Stuck in Xela
By Jalapeño Jacobo
Each month we send our field correspondent, Jalapeño Jacobo, to interview and harass one of Xela’s most infamous extranjeros to find out why the hell they’ve lived in Xela for so long (just kidding Xela, we love you.) This month we spoke to Colin Shadel, who is originally from Manassas, Virginia but is now owner of VRISA books here in Xela.
How long have you been in Xela and what brought you?
I’ve been living here since the mid 90’s. I love Xela itself but I also came here because I knew I didn’t want to get trapped in the debt driven consumer culture of the United States.
How has Guatemala changed in two decades?
More traffic, much more commercialized, and the road to the capital has an extra two lanes which makes the drive way more boring.
I think I’m OK with that last change. Is there anything you’ve grown to miss about the U.S.?
Yard sales… these multi-product pacas are similar but they’re just not the same as a good yard sale.
That’s a new one. So how did VRISA books come about?
Well, when I first came to Xela I had the idea to import old worthless bikes from the US, fix them up, and then sell them here in Xela.
…What does that have to do with books?
International importation is difficult and requires a lot of red tape. So as I was learning the ropes I “practiced” by importing books from the US. Books were cheap enough that it was alright if I lost them and there weren’t any big interests in Guatemala who would care about books written in English.
But you never really planned on selling the books?
It wasn’t my focus, but after I imported the books I figured I might as well sell them. I put them in a small shop I had and it actually went really well.
And how was the bike business?
Great. Over the next six years my company Valor Recuperable Internacional SA (VRISA) sold around 3,500 refurbished bikes in Xela.
Yea, it was a great business but for a number of reasons I had to put an end to it and today the bookstore is what remains of VRISA after almost twenty years.
And we’re all lucky it’s here.
As a seasoned book expert, what one book should every extranjero in Xela read?
Either Bitter Fruit, a recent history of Guatemala and the problems US intervention has caused here. Or Me Llamo Rigoberta Menchú y Así Me Nació la Conciencia which is a great book on the contemporary indigenous experience in Guatemala.
There you go readers. Some light reading to occupy you once you’ve finished reading XelaWho from cover to cover.