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It’s Feria Time

XW 110 smallDust off your cowboy boots, people: it’s Fair time again in Xela. If you want to get technical about it, we’re talking about La Feria Internacional de Independencia. It’s when Guatemalans really show how they can put on a party.

First held back in 1884 in the Canton San Nicolas, the fair has had various homes over the years, but in 1984, to celebrate its centenary, the fairgrounds—CEFEMERQ—were constructed just out of town, and it’s been held there ever since.

The general tone has changed, too. Way back when, there were traditional games like chasing greased pigs (los coches encebados), balancing on ropes (la tamba del Diablo) and climbing greased poles (el palo encebado), along with parades through the city, social dances, horse races and beauty pageants.

That last part has survived, and grown. This year just some of the titles being contested are: Little Miss Quetzaltenango, Little Miss Maya, Miss Quetzaltenango, Miss Maya, Miss Indigenous, Miss Sports, and our favorites: Miss Municipal Employee and Miss Female Prisoner.



P o p p i n g

Mayan Atlantis

Guatemala never ceases to amaze us with its wonders. There´s often talk about the mysterious forgotten Mayan city that lies at the bottom of Lake Atitlan, but no one really knew much about it. Until now. This year a documentary called Mayan Blue (“Samabaj: La Atlantida Maya” in Spanish) was released, which charts the discovery and exploration of the 2000 year-old lost city, Samabaj. It links the investigation to the Mayan cosmovision and a catastrophe that fundamentally reshaped everything they believed about the earth and the origins of their underworld. National Geographic showed the Spanish version for the first time in August and will most likely be showing repeats which you can watch if you have a TV. You can also find a copy of the Spanish version on Youtube.

On Travelling, Classes and Guatemalans

by Diana Pastor

Given that I’m currently traveling, I’m going to take the opportunity to write this month’s XelaWho article on the different types of Guatemalan travellers that you could come across abroad. Let’s separate them into 3 groups, taking the example from the different kinds of airline tickets you can buy: first class, business and economy.

First class: Here you’ll find all of the government officials. Between summits, meetings and exchanges our politicians have made ??more than 260 trips in two years, not by plane, but by helicopter, and most of them using this form of transport for short-distance travel. One such trip was made by the president’s secretary, who instead of driving a car for 45 minutes decided it was necessary to take a simple, if not exactly cheap, trip in a helicopter. The cost? Almost $3,500. It is estimated that if the government used land transport instead of using helicopters in some of the trips that they have scheduled, it would lead to a 3500% reduction in their budget for transport.

Recipe of the Month: Sopa de Frijoles

by Simone Riddle

If there’s one thing Guatemalans can do better than anyone, it’s beans. Although Mexicans have many winning dishes, their beans, which are dark red in color are definitely inferior to Guatemalan frijoles negros. Cheap to buy, simple to cook and high in protein, black beans should be a staple ingredient for all extranjeros living in Xela.

This is an adapted version of the traditional ‘sopa de frijol’ taught to me by a compañera in AMA (Asociacion de Mujeres del Altiplano) a women’s association who offer traditional Mayan cooking classes to visitors in Xela. The original soup normally contains bacon but I think that gives it quite an overpowering taste. So for all you non-pork eaters, here’s the vegetarian alternative with broccoli florets to give the soup a bit more substance. This recipe uses tinned beans for those that neither have the utensils nor the time to cook them from scratch, making it an excellent mid-week dinner for when you’re short on time.

Grow Your Own: Backyard Chickens

by Juan Pablo Echeverria

“How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette?”

— George Carlin

So you’ve been working on your garden for a few months, you have your tomatoes growing, your herbs have fully established themselves and are growing well. Your lettuce and other greens are providing you with your daily vitamins and minerals. All is well in your backyard food garden. You might now be ready to introduce a new element into your flourishing environment.  CHICKENS!

Having chickens as part of your garden will not only provide you with eggs and meat but will also complete the cycle within your garden as they are great sources of nitrogen and can help you produce the soil you´ll need to continue to grow more delicious and nutritious food.

So what does it take to have happy, healthy chickens in your garden?

Happy Birthday to Us!

Portada XW103 smallHappy Birthday to us! XelaWho turns the grand old age of 9 years old this month. That’s pretty good going, we’d say – if we were a dog we’d be 63 years old now, which is really old. But fortunately we’re not, so there’s still a good few more years of life to be squeezed out of us yet (we hope).

