Several years ago when we first started thinking about moving to Latin America, Nicaragua was high on our list of places. In fact, we began to refer to the concept of living in Latin America for a time as our Nicaragua Plan. So while we didn't end up living in Nicaragua, we still thought it would be fun to take a trip there to see what we were missing.

We largely ended up living in Guatemala by chance (which is the way things like this often work) because we happened to find jobs here and a city that we wanted to live in. But as noted above it could have been Nicaragua for us instead so we spent much of our time there asking the question "would we have been able to live with this?"

The first item in this question category was answered nearly as soon as we landed and saw the propaganda related to Nicaragua's upcoming presidential election. There is certainly a lot of election propaganda in Guatemala, but the Nicaraguan version stood out as it was all promoting the works of (current president) Daniel Ortega. We didn't see a single poster, rally, t-shirt or anything related to an opposition candidate.

Guatemala certainly has its problems in the areas of democracy and governance, but Nicaragua seems is in another category with Ortega's domination of the political sphere. This (and the fact that he decided to shut down several NGOs when we were thinking about where to move) are why we don't live in Nicaragua. We were worried that this unstable environment could cause a problem if we worked for non-profits in the country. Oh, and no one offered us a job there... But none of that stopped us from taking a short trip there.

Since Jed has spent some time in southern Nicaragua, during his time living in Costa Rica, we decided to start in the north part of the country in Leon. It was a good place to start since as a university and cultural capital, Leon is very much a Nicaraguan parallel to our home of Xela in Guatemala. There are, however, a few differences of note between the two cities.

On the minus side, Leon is a lot hotter, a little more rundown (some of this due to the adverse effects of tropical humidity), and a little less scenic (no mountain views). On the plus side, Leon is much closer to the beach, has colder beer (which is a necessity in the heat), and has a lot more pretty churches. Well, I guess Jack didn't think the extra churches were such a bonus:

Taking advantage of Leon's proximity to the beach, we headed off for a day on the Pacific ocean and Jack's first time in that body of water. He was a little bit more excited about that:

After that, since no gringo's trip to Nicaragua would be complete without it, we headed down south to the tourist hub Grenada. Grenada is the equivalent of Antigua, Guatemala: good architecture, good tourist infrastructure, and population of foreigners. On the plus side, Grenada is a little touristy than Antigua, which makes it feel a little more authentic. On the minus side, it is more run down (that darn tropical humidity again). And it's a draw on the scenery, while Antigua is surrounded by stunning volcanoes, Granada has some smaller volcanoes and Lake Nicaragua:

Other factors that we ran down as part of the Nicaragua/Guatemala comparison include:
- sports: they play baseball in Nicaragua as opposed to only soccer in Guatemala
- cost: while both are relatively inexpensive countries, the dollar seems to go a little bit farther in Nicaragua
- rum: this is a draw as Flor de Caña and Botran are both world class brands
- culture: Guatemala has a vibrant indigenous culture, which is non-existent in Nicaragua

All in all, while we enjoyed visiting Nicaragua, we're happy that we live in Guatemala- though Jack's still contemplating his preference:

Firsts for Jack

As any parent will tell you, babies grow up quickly. Especially in the first few months of life there are lots of changes, newly acquired skills, and the like. Despite my mother's strong encouragement, we aren't keeping a baby book for Jack. Such a book just seems so 20th century- what is he really going to do with a book that lists his first* food? 21st century mechanisms -like photos, videos, and yes even blog posts- seem so much more relevant (not mention a heck of a lot easier).

As such, on his 6-month birthday (monthday?), here's a recounting of some recent firsts for Jack. Like any maturing young man, these fall into the vital areas of passion, commitment, heartbreak, and physical prowess.

In Latin America, most passion falls into one category. No, not love (that's just in the movies): futbol (or soccer for us). Latin Americans, Guatemalans included, are fanatically passionate about their futbol teams. In fact, one the common slogans for the local futbol team in Xela is: Unidos por la pasión del futbol (united by the passion for futbol). This slogan is plastered on t-shirts, all over the team's stadium, and other places around town.

