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Tourism.

Ah how I hate the stigma of being American. I love the benefits of being American. But I just hate hate hate how the world sees us, and the way that we project ourselves upon other cultures.

For example, we’re forcing other cultures to learn English, when really they should be looking at Mandarin and Arabic. The other day I was in the market and there was a lady bargaining for some beaded bracelets. All she did for five minutes was yell loudly “SeVENDYYY. SEVEN ZERO. SEVEN. TY. 9 0 is TOO MUCH. NO. NO”. Why don’t you try to learn a little about the country you’re visiting before you come visit. Is it really that hard to learn the numbers 1-10?

Obviously, by yelling English at the vendors they will understand. It’s a well known concept that the louder you yell the easier it is to understand.

I think it may have something to do with my upraising as well as my work with GV, but I believe that when you go to another country you should make an attempt to fit into the culture. You don’t need to draw more attention to yourself by wearing fanny packs, sunglasses, and I❤ NY shirts. We all already know you're American. Don't worry.

I feel that as Americans, we feel like we were born into the world taking things for granted that are really a privilege. When I'm walking down the street I just watch as Americans push their way down the street and force the Guatemalans to walk on the street to accommodate them. It's annoying because they don't bother to move when people are coming down the street, they just force them to walk on the streets.

I feel that if you want to get something out of a country you visit you should make an effort to blend in. You won't mesh completely, but at least you're making the effort to learn more instead of stepping on all the culture.

Love, Alex

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2011 in Guatemala

 

Oppression.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what we learned in GV in our first year. Specifically the work we did with the Pro-Justice group. One of the main things that we learned and that I’ve been thinking about during my GAP Year are the -isms. The ones we learned about were racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, imperialism, able-body ism, and religious oppression.

The idea behind systematic oppression is that there is a group, usually the majority, that oppresses the smaller minority groups. For example: sexism. Most men enjoy many fringe benefits of simply being a man. It is more likely to be hired as a man, you don’t need to worry about going out at night because you are a woman, when you are a leader and have to make tough decisions people are more likely to accept them and not call you a bitch behind your back. Here’s an example, think of a leader. What do you think of? My answer, is a tall white man, tall, handsome, articulate, well educated, with charisma. When we did this experiment with the Spring group of 2011 many of them shared a similar answer. Why is it that we don’t think of a woman of color as a leader?

In Guatemala, there is a specific -ism that plays out for me everyday. The Guatemalan racism against the Indigenous Mayans and people. The Mayan people here are forced to become more Guatemalan and by extent, more Americanized because their culture is not accepted. For example, there is Sandra Ordonez a personal friend who has been working with GV since she was eleven years old. She tells every incoming GV group about how when she was little she would wear her traditional Mayan clothing to school, and everyone would make fun of her, and she couldn’t make friends. However, when she began wearing American clothes, like jeans and a t-shirts people would invite her out and they would talk to her.

I am trying to come to grips with the human race in general. Why is it that we are always itching for a fight? Even if we all had the exact same color of skin, exact same appearance, same belief system, were exactly the same, we would still manage to find a difference and use it as a reason to ostracize a group. Do we just have such a lack of self-confidence that we always need to put someone else down so that we can feel better about ourselves?

I’ve also been thinking a lot about how my generation uses words like fa*got, cu*t, bi*tch, gay, retarded, and other degrading words to insult each other. If you notice, these are all words that degrade minorities, in order: LGBQTQ, women, women, LGBQTQ, people who suffer mental problems. I have and still do play a part in this oppression: be it using the words, laughing at jokes with those words, or not saying anything when I hear someone using those words. At this point, I’ve come to a place where when I hear the words I cringe, but don’t do anything about them. I need to work on saying things about it when I hear someone using the words.

It’s difficult because of peer pressure and pressures that I put on myself. I don’t want to be ostracized for saying something about them, I want to fit in. But I also want to stand up for my beliefs. Especially as a teenager it is very difficult to find a place in a group: trying to fit in, but also standing up for what I believe in. I have worked with GV and attended workshops that address how to handle these problems, but I haven’t run into an answer that particularly strikes me. I think that I need to grow more and learn my own individual answer to handling these things. I am hoping that this experience with GV and my future experiences with Global College and other non-profits will bring me to a place in my life where I can work to stop these oppressions.

Thank you Whit for sparking my more in depth posts.

Love, Alex

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2011 in Guatemala

 

Obesity and Imperialism.

As I eat more and more pan every day I think about obesity in general. I’ve been looking at many of the Guatemalan and Mayan people here. I’ve been noticing a lot of them have really big tummies, and today on the bus I was squished into the wall by an obese lady. I think part of it is all of the pan the culture here eats. In a week here I eat triple the amount of carbs that I do at home in the states. But another part definitely has to do with the expansion of the fast food industry that Americanizing Guatemala has brought.

