Weather these days: Simply perfect! (t-shirt by day, light jacket by night)
Well, news from the academic war front tells me that I won't be defending my dissertation this semester either, because a committee member has issues with the dissertation. Warning of mayor "overhaul" revisions now, even though my dissertation chair had assured me that, in his opinion, it was ready with only a few suggestions from other committee members to be expected.
This dissertation has dragged on for a couple of years over what it should through no fault of my own. Among other things, my dissertation chair's father died, then I had a completely unresponsive committee member who eventually just left the university. Meanwhile the doctoral program went through a seismic administrative shift (faculty majorly distracted by this) and other things of that nature.
I am not the only one in this boat. Other colleagues in the program have had to drop because they just could not afford the financial and emotional strain of this type of ordeal: Sending in work, not getting any response from their committee for whole semesters, and so on. It's a pity. And then, some just realize this is not what they wanted. Nothing wrong with that. Terminal academic degrees have been lionized, in my opinion, and there is life without them.
Either way, I am not bitter. I believe my dissertation can benefit from additional questions and suggestions. I don't resent my current committee members. Neither do I believe they specifically have something against me. Perhaps I am able to feel this way because regardless, I have done well. I don't take it for granted. Yet, I have been luckier than some friends and colleagues who do have their PhD, and I haven't needed the diploma. I want it only because I have worked so hard for it up to now.
On the other hand, I just don't have it in me to do overhauling-type revisions at this point. It's my 6th year already. There are some doctorate programs here from the European Union and South American universities; they are very well-respected internationally and willing to allow me to transfer my dissertation with them and finish it, so that might be a viable option for me if it comes to that. Either way, I will have that degree ... at some point. This I know.
The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article which argues that PhD. ABD's (all but dissertation) , such as me, are at a serious disadvantage in the job market in the USA--as are grads with only master degrees---because they are competing against a horde of unemployed PhDs. The numbers of unemployed in the US keep growing, etc. etc.
On the other hand, they also published an article which states that those who "hire an A.B.D. in the kind of market we now have are likely to be offering positions that will be backbreakers, the kind that all but guarantee that the dissertation will never be completed." (You can read that article by clicking here).
However, as an ABD, neither has been my experience. I have been able to work on my dissertation while holding other jobs (not been easy, though) and, generally speaking, I have not had a problem finding a job (okay, maybe finding a good job was a unfeasible in the US, but not any job). Although not by design, I did get out of the US right before the worse part of the economic crash, and in Guatemala, the last thing I have suffered is a lack of good job offers.
One comment on that article stated "I’m ABD, and have more job offers than I can handle. I’m really glad I did not spend another five years doing my research and defending after passing my exams." He adds that the jobs he got as an ABD were way better than being on a fellowship at the university while working the dissertation. It all probably depends on the discipline, the field, past experience, and other factors.
See, the thing here is that, contrary to the US, there is no surplus of graduate-degree professionals for too-few available slots in Guatemala. Quite the opposite, there is a dearth of individuals with masters and PhDs and a growing need for them. Hence, compared to the US, adjuncts here are paid decently well and treated very nice indeed. And there is no such thing as tenure here. Actually, adjuncts here are not considered adjuncts the way we are in the US. We are all docents (educators); some work full time, some don't.
The classes I teach are solely master-level classes and the pay is, relative to this economy, better than what I was paid in the US. Other expats who don't have master degrees yet teach at private high schools, language schools, non-profits, and in the private sector or else, just do the tour-guide-and-bartending thing. As for me, there is just no way ... no way ... I'd be teaching master level courses in the US as "just" an ABD. And grad students are, in general, just so much better than undergrads. So I am definitely enjoying this!
Moreover, thesis advisor here is a paid position, and I was hired as a thesis advisor. From what I see, thesis work here is less onerous and demanding than in the US. Let's call it "thesis light" and more similar to what one does, work-wise, as an undergrad senior with one's senior seminar. So, it's extra income for not that much work. It is a good system, as it ensures that the thesis advisor will actually be at hand for the student and places pressure on one to help the student produce a thesis in an allocated time frame.
In the private sector, I have met a couple expats who are successful graphic designers, others work in IT or as managers at the many multinational-owned call centers and do things like play in bands on their time off. Which is how I met them, actually, as we go out a lot. Another expat started a formal photography school which is doing pretty well, others have established a factory and export their stuff. And, of course, all the Peace Corp and NGO people.
Apart from academic jobs, I have been able to take on jobs that I love in development. We don't have "development" jobs like this in the US, because, not being a developing country, we don't have European and Asian countries providing aid and helping establish development programs the way they do here. And some are just so rewarding!
View of Concordia Park from one of the "keyhole" slots on turret of Old Police Building, Downtown Guatemala
Currently I am coordinating a 4-month workshop series on community-building, a partnership of the governments of Spain and Guatemala, and the people I work with, at all levels, have been a joy. It helps, no doubt, that our meetings tend to be at pubs and believe it or not, are very productive.
Having a cook/cleaning woman here is extremely affordable. Mine is Catalina, who comes thrice weekly and cooks up for the whole week. She makes it possible that I live a life unencumbered by house chores, and I appreciate that every single day. Also contributes to my being more productive than in the US, where like it or not, laundry had to be done and dishes washed. Then again, I had kids to mind, and these have all flown the nest by now.
