Sweeping Guatemala

Every place you go, everywhere you look, sweeping is going on

Written by. Melba Milak.

Volcanoes erupt; boulders and rocks bounce down mountainsides; big ocean swells on the Pacific crash into the beaches; dust and dirt blow through the air and sculpt little piles of spindrift.

And yet, the Guatemalan people have found a way to deal with these forces of nature. They replace tiles blown off their roofs; they paint their buildings in lavender, yellow, terracotta red. They continually sweep and sweep and sweep some more! Brooms—with brilliant bristles of turquoise and hot pink—are for sale in all the markets; even the tiniest tienda has a few of them standing in a corner.

In La Antigua Guatemala, I go to central park early in the morning to enjoy my cappuccino, and in the background I can hear the soft swishing sounds coming from a crew of Guatemalan sweepers. With palm-thatch brooms they are brushing the dust and leaves from the sidewalks into neat piles, scooping them into garbage barrels and emptying the bins into a truck that hauls away yesterday’s dirt. The park is then ready to be its usual wonderful, busy meeting plaza for both residents and visitors.

At hotels, the gardeners use brooms to whisk up red-orange-purple bougainvillea petals that have fallen onto the pathways. After trimming the vines, another gardener reaches up with his broom to knock down the cut branches.

On Guatemala’s Pacific coast, 8- to 10-foot tides make fountains of spray as the waves hit Puerto San José, Iztapa and Monterrico and rearrange the black volcanic sand on the beaches into silken moiré patterns.

text/photos by Melba Milak

text/photos by Melba Milak

In Puerto San José, at the Pez Vela Marina, the mates wipe down the fishing boats every morning. In town, women sweep the dirt off their porches and start the “pitty-pat” rhythms to make breakfast tortillas in cinderblock ovens. In the central market, vendors brush away the dust and open their shops for business with a happy “buenos días!” At the Hotel Costa Verde, the maids, dressed in pink and white uniforms, use brightly colored brooms to sweep my bungalow floors and then use anotherbroom covered with a piece of wet towel to mop them clean.

Hour after hour, all the day long—and tomorrow, they will start again—sweeping, sweeping, always sweeping away the dirt.

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