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The expats of Lake Atitlan Guatemala

The Wanted and the Unwanted: Expatriates and their lives in the community of Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. By Mike Finewood, North Carolina State University

THE WANTED AND THE UNWANTED:

EXPATRIATES AND THEIR LIVES IN THE COMMUNITY OF PANAJACHEL

 

MIKE FINEWOOD

NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY

 

INTRODUCTION

Just Trying to Get There

When sitting on the plane flight from Miami to Guatemala City, I thought I had things under control.  I had been planning for this event for the past six months.  I had my gear, I had my computer, and I had my confidence.  I had taken a Spanish course and a Latin American history course the previous semester.  I had read the relevant readings for the field school and several other documents.  I scoured the Internet for information about the region.  I had inhaled these things.  I felt ready for a change and a challenge.  It occurred to me that I was ready to be an anthropologist.

A Maya woman sat about five rows in front of me.  I could tell she was Maya by her dress.  I had read about it.  She prayed the rosary over and over again.  She held her rosary close to her mouth, nearly chewing on it.  She was so scared.  She would grab people as they walked by, asking questions and looking for comfort.  I couldn’t hear her, but it didn’t matter; I knew what she asked.  People would spend a moment trying to comfort her and move on.  I felt sorry for her.  I also felt sorry for the woman in front of her who kept getting yanked every time the plane hit an air pocket.  Air pockets don’t bother me, and I thought, ‘she’s got it bad.  But we will be there soon and everything will be OK.’  In hindsight I know how ironic those thoughts had been.  Once we got off that plane, she would be alright.  I, on the other hand, would be struggling in a whole new world.

The flight attendant moved down the aisle, asking everyone a question that I couldn’t quite understand.  She came up behind me and I listened intently.  I still couldn’t understand.  Too quickly, she came to me and asked me the same question.  I still didn’t get it; so I just said no.  She moved forward and I recognized that I had been the only one to say no.  She passed out slips of papers to everyone who said yes; everyone but me.  I thought that I should know what I had just denied myself.  I grabbed up a bit of courage and said, “Señorita.  Repita, por favor.”  She screwed up her face and looked at me like I was an idiot.  Or at least that was how I felt.  She said, in English, “Are you going to Guatemala?”  I replied sheepishly that I was and she handed me papers to fill out for immigration.  She smiled and kept moving.

I remember feeling like someone had punched me in my gut.  Or maybe it is the feeling a person gets after the first big drop during their first roller coaster ride.  In whatever case, it was really terrible.  Once I had been thinking that I had everything under control, and in a single moment, I recognized that I wasn’t even close.  I knew I was just about to arrive in a foreign country and I couldn’t speak the language.  I didn’t know where to go or what to do.  Hell, I didn’t even know if anyone was waiting for me at the airport.  All I had was a stupid Lonely Planet guide book.  I surely didn’t have my confidence.  The Maya woman would get off the plane and meet her family, or go home.  She would go to a place of familiarity and confidence.  She probably knew the place we were going like the back of her hand.  For all of my effort, I didn’t know a thing.

The feeling that this fleeting moment prompted in me would reoccur a million times over the next seven weeks.  It is hard to believe there are a million moments in fifty days or so, but believe me, there are.  I would struggle to communicate with taxi drivers and bus drivers.  I felt constantly in fear of being mugged, getting lost, or being ripped off.  I clumsily walked around with my mochila,[1] thinking that I would never get my feet on the ground.  When I arrived at my temporary home in Panajachel, I noticed hundreds of extranjeros[2] living there.  Why did they look so confident?  What is it about this place that makes them glide around with ease?  Had they felt the way I felt?  What are they doing here and how did so many of them get here?  Over the next few weeks I pondered these questions.  I needed to know what expatriates[3] are doing in Panajachel.

