Making it Rain in Xela
Stick around in Xela long enough, and you’ll have to work. It’s the law of financial gravity; barring a trust fund, a fortuitous lottery win, an unexpected inheritance, or a suitcase full of money that you find like that guy in No Country for Old Men, your bank account will slowly sink earthward. At some point, you’ll be lifting up your mattress to find enough 25 centavo pieces for beans and tortillas.
What next? You’ll likely end up teaching Spanish. You’ll get some part time work at a fraction of a first-world wage, giving you the valuable perspective on the Global South that you’ve always wanted. You can do some intercambio with your students; they’ll teach you about Guatemalan culture, and you can expound on thorny topics like your racist grandma and whether it’s okay for white people to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Should your students spot you on the dancefloor on a Friday night, do your best to pretend you aren’t drunk; go get your jacket from the coat check, buy a flight home on your phone, and never come back.
Past teaching Spanish, you have a few options. You can try and turn your volunteer gig into a real job —a lucrative and rewarding proposition, if you can swing it, but one that requires out-competing swarms of other applicants who have scads more degrees and experience than you do. A better option might be seeking remote work. You’ll spend your afternoons in cafes typing furiously to make up the cost of the lunch that you bought when you got there, sit around anxiously refreshing your bank account waiting for invoices to transfer, and waste long days lying in bed wondering why you aren’t doing work. The flexibility of working without an office that comes with a desk and free coffee, co-workers with whom you can socialize, or face-to-face contact with the person who pays you is truly liberating.
Even better than remote work is the tantalizing possibility of starting your own small business in Xela. You can enjoy the intimacy of knowing and interacting with most of your customers, decorate your space with a colorful selection of local art, and support Guatemala’s market ladies by buying and reselling their fruits and vegetables as smoothies, wraps, and mixed drinks. Expats and Guatemalans both with treat your with warmth and respect in hopes of scoring a free shot of espresso or tequila, you can let your dogs run wild in your place of business, and you get to pick all the songs on your playlist.
There are downsides, of course. Outside of beer, you can’t really buy any of your business supplies wholesale —you’ll be paying the same price for milk as your customers would at Xelac and applying a markup after the fact. Furthermore, you’ll have to pay for everything with cash; Guatemala, with a postal service that teeters between unreliable and nonexistent, is unkind to credit card holders and those fond of online shopping. Attempts to get around these supply problems via trips across the border to fill suitcases with cheap soymilk at the Walmart in Tapachula are very illegal and could well bring you into conflict with Guatemala’s dreaded bureaucrats.
And oh, those bureaucrats. They’re the worst. Hounding you for licenses you already have, or for licenses that nobody has or needs; dropping in on a regular basis to check and re-check you papers. Should you be so lucky as to own a bar of your own, then the police will demand protection payments from you. They might even or show up in long convoys of ten trucks or more. They’ll drop in for a chat with some fifty officers armed to the teeth to let you know that the music is a little loud for that hour.
Buena onda, Xela!