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The Nightout Before Christmas!

Last month’s issue was just too jam-packed with hard hitting XelaWho brand journalism so we thought we’d keep it light’n’easy this month with XelaWho HQ’s guide to surviving Christmas Xela-style to make sure the only turkey this Christmas is the one on your plate. If you’ve been in town for a little while, you may have realized that from mid-September on, Xela goes kinda nuts. Kicking off with months of marching band practice in every school in town, through Independence Week and then finishing up with Christmas and the New Year —this is certainly Xela’s craziest time of year. So if you don’t dutifully fly home see your family, keep your wits about you and enjoy the holiday season here in Xela!

This time of year, there is an endless series of unfathomable celebrations every weekend to celebrate this, that or the other. If you can work out when stuff is going on with any precision, please let us know and send us a job application. From fireworks by ye ol’ Gallo tree, to Christmas tasty pachas (spiced potato cakes that are steamed in banana leaves —basically the tastiest treat you’ll find in Xela) and the obligatory town trip to the lake for New Years Eve, it’s a magical time of the year.

Every year, most workplaces will also put on a convivio, the Guatemalan equivalent of an office Christmas party. Usually lavish affairs, many workplaces splash out of their convivio to appease the board of directors who take the convivios their chance to be thanked for having not resigned since the last convivio. So if you’re lucky enough to get invited to one, make sure you starve yourself for a few days beforehand so you can take advantage of the smorgasbord that your nonprofit probably spent 30% of their annual budget on and hit the open bar so you can impress your boss with all your incoherent rants about the moral complexities inherent to the development sector.

And as we do every year… the traditional recounting of that time Alex ruined Christmas… A couple of years ago, yours truly decided that a Santa-shaped piñata was the perfect addition to Christmas in Xela. After 20+ friends at various stages of inebriation and coordination tried to stab Santa open with a big spoon (tip: piñatas last longer if you use a spoon not a baseball bat) and not a single piece of candy had come out, one bright-spark realized that your faithful editor had forgotten to fill Santa with candy (in Guatemala, piñatas don?t come with candy, you need to put it in yourself). Even 5 years later the painful memories remain of a flaming Santa being shot with roman candles in the street by an angry mob of big-kids who missed out on their xmas candy.

And if you’d like to go sit on Santa’s lap and tell him how bad you’ve been, head down to McDonald’s by Parque Central and check out Santa’s December tour dates. A happy meal, Santa, commercialised Christmas, what more could you want?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Xela! We’ll see you in 2017 —can you believe it’ll be 18 years since Blink 182 released Enema of the State..

Misadventures in Guatemala: Tattoo Edition

By Katie Campbell

I had been considering getting a new tattoo for more than a year. I had some design ideas in mind, but nothing definite. Last winter was my second spent living in Xela, so something to commemorate my time in Guatemala seemed fitting. In January of 2016, I was lucky enough to go camping at the top of volcano Chicabal, next to the sacred Laguna. I was there with a friend who is also a local guide, and while we were there, I had the rare opportunity to see Guatemala’s endangered national bird, the quetzal.

Decision made. Time for a quetzal tattoo! I obviously had to get it done by a local artist, because only a Guatemalteco would be able to capture the essence of this mystical bird. I spent a couple of days shopping around local tattoo studios and chose an artist whose work I admired. He designed my tattoo, and with a few tweaks, my appointment was made.

Two good friends came with me for the big day, for moral support. It had been years since my last tattoo and all I really remembered was that it hurt. A lot. I forgot about the instinctive fight response, which it turns out, converts to liters of sweat if you neither fight nor flee. After about twenty minutes of tattooing, my skin had turned a disconcerting shade of pale, even for an extranjera, so the artist asked my friend to go buy me a soda. She came back with coca cola and cocodamol, and asked if I wanted one tablet or two. I said one, she snuck in two, (thanks, Jane!).

Four heavy-handed hours later, I had a beautiful, colourful tattoo. I paid the man and went merrily on my way. Aftercare instructions are not standard practice in Guatemala, I learned the hard way, and it was some days before I searched some out online. The only thing I really remembered from my previous ink was to keep fresh tattoos out of the sun. Meanwhile, my daily routine included two back to back hours of intense fitness classes in a not so well ventilated room, invoking copious amounts of sweat. Turns out, one is supposed to avoid strenuous exercise and keep new tattoos dry for at least a couple of weeks —save for sparingly applying lotion a couple of times a day. Well, better late than never, right?!?

Off I went to a local farmacia to get myself some top quality lotion for my precious and now heavily scabbed investment. I began my little excursion by entering through the wrong door and promptly turned around, trying to make a graceful exit without anyone noticing my mistake. Instead, I scraped my freshly tattooed, covered in scabs, extremely tender arm against the iron gate and missed the step on the way out the door as I was temporarily blinded by the pain, and landed with my body partially slung over a moto parked outside. Fortunately, all that exercise I had been doing had given me abs of steels, so I used those abs to steel myself and stop the momentum of this terrifying moment and barely avoided toppling over with the motorbike into the incoming traffic in the street.

