Que Viva Guatemala!

Last week, I experienced Guatemalan culture for the first time, through Go Eat Give’s Destination Guatemala. Before the event started at El Quetzal, a Guatemalan restaurant in Chamblee, GA, I got the chance to interact with a few people who had travelled to Guatemala, and were excited to take a nostalgic trip back to the country they had fallen in love with for a night, through Go Eat Give.  Before that day, I didn’t know much about Guatemala, besides what I had studied in school about the Guatemalan Civil War, and the media accounts of poverty, drug, and gang violence plastered on T.V. in recent weeks, covering the unaccompanied minors from Central America. I was eager to learn more about the land and culture.

amaka destination Guatemala

While guests were getting settled in, photos from Guatemala and traditional music played in the background. The photos showed the rich biodiversity in Guatemala, including its plush rainforests, mountainous highlands, and clear blue lakes including Lake Atitlán . We then feasted on a Guatemalan dinner buffet that included arroz y frijoles (rice and beans), ensalada (beets and palm salad), Pepian de Pollo, Jocon con Pollo, Vggie Chile Rellenos;  and for dessert Mole con Platanos Fritos (plantains in a mole sauce) and Rellenitos de Platanos (fried mashed plantains stuffed with sweetened black beans), which was washed down with horchata and tamarindo. Some of my favorites foods included jocón (chicken stewed in green tomato sauce), and pepián (chicken stewed in a pumpkin and sesame sauce).

Guatemalan food

The event featured two speakers: social entrepreneur Stephanie Jolluck and the Consulate General of Guatemala in Atlanta, Rosa Mérida de Mora.  Jolluck has adopted Guatemala as her second home and is the owner of Coleccion Luna, a co-op located in the Guatemalan highlands that creates beaded jewelry, hand woven textiles, bags, and belts. She has formed an equal partnership with Guatemalan women, and proceeds from the business benefit the community to alleviate poverty, preserve tradition, sustainability, and promote cultural diversity and understanding. The fabric of her textiles came in many bright colors, which are found in the rich landscape of Guatemala. The handicrafts were a big hit of the night, and many guests took home items from Collecion Luna.

Stephanie Jolluck

Rosa Mérida de Mora spoke of the work of the consulate within the Guatemalan community in Atlanta and the southeastern region. She described the strong work ethic of the Guatemalan people whom are largely agrarian. Many Guatemalans in the southeast have continued this tradition in the States, harvesting the crops that we consume everyday. Although many Guatemalans work hard in the United States so they have a chance to provide a better life for their families here and in Guatemala, they face hardships. Over 60% of Guatemalans in the United States are undocumented which causes them to live in shadows of American society, as they risk being deported if they get caught driving without a license. Although Guatemalans have contributed so richly to American society, it is heartbreaking that they are treated so poorly due to many anti-immigration sentiments in Georgia. I hope this event encourages people to keep an eye on the news about the effects of anti-immigration legislation.

Rosa Maria

After the speeches, guests put their dance moves to the test. A traditional Guatemalan dancer showcased cultural Mayan dances, and many guests jumped in, not afraid of learning a new dance in front of complete strangers.  The highlight of my night was definitely watching everyone dance along to the beautiful Mayan music.

Mayan music

Destination Guatemala was a great event because many people who had been native Guatemalans and tourist of Guatemalans came out and spoke about the land and culture they loved so much. Witnessing the passion and love that others shared for the country encouraged me to begin a way to plan my own trip to Guatemala. In the meantime, I look forward to learning Thai culture at Go Eat Give Destination Thailand next month.

~ By Go Eat Give intern, Amaka Ifeadike. Amaka is a recent graduate from Emory University. She loves to travel, teaches Spanish, and most recently lived in Buenos Aires. 

Teaching and Learning in a Week in Quetzaltenango

Traveling to Latin America, particularly if you already know Spanish, can be an unforgettable experience, especially if it is your first time there. Just imagine getting a study abroad opportunity, being able to teach English, soaking in the scenery, and that was my week in Quetzaltenango.  After a 3 hour plane ride from Atlanta to Guatemala, a 1 hour taxi ride from the airport to the bus station, and a 3 hour bus ride from Guatemala City to Quetzaltenango, my week officially began.

host family in Guatemala

I start the week with meeting my host family. They are warm, hospitable people that demonstrate a lot of interest in making me feel at home. My mouth was watering as I was treated to my first meal, which consisted of rice, tortillas, and frijoles (beans). It was so delicious, but the excitement didn’t stop there. I had a delicious homemade breakfast, lunch, and dinner waiting for me every day of my trip. It was like a buffet of gourmet goodness, as I chowed down on soup, potatoes, soy, guacamole, and more.

food in Guatemala

This was an ideal week for anybody that wanted to test their ability to speak a foreign language in a setting where you are surrounded by people of limited English proficiency.  From the taxi ride to the bus station, and eventually at my host family’s house, I had to get out of my comfort zone of speaking English, and adjust myself to the new environment that I was in.

The city of Quetzaltenango is filled with breath-taking natural scenery and life. Exploring the hills and trees across the city simply left me speechless. Cows and horses were everywhere.  The rooms, including the Nahual Community Center where I was teaching English, were filled with plants.

Walking through the local markets in the city will make anyone want to stop and check out all the marvelous products being sold.  Guatemala has a large textile industry, and the fresh produce is abundant. Looking at all those fresh from the farm and probably organic juicy strawberries, peaches, and raspberries, left me drooling.

I kept strolling through toy stores, hospitals, car shops, and so much more. There were too many stores I wanted to see that it was difficult to see all of them.

shopping in Guatemala

Teaching English was the most difficult part of the trip.  Imagine being in front of a group of students who know very little English, and having to help them learn the language.  But instead of giving up when things got tough, I endured the rigorous task of working to develop lesson plans for the students.  What made the experience a lot easier was working with a group of other volunteers from all over the world, including Indiana, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland.

Did I say study abroad? The Nahual Community Center also provided Spanish classes for me and other volunteers. Imagine taking 4 hours of Spanish every day, for five days,
and compare it to 3 hours a week of Spanish training, and you can have an idea of how much more prepared I needed to be to keep up with the material.  But my Spanish classes focused on more than just learning the language, but also on learning about the local economy of Guatemala.

Guatemala study abroad programs

Did you know that many people in Guatemala enjoy listening to American music, particularly songs from the 80s?  During my taxi ride from the airport to the bus station, I was bopping my head as I listened to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”  Also, at the school I heard the staff listening to “Party All The Time.”  Looking back at the trip, I am glad that I went and I recommend people reading this blog to try it out.  This trip makes me want to visit other countries in Latin America.

~ By Gaurav Bhatia, a philanthropist who wants to advocate for the rights of all people around the world to get a good education.  Check out his website at www.seedsofsharing.org