Nicaragua

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.

Passion
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: http://xelawho.com/?p=3596).

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: http://issuu.com/elquetzalteco/docs/elquetzalteco-2287/25

Commitment
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:
Heartbreak
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 www.fundacioncapaz.org/en). 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: http://xelawho.com/?p=3456

On a visit to Xela's Natural History Museum: http://xelawho.com/?p=3487

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).

Happy 3-month birthday, Jack


Today is our son Jack's three-month birthday. He celebrated by eating, going for a walk around Xela, and then sleeping. Click here for some recent photos, with captions written by Jack himself.

Guatemala Guide

Living in a foreign country poses a lot of logistical challenges (where can open a bank account? or even, how do I get there?). Often the internet can be a great source for answers to these questions. But we've too often found in Guatemala that you can't find the information that you'd expect to on the internet; I guess no one is posting it. So, as a public service of sort, here is a catologue of some information about Guatemala and Central America that might be useful to other travelers out there (and is probably of little interest to others).

In this post, you'll find information on the following topics (just click on the item in the list below and it will take you directly to that topic if you, shockingly, don't want to read everything):

  • Driving to Central America
  • Importing your car to Guatemala
  • Guatemalan Tourist Visa Extensions
  • Opening a Guatemalan bank account
  • Getting a Guatemalan Birth Certificate for your child
  • Getting a Guatemalan passport for your child
  • Applying for a Guatemalan residence visa


    Of course you can fly but flying is no fun, so I drove to Guatemala. The drive is fairly easy, since you only have to traverse Mexico. While Mexico isn't the safest place in the world these days, as long as you are cautious (don't drive at night) and smart (stick to main roads and don't drive anything too fancy), you should have fun. It is possible to make it across Mexico in a couple of days (via the Gulf Coast) or to stretch it up to several weeks (in which case you can hit a lot of the country). In terms of details, you can find info on this drive lots of places on the web (but if you want some details on one of the trips that I did you can find it here and here)

    The one thing I couldn't find on the internet was whether it was possible to cross into Mexico with a temporary US license plate. After some nervous moments at the border, the answer is that you can do so; in fact, the Mexicans don't much seem to care about what license plate you have on your car.

    And to quickly address another widely debated topic on the web, about whether to get an "en transito" permit for your car or whether to just get the regular tourist car permit, I'd highly recommend the regular tourist permit, even if you have a good bit of luggage/equipment that you're bringing South with you. In my experience, with fairly full cars on two separate occasions, as long as you're not bringing a washing machine or somesuch, then no one cares what type of permit you get and the regular tourist car permit is much easier and more flexible.


    This can be a bit of hassle as you need to go back to the border to do the importation paperwork (assuming you went the sensible route of entering Guatemala the first time around with a tourist car permit). You'll need lots of copies of everything to do with your car (including title information, the tourist permit that you entered with the first time around, etc.). And you'll need to hope that SAT (the Guatemalan tax authority) computer system is working; I had to spend the night at the border when it crashed and they couldn't process my importation paperwork (the good news is that the border town of El Carmen has a fairly decent hotel right next to the bridge to Mexico and the Mexican town of Tapachula, about 10 miles away, has lots of good hotels and restaurants).

    In terms of the value of your car and thus the tax you pay, XelaPages has good info on how these calculations are done (see http://www.xelapages.com/howtoimportyourcarintoguatemala.htm). The only thing that I would add is that supposedly you can also have the car valued based on how much you purchased it for (assuming that you recently purchased it for your trip to Central America) rather than using the assessed price from the Nada Guide (see this link to go directly there: http://www.nadaguides.com/Cars/Research-Center). But in order to do this you both a bill of sale and proof of payment (such as credit receipt, credit card bill, canceled check, etc.). In my experience the the amount I paid for the car and assessed value were about the same so it was easier to go with their valuation than to jump through the hoops of proving my purchase price, but if you somehow got a great deal on your car then you might want to come armed with lots of proof about the purchase price.

