Adaptation is Key to Survival

Adaptation is Key to Survival

To find the adaptation signal, Petrov and his colleagues looked for regions of the genome that “hitchhiked” along with an adaptation. When a genetic adaptation occurs and is passed on to offspring, other genes on both sides of the adaptation typically accompany it. The result is a whole region of the genome where all humans are unusually similar to each other, referred to as a “selective sweep,” that researchers can identify and trace through human genetic history.1

When you take an 18 year-old girl from Canada, and plop her down in the middle of one of the poorest countries in the world, you expect some serious culture shock. The girl who would get upset if you didn’t have her brand of toothpaste in the store, or if the car didn’t heat up fast enough, was certainly due for a shock in a third world country.

What I did not expect was the rapid adaptation to the culture and lifestyle.

“Adaptation becomes widespread in the population very quickly,” Petrov said.

On her first trip to Panajachel, the closest town with a large market, the 18 year-old (we’ll call her Tina) sat on a rickety dock outside the casa. The dock is an afterthought, built quickly to replace the one that has been submerged by the lake’s 15′ encroachment on the shores a few years back. The dock sways back and forth much like a boat on choppy water.

 

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The “launchas”, the Atitlan water taxis, will swing by and pick you up on their cyclical route, if the water isn’t too rough. Today we were able to board a crowed taxi, as it slammed against the dock. It takes practice to board, but Tina got in without a hitch – and no fingers or feet trapped between the boat and dock. After saying Buenas Dias, we sat in the front bench, as a tiny,  stoic, teenage Mayan boy deftly pushed the boat out to continue its journey. He ran around that boat like a squirrel navigates a tree.

The taxi’s occupants were all indigenous Mayan’s, mostly women in colourful dress, on their way to the market, or the next town. Some of them had large loads of fruit or vegetables to sell, which they carried on their heads once on dry land.

Tina was not comfortable in the crowd – everyone was tightly packed, and there were no life-jackets or safety equipment on board. Her pale complexion betrayed her insecurity and she sat close.

At the next dock, more passengers came on-board, gringos with mucho luggage, and Tina had to move back under the launcha’s canopy – tightly squeezed between men and women – and further from her mother. She reached across and gripped my hand tightly, a look of quiet panic on her face. She was pale, and not impressed.

On arrival in Panajachel, about 30 minutes later, and after a few more stops, we got off the boat in much the same way we got on – very carefully! The driver was happy to take my money, he charged me more than double the rate because we were “new” and easily parted from our money. Robert decided that he would pay on the way back, and secure a much better rate.

Walking the narrow cobble-stoned streets was just as frightening for Tina, the Tuk-tuks rushing by without care for pedestrians, motorcycles and cars squeezed their way through the narrow streets, with apparent disregard for any road rules that may exist. Police directed traffic at a few tricky intersections and drainage troughs, covered in a grid of cinderblocks, on the sides of the road, made for a quick escape from the encroaching vehicles.

Not liking crowds or shopping in the first place – this unfamiliar scorn for pedestrians was another harrowing journey for Tina, which she took with quiet solemnness, her attention more on not being hit or lost than on the amazing and colourful market wares.

Our first stop was for yet more toilet paper, and the elusive bottle of hair conditioner. Several popular varieties of shampoo were displayed on the crowded shelves, but not one bottle of conditioner. How does one detangle thick long hair without conditioner? (Later we realized that a hair pick and a little co-operation work great.)

After some veggie shopping and decidedly amateur haggling, we found a travel agency with a supply of bathing suits in the window.  Tina’s luggage was lost in transit to Guatemala from Houston, along with most of her clothes, including her bathing suit. We had hoped to replace a few articles on this trip. But, to add insult to injury, none of the bathing suits fit. Tina is almost 5’11” and slim, very slim in fact, but her torso and hips are decidedly larger than the average Mayan woman’s 4-foot-something frame.

Not to be disappointed – we headed for an ice-cream shop next-door and basked in the normalcy of a chocolate chunk sugar cone. We even stuffed a litre of chocolate into our back-pack – hoping it made it home before it melted.

Our host and fearless guide, Robert, hailed a Tuk-tuk to take us back to the dock, and we once again boarded a crowded Launcha, this time the boat was secured with ropes. Robert, in his habitually helpful way – assisted several ladies and elderly passengers with their luggage and sat on an awkward foot-step to allow others the more comfortable benches. Or maybe he just liked being at the front of the launcha, where he could escape a crash or capsized boat more quickly. 🙂

This is where the stars aligned and Tina represented her culture and adaptability with a flair that only an 18 year-old girl can. There was a young mother and her baby, less than a year old, sitting in front of her. Tina’s face relaxed, the colour returned to her cheeks and she played peek-a-boo until the baby laughed out loud. The baby would return to her mother’s breast for a quick suckle before peeking out over her mother’s shoulder once again, to stare and giggle at the strange girl making faces at her on the launcha. The ride became more crowded and the lake was windy and rough, but Tina found her happy place and formed a bubble of innocence around her and the baby. In one day, Tina adapted so well to her environment that she not only calmed herself, but also brought smiles to the faces of the passengers of the launcha. I doubt she would say she enjoyed the boat ride – but it was obvious she enjoyed the experience, and gained a huge sense of acceptance and self-confidence in the process.

This is that same girl presenting a fresh-baked pie at a dinner party!

Hola!

1 Comment

  1. Lovely story. You’re a great writer!

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