At the ripe old age of 6-months, we thought it was time that Jack was introduced to local passion: the Superchivos. (It also didn't hurt that Jed is covering the team for the local culture and nightlife magazine so he had to go to the game anyway). While the literal translation of the team's name is the Super Goats, colloquially it is also translates as Super Cool. The team is very popular locally and draws (relatively) large crowds for games (see Jed's recent article on the team for more on this:

While Jack seemed more interested in watching the crowd than the action on the field (to be fair his long distance vision isn't tip-top yet), he seemed to have a great time and really enjoyed the Superchivos victory. If this doesn't illustrate passion, then what does?

In fact, his level of Superchivos passion was so high that it became newsworthy:

As any young man will tell you, commitment (or the fear thereof) is an important step in life. While Jack hasn't committed himself to another yet (see Heartbreak below for more on this), we thought it was important that he learned about what commitment means. And what better place to learn this than at a wedding? And how about one of the first gay weddings in New York City to boot? Well, we figured that such an occasion, and lesson for Jack, was worth a quick weekend jaunt to NYC.

Thus it came be that the whole family attended the wedding of Jonathan Mintz (Jed's former boss at Consumer Affairs) to his long-time partner John Feinblatt at Gracie Mansion (more on the wedding from the New York Times here). The officiant of the wedding also delivered a lecture to Jack about the importance of commitment:
As many of you have no doubt know already, Jack has been dating Harper Doyel, the daughter of our friends (if you're out of the loop on Jack's love life then you can see some of the highlights of their dates here and here). Their dates have been hot and heavy- mainly consisting of them falling over face first on the couch. In fact they didn't actually look at each other until date #5. But Harper is moving back to the US (along with her parents) next month; she recently broke the news to Jack and needless to say he experienced his first true heartbreak:

Physical Prowess
Like any young man, Jack loves physical feats of strength and daring- though at this stage his ability to execute them is rather limited. In this vein, his new found ability to sit up has been his first great feat of physical strength (holding up his head and rolling over weren't quite as exciting landmarks). He has been sitting up a storm (if one can do such a thing), though he doesn't have it 100% mastered quite yet (don't worry he's doing an intense training program to improve his conditioning):

Now wasn't that much better and more memory packed than a silly baby book entry about his first solid food? (*Which was carrots, by the way, Mom, so don't worry about that information being lost in time.)

The Problems Facing Guatemala

This article is an excellent summary of the myriad of problems facing Guatemala:

In addition to being a good source of information, it touches on many of the areas that we are working on during our time living here in the Western Highlands (which is the region that this article focuses on).

Much of Meg's work in the clinic is involved identifying and treating the myriad of health problems related to malnutrition. In addition, she has just started a nutrition project to provide nutritional supplements to children at risk of malnutrition.

While Jed's primary focus has been on preparing an election monitoring effort for this fall's national presidential elections (which is mentioned by the article in passing), he has also been working with some smaller organizations on these type of issues. For example, he is working with Fundacion CAPAZ, which is a non-profit dedicated to teaching people how to properly and sustainably raise farm animals as a means to improve their nutrition and economic independence (more information is available at He is also assisting the Women's Justice Initiative, a new project dedicated to reducing gender barriers in Guatemala.

The Recent Adventures of Jack

As we previously mentioned here (see What's that in there? and ¡Ay! ¡Que Frio!), Jack causes quite a stir in his travels around Guatemala. While there are many possible explanations for this attention, the most likely theories are that:

a. Guatemalans just love children: This is generally true, as evidence let it be noted that purportedly the most American of family experiences involving kids began here- namely the Happy Meal and the McDonald's kiddie playground. However, it appears that Jack gets more than the average amount of baby attention, but perhaps every parent thinks this same thing (turns out parenthood can warp you perspective about the attributes of your own child).

b. Gringo babies are a rare breed down here: While it is true that the average baby in Guatemala does not have American parents, Jack is hardly an extremely distinctive child- he doesn't have a shock of blond hair or anything. In fact, he has the same dark hair and dark eyes as most Guatemalan children. Perhaps seeing foreigners with a baby is the most unusual part?

c. Jack is just a really cute baby: This is obviously undeniable true (or at least what we'd like to think- though see above about the potential warping effects of parenthood), as evidence:

Sometimes this attention can be nice- who doesn't like having complete strangers compliment them on how beautiful their baby is? Sometimes, it can be a little bit annoying- when we're trying to get somewhere in a hurry and people insist on stopping to touch Jack. Sometimes, it can be surprising- like when a girl of about 8 years old came up, kissed Jack on the cheek, and then tried to pick him up and carry him away. But sometimes it can be just downright strange- as in the following:

It is a Sunday morning and Jack and I are walking across Xela's main square, well, I'm walking and he's being carried- he is a very advanced child (see above about dilusional parental perspectives) but he's not quite walking yet at 5 months. An old woman comes up to us and says something, expecting the usual "what a beautiful child" I give a preemptive "yes, thank you".

