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Not for the Faint Hearted

XW 116 smallAs you may have cottoned onto after being privy to the experience of being on a chicken bus that has been stuffed to at least three times its maximum capacity, or witnessing an ayudante whack out his huge wodge of cash, chicken buses can bring in rather large sums of money, especially by Guatemalan standards. Couple this with a huge government transport subsidy program that is poorly supervised and a country that is rife with organised crime and you can quickly get to grips with why extorting money from Guatemala’s transport companies has become such a regular practice that transport company owners have come to see it just as a cost of doing business.

This doesn’t mean, however, that this state of affairs does not have dire consequences for many of Guatemala’s bus drivers. Being a chicken bus driver in Guatemala has been named one of the most dangerous jobs in the world – on a par with professions such as loggers, miners and deep sea fishermen but without a decent salary to match the risk.

Anyone who’s had the experience of a white-knuckle ride on a chicken bus could easily be led to believe that this high level of risk is down to crashes and accidents that buses incur on route. And we’d forgive you for thinking that: let’s face it, chicken bus drivers do drive like maniacal, wannabe rally car racers.

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Let’s Go Bowling

Being a culture and nightlife magazine, we’ll be the first to tell you that Xela’s a great hotspot for culture in Guatemala. However, for those evenings when you feel like going out and doing something but aren’t in the mood for being cultured and civilised your options are pretty much limited to drinking beer, drinking tequila, trying to bust some moves on a dance floor or drinking beer (although, frankly, we see no reason to complain about this state of affairs). Fortunately, we now have another option to add to the “fun things to do in Xela” list: the city’s first bowling alley! Located in Paseo las Americas commercial centre (across the road from Walmart) it sports an impressive 12 lanes  that, to our pleasant surprise, appear to all be functional. So we would have to concur with a man, much wiser than ourselves, when he once said: “f*ck it dude, let’s go bowling!”

Inventing the World Through Cultural Spaces

By Julio Urizar

Any community needs social and cultural spaces that offer their inhabitants opportunities for exchanges and dialogue. Rather than offering a schedule of various activities, a cultural space should position itself as a platform for action that promotes artistic expression and reflection that is spawned from alternative forms of knowledge to those that are traditionally taught in school.  With special attention to children, a well-designed cultural space can be like a house, a museum, an art school, a gallery, the street, or even the city itself; a place where laughter, friendship, creativity and critical thinking invent the world.

A cultural space can be a place where it´s possible to harness the creative energy and super powers that come with being a child (imagination, wonder, creativity, curiosity and transformation) and that allows these energies to fully develop and manifest themselves.

Celebrate Your Birthday Like A Chapin

By Diana Pastor

If you are living in Guatemala or are just passing through and by chance you happen to have your birthday whilst you’re here make sure you celebrate it the Guatemalan way. You should know that there are three key ingredients for having a birthday that is worthy of being called a cumpleaños chapin: something sweet, something salty and something to drink. If your budget is limited … don´t worry, there is a simple and cheap combination of these three vital ingredients that never fails: enchiladas, Magdalena cake and tea. These are the staple foods that are served at pretty much every Guatemalan birthday party.

If you still haven´t got round to trying enchiladas yet, then let me tell you that they are tostadas (basically large tortilla chips) with refried beans, avocado, beef or chicken mince, cabbage, tomato sauce and… basically any other ingredient that you fancy putting on top of your tostada, as long as it´s salty (we don´t want you going too crazy!).

Recipe of the Month – Rice & Beans

The Caribbean dish ‘rice and beans’ may not be the first food that comes to mind when sat shivering in the cold highlands of Guatemala, yet it is a popular dish eaten along the east coast influenced by the Garifuna culture. The magic ingredient for Garifuna cooking: coconut, and lots of it! Let Caribbean culture infuse your soul and fill your belly with this delicious side dish.

I suggest using tinned beans for this recipe for those of you not lucky enough to own your own pressure cooker. The coconut milk can be bought in larger tiendas in Xela.

Growing An Orchard

by Juan Jardinero

“Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”

? Molière.

Xela used to be an apple producer, and the surrounding areas were known for their peaches and apricots. However over the last 20 years, big apple farms and orchards have closed down and have been developed into gated communities with perfectly cut grass and decorative gardens. Now it’s almost difficult to purchase an heirloom apple, from this area, in the markets.  However, many old houses around the city still have unique varieties of fruit trees growing in their backyards. One hopes that when we find a place we can call home, there will be enough outdoor area to grow your own apples and peaches. Fruits trees though, require patience. When you plant your trees you have to envision what they will look like in a few years, and with a bit of yearly pruning and care you can ensure quality fruit.  Here are a few easy to follow suggestions if you are planning to start your own orchard.

Trendy

With the highest number of Facebook users in Central America and a Twitter population growing by the thousands every month, social media can be a great place to find out what’s buzzing in Guatemala. Of course, there’s also a whole lot of nonsense posted online too, but at XelaWho we like nonsense so here are some of last month’s social media trends, with the interesting & the informative alongside the vacuous & the ludicrous.