    One last note, if you're thinking about buying a car to import to Guatemala (or Central America generally as most countries seem to have the same basic system for vehicle importations), the assessed value a vehicle varies depending on what trim level you have. For example, a Jeep Liberty Sport and a Jeep Liberty Limited (which has luxury features such as a sun roof, leather seats, etc) have different assessed values, as the the Nada website (see above) makes clear when you drill down to a specific model of car. So if you have a choice and want to save some money on the import tax then go with the bare bones model. Yes, having a sun roof would be nice, but as an example, it can end up costing you about $500 extra just on the import tax.


    With most passports you get an automatic 90 days when you enter Guatemala. To get another 90 days you can just leave the country (outside of the CA4: El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua) or you can renew your visa in Guatemala City. There is some info out there on renewing the visa but seems fairly out of date. As of March 2011, here's what you need to renew your Guatemala tourist visa:
    - One passport photo in black and white
    - A copy of the front and back of a valid (eg not expired) credit card
    - A photocopy of the first page of your passport (the one with your picture and personal data)
    - A photocopy of the page with your most recent Guatemala entry stamp
    - Your passport
    - The equivelant of US$16 in Quetzales (don't try paying in dollars, even though that's what the prices are quoted in, as they change your dollars to Quetzales at the current rate and then back to dollars so that it ends up costing you more- don't ask me, it's Guatemala)

    At the office (which is actually a quite professional customer service center) they'll give you an application to fill out; it is also available on the web at http://www.migracion.gob.gt/es/images/stories/soliprorrogatv.pdf (at the bottom of the application form it has the requirements). Migracion also has a more general website (http://www.migracion.gob.gt) but it is so terribly organized that it is hard to find anything useful. All this goes to the Migracion office in Zone 4- detailed info including phone numbers (which actually seem to get answered!) here: http://www.migracion.gob.gt/es/index.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=8&id=22&Itemid=43. Then 8 days (yes, 8 days later) you have to go back to pick up your passport with your visa extension. In terms of when to go, I would highly recommend going as early as possible (they open at 8am) to avoid lines, which can get rather long.


    Opening a Guatemalan bank account
    It is possible for a foreigner to open a Guatemala bank account, although not all banks allow it. In typical fashion some banks have byzantine requirements that are impossible to fulfill. In my experience Banco Reformador has very straightforward requirements (essentially only a passport and an application form) and makes it easy to open an account with minimal hassle, just make sure to ask about the fine print (fees, minimum balances, withdrawal limits, etc) as different types of accounts have different features and constraints.


    If you're reading this (in English) then you're probably a foreigner that is thinking of giving birth in Guatemala. First, congratulations. Second, your child (assuming your home country allows it) will be a dual citizen as Guatemala grants automatic citizenship to anyone born in the country. Getting the Guatemalan birth certificate is pretty straightforward.

    The hospital where your child was born should give you a document that has all the birth details on it. You need to take this document to RENAP (the National Registry of Persons or the Guatemalan equivelant of the Census Bureau) in the town where the child was born or where you reside (our son was born in Guatemala City and we live in Xela, but we were in Antigua so we tried to get the birth certificate there but they refused to help us despite the fact the I pointed out several times that it is the National Registry of Persons). In Guatemala City, RENAP's main office for this sort of thing is located on 2nd street just off Reforma in zone 9. If you have everything in order (see below for details), the office is pretty efficient.

    In addition to your child's birth form from the hospital, you should also bring the usual photocopies of your relevant information (first page of the passport, etc). Also, it is a good idea to bring a copy of your marriage certificate/license, if you have it; they requested it when we went there but it doesn't seem to be a routine requirement and could probably talk your way around it if you had to.

    Also, in Guatemala City and likely in other towns as well, they request a Boleto de Ornato, which is basically a registration fee you pay to be able to do municipal government transactions (it doesn't seem to serve much purpose except for raising revenue for the local government). It only costs a couple of dollars but I would highly recommend getting it ahead of time, especially if you're in Guatemala City. While the process to get it is simple (you pay, they hand you the little slip), you can only get it a few places and those places sometimes run out (how this is possible or makes any sense is beyond me, but whatever). So if you get it ahead of time (like the day before) then you won't waste time running back and forth to the RENAP office.

