Another interesting article about the lasting effects of Guatemala ‘ s 36 year civil war. Even though it officially ended 19 years ago it still seems like yesterday for many people. I can see the trauma in the faces and stories of our elders who lost their loved ones. The bodies have yet to be found and one can only imagine what they will discover if they look deep into the mountains where they disappeared.
The war left many women widowed which lead to the formation of some of our artisan groups. For them it was the only way of moving on in order to support their children and stay alive. Their stories speak of hiding in the trees at night and only sneaking down to their houses to make food during the day. The war bred mistrust among neighbors which is still evident today. If you ask someone about their daily life you’re not always going to get an honest answer unless you have a developed relationship. This response is automatic if you’re a foreigner which some anthropology students from the Netherlands found out in their research. I imagine it would be a similar situation for public health workers.
Guatemala is a country set back in time that functions on a different speed than what gringos may be used to. However, when I can move past the frustration and inefficiency I often find life here very humorous. For example, a couple days ago one of our staff was having trouble downloading pictures from the SD Card. She asked me to figure out why some of the pictures she had taken weren’t showing up. I noticed that her memory card was only 128 MB and asked her if she continued to take pictures after the card was full. She said yes but that she had tried to transfer them as soon as she had taken them. I began laughing because the only thing I could think of was how it paralleled Guatemalan transportation. It doesn’t matter how much space you have as long as you get there fast. Perhaps you need to be in a speeding chicken bus that is over capacity to understand my humor but it captured a culture shot for me. After explaining why I was laughing I told her that she should buy a memory card with GB behind the number.
It’s another beautiful morning in Guate. The birds have been at it since 5 and the rooster across the street has finally caught my attention even though he’s probably been going at it much for much longer than I’ve realized. Tuc tucs pass by and there’s the familiar pause as they bounce over the speed bump. The flowers are blooming which adds a splash of color as I look out at the neighbor’s roof which has miscellaneous junk and metal stakes sticking out of the top (just in case they want to add another level). The electrical lines look like the cat got into the yarn basket and the boy next door really needs to find the beat or someone who can teach him to play the drums. Everything here seems piled on top of something like the neighbor’s rusty metal siding that abuts the house and is held up by strands of barbed wire. I’ve only highlighted three of many neighbors but you get the idea. However, the lack of clean streets and abundance of public urination is a distant unpleasant memory when I walk 5 minutes to the lake. The rickety docks look more like sticks in the water but the backdrop of the mountains and volcanoes leaves you in awe. It truly is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen and I don’t think many would disagree. Guatemala is still trying to break into the tourist scene (and in Pana there are plenty) but for now I will be grateful for a great exchange rate and getting off the beaten path.
I hope my stories and pictures have portrayed a country that is different than you might think of if you just listen to the news. If you’re ready for amazing scenary, a vibrant culture and a unique adventure Guatemala is the place (the tourism board should really be paying me for this haha!).