Thursday, August 25, 2011

Another "Unscripted" Part of Our Saga: Goodbye for now Guatemala...

When we moved to Guatemala, we weren't sure if it would be a permanent move or not. We knew we wanted to continue to live abroad after our contract ended, but Guatemala, specifically, was not our end destination. We value 3 main things for our family:
1) Our faith.
2) Our own little family and the values that hold it together and,
3) Freedom; in many things- including the ability to be flexible in deciding where our next destination will be.

Because of #3, my husband has been building his online businesses for awhile, and when our contract was up with the international school in Guatemala, we could stay or leave, whichever. We had a wonderful midwife in Guatemala who we were looking forward to delivering with in December. However, Guatemalan bureaucracy and the uncertainty of the length of time it would take to get the paperwork to leave the country after the baby were born really made our decision, since it limited flexibility in choosing our next step.

We decided to have the baby in the States, where paperwork is a bit more reliable and citizenship not so tricky. I have another amazing midwife here. And, we are excited about figuring out the next step in our family saga, with our new addition! Who knows which country we'll end up in next, but I know we'll learn just as much or more as Guatemala taught us! I plan to continue posting things I learned from Guatemala, or find interesting and, when we make our next move, posting about all of the new things we are sure to learn there.

I suppose the part of this transition that makes it feel more "unscripted" than others is the amazing blessing of flexibility and choices we have available. We're so blessed to be able to move quickly when we need to. It was a hectic couple of weeks, but a successful transition.

Here's to adventure and the next step in our saga, which, at the moment, is still "unscripted."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Volunteering in Guatemala: Entremundos- a volunteer placement program

1. Who are you and how did you get interested in Guatemala?
My name is Jocelyn Bates and I am the managing director of the NGO EntreMundos in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. I first came to Guatemala 5 years ago for a break after a job managing educational projects in Belize, and I never left!

2. How did you get in contact with EntreMundos?
I found out about the organization during my first few years working in Quetzaltenango as they produce a free magazine and offer conferences and workshops to NGOs but I first starting working with the organization in 2009 when I volunteered to organize a forum for environmental NGOs.

3. What is EntreMundos’ goal in their community?
EntreMundos strives to connect NGOs and grassroots organizations with
resources. These resources can be human resources such as connecting
them with volunteers who can assist them, but we also offer low cost capacity building workshops and computer courses to NGO and community group members, the idea being that we can help to strengthen the organizations and empower their members develop effective projects to help their communities. We also produce a bimonthly and completely bilingual free magazine designed to raise awareness about human rights and development issues.

4. Where are you located?
We are located in the city of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second biggest city, but the groups we work with are all around the country.

5. How could future volunteers get involved?
We offer a volunteer placement service for people interested in getting out and assisting the NGOs and grassroots organizations of Guatemala. Our database contains the contact details of 120 organizations looking for assitance and is free to access at If you are interested in setting up your volunteer placement in advance and require our assistance, we offer a service doing just that for a donation of $40. We also offer assistance with setting up learning and volunteering trips for groups too.

6. What is one experience that you remember the most?
There have been so many great experiences during my time here, but one image I think I will always take with me is that of seeing a group of 30 Guatemalan NGO and community group members at a workshop, intent on
improving their organizations through gaining skills, each one of them completely dedicated to their work of helping and improving the neediest Guatemalan communities.

7. What is something you learned from volunteering in Guatemala?
Always be patient and flexible and it’s important to keep a sense of humour!

8. What advice would you give someone wanting to volunteer with your

Be realistic about your expectations for volunteering. Use your skills wisely and be honest about what you can offer to an organization. Never make promises of things you can’t deliver and be realistic about your language skills – very few people speak English here! If you really commit yourself to the volunteer work you will be amazed at the real difference you can make to an organization or group, and you will no doubt have some amazing stories to tell too.