    In Guatemala City, you can supposedly get the Boleto de Ornato at the Banco Rural next to RENAP but the line is often long there and they had run out the day that I was there (by the way, in Xela the process is much simpler, you can get it at the City Hall, off the Parque Central, and the line is rarely longer than 3 people). You can also get it at the Banco Rural underneath the municipal building (City Hall) in Guatemala City. Be sure to hold on to the Boleto, it is good for the year and they may ask for it when you do other transactions for your child (passport, etc).

    I'd recommend getting a few copies of your child's birth certificate from RENAP. They are cheap (about $2 each) and if you're doing a US report of birth abroad, a Guatemalan passport, Guatemalan visa stuff (by the way, having a Guatemalan child means that you can apply directly for permanent residency, skipping the more complicated steps that are required for the temporary residence application), etc., they'll ask you for a copy of this birth certificate.

    Finally, the child's name on the Guatemala birth certificate will automatically be the given names (first and middle name as Americans call it) plus the father's last name and then the mother's last name. But, if you're American, you can list the more conventional US nomenclature on the Certificate of Birth Abroad and passport (for info on the fairly straightforward process for this the US Embassy of Guatemala has all the info you'll need: http://guatemala.usembassy.gov/acs_passports_citizenship_birth.html).


    Again, I'm assuming that you're not a Guatemalan national if you're reading this (though the steps are actually basically the same in this case). To get a Guatemalan passport for your child you need to go to the passport office, of which there are a couple of offices throughout the country; see this link for the addresses (scroll down) and the requirements: http://migracion.gob.gt/es/images/stories/sint.pdf.

    In terms of documents, you need the birth certificate you got from RENAP (see above) and your Boleto de Ornato (again see above). Both parents also need to be present, with their passports (as a side note, it is permissible for the parents to be in the country on a tourist visa). As always, bring relevant photocopies (in this case a copy of the parents' passports, including the front page and the visa or most recent Guatemalan entry stamp, and the Boleto de Ornato). Also, of note, is that the RENAP birth certificate must be less than 6 months old.

    The initial application process is pretty straightforward. You start by meeting with a passport officer. After reviewing your application materials the passport officer issues you a receipt that you need pay at Banco Rural, about $30 (by the way, it is normal for them to keep the application materials, including the parents' passports, while you are going to the bank). Once you bring the paid receipt back, you meet with the photo technician, who doubles checks the data and takes a picture of the baby. That's it. Apparently in Guatemala City they issue the baby's passport on the spot, but in Xela you have to come back in a couple of days to pick it up.

    A couple of notes here, first, while both parents technically need to be present, I was able to do the first part of the application (submitting the forms and getting the receipt to take to the bank by myself). Second, as always when doing these things, best to get there early as lines (for a passport officer, for the bank, and for the photo technician) can get quite long. Finally, the child's name on the Guatemala passport will automatically be the same as on the RENAP birth certificate: the given names (first and middle name as Americans call it) plus the father's last name and then the mother's last name, but for the child's US passport it is possible to get just one last name (see above).


    If you've gotten this far in Guatemala, you know what you're up against in terms of bureaucracy, and you know that this is going to be a pain. So I'm going to skip the things that you'll already know by now: where the Migracion office is, that you always need a lot of photocopies of everything, get there early, etc. Also, of note, I'm only going to talk about the steps to apply for permanent residency on the basis of having a child that is a Guatemalan citizen (though most of the steps are the same- the main difference is that to apply for a temporary residence permit you need to have a guarantor). You can get some specifics on applying for temporary and permanent residency visas by following this link: http://www.migracion.gob.gt/es/index.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=15&id=57&Itemid=120).

    Of the requirements to apply for a residence permit, the only really complicated one is getting a copy of your criminal history (or hopefully lack thereof), called the Constancia de Carencia de Antecedentes Penales in Spanish or a Good Conduct Certificate in English. What makes this difficult is that you need to get it from your home country or city (unless you can somehow prove that you've been residing in Guatemala for at least 5 years). For Americans that means a trip back to the US since the Embassy won't issue this and it takes a long time for the State Department in DC to process it (see here: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/emergencies/emergencies_1201.html ). Most local police departments in the US can issue these within a week or two (more below on what you can do if you can't go back to the US).