But then it becomes clear to me that the woman has actually said something else and is rubbing Jack's little foot. So I say "sorry, I didn't hear you" and then she repeats what she said "Jesus". I can't believe that I've heard this right so I ask her to say it again, at which point is becomes clear that she is referring to Jack as Jesus.

By this point a crowd of children has gathered around and joined the old woman in rubbing Jack's foot. So, hoping to settle the situation, I say "No, he's not Jesus, he's my son, Jack". Well, this clearly doesn't get across as the woman repeats herself and points at Jack. At this point, I repeat that he's my son and politely excuse myself before rapidly retreating across the square. While I may have an inflated perspective of my wonderful son, this doesn't quite extend to him being a religious savior....

Lastly, however, Jack did recently get some attention from a special visitor to Guatemala:

This visit with Hillary Clinton led to Jack's first newspaper appearance (you may have to scroll right to see the actual article text, but see especially the last paragraph, which is translated into English below):

As it happens, at least according to the article, Hillary Clinton wasn't just in town to chat with Jack, but as the last paragraph notes (rough translation):

"Upon leaving, the Secretary took the opportunity to take some photos with the staff of the US Embassy in Guatemala as well as a couple with their baby who were in the hotel lobby." Well, it turns out that she didn't just happen across us, the whole meeting was orchestrated by Meg's brother Jake, who is on her staff. Though to a Guatemalan it probably didn't seem strange that the Secretary of State should stop to compliment a cute baby, as they would certainly do the same thing themselves...

Jack turns 5 (months)

In advance of Jack's 5-month birthday (it is the spit-up birthday for those of you keeping track out), click here for some recent photos for your enjoyment. Due to popular demand here are a couple of out-takes to admire while you wait for the other page to load:

Xela Museums

Here are links to a couple of Jed's articles, which were recently published in XelaWho magazine, which is our local, English language cultural magazine. Enjoy:

On a visit to Xela's Marimba Museum:

On a visit to Xela's Natural History Museum:

What's that in there?

As we shared in our recent post, ¡Ay! ¡Que Frio!, walking around with a baby in Guatemala can elicit some interesting reactions. However, perhaps more interesting reactions have come from people before they realize Jack is a baby. To begin to explain, for ease and comfort we often carry Jack around in a psuedo-traditional Guatemalan sling (or the adjustable gringo-ized version of what Guatemalan women traditionally carry their babies in):

While both of us frequently carry Jack around in this sling, Jed certainly gets more strange looks from people. Apparently, it isn't that common for men to carry babies in Guatemala, less common for foreigners to do so, and even rarer for a man to use a sling.

It usually begins with the question: "What do you have in there?"

Then upon answering that it is a baby in the sling, the usual fawning begins:
"Aye, que preciosa (Oh, how precious)"
"Que lindo (How beautiful)"
"Que calma (What a calm baby)"

If the interaction allows for more time, then the next set of questions begins:
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"How old is the baby?"
And, of course, "The baby isn't cold?"

After satisfactorily answering those questions, including an assurance that Jack is perfectly warm, the interaction often ends with another round of "que lindo".

In other circumstances, such as in a store or at the market, where time allows for further baby interrogation, the next round of questions include his name, why he was born here, etc. Then comes the sharing:

"Well, I saw you with that cargador (sling) but I wasn't sure what was in there. I thought perhaps maybe it was some goods, or books, or maybe some fruit. But a baby, what a surprise!"

Or, on one occasion, from a woman wearing a nearly identical sling with her own child in it, "I saw you walking around town yesterday with the sling and I wondered if maybe it was a baby, but then I thought no, it is probably just some groceries. Now I know it is a baby."

Sometimes, when we're sitting in the park or walking down the street, Jack's leg or arm will stick out of the sling and the chorus of murmurs will begin: "there's a baby in there", "look, it's a baby", or just "a baby!"

So, if you have a child and you ever feel like they aren't getting enough attention, then a short trip to Guatemala could be just the remedy (don't worry, you can buy the sling here for 1/10 of the price you'd pay in the US for a similar item).