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The Hunger Games: A Guatemalan homestay debacle

The scene is our Guatemalan homestay dinner table. The time is 7pm three days ago. The main characters are the four tortilla chips masquerading as dinner on our plates. Lien walks in and sees the sadness that is currently ensuing, I frown at her, she understands.

The drama for the past week hasn’t been the street dogs, exhaust fumes, or inter-group conflicts, it has been what I have taken to calling the hunger games. The scene above is the climax of the soap opera that has been my diet these past seven days. What started out as patiently trying to understand the cultural differences in meals between the United States and Guatemala has devolved into a tearful phone call to my mom after being hungry for almost the entire time I’ve been in Xela.

What actually happened is that Lien and I have dietary restrictions so they put us in the home that has been good for those before. Lien doesn’t eat red meat and, as many of you already know, I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which means I need to eat a high protein, low dairy, low simple carb, low sugar diet to not become an acne covered hormonal whale. I was very upfront about my diet to my host family and, with the help of the coordinators, explained as best I could that it was a health problem.

Unfortunately, my host family seemed to interpret this as us not wanting to eat. The first meal was fruit for breakfast, only fruit. I know some people don’t eat breakfast, but that’s never been me and now that I’m a runner I really need a decent breakfast. The only thing keeping Lien and I from dying of hunger were the KIND bars that my mom so brilliantly suggested I bring. We each ate one on the way to class and prayed that lunch would be better. It went on and off like this for the entire week. One day we didn’t have any protein, literally only carbs. Another day for lunch, the largest meal in Guatemala, we had clear soup with greens that reminded me of the miso soup a friend of mine would eat when she was relapsing into anorexia.

On Thursday we finally decided we had to say something. We weren’t asking for much, just protein more than once every few days, so we decided to shove away the feeling of being needy Americans and talked to Erika, our program coordinator. It was an extremely stressful conversation. While she was helpful, she made me feel like I was being demanding and that my condition didn’t really need this diet. Hearing that feels like being a diabetic and having someone tell you that you don’t really need insulin, that it’s too much to ask for it. While my program members have been extremely supportive and understanding I just felt like I needed to talk to someone who understands my battle with PCOS and with eating, so naturally I called my mom. We talked, I cried, and she calmed me down enough to realize I needed to get out of the house so I called up some friends.

Thankfully this story has a happy ending for me. Erika talked to my host mom and things have changed. We have gotten protein at least once a day and sometimes even twice a day since the talk. I swear the first time I saw chicken I nearly cried out of happiness. The take away from this is that even if you feel like it might not be the most polite thing to do, sometimes you need to be a little selfish and advocate for yourself, especially in situations that are going to last half a year. So for now the hunger games are over, my family is talking to us more, I’m learning to navigate the convoluted streets of Xela, and I feel like this place could become my home for the next half a year. I’m happy.

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