 

METHODOLOGY AND POPULATION

Skill and Technique Only Comes With Experience

I began my research by identifying my population.  Primarily I was concerned with being able to communicate with individuals who could not speak English.  My level of Spanish is very limited.  I have found that with intense listening I can understand the basics of a conversation.  I am also able to convey basic needs.  But I was afraid I would lose the meaning of interviews in the interpretation.  As the program progressed, so had my Spanish, but it is still relatively limited.  I decided to focus on foreign residents in Panajachel.  Particularly, I wanted to find residents who can speak English and who moved here, permanently, from other parts of the world.  Panajachel is teeming with individuals of all ethnicities who have moved here from other countries.  Sometimes these individuals are affectionately referred to as ‘expatriates.’

After determining a population, I needed to design a project.  I began by seeking out expatriates in the community.  There are many expatriates prevalent on Santander (the main business street of Panajachel).  Many of them own businesses, vend goods, or simply hang out there.  I introduced myself to several individuals whom I would subsequently try and interview.  I found an expatriate who owns a coffee shop[4] here in town.  I interviewed him first asking questions about why he had come here, where he had come from, and why he stayed.  He has turned out to be one of my primary key informants.  His coffee shop caters to locals, tourists, and expatriates looking for a coffee shop with international appeal.  I met several other people there.  Many times I used his shop as a starting point for meeting people.  I have also sought him out several times as a source of basic, local information.  In return I have helped him a little bit with the construction of his house on the outskirts of town.

Finally I decided on a path to take towards developing research.  I wanted to identify the roles expatriates play in the community of Panajachel.  In particular I looked to speak with individuals who played any sort of role in Panajachel and ask them about the effects foreign residents have on the community.  Through classmates, friends, and community members I identified a few individuals who lived and/or worked here.  I also looked to identify programs in Panajachel that are designed to benefit the community.  Once in contact with these people/groups I would ask questions about their relationship with the community, other people’s relationships with the community, and the overall effects.  At the end of each interview, I utilized the snowballing technique, which involves asking an interviewee to recommend other people to talk to.

Since the amount of time is fairly limited (six weeks), this has been a rapid assessment.  I would normally talk with individuals once to determine their role in the community.  I might contact them again if I needed some follow up information or to clarify certain points.  In general, I would try to gather as much info as I could with formal and informal interviews.  From there I would try to expound on what I learned by seeking out other individuals that they recommended talking with or researching programs that they mentioned.  Occasionally, I would step into a business and strike up a conversation.  Each evening and morning I would detail my field notes with information about the town, its communities, and the individuals in it.  After doing this research, I looked for connections in my notes.

As my research developed, so did my topic.  I knew for example that the population I had chosen is much larger than I anticipated.  I began to worry about the time I had and not being able to build rapport with some of the harder to reach expatriates.  I know that to gain a good grasp of what I wanted to understand, I would need to interview a larger spectrum of individuals.  This would not be possible.  Many expatriates in Panajachel lead secluded lives.  There are many tight knit circles that would have taken months to permeate.  An informant of mine laughed when I told her this.  She called it the ‘Paranoia of Pana.’[5] She explained, “When a group of expats get together, someone inevitably will snap some photos for memorabilia.  Some expats will scatter as soon as the cameras come out.  No one knows why and no one asks.  That is the Paranoia of Pana.”  People here can be very secretive.  Likewise, there are many expatriates living behind the scenes.  I had been denied interviews a few times behind closed doors.  I had also been turned down a few times as well.  I had to take a different turn with my research.

I rethought my topic and decided to research the contributions expatriates make in the community of Panajachel.  Many individuals had achieved, and are achieving, charitable events in the community.  For example a nationally renowned library and a medical supply support system.  I rewrote my final draft of interview questions with four basic themes in mind:

1 What is the appeal of Panajachel to foreign residents?

2 How do foreign residents acclimate to these new surroundings?

3 What are specific contributions to the community that foreign residents have made?

4 What are the different types of foreign residents living in Panajachel?

I received answers that determined negative and positive factors of development in the community.  I also recognized different mini-communities within the larger community of expatriates.  I tried to interview as many people as I could in the expatriate community.  I hoped to identify who these people are and what makes them do what they do.  Time constraints would deny my ability to meet and know the whole spectrum of expatriates (but in the words of my illustrious professor, “Even if you had a year, you wouldn’t have enough time”).  I interviewed until the last moment and started to write.