It is often said that with old age comes maturity and wisdom – but sadly neither of these things have yet to materialise at XelaWho, so you can rest assured that our ninth birthday is not going to lead to some sort of revelation or mid-life crisis in which we decide to bore the socks off you by filling XelaWho with actual serious content. You all have Revue Magazine for that.

A lot has happened since we started this modest magazine way back in 2005. So what better way celebrate our 9th Birthday Special Edition than by looking back at some of the highlights and lowlights of the past 9 years, both in Guatemala and across the world? We therefore present to you our definitively inconclusive list of “things that have happened since 2005”:

* 1.24 billion people have been born – equivalent to almost the entire population of China – while half a billion have died, leading to an increase of around 700 million people in the world’s population

* Guatemala won its first ever medal at the Olympics.



P o p p i n g

Nice One Germany

Alas, that’s it for the Football World Cup for another 4 years – now the population of Xela will have to invent some other kinds of excuses in order to drink copious amounts of beer at 10 in the morning (September’s coming up soon guys, don’t get too twitchy!).

For someone whose enthusiasm for football ranges from totally uninterested to “alright then, I’ll come and watch the game but only if we watch it somewhere that serves alcoholic beverages,” I’ll be the first to admit that it was a pretty thrilling competition. From some of the amazing performances by  the underdogs (a special shout out going to Costa Rica – so close to reaching the semis!), the abysmally embarrassing performances by some of the “big names” (Spain, England and a particularly big WTF from Brazil’s last two matches), to the nail-biting games decided in the last few minutes, it was certainly a fun ride! And a big congrats to the Germans for walking away triumphantly with the cup at the end of it all.

Xela & the Zombie Apocalypse

by Emily Ellis

The recent violent tremor that shook Xela’s residents in their beds on July 7th is another sign of what many of us have expected for a while: that the apocalypse is upon us. As everyone who has seen that Brad Pitt movie or read The Walking Dead comics knows, with the apocalypse comes the zombies. But never fear: I’m taking the time to put your minds at ease, and lay out the reasons why Guatemala is the absolute best place to be for the end of the world.

There are multiple reasons why our fair Highlands make the perfect location to weather out the Zombie Apocalypse. For one thing, third-world countries are far better prepared to deal with the living dead. While fancy “developed” countries may boast well-trained armies and advanced technology, not of that will help when modern civilization goes to hell. Crouching in mountain caves, knowledge of medicinal plants, tolerating near starvation, guerrilla warfare – all these skills are necessary for surviving an onslaught of zombies, and given Guatemala’s recent tumultuous history, there are likely to be numerous residents prepared to leap into action should such a disaster occur again.

The Maize War and GM Seeds

by Diana Pastor

For many years, maize has been the main food of the indigenous peoples in North and Central America. Its origin is very old: the first records of using ears of corn date back to over 7000 years ago, and thanks to the work and care of our ancestors the crop was transformed into the corn that we know today. In Guatemala, maize has not only been important for its nutritional value, but because all parts of the plant have uses: the cobs, the covers, the leaves and the canes. Additionally, maize is a plant that grows rapidly and can be cultivated in a wide variety of different climates: warm, moderate, humid, dry or cold.

But the value of maíz goes far beyond these more practical uses. It also has a wonderful cultural value. For example, there are 4 basic varieties of colours: white, yellow, red and black / blue corn. Each of these colours of corn represents the four cardinal points, the four elements of earth, and the four energies of man. According to Pop Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayas, the Creator of Life, Heart of Heaven and the Earth, made ??several attempts to create man, all of which were imperfect, until he created the hombre de maíz (the man of corn) and that was when he was finally satisfied with his work.

Diary of a Homestay

by Susanne K

My homestay family is devoutly Catholic and they have a lot of fun together. The parents, four grown children, a pregnant daughter-in-law and her two-year old son all live under the same roof. This is not an uncommon arrangement in Guatemala where families are generally close and rents are high in relation to incomes.

This family’s house is large, two storied and has been under construction for 14 years.  Each night the family huddle around a tiny round table for dinner with a makeshift kitchen in a nearby corner. A large unfinished, once modern, dining and cooking area sits a few metres away. It is filled with boxes, junk and still-boxed dishwashers and other appliances waiting to be installed. There is a mountain of rubble in another corner next to a spiral staircase which leads to the unfinished living quarters on the first floor.