Banking The Unbanked

18-year-old Reidi Ventura tends seedlings in her own greenhouse

La Fida finds ways to spread and trickle down wealth to rural El Salvador El Salvador is enjoying more economic growth than any other Central American state, according to World Bank indicators. Nevertheless, rapid growth typically increases the disparity in income distribution, particularly in a country still dressing its wounds from the 13-year civil conflict that ended in 1992. But […]

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In Pursuit of Goatsuckers

Speculation on the elusive and mischievous Chupacabra Goatsuckers are not something you see every day. In fact, they are not something that most of us will ever see on any day. Nevertheless, so many Central Americans believe in their existence that, for their sakes, we need to give a fair hearing to the possibility. Whether goatsuckers exist or not, they […]

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My 101 First Cousins-in-law

Marrying into a large family brings unannounced house guests and some new vocabulary. Since my Guatemalan wife had 10 siblings, I have enough in-laws to populate a middle-sized Dallas suburb. I am forever meeting “new” members of the González-Boch clan for the first time. And I was not that good at recalling names even before ADD and premature senility made […]

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Ursula Baumann

Art Exhibit and Auction, Thurs., May 14, 7 pm. Theatre El Chapiteau, Panajachel, Lake Atitlán A host of Guatemalans, including four-footed ones, are glad that Ursula Baumann changed continents and careers in 1998. She had been an able but often bored hotel manager in her native Switzerland. For decades she dreamt of making her avocation, painting, into a career. After […]

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“Shirtless Jack” Clinton McGovern

Jack McGovern (in hat), at his 2001 retirement

Jack Clinton McGovern, 64, beloved teacher and movie lore expert, has lost his battle with cancer. The Tarzan novel he was writing remains unfinished. Around election time in the United States, people would tell him, “I know whom you are voting for!” Though Jack could not vote in 1960, he canvassed for his namesake, Jack Kennedy. Twelve years later, he […]

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Springtime for Chicharra and Chiquirín

Chicharra or Cicada

Lovesick cicadas electrify the air with an amorous din as they hurdle from puberty to old age “In the spring,” wrote Tennyson in his poem Locksley Hall, “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” The same could be said of old cicadas in Central America. Every spring, millions of them emerge from the ground to molt, unfurl […]

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3Q and the Tomato Paste War

Dealing with Lilliputian cans of sauce and questionable quantification quirkiness on our retail shelves Tomato paste is mentioned in Guatemala’s Constitution. I have yet to find the paragraph, section, and clause, but I’m certain it is there. The law in question requires all cans of tomato paste sold here to be the 6-ounce variety. You may occasionally find tomato paste […]

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The Heartbreak of HDD

Some simple steps to avoid the dangers that Hemispherical Discognizant Disorder can cause. If you are a foreigner in Central America, some people in the home country think that you spend Christmas in sweltering heat and humidity. “Oh, yeah,” they say. “Down there, the seasons are reversed and all that.” The charitable response, the one I usually give, is to […]

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Valentine Chocolates and Exotic Soups

Forrest Gump’s life may have been a box of chocolates. My box has included snails—and worse. On February 12, 1993, I returned to Guatemala after three months Stateside, for what Latin Americans call el pedido, “the asking.” The thing I was going to ask for was the hand of my fiancee, Mely González, from her parents. I thought doing so […]

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Bruce Barclay

Bruce Barclay Portrait

Humanitarian, entrepreneur, and one of the founders of Modern Panajachel Bruce Barclay, founder of a worker’s paradise in Panajachel, has died. The New Yorker of Jewish heritage was 60. After arriving in Panajachel in 1978, Barclay had a vision for the east bank of the San Francisco River, which bisects Panajachel. He purchased the upper riverside and created a magnet […]

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Can ET Call Home From Guatemala?

In August I wondered, on the 20th anniversary of my arrival in Guatemala: What one thing (aside from my hairline) would be wholly unrecognizable to a time traveler from the year 1988? The answer must be: telecommunications. Back then, E.T. would never have tried calling home from here. But since I was only calling the United States, instead of the […]

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Birthday Parties

Birthday cake face (photo: Dwight Wayne Coop)

My sons are still in their cavity-prone years, so I attended 19 birthday parties last year—three for my boys and 16 for their playmates. Each had its odd turn or twist. To avoid the charge of ethnocentrism, I’ll admit here that Central Americans do no worse a job of honoring their birthday boys and girls than do parents in the […]

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One More Time Tunnel: El Capitol

Predecessor of Edificio Capitol, right, circa 1930; the long gone former Cine Capitol is on the left, across the street. (photo: Sergio Cruz Arteaga)

Thirty years ago metropolitan Guatemala had fewer than half its current 3.6 million people. Today’s well-heeled suburbs in its southeast quadrant were separated from El Centro by receding pastures and gardens. Zone One had long gone to seed, but in the late 1970s an attempt to return it to respectability was launched on Downtown’s main drag, Sexta avenida, between calles […]

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Who is Latin America’s finest scribe?

Portrait of María del Carmen Escobar.

Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez is the most read. Chile’s Isabel Allende is a top female contender. And so, in 2002, I borrowed a book by each for my wife, thinking that some august literature might quell her post-natal depression. I also bought a book by María del Carmen Escobar. María del Carmen Who? Good question. But the first question—the identity […]

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Just call me Indio

Francisco Quiej calls himself “Indio” by DWC

One of Panajachel’s most colorful and asked-about personages, tourists and locals know him as a master craftsman who sells his own handiwork. Self-promoter, religious huckster, iconoclast, “loco”—Francisco Quiej has been called all these things; none is anywhere near the truth. “Indio” is what he calls himself, even though his fellow Mayas consider the term an insult. This renaming took place […]

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The Zen of Fin and Fondo

The Zen of Fin and Fondo

Here comes another cluster of words—fin, fondo and extremo—that combine to express a key English word (end). Methinks it would be nice if we could just hybridize them into a something like “findo.” However, there’s the danger that such a word could jump out of a skinny phrasebook and into pidgin Spanish as a noun: “el findo.” Can’t you just […]

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The Time Tunnels of Zone One

Pasaje Aycinenea circa 1924

Read—or walk —your way through 22 minutes of time travel in Guatemala’s historic center The yen to envision a familiar place in an earlier era is universal. In the sixties, it found expression in the campy sci-fi serial The Time Tunnel, in which two scientists are sporked through historical crossings in which the supporting roles—from Alexander the Great onward—conveniently speak […]

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