 

A SNAPSHOT VIEW OF PANA

The Wanted and the Unwanted

The businessman smiled devilishly, “You’ve heard the phrase, ‘the wanted and the unwanted’ haven’t you?”  I had, and indicated so.  But I asked him to explain it to me.  “Panajachel’s community of expatriates has a wide range of reasons for being here,” he continued, “Specifically there are the ‘wanted,’ who are fugitives on the lam, and the ‘unwanted,’ who aren’t wanted anywhere else.  They all end up here.  You can never really know who people are.”  This story elaborated into a wide description of individuals who had, at least for the moment, settled on this town.  I have heard this sentiment a lot during my research.  I felt it from an inconsequential warning I received against asking people about their business; to being directly asked if I was a spy.  The results just scratch the surface of why people come to Pana and who they are.

What makes this story pertinent are the answers I received when I would ask, “What is the appeal of Pana?”  The scenery is the most popular answer.  It is obvious upon arrival.  Every morning I walk out on the ledge of my apartment and can see the three volcanoes: San Pedro, Toliman, and Atitlan.  They sit due south, shadowing the shores of Atitlan.  Mornings can find many individuals contemplating the beauty of this huge and treacherous lake.  The hillsides around the lake are filled with pueblos of all sizes.  In those pueblos are indigenous cultures that possibly date back to pre-Colombian times. These cultures are rich in heritage and uniqueness.  There are at least seventeen different Maya languages spoken in Guatemala.  Each town on the lake has its own specific dress and personality.  The lake itself has its own unique individuality.  As a retired woman explained, “The Indigenous people attracted me to this place.  They always have smiles on their faces.  They have a rich, unique culture.  It is evident in their agriculture practices, family lives, and customs.  You can take a walk in the morning and see people working in the fields.  It is almost like you are looking back in time five-hundred years ago.”

Panajachel

Pana is the only town around Lake Atitlan with relatively flat real estate.  It makes the town desirable to build on.  It has a huge combination of chalets,[6] indigenous homes, ladino[7] homes, gringo[8] homes, and businesses.  It is the main hub to all the rest of the towns on the lake.  Tourists come here to visit and then take lanchas[9] or picops[10] to visit other towns around the lake.  It is no surprise that people end up staying here.  It is no surprise that the community is widely international.  I have interviewed people from France, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, Britain, Estados Unidos,[11] Australia, Guatemala City, Central America, and South America.  They have heard of Panajachel from friends or just stumbled upon it.  Whatever reason, the town has an attraction that draws people here. One interviewee, an American exporter, called Pana a “small town with a cosmopolitan appeal.”

Laws; Or Lack Thereof

Inevitably another answer arises when asking about the appeal of Pana.  It is the land of the lawless.  Although many individuals think differently within this context, it is a popular sentiment.  For instance, the coffee shop owner explained that living here is much like the forty-niners of early California.  “The government is not going to look out for you,” he said, “You have to fend for yourself.”  Likewise, almost all of the gringos I interviewed feel fairly confident in saying that this is why some people are here.  One can do whatever they want with little recourse.  If a person wants to smoke pot all day, they can.

Tax laws, immigration laws, and regulatory laws are easy to avoid.  One business owner explained to me that he changed the name of his shop every couple of years in order to avoid paying taxes on it.  He knew the irresponsibility of the action in regards to contributions to the community, but explained that this is how things are.  Many individuals simply avoid immigration laws by visiting the border every ninety days to get your passport stamped.  The owner of the passport doesn’t need to be present.  Many times a person can pay somebody else who in turn will take hundreds of passports to the border to be stamped.  Ideally, if you avoid trouble in Pana, it will avoid you.