Most of the work is in downtown anyhow, so I just walk everywhere. And with this weather, and my penchant for cafes, dusty used-books bookshops, and museums, my walks are always interesting and eventful.
I have been hired for several government projects developed with European funds in these years, and I have not worked in one yet that I haven't enjoyed and been made to feel appreciated. Beats the hell out of grading reams of mediocre papers by undergrads! (I admit that there are always those few great papers that make it all almost worthwhile).
I know I will probably have to return to the US some day. I can't imagine spending the rest of my life here. But for now, this has worked better than I ever imagined. And I don't make any long-term plans anymore, because none of my long-term plans have panned out and life has worked out better for it.
The end result: My C.V. is getting enriched with experiences and opportunities I would not have had in the US. And so is my personal life.
Downtown is gentrifying. Fast! I have mixed feelings about it. But I can't deny I enjoy it. I trust that the old, traditional neighborhoods will keep their diverse population.
Downtown, El Centro, is still the hub and womb for all things cultural and activist. There is always some protest going on, yet they're noisy but peaceful. Often a campesino protest, with thousands coming in by the busloads, with their regional ethnic clothing, always lovely to behold (see photos at the top).
There is this tradition downtown where the students of two very old historic public high schools take to the streets and pelt each other with rocks, chanting school slogans and what not, until police come by and, looking bored and irritated, disperse them. Very West Side Story. This has been going on for around 4 or 5 decades, I am told.
Every time these kids go at it, my Facebook feed jumps up with Guatemalans going ape about it, clamoring about the "breakdown in moral values" which is causing the kids to behave this way. And calls for the authorities to lock them in jail and throw away the key. *sigh!* They probably have never had to deal with (testosterone crazed) teenagers before.
And this despite the fact that, like I said, it seems to be a "tradition" for these boys to do this since local memory serves. It is also important to keep in mind that this country suffered a civil war which lasted over 30 years, so it cannot be so surprising that the young see violence as a way to, I don't know, express territoriality or whatever it is they are trying to do. Who ever knows what teenagers are trying to do?
I don't want to downplay the violence though. There have been 3 shootings at middle/upper middle class malls recently and last night, a shooting at Zona 10's "Zona Viva," the upscale part of town, plus around 3 shootings around Los Próceres, another upscale area. All of these claiming wounded and dead. Thus, the middle classes are calling for a 2-day strike by all citizens to protest the out-of-control violence. It all seems to be related to drug trafficking.
Dismembered body parts have been purposefully left at key places in Zona 15, a wealthier residential zone, and a severed head at the doorstep of Congress itself. These right after Congress voted to increase security at prisons and deprive gang members of many of their perks. Payback from the gangs, or mareros, as the dismembered bodies belonged to prison guards.
Downtown is mostly prone to pickpockets or cellphone-snatching crime. In the 2 years I have been here, there hasn't been that kind of drive-by violent shootout in downtown, probably because the drug traffickers in the area are of the petty type. It hasn't attracted the bigger type of drug trade. Yet? One soon learns not to walk around talking on a cellphone, though, nor with large wads of cash. I do walk around with one quetzal coins to distribute to some of my regular beggars.
My friend Addison (from California), who lives downtown, was a victim of armed robbery while crossing a park at night with his girlfriend. They took his cellphone. Thing is, one should not walk across parks anywhere after dark. I would not do that even in safe neighborhoods back home in the US!
Other things happening downtown is the huge, international 8th Latin American and Caribbean Lesbian-Feminist Summit which took place this week, scholarly by day, lots of music and performances by night at the pubs by Feminist bands. Plus, the annual Ixchel Women's Art Festival is this week, with poetry readings, performances, music by women artists and amateurs. It gets bigger and better every year. Both of these are downtown Guatemala. And free.
Also downtown, on the 20th, there will be marches and all sorts of festivities starting tomorrow due to the Revolution of 20th October. Something to do with one of the hundreds of coups. Famous rock bands, international and local singer-songwriters performing, all free.
"It's a Marxist holiday!" some people have told me, wrinkling their nose. Whatever. Live bands performing at pubs? Film forums? Festivals? Fun? I'll be there!
The inn has been so busy we have had to turn people away, which we hate to do. We usually will try to get them a room someplace around here. Lots of academics coming to do research at the Historical Archives of Central America a half block away, plus large groups of merchants from Southern Mexico and artists that come participate in the myriad downtown festivals.
Yet another theater festival coming up next week, the Sixth Inter-Parochial Theater Festival. Sounds interesting and I, for one, will be there.
Our favorite guests this week have been a couple from Italy, here to do charity work in one of the most dangerous areas. They are building a school and working with children at a poverty-stricken neighborhood near El Naranjo. I was filled with wonder. Especially because they were carrying their cute baby like a backpack everywhere they went, including the slum they were working at. I mean, wow!
Maybe a bit too brave, I'd say, going there with a baby, but can't have too many schools built around here. So I am glad that there are people willing to come do this kind of work. And, of course, I am glad they choose to stay with us. We don't offer luxury, but we make sure cleanliness is at the top of the list, good food, safety and access to wi-fi.
What I most get out of it, though, is intangible: all the fascinating friends from around the world I've been lucky to make!
Hotel - Parking
In the Heart of the Historic Center, Guatemala City
Hotel - Parking
In the Heart of the Historic Center, Guatemala City