The Delm
category: Emilys Guatemala


I thought it was funny that Fletch posted about Delmi. That day I was thinking the same thing needed to happen. And, as per usual, here I’ve made it in my own sweet time.

Delmi is one of my most favorite things in Guatemala. She was eleven months old when we arrived. The first night in our village we ate dinner with our host family, and the first phrase the family taught me in Q’anjob’al was “tz’ebatx nena“, or “Come here little girl.” They instructed me to say it to Delmi so she’d come sit on my lap, which she did, staring absently into space unsure of what she was doing on the lap of this big, white stranger.

I have a great bunch of nieces and nephews, including the two newest additions on the Fanjoy side, that I’m quite fond of. Even so, I have never, in my life, spent so much time with one kid. We’ve been the photographers at her first and second birthday party. I’ve helped her learn to walk and talk. She sings the Em-i-la song for fun, but she actually pronounces my proper name better than anyone else in town. She stands at the door knocking shouting Emily! Emily! Until I open it. And if I’m taking too long, she growls my name impatiently. Sometimes I make her wait because the growling thing is hilarious. It is exactly how her mother growls Delmi’s name when she’s not listening to her mother’s instructions.  

IMG_4477sm.jpgWith all my recent frustrations, she’s been the one thing that still cheers me up. She cares nothing for the things that are frustrating me, she just wants to come and play. She wants me to swing her and tickle her. She wants to help me work on the computer or bake bread. She likes to read books while I read my book. She loves the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are. She’s like a little mockingbird that follows me around repeating every word I say or little noise I make. She clicks her tongue or gasps just like I do as soon as the noise has left my mouth. I never realized, before I had an echo, how many noises I make as I asbsent-mindedly go about my business. The girl has even started following me to the latrine to do her business right after I do instead of in the field. This is funny, because she’s so tiny she could fall into the latrine if I didn’t hold her over it. But she insists.


She likes Fletch, too. She “helps” him play guitar any time he busts it out. She’s learned to make all the animal noises he makes around the place, imitating chickens and cows and pigs and cats and dogs. She “helps” him in the garden when he’s down there working. IMG_4495sm.jpgIMG_4502sm.jpg           

This kid is so precious. I was only a little weirded out the time she asked for pecho, basically if I could breastfeed her. It was very weird, yet funny. The breast feeding culture here is such that aunts will breast feed nieces and nephews, and even grandmothers will breastfeed their grandchildren if there is an age overlap between their children and grandchildren. Sometimes grandmothers and aunts “breastfeed” their grandchildren even if they no longer have milk, in a kind of pacifier gesture. So I guess the request means I’ve successful become part of the family, or at least part of Delmi’s family. I, however, have not become such a part of the family as to actually participate.


Because Reyna works outside of the village and spends most nights in the health center where she works in order to save money, Delmi is probably the most independent kid in town. She is headstrong, and if you’ve annoyed her, or she is just generally annoyed, she’s pretty fantastic at pretending you don’t exist. Because she takes off whenever she wants to go, someone in the family always seems to be looking for her, and much of the time they stop by to see if she’s with me. It’s usually a good guess. “Delmi, let’s go home now,” they’ll say. She looks at whoever has come and usually answers, “Maj.” No, she doesn’t want to leave.

What I love about Delmi, besides her just being cute and funny, is that she gives me hope. She’s a testament to how children are so observent and flexible. You can teach them so much good stuff so easily. She knows all the rules of our house. She takes her shoes off at the door to keep mud outside. Every time I tell Delmi, “Tzil hasat, nena“, your face is dirty, she will run to the stream and clean up. She always comes back to show me, her face is clean, her hands are clean. Every morning she comes to show me how her has been braided for the day (even though she screams through the entire process). When her mother buys her a new outfit, she runs right over to show me her new clothes. One day she came to show me what was in her pocket, a 10q bill. That’s a third of a day’s wage around here, a lot for a 2 year old to carry around. I asked her what she was going to do with the money, and she told me she was going to buy food at Don Palxhun’s, hah. A second later her mother ran out of the kitchen, just up the hill, yelling Delmi’s name, and I hollered back that she was with me. Reyna asked if she had money, and I told her she did, and that she planned to go buy food. Reyna started laughing, then hollered at Delmi to wait for her older cousin, Chalio, to go with her to the store.



The Delm, as Fletch refers to her, sort of keeps me sane. A few weeks ago when we were having so many problems with the accusations of money-laundering and bad leadership, I was standing outside under the apple tree, nearly in tears. Along came Delmi, who gave me a big hug, and I instantly felt a little relief. It’s pretty silly, but true.

I often think IMG_2461sm.jpgit’s interesting that she will have no memory of us, just pictures her mother will keep to show her. She’s been such a great part of my life here. I’ve long been uncertain about the kid issue, having my own I mean. I’m always of the opinion that we should be flexible and commit neither to having nor not having children. It’s a big committment, and honestly I still feel too young (which is ironic since I’m 26 and I’ve met plenty a 14 and 15 year old mother while here in Guatemala). While Delmi hasn’t quite inspired me to run right home and get pregnant, I feel like because of her, I get it. I understand why having kids could be a pretty funny, good thing. Maybe some day when we’re more or less settled into some sort of life in the US and the bread is the oven (literally not figuratively) and I miss the little girl skipping and dancing in front of the oven doing her pan dance in happy anticipation of the bread and jam to come, maybe then. It’s going to be hard to leave her behind, for me not her. But for now I’m pretty content with having a little Delmi on loan.


So thanks, Delmi, even though you may never know how great you’ve been to me.

Posted by: emily