9. Do you have any extra thoughts you'd like to share?
Guatemala is the not the highly dangerous country you have heard
about. It is unlikely you will come into contact with any violence worse than petty theft (this is a developing country after all). You just need to take the same precautions you would when traveling in any major city. The majority of Guatemalans are incredibly welcoming and warm to foreign visitors and if you take that ‘risk’ of coming here, you will find a beautiful and unique country but one that is in much need of assistance.

Jocelyn Bates

6a Calle 7-31, Zona 1
Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
(502) 7761-2179
(502) 4228 3816

Thursday, August 11, 2011

2011 Guatemala Presidential Elections: Otto Perez Molina

How are the Guatemalan genocides of the 1980's affecting the 2011 presidential elections?

One of the candidates that many of the people consider likely to win is Otto Perez Molina. But he comes with his own set of issues.

A writer from Guatemala, Miss Trudy who blogs The Innkeepers Tail says: "All seems to point to Otto Pérez Molina's being Guatemala's next president."

Why could this be a problem? To understand you have to go back to the 1980's mass killings of indigenous people in Guatemala by the Guatemalan military:

"Pérez Molina is broadly considered to have been one of the military officials involved in genocide in the 1980s. Although he does not categorically deny having been involved in many Mayan civilians being killed, he does deny that this was genocide per se. A matter of semantics, of course, but an important one. Genocide, as defined today by international courts and human rights, includes what was going on in the highlands at the time. It is correct. And if accused and tried for that, it would be equivalent to being guilty of war crimes."

Being president would change the consequences for any of his participation in the acts of genocide. This could, in turn, sway the future consequences for many of those people who were involved:

"...As president he would have complete immunity from being tried in court and, as some friends in international aid tell me, they are afraid that as president, he might limit access or even close down the Historic Police Archives, which has been the documentation source for the recent trials which have ended in the historic landmark sentencing of former soldiers for genocide. As it is, one former Chief of State for a previous military dictatorship, an octogenarian, is under trial right now. Since up to now only foot soldiers--scapegoats, to an extent--have been tried, this is a first."

Why would Guatemalans elect a man like this to the position of president? Again, Miss Trudy explains:

"I have no doubt he will end up being president, since for many hard-to-explain reasons, Guatemalans like slogans such as his, mano dura, "hard fist" and rigid, authoritarian figures. Mayans are at the bottom of the social totem pole here, and having been them the fodder for genocide, I guess it just doesn't seem to most Guatemalans as a big deal for not voting for Pérez Molina."

She wraps up her thoughts with this:

"So, as that silly saying goes, it is what it is, and people have the governments they deserve. In other words, people are the makers of their own versions of hell."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Guatemalan 2011 Presidential Elections: The year for women to run on men's coattails?

Guatemalan presidential elections are coming up this September 11, 2011. As always, there's a lot of speculation, mudslinging and political campaigning. With Guatemala, however, there's also the sinister addition of murders with every election campaign. According to The Guatemala Times, the first murder of the season occurred this January 2011.

Aside from the sadly normal political proceedings for Guatemala, it seems this is the year for women to run for presidency as a liaison for a man who is not eligible.

Of course, much of the news lately has been concerning The First Lady Sandra Colom, wife of current President Alvaro Colom. Or ex-wife? Since she was legally barred from running according to the Guatemalan Constitution that bars presidential family members from running, she filed for a divorce from president Colom. However, the The Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Guatemala voted her down with an overwhelming majority. This sparked protests that stopped up the capital's traffic for a day, but their only plan at the moment is to appeal.

