My First week in Guatemala and already very impressed! Don’t know where to start because it seems I am here already a while when counting the many adventures I already had!
My long flight from Europe through several US places brought me to Guatemala City in the evening. I was picked up from the airport by a very friendly man called Viktor who brought this exhausted woman to the hostel for me a lovely horizontal rest after being wake 24 hours! The next day the mini-van brought me to Antigua where I had 2 hours to wonder around before leaving to Panajachel. Antigua is a beautiful city and – correct me if I am wrong- stated as cultural inheritance by Unesco.
Driving through the Mountains for a couple hours brings you to lovely Panajachel on the shore of lake Atitlan. This is the place I will stay the next couple of months and seeing it while driving towards it is already warming my heart. I am being dropped off at Friendship Bridge or Puente de Amistad as the Guatemalans say. I am meeting Jorge there; my main contact. We head towards the hostel. Unpack and straight to work!
The following day I get a brief introduction and we hit the road towards Sololá. This is half an hour’s drive with a bus or in the back of a pickup-truck when you miss the bus; like we did. Sololá is known for it’s traditionally dressed both man and women. Women dressed in traditional clothes, the patterns and colors according to the region they are from are seen all over Guatemala but the men aren’t wearing theirs so much anymore. They have only kept their hats. But not in Sololá: there you see the beautifully dressed man everywhere. I will work with the Sololá branch of Friendship Bridge a lot because they cover a large section of the region in need in the highlands from there.
The day before yesterday I have switched my first hostel for a lovely little apartment. The new house is one I was passing by in the morning and thought: if that could be my house… well there I am now and I feel very happy there! It’s a small studio with my own little kitchen and it’s at the end of a nice hammock bridge a bit outside of the busy town of Pana.
But let me tell you about work; at my first meeting in Sololá I felt like a giant in a porcelain closet. In the Netherlands I am certainly not one of the tallest but the women here reach barely my shoulder and speak hardly any Spanish but mostly Quiché or are so shy they don’t say they speak Castillano. I wish I could speak some of their language to tell them how stupid I feel I can’t speak their language. Most of the women have had more micro finances and this way they managed to take control over their own life’s more bit by bit. We smiled a little bit to each other and when the pictures were taken we felt a bit more comfortable all together. The young –maybe 5 year old- son of one of the women was passing me over and over again while putting his hand shortly on my knee and look at me. It was the quietest thing to see how his curiosity won from his shyness!
The next day we took a bus to Santa Clara where Jorge would show me the art of interviewing once more. The journey took about 2,5 hours and the waited another hour on a small doorstep because the loan officer was held up. This wasn’t a problem; this way Jorge and I had a bit more time to get to know each other since we are going to work together the next 3 months. The dependence on the facilitadoras as the loan officers are called here is big: they only know the streets or houses the meetings are held. There are no street names or directions. These ladies speak the local language and are well known by the entrepreneurs because they also take care of the additional trainings such as credit control, hygiene, create more self esteem, and even sometimes gymnastic lessons as we found out that day! The people in Santa Clara are very open and we were buenas-diassing our way through the streets there: the people would even wave if you were out of reach of their voice. I caught myself staring at beautiful clothing ones and the man was waving at me to say hi. I think he didn’t see my red face after… This interview went very different from the other one because the women were very open and laughing a lot. They were very much at ease in that little backroom of one of them, and to see how Jorge connects with these women was inspiring too!
Afterwards a drive back with buses and mini-vans and on the way Jorge told me I was going to go to a meeting by myself the next day. I would be picked up at the Sololá branch at 8.30 by someone. What a surprise the next morning to see it was these two Maya women who picked me up. The two were entrepreneurs and sisters. Luckily for me they did speak Spanish and as soon we were on the streets they grabbed me by the arm and started babbling while doing some shopping before we all jumped in the bus to Nahualá. What a darlings were these two sisters Maria Magdalena -and Isabel Tamriz Chovon. And its still a nice surprise when out comes the nice cell phone and other things you didn’t expect of their traditional blouses.
Everybody in the bus was surprised and curious how I knew these two women and another woman from San José started questioning me about that. Funny: I was the gossip of town for a moment. When we arrived, almost all of the 23 women of the group were already there so I got started right away with using my new learned words: zakierík lé nubí Chanti. (Buenos Dias my name is Chanti). The women were happy and surprised I had learned some of their language and gave me a little applause! After that the question if they would understand Castillano? Well that wasn’t the case at all but luckily the loan officer was very willing to translate for me. In the beginning there was a bit hesitation but later on there was enthusiasm to answer my questions. After half an hour I walked out of the door with nice content to write my first business description! I was immediately followed by one of the sisters asking if I would be alright to find my way back. The sweet sweet woman was worried and not without a reason. I had to take a tuktuk towards the petrol station and from there buses to a sharp crossing and from there change buses into Sololá. Her explanation made it all easy and after another big hug I left feeling very humble how such a big cultural difference sometimes is not in the way of making new friends!
Sweet greetings from beautiful Guatemala