    Once you get this Certificate of Good Conduct from your local American police department, you need to take it to the closest Guatemalan consulate so that they can legalize it (basically stamp it saying that the police department's stamp is authentic). In addition to the Certificate of Good Conduct, the Guatemalan consulate only requires your passport and a small fee (about $10). Then, you need to take this consulate stamped certificate back to the Ministry of Exterior Relations in Guatemala City (2 Avenida 4-17, zona 10) so that they can authenticate the authentication of the consulate.

    If you can't go back to the US to get this Certificate of Good Conduct then the other option is be to fingerprinted in Guatemala (see details below) and send these fingerprints back to your local police department so that they can run a criminal check. To do this requires either a relative in the US who is willing to do the local police department and consulate steps for you or a lot of faith in FedEx or the US Postal Service. If a relative is doing it for you, be sure to check with the local police department as to what kind of authorization they need to have in order to submit paperwork on your behalf (a notarized letter would probably do the trick in most cases, but it is still worth checking).

    Getting fingerprinted in Guatemala is a pain because, like many things in the country, there is no system or application process. The first thing you need to do is take a photocopy of your passport (supposedly they require a copy of every page but then don't always ask for it). Then take 2 copies of letter addressed to the chief of police requesting that you be fingerprinted for visa application purposes (and including your full name and passport number) to the PNC office at 10 Calle 13-92, Zona 1 in Guatemala City. The people at the front desk will stamp this letter received and tell you to come back another day. The people in the relevant office (whomever they are) seem to process this pretty quickly, but probably best to wait a couple of days before coming back, just in case.

    When you return you can pick up a copy of your letter, which has been stamped with your case number (or some code that you apparently need). Then you take this letter to the Criminal Records Division (or somesuch) which is out in Zona 6, next to the police academy (the people at police headquarters will give you the address). After again explaining what you need and submitting more photocopies, these people will eventually fingerprint you (free of charge!). Then you can send this fingerprint card back to the US so it can go to your local police department. Good luck!

  • ¡Ay! ¡Que Frio!

    People often think of Guatemala as a tropical land, because aren't all places in Latin America hot? It is true that areas of Guatemala are low-lying palm tree dotted tropics, but that is only on the Caribbean side (which I wrote about in my account of Guatemalan banana country) and a narrow strip along the Pacific ocean. In fact, much of Guatemala, including the entire center of the nation, where most of the country's population is concentrated, is very mountainous.

    In this mountainous climate the temperature can actually be very temperate with Guatemala City (at about 5,000 feet of elevation) having spring-like weather year-round. Xela at over 8,000 feet has weather more fall-like weather: day time highs are in 70s and nighttime lows typically in the 40s (though it can get down to freezing during the height of the US winter in December, January, and February). We find this weather to be ideal: warm, but not hot, during the day and good cool sleeping at night.

    While we may find Xela weather ideal, Guatemalans have a different idea. Any time you tell anyone in the entire country that you live in Xela, 98% of the time the first words out of their mouths are "Ay! Que frio!" (or Whoa! So cold!).

    If the conversation progresses beyond this initial reaction, we often explain to people that the weather in the United States is much colder and that Xela isn't really that cold. Usually we can bring them around to this view once we tell them that snow falls in the US (a very impressive fact to most Guatemalans who have never seen snow except for the movies- though it is likely that we are simultaneously convincing them that we are completely insane: who would live in place where there is snow?!).

    If living in Xela brings good insight into the Guatemalan sense of temperature, then having a baby is like a PhD thesis on this topic. Guatemalans, even those in Xela that would seemingly be better temperature adjusted, seem to have the idea that every baby should be dressed in at least 6 layers.

    So even when it is 75 degrees, the idea that the baby would be wearing only 1 or 2 layers, even if has long sleeves, is shocking. Thus the first thing that every Guatemalan says when they see Jack is the familiar "¡Ay! ¡Que frio!" This exclamation is often followed by asking "you don't want to cover him with a blanket?" The slightly more restrained people, who are able to omit the former shocked exclamation, go straight to the latter blanket question.