Economics

Finally, Pana is easy to survive in economically.  Social Security checks and disability checks go far.  A woman from the States, who is receiving a disability check, has been living here for the past three years.  She explained, “I receive (a little more than) seven-hundred dollars a month for my disability.  You know what that would get me in Charlotte?[12] It would just barely pay the rent in an apartment.  I would have to find money from someplace else to get food and pay my bills.”  In Pana, her disability check afforded her a nice apartment, food, and a well paid maid.  She is in the process of developing an online business.  A self-employed man living here estimates a person can live in Pana for about two-hundred fifty dollars (US) a month.   Other sources point out that rent can be found for under a hundred a month and a full meal (from a nicer restaurant) can be received for around ten bucks.

 

POPULATIONS OF EXPATRIATES IN PANA

Categories

I looked at what answers I received from the question, “Can you categorize different types of foreign residents living in Panajachel?”  When first asking these questions, I thought the answers may have been too subjective.  Answers would vary between ethnic origins, age, social circles, financial situations, and roles in the community.  But over and over similar answers came up.  I have determined four categories of individuals living in Panajachel (high social, low social, high contribution, low contribution).  Although these answers are defined by local foreign residents, they tend to accurately categorize expatriates as I have pictured them.  The groups I have labeled are borrowed from Mary Douglas’ idea of categories of individuals in societies (high grid, low grid, high group, low group).  Below I will define what I have observed about social circles.  However for the purpose of my research, I am going to focus on the expatriates who offer a high level of contribution to Panajachel.  I am going to compare them to expatriates who seem to have a low level of contribution to the community and look at the perceived overall effects.

Social Circles

Poignant social circles exist within the larger expatriate community.  With an immediate observation, a person will notice many of the same individuals hanging out at the same spots at the same times.  I noticed, for example, on Friday afternoons a group of US Americans, Australians, and Brits hanging out and drinking beer at a particular restaurant.  Similarly, many Germans hang out at a German owned restaurant.  One evening, a bar filled with Argentinean jewelry vendors supporting the live band (made up, in part, of other Argentinean jewelry vendors).  Another student told me of going to a dinner with a group composed entirely of expatriates.  The ties of language and nationality seem to be strong.  During interviews, other social circles were identified to me that aren’t as apparent.  Many people have exclusive parties and host dinners.  One US American woman said that her social circles only involved inviting gringa friends over for dinner.  A Swiss woman claimed she had no social life at all.  Expatriates fall into high and low social categories, although they are not easy to identify and categorize.  I did, however, recognize the importance of talking amongst different individual social circles because they help to identify people’s roles in the community.  Consistently individuals repeated names or groups of people who have made contributions to the community.  Likewise, they would name individuals or groups with little or no impact in Panajachel.

High Impact Group

Similar to the repeatedly named individuals who have made contributions to the community, I recognized contributions which had less notoriety, but are equally laudable.  All of these individuals with higher levels of impact are usually highly involved in the community.  They generally have lived here for longer amounts of time (over two years) and call Panajachel home.  They usually work within the communities.  Sometimes they own businesses or work in a business that interacts with all social groups within the community (these social groups can generally be categorized, for this example, as extranjeroladino, and indigenous).  High impact groups tend to be more established in the community financially and are usually concerned with what happens in Panajachel.  Often they maintain relationships with many different community members, on many different levels.   The high impact group has the greatest impact on the community compared to other expatriates.