For example, Pollo Campero. It is cheap, fried, and everywhere in Guatemala. McDonalds has made it’s appearance in Antigua. And everywhere I look I see Coca Coca, Pepsi, Cheetos, and other American junk food trash littering the streets. I am amazed at how much fast food has taken over the world. As Americans, we
unknowingly impress imperialism upon cultures where we visit. An example of this is the dress style of the Guatemalans. Everywhere I look I see American Eagle, Hollister, Abercrombie, and tons of other American brand names splashed across clothing. Whit and I were talking to Aura a couple of nights ago, and she was talking about how important it was that her kids learn English so they can make their way through the world. Unfortunately, the languages that should be taught right now are Mandarin and Arabic. Unfortunately we impress our language upon other cultures and so they have to learn English to be able to survive a rapidly Americanized world.

Back to fast food, a lot of these corporations play on the people who suffer from poverty. They are able to mark their food down lower than healthier food, as a result people who don’t have a lot of money can only afford to buy junk food. Then the traditional and healthier foods begin to suffer as people buy less of them and they end up out of business, leaving only the junk food.

I’m worried about the state of the world right now. We’re on a rapid decline in terms of health: environmental, social, individual health…I hope there’s still a way to turn it around.

Love, Alex

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2011 in Guatemala

 

Family and Community.

This post is coming off of a really fun night I spent with the family last night. Whit and I introduced them to spoons and that was a great success. We even got a picture with them, so you can see what they look like finally!


Left to right: Daniela, Me, Kevin, Whit, Jackeline, and Christian.

I really like the family we have. I don’t usually like having kids around all the time, but I’ve discovered I like Guatemalan kids a lot more than American kids. Even at a young age they tend to be less spoiled and exponentially more mature than their counterparts in the States. I think it has a lot to do with the environment they’re raised in.

In Guatemala, a lot of kids are helping their parents out the second they can walk. There was a section in the book I had to read for GV called Children: The Challenge, parts of it are really outdated, but some of it holds true to today’s idea of family. One part in CTC was that everyone in the family should pull their own weight. For example, a child doesn’t want to help the family bring home the firewood, they just want to play. Well then a parent will have to pay attention to the child, which keeps them from helping with firewood, which means everyone else in the family has to pull their own weight as well as do the work of two other people. I can see said child a lot in American families. From a young age we are telling our children ‘they are too young to help with the firewood, they may hurt themselves’ when all they want to do is be part of the family and help. When in reality, if they are already up on their feet walking and want to help, we should encourage them to help and give them small manageable tasks. Unfortunately, by not doing that we are teaching them that they are helpless and that they shouldn’t have to help out because they couldn’t possibly be helpful.

The point being, that in Guatemala that situation rarely takes place. As soon as children can help, they are out there helping their family, and their desire to help is met. For example, today when I was walking home I saw two toddlers, maybe at most a year old, helping their father push logs into place on a path. The logs were about the size of the children, but they were managing just fine, and weren’t in any danger: their father was watching them closely as he also moved wood about.

And you can see the difference in their attitudes as they grow up. At our homestay, whenever someone rings the bell to indicate they want to get into the store, one of our kids will jump up immediately to take care of it, instead of ignoring it and having our mom get it. I rarely see something like this in the states. But, maybe I’m not looking hard enough.

I love the sense of community here, the word has a completely different meaning in Guatemala than it does in Seattle. My parents are very involved with the Asian American community at home. Then attend lots of fundraisers, donate time and money to causes, and they make sure they are close with tons of people who are similar and who have similar interests as them. That is my limited perspective of what community is. Here in Guatemala, community mans something else. Everyone says “buenas tardes. Buen viaje” when they pass by someone, even if they don’t know who they are. The families stay incredibly close to each other. Unless their schedules prevent it, families will always eat meals together. One thing that my friend Sandra (who works with GV and came up with Earthcorps) said that one of the weirdest things she finds about the states is that we usually just grab a sandwich for lunch and go. Here in Guatemala, my teacher gets two hours off to go home and eat lunch with her family everyday.

I think part of it has to do with this being such a small town and everyone knowing each other. But at least in the case of family staying close, it happens all over Guatemala, even in Antigua, one of the most touristy towns (so much so that one of our Chapine friends says it’s not really considered a Guatemalan town. It’s more just a town where a lot of Guatemalan people live). It’s not uncommon to find more than six people in one house. My teacher at language school lives at home with her father, two brothers with wives and children, sister with her husband, and another brother who doesn’t have a significant other. She was saying that many times when men marry they simply bring their wives into their childhood homes to live there.

Family in Seattle, is getting together a few times a year, especially for the holidays. Other than that, we just stay in contact with email or phone calls. I think it’s great. I really do, it just pales in comparison to the idea of family here.

I think over time we’ve become so consumed by the cycle of working, buying, working that we’ve lost the importance of family. We retain a little bit, but not nearly enough. I hope that when I raise children, I can stay close with my family. Recently I’ve been reading letters my dad wrote to me as I grew up, when I was little we used to get together all the time and have dinner with friends and family. Now that has drifted apart, and I’m usually out of the house when dinner is served. Being busy, and raising kids has a lot to do with this shift, but I think after being able to observe Guatemalan culture more and more, I’ve realized they’ve got the right idea.

