Nine things I learned during my life in Guatemala

Life in Guatemala | GuatexplorerWe all learn during our lives. Whether we want it or not. Living in a foreign country is a good opportunity to analyse yourself, to better understand yourself. It is also a time when you learn by watching around you in your new environment. Enough philosophy, here's what I learned.

People work hard

A majority of people here work very hard. Okay, you can say that for people in many countries. I will explain a bit more: you have to watch two guys chiselling a part of the concrete whole damn day. With a proper machinery, it is a five minutes work. But their boss has no such machinery, so they don't complain. They go on, even when it's hot. Everywhere you go you will see such things. Lady who makes tortillas twelve hours straight, a youngster that works in a little family shop seven days a week, from 6 to 22, a butcher that wakes up at 4:30 in the night to receive the fresh meat, street vendors walking dozens of miles daily. You start to appreciate people's work that's not paid enough most of the time.

People work when they are older

It is not rare to see people of 70, 75 or even 80 that are working. Every day. First, you are puzzled about it. Then you remember that here there are not many pension opportunities. People simply have to work into their old age. To be honest, there are many people who want to work even when they become, as they say here, „citizens of gold“. Yes, that's how in Latin America they call senior citizens. I like socialising with some of the old school gentlemen, simply because they know the stories from the past and can deliver them in a proper manner. I can just hope that working keeps them going in their lives because they never feel obsolete.

Life in Guatemala | Guatexplorer

Violence is a part of daily routine

People with guns in front of stores, a lot of police-military combined patrols, armed civilians, frequent sirens on the streets. You have to get used to it. Frequent news about robberies, extortions, attacks, murders, kidnappings, rapes you name it. And people still going around, attending their jobs like nothing happens. Instead of being angry at their government, people fiddle through their daily routine in a very stoic manner. Hell, there is even a daily newspaper dedicated ONLY to violence. It sells big. Just kidding. There are TWO daily newspapers about violence.

It's still not „yes“ when Guatemalan says „yes“

It is more like „maybe“. Now, this is harder to explain. Let's say you met a Guatemalan and offered him something, product or a service. He will be very kind and he will accept it. It simply does not mean he will attend or comply. He will think of some excuse if being asked about it, or he will simply not answer the phone if he didn't like your offer, job, business. But he will never tell you straight „I don't like it“ or „I don't want it“. I call that „Gandhi Guatemalan resistance attitude“. How and when that started, I really don't know. But it should arise the interest of philosophers, definitely.

Poverty is a part of daily routine

It is virtually everywhere. You'll not be spared of those sights no matter how fancy places you visit. About 56 % of Guatemalans live below the national poverty threshold. Children are hungry, a large number of them don't attend any school. Children, elderly and sick are the most affected part of the population. But, here it becomes tricky. Nor every beggar on the street is disabled or in urgent need. Begging is sometimes a very lucrative profession. The same happens with NGO's that are dedicated helping the poor or sick people. Some of them are genuine. Others are a fraud. I clearly remember one organisation that received unused medications from the USA. They received containers of that stuff. And simply put it into the sales across the country. Yes, that's what happens very often here. People are sending help for the poor so that some Miguelito can have a brand new Toyota. Teaching the others how to succeed in life. Makes you angry, believe me.

Life in Guatemala | Guatexplorer

There are no public phone books

„Give me the phonebook, I have to find Pedro Morales's phone“. Said no one ever in Guatemala. Yes, you have yellow pages. And, that's all. People, in general, have a low profile. They cherish their privacy. They change phone numbers often. They do not respond to unknown calls. They are afraid of tricksters and extortionists. Con artists and hijackers. The world is their very hidden low profile oyster.

Majority of people does not hate Gringos

Yes, the US government was behind 1954 coup and the civil war that followed. It was done by the CIA. Guatemalans don't talk about it much, of course, outside of their highly trusted circle. Lots of people went missing and dead, wounded or losing family members. You would expect – as a consequence – that at least some hatred for the Gringos (alias for Americans) exists. The hatred that can be seen. No way. You will never see that almost anywhere. It is a very rare and strange thing of almost Vietnamese proportions. Guatemalans love everything that looks American, smells American, tastes American. From movies to ice-cream cones. In urban areas, they want to live like Americans. In rural areas, they simply don't care.

Life in Guatemala | Guatexplorer

People have a very high opinion of Europe

At the root of this could be football. Not the American football. Football that is really played using feet. Soccer. Barca and Real. Then, from there we go down the list of popular European things. All is delicious, excellent, highly praised and labelled. To have a holiday in Europe is a step forward from Florida (that is also high on their list of preferences). Europe is something wonderful in every sense. Ah, culture, ah their dishes. As a European, knowing that old lady that lies across the sea, I was several times silenced not to speak badly about her. There is a strong euro-nostalgy about Europe in the hearts of Guatemalans.

There is another, hidden Guatemala

Now, there is this official Guate that you'll meet when you come over as a tourist. Hotels, restaurants, businesses, places. Not only for Gringos and other foreigners, but also for one large chunk of the locals, middle class and up. Global stuff is everywhere you go.

The problem lies in the fact that one real Guatemala would stay out of your reach. Those local cantinas and comedores (eateries), those local communities that have their specific customs and tightness, places where only the locals go. Then, completely Mayan villages hidden in the valleys, places where Spanish is a second language, if spoken at all. Farms and areas where nobody will ever take you. Distant territories you'll never conquer, so different and even mystical.

It is because when you are a tourist here, they think you already miss Irish pubs, French restaurants, Italian pizzerias, Thai eateries, US fast food, Japanese sushi, Chilean wines, German beer, Polish sausages, Russian vodka or Spanish paella. It takes a brave fighter to discover real Guatemala. And there is a lot more than Guatemalan breakfast you'll be served.

Life in Guatemala | Guatexplorer

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