    When Jack left the hospital after he was born, the nurses were appalled that we were going to leave the hospital with him dressed in only a long sleeve onesie and a hat, even though it was 85 degrees outside. In fact, one of the nurses chased Meg down the hall to put a blanket over Jack's head to protect him from the cold (then she suggested that he sit in the front seat on Meg's lap rather than in the back in his car seat- not exactly a proper assessment of the relative dangers of the two situations).

    Being a pediatrician, which seems to involve examining a lot of babies, Meg has quite a bit of experience in what Guatemalans consider appropriate dress for infants- that is, at least 6 layers of clothing. While a onesie, short sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt, pants, sweater, jacket, and blanket are some of the clothing options we choose between when dressing our child, Guatemalans don't choose; they just put all those clothes on the baby at once. Then they add a hat, gloves, and another blanket just for good measure and that's when it's 60 degrees out.

    In fact, when seeing patients at her clinic, normal baby check-ups routinely take five minutes longer than they should because of all the time it takes to remove all of the baby's clothes before they can be examined. Meg has now learned to ignore the look of horror on the parent's faces when she removes even a few of the layers to try do to a proper exam (in a very warm exam room). It can be especially challenging to get the child's actual weight when they are outfitted this way.

    The amount of clothing may also explain why a common complaint by parents is that their baby "has a fever because their skin feels hot". Well, your skin would feel hot too if you were wearing 6 layers on clothing on a warm day. Needless to say when a thermometer is used very few of these children have a temperature above normal.

    So for those that think Guatemala is a tropical land, in fact it is often ¡Que Frio!

    The Story of Jack

    If you've found your way here, then you already know the end of the story:

    Jack Sullivan Herrmann was born at 10:02pm on February 3, 2011 in Guatemala City, Guatemala.


    But here's how we got there (or at least the final part of the journey):

    Meg's due date was February 17, 2011 (which actually happens to be Jed's mother's birthday). So come the end of January, Meg began having very regular appointments with the obstetrician. At the same time, Meg was also pretty tired of being pregnant. That is being constantly tired, very unwieldy, and having odd aches and pains was taking its toll. And that's leaving out the self-image issue of looking huge (after looking in the mirror towards the end of the pregnancy, Meg turned to Jed and said "I look like a bear").

    Our plan for the delivery was that Meg would give birth in Guatemala City at Herrera Llerandi hospital, which delivers US standard medical care but with an extreme level of customer service (at one point after the delivery it seemed that both Meg and Jack each had their own exclusive doctor and nurse, respectively). In addition to the standard of care we chose Herrera Llerandi because several friends of ours had given birth there and been very pleased with their experiences. But given that our home in Xela is about 4 hours from Guatemala City, we knew that the old fashioned "we'll just go to the hospital when she starts to go into labor" plan wouldn't work too well (unless we wanted to chance having the child born at 10,000 feet on the mountainous highway that connects Xela and Guatemala City).

    So we developed an alternative plan of renting a house for the month of February in the town of Antigua, which is an easy 45 minute drive from the hospital in Guatemala City. This plan drastically reduced the chances of giving birth on top of a mountain (though it didn't entirely eliminate this chance as a few months previous some friends with a similar plan ended up giving birth at the gas station about 1/3 of the way to Guatemala City).

    Living in Antigua for the month also increased the chances that our parents would be able to be present at the birth of their grandchild- Jed's parents first grandchild and Meg's parents second (with Jack's cousin beating him to the first position by a mere 7 months). Our plan with our parents was to call them in NYC when Meg went into labor so they could get on the first plane and try to get to Guatemala as soon as possible. (Rumor has it that both our mothers had the schedules of all the possible flights to Guatemala memorized and also walked around with their passports in their purses). To assist in this plan, Jed's mother even took the momentous step of promising not only to carry her cell phone with her but to actually turn it on!

