This post is about some of the secular Guatemalan creencias– beliefs- that we’ve encountered during our trip. Some of these things sound pretty out there to our American ears, but are considered completely genuine by the people who explained them to us. We generally try to listen and learn in as non-judgmental a manner as possible, and I want to make it clear that in writing this I’m not making light of anyone’s culture or beliefs. This is interesting stuff and we’d simply like to share it.
Note: remember that everything here was told to us in complete earnestness by at least one person at one time or another, but it’s not like we did any fact-checking or surveys. We have no clue how widespread some of these ideas are, and some of this stuff is very local to certain villages or areas.
If a stray dog pees directly in front of you on the street three times in one week, you’re probably going to die soon.
Moza beer (a better than average dark brew, definitely alcoholic) is specially formulated to be safe for pregnant women to drink.
In many places doctors are disdained in favor of curanderos, or healers, who use medicinal plants and traditional wisdom and methods of healing. They are definitely sought out to treat broken bones, and multiple people incredulously explained to me that regular doctors would only use casts, which apparently are not a respected form of treatment.
I explained to one of my teachers how the days get longer or shorter during certain parts of the year at higher latitudes. She told me that in her hometown, sometimes, randomly, the sun will come up half an hour or so earlier or later than usual.
The men in San Pedro la Laguna are physically incapable of experiencing fear or cowardice. They’re just born that way. A woman told me this, after I’d made some little self-deprecating joke about how something had scared me.
Denae was sick to her stomach one day and her teacher almost fainted when Denae started to drink some water to stay hydrated. “You have cold in your stomach, cold water will make it worse! Drink hot tea.”
Cloudy days can cause diarrhea.
It’s very bad luck for a pregnant woman to grind corn.
Eating raw chicken ovaries will cure menstrual pains. We heard this from a friend we met who learned a vivid and bad tasting lesson about not complaining about menstrual pains to her host family.
Mal de Ojo– the Evil Eye. This is a big one, I asked lots of questions and took careful notes. It is- or is similar to- an illness, one that strikes babies and kids up to the age of five or so and is potentially fatal if not properly treated. Symptoms include fever, pain, sweating, crying, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, etc, and eventually death in extreme cases. Doctors and modern medicine are unable to help and in fact deny its existence; this is the realm of the Curandero.
What happens is this: an adult with “strong blood” encounters a cute baby and pays it attention; coos at it, smiles and looks at it, touches it… unfortunately this can be quite dangerous- if the baby happens to have “weak blood,” the Mal de Ojo can be passed. The more attention paid, the higher the danger. Good or bad intentions on the part of the adult have nothing to do with it, it’s an involuntary process. Parents never pass the Ojo, but more distant relatives sometimes can. This range of weak to strong blood apparently only shows itself in relation to the Mal de Ojo, ie there is no correlation between strong blooded people becoming political leaders or talented athletes at increased rates, and weak blooded people are only weak regarding their increased susceptibility to the Ojo.
So if you find yourself with a feverish, pained baby, and have reason to suspect the Mal de Ojo, first find yourself some “ruda,” a locally available plant with wide medicinal uses, and some whole black pepper corns. Rub them over the baby in cross patterns all over her body, then throw the pepper corns in a fire. If they explode, the baby has Ojo. If they don’t explode, seek modern medicine. Alternatively, you can use a chicken egg from a neighborhood hen- factory farm eggs won’t work- instead of the pepper corns. After you’ve rubbed it on baby in cross patterns, splatter the egg, and if it’s all yellow, es Ojo!
Mal de Ojo is treated in the same way it’s diagnosed, with the egg or pepper and ruda, rubbed in cross patterns on baby. Do it three times a day for three days, and baby should be well again.
There are various ways of preventing the Evil Eye. Most effective, like abstinence, is to keep the baby in the house. Unfortunately, like abstinence, that tends to be difficult to stick with and not very fun. During outings baby should be equipped with a red bracelet complete with a cross over her inner wrist. Also, a necklace containing a tiny pouch of ruda and pepper is a good idea.
If your baby has a suspect interaction with someone on the street who looks especially strong-blooded, you can prophylactic-ally complete the pepper/egg/ruda procedure right when you get home, and that should prevent the baby from getting sick, if in fact it was going to.
Note: with this information in mind, tourists should be careful with their interactions with babies and young kids in rural areas. Even if you’re not concerned about spreading the Ojo, many of the locals are and negative interactions might occur.
Susto, or fright, is a kind of disorder or illness that occurs after a traumatic or scary incident. It seems to be very similar to what we in the US know as post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Common causes include dog attacks, bus crashes, war or violence related incidents, etc… Symptoms include trouble sleeping, a general decline in physical and mental health, and the inability or difficulty to continue with anything related to the cause of the Susto. One’s health can be so impacted that death can eventually be the result.
Treatment is conducted by curanderos, who can use a variety of medicinal plants, often ruda. Drink the special herb teas prepared for you (note that some curanderos will sometimes also put modern medicine of some sort in the teas, for good measure); you’ll begin to sweat. Flowers, it doesn’t matter what kind, will be rubbed over your body in cross patterns. Set the flowers aside.
Wash your face and hands thoroughly in a large bowl of water, then put the flowers from earlier in the bowl. Put the bowl under your bed and sleep there for three nights. During this process you should stay in your house for three to four days, covering up as much as possible. Do not expose yourself to cold air under any circumstances.
After seven nights, the patient should bring the bowl of water and flowers to a river and dump out the contents of the bowl. If no river is available, a creek, pond, or even a decent sized puddle will do. The treatment is complete; the symptoms should be completely gone.