is the unrealistic, relative value created by first-world comforts and convenience. No one place has an ideal society, but anywhere one can go exists lessons embedded in values that can be mutually beneficial.
Designing anything contains the potential to create an experience through which value and knowledge can be shared, cultivated, attained and democratized. But the idea of community has to be held highly. Blindly creating convenience does not necessarily teach value. However utilizing it where is it can most effective can help ease suffering, connect people, and create time and space in which life can be appreciated.