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Published: January 15th 2006
Guatemalan history and the recent, lengthy, civil war is in large a story of perscution, racism, injustice and war. Many of it´s fellow Central American countries have suffered from the same fate.
Following on from a previous point, this this is the reason why some indigenous people (mostly men) don´t wear the traditional dress, to avoid persecution.
It´s typical in Guatemalan society for the men to do the work outside of the home environment and ,as a result, they put themselves in the front line, identifying themselves as supporters of the rebels forces from the civil war (mostly indigenous people though this was a frequent misidentification).
My language school owner was one, he sees himself as weak for conforming, compromising with this. Using the same counter argument as used in the Zapatistas stuff, Do you stand and fight for the principal and potentially suffer? Or concede and get on with life? Or find another answer? (Note: It is common fallacy to think that just because struggle to come up with another solution it doesn´t mean it doesn´t exist). Again it´s easy for impassioned outsiders to talk of virtue when they are not involved, but this doesn´t mean they are not right.
The flip side is that the Indigenous women were (and are) stubborn. They refused to give in, if anything the discrimination increased their pride and it also become a symbol (admittably this was a little bit easier for most in comparison to men as they didn´t go to the big cities searching for work and spent more time in the home).
It´s interesting because some who wear the traditional dress aren´t religious and don´t believe in what traditional teachings teach, they wear it more as the pre-spoken symbol, being proud of their roots yet want to change with a changing world.
It mustn´t be forgotten when you are talking of protecting tradition that not all tradition, and not all parts of tradition are good. Within some Indigenous societies (it must be remembered there are around 24 different languages and traditions in Guatemalan society and some differ much from others, although it is easy for outsiders to see them all the same) women have a restricted role and are not always treated with respect. The whole tradition versus progress issue is a long one that I have interest in debating too much now.
Pure traditionalism and conservative values are not the solution to the drawbacks of a progressive society (again with the colours). The Thais and Buddism teach finding a balance (Buddism in my view the only likeable ´religion´ and this is only because it is really philosphy at it´s essence, with mystic parts attached to add colour. Many Buddist leaders are trying over time to remove the frills so that the essence isn´t lost in a world where science appears to contradict much). This idea extends to finding the middle point in many issues, the middle ground. This could be as seen superficially as taking the grey ground between the extremes, while infact I believe this is not the case. The reason for this is to see it not as a pure simplification of splitting a single issue at point between two extremes but as a balance between many extremes, colours.
As I mentioned earlier San Pedro is a pleasant, interesting town. Today I saw one of the most random things I have seen so far on this trip. San Pedro is built up a steep hill with, hence, limited flat land. This makes the national sport difficult. A small patch of land (about 20m x 10m) possibly reclaimed from the lake, exists on the current shores of the lake. Somehow they have managed to turn this into a football pitch with the perimeter on nearly three sides being bounded by the lake. A game was going on. If it wasn´t for the crowd stopping the ball, in the intensity of all I go see two battling players both ending up in the lake pretty frequently. I wish I had had my camera with me as I love these type of things I like to labelly simply as random.
After a week of lessions I decided I needed a couple of days break before taking on some more. On the first I decided to head to Santiago Atitlan. I had already been warned than I would be overcharged on the boat over. On arrival I offered up the true rate but the guy insisted it was more. After collecting money off all the tourists, they then collected everyone elses. The whole principal of it irritated me, making my blood stir. I argued it through in my mind, the discrimination of it, a foreign face being simplified to a fat wallet at bursting point needing some relief, the principal of this, not an individual, a human being, each different with different amounts of wealth. However, aware it was a type of positive discrimination and also aware of the overall vast differences in wealth, I realised it was principal of deceit which was actually irritating me most. This settled me onto the view that if it was advertised as being different I would have had no problem with it. This could easily be marked as an concession with Government funds potentially subsidising it for locals but not intended for tourists. In much the same way as a discount for young or old tries to even these out, which again I have no problem with. Otherwise I saw it as hypocritical of country riddled with corruption yet the people most affected and who bemoan it most, practice it themselves. On the return journey I decided to make a point of this. Again I offered up six instead of fifteen, to be told, once again, it wasn´t enough. I said I wanted to pay the normal price, not the one for foreigners. I was told it was the same for all. By this time most of the people on the boat had began to take notice of this conversation. I said to him just because I don´t speak good Spanish it doesn´t mean I´m stupid, and reluctantly paid the full amount. Half an hour later he calmly collected 6 off the non-tourists around me.
I was trying to wage a 1-man verbal war of principle, trying to defeat the shallow outlook on tourists as mindless ignorant wallets, which itself (ironically) is ignorant. Trying to preach the point that people are different.
In many ways this type of conning culture is one that develops and not one which pre-exists (which sort of suggests tourists are easy, soft targets and that they are right and I am wrong). This is evident as all hassling in this and other ways only seems to occur in tourist towns. Outside of the tourist towns, tourists are treated normally and not hassled and people take more of interest in them as being different, a point of curiosity rather than a hole in the wall. I have seen this pattern repeatably in LEDC (Less economically developed countries) worldwide.
In Santiago itself, small boys sworm new arrivals like vultures to a fresh kill, though there intentions and needs are good. And I´m a great advocate for the re-distributing of wealth, but not this way, through sustainable development.
The streets are lined with markeds selling impressive hand-made goods. Older boys and young men strap heavy goods to their forehead whilst women carry goods on their head. Tuk-tuk move from place to place. Older men here also wear the traditional dress and some younger ones too. Tourists stick to the main streets and move from art gallery to art gallery. A retired American women parted with $160 for a painting which I´m sure should could bargained down to less than half that price, but once again that whole argument above comes into play, suggesting I´m fighting for minority viewpoint.
The paintings are typically colourful, though of mixed quality. Hers was one of the best, a portrait of an old indigenous guy...
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