Student - December 19, 2019

‘The Garifuna joined in enthusiastically’

Femke Janssen

Who? Lisanne Bergsma (24), MSc student of Nutrition and Health
What? MSc thesis on nutrition, physiology and health status
Where? Livingston, Guatemala

‘For my thesis research I was in Guatemala from May to October to study the hydration status of lactating women. To do that, I collected urine samples and data on body composition. And together with four other girls – two from Guatemala and two from the US – I also worked on a research project on breast milk and breastfeeding habits.

Cultural differences

The five of us went to Livingston, a small village on the Caribbean coast which you can only reach by boat. Our aim was to approach women for both projects, working with the local health centre. We asked women in the waiting room if they were willing to participate in our study. It was nice to work in such an international team, although cultural differences in the way we worked did emerge. The girls from Guatemala were clearly used to waiting around a lot, whereas the American girls and I felt the urge to use that time for something else.

Tropical outings

In Livingston, the American girls and I lived in a hotel at the coast. We were there for five weeks and made friends with staff at the hotel, who took us on outings every weekend. We went to several beaches and tropical islands nearby.


Traditional tribes

We also went for a trip up the Rio Dulce river. It was very

interesting to see how many traditional tribes still live on the river banks. There are three different groups In Livingston, including the Q’echi, who were originally a Maya tribe, and the Garifuna, who are descended from stranded slaves and the indigenous Caribbean inhabitants. These tribes have their own languages, so communication could be difficult. Luckily most people also spoke Spanish. Another group living in this area is the Ladinos, who are of mixed indigenous and Spanish ancestry. There were big differences between the tribes. The Q’echi were fairly reserved, whereas the Garifuna were far more outspoken and joined in our study enthusiastically.  

Cooking by the beach

Two locals taught us how to make the typical Garifuna dish ‘tapado’, which is a soup with fish, shrimps, crabs and fried bananas. We cooked it in the outdoor kitchen at their home, using only fresh ingredients. We filleted the fish ourselves and made coconut milk from coconuts they grew themselves. All just a few metres from the beach. A very special experience.’