We should be focused on family. Not money.

If we could get out of the consumer mind set, I think we’d be off a lot better.

Love, Alex

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2011 in Guatemala

 

Panaderias.

Whitney and I have recently developed a new habit. Every day when we’re out wandering around either Antigua or San Miguel/Ciudad Vieja we always stop to get pan or pan dulce. We’ve taken a liking to a chain panaderia by our house called Vierna. For the first week we went there everyday. However, now that I have school we stop at the Panaderia that we went to with our original group.

I’ve grown particularly fond of these little cookies and dunking them in my tea when I’m at language school. I eat six or seven every day that I have school. In Guatemala, it’s normal to dunk things in your hot drinks, be it certain sandwiches, cookies, and pan.

It’s not good that I eat so many carbs and don’t have a sport like Whit has dance. So lately I’ve been following up with tons of crunches and the exercise we get from walking at least a mile everyday is helping. I’m planning on investigating another form of aerobic exercise when I have time some free time on my hands.

The food here, is like always, is absolutely fabulous! I’ve been turned on to horchata and atole, which are both sugary delicious drinks. The food here is really fresh, and it completely makes the difference from the fruit that we import in the states. Everything here is a little salty, but it is well complimented by the pan and the tortillas that are customary to eat with every meal.

The portions here are huge, and Whit and I have been struggling to clear our plates at every meal. In Guatemala, it is considered rude if you don’t finish everything on your plate so we’ve been clearing them at every meal. I have to be more diligent about going into the kitchen and helping them when they serve my plate, because I’m getting stuffed from all the food.

Love, Alex

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2011 in Guatemala

 

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Today is the first Monday of our second week! It’s hard to believe its been that much time already. Time here moves a lot slower than it does in Seattle.

For our first week Whitney and I spent three hours in the office, and then went home for lunch and worked one more hour at the office. After that we would drop our stuff off at home and walk around San Miguel Escobar/Ciudad Vieja. We’ve gotten lost a few times, the town is actually fairly small. But on foot, and with the street system, Whit and I have been having trouble finding things. We’ve found the bank and the post office. However we weren’t able to send letters because the guy who works at the post office doesn’t come in very often.

Today was my first day of school. Whit, Aurelio and I took a Chicken Bus in from San Miguel to Antigua and walked to school. It was a nice change of pace from our quiet little town to the bustling tourist city of Antigua. I met my teacher and spent the morning with her reviewing a lot of basics, which is really good for my pronunciation and to get a good groundwork set up for upcoming complicated work. I only have school for three weeks, I forgot how fun it is. I’m also learning a lot of small tidbits that I didn’t know, so this is helping a lot.

Unfortunately it seems I’ve swallowed a little water from the shower, as I’ve developed a stomach ache over the last few days. Hopefully it will pass soon and I will be able to move on from this experience. I will have to be more careful in the future to avoid the water.

The scenery here is wonderful. I’ve missed it since the last time we were here. The streets here are easier to navigate than those in Antigua. They are less uneven, and while there are a fair number of cars, bicycles, and motorcycles in the street, it is nowhere as busy as in Antigua.

Today is Dia de San Valentine. So last night we made cards for our host family. Whit decided to make dolphins, while I made dinosaurs. We put them out on the dining room table last night so the family would find them in the morning.

The family loved them! Later in the day when we returned to the house, we found surprises waiting on our beds. Later each of our host kids came in individually and gave us little chocolates. Unfortunately I ate those before I could take pictures. It was really sweet and made for a great day.

Love, Alex

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Guatemala

 

Day Three.

We have arrived safe and sound!

The flight down was uneventful and very quick looking back at it. Whitney and I have the sweetest family, the house is pretty big, even for American standards. It’s right on the main street of San Miguel so it’s really easy to get to anywhere we need to go. As of now, we only have internet access at the GV office, but we’re supposed to get internet access at our home in a week or so.

The weather here is absolutely GORGEOUS. There’s not a cloud in the sky and the sky is this gorgeous light blue color that just goes on forever. Plus we’re surrounded by the three volcanoes which just make the country side even more beautiful. I love having the sun out all the time, it really satisfies my Vitamin D fix. The 24/7 Spanish is a little hard to adjust to, but hopefully I’ll have it in stride in a couple of weeks or so. Today is the first day that Whitney and I are really going to go wander around the town by ourselves. We have a curfew of 7:00, when we can’t be outside without Mario or Aurelio after that. But we’ll have plenty of time to look around over these next few months.

As always, the food here is absolutely delicious! A lot of Americans look down at “developing or third world countries” but they really just don’t know what they’re missing. Guatemala is absolutely amazing. And I’m sure all the other Central American countries are just as much so.

Love, Alex

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Guatemala

 
 
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