    So on the morning of February 3, Meg had a regular doctor's appointment in Guatemala City. On the drive into the city, Meg noted how odd it was that at this point in the pregnancy she still hadn't had a single contraction. But she did complain about the sharp pains in her back which had been around for several weeks. Jed postulated that these "back pains" might actually be contractions.

    After a quick exam, the obstetrician informed Meg that she was 4 centimeters dilated, in active labor, and needed to be admitted to the hospital immediately. Meg was quick to protest that she didn't feel like she was in labor and that she wasn't even having any contractions. So we all agreed that she would be hooked up to a monitor and observed for half an hour. If this test showed that she was having contractions close together then she would be admitted.

    After seeing two relatively strong contractions in the first 3 minutes Meg was hooked up to the monitor we all knew where this was going. It felt strange to be finally on the brink of the moment for which we'd been waiting for so many months. On the one hand (especially for Meg and her "bear" stomach) it was nice to be done with pregnancy. On the other hand, birth and labor can be full of unexpected, nerve-wracking, and physical challenges.

    While Meg was admitted to the hospital, Jed put the parent (soon to be grandparent) plan into action. His first call to his mother's cell phone went unanswered. As did the next five- though in fairness her cell phone was actually on, if even she wasn't answering it. He gave up on her and called his father, who upon hearing that Meg was 4 centimeters dilated asked if they should plan on "coming to Guatemala tomorrow for the birth". Jed replied that he might want to be here a little sooner and, in fact, should get on a plane right now as the baby was coming pronto.

    Jed didn't need to impress the urgency of the situation on Meg's mother. She picked up the phone by saying "Oh my god, it's time, isn't it?" and ended 2 minutes later by saying that she was already out the door and on the way to the airport. Our parents ended up getting booked on the same flight from Miami to Guatemala City, which was scheduled to land at 8pm.

    As we waited for our Jack and our parents to arrive, we made some more phone calls to our siblings and watched the contractions get more frequent and intense. Finally when the monitor measured the third contraction in a row over 90 (with 100 being the top of the scale), Meg decided it might be time to do something about pain medication. Enter the epidural!

    Things progressed well through the early afternoon as Meg's contractions became more regular and she became more dilated. But as we entered the evening hours, the contractions continued but Meg's dilation stalled and Jack remained high up and had not descended into the birth canal. After much back and forth, negotiation, and extended deadlines we reluctantly agreed with the doctor that it was time for a cesarean section.

    In the meantime, our parents had arrived in Guatemala as scheduled and we're at the hospital before 9pm. So we got to spend some time with them before Meg went into the operating room for her c-section. She was in the operating room for a while and then an unmistakable scream and Jack had arrived! He was happy (well, sort of), healthy (very) and 7 pounds, 4 ounces and 20 inches. It took a while so sew Meg up but by 11pm she was back in the room, tired but happy.

    And as a final touch, here's how this story was written:


    Guatemalan Parking (February 2011)

    In general Guatemalans are good drivers. In fact, given that they are often driving vehicles at least 20 years old, the average Guatemalan probably has greater driving skills than the average American. However, Guatemalans are terrible parkers.

    Guatemalans seem to consistently choose the worst places to park their cars. Inevitably, when they've decided to pull of the highway (sometimes to fix park of their ancient car but often just to take a break or drop something off), they choose a blind curve. While occasionally these curve-parked-drivers will give the courtesy of a little warning (usually consisting of some trees branches in the road), often one only notices the parked cars when coming around a highway curve at 50 miles per hour.

    At first, we were consistently mystified as to why people always chose to park in the worst places, but we've reached the conclusion that Guatemalans simply just never learn the basic rules of how and where to park. This may be largely due to the fact that, with the exception of two cities in the country (Guatemala City and Antigua), there is essentially no enforcement of parking laws anywhere in the country.

    When we first moved to Xela, we spent some time trying to decipher the parking regulations and were confused. While we instinctively believed that a red line on the curb meant no parking here; these seemingly prohibited spots seemed to be consistently filled with parked cars. We soon figured out while our instincts were correct, there was simply zero enforcement of parking regulations so people parked wherever they pleased. Frankly, with the exception of curves on the highway, this arrangement suited us just fine as it allowed us too the ability to park wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted (which is quite convenient).

