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The Realer Xela

sunny 28 °C
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Xela - 2nd largest city in Guatemala in the Northwest corner, 1 hour from the border of Mexico, on the narcotic route from the south to Mexico
Guatemala - most diverse country in Central America, was in civil war until 1996, still struggling to recoup
What is Xela like? It is a polluted, crowded, bustling city with tons of diversity. The two indigenous groups are Mum and Mayan, plus there are Mexicans, Guatemalans, Spaniards, and are ex-pats from South America and many other countries.
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The tourist scene here is different than any place I have ever been. It is a lot of volunteers or medical students, and the only touristy things here are a few hostels and Spanish schools. I like it that way. The local nighttime scene include regular bars or salsa bars. There are two salsa bars here, Charlies and Pool and Beer. They offer short classes on salsa throughout the night, and the locals are more than happy to teach tourists as well. Uber has not made it here yet, but there are taxis, I've only had good experiences in them and have one that will come at any hour of the night because we are friends now. There are also buses that can take you to the surrounding cities. Some call them "chicken buses" but I have been told that the term is offensive to the locals and the correct term is Camionetas.

The markets are extensive here, because Volcanoes surround the city and farming plots surround the bases of all of them. Volcanoes provide rich soil. The Mayan people farm the lands and bring their goods into the city everyday. They have so many types of squash, sapote (a fruit that tastes like pumpkin pie), lettuce, cucumber, peppers, and the darkest most delicious avocados you can find in the world (I promise). This week, I made a traditional dish called Paches de Papa with Mynor to celebrate match. We went to the market and for less than 20 Quetzales, or three dollars, we found all the ingredients in the outdoor market. It is the traditional food of Christmas. The ingredients include white potatoes, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chili guac, sesame seed, red peppers, chili coban, chili pasa pumpkin seeds, salt, and oil. First we washed all the food thoroughly (I'm trying my best not to need albendazole before I go home because a friend of mine got entamoeba histolytica recently so I'm on high alert). We put the 3 red peppers/chili coban/chili guac/chili pasa with some water into the blender with 2 ounces of pumpkin seeds, 2 ounces of sesame seeds, some curry for color (traditional is using a plant called achoite to make it red), salt, pepper, garlic, and onion and blended into a thick liquid. We had the potatos boiling throughout this time. We peeled them when they were only slightly soft and mashed them into a thick paste. We then combined the liquid and the potatoes into a thick orange paste. We then took the large leafs related to banana leafs, and carefully wrapped 20 "tamales" of the potato and chili paste. They were set to cook in a large pot with a bit of water on the bottom for 2 hours. The water vapor cooks the tamales and you can tell when they are done from the light green color of the leaves. Sabrosa and vegan!
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While we ate, Mynor told me of the university's long standing "guelga de dolores" or "strike of pain" during lent. Always adjacent to the festivities/carnival of lent, are the protests of the university students against the church. The intellectuals of Guatemala believe that the church hides corruption, and represents racism and colonialism while preaching "god's love for all." The students protest for all 40 days of lent while the university if closed. Every year. During the war, it was much more brutal. Now, the students give speeches and walk through the festival of lent with black hoods over their heads and long black gowns. During one festival, Mynor told me that one of the students puts fireworks all over his body and they shoot off into the crowd as he dances representing the belligerent, unyielding danger of the church.
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After dinner, Mynor shared that it was the anniversary of his friend who was assassinated by the government. In 1985, his friend Joaquin Rodas Andrade, who was a leader of the underground intellectual movement (Huelga de Pena) against the government, was walking with Mynor after school. Joaquin suddenly told Mynor to drop his books and run. Mynor did as he was told. He lost site of Joaquin, but never saw him again. Mynor saw a group of military men in a truck in pursuit of him. The mother went on to write a book about her lost son. "El Cristo Del Secuestro" by Hellen Andrade.

There of course was not only this incident. Mynor lived in San Marcus during the government massacres of protestors. Mynor tells me that Guatemala is no longer dangerous like it was, but nothing was fixed. Now not only the government, but the people take advantage of each other. Dentists, lawyers, and medical specialists will charge people exorbitant, life-altering amounts of money and not deliver outcomes or diagnosis after multiple visits. I suppose it is the the effect of years of living with little and in pain.

Talking to locals here has really made me appreciate where I am attending spanish school and doing my last medical rotation. The school is called Book of Time. People in bars and that I meet randomly tell me that the school does a lot for the people of Guatemala. My clinic offers basic medical consultation for 20 Quetzales and a pack of formula (that goes to a impoverished school near the city dump). There is no other place where medical services are that cheap. The school is run by Guatemalans, the doctor and nurse are also Guatemalan. The patients usually drive in from the rural cities to receive care. Most of my patients have never seen a doctor. There is a ton of untreated diabetes and hypertension. I saw one young man who was 20 years old and had never seen a doctor despite having seizures since he was 4 years old. He was completely mentally disabled from the constant attacks on his brain. Besides the affordable clinic and free medications, the school/students builds safe stoves for Mayan villages to prevent lung cancer and upper respiratory illness. The school gives intensive history and cultural competency lessons before seeing patients so that doctors respect the local beliefs and natural medicines before listening to their histories. Attend Pop Wuj for spanish school or medical rotations, it is amazing. You will be changed if you let it happen.
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However, the conversations and friendship I have had with Mynor over the past 5 weeks have been the most life-altering for me. I see Guatemala in a more real way now. I see Mynor in a very real way now. My original like/lust of Guatemala is turning to a deep understanding. Along with the 364 days of fiestas and incredible resilience is a very real hurt, an entrapment due to lack of opportunity, and post traumatic stress in every body I touch. Just like in impoverished America.
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4 more weeks of deep learning. Go out and be a blessing to this world. If you want to help the people here, let me know and I promise your time or money will go to good.
-Drea

Posted by dredayhurray 11:15 Archived in Guatemala Tagged vacation real war tourism xela fiesta strike understanding narcotics

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