Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Guatemala Gleanings

Not having my computer with me is quite liberating, but not having my computer means I can't hash my thoughts on a computer before putting something together in the form of a blog post. I brought a journal with me with the sole purpose of being able to get some thoughts down before I got to a computer. But I'm too lazy, and I haven't used my journal yet.

Things that have struck me in my first week (a terribly unexhaustive list):
-The United States has a terrible, awful history in Guatemala. Overthrowing democracies and replacing them with brutal dictatorships. Genocide was committed, targetting indigenous populations. Multinational corporations were given free reign, free access to the market and the freedom to exploit laborers, landowners and indigenous farmers. The US has had a terrible, oppressive historical role in the great majority of countries I have visited: Syria, Palestine, Guatemala, Mexico, Egypt. Ugh.
-Somewhere around 60% of Guatemalans are indigenous, not like 1/16, but full-blooded indigenous. There are something like 23 indigenous languages spoken in Guatemala (largely different groupings of Mayans). K'iche and Mam are both widely spoken, with more than 700,000 speakers for each. There is a third widely spoken language but I can't recall at the moment. Because of large numbers of indigenous people in the country, many indigenous customs, dress, and languages have remained intact. Many ugly things have been done to reduce the indigenous presence in the country, such as genocides, placing different tribes of Mayans together in forced communities so they'd be forced to learn Spanish to communicate, etc, etc. But it's beautiful that despite all of the colonial ventures, the native people of this land have retained large pieces of their identity. It's beautiful. I hope to keep reading and learning about the people of this land.
-Nationality, ethnicity, religion, class, and race are incredibly complicated concepts that have real effects. More on that in another post, I hope.
-I met an Iranian guy here, who spoke French, Farsi, German, Spanish, Arabic, and Portugese. Meeting a guy who speaks six languages was awesome. Meeting a guy in Guatemala who spoke Arabic was more awesome. Meeting a guy who spoke six languages, whom I had to speak with in Spanish and Arabic because one of his six languages was not English was the most awesome.
-I forgot so much Arabic. It took me 5 minutes to remember how to ask the Iranian guy where was from in Iran. ¿Seriously?
-Today I bought vegetables from a teenage girl. I asked her how much the carrots were, in Spanish, she responded in Spanish. Her friends, who also had their vegetables laid out on the edge of the road, started to speak to her in an indigenous language (I'm guessing it was K'iche, because a compaƱero of mine is taking K'iche and was teaching me some of the guttural sounds). All the girls laughed at a good joke that had been cracked, and as they laughed they looked at me simultaneously. They kept speaking K'iche and laughing while looking at me. I had my hair in a ponytail and had a headband on, I am guessing they thought my overall look was pretty 'feminine.' They totally got away with making fun of me by speaking a language I was certain to not know. Good times.
-I love farmers, and farms, and fields. There are a lot of them in Guatemala. Most of the work is done my hand, from what I can tell. Farmers till big plots of soil by raising their hoe up over their head, slamming it into the dirt, pushing the handle towards the earth, and turning over a scoop of soil. Over and over again.
-Farmers carry around big machetes. Awesome.  
-There are volcanoes everywhere. I've hiked the top of two so far, and am hoping to explore more.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Xela, Guatemala

Yesterday I arrived in Guatemala City and heading directly to Quetzaltenango (more commonly called Xela -- pronounced Shay-la, a shorthand version of the indigenous name for the city, Xelaju). I plan to be here for six weeks, studying Spanish and generally trying to enjoy my time here. I'm studying Spanish because of an upcoming university exam, but more importantly, it's a language that is increasingly important for those living in the United States to know, especially as anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona and Albama, targeted at Latinos, is gaining more widespread support. It's a way to live with neighbors, to love neighbors better, to stand beside neighbors and raise our voices with theirs, to speak out against discrimination and to advocate for human rights. It's one way to slowly undo my ethnocentrism, to reveal my priviliges, and to undo another category of people I've classified as the other. Commnicating with the others usually undoes the constructs of the very category. Not to mention, a huge chunk of the land mass of planet Earth contains Spanish speakers. So there you go, Xela for six weeks, because I wasn't yet tired of living out of a backpack and leaving friends and family behind while traveling with my stupid backpack and my non-verbal books. 

I'll probably certainly be blogging very lightly on foreign policy, the Arab Spring, or developements in Palestine and Israel. Forgive me.