Flashback to Guatemala

Time for another flashback! Recently, I posted about our first Foreign Service tour, in La Paz, Bolivia. Our second assignment, from 1990-1992, was in Guatemala City.

It was a good time to be posted there, despite the still-simmering civil war and occasional guerrilla activity. While Guatemala was considered high-threat for crime in State Department parlance, it was not yet “critical threat.” I could, for example, walk to the grocery store, drive anywhere I needed to, and explore the street markets. (And with no GPS or cell phone, imagine!)

I was becoming increasingly fluent in Spanish, and had plenty of opportunities to practice with the friendly Guatemalans. I did inadvertently pick up several Maya terms though, which other Spanish speakers later thought were hilarious.

Nearly every weekend, we hopped in our little car and drove off to Antigua Guatemala, to Lake Atitlán, or to any one of many mountain villages, each with a distinct and ancient indigenous language, culture, and traditional clothing. As in many mountainous areas of the world, an incredible degree of diversity has been preserved in a relatively small area. Over twenty languages are spoken in this tiny country. While it is nominally Catholic, traditional Maya practices are liberally mixed in with church rituals, or exist alongside them. It’s just fascinating.

I may have done just a little shopping. Guatemala has got to be one of the top ten countries for handicrafts shopping in the world. I still have a large collection of huipiles, or traditional Maya blouses, and various other textiles. They are some of my favorite souvenirs from our Foreign Service travels, not just for their craftsmanship, but because they remind me of our travels there.


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