Mike & Tanja in Guatamala

Hi All,

Things are going very well down here in Guatemala. We have settled in
to life here in Antigua, a small colonial-style city about 45min west
of the capital, which is also a bit of a tourist/volunteer hub. We
arrived going on two months now, and are living in our third, and
hopefully final residence, but you never know.

We came through the States on the way, to visit a friend of ours in
Chicago, which was fantastic. The highlight was of course seeing the
Red Sox give the White Sox a baseball lesson, in bright sunshine, 3
rows from the dugout. Although, there was the rainout the night
before, which had us waiting in the wind and rain for 3 hours before
they called off the game and rescheduled it for the next day. A
labour of love on my part in any case, which my very understanding
wife agreed to sit through! Chicago is a really nice modern city,
particularly in the summer. Worth a stop if you are in the area.

We arrived in Guatemala and went straight to Antigua, to stay our
first week with a local family. This was good for the Spanish, and
the food was great. The Guatemalan diet is varied and delicious, with
re-fried beans, tortillas, salads, all kinds of vegetables that you
have never seen before, hot sauces, and everything that you could
possible do with corn. We moved out of there to a residence after a
week, which was run by the biggest tight-arse this side of the
equator. We met interesting people though, which comprised mainly
people 50+ years old, who have come to Guatemala for a sea-change.
Each one has there very different story, but sometimes it is hard to
tell them apart.

I started work for a little primary school a few kilometers away in
Ciudad Vieja, which was started by a young Guatemalan couple, and
which caters for kids who cannot afford to get into the public school
system. Only primary education is public in Guatemala, and apparently
the standards are nothing to write home about. I did, however notice
a big difference between the kids who had been sponsored to go to
primary school, and came to the school for some extra tutoring, and
the kids who were at the school for the entire day. It was a great
experience to teach kids, which is something I had never really done
before, and of course it involved a lot of practice of the imperative.

We know live in a volunteer house with an amazing view of the Volcan
de Agua, which towers over Antigua. Tanja started with, and I now
also work for, an organization which creates little micro-entrepreneur
businesses based on the double or triple-bottom line theory. They use
what they call a micro-consignment model, meaning that they provide
the micro-entrepreneurs with the product, which they sell for a
profit, whilst returning the cost-price to us. Double-bottom line
means that there is a monetary profit, and a community profit, meaning
that the product is good for the community. Examples are cheap but
good-quality reading glasses, efficient and smokeless concrete cooking
stoves, energy-saving light globes, seeds etc. etc. To make it a
triple bottom-line, the product also should have environmental
benefits. Tanja started a little fruit and veggie business with a
lady who lost her husband and mother in the same week, and is creating
an accounting system for the organization. I have been helping them
with their legal-company structure stuff, and writing articles on how
to run a small-business (overnight expert!).

We have traveled a bit as well. We went to the pacific coast and
stayed at an idyllic beach resort with black volcanic sand, have been
through the capital, the market in Chichicastenango and took a trip to
Quetzaltenango (known by the locals as Xela). The Xela trip was for a
rugby team that I am now playing for and helping to coach. I am happy
to say that I am the only person from a rugby country (except for the
odd Argentine), with the vast majority being Guatemalan. And boy do
they play with passion, and without a real understanding of the
offside rule! It is great fun to play again, although it has come at
a cost – a dislocated finger, sprained-knee, sprained-ankle, and
bruised ribs (I’m actually exaggerating a bit – I can still play!).
They have a website which I think is www.guatemalarugby.com.

We spent All Saints Day in town called Sumpango, which is famous for
its giant kites. It is tradition for Guatemalans to go to the graves
of their family members who have passed on, and decorate them in
bright colours and with the odd dram of rum. They also fly kites with
little messages, supposedly addressed to those relatives in heaven.
The giant kites are ornately decorated, and are up to 15-20m tall,
made entirely of coloured tissue paper. They are incredible. We also
went to a live volcano on Saturday, which was amazing, and slightly
scary. As Guatemala doesn’t quite have the same litigation
environment, we got up close and personal with lava, with Tanja’s
shoes coming off second best.

I’ll cut it short before the boredom starts to set in and wish you all
the best for the run-up to Christmas.

Best Regards,

Mike and Tanja