    After experiencing a few weeks of burdensome driving regulations while in the United States over the holidays, including a $115 ticket for parking outside a pizza shop in NYC (leading to the world's most expensive pizza at $60 per slice), we were happy to return to the unregulated roads of Guatemala (and the cheaper food prices). In fact, upon our return to Xela, we were pleased to go shopping at our local vegetable market and buy a half-pound of green beans, a pound of tomatoes, an avocado, a cucumber and the world's largest carrot for $1 (with some change).

    After returning with this vegetable bounty, I realized that we didn't have any garlic for the stir-fry I intended to make. So I drove by the market again on the way back from running some other errands in order to get some garlic (actually I could have purchased garlic at the supermarket but they only had imported Chinese garlic and I decided to be loyal and go to the market to get Guatemalan grown garlic). So as is custom, I randomly double parked our car in front of the vegetable market and ran inside to find Guatemalan garlic. Imagine my shock when I returned to the car five minutes later to see a traffic cop writing a ticket!

    My first reaction was to ask the traffic cop what he was doing, but upon getting closer it was clear that he was in fact engaged in the heretofore unfamiliar process of writing a ticket. So I issued the standard double parking protest of "I've only been gone 2 minutes". Rather than responding with the classic "well that's two minutes too long" that I was expecting he said that had he known then he wouldn't be issuing a ticket but he arrived, didn't see anyone in the car, asked if anyone knew who the car belonged to and then, not seeing the hazard lights on, started to issue a ticket.

    After much, back and forth, it became clear that my fault was not so much the double parking itself, but my failure to illuminate my hazard lights to show that I was only double parking for a short time. The cop concluded with "I'm sorry that you didn't know that you should have left your hazard lights on but now I'm going to have to give you a ticket". And with that he issued me a ticket for 180 Quetzales thereby also making my garlic purchase considerably more expensive.

    Though, he did note, that if I paid the parking fine within 5 days that it would be 25% cheaper. So the next day I trudged down to the municipal traffic office to pay the fine. After some delays and bureaucracy (including a miswriting of my license plate number and the fact that the traffic office and the municipal treasury, where I paid the fine, have non-overlapping hour and a half lunch breaks), I ended up paying a total fine of 75 Quetzales. How 25% percent of 180 Quetzales turns into 75 Quetzales is also beyond me, but I figured if they had some special "pay-the-next-day" rate then who was I to argue?

    The next day, when I was already the laughingstock of Xela (since everyone thought getting a parking ticket was pretty hilarious), I did see a story in the local paper that the City was starting a driving education campaign to get people to follow more traffic rules. So perhaps the traffic agents were just getting ready for that. But in the end, I guess 75 Quetzal garlic is a better deal than $115 dollar pizza (especially since at 8 Quetzales to the Dollar, the garlic only cost me a total of $10, which is probably close to the price I would have paid at Gristedes in NYC anyway).

    Spam (January 2011)

    We all get lots of spam on the internet. While I find most of it annoying I understand the objective of most of what I receive.

    While I don't buy Viagra on the internet (as far as you know), I imagine that every once in a while someone, somewhere out there actually does. While I don't think it is a good idea to send an African prince money so that he get to bank and then send me back 200% of my money, I guess someone once might have fallen for that scam (and hey, I guess if you've got nothing better to do then might as well give it a shot and send a few thousand emails). While I don't buy strange chinese electronics on the internet, even when my friends send me e-mails in oddly broken English encouraging me to do so, I suppose someone out there might want to save a few bucks and purchase and Aple I-Pood.

    I'm sure you've gotten all these types of emails (or similar ones- I may have taken some artistic license above) and more. As I said, I get that someone is trying to scam people out of a few bucks even if they only get one taker for every million e-mails they send.