Not wanting to make a scene, I casually scraped my body and my dignity from the saddle of the bike and strolled back into the pharmacy, this time through the correct door. After a short time in the queue, a lady asked how she could help me, And I explained that I was looking for an alcohol-free unscented lotion. I was promptly escorted directly to the vagina cream section, where I stood bewildered for a moment until I realized what had been lost in translation. Eventually I left the pharmacy Q100 poorer, suitable lotion in hand, ready to begin proper care for my beloved quetzal.

Once I arrived home, I carefully cleaned my tattoo and gingerly apply a sparse coat of cream to my arm. Naturally, being the highest quality lotion made especially for sensitive skin could find, I developed a severe allergic reaction, which is heralded by the arrival of a fleet of angry hives. Most would assume that the story ends here, but oh no! Because my skin was still open, the allergic reaction entered my bloodstream and my whole body became a host family for itching angry spots.

Ten months later, and my tattoo has healed incredibly well, all things considered. It has lost a bit of colour and I do have a bit of scar tissue, but really those are just small tokens of the whole ordeal. Moral of the story? Take care of yourself!

The Meaning Of Thanksgiving

By Fathouse Productions

The U.S. holiday Thanksgiving comes from the hospitality of the Wampanoag nation of Massachusetts, which helped European colonists avoid starvation through several brutal winters in the early 1600s. One day they came together and had a huge meal to celebrate the colonists’ successful 1621 harvest. Just 55 years later, most Wampanoag (and Narragansett, Pocumtuc and Nipmuk) had been murdered or sold into Caribbean slavery during King Philip’s War in 1675-6.

Christmas Fireworks

By Diana Pastor

What would Christmas and the New Year in Guatemala be without fireworks? According to the Bank of Guatemala, Guatemala imported more than four and a half million dollars worth of stuff that goes boom in the year of our lord 2013. That’s a lot of ordinance. Some fireworks are more likely to disfigure or dismember than others. If you’re curious about trying cheap explosives with your friends or (more likely) with your Guatemalan family, I?ve set up a handy risk scale you can use to judge the likelihood of blowing your hand off.

Arroz Con Leche con Consuelo Espiritual

By La Salsa Inglesa

This is an adaption of arroz con leche, a soothing warm drink made from rice, milk, and cinnamon. It is popular to have after work and great for the cold Xela nights.

Arroz con leche is Latin-American comfort food, bringing spiritual solace to nurse those post-election blues; I made this shortly after the Brexit vote and it eased the pain, momentarily at least. Arroz con leche literally translates as “rice with milk”, it?s what in the UK we would call “rice pudding.” Served as a dessert or beverage, hot or cold, this dish is enjoyed throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 5 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • The zest of half a lime
  • Cinnamon powder for topping

We Call It “Getting Stuck”

By Rotten Tacos

My first night in Xela ended with making grilled cheese for some Aussie surfers at 3 am. It was a Monday. By Friday I was dancing on the King and Queen bar to Enrique’s “Bailando” and stumbling out of an after at dawn. Five months in I had a business, a bike, and 45 new paca clothes. I wasn’t going anywhere.

We call it “getting stuck”. We came for a month and 2 years later, we?re still here and we own a bar and 2.5 street dogs. The question I always get though is “Why did you stay here?” Maybe we?re a bunch of masochistic misfits that subconsciously enjoy Ciprofloxacin regimens, juggling 8 jobs to make ends meet and maybe fly home for Christmas, and screaming “Voy a poner tu cabeza en el culo de una vaca gorda!” in self-defense and redemption at some a-hole for copping a feel at 7:30 am on his moto. Puta, a skirt is not by default an invitation.

But more so, it’s the welcome and the possibility. It doesn’t matter who you were, where you’re going, what you wear, what you do, or if you’re doing anything at all. Xela welcomes you without hesitation or question into this community of ragamuffins with mild ADD and a not so mild penchant for drinking. This is a playground that lets you try anything without any qualifications whatsoever aside from “I’m breathing, I’ll show up, and I’m not an asshole. Most of the time.” I can get a new best friend and a job by talking to strangers and being intoxicated and charming 4 days a week. Wherever we were before wouldn’t let us get away with this.

Stuff

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P o p p i n g

Christmas Come Early

Starbucks and their heathen cup designers continue their unholy waron Christmas elsewhere, but here in Xela the battle is not lost – in fact, Christmas is doing pretty well.
 Unimpeded by stopgap holidays like Thanksgiving, it creeps up earlier and earlier every year. Gallo rolls out their most gigantic and clearly branded Christmas trees. Cantinas hang up
streamers and ornaments. The near-constant distant thunder of fireworks is back. There?s still mashed potatoes and turkey in the tupperware in the fridge, and Christmas seems to be in full swing.