Low Impact Group

At the other end of the spectrum is the low impact group.  As a comparison, the low impact group tends to have a minimal effect on the society.  They may participate in the economy by purchasing goods, employing a maid, or renting a home; but involvement is very minimal.  Their social circles revolve around people of similar backgrounds.  They do not usually have relationships with other people outside of their social circles.  In some cases, low impact individuals may not have any social circles at all.  They may stay behind closed doors.  Low impact individuals are described by other expatriates as “living in a bubble.”  They only seem to be here to take advantage of the ease of life.  They have learned that their monthly budget will go much further in Pana.  Also the society of Panajachel allows for much more latitude than the society they have come from.  The laid back attitude and lack of law enforcement creates an environment of freedom that surely is hard to attain elsewhere.  The low impact group has little or no impact on the society.

Examples of High Impact Groups

With a little bit of research, the effects of high impact individuals are all over Panajachel.  An education is important, and usually hard to attain in third world countries.  Just south of the main market is a library that is up to high educational standards.  The library contains thousands of books with hundreds of topics, computers, comfortable furniture, and reasonable operating hours.  The walls are also adorned with indigenous clothing.  It has the reputation of being one of the best in Guatemala (if not in all of Central America).  It has been developed by an expatriate children’s book writer and her husband.  They developed the project, raised the support, and continue its development (in one way by being on the board of directors).  When the library is open the bicycles of children litter the front sidewalk.  Inside, the children cover the room, utilizing the facilities.  When it is closed, there are children waiting outside for it to open.  The library is the crown jewel of accomplishments that high impact individuals can make in a society (although it is not nearly the only one).

A business owner has been integral in obtaining trucks for trash collection.  He recognized the need for adequate trash services in Panajachel and around Lake Atitlan.  He contacted people from Germany and acted as a liaison between them and a group here.  The group from Germany provided the garbage trucks and has organized local mayors who have helped to ensure proper use of the garbage trucks.

Until only eight years ago, the local free clinic in Panajachel didn’t have running water.  Another local business owner helped to install plumbing in the Centro de Salud[13] during a cholera outbreak.  The doctors there recognized her capability in fund-raising and asked if she would help support the clinic.  She took it upon herself to raise funds that contribute to the support of the clinic.  Now she is part of a larger group that helps design trips for North American doctors who offer free medical service for the time they are here.  They also have helped unite charity groups that supply locals with much needed health services and they have helped get oxygen tanks for the local bomberos.[14] Recently she opened a consignment shop that helps to develop income for the medical support group.

In Guatemala, there are many widows from the recently ended civil war.  These women need to find ways to support themselves.  Two groups in particular help with this task.  There is a company that helps local women’s groups empower themselves by supporting their exporting endeavors.  Two expatriate women help run the company.  The expatriates work together with four weaving groups and one crocheting group to help them export their indigenous arts to other countries.  The company allows these women to support themselves through their traditional craft and has also developed other programs to support Maya women (a high school scholarship program, a national medicine program, and an initiative to build a new community center).  In the same fold, a woman helps to head up a small credit lending program.  The program is designed around the idea of giving indigenous women power to develop their own business.  The company also offers classes to help mature business practices and to help spread information about sex education.

There are many other groups and programs developed by expatriates that contribute to the community.  There is a recycling program maintained by a woman from Switzerland.  The local diving group encourages a community-wide lake trash pick up.  A French restaurateur who works with a local group that wants to encourage progress in the community.  There is a German man who teaches music to kids and sponsors children’s community activities.  There is another US American woman who formed a group to support local health projects.

There are also underlying contributions.  These are employment practices that help to encourage the growth of the indigenous employees.  Many employers that I have spoken with explain the bonds they have formed with their employees.  In the ‘land of the lawless,’ subject employment practices are common due to lack of enforcement.  Many expatriates pride themselves in obeying the tax laws and keeping good tax records.  This results in paying employees what is mandated by the Guatemalan Congress (employees receive a minimum wage and fourteen paychecks a year).  Also, taxes go to the municipality, which should in turn help to support community projects.  Locals, many times, prefer to work for expatriates.

