Getting to Guatemala

Lake from Above

Hey there readers, old and new, Abigail here.

I’m back to update and record the next year of my life, which is already very different from the previous 21. First, I’m a college graduate. Second, I’m living in Guatemala, officially as of a few hours ago.

How? I’m a Princeton in Latin America fellow (read all about us) and in a few days I’ll start work at Cojolya, an association of Maya women weavers who make (beautiful) textiles that are sold internationally. I’m based in Santiago Atitlan, a quiet indigenous town on Lago Atitlan in the highlands area of Guatemala. It’s full of extinct volcanoes and trees and is pretty beautiful so far. My role involves a lot of different things, including communication, project management, giving tours to visitors to the office, applying for grants and crowdfunding and I can adjust it as I please. I found out about Princeton in Latin America (PiLA) a few years ago and it long seemed like the perfect way to get field experience right after graduation. This feels a little bit different to write since I’m literally sitting on my bed in Guatemala.

How did I get here today?

Well, I was supposed to arrive yesterday but thanks to a 2 hour delay on my initial flight, I was going to miss my connection. I realized this just in time to deplane and reschedule everything for today so I got a bonus day with my family which was wonderful. Today, I took a 6:15 flight from JFK to Atlanta then a flight to Guatemala City where the driver took a far longer than comfortable amount of time to find me because he thought he saw me but then called the Cojolya woman and asked if I wore glasses (which I didn’t during our skype interview) and she said no so he assumed it wasn’t me. People were very nice though and offered me their phones in case I needed to call someone and eventually we found each other. The drive from Guatemala City was about 4.5 hours with only very brief stops (for coffee, gas and bathrooms) and I got to make some snap observations about the country:

-Tortillas are very important. Tortilla shops advertise being open for “tres tiempos” as in breakfast, lunch and dinner so you can buy fresh tortillas each time. I’m excited to live this lifestyle.

-There is a lot of green although there is a semi drought and people are very nervous about the corn harvest because the customary week long break in the rainy season has lasted a month, which is not normal at all.

-Politics are fascinating! This is an election year and the presidential primaries and all other elections are in september and the final presidential election is in november. There are about 9 or 10 parties according to my driver and their messages speak to the level of corruption/lack of faith in the government. Some samples: One candidate promises he is not corrupt or a robber, another says guatemala needs work not promises, another makes a pun on being committed and united, one person shows pictures of himself with different people and says I’ve journeyed around the country for 10 years, time to be president. Each party also has a graphic hand signal that I assume is used in the voting booth for people who can’t read and those are included in each ad. The ads also reach remote areas, with one party (Lider) clearly going above and beyond and painting their logo onto rocks and poles all over the country.

-The area around Lago Atitlan is really indigenous. My host family (I live in an apartment in their sort of complex) speaks to one another in T’zutjil and my driver answered a phone call from his family in that language. Strangely enough, it sounds JUST like hebrew, something others have noticed too, so it feels slightly familiar even though I can’t understand a word. Women especially wear woven skirts and scarves and there are not many tourists to be found.

-Religion has already played an interesting role in my travels as pretty much all non Guatemalans on my flight were on a mission trip, some with cringeworthy t-shirts including slogans like “Guats up” with bible verses. Some of them are probably doing good stuff (and faith based charity, like most things, is more nuanced than it appears) but some I talked to were going to an afterschool program about Jesus to prevent kids from joining gangs and they didn’t speak spanish. That doesn’t scream sustainable development and the name (Hope for Guatemala) really offended me. Many people in this region are evangelical, I saw lots of church services letting out and Jesus loves you adorns the sides of some buildings. I’m also reading a fascinating book about Liberty University so just thinking a lot about evangelical christians.

I’m so so tired right now that bed is coming up very shortly but I’ll have more updates about my apartment soon. It’s with a lovely family and once I do some shopping, it will be set up very nicely. I also want to explore the town once it’s light out and meet the other expats, most of whom went to the beach for the weekend (missed that because of flight snafus).

It’s going to be one adventure of a year and I’m excited to share it (and live it, I guess).

I can stay, there's a geofilter!
I can stay, there’s a geofilter!

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