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Village Life Shows Concentrated Humanity

Village Life is Humanity Through a Magnifying Glass There is a row in the hotel kitchen. Again. The Maya women who work there screwed something up and they are blaming it on anybody and everybody that is not them. They blame each other, they blame my wife, they try to place the blame onto anyone. [...]

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Village Life is Humanity Through a Magnifying Glass

There is a row in the hotel kitchen. Again. The Maya women who work there screwed something up and they are blaming it on anybody and everybody that is not them. They blame each other, they blame my wife, they try to place the blame onto anyone. They gossip, they talk, they seem to mix up the monotony of village life with cattie grouping ups of us against them.

Village life is full of gossip, of ever shifting alliances, of this person talking about that person, of the drug of simple conflict that satisfies the human need for stimulation. In cultures where personal entertainment — such as reading books — are either unavailable or are not a part of the normal activity sect people look to each other for stimulation.

For the better and for the worse.


Humans say they strive for peace, they say they want life to be like a white sand beach with funny shaped mini umbrella topped cocktails that some little waiter made just for them. We say we want peace, relaxation, a place for the wheels to gently come to a halt and not start up again for X amount of days. We envision these little places of paradise when in the midst of conflict, when we find ourselves at odds with those around us, when we want to escape from the rounds of action/ reaction that suck us down into the drain of an ongoing man vs. man plot line. But it is my impression that conflict, not the white sand beaches, is what humans genuinely crave.

The human mind is perhaps most volatile when allowed to run at half speed — when it slows down, when outside stimulation ceases to crank its gears is when we get into trouble. Humans crave stimulation, they often find it cheaply in conflict.

Stimulation is the ultimate commodity. A day in which nothing happens — of which there is nothing to talk about — is often an invitation to create a topic of conversation, to make your own stimulation.


“Wade, come here, I need to talk with you,” my wife spoke sternly.

Never a good sign, but I followed anyway.

“S. told me that you yelled at her today.”


“She said that you told her that it wasn’t your f’cking problem or something when she asked you how many clients we had for dinner.”

“What are you talking about? She asked me how many clients we had and I told her that I didn’t have the notebook with the reservations so I told her I didn‘t know. I didn‘t yell at her.”

I imagine that my face must have been pretty contorted at this point.

“Well, she came up to me and said that she didn’t know why you would yell at her,” my wife continued, ”she told me that she had never had any problems with you before and that she didn’t understand why you would do that.”

I also did not understand. Why I would yell profanities at my Maya friend who works in the kitchen of the Finca Tatin, whose father I go fishing with, who helps me with Spanish, whose brother I hang out with, who sometimes gives me portions of the odd jungle animals that her family hunts for dinner? Why would I yell at her?

I had no idea. I am also sure that I would remember such an event. My recollection is that I looked for a notebook, I couldn’t find it, and I said who I thought may have had it.

The End.

But my Maya friend was mad at me for some reason which I did not know. She told everyone at the finca that I yelled at her with profanities in English, a language that she does not know. I thought about this odd circumstance throughout the day. I tried to talk to her about it but she gave me a scolding, lecturing attitude. I told her that she must have misunderstood something because I did not yell at her. She said that I did yell at her. I asked her what I said.

“Dijiste ‘fucking [some mumble of sounds that could not be claimed by any language]”

I gave up.

She was pissed and was giving me that particular pissed off, talk to the hand, attitude that women often use all over the world — irrespective of place, language, or culture — to gain the upper hand in a verbal conflict. I pleaded for understanding, I pleaded that there was a miscommunication.

There was no understanding.

My friend seemed wantonly pissed off, she did not seem to be in the mindset to listen to what I had to say or to value my words as being the truth. Perhaps she thought that I was trying to lie my way out of trouble.

Perhaps I thought she was acting like a loony.

She said that I called her a “f’cking something” and she was sticking to it. The fact that she could not understand the language that I was said to have insulted her in meant little. She identified a swear word and claimed it as being meant for her.

I was thus invited into my very first cattie kitchen worker conflict. They seem to be little games that the kitchen girls play with each other. I did not want to play.