 Roxanna Baldetti, Guatemala’s Vice-President, was a hot topic yet again on the social networks during March, continuing her trend of being perhaps Guatemala’s most scorned upon politician online (although presidential hopeful Manuel Baldizón is a strong competitor).

Given the devastating drought that affected some 1.2 million people last year, one would have thought that a comment from Baldetti that she was going to consult NASA over whether they thought that another  drought was going to occur in Guatemala during 2015 was innocent enough not to incur online ridicule. Baldetti wanted to “see the maps” of NASA in order to know whether the central government should invest their money in improved seeds and fertilizers or in food aid, which does seem at least reasonably sensible. But these comments need to be taken in the context of Baldetti´s famous, and recurring, “muladas” (stupid comments). This is a Vice-President that has come out with such classics as: “I´ve never robbed a penny… I swear on my mother´s life, who is dead”; “Europe is cheaper than Petén”; “Greetings to the vice-president, wherever she is” (yes, that was when she was vice-president); and “for those that haven´t been [the Federico Mora Hospital] is very nice” (referring to the institution that was found to be the worst psychiatric hospital in all the Americas).

Come Together!

Portada XW115 smallby Cameron Smith

Today, Guatemala is a fractured country. 500 years of a racist Spanish caste system, rating humans in worth from Spanish at the top to indigenous at the bottom, has left a scar right across the hearts of all Guatemalans. For the sake of all, this absurd racism and fealty to pillaging conquistadors must be abolished.

Maria was 5 when her mother took her out of Guatemala. They caught chicken buses north towards Tijuana where they were told to make a clandestine rendez-vous with a woman who could get them across the border into the United States. They handed over year’s of savings, were given ID cards and nervously walked to a new life. Now Maria is an adult, a US citizen, in-debt, and she is sitting on a plane seat next to me, returning to Guatemala to visit family for the first time since leaving. “I think Guatemala has a lot of great things going for it: people work hard and communities are strong and most of all, there is less consumption and less waste in Guatemala”, I tell her. “No”, she replies, “the U.S. needs to consume and produce waste to have a strong economy. Guatemala needs to be like this”.

This is a flagrant fallacy. The strength of an economy comes not from consumption, but from production. Development is repeatedly cited as being the number one goal of Guatemala, yet this common notion of development is defined not by productivity or happiness, but by this idea of a lifestyle seen in world media which is invariably North American. This is a red herring. Guatemala should not aspire to be like the United States, where a consumer economy is fed by rampant debt, social isolation, pollution and corporate control of government. So how can Guatemala become more productive, successful and happy, I wonder? First and foremost:

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Justice!

Oh Guatemala, you beautiful country! How sad it is to know your history, but January finally gave us something we can celebrate about. Almost 35 years later, justice has been served. What really happened in the fire at the Spanish embassy in 1980 we will never truly know. However, the authorities clearly hold a great burden of the responsibility as they trapped and possibly set fire to the embassy, killing 37 people in total including, indigenous campesinos from Quiche, university students and diplomatic employees. For this crime, Garcia Arredondo, the leader of the “Commando Six” of the national police, received a 90 year sentence in January. Nobel Prize Winner, Rigoberta Menchu, who lost both her father and cousin in the fire, was co-plaintiff in the case. She had become a spokesperson for the families of the victims and after many years of fighting in the courts, they finally received the justice they so patiently sought; which is a great step forward for a country in need of understanding its past in order to find peace for the future.

Reverse Culture Shock

by Richard Brown

Going back to the US for Christmas was the usual reverse-culture shock. It actually reminded me of what happened last night, watching Unmistaken Child, a documentary about a young Nepalese Buddhist monks’ efforts to find the reincarnation of his beloved and celebrated master. In one scene featuring the Dalai Lama speaking to a crowd, the video cut to a Claro advertisement featuring a hot young Latina dressed ‘office-slutty’ explaining how great Claro’s new stuff is. As you probably don’t know (I had to actually go to the Claro office to figure this out), Claro’s pay-as-you-go service favors the rich through its ‘cuenta de bonos’ (bonus account) scheme. This is the scheme whereby  whenever you buy saldo when there’s doble, triple, cuadruple, or even quintuple sales specials, you get the extra saldo delivered to your cuenta de bonos. They gave me a sheet that explains that the extra saldo you get when you recharge for 5Q lasts only for a day, the extra from 10Q, 11Q, and 15Q recargas lasts only 3 days, and the extra from 25Q lasts only for 5 days. If you recharge for 50Q or 75Q, it lasts for 15 days, and for Q100 or Q200 the extra saldo lasts 30 days. (At the bottom of the sheet, it says, ‘Exclusively for internal use. Do not distribute through print or electronic media.’ Oops.)