I posted the photo above, which is part of a graffiti mural, because I like the clever way in which the artist used the crumbling bricks to create the cob of corn.
Corn is such an important staple here in Guatemala. I love to buy it coal-roasted from street vendors. I will probably end up with cholera morbus one of these days for eating street fare, but hasn't happened yet. Ah well, just a bright touch on a sunny day.
Anyhow, I finally accepted an academic job here in Guatemala, and will start teaching in one of the masters program of a university (photo below) in the semester of summer 2010. It seems that for me, there is no escaping academia! (God knows I tried)
I have to be in the US at the beginning of next semester to defend my dissertation, so committing to teaching the Spring 2010 semester here wasn't possible. Nevertheless, I may give some lectures to their undergrads midway through the semester, if possible.
The university (private) is actually very green; full of parks and gardens, with plentiful open space for young people to engage in sports, sit around, etc. They seem to be keen on playing ping-pong (there's lots of ping-pong tables around!) and ...
... the outside cafeteria is very cool! It's open, covered with a huge white tent, breezy. We'll see how it all works out. The master's coordinator seemed extremely happy that I accepted the job, so I am hoping this heralds good things to come. Teaching outside the US will definitely be a novel experience. I don't know--yet--if it will be positive, negative, or both.
Oh what the hell, life is an adventure!
Living here has its benefits--that is, if one can take in stride the surreal political climate.
I have recently read some blog postings by other US expats, and am mystified... as are some of my US and European expat peers who also read them ... by the levels of paranoia that some of these wound-up expats seem to exhibit. There is a definite tone of "Guatemalans hate us! They are out to get us!" which is amusing and difficult to understand. My experience and that of many other expats whom I know has been so different.
I am not saying their experiences don't merit fear--they may have some valid reasons--but it also seems that fear often predisposes people to certain behaviors which may only serve to exacerbate, rather than alleviate, their fear. Really, it's not as if we don't encounter crime and pathology in the US.
I've met people from all walks of life and there is no doubt in my mind that wherever they are from, people are just people, you know? We have more things in common than things which make us different, if we only care to really see. I have to tell you, many seem to cling fiercely to pre-conceived ideas. So tiresome.
I guess it doesn't help that many Guatemalans also live this way, shuttering the rest of the world away, and this includes people I grew up with when I was a youngster here. There is an abundance of free-floating anxiety that makes people sequester themselves into narrow spaces, living bunker-style, confined to strictly circumscribed geographical areas.
Does that actually make people feel safer or does it increase fear? Or both?
Undeniably crime is a problem, but if one goes about using common sense, chances are better. Yet people are friendly, hard-working (okay, punctuality can be a problem, but still), the food is good, and the arts scene in the old downtown is definitely thriving. We go to lots of exhibit openings, pubs, great arts festivals and restaurants and have made plenty of new friends.
Probably because ...
I live in an area around the central plaza (last photo at end of post) which is heavily guarded with security, being as it is so close to all central government entities. It is also an area populated by street vendors, artists, writers, journalists, academics, NGO workers and the like. These are people who will be more prone to be open, to interact with those who are different, to be less fearful of and more curious about the world around them.
Downtown has a bad reputation, mostly among those who never venture here. I walk all around all the time and have yet to encounter a real problem. So do most people I interact with on a daily basis. I do take precautions, of course. Life is an adventure, but shouldn't be foolhardy. One doesn't walk around covered in jewelry, doesn't carry wads of cash, doesn't go into lonely dark alleys, etc.
I MUST talk about food. The 3 photos above is of a restaurant we went to this weekend, La Mezquita (The Mosque), which serves Spanish food. It's located in 6 avenue "A" between 14th and 15th streets.
A lot of the customers were very quaint, old Spaniards wearing the typical black berets of rural Spain. I love the details of the roof and old lamp. The paella is US$10 and the favada and lentil stew are US$7.00. There is no way we would get this quality of food in the US for those prices! The food is really well done and plentiful.
Other interesting things have been walking straight into protests two days in a row.
One day it was a smallish one, but had been widely announced. Some journalists were protesting egregious corruption by congress representatives--and I mean a corruption level which is scandalous, arrogant and cynical in scope (photo above, journalists with brooms to "clean" Congress).
These protesters seemed like a merry bunch having a good time. I ended up chit-chatting with a small group of very bored police officers--there were many more police officers than protesters--who clearly welcomed the distraction of a few minutes of conversation with a by-stander (moi!).
The next day, returning from art class, I walked into hundreds of indigenous campesinos who had arrived to demand housing and land. Land distribution here has a history of disenfranchisement and abuse, so this is not new. It's one of the main economic issues (though not the only one) which impels peasants to leave their homes and search for menial jobs in North America. These people seemed truly angry and distraught.
Nobody having a good time there, y'all!
Days have gone by in a blur because we have been extremely busy receiving all kinds of groups at the inn. For some reason, it has seemed to be the season for groups and we are well-set for groups as well. So it's been good, yet very busy. We are now in talks with local tour agencies to offer guided tours and transportation to those of our guests who require it.
To top it all, renovations of my kitchen and bathroom will start tomorrow and with the ... peculiar... sense of time of Guatemalan contractors, this is going to be interesting.
Tomorrow, as well, I will be interviewed by a local newspaper about my Spanish blog (very different from this one). This is my second interview and the second time the blog will be featured in a newspaper here. It is busy and exhausting, but ... can't say it sucks!
Hotel - Lofts - Parking
In the Historic Center of Guatemala