I walked away. I went to pack my bags — when I get so close to a group of people that I can get into fights with them it is time to be moving on — I am a traveler, I do not need to deal with such situations. Fighting with friends is not a part of the life that I live.

A person who I would want to be a genuine friend with would not show me the hand and choose conflict over understanding, someone that I would want to be friends with would listen to me when I explained that my words were not for them, that they misunderstood — a real friend would seek resolution rather than conflict. My standards for friendship are the same no matter where I am in the world — in some cultures I make lots of real friends easily, in others I don’t. In some places the benefits of friendship are often not worth the hassles — when in such places I keep my acquaintances at arm’s length.

I will not fight with a friend. No matter what, it is not worth it. Either the situation is not worth fighting over or my friend is not worth fighting with to keep.

You win, I’m out.

Travel has taught me that being part of no community means that I can take out the best of human communication and leave all of the slag, gossip, and power plays a little further at bay.

I will not enter into power struggles with friends.

I know that I can walk away, that I can always walk away.

I walked away from my Maya friend.

As I packed my bags I thought about what happened throughout the day: why would this girl think I yelled at her in a language she cannot understand? Why would she think that she could understand me even if I did? I was perplexed. Where did this come from? Maybe I did not show her enough attention the past couple of days? Maybe she expected more out of me? What happened?

Then it hit me:

When I am looking for something that I cannot find I often express my frustrations with under the breath profanities. I could not find the reservation book, I was annoyed. When I look for things that I cannot find I often mutter things like, “f’cking this” or “f’cking that.” It is just the way I talk, I am a sailor without a ship. But this time when I muttered “f’cking this, f’cking that,” my friend thought that I was addressing her directly.

Apparently, her limited English lexicon included the phrases “f’cking this” and “f’cking that.”

She thought I called her a f’cking [something].

A misunderstanding, for sure, though misunderstandings often find fertile ground when the fruits of conflict are allowed to grow. I fear that my friend pocketed this misunderstanding and ran with it. She was not open to listening to my explanation of the misunderstanding, she did not seem to want to hear anything I had to say. Maybe she wanted me to apologize. She acted hurt, she acted in a way that would get my attention. I felt that I was set up for a game that I am a pro at playing:

Power plays are only beaten by someone walking away. I walked away.


An interesting aspect of village life is that village people seem to look for any — ANY — reason to have something to talk about, something to gossip about, anything to break up the monotony of days that often seem just as the ones that preceded them. This is the same in rural USA as it is in the backcountry of China or the jungles of Guatemala. Story tellers and Hollywood have long used the gossipy village as the machinery to develop many tales, reality TV is suppose to be an overly intensified, supercharged magnification of how humans act when placed in small groups and forced to work together. But the entertainment industry cannot hold much ground in comparison with the real drama of village life.

Humans love human drama. It is fun for us to encounter, it is fun for us to watch. It keeps our wheels turning. Gossip, arguments, problems, conflict, it is all easy stimulation.

And stimulation is the most treasured drug of the human animal. We completely lack the ability to lay down like an old hound dog on a leash, we cannot sit still — our minds do not allow for this.

“All the problems of humanity lead back to the fact that humans lack the ability to sit quietly in a room.” Some quote like this has been attributed to Pascal. I must second this opinion, as I travel through the world I see far more people starved for stimulation than starved for food or basic necessities.

Boredom is the greatest social problem for contemporary humans.


When my wife and I first began working at the Finca Tatin we found ourselves at odds with the Maya girls working in the kitchen. Well, my wife did — they left me alone.

Each time there would be a problem in the kitchen, each time one of them screwed up, was too lazy, or too over worked to complete their job they would somehow blame it on my wife.

Chaya told me to do it like this, they would say.

Chaya did not tell them to do anything, she was just a safe bet to blame all errors on.

We did not yet know that this is just how the girls in the kitchen act, that they blame things on each other as well, that there was just previously a woman in the kitchen who would fight with everybody and made many girls walk off the job.