Likewise, many expatriates employ help from locals.  Locals are often hired as guides, house cleaners, gardeners, and general helpers.  As employees stay with a job or family, a relationship usually develops.  Expatriates make efforts to help employees with education and financial situations.  One expatriate restaurant owner has tried to teach his employees English.  Many expatriates help employees with loans or even give them money in times of need.  As a result, expatriates are looked at as patriarchal friends.  They are invited and urged to attend family functions of locals.

Examples of Low Impact Groups

There is a huge disparity between the amounts of low impact individuals to high impact individuals in Pana.  Low impact individuals seem to heavily outnumber high impact individuals.  Of the expatriates I interviewed, all seem to think that approximate contributions come from a miniscule percent of the expatriate population.  The majority tend to have little or no effect.  People included in the low impact group are individuals who live with an indifferent attitude towards the community.  Sometimes these individuals may not learn Spanish or just enough to get by.  They tend to avoid having relationships with anyone but those within their social circles.  Many times those social circles consist of members with the same or similar ethnic origins.  Again, they may employ a maid or rent a house, but they do not make a conscious effort to contribute to the society they live in.

The population of low impact individuals clearly includes the drug community.  The drug community, in the eyes of many of my informants, negatively affects the residents of Panajachel.  Many of the individuals in the drug community, as one expatriate put it, “Cannot make it through a day without smoking a joint.”  Marijuana is easy to come by here and is very cheap compared to the US.[15] Likewise alcohol is particularly cheap and accessible.  Liquor can be purchased at almost every store with no regulation.  The underground drug economy has seemed to flourish due to the increase in drug use.  Walking the streets on any evening, one should not be surprised when offered drugs by a wayward expatriate.  Other drugs, termed “hard drugs,” are allegedly around but exist in yet another unseen, sub-culture of expatriates.

Many retired expatriates, or expatriates living off of an income from back home, fall in the low impact category as well.  Although not the rule, it seems that a large supply of gringos live in their homes, hardly ever interacting with other residents.  They may employ a person that will shop, cook, and clean for them.  The money that they contribute to the community comes from only what they need to supply: salaries, food purchases, commodities, and rent.  They also tend to live in a bubble; minimally or not socializing at all with the community.  They form little or no bonds with others in the community.  They utilize the community as a source for an inexpensive existence.

General Impacts, Contributions, and Effects

Panajachel has dealt with the international community in different ways.  For instance Robert Carlsen,  The War for the Heart and Soul of a Highland Maya Town, (1997) explains that over centuries of change the Maya people’s culture has persevered.  Similarly according to an expatriate computer technician, the indigenous pick and choose what parts of the culture they want to incorporate into their lives.  He talks of seeing people in the fields, working as they have for hundreds of years, utilizing traditional techniques.  In the middle of it all is a beach umbrella that they like.  The umbrella is the only evidence of western culture in that scene.

The book also represents the recent changes indigenous culture is seeing.  Individuals are leaving traditional ways. It is represented by a person wearing traje,[16] talking on a cell phone.  Or a woman wearing a corte[17] and a blouse from Mexico.  My favorite is a t-shirt I have seen one of the locals wearing.  It says, “Sex Expert, First Lesson Free!”  It was probably purchased from one of the pacas.[18]

The influence of drugs has taken its toll on the indigenous community as well.  While I have heard that marijuana and alcohol use has always been around, the rise in use and availability has shown its face amongst the locals.  Teenage children, desiring a different profession than the back-breaking lives of their parents in agriculture, turn to the drug trade to make a living.  The profits inevitably come from the pockets of tourists and expatriates.  Similarly, alcoholism has ravished many families and sent many older, indigenous men begging and sleeping in the streets.