Guatemalan Politics: The Popular Struggle for Democracy

Sandra is not the only woman trying to run for presidency after her husband. The GuateFriends blog writes:

"Mayor of Guatemala City, Alvaro Arzu, ex-president of Guatemala. Article 186 of the Guatemalan Constitution states that the person who has been president by democratic elections or coup d'état, can not be eligible as presidential candidate. His decision to run for the presidency caused alarm in the right wing sectors of Guatemala. After a “no” answer to his inquiries at the Guatemalan Congress to legitimize his candidacy, Alvaro Arzu has now decided to promote his wife Patricia de Arzu as the presidential candidate of his party. The PR campaign is up and running, the picture shows Patricia de Arzu alone now (a week before it was the couple) with a slogan of kindness and order."

Who knows how they will try to circumvent the law.

Guatemalan Politics The Popular Struggle for Democracy (1993 publication)

In addition to Sandra de Colom and Patricia de Arzu, there is Zury Mayté Ríos Montt Sosa de Weller. The Guatemala Times reports:

"Parliamentarian, Zury Mayté Ríos Montt Sosa de Weller is the daughter of ex- military dictator Efrain Rios Montt. She was proclaimed the official candidate for president of the FRG party in October 2010. She is legally barred as a candidate according to the Guatemalan Constitution that bars presidential family members from running."

These are not the only women running for president. Also running are Rigoberta Menchú, Adela Torrebiarte, and apparently someone with the surname Montenegro. I can't find information on all of the women who are supposedly running, but I find it interesting that The Central American Blog says:

"Virgilio Alvarez from FLACSO divides the women into two divisions. Those who have used their personality and work ethic to make a name for themselves (Menchu, Torrebiarte, and Montenegro) and those who are riding the coattails of men (Baldetti, Torres, Rios, and Arzú)." (My words in parenthesis.)

If a woman is to win, may it be one who won it honestly and fairly.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Harina de Camote/ Sweet Potato Flour: A gluten-free option

As I've mentioned before, I really, really like the orange, moist version of the sweet potato found in the part of Texas I am from. Although it isn't native to Guatemala, there is another, purple-skinned, dry-meat version that is. While this version still works well with my mom's amazing sweet potato pie recipe (sort of like this one,) it's not at all the same baked or mashed. And, yes, I like the sweet potato for more reasons than flavor, they pack a nutritional punch:

"The sweet potato has been a significant source of nutrition for over 8,000 years and is now being seen as an incredibly underappreciated yet nutritious food. It is high in fiber, vitamin A, iron, and calcium. Despite the name “sweet,” studies have shown that it actually helps stabilize blood sugar levels. The roots are most frequently boiled, fried, or baked. They can also be dried and processed to make starch and flour."

Because of my obvious fondness for the sweet potato, I was really interested when I heard of people using sweet potato flour, especially to create gluten-free baked goods. 

"Sweet potato flour holds moisture well, brings a richness of flavor, and adds a slight sweetness to any baked good... such as breads, cookies, muffins, pancakes and crepes, cakes, and doughnuts. It can also be used in soups, as a thickener for sauces and gravies, and in breading for fish. It is raw flour and does not require cooking before use. Sweet potato flour is great at holding moisture in baked goods and imparts a slight sweetness."

Now, this, is something I want to try! I'm always up for finding different baking options, and while none of us are allergic to gluten, I work with people who are and who are always looking for better options for baking. Besides, "according to some celiac specialist researchers, everyone has some reaction to gluten, but non-celiacs recover quickly" so including some gluten-free goods in the family diet is likely to benefit us all anyway.

While "harina de camote" or "sweet potato flour" is considered a product of Peru, I haven't found the flour yet in the physical Latin American market arena, only online. So, experimenting with this flour is still on my "to do" list for future endeavors. However, I have found how to make my own. This site about George Washington Carver and how to make sweet potato flour tells a lot of the sweet potatoes history as well. If you are interested in a pdf document titled "Making sweet potato chips and flour," follow this link. For just a website explaining how to do that, follow this link.

There are apparently many, many ways you can use sweet potato flour as a substitute for regular flour, but if you would like some recipes using specifically sweet potato flour try this link.

Have you tried using sweet potato flour? What other successful gluten-free options have you found?