Buenos dias a todos mis amigos. If you are like I was 75 days ago, you know very little about Guatemala. I'm not afraid to admit that I knew very little before my Fellowship - which both excited and horrified me. When I first learned that I was going to Guatemala I thought cool..wait...WHHHAAAATT?!!? Isn't that really, really dangerous. The short answer to this question is well...there is no short answer. Like many countries in Latin America, Guatemala does have very real problems problems with violence (mostly gang related), drug trafficking and poverty (approximatly 75% live below the poverty line1). Furthermore, much of the country lacks paved roads and basic infrastructure.

But, these are not the things that define the country or its people. Guatemala is an amazing place with loyal, strong and loving people.  More so, the beauty of the countryside and rich Mayan history is second to none.  I had no idea what to expect, but what I found was very profound and inspiring. If you are looking for a new adventure, I'd highly suggest a trip to Guatemala. Be smart, be safe, have fun and don't forget to dance! Here are a few insights (the good, the bad and the random) that I picked up along the way...

(Side Note: If you find this post interesting, informative, life-changing or are just feeling generous and awesome...please donate $25 via Kiva to my friends at ASDIR or FAPE. They are excellent field partners, who do great work in very challening areas. Their guidance, support and inspiration helped me both learn from and survive these two crazy months.)

Insight #1) Guatemala is... BEAUTIFUL...Like really, really, really beautiful. 

Volcanos...Check

Clouds on Clouds on Clouds. View from the top of Santa Maria Volcano. (Quetzaltenango, Guatemala)


Lakes...Check 

View of Lake Atitlan from the front row of a lancha. Aldous Huxley once described Atitlan as "[Lake] Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing."


Ruins...Check

Tikal Temple 1. An oldie but a goodie. A true "can't miss" if you are interested in Mayan Culture.


More Ruins (not named Tikal)!...a little off the beaten path...Check

Iximche. The first capital city of Guatemala. Gracias a Gloria for her local expertise.



Insight #2) Guatemala is...COLORFUL

Antigua

5th Avenue. Antigua, Guatemala



Even the soda is colorful!

India Quiche desde 1926!


SUMPANGO... If you've read the Fellows Blog before, you know that I. LOVE. SUMPANGO!

Que Lindo...How Beautiful!


Insight #3 - Microfinance...WORKS! ... And finance often times has little to do with its success. Providing access to captital allows people to empower themselves, better their lives and create opportunites that previously did not exist. Perhaps we should call it "Micro-Opportunity", "Micro-Community" or "Micro-Empowerment".

Tecpan, Guatemala...If this photo doesn't make you smile, I don't know what will. Just Amazing.

Visiting with Kiva borrower Maria. She currently has 4 sewing machines and is looking to increase production and profits by working with FAPE (local MFI) to export products abroad (full story to come at a later date).



Quiche, Guatemala

Visiting with Kiva borrowers Tereza and Margarita. They have lots of chickens, pigs and bees which they raise. Additionally, Tereza's success has enabled her to add new rooms onto her house!


Insight #4 - Microfinance...Is not perfect. Many borrowers find themselves over-indebted. Guatemala specifically has a very high rate of over-indebtedness. Here is a video from a current Kiva Fellow Jeff Nelson about the personal impact and problems over-indebtedness can cause.




Insight #5 -  Guatemalans are... very generous...

Especially with food. I hope you like tomalitos, tortillas and every fruit and vegetable ever grown. Like many of my borrower visits, this one included A LOT of food.

I mean reeeaaalllly? Do I look like I can eat 2 pieces of corn, 3 potatoes, a handful of tortillas and some jocotes AT 9 AM?!?!? Gracias a Maria y su familia!


Last day in the office! Thanks FAPE!

Thanks for the parting gifts. Delicious cookies and some sweet FAPE swag!



Insight #6 - There are lots of guns, protective steel cages and barbed-wire in Guatemala. There is always a constant reminder that danger (whether real or imagined) may be just around the corner. At some point it becomes a normal part of daily life, but never quite feels "right".

A far too common sight
Barbed wire guarding the alley and the roof above.
.


A typical entrance to an office building

You will rarely find an entrance that doesn't look like this (and there probably is an armed security guard as well).




Insight #7 - MAKE LOCAL FRIENDS! They will make your experience richer (you can also save a few bucks on those bulky travel books.) 

Thanks to Manuel (Guatemalan) and Matt (Not Guatemalan) for driving me all over Guatemala in "El Jeep". I'm going to miss the beauty that is Chimaltenango rush hour traffic.


Insight #8 - Christmas arrives early in Guatemala (like before Halloween early).

Feliz Navidad and a Happy Halloween!


Insight #9 - It rains A LOT...but, the storms are majestic.

First day in Guatemala...Bienvenidos!



The Aftermath...totally worth it!

The Calm After the Storm (Totonicapan, Guatemala)


Insight #10 - Dancing is awesome...AND... Bad dancing is bad dancing no matter where you are. At least in Guatemala you can chalk it up to cultural differences.

Brief Conversation after the first photo was taken:
Me: "Yo se como bailar. Bailo buenisimo" (I know how to dance. pssshhh. I'm awesome at dancing!)
Anonymous Coworker "Baila usted como hay un gatito en sus pantalones." (You dance like there is a cat in your pants.)
Me. "Mentira!" (Lies)

...You be the judge...

Office Dance Party

Bailamos..Let the rhythm take you over..Bailamos


Tikal Dance Party

Moves Like Jagger. EwwwEWWWeewwweEWWWW.... Moves Like Jagger




Thanks everyone for your time. It has been a fantastic two months in Guatemala. I hope through my work, travels, blunders and successes you are able to find some value, inspiration and/or humor. Guatemala truly is a beautiful place with inspiring and resilient people. It has its problems, but do not let those detract you from exploring it for yourself (just practice some caution). Special thanks to all of my friends and coworkers in Guatemala. FAPE and ASDIR you are the best! ...y ya me voy a El Salvador. Saludos!






1. www.worldbank.org
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Born and raised in Cincinnati, OH, Bob has had the opportunity to call a lot of places home in the past decade - Nashville, Washington DC, New York City, Mendoza, Argentina, Lima, Peru, Chicago and most recently San Francisco. After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2006 with dual degrees in Political Science and Human & Organizational, Bob spent 3.5 years working as a data analytics consultant for FTI Consulting in Washington, DC. During this time, he acquired his first passport, an experience that would come to change his life. Passport-in-hand he spent the next year traveling and doing nonprofit work in Argentina and Peru. It was during this time that he developed a curiosity and passion for sustainable economic development, social entrepreneurship and innovative ways to reduce poverty. After rejoining the consulting world in 2012, Bob realized that his true passion and interests remained abroad in Latin America. As a member of KF22, Bob hopes to work closely with the local communities in Guatemala and El Salvador to gain a deeper understanding of entrepreneurship and how it can be used to create sustainable businesses in an effort to reduce poverty.
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