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Portada XW111 smallThe protests and downright political fiasco that surrounded the proposed Ley para la Protección de Obtenciones Vegetales (more widely known as the Ley Monsanto) was one of those all too common moments in Guatemalan politics where you weren’t sure  whether to celebrate, laugh, cry or do a double facepalm. Or perhaps do them all together at the same time.

So what was all the fuss about? Well, let’s start with the law itself. Its most controversial elements related to the proposal to make possessing, exchanging or even saving seeds patented by international agribusinesses a criminal offence punishable by fines of up to $1,300 (yes, that’s dollars) and prison sentences of up to 4 years (yes, that’s years). These penalties would also apply to hybrid seeds that had been crossed with a protected variety, even unintentionally, so campesinos would find themselves at risk of being prosecuted if their unprotected seeds cross-pollinated with the patented seeds of nearby farms.

Given that a whopping 27% of the entire global seed market is controlled by one company, it’s not too difficult to see why the law was quickly named after Monsanto, a company whose malicious corporate practices around the globe make The Umbrella Corporation look about as harmless as Ben & Jerry’s in comparison.

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Oktoberfest

Any event that requires us both to drink beer and listen to some good live music goes down as a clear winner in XelaWho´s books.

So we are most excited that there will be some Oktoberfest celebrations in Xela this year, courtesy of El Cuartito. From  Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th of October there will live music all day from a variety of different bands and a range of international beers from all around the world for you to try. There will even be traditional German sausages, bratwurst, on sale to soak up all the booze.

As per usual Oktoberfest celebrations, you will be expected to stumble your way home using a friend´s shoulder for support.

What It Means to Date a Gringo

by Patricia Macias

I’ve dated a gringo for almost a year now, and I have some things I want to say.

I speak Spanish, he speaks something else. A recent example in an ice cream shop: `Un coño pequeño de chocolate, por favor.´ (A small chocolate c··t please.) I admit that sometimes it´s not his fault, like when his friend told him the Spanish verb `to poop´ is always reflexive.

Second, I asked him to explain American football.  He learned soccer in about eight seconds. So far, we´ve spent four hours in football `class.´ Too bad his clearly racist team the Washington Redskins lost 45-14 last night. He said if I pass an exam he´ll award me a diploma.  For this sport, I definitely deserve it. Even more so for putting up with him taking his football out with us at night and playing catch with his friends, terrifying Xela´s pedestrians.

The Money Masters

By Diana Pastor

I’ve made a bet with friends and acquaintances for some time and it has always been foolproof. I offer to give them a Q50.00 note if they can tell me who the person whose face it is that appears on the note. No one has ever been successful. Who is this mystery man and the others that appear on our money?

On the Q1.00 note (which, according to the Bank of Guatemala will not be around for much longer as the production of these notes will stop in 2017), is José María Orellana. He was the president of this country between 1921 and 1926. During his rule, the quetzal was created as the country’s official currency. It is believed that he was poisoned by his enemies when resting in a hotel room in Antigua Guatemala and so he was unable to finish his term as president.

Recipe of the Month: Arroz Guatemalteco

By Simone Riddle

‘How hard can cooking rice be?’ you may ask. Well, that used to be my attitude until I moved to Guatemala. My lesson in cooking rice took place on one of the first times I invited friends over to have a curry for dinner. I had decided to wait to cook the rice knowing that my friends would rock up an hour later than agreed (coincidentally, they did). Just as I was about to pour the rice into a pan of boiling water, I hear my friend scream “No! Vos Simoné, que hacés?” The condemnation in his voice was so great it was as if I was about to drop a small child into the pan. That’s how I received my first lesson in how to cook rice properly:  o sea, arroz a la chapina. I have never served up stodgy rice again.

Every family will have una versión propia of this recipe. There will be variations of the veduras cortadas, don’t worry about these minor differences too much; never ever question your host mom’s recipe. Nunca.

Grow Your Own: Get Permified @ Lake Atitlan

by Shad Qudsi

 “To many of us who experienced the ferment of the late 1960′s, there seemed to be no positive direction forward, although almost everybody could define those aspects of the global society that they rejected, and these include military adventurism, the bomb, ruthless land exploitation, the arrogance of polluters, and a general insensitivity to human and environmental needs.”

Bill Mollison (considered the ‘father Permaculture’).

Almost 30 years after this publication, this statement is truer than ever before. Across the planet, there is a growing awareness of the inequalities promulgated by our current arrangement. Within most people, there is a deep-down understanding that at some point, we as a species will be held accountable for all of these egregious actions. And yet, despite this awareness, we are still at a loss as to what direction we should now take. The question is, what should we do now? We don’t agree with war. We don’t agree with the exploitation of resources and marginalized people. We don’t agree with the direction in which our species is headed. But now what? Where do we go from here?

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.

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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.