December 2007 Issue: One Uppers
One-uppers. No, it’s not the number of speed pills you popped last weekend in San Pedro. I’m referring to that guy you met in your hostel. You know the guy. If you’ve been to Thailand, he speaks Thai. You’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail? He’s climbed Mounts Everest. During a long weekend. Before he hit puberty.
This kind of person elicits all kinds of reactions. Travel-newbies are awed and follow him around like starry-eyed lemmings. Seasoned ex-pats are either non-plussed or mildly annoyed. He may make them gag a little, but he’s nothing they haven’t seen before. Do-gooders are usually sad. After all, they’ve only saved a life or two and he’s saved thousands!
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Xela is home to so many of these one-uppers; Guatemala itself is a one-upper country. What’s that? Your country had some civil unrest during the last half of the twentieth century? Guatemala had a 36-year civil war responsible for the death of over 200,000 people. Your country has nice beaches? Guatemala has nice beaches and volcanoes and lakes and jungles. Your country has culture? Guatemala is home to a civilization that has been around since 1800 B.C. and boasts twenty-three distinct national languages. Your country has great food and music? Okay, so Guatemala isn’t so hot on those two fronts, but you get the idea.
What am I getting at? Don’t be that guy. I’m sure you deeply care about quadriplegic orphans with Downs syndrome and have traveled to places I may never have been or even heard of, but by name dropping like an L.A. producer, you cheapen your experiences and come off as an arrogant jackass. And if you’re not that guy, don’t let him affect you. Be proud of what you’re doing here, even if you’re not Mother Theresa. If someone is better off from your presence here – even if that someone is only little ol’ you – then your time here has been a success. And if what you’re doing doesn’t make you proud, then step out of your shell and find something that fulfills you. There are a ton of opportunities in Guatemala, but you usually need to do some legwork to find them. So get out there and make something happen.