Why is the expatriate community having such an effect on Panajachel?  I have found that one reason is the importation of western ideals.  Extranjeros bring their ideas about employment, cleanliness, safety, and general social actions with them when they move to Pana.  A local informant told me that Pana is, “clean because of all the foreigners living here.”  Foreign residents design and implement programs such as the recycling program and trash pick-up (the recycling group did a tourist study that produced results claiming a tourist would pay five to fifty Quetzals more to stay or eat at an establishment that recycles).  I went to a local organization meeting and they want cleanliness and safety as well.  Their desired goals for the community coincided with what they perceive tourists want.  For example, they want clean streets, safety, and maintenance of their indigenous culture.  They feel this is what tourists want and it is what will attract tourists here in the future.  In this way the organization looks to promote themselves and their culture within the context of foreign tourism.  The reflection of what these tourists want comes from what is learned from extranjeros living in the community.

What other ways do expatriates impact the community?  Economically they raise inflation and store prices.  The picture of locals wearing typical western clothing is evermore present.  A savvy local probably knows where to get cheap food and cheap clothes (for example in the market), but many restaurants and stores count on tourists to purchase goods at inflated prices.  According to most of my informants, locals think all gringos have money, regardless if it is true or not.  They are looking to get part of that wealth in one way or another.

Expatriates provide jobs within their businesses and within their homes.  The tourism industry here, which also provides jobs to the local population, reflects the influence of expatriates and tourists.  I was walking down the street when I was approached by a young man.  He lived in Santa Catarina but was trying to get a job in a travel agency in Pana.  He was trying to learn English.  He probed me with questions in order to practice talking and listening.  This exemplifies the impact of foreigners in the community.

CONCLUSION

What is the Motivation to contribute?

With some examination of a small sample of the population I have researched, I can come to some conclusion.  Individuals who remain static offer little or no contributions to the community.  They tend to further remove themselves by not developing relationships with anyone but people like them.  In contrast, people who have developed relationships with people in the community, also develop a relationship with the community as a whole.  It is not hard to forget that Guatemala is a third-world country.  Poverty is everywhere and is constantly perpetuated by the widening wealth gap and lack of economic mobility.  In Pana, opportunities arise due to the influx of tourism and foreign residents.  But opportunities are only available from individuals who can offer them.

Any person who looks will see a place to help here, even if it is helping in a small way.  If a person closes their eyes, or lives in a bubble, they may not choose to see the way Guatemala works.  The fact is that Guatemala works easily for anyone with a little bit of income.  But living here, for even six weeks, makes you recognize that an income is not easy to come by.  Sure there is a burgeoning service industry, but, “A considerable amount of leakage[19] associated with tourism results from foreign investment in the tourism development of other countries.  Investors expect profit, and that profit usually returns to their countries.” (Chambers, 33)  The profits that usually result from tourism are not turned back into the community.  Inflation has risen and it is much harder to exist here for locals.  Food prices and property prices are high for locals.  In particular life is difficult for those locals who have a large family to care for, lack education, or lack a steady source of income.  These individuals struggle in a new, global economy.

What is significant here is the relationship between a largely international, western community and a strong, local culture of indigenous people.  What is the impact of one on the other?  When looking at this community, it is amazing to walk down the street seeing a man dressed in traje carrying a large load of firewood.  The firewood is bound by a strap on his back.  Another strap, called a mecapal, runs across his forehead to support the weight.  Behind him a dusty, new Chevy Blazer honks the horn to say, “I’m coming.”  This is an analogy to the world of Pana.  Globalization and westernization are coming, how are the people here going to handle it?  Are they going to get out of the way or flag the Blazer down for a ride?

Closing Remarks

The opportunity I have had to do research in Panajachel has been incredible.  It has given me a chance to experience culture shock and truly broaden my horizon.  In what other part of the world can one walk down the street and say hello to people from twenty different cultures, who are all living in the same community?   Nearing the end of the program I am feeling disappointed that I can not research more and delve deeper into all the communities of Pana.  I am feeling grave disappointment that I have to leave Panajachel without being able to give more.  What I have gathered in this report is merely a snapshot of the life here.  One day hopefully I can return and get as much as I can capture.  With years of research into the community, one may be able to get the video of what life is truly like here. I want to say thanks to all the expatriates who I pestered to speak with me and who had the patience to do so.  I want to say thanks to my host family members Maria, Juan, Gaby, and Juan Antonio; to my teachers Daniela and Tim; and to the community of Panajachel for allowing me into their lives.

