Jon and I are coming up on 10 months (almost a year!) of having lived in Guatemala. We have really enjoyed living here and love the ability we have to learn from the people here. Here are 5 things I’ve learned (thus far) from living in a Central American country.
1. Living abroad, even in a developing country (I kind of hate that word, but not sure what other word to use), has been really enjoyable.
When we decided to move to Guatemala, I was imagining it would be like my time in India. I lived in Visakapatnam, India, for about 5 months in college, and it was really challenging. We slept on the floor, took bucket showers, felt dirty, hot and humid all the time, and the noise never stopped. I absolutely loved my time in India and would not trade it for anything, but I was happy when I came back home. Living in Guatemala has been completely different. Granted, I live a very cushy expatriate life here, even though Jon and I are not rich by any means. But we have a nice small house, running water for a shower, and access to good food. I love our life here, and while any move takes some adjusting, I in no way feel like we are “roughing it.”
2. Guatemala suffered a 36-year civil war from 1960-1996 that completely devastated the entire country, especially the indigenous population.
I could write an entire blog post about this topic, and probably will at some point. This civil war was the longest civil war in Latin America, and people still feel the effects of the it today. Around 200,000 Guatemalans were killed during the war, although the government refers to these individuals as the “desaparecidos”, or “disappeared”, completely ignoring the fact that they carried out a genocide for 36 years. Those who were targeted were indigenous people and poor Ladino farmers.
Like any war, it was incredibly complex and several governments were involved in the conflict. This also included the United States (hint: we supported the Guatemalan government). This had a devastating effect on many diverse indigenous populations, including the region where we live.
There is a really moving TED Talk about a Guatemalan Forensic Anthropologist named Fredy Peccerelli. He matches DNA found from the bodies of the “desaparecidos” to their living relatives in an attempt to give the families affected by the war closure. Here is the link: Fredy Peccerelli Forensic Anthropologist TED Talk.
I am in no way an expert on the Guatemalan Civil War, but you can’t live in Guatemala and not see the effects of the war on people today. It seems that every family I meet had some relative in the war (on either side, it was a neighbor vs. neighbor type of war). These people have truly suffered as a result.
3. Despite the many hardships people face, Guatemalans are incredibly resilient and resourceful people.
I have been incredibly inspired by the hard-working nature and resilience of the people in Guatemala, especially the women. Many people find creative ways to make money and work all the time to make ends meet. Women and mothers are often in difficult situations if their husbands control the household money, and yet these women are both the primary caregivers and find ways to generate their own income.
I can’t even imagine being in some of the situations I’ve seen here in Guatemala, but people make the best of it, and people are happy.
4. Guatemalan food is not as good as Mexican food.
It’s no secret that Jon and I love Mexico and Mexican food. We had Mexican themed food at our wedding, have traveled several times to Mexico, and love the variety and flavor Mexican food offers. I thought that by moving to Guatemala, I would get a taste of Mexican food, especially being only 6 hours away from the border. I was wrong. The “Mexican food” here in our region of Guatemala is comparable to Tex Mex in the states (not bad, but not Mexican), and the salsas here don’t even compare to the ones in Mexico.
Guatemalan food is decent and homey. I really like Pepián and love a good caldo or plato típico, but the food just doesn’t compare. I have not had a meal here that has been life-changing like I have in Mexico. I would recommend traveling to Guatemala for several reasons–just not necessarily for the food.
5. You can find good friends and people who feel like family anywhere you go.
Living and working for a non-profit in Guatemala has taught me that you can meet some incredible people no matter where you are. I absolutely love working with the Guatemalan staff members at my job, and genuinely feel like a lot of them are my good friends. It definitely helps that I speak Spanish, eliminating (or at least diminishing) a linguistic barrier.
It seems like here in Guatemala people are more reserved when you first meet them, and warm up to you after you get to know them. As a native New Englander, I definitely understand this approach to connecting with people.
We love our life here, and I am grateful that Jon encouraged me to apply for this job so that we could have this opportunity. Cheers to Guatemala!