February 20, 2015

What’s Wrong with this Picture? What’s Wrong with our World.

Mayan man on boat

At first glance, this is a picture of a man with a bag.

But if you know how to look deeper, there is a lot more to be seen here.

This picture was taken in 2014 at Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala. (Where I live.)

The man in the photo is indigenous and of Mayan descent. He is sitting on a public boat, holding a bag between his legs.

The t-shirt he is wearing was, most likely, Made in China, shipped to the United States of America, worn, donated and ultimately transported down to Guatemala—that’s how it ended up on his back.

The shirt is funny. It’s black. In white all caps, it reads: “You looked better online.”

It’s ironic and creates a bit of cognitive dissonance. It makes us wonder whether this man has ever even been online, much less dated online.

It’s kind of mean but it’s funny because we’ve all (all of us lucky folks who’ve done any online dating) had that experience of seeing someone’s gorgeous profile picture and then meeting up in person and being disappointed by the reality of the person sitting across from us.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Instead of wearing the traditional traje of his culture, he is wearing jeans and a t-shirt.


Perhaps because he is living in poverty, he cannot afford the expense of the handwoven typical clothing of his ancestors.

Perhaps because his home has been globalized, “Americanized” and eco-tourism’d out, he chooses to wear typical gringo clothing.

Perhaps both. Or neither.

Here is a question poem that was written by one of my 8th grade students in Guatemala City in 2012.

I stumbled upon it the other day and found it most poignant and relevant.

Why do humans say that violence is not the way to resolve problems and then create war?
Why is that so many people in the world suffer and others don’t?
Why do humans exist?
I mean, why does life have to be sad for some people and not for others?
Why is it that some of the poorest people live happy and rich people don’t even know what happiness is?
Is there a purpose in life we have to accomplish?
Am I living the way I’m supposed to live?
Why do animals respect each other and we just kill each other?
What am I doing wrong?
Why do we don’t care for our home The Planet?
Is there any life out there?
Have they ever been here?
How was the world before humans existed?
Why do I exist?
Why is drug an addiction and not love?
Why do humans hate instead of love?
Why do we die?
Where do we go after life?
What do we do after life?
Is there some piece of gratitude and beauty left in the world?

~ Sergio C

What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong with our world?

Here are a few things.

For starters.

Not to be a pessimist.

Poverty. Homogenization. Americanization. Injustice.

Bullying. Oppression. Stupidity. Machismo. Patriarchy.

White Supremacy. Corporate control of everything, especially seeds.


Greed. Corruption. Lies. Cheating.

So, we can go on caring about stupid shit like fashion, celebrity and how to polish our resume and get a better job so we can buy a bigger mansion.

Meanwhile, we will keep destroying the earth and ruining the world.

Or, we can cultivate wise hope.

Try to influence others. Strive to effect change. Be the model. Be open, honest, loving and kind.

It’s your choice.


 Relephant read:

So You’ve Broken Up With Lululemon—Now What?

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Fast Fashion.

Responsible Fashion & the US Economy: Nau’s Scape Jacket and Down Vest.


Author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: courtesy of the author

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Bjarne Ylvisaker Sep 15, 2015 10:03am

You could maybe use this picture as an example of how corporate big business and so-called free market agreements destroy much of the small scale industry in especially countries like Guatemala. Leaving people without work or if they get a job with these same corporations with a salary not fit to raise a family with. That is not an unusual tale and needs to be told.

It is however not a good illustration for that story.

But to use it and presume that this man would rather wear traditional clothes is nothing but the white man’s romantic idea of the exotic native and bordering on being a racist view. If I should try to presume anything about this man and his and so many others faith in these countries that have been exploited for so many years. It would be a longing for better pay, a better jobb, less corruption, a good school for his children, a bleedin’ hope. Not the clothes his parents used

Tere Sep 15, 2015 2:51am

I never thought I could read such a racist article on Elephant Journal!
1) “It makes us wonder whether this man has ever even been online” seriously?? So only white people have internet access? I’m wondering how am I writing this right now.
2) “Instead of wearing the traditional traje of his culture, he is wearing jeans and a t-shirt”. Well Mrs Fajkus, first of all, “traje” is the spanish word for “suit”… second, people dont go around wearing their traditional costumes, and jeans and t-shirt is not only for white people!

Warren Sep 15, 2015 2:12am

Interesting article. I'm not sure that I entirely agree or disagree with your thoughts. Some of what you wrote I found presumptuous, I think and it irritated me; and yet, some of what you said seemed right on the money. At the very least this article made me think, so thank you for that.

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Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a heart-centered writer, teacher and creator of Yoga Freedom.

She has been a columnist on Elephant Journal since 2010 and has self-published inspiring books. She incorporates dharma, hatha, yin, mindfulness, chakras, chanting and pranayama into her teachings and practice. A former advertising copywriter and elementary school teacher, she is now a freelance writer and translator. Michelle learned yoga from a book at age 12 and started teaching at 22. She met the Buddha in California at 23 and has been a student of the dharma ever since. Michelle is now approaching her forties with grace and gratitude.

Join Michelle for a writing and yoga retreat this summer at magical Lake Atitlan in the western highlands of Guatemala!