By Noor Tasnim
As soon as I took my first step onto the dock of Santa Cruz La Laguna, I knew that the town’s residents could tell that I was an outsider. Was it my physical appearance? Was it my backpack? Honestly, it was probably my new pair of Chacos.
Nevertheless, I was expected to stay in Guatemala for eight weeks and wondered if I would ever fit in. How could I make this foreign town my new home in such a short amount of time? Would I ever feel connected to the communities that my team would work with? I panicked until Dr. David Boyd, our advisor, recommended that we greet every stranger we walk by.
“It’s a custom! You kinda have to sing it! They’re all really happy here!”
From that moment forward, my teammates and I put his advice into practice. We now smile and sing “¡Buenos días!” to all the adults and children we pass on our way to our research site in the morning. We use the phrase so much that we frustratingly say “¡Buenos días!” in the afternoon, check our watches, and realize that we made fools out of ourselves by not saying “¡Buenas tardes!” Finally, as the sun prepares to set, we greet others with “¡Buenas noches!” as we return home to reflect on our day’s work.
Little did I know that such a common greeting could be so powerful. By acknowledging others in the community and having that acknowledgement reciprocated, I felt connected to the indigenous Maya people in the Lake Atitlán region of Guatemala. Within the first week of my trip, the feeling of being an outsider vanished, and I felt accepted by the communities that my team interacted with. It is amazing how a simple nod and smile can considerably increase one’s sense of connection to the people around them.
Many of us experience some sort of rejection on a day-to-day basis. We often may feel ignored or excluded. Although some of us have become desensitized to this feeling, it can still put a damper on anyone’s day. However, a greeting can alleviate this sense of rejection. This sort of acknowledgement can make anyone feel more accepted by the people around them and easily brighten their day.
Of course, the power of greeting made me feel welcomed by the Maya people in Guatemala. Unfortunately, these interactions contrast experiences we may have with strangers in the United States. Most of us are sucked into our phones, checking our email, scrolling through Facebook/Instagram, or updating our Snapchat stories. We rarely acknowledge those around us, unless they are someone we know. We can change that. We should try to interact with the people around us. Little may we know that a simple hello/smile can make a huge impact on their day.
Noor Tasnim is a rising junior majoring in Evolutionary Anthropology and Global Health.