Day 2: Mercado Central, Guatemala City

Well, “they” were right.  In the middle of Guatemala City, population: ~1 million, rooster racket will wake you up. Followed quickly by planes, dogs, and honking horns. Guatemala is a noisy place. I’m glad I followed the advice of seasoned Guatemalan travelers and tossed in some earplugs at the last minute. Before we get to the Market, I’d like to take a minute to rave about the tipico breakfast in Guatemala. Scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, plantains if you’re lucky, a little piece of fresh queso and black beans that are so delicious I miss them to this day.  French pastries have nothing on this ultra-fresh, bursting-with-flavor start to the day. Farm to table is a way of life here, not a fancy millennial “clean-eating movement”.

Today we planned to go to the big public market in Guatemala City before heading into the western highlands to Quetzaltenango which is also known by its Mayan name Xela. If you’re consulting a map, Xela looks to be maybe 2 hours or so from Guatemala City. Except just kidding, it’s more like 4-5 hours because of road conditions, that (in)famous Guatemalan traffic and mountainous terrain. But first, the market.

The Mercado Central is an underground market that has at least three levels with the uppermost level full of all the beautiful handcrafts and the lower two levels being all the meats, produce and other foodstuffs.  By and large, tourists don’t venture down below the artisan level. As with any crowded space in a big city, using some common-sense precautions will make sure you have fun and stay safe.  We had pretty limited time at the Market, so we focused on the level with all beautiful handcrafts.  Everywhere you looked were gorgeous, brightly colored textiles piled high, beautiful tote bags, leather goods, scarves, clothing, shoes, paintings and jewelry…..and all of it is handmade (well, not the “Guat’s Up t-shirts, but you know what I mean).  Now, the cultural expectation is that you haggle over prices, but given that we can afford the list price and the sellers could really use the money, it feels ethically challenging.  Our rule of thumb is to never, ever low-ball a seller and just don’t be a jerk.  Another cardinal rule of market shopping is that if you like it, buy it because you will not see it again at another stall.  Every single stall has something different and I am so glad I heeded this advice!  I had a blast picking out just the right little treasures for family and friends.

It was hard to leave, but we piled back into the van and headed UP…..Xela is located at an elevation of nearly 8,000’.  We arrived at our hotel in the early evening, but because Guatemala is located 4 degrees north of the Equator, days and nights are equal and last 12 hours each, so it is nearly dark by 6pm.  Our driving days were always way more fun than you’d think. I spent the hours flying from one side of the van to the other hanging out the windows with my camera completely agog at the passing scenery: volcanos, cows in the back of pick-up trucks, and farm fields that go straight up the sides of the mountains, I mean, volcanos.  No doubt I annoyed the crap out of my seatmate, Karen, as I launched myself across her lap for the 100th time that day because “OMG that’s an even better view of those volcanos out your window now that the road curved left”. But she was nothing but kind to me for which I am eternally grateful.

Tomorrow is our first day of teaching, so there was a fair bit of prep work to do after dinner. Will there be rooster alarm clocks in Xela?  Stay tuned!


10 day Serial Travel-blog in Guatemala

About the Blogger:

My name is Bridget and I’m a NICU nurse and midwifery graduate student. I’ve known Nancy for several years and on serve on the Advisory Board for Supporting Safe Birth. I have done a lot of international travel, but this was my first trip to Guatemala and my first medical mission trip, both of which I had been looking forward to for a very long time.

Day One: Arrival

We landed in Guatemala City at dusk. It was a very easy flight and everyone’s luggage appeared in record time. Surprisingly (to me), it was only about 5.5 hours of flight time from Chicago to Guatemala City and Guatemala is only one time zone behind our CST. In spite of that, upon exiting the airport to wait for our driver, the overwhelming impression was “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore”. “Overwhelming” was a word I would find myself using again and again as the trip went on.

Our driver, Eric, is someone Nancy and Dave have known for years and consider their Guatemalan son. He has a quiet, reassuring presence and I would quickly come to trust him and his judgement. Tonight though, he texted to say he was stuck in traffic. Meh, I thought, it’s a big city, of course there is traffic.  Well there is traffic, there is big city traffic, and then there is Guatemalan traffic.  I don’t remember how long we waited, but eventually Eric appeared and we loaded up the van and were on our way to dinner.

Driving through the city at night was a little bit shocking, intimidating and overwhelming. I was not prepared for the security measures that Guatemalan’s employ almost universally: walls topped with razor wire and heavy metal doors as the only passage through the wall.  I learned that this is the physical manifestation of widespread corruption and the subsequent lack of trust in the entities that are charged with protecting the populace.

We arrived at the restaurant the veteran Guatemalan travelers had chosen: Kacao. Like many places in Guatemala it was sort of indoors and outdoors at the same time, which I thought was very cool. It had a thatched roof that soared above us, billowy, white panels of fabric, hanging lanterns, string lights and lots of beautiful Guatemalan textiles. And the food was amazing!  Before dinner I was finally able to call home and speak with my husband and son and, admittedly, I got a little weepy.

After dinner we headed to our hotel which was located in a gated community. Gated communities in Guatemala are similar to gated communities here in principle. It looks a little different though. Here, there is a gatehouse with an armed guard letting people through (in our case) or not (as in the case of the car in front of us). But before we knew it we were safely ensconced in our hotel and ready to crash. The roosters, I was told, would wake us up early.

Check back tomorrow for the adventures of Day 2: Mercado Central.

Recent projects in Guatemala

February, 2018

A small team of two of us (Kathy, you’re the best!) spent 18 days in Guatemala (in conjunction with Hope2Others) revisiting some of the midwives and teaching Helping Mothers Survive-Bleeding after Birth (HMS-BAB) and Helping Babies Breathe programs in Chiquimullilia. We also completed a 2-day training with midwives in San Marcos La Laguna and at Manos Abiertos in Cuidad Vieja, and also met with a doula group to talk about birth options. Statistics to come!

A short presentation to a Rotary group in Guatemala City was a surprise opportunity to discuss future trainings. We had such great connections with everyone we met! Thanks to the doula group for the great time of sharing and to all the midwives we met. Thanks to so many of our friends for help with lodging, transportation and interpreting. As always, we were sad to leave.


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Highlights from trainings in Guatemala – August 2016

A group of 10 volunteers from the Madison, Wisconsin area (together with Hope2Others) spent 3 weeks in August, 2016, in four areas of Guatemala: Chiquimulillia, Sumpango, El Tejar, and Totonicapan implementing the first combined Helping Mothers Survive-Bleeding After Birth & Helping Babies Breathe seminars outside of facilities. We had some difficulty collecting data on all 100 participants but of the 89 learner data we have, there were 68 midwives who identified as registered midwives with the local health clinic, four student midwives, eight nurses, and three nursing assistants. Other learners were also trained, such as a local firefighter, two physicians, a lactation consultant, and two community workers. Age ranged from 18-86.

Results of this training demonstrated statistically significant improvements in both confidence and knowledge for the management of bleeding after birth and neonatal resuscitation, along with high scores for the skills testing. In addition, because of donations and added assistance from Hope2Others, each midwife received a bag with an ambu bag, infant stethoscope, suction device, and several baby hats.

Our team also enjoyed many experiences together appreciating Guatemalan culture. We attended a small church service, a dinner hosted by a friend in her home (thanks Nely), a coffee farm tour, a visit to a domestic violence shelter, Lake Atitlan, and trips to the markets. Can’t wait to return!

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