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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:



P o p p i n g


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.)

The World of Humberto Ak’abal

by Diana Pastor

The world of Humberto Ak’abal is different from that of ordinary men because it is made of what many have lost: the power to appreciate the little things in life and nature. There is an interesting video on YouTube where this poet of Mayan origins sings some beautiful verses in the Quiché language. Listening is to be transported to the most beautiful and magical forests in the Guatemalan highlands, to hear the song of a bird singing in the ravines, to listen to the sounds of water in a river or to smell a crock pot cooking dinner on a wood stove. After you read Ak´abal for the first time, you are left with a curiosity to read more of his work that describes so simply, beautifully and accurately the landscapes common to the Mayan people.

Ak’abal was born in Momostenango and at a very young age – he was barely twelve years old – he moved to the capital to find work. He went through many struggles but even when he was suffering from hunger one of his greatest worries was not having enough money to buy himself a book that he had seen in the window of a bookstore. The book was The Picture of Dorian Gray and when Ak’abal finally returned to Momostenango from the capital he brought it with him as one of his few possessions.

Recipe of the Month: Carne Guisada

by Simone Riddle

After el desayuno chapín, stews are one of the most popular dishes served in comedores y cocinas throughout the country. ‘Caldos’ ‘recaldos’ and ‘guisados’, which are all types of stews, tend to be overshadowed by their more infamous cousins ‘pepian’, ‘jocon’ and ‘kaq ik’. Despite their fame, visitors are missing a trick overlooking these tasty, lesser known dishes.

This recipe is originally from el Departamento de Escuintla on the Pacific Coast. Although stews like this are typically cooked on the stovetop, I’ve altered this recipe to cook it in the oven – a estilo inglesa – which cooks the meat to be bien tierna. If you don’t have an oven, cook on the stove over a low heat, covered for an hour and a half until the veg is cooked and the beef is tender.

Xela: Cultural Potentials

by Julio Urizar

There is no doubt that the cultural life of Xela is one of its most prominent features. Historically, the city has been a constantly active cultural space and that spirit is reflected in the architecture and identity of the streets that still boast being the birthplace of poets, painters and memorable songs for Guatemalans. Through festivals, exhibitions, concerts and art projects, Xela is always looking for ways to renew itself every day, demonstrating its potential as a regional hub for building spaces that facilitate artistic and cultural coexistence and creative moments for all who participate.

Many of Xela’s cultural movements occur within the classical or traditional conceptions of culture, which are important in the way that they connect the local population and visitors to a conglomerate of local traditions, history and meanings.


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.

This month President Perez Molina, gave his third annual report #TercerInformedeGobierno, which is the equivalent of the State of the Union speech in the US. During one of the government´s worst financial periods, with hospitals running low on medicine and food, police cars out of gas, and hundreds of public employees having not received a paycheck in months, the opposition and social media were to not waste no time criticizing and mocking him each step of the way.

Vertical Pilgrims

By Cameron Smith

XW 114 smallWe are in the Western Highlands of Guatemala at a mountain resembling a giant tooth, formed by the volcanic violence of ancient and recent history. A hundred feet of thin mountain air below me, not far from the base of this sheer cliff that I am inching up, there is a Mayan woman crying loudly, sobbing and wailing in a hoarse voice, begging for absolution. “Sin” and “señor” and “dios” and “mi culpa” echo up to me, and in the distance there is, on backup vocals, chorus upon chorus of singing prayers and sobbing pleas.

There are pilgrims at the base of this mountain face that I am on, there are pilgrims at the top of the mountain face that I am on, and, unbelievably, there are pilgrims inside the vertical mountain face that I am on. Their sobs spill from the lightning bolt cracks that split this particular section of rock. It sounds like the mountain itself is crying to the heavens. “DON’T LEAVE TRASH ON ME!!!”, I hear it scream.

Sometimes when I’m up there on the wall, I find myself in a beautiful bubble created by inhabiting that state of blissful flow, and I don’t even notice the wailers sobbing below. Other times I’m scared and sweating, hanging from a half-fingertip deep side-pull grip on a crack, my rockshoes reluctantly sticking to a small edge, my leg shaking like I’m doing an Elvis impression and I’m counting down the seconds until I lose my hold on the earth and I begin to fall into space. And it’s at that moment when I hear some noisy evangelical below me, crying out prayers whilst slamming a fellow repentant sinner’s face into black volcanic rock. At these times I feel like screaming out obscenities at the acolytes below. Sometimes I do. The devotees, dressed in their güipiles and impractical footwear, look at me as a I hang there gripping small cracks and undulations in the rock like I’m some kind of circus performer.



P o p p i n g

Guerrilla Gardeners

Rumor is a group of Xela locals and foreigners might be organizing themselves to green up and beautify their homes. A need to reclaim their knowledge of food is driving these subversive gardeners to plant their own munchies. And it seems like a perfect idea: a country blessed with plenty of rain and sun should be filled with gardens of luscious edibles. The idea is to volunteer helping others to set up their gardens, until they eventually make it your house – not a bad a tradeoff! So keep an eye open for groups of muddy, shovel carrying, machete wielding folks -  they are coming to get you.

Top Tips for Learning Spanish in 2015

by Diana Pastor

2015! We begin a New Year and we’re sure that many of our readers are here in Xela with the purpose of improving their Spanish. Many of you are no doubt wondering how long it will take until you’re able to crack a joke in Spanish that results in people laughing at the actual joke rather than at you, or when you will be ready to successfully woo a good looking Guatemalteco/a. The answer is deceptively simple: it depends on how much time you are willing to dedicate to your Spanish, but also on how you go about learning it.

Whilst learning Spanish in the local Spanish schools is one of the most effective and traditional ways to pick up the language, you can also find many other resources to train your ears and your tongue after you finish class. Listen to Guatemalan radio – we recommend giving Emisoras Unidas, Sonora or Radio Punto a try, where you will not only learn what has been going on in the country but you can also listen to interesting radio programmes and interviews. This is quite an effective method that can help you to more quickly understand what people are saying when they are speaking at their natural speed with local vocabulary (we know how it feels when you have to listen to Guatemalans who speak so fast you feel frustrated with yourself for not understanding!). You can tune into these stations with any radio or via the internet.