    Having this blog, I also get a lot of spam comments, on all the topics above and more (though prescription drugs seem to be particularly popular topic these days). In fact, at my cousin Thomas' warning, when we originally started this blog we only allowed comments from people that had created accounts. This most restrictive setting was on my cousin Thomas' advice to prevent "the blog-bots" (his word, not mine) from spamming me. After protests from the hordes of friends (perhaps some artistic license again) who wanted to post but didn't want to create accounts, we changed the setting to allow for any kind of postings.

    Well, it looks like the blog-bots may be getting their revenge by filling the commentary box with tons of spam comments. Fortunately, Google employs some pretty good software engineers who have figured out to route all these blog-bot comments to a separate spam inbox. Not sure how exactly they stay ahead of the blog-bots, but I'm glad they do (and I apologize to any of you that have made comments involving prescription drugs which ended up in the spam pile).

    As I said above, while for the most part I get why people and blog-bots spam, I don't think I have an adequate understanding as to why someone might post this as comments to this blog:

    "Safe, they remonstrate on to be taught that filing lawsuits is not the closer to invoke call to a standstill piracy. As an choosing, it's to entreat something mastery than piracy. Like peace of intellectual of use. It's fully a enormous numbers easier to berating iTunes than to search the Internet with jeopardy of malware and then crappy idiosyncrasy, but if people are expected to make amends for fact of bankroll b turn upside down loads and part of at to against ages, it's not overflowing to work. They even-handed standing by a squat consummation thitherto people beget software and Catch sites that amount to it ridiculously as to plagiarize, and up the quality. If that happens, then there valorous be no stopping piracy. But they're too biting and alarmed of losing. Risks recompense in compensation to be french bewitch‚e!"

    Clearly they aren't trying to sell me anything, as there is no product to be purchased. Perhaps it is some political statement about free use of information in the internet age? Or an anti-piracy tirade? Those are the only possible themes I've been able to glean from the above.

    Perhaps it is a teenager in Thailand experimenting with Google-translator with disasterous results (maybe they are asking to be my friend in some convulated Thai form of nomenclature?). In any case, I love the idea of "berating I-Tunes"; I've actually done the same thing but mainly when a song has become stuck in my head but has somehow ended up in the chasm of my computer and I-Tunes can't seem to find it. I also like the idea of "squat consummation", though it also creates a disgusting image in my head of two people.... well best to leave it there.

    The lesson for the day: The internet is a very interesting, but sometimes greatly confusing, place.

    And if anyone wants to come out and let me know that this is actually from them, I'll buy them a Guatemalan beer of their choosing (which isn't saying much as they'll only have about 2 choices).

    A Famous Queztaltecan (January 2011)

    The below article was in the local paper yesterday making Meg famous (or else making someone with a similar, though not identical last name, famous). She's out signing autographs now. The rough translation, for those non-Spanish speakers, is below followed by the original article (which is also available at http://www.elquetzalteco.com.gt/13.01.2011/?q=locales/quetzaltecos_trabajan_para_hacer_obra_social).
    -----

    Quetzaltecos [what people from Quetzaltenango are called] Work for the Social Good

    They are successful empresarios that put individual economic gain secondary and do social work with their earnings.

    This week, more than 100 people received free medical care and medicines. In other work, 150 children will be able to begin their studies, thanks to grants, and outside of Xela there is a daycare for mothers who work [this should actually be for the children of mothers who work but they left that out so it implies that the mothers are actually going to daycare, which would be a little odd]. On the environmental front, this year thousands of trees were grown and will be planted and dozens of rural women have better stoves that consume less wood.

    These deeds are the fruit of the work of a collective of Quetzaltecos, who through the Pop Wuj Spanish School invest funds to finance these social projects, according to organization member Roney Alvarado. Seventy percent of the financing for these projects comes from the school's own funds and the rest is donations, added Alvarado. There are medical students and residents that come from the United States to study Spanish with the understanding that they will do volunteer work, in addition they receive a cultural competency class to ensure better care of the patients.

    Meg Sulivan, the head doctor, said that they attend to patients on Tuesday and five times per year they do health campaigns [this isn't actually factually correct, but it is possible that this mystery "Sulivan" told the reporter the wrong thing...]. Matt Parsons, a volunteer, said that they stay for four weeks and at least one training.