Arrested Development

The more observant of our readers may have noticed on their way to Paíz supermarket an enormous hole in the ground in the adjacent block with some scaffolding, pillars and a huge crane sticking out of it. The even more perceptive readers may have noticed that this hole in the ground was, until recently, teeming with workers toiling away with surprising efficiency (given we?re in Guatemala) to build the structure within a few metres taller every couple of days.

The construction within is being posited as one of Xela’s most ambitious and modern infrastructure projects to date. If all goes to plan (and that?s a big “if”), what is a now hole in the ground will be transformed into Utz Ulew, a behemoth of a shopping mall that will easily rival La Pradera (the mall where Walmart is located) for being the sparkliest, most vacuous place in all of Xela.

The mall will have three floors which will host an array of high-end stores, many setting up shop in Xela for the first time; four basement levels with enough space to park 700 cars; and a 12-floor tower hotel with 90 rooms, which would make it the tallest building in the region. Best of all, Utz Ulew will host a Cinépolis, which means that we will get a cinema in the centre of town that will hopefully have a little more variety than Alba Cinema in La Pradera, where the closest you’ll get to watching a genuinely decent movie is during the trailers for other films that they?re not showing.

Utz Ulew was scheduled to be completed in January 2017. But, like so many projects in Guatemala, things didn’t quite go to plan: last month the Ministerio Publico (Attorney General?s office) put construction on hold until further notice due to, yup you guessed it, corruption allegations (or “anomalies” as they put it). First, an ex-municipal councilman and his brother were arrested on charges of influence peddling to approve the construction license, which was approved without an environmental impact study and with a discount of around half a million quetzales less than it should have cost. According to Prensa Libre, the ex-councilman?s brother went so far as to change his name so that he could appear on the license as the project?s lead planner and manager, therefore being able to benefit financially from it and in the process proving that nepotism truly is alive and well here in Xela.

A few days later, Xela business mogul Celso Macario Gómez, one of the project?s directors, was also arrested and accused of using his influence to get the license approved on these terms, according to Stero100. Goméz is one of the most interesting characters of Xela’s business community. Coming from a poor background and with only an education up to 6th grade, many years ago he started a small wholesale business in La Democracia. He grew the business to become the biggest in Xela, using his growing influence to buy out the competition. When imitators tried to copy his successful business model, he was known for ruthlessly lowering his prices until they went bankrupt. He is now the biggest wholesaler in town for practically all of the brands you see in all of the tiendas on every street corner: crisps, sodas, chocolates, you name it. Unfortunately, if the accusations are true, it looks like the old adage that “power corrupts” holds true in this case.

It’s hard to know who to get pissed at over this scandal. On the one hand, with so much government bureaucracy surrounding construction projects in Guatemala, one can hardly blame businessmen for resorting to greasing the hands of some greedy politicians in order to expedite their projects, rather than waiting years for them to be approved through the normal channels. On the other hand, cheating a municipal government that can’t even find the funds to fix its dysfunctional drainage system out of half a million quetzales is clearly unacceptable. At the end of the day though, as always, it?s the ordinary folk that suffer the most: over 300 people are now unemployed until further notice and for the time being the population of Xela will have another “monument to corruption” to look upon every time they go to Paíz to do their grocery shopping.

¡¡SHARK!!

By Fathouse Productions

The word shark appears suddenly in English in 1569 (stay with me, it?s worth it) in a pamphlet circulated after English fisherman fished a f^^^îng monster in the Straits of Dover, wherever that is, and brought it to London (somewhere in England?). The pamphlet says, “Ther is not a proper name for it… but that sertayne men of Captain Haukinses, doth call it a Sharke.” In other words, “DAMN, ¿¿THE F^^^ IS THIS?? We don?t know, but we know some hard-ass sailors who call it a “shark.”

Experience The Temezcal

By Diana Pastor

Are you a fan of hot springs or saunas? If you are, you’ll want to hear about something that can renew your body and mind. I’m talking about a “temazcal” —a room for steam baths that many Mayan families in Guatemala still have in their houses. Most of these temazcales are private, but a few can be rented by tourists and foreigners to get a taste of the temazcal experience.

The temazcal we’ll be visiting today is in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán. To get there, we’ll need to squeeze onto a chicken bus seat two sizes too small, bump along in the back of a pickup truck for the better part of an hour, hop out at the plaza and find Doña Faustina. She’s got a temazcal for rent.

It’s small —temazcals usually are —and looks like a pyramid or an igloo. You can’t stand inside; to enter, you’ll have to crouch. The oldest temazcales are build from adobe; but most today are made from concrete, which works just as well. They’re wider than they are tall —great for those who hate headroom or love crawlspaces.