Five things Friday roundup: what I learned from Guatemalans

A view from the restaurant at Hotel Tolimán looking towards Lake Atitlán. — Andrea De Avila

Last November I traveled to Guatemala for the first time. The purpose of my visit was both business and pleasure. I was attending committee meetings of the Friends World Committee for Consultation, a Quaker organization for which I volunteer, and my partner joined me. I believe Guatemala is one of those places that is completely underrated. However, I will try to convey some of the beauty that moved me about this place and its people.

1. Resilience

Guatemala gets its name from the NáhualtQuauhtemallan, which roughly translates to: “place of many trees or many forests.” Although this is not a misnomer as Guatemala has an incredible diversity of trees which constitute its forests and jungles, the irony is that Spanish conquistadores used the Mexican indigenous Náhualt language to name the Cakchique territory. To this day, many of the Indigenous people in Guatemala speak their own languages and live in ways not too different than their ancestors would have. They source their wood for warmth and cooking from the forest; they grow their corn along with beans and squash; they walk up and down the mountain to get wherever they need to get; they weave the fabric and make clothing. Despite everything that could have killed a culture and its people, Guatemalans’ resilience shines through in the day-to-day ways they’ve been able to keep living their lives.

2. Hospitality

As part of our trip, my partner and I had a homestay assigned with a Quaker family. To our surprise, the husband had prepared to leave us two in his newly built home. Osni explained that his wife was away in the capital city and he and his brother-in-law, who also lived with them, would go and stay with his parents. It would be an understatement to say that my partner and I felt uncomfortable about the arrangement. How could we accept staying at someone’s newly built home, eating their food, sleeping on their bed, knowing they had to go find different accommodations for themselves? We agreed to this arrangement although we still felt uncomfortable. We were unused to this kind of hospitality, but I believe it was a gift to all to be able to accept it.

3. Ecotourism

Nowadays it is a struggle to decide if you want to or should take a trip, given the environmental impacts tourism poses. Nevertheless, Guatemalans showed me how well ecotourism can be done! So many of the places we stayed at were energy efficient in their water-heating and also worked with guests for carpools and rides, among other efforts to reduce tourists’ impacts to the local environment. One of our favorite and most beautiful places we stayed at was Guatemalan family-owned Hotel Tolíman. Read more about the hotel here:

4. Patriotism

Returning from a hike to the volcanoes. — Andrea De Avila

In the context of Mennonites in the United States, patriotism has a negative connotation. However, Guatemalans showed me how it looks to love one’s country and want to share it with the world, while being very much aware of its flaws. My partner and I took a hiking tour a friend recommended with a local family. It was a two-day hike of the hardest two volcanoes in Guatemala: Fuego and Acatenango. The guides were locals, ranging from about 20 to 75.  They all loved working as hiking tour guides! The guides loved the volcanoes, the ability to meet new people, sharing the beauty of their country with foreigners and being paid for something they liked to do. Yet they were also able to engage in serious and critical conversations of their government and point out issues within their culture that needed to change. If you’d like a life-changing hiking experience, check out this website:

5. Solidarity

There was not a time that I felt unsafe in Guatemala. I know that plenty of crimes and violence take place there, but I am not naive and will not pretend that there is no risk. We traveled at a time when people were afraid there would be a coup d’état. Nonetheless, people did not seem anxious or on edge; they seemed to  understand the enemy was not each other. The goal of the protests and the unrest was a call to justice for all: Indigenous peoples, farmers, women and all those who had been marginalized and abused by their own government for years. Although there was general insecurity if things were going to change much or if the government was actually going to listen, my sense is that there was also a general solidarity among Guatemalans. 

Andrea De Avila

Andrea De Avila is an ordained minister with a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Canadian Mennonite University. Originally from Read More

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