Chaya took being blamed personally — “I thought they were my friends” — she did not yet know this was just a part of their culture.

Now when we hear, “Chaya told me to do it,” coming from the kitchen, we do not cringe, when we get blamed for something we just laugh. Accepting blame does not seem to be a part of this culture.

Who would accept blame when there is an entire community of other people around you at all times to pass it on to?


Village life seems to offer just about every aspect of human social emotion in concentrated quantities. In the villages, people seem to smile more, laugh more, talk more, have more complex family structures, and, in general, interact far more than any other type of social arrangement. But the people of the villages also seem to gossip more, fight more, have more drama, broken family structures, and intra-community conflicts as well.

LIFE happens in the villages, and it is easy for all to see. In a village social structure the people are physically very concentrated — they all live very near to each other — and they seem to spend a lot of time within this bound of proximity — they work together, see each other daily, know what everybody is doing, In such a concentrated social structure, power struggles are often given full reign — there does not seem to be much escape from those around you.

There is a reason why anthropologists go out to backcountry villages to do research that goes beyond the simple documentation of other ways of living — in point, villages are specimens of concentrated humanity. Places where a common group of people live in close proximity to each other, where they work together, eat together, recreate together, there will also be an excess of laughing, fighting, copulating, and gossiping.

I am sure that my Maya friend in the kitchen of the Finca Tatin told everyone she encountered that day that I called her a f’cking [something]. It was the talk of the day.

Where the human mind is left hanging, it often invites conflict to start it running again. Conflict, interpersonal problems, a cause to stand behind, a reason to be excited keep us moving, changing, creating alliances, destroying others. For most humans in the world, leisure time often seems to exceed our ability to deal with it.

There is nothing in this world as volatile than a human mind on the verge of falling idle. Village life is full of alliances, gossip, smiles, laughs, fights, love — humanity through a magnifying glass.

Filed under: Anthropology, Central America, Culture and Society, Geography, Guatemala, Intercultural Conflict, Rain Forests

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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2 comments… add one

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  • The Longest Way Home August 17, 2010, 1:20 am

    Welcome to the world of social integration wade, welcome.

    And … it sucks. Yes a cross calamity of linguistic misunderstandings, cultural differences and personality.

    Yes, the latter is perhaps the hardest to overcome. If people from within their own countries and neighborhoods cannot get this working, what chance outside of this.

    Try, try as one might. Once you move, you are an outsider. Once you stay you go through a round of friends, and then one by one the attitudes change.

    Stay too long in anyone place, an quite often, resentment comes in. Boredom, gossip and anything to irk monotony.

    I got this in Africa, one year was about the limit to many. After that you were no longer all that interesting. Moreover, the real interest comes from the person who wants the historical claim to fame of how the foreigner bad mouthed them, or treated them badly, and they kicked you out!

    Yes, shake you hand goodbye with a smile. A year or ten later you will still be spoken of. Some in kind words, another will remind everyone of the great crime and how they found justice. And so the reflective gossip will start again.


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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com August 18, 2010, 9:49 am

      This is so right on. It is amazing how a traveler can go from being the center of attention with all kinds of people offering them hospitality, conversation, and kindness just to find power struggles and gossip as soon as the people become use to your presence.

      Is this integration? Do the people treat each other like this too?

      It seems as if they do.

      Though being a foreigner means that you are always going to be placed on a separate pedestal from the rest of the community, it means that you are more visible and more open to invitations of friendliness as well as shots of ridicule, gossip, and problems. A foreigner in a small village is often taken as a social power piece: the people initially latch onto you as you are a point of curiosity, then they often seem to try to project themselves over you in some attempt at status.
      This was not fully my experience in the jungles of Guatemala, but I can see the pattern clearly. This is a normal thing for travelers to deal with — there is a certain art of travel to know when to leave a place, there is a skill at knowing where to draw the line so that you can maximize the memories of happy faces and good friends as you leave a place on good terms.

      I don’t like being sucked into power plays, I don’t like fighting with my friends, so when this begins to happen to me in a place I know that I have stayed too long. I know that it is time to be leaving.

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