I have a new identity, or at least one I’m striving to take on as I integrate into my site. I have no say over that fact that I’m a big/giant figure in town. What I’m going for is a friendly instead of scary impression.
My first day at market in a neighboring town I found that most of the awnings were strung comfortably above the height of the Guatemalans I was accompanying, but that my head ended up sliding along the ceiling of the stands where we walked. I ended up being like a wandering tent pole, raising the roof wherever I went under the tarps strung flat above stalls and walkways. Every so often I wouldn’t watch where I was going and would end up knocking into the occasional stand using a parasol, sending it spinning with my forehead (or shoulder).
When I go on house visits be introduced to the women in the group where I will be working, I must duck to make it through many doorways, and some ceilings are uncomfortably close to my head as well. Walking with my counterpart is a pretty leisurely affair for me, as I take measured tiny steps and still outstrip her. To be fair, this is as much because we are pacing the 2½ year old as because she’s small, but it leaves me feeling a giantess all the same. On the other hand, her sister in law keeps a pace that’s comfortably quick to me despite being close to a foot shorter than I am.
Overall, I’ve found that lots of nodding and smiling is getting me through alright. Most of the people (especially women) in my town are pretty timid; they often will not respond to my “good morning/afternoon/night” greetings, with more than a smile or sometimes will speak from behind a hand over their mouth. Still, as long as I smile broadly they will usually smile back. If I can manage to do something silly and laugh at myself (like getting lost trying to leave a compound that only has one entrance), they will happily laugh with me.
The one exception to all this friendly success occurred last week. I entered a family compound with my counterpart and did my usual broadcast smile to the children as she launched the usual spiel (in Ki’che’ inviting them to a meeting on Saturday). I smiled particularly warmly at a barely walking little rug rat who was watching me with big eyes. Far from the desired answering smile, she immediately sprouted tears and began to wail. It was that particular variety of wail where there’s a period of silence every time she pauses for breath to wind up anew. Although I tried to not take it personally, I was still pretty sure I had been the trigger to her dismay. As confirmation I later learned that she associates strangers in pants with imminent vaccination. Ah well, at least it was my pants and not my smile that struck fear in her heart.
Not to self; it’s easier to cultivate a friendly image in a skirt.