Sunday, March 12, 2006

Of Quetzaltenango



One of the Holla's favorite blogs, written by the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer named Matt, has been discontinued. While my lovely spouse is at best an infrequent contributor to the world of on-line literature, there is -- by some uncanny coincidence -- another FSO named Matt and he's married. His "trailing spouse" was writing an amusing blog that has suddenly disappeared after a lengthy post concerning some matters of recent import in the world of State Department policy.

The normally indomitable journalistic spirit of the Holla editorial staff sees the fingerprints of State Department officialdom on the untimely demise of the "Diplomat's Wife" blog. While we are not normally prone to backing down from a fight, we do think it prudent to give a somewhat more skeletal than normal report on our correspondent's recent trip to Xela.

Quetzaltenango is Guatemala's "Second City," of sorts. Commonly known as "Xela" based on an old Mayan placename, Quetzaltenango actually has fewer Guatemalans in it than Los Angeles, New York, Washington, and probably several other U.S. metro areas. Xela is in the highlands of the country, a place where many indigenous groups remain particularly strong -- the previous mayor was indigenous, which is a rare feat given the continuing racism towards the indios from the ruling ladinos.

Your faithful correspondent was dispatched to Xela with the Ambassador, who was there mostly to make contact with "the interior" of the country. Your correspondent was along to report on economic conditions in Xela and on the perceptions of the impending free trade agreement there. The meetings were all fascinating, and the insight of the local leaders was impressive. For example, [REDACTED]. Of course, there were some cultural misunderstandings -- the funniest part of the whole thing was [REDACTED]. The Ambassador himself was of course [REDACTED], often [REDACTED] before he [REDACTED]. [REDACTED]. [REDACTED]. [REDACTED].

[REDACTED] .

There were some brief moments where the schedule allowed your correspondent to visit the heart of Xela outside of his official capacity. Clearly the most amazing part of the trip was arriving to find Xela's central square packed with an estimated 3,000 campesinos forming a sea of straw cowboy hats (the photo was taken hours later, after the sea diminished by about 80%). After brief concerns that a political protest was imminent, further inspection made it clear they were waiting in line. During some or all of the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996, campesinos were "recruited" by the army, often under threat of death, to participate in "civilian patrols," known as PACs. The participants in these paramilitary groups claim they were never compensated for their time, and that the government now owes them back wages. Without getting too far into the details (lest further redactions become necessary), a deal was eventually brokered, and now the thousands of campesinos from the surrounding area were waiting at the one bank that was handing out checks. By the time the staff photographer was finished with his more pressing duties for the day, the crowd had dwindled significantly but still remained impressive. It was really one of the most stunning sights this correspondent has seen in Guatemala, and the staff photographer apologizes profusely for the blurriness of many of the dusk-dampened photos (while still encouraging readers to take a look).

On a slightly funnier note, that can sadly not be illustrated by photos as they were banned by the institution in question, the museum on the main square is a sight one cannot miss. Among the featured exhibits were some creepy and highly bedraggled stuffed specimens of Guatemalan fauna, including the elusive Quetzal, spotted ocelots, and, for some reason, a lion; a human brain in a jar; the chair that a former Quetzaltenango mayor was assassinated in (I think this was just after the era of Xela's brief independence from Guatemala in 1848-50, but the informative text accompanying the displays left much to the visitor's imagination); a marimba played by one of the great Guatemalan marimbistas of all time (or maybe constructed by one of the great marimberos of all time, again with the labels); and, right as one enters, the masterstroke of the "local history" wing of the museum, an actual computer from way back in 1980. Never forget!

2 comments:

Ma & Pa Stokes said...

Some of your erstwhile readers had to look up the meaning of REDACTED. But now we can use it in multiple sentences, as you did. Wow, must have been a great field trip!

EEK! said...

I'm waiting for the [expletive deleted]s, myself.