 

REFERENCES CITED

Carlsen, Robert S. The War for the Heart and Soul of a Highland Maya Town. University

of Texas Press. 1997.

Chambers, Erve. Native Tours: The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism. Waveland

Press, University of Maryland. 2000.

 

INTERVIEW LOG

#

Estimated age

Ethnicity or place of origin

Occupation or source of income (sometimes estimated)

Amount of time living in Panajachel (sometimes estimated)

1

37

United States

Business owner

2 years

2

22

United States

Private teacher

1 year

3

42

United States

Web page designer

17 years

4

40

Canada

Restaurant Owner

2 years

5

55

United States

Various odd-jobs

14 years

6

45

Guatemala

Hotel manager

45 years

7

35

South Africa

Business Owner, teacher

2 years

8

20

United States

Student

1 month

9

55

United States

Farmer

15 years

10

35

Sri-Lanka

Computer Technician

8 years

11

21

Guatemala

Waiter

1 year

12

55

United States

Teacher

1 year

13

23

United States

Teacher

1 year

14

34

United States

Exporter

8 years

15

23

United States

Peace Corps Volunteer

2 months

16

40

Switzerland

Volunteer

15 years

17

60

United States

Sales

10 years

18

60

United States

-

-

19

55

United States

Computer Technician

3 years

20

55

Canada

Retired

6 years

21

40

Guatemala

Local agency

20 years

22

25

Argentina

Jewelry Sales

-

23

25

Argentina

Jewelry Sales

-

24

35

Guatemala

Artisan

-

25

36

Argentina

Jewelry Sales

6 months

26

45

Guatemala

-

-

27

45

Guatemala

Restaurant Owner

-

28

45

Guatemala

-

-

29

45

Holland

Small Credit Lending

-

30

40

United States

Teacher

Tourist

31

40

United States

Administrator

Tourist

32

35

United States

Jewelry Maker, Boat Captain

23 years

33

45

Guatemala

Apartment Manager

45 years

34

50

France

Store Owner

12 years

35

40

Switzerland

Baker

18 years

36

34

Switzerland

Unemployed

3 years

37

45

United States

Teacher

3 years

38

25

United States

Traveler

1 month

39

50

United States

Editor

25 years

40

40

United States

Restaurant Owner

8 years

41

45

United States

Retired

-

42

45

Germany

Restaurant Owner

17 years

43

45

France

Business Owner

16 years

44

45

United States

Self-employed

4 years

45

45

United States

Self-employed

4 years

46

45

United States

Restaurant Owner

10 years

47

40

United States

Self-employed

3 years

48

80

United States

Retired

25 years

49

23

Guatemala

Business Owner

2 years

 



[1] mochila - backpack

[2] extranjeros – foreigners

[3] expatriates – foreign residents

[4] Crossroads Café

[5] Pana – nickname, abbreviation for Panajachel

[6] chalets – vacation homes for wealthy part-time residents

[7] ladinos – non-indigenous locals, usually of Spanish decent

[8] gringos - foreigners

[9] lanchas - boats

[10] picops – pickup trucks

[11] Estados Unidos – United States

[12] city name changed for anonymity

[13] Centre De Salud – the local health clinic

[14] bomberos - firemen

[15] a comparable amount may cost $8 here to $50 in the States

[16] traje – traditional dress

[17] corte – traditional skirt

[18] pacas – clothes sold, by the pound, to Guatemalans by US companies

[19] leakage – the amount of economic gain from an activity that is likely to leave the region or country where the goods (in this case, tourism) are produced (Chambers, 33)