Over the past five months I have, several times, made the ignorant mistake of poking fun at the perceived idea of ‘cold’ here. Coming from Minnesota, land of ‘the nation’s ice box’, where just a couple weeks ago it hit a record low of 40 below, before wind-chill, I have a different mentality of cold than someone from a not-so-northern state, who might put on a winter jacket when the weather hits 60, when we don a t-shirt come spring when the thermometer notch reads above freezing. So, when traveling to places in Peru and now Guatemala, that are known to the locals as unbearably cold, I simply laugh and say, ‘I’m from Minnesota, I think I can handle it’.

And, of course, I can- because I have a heated room with hot water and warm blankets to go home to after the day’s work. It has taken me five months to realize this, and I feel so foolish for my delay. Choosing where to live in the ‘developed’ world, based on weather conditions, has always been a question of simple taste. Do you like snow? Do you crave the sun? Do you love the water? Do you need the openness of endless plains, or the distraction of the mountains? But not here. A few days ago a Guatemalan woman asked me about my home. She was intrigued by the weather of Minnesota, trying to picture that much snow or that amount of cold. But she had a confused look, and asked, very awe-struck, what we do for food during the winter. Because certainly, crops can’t grow like that. I had no idea how to answer that. The simple answer of ‘we drive to the grocery store just like we do in the summer’ didn’t seem to be appropriate, so I rattled something off about cows and pigs and chickens being okay in the cold. I felt my ignorance rising up inside, and made an unsuccessful attempt to explain importing food from other regions not burdened by the cold, but realized I had no real idea what I was talking about.

The cold here, when you have no heat and holes in the broken walls of your house, is lethal. Thinking about it made me cringe with sadness for the homeless in Minnesota, too. I can’t imagine. I have been cold before, truly freezing, with icicles forming on my eyelashes, but I have always done so out of free will, with the option of running back inside to the warmth and security of a heated home full of blankets, fireplaces, and hot chocolate. And here, if the cold doesn’t kill you, it kills your crops, your one hope for an income or nourishment for your family. I wonder if this fear is present for farmers in the ‘developed’ world, when I read about an early unexpected frost.

I’m slightly embarrassed it took me this long to see things a little more as they really are. I wonder what else my ignorance is keeping from me…


About the author

Maren Misner